a new low in topical enlightenment

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Issue #94 (April 20, 2011)

Centennial Ridge, Wyoming

Photo by Joe Carducci

From the Dept. of Enervation
by Joe Carducci

There’s been an outpouring of stray energy policy recommendations from all corners of the New York Times. Seriously. These stories no doubt assigned, written and edited by graduates of our finest journalism schools. Occasionally both the news and editorial desks lose control of a story and it runs anyway in the Tuesday Science section or in someone’s column, and the editorial enforcers of New York Times energy policy must send in the j-school grads afterwards to clean up.

Tuesday April 12th saw a major piece by Tom Zeller Jr. sandbagging natural gas, which the editors and “two coming studies” by a Cornell Professor of Ecology -- I kid you not -- and some piggy-backed “study” already based on this not yet released first study, this by something Cali called “The Post Carbon Institute”, disapprove of. With such disinterested researchers Bill Keller and Tom Friedman might as well just smoke a bowl in the commissary and make it all up.

It’s been my sense of things that the Earth Libbers are driving the drift of the Times, NPR (semi-official), and the rest of the clean-fingernail crowd in their push to move us all back into their thirties dream of no-growth, urbanized, mass-transit, black-and-white depression utopia. Somehow they believe their lights will stay on since as we all know the job they do is so important to society; if they weren’t here to lecture us who knows what reign of terror might settle upon this sad, benighted land. The particulars of their recommendations are never fully traced but they lead actually not to the thirties but unbeknownst to all but the Earth Lib Front to the seventh century or so, which is why they can’t be trusted to not play footsie with the sexist, racist, fascist Islamist radicals who also have hard-ons for those good old centuries.

There is so much goddamn natural gas and coal in this state, let alone this country, let alone the world at large that arguing to keep it in the ground unburned while forcing the wasteful burning of foodstocks and manufacture of the polyvinyl/rare-metal hells-broth it takes to make and cover the earth in solar cells amounts to a kind of reverse Luddism. When I moved to Laramie my tenant was an ex-plumber, ex-bar owner, fossil-and-rock collector/jeweler mal-vivant named Bob Tracy. When natural gas spiked in the late nineties and I had to raise his rent he spotted the visible hand of government because he knew from walking all over the state of Wyoming that there were thousands of capped wells drilled over the decades when the search for oil had yielded then useless natural gas.

Now the enviros are worried that natural gas is getting a free ride, because after all one must burn it. They don’t like hydroelectric anymore either, and as I see these lonely forests of wind turbines miles from highways it don’t take an ouija-board session with Edward Abbey to predict the coming eco-bombing of these hulking totems to, oddly enough, their own absurd ideology as interpreted by the geniuses who labor under the authority of various Energy Czars seemingly just outside of the voting public’s reach but under the nodding approval the sour Know-Nothings fresh out of college. I’d like to interject here that I think our young people are just the finest, smartest, greatest….

Also that Tuesday the Times’ Dan Barry covertly valorized the old West Virginia coal culture of the thirties in his piece, "As the Mountaintops Fall, a Coal Town Vanishes". Its uncertain tone is due to the hallowed place coal culture history holds in the Left’s mythology if not American history itself. As we near a hundred years past the thirties, the hold that decade has on the “progressive” mind won’t yield to the future of now or ever. The thirties were the high water mark of national socialism, and not just in Germany. The dream of international socialism, such as it was, left the USSR with Trotsky, and FDR’s fans consider that he saved hated capitalism by making a federal case out of everything he could grab, pushing for as much socialism as the courts and the culture allowed. Barry writes: “[B]ut the coal that helped to create Lindytown also destroyed it. Here was the church; here was its steeple; now it’s all gone, along with its people.” (Editor!) The bad guys here are the coal companies who remove mountaintops and leave some kind of leveled but restored landscape. There is no smoking gun in this article, and the Times editor would have certainly fired the gun herself if she’d found one laying around.

The Times recently gave its business columnist Joe Nocera a column on the editorial page. Right away on that famous April 12, his column, "Pass The Boone Pickens Bill", he ran up against the fury of all those readers out in New York Times-land. He wrote:

“Boone Pickens and I go way back; he was the subject of my first-ever business story, for Texas Monthly, nearly 30 years ago. Though we‘ve had our ups and downs since then, and though our politics are very different, I like and respect him. In recent years, we‘ve become friends.” (Joe Nocera, NYT)

Not that he needs a bias to support one more bi-partisan tax-incentive boondoggle, this designed to get semis to burn natural gas instead of diesel. Maybe it will work but if so even then it would be a precedent stolen from a development that will come of its own superior sense, that is unless some other industry is protected by a previous tax-incentivized rent-seeker’s inside-deal. Maybe they could get funding for retraining.

