a new low in topical enlightenment

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Issue #93 (April 13, 2011)

Centennial Ridge, Wyoming

Photo by Joe Carducci

Brand Park Motorway, Verdugo Mountains, 1933 Construction and Today

First photo from Glendale Public Library collection, second by Chris Collins

Chlorocichla Falkensteini by James Fotopoulos

From the Desk of Joe Carducci…

Sanitsuda Ekachai at Bangkokpost.com, "Silent deaths in restive South".

“Given the rising mortality rates of mothers and infants as the violence rages on, it would be no an exaggeration to say that the main casualties are the mothers and their babies.

But who cares, really? The self-proclaimed Muslim warriors certainly do not. They are too busy with their grand, heroic scheme to retrieve their "motherland" from the Buddhist state. The Thai military? Why should they care, when their role as guardians of national sovereignty bring them colossal military budgets. How colossal? The country has spent 145 billion baht during the past seven years to support military operations in the South. If this is not colossal, what is? Yet the military has failed miserably to contain the violence. But the generals are not perturbed. Why should they be, when ultra-nationalism of mainstream society is on their side. The important thing for the military is to look busy protecting the territory. And if the situation is still out hand, they can just call for more money to boost military operations. But can we lay the blame on the military alone? The abuses from ethnic discrimination are rife, so are the local Muslims' pain against state injustice. Yet the centralised judicial system has totally failed to deliver what people need - justice. Of the 7,680 villagers arrested, the police could file security charges against only 1,500 of them. And the snail's pace of the courts has resulted in only half of these cases being processed.”


William Stroock in Strategy & Tactics, "The Russians in Chechnya, 1994-2000".

“Chechen fighters operated in ad hoc companies of about 75 men. Those units were in turn divided into sub-groups of three men each. A typical Chechen tactic was to hold up a Russian column in a narrow street, usually with small arms fire from above, and then seal the exits. During combat, Chechen commanders maintained contact with each other and with their higher-ups via hand-held radios and captured Russian equipment. The latter were also used to create confusion within the Russians‘ radio net, as every Chechen spoke Russian (but few Russians spoke Chechen). The Russian radio waves were flooded with false orders and phone reports of enemy movement. On the attack the Chechens showed no mercy and, on the defense, they dug into the rubble and wouldn‘t budge until they were killed or had exhausted all their resources.”


Economist: "From Moscow to Mecca".

“On paper, all five predominantly Muslim republics (Dagestan, Chechnya, Ingushetia, Kabardino-Balkaria and Karachaevo-Cherkessia) are part of a single administrative district. On the ground, however, they are separated by borders and checkpoints fortified by sandbags and machineguns. Crossing from one republic to another feels like crossing a national frontier. Taxi-drivers from Dagestan prefer not to venture into Chechnya.

Each of the republics has its own political set-up and is unhappy in its own way, but the root of the problem, say experts, is shared: the de-legitimisation and crumbling of the Russian state and its inability to rule by law. In much of the north Caucasus corruption has eroded the very basis of the state, which performs almost none of its functions and is seen as a source of disorder and violence rather than security. This also holds true in the rest of Russia, but the north Caucasus has a strong alternative to Russia’s political system: Islam, which now unites all the Muslim republics. Whereas the first Chechen war in 1994 was fired by nationalism and separatism, the second war (which echoes still) had a strong religious dimension. The leader of the Islamist rebels, Doku Umarov, has proclaimed himself emir of north Caucasus.”


Michael Crawford & Nader Mousavizadeh in FT, "Breaking up states is becoming easy to do".

“For decades, international and regional organisations have resisted the partition of states. Despite the principle of self-determination enshrined in the UN Charter, this emphasis on non-interference and territorial integrity has preserved artificially created state entities, defined by colonial boundaries that disregard traditional homelands. The priority given to stability, which has prevented many peoples exercising self-determination, has in turn led to border conflicts, insurgencies and humanitarian disasters. Now, the international community is starting to change its posture.”


John Sfakianakis in FT, "The Arab spring risks economic malaise".

“Oil importers such as Egypt, Tunisia, Lebanon and Syria attempted to move from a state-owned enterprise model to private capitalism. But these processes of opening up favored mostly the regime cronies, who were willing to do deals with the elites. Bloated bureaucracies went unreformed, and a booming real estate sector benefited only a tiny minority. For the oil exporters such as Iran, Libya or Saudi Arabia, hydrocarbons were both a blessing and a curse, cushioning states from reform. Waste and poor governance were a similar problem, while populations also grew quickly, pressuring resources. These countries also saw their economies convoluted by inordinate planning. In the latest oil boom of 2003-2008, this group of nations competed head to head in the same few sectors, wasting time and resources. Financial centres, tourism, real estate, airlines, industrial parks and aluminium smelters were viewed as the centre points of growth by all…. It has been common amongst Arab political elites to use their public roles to amass wealth and enhance their personal net worth. Even so, these businesses failed to compete on a global scale. In 2003, the Philippines had more manufactured exports than the Middle East combined.”


Peggy Hollinger in FT, "Contradictions of new French militarism are hard to ignore".

“Vincent Bollore, a businessman on whose yacht Mr. Sarkozy celebrated his election as president, accumulated a fortune in the ports of west Africa, while Total‘s oil exploration rigs are spread across the resource-rich region. If Ivory Coast were to descend further into chaos, what signal would this send to nearby countries being courted by emerging powers such as China and Brazil? Mr. Sarkozy has found himself a prisoner of history. Established interests and relationships will determine policy, whatever the desire to modernise relations.”


Dorothy Rabinowitz in WSJ, "Petraeus Misfires on Quran Burning".

“In an interview Sunday in this newspaper, Gen. Petraeus reflected further on the problems caused by burning the Quran and how mobs could be influenced by those who might have an interest in hijacking passions — ‘in this case, perhaps, understandable passions.’ To this the only sane response is no. They are not understandable, these passions that so invariably find voice in mass murder, the butchery of imagined enemies like the people hunted down in the U.N. office Friday, and of everyone else the mobs encountered who might fit the bill. We will not prevail over terrorism and the related bloodlust of this fundamentalist fanaticism as long as our leading representatives, the military included, are inclined to pronounce its motivations as ‘understandable.’ It should be said that President Obama, to his credit, went on to declare, after denouncing the Quran burning, that to kill innocent people in response is "outrageous and an offense to human decency and dignity." It should be said, too, that it's a bleak commentary on the prevailing political atmosphere that the president's public recognition of the horrors committed by those rampaging soldiers of Islam should seem noteworthy.”


Raymond Ibrahim at MEforum.org, "Destroying One Koran vs. Destroying Many Christians".

“Yet, as Western leaders rush to profess their abhorrence at what one American did to one inanimate book, let's take a quick look at what many Muslims are doing to many living and breathing Christians around the Islamic world — to virtually no media coverage or Western condemnation:

Afghanistan: A Muslim convert to Christianity was seized and, according to sharia's apostasy laws, awaits execution.

Bangladesh: A Christian man was arrested for distributing Bibles near Muslims. Since Wednesday, thousands of Muslims have been rioting, injuring dozens—not because of Jones, but in protestation of women's rights.

Egypt: A Muslim mob burned down another Coptic church and dozens of Christian homes; when Christians protested, the military opened fire on them while crying ‘Allahu Akbar,’ killing nine. Another mob cut a Christian man's ear off ‘according to sharia.’

Ethiopia: Muslims went on a rampage burning down nearly 70 churches, killing at least one Christian, and dislocating as many as 10,000. Christians living in Muslim majority regions are being warned to either convert to Islam, abandon their homes, or die.

Malaysia: Authorities detained and desecrated thousands of Bibles.

Pakistan: Two Christians were shot to death as they exited church; a Christian serving life in prison for ‘blasphemy’ died in his cell under suspicions of murder.

Saudi Arabia: An Eritrean Christian has been arrested for sharing his faith with Muslims and is facing the death penalty; other missionaries continue to languish in Saudi prisons.

Somalia and Sudan: Christian girls — including a mother of four — were recently abducted, raped, and killed for embracing Christianity.”


Economist: "The good, the great and the gelded on Francis Fukuyama’s book, The Origins of Political Order".

“Why did the Catholic church’s insistence on priestly celibacy in the late 11th century give Europeans an early advantage over other societies in establishing the rule of law? The answer in Francis Fukuyama’s stimulating new book is that celibacy was one of several important reforms, instituted by Pope Gregory VII, which resulted in the development of canon law and the notion that even kings were subject to it. Gregory won everlasting fame by bending Henry IV, the Holy Roman Emperor, to his will, forcing the most powerful man in Europe to do penance before him at Canossa. Celibacy was vital in the battle against corruption and rent-seeking within the church, both of which were the typical consequences of patrimony. The reforms gave the church the moral stature to evolve into what Mr. Fukuyama describes as ‘a modern, hierarchical, bureaucratic and law-governed institution’ that established its authority for spiritual affairs — and by so doing set the ground rules for the subsequent rise of the secular state…. Much of the book is concerned with the struggle between rulers in different parts of the world trying to forge powerful states (usually with the aim of military domination in times when conquest rather than technological progress was the main route to enrichment) while battling the astonishing ability of patrimonialism to undermine their efforts no matter what measures were used to break its grip. Chinese emperors favoured employing eunuchs in senior positions. Muslim rulers, from the Abbasids in the eighth century to the Mamluk sultanate in Egypt and the Ottomans, developed the institution of military slavery to lessen nepotism and the internal conflicts created by tribal loyalties.”


Isa Blumi in NYT, "In Yemen, Hardly a Revolution".

“North Yemen and South Yemen were unified only in 1990, and quickly descended into a brief, bloody civil war in 1994, in which the north, aided by Saudi-financed Salafist groups, decimated the political order of the south, home to the country’s best-educated, most cosmopolitan citizens. Two long-running conflicts — a revolt in the northwest and a separatist insurrection in the oil- and gas-rich south — have further fractured the society.

Societal fragmentation makes it hard for the opposition to move beyond its misleadingly simple goal of ‘change.’ It is true that the hundreds of thousands of mostly young people in the streets have common traits; certainly unemployment and poverty explain their persistence. But they are not a unified opposition. Indeed, one factor that has kept the United States and its allies from openly embracing the protesters in the streets is the incoherence of an opposition comprising upward of 100 distinct groups.”


Bing West in WSJ, "Meanwhile in the War in Afghanistan…"

“Now on his third combat tour, Lt. Garcia has infused his platoon with an aggressive instinct, but he's not foolhardy. ‘We're looking for a fight,’ he said. ‘But we think before we move. There's no way we'll search an empty house.’ Over the radio came a report of a dozen motorcyclists converging to our front. We watched as several families ran from the fields into their compounds. About 700 yards away, two motorcyclists puttered to a stop and sat watching us. ‘We got a dicker [watcher],’ Sgt. Joseph Myers said. ‘He's crawling in the ditch to our left.’ The rules of engagement forbid shooting a man for crawling forward to take a closer look or for talking on a hand-held radio, but such actions usually tip off an attack. For several minutes, the Marines watched the Taliban watching them. No shots were fired, so Yaz slowly led the patrol to the west. The motorcyclists paralleled our movement, keeping their distance. It reminded me of an old Western movie, with the Comanches riding along the skyline, staying out of range of the cavalry's rifles. In this case, the Taliban knew they were safe as long as they didn't display weapons. Eventually we headed back to base, and the motorcyclists drove off in the opposite direction. Since September, the Third Platoon has shot somewhere between 125 and 208 Taliban — as many as one enemy killed per patrol. That rate may not seem high, but the cumulative effect has been crushing. Marine tactics, like Ohio State football, have the subtle inevitability of a steamroller. ‘We got a radio intercept yesterday,’ Lt. Garcia said. ‘Some Talib leaders in Pakistan were chewing out the local fighters for quitting. The locals yelled back, ‘Marines run toward our bullets.’”


Kathy Shaidle at MEforum.org, "Islamists on Welfare".