Anyway it wasn’t Friday after the famous Tuesday that Nocera’s next column had been hijacked by the crazed rejection of his very Tuesday notion from all the loyal NYT readers primed previously by the editorial page and NPR. In fact it was probably NPR’s coverage of fracking which piggybacked on its own coverage of the documentary film, Gasland, that has softened the ground for this coming Know-Nothing triumph. Nocera rebuts:

“To begin with, fracking is hardly new. In Texas and Oklahoma, it has been used for decades, with nobody complaining much about environmental degradation. It must be a coincidence that these worries surfaced when a natural gas field called the Marcellus Shale was discovered in the Northeast, primarily under Pennsylvania and New York. Surely, East Coast residents wouldn’t object to having the country use more natural gas just because it‘s going to be drilled in their own backyard instead of, say, downtown Fort Worth. Would they?” (Ibid.)

Well, as he was writing this second column because of just such mass refusal channeled up into the usual college-grad pretentious air of pseudo-philosophical “profound” objections…. Again, where is an editor? But Nocera does patiently explain as perhaps only he at the Times can, that fracking occurs nearly a mile beneath water tables and it is a failure of simple drilling that has caused methane leaks into water supply where it’s happened. By now I’m sure Joe Nocera understands this is all hopeless jousting at windmills as it were, but there’s no word yet on the subject of his next column or whether he’s been retired back to the Business section.

Amazingly enough, the current issue of the New Yorker shows up the NYT with a non-judgmental if hardly celebratory adventure-geology story filed by Eric Konigsberg from the wilds of North Dakota titled, "Kuwait on the Prairie". It’s a beautifully illustrated essay that follows the history of western North Dakota farming and mineral exploration. It’s been known that there was oil under the barely productive farmlands for decades but the rock formations took awhile to solve and turns out there’s a lot of oil there. The story is fine except for the limitations of today’s New Yorker. They drop their political sense for the purpose of this piece that paints a neutral portrait of a bunch of oil patch characters from Texas and Oklahoma working amongst the Scandinavian descendents of turn-of-the-century homesteaders. I guess they rationalize the piece as related to literature, but as its not committed to the reality it paints it suffers from a similar autophagic sterility to the Times’ West Virginia piece, which was also beautifully illustrated -- a photographer’s “lie” can’t help but glorify its subject. Konigsberg the writer peaks out occasionally:

“Around noon on April 4, 1951, Andrew (Blackie) Davidson, the drilling superintendent on a wildcat well east of Williston, set fire to a rag and flung it in the air. He watched as its trajectory met an invisible stream of natural gas that emanated from the ground, sending a flare thirty feet into the sky; by nightfall, it could be seen ten miles away. There was oil in North Dakota.” (Eric Konigsberg, New Yorker)

1951 is far in the past and so safely valorized I supposed. But in those vaunted thirties I hate to inform the NYT readership (as if), that Blackie Davidson would’ve been played by Clark Gable on the big screen and he and Spencer Tracy would’ve messed up half of the state while punching each other out and trading girlfriends while striking it rich and going bust several times. We’ll have no more of that in North Dakota or the Gulf or the coast of California.

Spring blooms in downtown Burbank

Photos by Chris Collins

Phyllastrephus Fulviventris by James Fotopoulos

From the Desk of Joe Carducci…

Michael Pettis in FT, "America must give up on the dollar".

“The large imbalances that this system has permitted now destablilise the world. If forced to give up the dollar, the world might reduce global trade somewhat, and it would probably spell the end of the Asian growth model. But it would also lower long-term costs for the US, and reduce dangerous global imbalances. The US should therefore take the lead in shifting to multi-currency reserves, in which the dollar is simply first among equals.”


Tyler Cowen in NYT, "Euro vs. Invasion Of the Zombie Banks".

“This flight of capital reflects a centuries-old economic principle known as Gresham’s Law, sometimes expressed casually as ‘bad money drives out good money.’ In this context, if two assets — euros inside and outside Ireland — are not equal in value in the eyes of the marketplace, sooner or later the legally fixed price parity will fall apart.

If enough depositors fear frozen accounts, the banks will be emptied out, and they also will require additional government bailouts, on top of the bailouts for the bad real estate loans. The banks come to resemble empty shells, conduits for public aid but shrinking and unprofitable as businesses — and, to a large extent, that is already the case in Ireland. Portugal is moving in this same direction, toward being a land inhabited by zombie banks. It’s the zombie banks that doom the current European bailout plans. On any single day, or even for a year or two, an economy can survive with zombie banks, but over time functional domestic banks are needed to allocate credit. As it stands, European Union emergency facilities are marking time by lending more money to the fiscally troubled nations in the currency union. But these loans do not reverse the logic of Gresham’s Law.”


Tony Barber in FT, "Germany puts off its day of reckoning over Europe rescues".

“In 2009 came the sovereign debt crisis, an emergency in which German policymakers are shaping Europe’s response. From the redesign of the Eurozone’s rules of economic governance to the EU treaty amendment that permit’s a permanent mechanism for safeguarding the area’s financial stability, Germany is calling the shots. It was at Germany’s insistence that last year’s 110bn rescue of Greece, and the establishment of a 440bn fund for troubled eurozone countries, were kept under the supervision of national governments rather than opened to the European Commission. Throughout the crisis, the German definition of the causes has prevailed: fiscal irresponsibility, cosseted public sectors, lack of competitiveness and even cheating on the part of weaker countries that failed to appreciate the virtues of thrift, hard work and other German values. It is all but impossible for Greek, Irish or Portuguese policymakers to challenge this narrative.”