“‘Polygamy is a regular part of life for many Muslims,’ Canadian Society of Muslims president Mumtaz Ali declared bluntly. ‘Ontario recognizes religious marriages for Muslims and others.’ Government officials quickly denied the Muslim leader's claims about immigration law and social benefits regulations. Only one public servant seemed sufficiently concerned. ‘This is wrong,’ said city councilor Rob Ford. ‘They should put a stop to this immediately.’ Instead, welfare abuse by Muslims appears to have metastasized across the Western world. Almost three years later, news stories about radical Muslims — often immigrants — engaged in social benefits scams emerge regularly from Europe, Canada, and Australia. Even when they are not involved in fraud, Muslims frequently are overrepresented on welfare rolls, compared with other communities. The statistics from around the globe are jaw-dropping, especially in economically uncertain times. According to one 2007 source, immigration, of which Muslims comprise a significant part, ‘costs Sweden at least 40 to 50 billion Swedish kroner [approximately $7 billion] every year … and has greatly contributed to bringing the Swedish welfare state to the brink of bankruptcy.’ Yet two years earlier, the country's finance minister declared counterintuitively that ‘more immigrants should be allowed into Sweden in order to safeguard the welfare system.’ One Iranian immigrant to Sweden expressed astonishment at his new country's policies: ‘In Sweden my family encountered a political system that seemed very strange. The interpreter told us that Sweden is a country where the government will put a check into your mailbox each month if you don't work. She explained that there was no reason to get a job.’”


Stacy Meichtry in WSJ, "France Resurrects Border With Italy".

“A couple of miles from the beach town of Ventimiglia, nestled along the Italian Riviera, French police have restaffed a formerly abandoned checkpoint along the country's Mediterranean border with Italy. In the nearby French town of Menton, French police in riot gear board trains crossing into France, grilling passengers while other police forces are monitoring roads and foot trails that lead into French territory from Italy. The operation is part of France's attempt to stop a wave of North African migrants who, having fled violence back home, regard Italy as a way station as they travel by boat, train and foot toward jobs and family in French cities. More than 700 migrants who have crossed into French territory via Italy have been detained by French police and escorted back, Italian officials said. Some European Union officials have suggested France has gone too far, because one of the European Union's key principles is the free movement of people inside Europe. ‘There are no borders so they can't,’ said EU Home Affairs Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom when asked about France's crackdown on April 1. Under the EU's Schengen treaty, which was implemented in 1997, ‘you are not allowed to do checks at the border’ unless ‘there is a serious threat to public security, and for the moment that is not the case,’ Ms. Malmstrom said.”


Gideon Rachman in FT, "The euro crisis, Italy and its playful premier".

“In Las Vegas they call the really big gamblers -- the ones whose fortunes can make or break a casino -- the ‘whales’. For the European Union, Italy is the whale -- the country whose economy and debts are so large that the fate of the single currency and the EU itself hang on its future. Last week, Portugal became the latest country to succumb to the European debt crisis and to apply for a bail-out. But Portugal is a relative tiddler and its application for a bail-out, if it were ever to happen, would be much bigger -- although the EU could probably still manage. But Italy is too big to bail out.”


Bruno Waterfield at EUobserver.com, "Last post for Portuguese democracy".

“One of the bureaucratic mantras that you hear here in Brussels is that the EU deals ‘with states not governments’. This axiom gives the EU’s game away as a Union of state bureaucracies (civil servants, regulators, police officers, officials and diplomats) not peoples. Governments are elected and unelected, they come and go. The EU is a different set-up, a network of permanent officials that spans national capitals to take politics out of the democratic fray. It’s pacta sunt servanda or the process of locking important areas of political decision-making, from the economy to justice and security (policing our civil liberties), inside a bureaucratic, public-free zone of EU governance without government.

It’s never been clearer when you glance at the impending EU-IMF austerity programme for Portugal. Portugal is a country that is without an elected government after the collapse of the Socialist administration following parliamentary rejection of an austerity programme agreed with the EU, the fourth this year. Now the Portguese ‘authorities’, the unelected officialdom of the state, will negotiate with their ‘colleagues’ in Brussels an even more controversial new austerity programme, to be imposed by the EU and IMF.
There will be no more rejections this time, pacta sunt servanda.”


Gina Chon in WSJ, "A Passage From India".

“The Hakka historically have been second-class citizens in India. Most earned a living tanning the cowhides Hindus wouldn't handle. Mr. Chu grew up speaking Hakka, the local dialect of his group, which means ‘guest people.’ Before and after school, Mr. Chu helped with the backbreaking tasks of the tannery — polishing leather hides, hammering nails into them to help them dry and then removing the nails by hand. His father served as principal of the local Chinese school, sold life insurance and was a travel agent. His mother, who sold homemade rice liquor as a child, ran the tannery. With trash dumps behind them and the main Calcutta business area about 45 minutes away by scooter, the whole village shared one address — 47 South Tangra Rd. ‘I didn't give too much thought about what I was going to do when I grew up,’ he says. ‘I didn't have dreams of leaving because I couldn't imagine it.’ By age 14, Mr. Chu was studying in a Catholic boarding school where most of the other students were from middle-class families. In Tangra on a break from school, members of a Protestant congregation in Tempe, Ariz., visited as part of a fund-raising effort for the building of a local school and church. They passed out old Christmas cards to entice children to come to church. Over a dinner of local Hakka-style Chinese food, Mr. Chu sat next to a visiting American. It was a conversation that would change Mr. Chu's life. Moved by the local conditions, the visitor, Fred Still, eventually sponsored Mr. Chu's move to Phoenix.”


Economist: "A great deal of ruin in a nation".

“‘Typical Blackwater operative,’ says a senior military officer, gesturing towards a muscular Westerner with a shaven head and tattoos, striding through the lobby of Islamabad’s Marriott Hotel. Pakistanis believe their country is thick with Americans working for private security companies contracted to the Central Intelligence Agency; and indeed, the physique of some of the guests at the Marriott hardly suggests desk-bound jobs. Pakistan is not a country for those of a nervous disposition. Even the Marriott lacks the comforting familiarity of the standard international hotel, for the place was blown up in 2008 by a lorry loaded with explosives. The main entrance is no longer accessible from the road; guards check under the bonnets of approaching cars, and guests are dropped off at a screening centre a long walk away. Some 30,000 people have been killed in the past four years in terrorism, sectarianism and army attacks on the terrorists. The number of attacks in Pakistan’s heartland is on the rise, and Pakistani terrorists have gone global in their ambitions. This year there have been unprecedented displays of fundamentalist religious and anti-Western feeling. All this might be expected in Somalia or Yemen, but not in a country of great sophistication which boasts an elite educated at Oxbridge and the Ivy League, which produces brilliant novelists, artists and scientists, and is armed with nuclear weapons.”


Gordon Fairclough & Daisuke Wakabayashi in WSJ, "Rikuzentakata Mayor’s Fateful Choice".

“The region had been in trouble long before the disaster: Many young people had gone in search of a better life elsewhere, leaving behind an aging population and dying industries. Pessimists question the economic logic of investing to rebuild its shrinking towns and cities. ‘It's hard to be a leader in a situation like this,’ the 46-year-old Mr. Toba said one recent Saturday afternoon, as he worked from a temporary command post in the office of the city schools' central kitchen. ‘We are going to have to start again from scratch.’ Dressed in borrowed clothes — a city-worker uniform with a beige windbreaker, matching pants and a pair of black Reebok sneakers — Mr. Toba can often be found pacing the pavement outside his command center, smoking a dwindling supply of Marlboro Ultralights and cajoling national and regional officials over a mobile phone that hangs from a strap around his neck. His successes so far — like scrounging enough fuel to keep some of Rikuzentakata's remaining cars running a few days more, or securing supplies for the 10,000 citizens who remain homeless here — in some ways only underscore the daunting scale of the task ahead. Mr. Toba's preoccupation with the town's misery can't completely obliterate what has happened to his own life with Kumi and Taiga and Kanato. The boys are staying with Mr. Toba's uncle. The mayor sees them when he can, but most nights he sleeps on the floor beside his desk in the makeshift command center. He hasn't returned to his house downtown, either, aside from a quick glimpse soon after the disaster. He could only get close enough to make out that its shell was still standing, but the roof of another home had come to rest atop it.”


FT: "Access denied telecom equipment maker Huawei".

“In Mr Ren’s vision for global expansion, the US was to be the role model. ‘We must respect them, learn from them, critically carry on [their work],’ he concluded in an article praising companies such as IBM and Bell Labs for their innovative power, speed of movement and scale. Ever since, his company has paid up to 3 per cent of its revenue each year to consultancies including IBM, Accenture and Hay Group to model its management systems on US multinationals. ‘This has helped us develop a common language with customers all over the world,’ says a Huawei board member. But 14 years on, its love affair with America is on the rocks. While the lessons from Silicon Valley have helped the Chinese company storm markets in Africa, the Middle East, Latin America and Europe -- and elevated it to the global number two slot -- it has hit a brick wall in the US. Despite $28bn in global revenues, $4.4bn in operating profit and a world market share of 14.2 per cent last year, it has yet to win a single network contract with a leading telecoms carrier in the US. Huawei’s frustrated attempts to make serious inroads in the US add up to more than just a corporate saga. They reveal deepening mutual mistrust between China and America. In the US, there is growing frustration and alarm in the intelligence community and in Congress at its companies’ dependence on China for critical components in highly sensitive industries.”


MercoPress: "Brazil aware its relation with China raises the risk of “Dutch Disease”.

“However contrary to the popular narrative China’s development has not been all good news for Brazil. For a start, many of the benefits are probably overstated. Most obviously, while increased FDI from China should help to shift Brazilian production up the value chain, much of the extra value-added will probably show up as profits that are subsequently repatriated back to China. What’s more, exports to and investment from China has been concentrated in the commodities sector. This raises the risk of ‘Dutch Disease’, where commodity-led growth pushes up the real exchange rate, redirects labour and capital towards the natural resources sector and squeezes the manufacturing sector (where employment and productivity growth tend to be faster). This is part of the reason why Brazil’s currency Real looks so overvalued and why its manufacturers are struggling to compete. But there is another aspect to Brazil’s ‘currency war’. The strength of the Real is due in large part to rapid capital inflows, the blame for which is commonly laid at the door of loose monetary policy in the West. But China’s huge current account surplus – and its export of capital overseas – is an equally, if not more important, driver of inflows into Brazil.”


Simon Romero in NYT, "With Aid and Migrants, China Expands Its Presence in a South American Nation".

“‘Suriname is a lucky country, such small population, so much land,’ said Yuan Nansheng, the Chinese ambassador to Suriname, in an interview. China, which enjoyed warm ties with previous Surinamese leaders, has also nurtured a close relationship with President Desi Bouterse, a controversial figure who until his election by Parliament last year was a fugitive from Interpol because of a 1999 cocaine trafficking conviction in the Netherlands. Mr. Yuan said that he met with Mr. Bouterse at least once a month, about the same pace of meetings he had with Robert Mugabe, the president of Zimbabwe, where he served as ambassador before coming to Suriname.”


Helen Warrell & Tim Johnston in FT, "Burmese junta grows wary of China’s every closer embrace".

“It is in towns such as this that China’s increasingly cosy embrace of Burma becomes apparent: everything from the currency to the mobile phone network is Chinese, marking Mong La out as an enclave beyond the influence of the Burmese generals. This may be an extreme example of China’s growing influence in Burma, but its pervasive investment, which provided $10bn -- two-thirds of all foreign investment in Burma -- over the financial year 2010-11, is part of a larger trend. It is not only worrying western politicians, who fret they are being outmanoeuvred in the race for Burma‘s natural resources, but the Burmese themselves.”


Chosun Ilbo: "What China’s 1st Aircraft Carrier Means for the Region".

“The Varyag, an aircraft carrier China purchased from Ukraine and has been remodeling at a shipyard in Dalian since 2002, is nearing completion, according to Xinhua News. It has been given the Chinese name ‘Shi Lang,’ after an admiral who conquered Taiwan in 1681. A test voyage is reportedly being mulled for April 23, which marks the establishment of China's Navy, or July 1, the 90th anniversary of the founding of the Communist Party.”


Guy Dinmore in FT, "When China and the Vatican broke the ice in Burgundy".

“Baron von Pfetten is well known in china and Rome. His factory-owning grandfather had employed Deng Xiaoping, the late Chinese leader, in France in the 1920s and the baron has ‘made a fortune’ advising multinationals on investing in China. An ancestral saint and his family‘s long Catholic heritage provided links to the Vatican…. Major Gen Gong Xianfu, leading the delegation from the China Institute for International Strategic Studies -- the Chinese army’s ‘window on the world’ -- presented gifts to the baron and his Italian wife Nadia, toasting good relations ‘between China and European countries’. But no mention of the word Vatican yet. The next morning, after inspecting the baron‘s fox and deer hounds, talks began in the ballroom, the two delegations facing each other across a long table, with this reporter -- vetted by both sides -- as an observer.”


Oyvind Paasche at Opendemocracy.net, "The new Arctic: trade, science, politics".

“The fact that the European Union desires a stronger presence in the ‘high north’ is no secret. The president of the European council, Herman von Rompey, delivered a speech in October 2010 - hosted by the International Polar Foundation (IPF) - in which he stated that the EU seeks observer status at the Arctic Council. This body - which currently consists of Denmark (including Greenland and the Faroe Islands), Finland, Sweden, Norway, Iceland Canada, the United States and Russia - is in demand; China is also eager to participate. At the IPF meeting, von Rompey emphasised the strong research presence that the EU already has in the Arctic and wants to develop further. The union’s aim for an increased role in the region is expressed in the European parliament's report A sustainable EU policy for the High North (formally approved on 20 January 2011). The rising political interest in the Arctic is evident elsewhere. Norway’s foreign-affairs minister Jonas Gahr Støre has repeatedly stated that the question of the High North represents the most important area of interest for the Norwegian government, and that it will become a new geopolitical focus in the near future. Sweden will assume the chair of the Arctic Council in June 2011, and is expected to launch an Arctic strategy some time during the year. This might speed up the process of getting the EU an observer status within the council.”


Michael Burleigh in WSJ on Jonathan Jordan’s book, Brothers, Rivals Victors

“The generals of World War II, on all sides, were mostly men in their 50s and early 60s. The mental and physical demands of leading the vast armies were enormous — and placed on a generation that drank and smoked copiously and did not exercise. Compared with military figures of today such as Stanley McChrystal and David Petraeus, these generals were physical wrecks. While some of them ­occupied chateaux and mansions, with myriad minions dancing in attendance, many of the generals roughed it, in tents and mobile command centers. Quite a lot of them were killed, by bombing raids, artillery fire or in air crashes, for the job involved much hazardous travel in freezing-cold planes. These high-ranking ­officers' relations with their wives and families were reduced to protracted ­correspondence. They aged rapidly, with deep lines etched in their faces, baggy eyes, boils, gimpy knees and a deep tiredness that, when the men dispensed with the coffee and Benzedrine, meant they could sleep for two whole days. Not that they could give way to ­depression and gloom, for in organizations where bellyaching and rumor are rife — as they are in all armies — it was necessary to maintain an air of confidence at all times.”


Geoffrey Wawro in WSJ on Jonathan Steinberg’s book, Bismarck: A Life.

“Mr. Steinberg notes that Bismarck's tactical use of democracy drew much from his controversial friendship, in the early 1860s, with the dashing socialist Ferdinand Lassalle. None of Bismarck's conservative contemporaries could make sense of this relationship, but Bismarck learned from Lassalle clever ways to discredit liberalism and what the Germans called Manchestertum — the mania for British-style capitalism wedded to parliamentary government. Lassalle loathed liberalism on the grounds that it merely replaced the landed aristocracy with a new elite of merchants and professionals; it would lead, he believed, ‘to a deep immorality and to exploitation’ of the poor by the rich. Bismarck would later employ that novel line of attack to justify the paternal Polizeiwirtschaft (police state) that he wielded against German socialists and Catholics after unification. With one hand, he doled out old-age pensions and accident insurance, while removing representative government with the other. Bismarck's greatest strength — his cynicism, which was the seed of his realpolitik — was also his great weakness and most disastrous legacy to Germany. Because he never believed in democracy or what he called ‘the House of Commons majority’ — he viewed elections as devices to ‘summon the puppets’ — Bismarck left Germany in the stunted condition that made Kaiser Wilhelm II's warmongering ‘personal rule’ and Hitler's genocidal Nazi dictatorship possible.”


Christopher Bray in Guardian on Gary Gutting’s book, Thinking the Impossible: French Philosophy Since 1960.

“You might think of speech or writing as ways of expressing what's on your mind or in your heart but all you're really doing is mouthing the cliches that linguistic structures (and strictures) permit. Marx said man was alienated from his nature. Freud said man was alienated from his desires. But for the post-structuralists, the very idea of man was itself alienating. Had Descartes really had a self, he'd have been kidding it when he said, ‘I think, therefore I am’. ‘I think, therefore I am being thought’ is nearer to the deconstructionist mark. Or as Derrida more famously put it, ‘There is nothing outside the text". But was there anything inside the texts of Derrida and his fellow deconstructionists? Gutting is scrupulously fair-minded on this point. On the one hand, he says (in an argument that gives him his title), post-structuralist thought has been no less than an attempt to ‘think the impossible’. On the other hand, impossible thinking makes for impossible writing, and he boldly admits that ‘for almost all of us (even those of us who spend a good amount of time on recent French philosophy), [it] cannot be understood through a close, line-by-line reading’. Far better, he concludes, to treat this stuff like poetry – as essentially unparaphrasable and never fully explicable. Fair enough, though I dare say I'm not the only one who finds Foucault and Derrida's coiling, arrhythmic stodge anything but poetic.”


Andrew Stark in WSJ on John Kay’s book, Obliquity.

“Applying his ­insight to business, Mr. Kay notes that when Merck was governed by the ‘oblique philosophy’ of George Merck, who focused on manufacturing ‘medicine for the people . . . not for profits,’ it was comfortably profitable. When it assumed a ‘more direct approach’ under CEO Ray Gilmartin, who pledged that Merck would be ‘totally focused on growth,’ it ran into the financial difficulties provoked by Vioxx. Similarly, when Boeing's stated purpose shifted from surmounting ‘technological challenges’ to an explicit focus on ‘shareholder value,’ its stock price floundered. One of the reasons Jack Welch did so well for General Electric's shareholders, Mr. Kay says, is that he worried about workers and customers while regarding shareholder value as ‘the dumbest idea in the world.’ Mr. Kay, summing up his disparate cases, declares that ‘goals are often vague, interactions unpredictable, complexity extensive, [and] the environment uncertain.’ True enough, though most managers probably already know these key facts of life. They are the conventional wisdom. Still, Mr. Kay begins with a provocative, profound and counterintuitive insight: When it comes to major goals, whether in life or in business, one can pursue them best by deliberately not pursuing them.”


Adam Liptak in NYT, "When a Lawsuit Is Too Big".

“The mass production of justice through class actions can indeed test the limits of the role that courts play in society. But the enormous size of modern institutions, it has been argued, requires efficient, streamlined procedures like class actions to address their failures. ‘We are in the domain of mass litigation in mass society, where the private lawsuit is a regulatory enterprise,’ said Samuel Issacharoff, a law professor at New York University. ‘You need to have mechanisms of enforcement that correspond to the scale of the economic activity.’ …Class actions can also distort the usual incentives in the adversary system, offering more rewards for lawyers than for plaintiffs. Sometimes lawyers win only very modest compensation for their clients — a coupon for a discount on the very product said to be flawed, say — even as they themselves claim handsome fees. But few observers contest that there are cases in which class actions perform an invaluable role. ‘The place where they basically work well,’ Professor Issacharoff said, ‘is antitrust, securities and civil rights injunctions.’ In those cases, he said, the plaintiffs all suffered precisely the same harm from the defendant’s actions.”


Daniel Henninger in WSJ, "Public Unions: Is California Next?"

“Mr. Adachi, 52, runs an agency of lawyers who provide legal services to poor people. He is a card-carrying San Francisco Democrat. As he sees it, payments for public pensions and health care are defunding the world he believes in. ‘I’m seen as a liberal progressive, a rage against the machine person,’ he said this past week at his offices downtown. ‘If you care about social programs or the network of support services, you have to understand that pensions and benefit costs are crowding out all these services.’ As a public official, there was nothing he could do about it. So in a kind of Batman moment, Mr. Adachi as a private citizen got up an initiative last year, Proposition B, which would have required current workers to pay more toward pension and healthcare costs.”


Louise Radnofsky & Danny Yadron in WSJ, "Groups Facing Fund Cuts Tailor Right-Leaning Pitch".

“Legal Services Corp., a nonprofit that provides legal assistance to the poor, has been emphasizing that its program exists to carry out the Founding Fathers' desire to create fair courts. ‘They put 'establish justice' even ahead of 'domestic tranquility' or 'provide for the common defense'’ in the preamble to the Constitution, said John Constance, the organization's director of government relations and public affairs. Mr. Constance said the argument was not a new one targeted at Republicans. The argument appears to have resonated with some Republicans, who campaigned on basing their decisions on a conservative reading of the Constitution. The House voted to reduce the corporation's $394 million appropriation for 2011 by $70 million, but 68 Republicans joined with 191 Democrats to vote down a proposal to cut all funding.”


Ross Douthat in NYT, "Budgeting for Opportunity".

“The debate over whether Ryan cuts too much and taxes too little is important, but relatively predictable. (Liberals say yes; conservatives say no.) The more interesting question takes the proposal’s conservative framework as a given, and then asks how well it balances growth, austerity and opportunity. Here Ryan’s budget goes two for three. In outline, at least, it strikes a plausible balance between the dual imperatives of growth and fiscal discipline. It restrains spending without trying to bring the budget into balance overnight: its principal deficit-cutting measure, the transformation of Medicare from an open-ended entitlement into a program that pays a share of seniors’ health care premiums, isn’t phased in until the 2020s. In the meantime, it pursues growth through tax reform, promising to lower individual and corporate rates while weeding the thicket of market-distorting tax deductions. As Republicans refine their proposals, though, they need to focus more on economic mobility than the Ryan budget does. Public policy is going to be made from inside a fiscal straitjacket for the foreseeable future. But within that straitjacket, Washington can favor policies that enhance working-class opportunity, while ruthlessly paring back those that subsidize the affluent. The goal shouldn’t just be small government, but what the economist Edward Glaeser calls ‘small-government egalitarianism.’”


Christopher Caldwell in FT, "A bankrupt nation wakes up".

“The high point in The Gallery of Antiquities, Balzac’s great novel of debt, comes when gendarmes are arresting the young Count d’Esgrignons for a forgery committed to cover his borrowing. The loyal notary Chesnel, attached to the d’Esgrignons family by generations of service, has already spent his own modest fortune to get the young count out of such scrapes, but he is at the end of his resources. ‘If I don‘t manage to smother this story,’ he tells the count matter-of-factly, ‘you’ll have to kill yourself before the indictment is read out.’ The count realises in a flash that people have lent him money not because they have more than they know what to do with, or because he’s a nice guy, or because his privileges are the natural order of things. They have lent him money because they have made certain assumptions about his honour -- misplaced assumptions, as it turns out. Americans came face-to-face with their government debt this week and discovered that they are in the position of d’Esgrignons.”


Bill Tomson & Siobhan Hughes in WSJ, "Farm Subsidies: Sacred Cows No More".

“The farm payments at risk were supposed to be temporary. Lawmakers designed the program in the 1996 farm bill to wean farmers of rice, feed grains, cotton and later soybeans off years of subsidies tied to keeping portions of land fallow. The direct payments have endured and are now a cornerstone of American farm subsidies. The $5 billion in direct payments to farmers accounts for a third of the roughly $15 billion in total farm subsidies last year, according to government data. Benefiting are about one million farmers on 260 million acres of land spread around 364 of 435 congressional districts, according to the Agriculture Department and the Environmental Working Group, a organization that wants to eliminate some farm subsidies and use the money to protect natural habitats. With the farm sector booming — the USDA estimates net farm income this year will be the second-highest in 35 years — direct payments have become an easy target. Iowa State University economist Chad Hart notes that the payments go to farmers regardless of crop price or quality — a way to provide assistance without violating international trade rules.”


Holman Jenkins in WSJ, "The Inflation Solution?"

“You can hardly turn over an investing advice newsletter without finding a recommendation to buy TIPS, or Treasury inflation-protected securities, to preserve the purchasing power of your dollar-denominated savings. Economists and investment pros look out three years and can't believe we aren't due for a powerful flush of inflation. The usefulness of their favorite hedging advice, however, depends on the U.S. government actually carrying out the promise embodied in TIPS, honestly to apply an inflation adjustment to protect holders from loss of purchasing power due to the government's own mismanagement of the currency. Will the spirit and letter of this guarantee be observed? The question has to be asked because Washington has shown no hesitancy to delegitimize legitimate claims by vilifying those asserting them — GM and Chrysler debt holders being the most recent examples. By the time the TIPS question comes up, moreover, the slope will likely have been greased by states and municipalities reneging on promises made to government retirees and bond investors. It will have been greased by governments around the world setting example after example of the many flavors of default. The justice or lack thereof in each such case is not the question. What matters is to recognize that government promises are not written in stone.”


Daniel DiSalvo in Commentary, "The Reformist Right and the Reactionary Left".

“The action in America’s state capitals reflects a broader trend with profound ramifications not only for present-day governance but also for the ideological alignment of the nation’s parties. This trend, put fully into gear by the Great Recession, is the reconfiguration of the political categories of the West, and in a manner that has surprised almost everyone. Initially, most analysts believed that the profound crisis of capitalism suggested by the market meltdown of 2008 would redound to the benefit of the left. It seemed logical. The Times of London even dragged Karl Marx out of the dustbin of history to ask whether his ‘hour has come at last.’ Instead, the cunning of history, operating through the selfsame financial crisis, brought center-right governments to power in many countries. Even many places in which leftist governments are hanging on have adopted policies often associated with their adversaries. The dismal fiscal situation and even more dismal prospects for the future forged a rough consensus internationally on the policy medicine needed to move forward. It involves slashing spending, avoiding tax increases, cutting red tape, and shrinking government. For the first time in more than a century, the left, normally preoccupied with imagining a better future, appears bereft of a major policy project and is stuck defending its past achievements, even those of extraordinarily recent vintage, like the passage of the health-care bill.”


John MacKay in ArtForum, "A Revolution in Film".

“Vertov was also, from the start of his involvement in cinema, in 1918, a propagandist. His polemical labors involved a constant if ambivalent struggle against superstition and ‘untruth,’ beginning with religion and ending with fiction film. A short titled The Exposure of the Relics of Sergius of Radonezh (1919), which Vertov probably helped produce and certainly exhibited many times during the years of the Russian Civil War (1917-21), depicts priests coerced into opening the ark containing the remains of Saint Sergius, which Orthodox lore held to be imperishable. After the ark is shown to contain but dust and bone, an intertitle appears: Swindling the wretched, poor, and ignorant people out of their last hard-earned cent, for five hundred years the priests and monks nasally intoned: ‘And here as the sun rose, your good remains were found to be imperishable…’ --above this heap of decayed rags, dirt, dead moths, and traces of bone. The intertitle implies that the camera possesses the capacity to capture and publicly verify a truth that centuries had covered in mystification (or even in actual costumes: another ‘exposure-of-relics’ film describes saints’ bones disguised by ‘flesh-colored cardboard’). To be sure, this will to expose could carry alarming implications, particularly later, during the masking-shredding mania of the Stalinist 1930s. While on a rare holdicay in August 1936, Vertov was much preoccupied by the ‘Trotskyite-Zinovievite’ show trial then going on, a media event that provoked him to a prolonged consideration of duplicity and falsification, culminating in 1938-39 with a study of Diderot’s essay ‘Paradox of the Actor.’ Vertov recalled in September 1936 how he had once witnessed a silent-film actor on the set playing a suffering man; while the actor’s body and face were twisted with pain, he was telling a joke to those watching him.”

Dziga Vertov films at MoMA


Rudiger Schaper at Signandsight.com, "Who is afraid of Ai Weiwei?"

“Where is Ai Weiwei? He was taken away a week ago at the Beijing airport. He is under investigation for economic crimes. That is an especially insidious accusation, because the state thus intends to make him into a common criminal, thus avoiding the impression that the trail might be political. Enlightenment the Chinese way. What doesn't bother Disney or Bob Dylan is just fine with Martin Roth. Who is Martin Roth? He is a mandarin of the German art scene, the head of the Staatliche Kunstsammlungen Dresden, one of the museum institutions having organised the exhibition ‘The Art of the Enlightenment’ in Beijing. The others are the state art collections of Berlin and Munich. Only the most important museums. Together with the German Foreign Office they have curated the first guest exhibition in the new National Museum on Tiananmen Square, on the topic of ‘the Enlightenment,’ of all things. The architect of the renovated building is also German, Meinhard von Gerkan. While American and British museums launch appeals for Ai Weiwei, Roth dutifully kowtows in the weekly newspaper Zeit. There Roth is cited as saying that Ai Weiwei ‘is so popular [with the Western press] because he is constantly pounding on the table.’ And by the way, ‘There are hundreds of artists like him,’ but no one talks about them, because they are not pop stars.’ Kicking a man who is already down -- his pure contempt for contemporary art is unveiled.”


Barry Mazor in WSJ, "Country’s Big Bang, Revisited".

“These were among the first American roots-music recordings of any stripe to be captured with the vastly improved dynamics and sensitivity of electronic microphones, a technology only a year and a half old when Peer brought it to Bristol. In recording such engaging exemplars of the just-emerging, emotionally expressive Holiness Church style of gospel singing as Alfred Karnes and Ernest Phipps, Peer was breaking new ground as well, paving the way for the new Southern Gospel commercial genre. (On hand for the events in Bristol was Georgia Warren, now 96, who as a child sang in the Tennessee Mountaineers church choir led by her father. She is the last of the session performers still among us.)”


Bruce Weber in NYT on John Thorn’s book, Baseball in the Garden of Eden: The Secret History of the Early Game.

“Contemporary fans can easily forget that the game as we know it didn’t emerge whole, like a chick from an egg. Called strikes didn’t exist until 1858; called balls came into being five years later. Until the mid-1860s, a batted ball caught on one bounce was an out. Overhand pitching wasn’t allowed until 1884. For many of the piecemeal improvements, Thorn goes to some lengths to straighten out the record and give credit where credit is due. For example, Cartwright, who is usually acknowledged to have established the distance between bases at 90 feet, the number of players on a side at nine and the length of a game at nine innings — it says so on his Hall of Fame plaque — did no such things. At least two of them (nine players and nine innings) are attributable to Louis Wadsworth, who played in the 1850s for the New York Knickerbockers, which had also been Cartwright’s club. Cartwright’s written rules for the Knicks in 1845 are generally thought of as the game’s establishing fundamentals, though as Thorn writes, considerable evidence exists that the rules were cribbed from those of even older clubs.”


Howard Beck in NYT, "Sixty Wins, a Top Seeding, And an Underdog Story".

“As the Celtics age and fade, as the Heat and the Knicks try to replicate Boston’s success compiling stars, the resurgent Bulls provide a welcome counterpoint — an alternate model for a league of anxious general managers. Last fall, Commissioner David Stern brushed aside concerns about superstar consolidation, citing the rejuvenating power of the draft, the influx of high-level foreign talent and the promise of Oklahoma City. “I think your doom scenario is overstated,” Stern said in October. A Bulls championship would do nothing to calm the fears of small-market teams and fans who fear the tyranny of the glamour markets. But it could bring some sanity back to the discussion.”


John Kass in CT, "Nick Sposato throws 36th Ward machine for a loop".

“‘I beat the machine,’ Sposato said. ‘I took out the machine. Just hard work, good people surrounding me, and it paid off.’ Calling Sposato's victory a David vs. Goliath campaign is somewhat accurate, but it's more like David up against a lot of Goliaths. Here's how bad it is for those who threaten the boys in 36: Sposato couldn't even rent a campaign office. He said landlords shook their heads, worried that just by renting to him, they'd anger the bosses…. The 36th Ward Democratic Organization has long fascinated me, and interestingly enough, it has also fascinated a few FBI agents. I don't know why they're interested, exactly, but for my part, I love beef stands and old-school politics. For years, the political ward boss was Sam ‘Pastries’ Banks. His little brother Billy was the alderman. Billy was also chairman of the City Council Committee on Zoning. And Sam's son Jimmy Banks — Billy's nephew — was one of the most successful zoning lawyers in the city. Imagine that. Every time Jimmy had a zoning deal before his uncle's committee, Billy would stand up and loudly excuse himself. That way, he was formally avoiding a conflict of interest, but every alderman was reminded that Sam's son was in the room. Then Sam died and former state Sen. James DeLeo, D-How You Doin?, became the nominal boss of the 36th. DeLeo is actually the Democratic state central committeeman of the 5th Congressional District. That is the district where Emanuel was elected to Congress. And Emanuel, who talks a lot about reform, endorsed Rice. Rahm owed DeLeo. Now Rice's defeat exposes weaknesses of both DeLeo and Emanuel. A few weeks ago, former mobster Frank Calabrese Jr. visited Chicago, publicizing his book on the Family Secrets trial of the Outfit, and Calabrese went out of his way to mention mob ties in the 36th Ward. That gave Sposato the opening to call for U.S. Attorney Patrick Fitzgerald to investigate these claims. Some thought Sposato was being foolish. But it let the neighborhood know one thing. ‘People thought I was serious about it, that I was willing to stand up to corruption, and they appreciated it,’ Sposato said. ‘It means people wanted change. They wanted honest government they could communicate with.’ Chicago politics is often depressing. But then there are stories like Sposato's. He is a true public servant, an Italian-American who offered his community an alternative to the old ways…. As we left breakfast, I noticed Sposato had a small gizmo in his hand. What's that? ‘It's a car starter,’ he said, and we both laughed.”


Chosun Ilbo: "Plan in Place to Dismantle Cult of N. Korean Leaders"

“A military source said a psychological warfare unit started investigating the question in March 2008 and submitted a plan based on the outcome to military top brass a year later. The plan is apparently to obliterate all monuments to communism except a few that are to be preserved for historic reasons. A government source said the razing of these symbols would be ‘essential’ to neutralize resistance from remnants of the North Korean army and to stabilize the country as soon as possible. The military believes there are no fewer than 35,000 statues of the Kims, including the giant Kim Il-sung statue at Mansudae in Pyongyang; about 40,000 pieces of calligraphy written by the Kims engraved on mountains like Mt. Kumgang and Mt. Chilbo; and innumerable portraits of the leaders and a flood of propaganda posters.”


Meg James in LAT, "MTV general manager Stephen Friedman named president".

“Friedman joined MTV in 1998 to launch its strategic partnerships and public affairs department. Over the years, he has been instrumental in many of MTV's social and political causes. In 2004, he helped launch mtvU, the channel dedicated to college students, and as general manager he helped craft the channel's Emmy Award-winning Sudan campaign to protest genocide in that country's Darfur region. He was deeply involved in MTV's award-winning ‘Fight for Your Rights’ campaign and its ‘Choose or Lose’ political drive. Before joining MTV, Friedman was director for the PEN American Center, an international writers' human rights organization.”


Giorgio Gomelsky interview by Archie Patterson at Rocksbackpages.com.

“Q: What was the music scene like in France when you first went over there after working in the UK for many years? What year did you go there?

January 1970. I had spent 15 years in London and had enough of the ‘perfidious Albions’ as Napoleon called them! My mother was French, so I spoke the lingo, had family and friends there and visited the country often. While living in London (from March 1955 to December 1969) many French (and other ‘continentals’ or ‘frogs’ as the British called us!) were relying on me to interpret for them what was going on and then to arrange interviews with UK artists for TV, radio and magazines. I guess I was probably also the first of the ‘managers’ in London to set up early club dates, tours and promotional activities in continental Europe. I did believe that if the ‘prophet goes to the mountain’ it would pay dividends for the artists down the road. Besides, the local pop music scenes on the Continent were very ‘pasteurized’ poor copies (and translations!) of US commercial stuff. Imagine a French version of ‘Tutti-Frutti’! I felt an injection of the energy developed in the UK by young and more ‘authentic’ artists could help bring about a change in those countries music scenes too. Furthermore, I liked touring there; the food was so much better!

Q: Who were the initial bands you heard?

First of all, I had left England because after 15 years in London, I wanted some time to think about my life and my work, which was filmmaking. Although I managed to produce some documentaries in England, (all about music), I felt I now needed to concentrate on getting a feature film off the ground and get away from ‘managing’ bands which I had taken up only because someone had to help the scene… ROCK & FOLK, a much-respected French music magazine, ran a long interview with yours truly and during the interview played me a tape of a French band, which somehow seemed puzzling to them and asked for my opinion. I remember it well, even today. The music was original, with influences derived from non-Anglo folk, classical, jazz and experimental music and, I said something like ‘very ambitious stuff, these guys seem to want to take on a lot, if they are really serious, it could be interesting.’ There must have been a conspiracy, because wherever I went in Paris, people were asking me if I had heard THAT tape! It turned out to be MAGMA!”


Photographer Jenny Lens has posted a PDF of the images sans text from her great LA-focused 1976-1980 era photography book, Punk Pioneers.


Thanks to Steve Beeho, Jay Babcock.

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• The New Vulgate
• Joe Carducci, Chris Collins, James Fotopoulos, Mike Vann Gray, David Lightbourne
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