David Barboza in NYT, "Inflation in China Poses Big Threat to Global Trade".

“Because China is now the world’s second largest economy, after the United States, and because the country has been a leading source of global growth during the last two years, money problems here can reverberate from Wal-Mart to Wall Street and the world beyond. High inflation endangers China’s status as the low-cost workshop for the world. And if the government’s efforts to fight inflation cause the economy to stumble, that will cloud the outlook for international businesses — whether multinationals like General Electric or copper miners in Chile — that have been counting on China for growth.

Inside China, inflation also poses a threat to social stability, a particular worry for Beijing, especially since authoritarian governments in North Africa and the Middle East have become the focus of popular uprisings. ‘China’s inflation is a big concern, and actual numbers are worse than officially reported,’ said Carmen M. Reinhart, an economist at the Peterson Institute for International Economics in Washington.”


Bob Davis in WSJ, "Political Overlords Shackle China’s Monetary Mandarins".

“In most countries, controlling inflation falls to a central bank. China has the People's Bank of China, or PBOC, with a 63-year-old reformer, Zhou Xiaochuan, at the helm. But unlike the heads of the Fed, the European Central Bank and other major central banks, which are independent from politicians so they can take unpopular measures to thwart inflation, Mr. Zhou answers to China's political leaders. The PBOC, indeed, often doesn't know about monetary decisions until it is informed by higher-ups, Chinese officials say. It is just one of a dozen ministries that lobby top decision makers in the Chinese government and Communist Party about whether or not to raise interest rates or boost the value of the currency to fight inflation. The central bank often loses such battles to ministries that represent go-go exporters and free-spending local governments, say economists who track the process. The laborious, politically charged process can delay decisions for months. China's central bank began pushing for tighter monetary policy around last June. But China didn't start its anti-inflation campaign in earnest until November, after inflation had hit a two-year high.”


Emilie Frenkiel at Booksandideas.net, "Is China Asian?"

“Moreover, particularly since the celebrations organized for the thirtieth anniversary of the Policy of Reform and Openness, China has been making headway with the idea of a new model of development, arising out of its own experience. For example, an endless stream of publications focus on the Chinese model (zhongguo moshi). One cannot help noticing that China’s perception of its development is totally self-absorbed. As Barry Buzan has emphasized, its exceptionalist vision is reflected in the stock phrase ‘with Chinese characteristics’ (zhongguo tese de), which is forever being enlisted to describe development, or socialism, or democracy, and so forth. In contrast to the universalistic claims of American liberalism, China emphasizes its unique culture, and points out that its contribution to world order is limited to its own peaceful development. Recent talk about the Chinese model has slightly altered this approach, with some Chinese scholars arguing that Chinese development is worthy of emulation and could well have its day serving as a standard in other parts of the world. Globally, however, western values prevail and the rise of a non-democratic country that associates cultural, social and political nationalism with economic liberalism is disquieting. Some analysts suggest that the Chinese regime and its ideas are more attractive regionally. Without altogether resuming the now dated debate about Asian values, there are many who say that the countries of East Asia do share certain values. These countries pay more heed to national sovereignty and the principle of non-intervention, and are more inclined to hierarchies and bandwagoning.”


Shen Dingli at YaleGlobal, "China’s Foreign-Policy Balancing Act".

“China is better off due to its extensive international engagement. Yet such engagement is double-edged, increasingly exposing China to regional unrest such as the current turbulence in Libya. Chinese investment and laborers were at risk there, and required swift action. Beijing’s effort at protecting its physical investment interests, verbal insistence on the longstanding principle of non-intervention, as well as support for and compromise on the United Nations Security Council resolutions imposing sanctions, which indeed constitute interference in Libya, reveal China’s ever-complicated calculation of interest as well as its pragmatic diplomacy.”


Michael Lind in NYTBR on Francis Fukuyama’s book, The Origins of Political Order.

“In the 20 years since, Fukuyama has qualified his argument, but he has not abandoned it. In The Origins of Political Order, the first of a projected two volumes, he writes: ‘Alexandre Kojève, the great Russian-French interpreter of Hegel, argued that history as such had ended in the year 1806 with the Battle of Jena-Auerstadt, when Napoleon defeated the Prussian monarchy and brought the principles of liberty and equality to Hegel’s part of Europe.’ And he continues: ‘I believe that Kojève’s assertion still deserves to be taken seriously. The three components of a modern political order — a strong and capable state, the state’s subordination to a rule of law and government accountability to all citizens — had all been established in one or another part of the world by the end of the 18th century.’ By chance, these three elements were united for the first time in Britain, although other northwestern European countries that were influenced by the Reformation, like the Netherlands, Denmark and Sweden, ‘also succeeded in putting together the state, rule of law and accountability in a single package by the 19th century.’ But before their combination in Britain and its neighbors at the time of the industrial and democratic revolutions, the three elements of modern political order had evolved separately in different premodern civilizations: ‘China had developed a powerful state early on; the rule of law existed in India, the Middle East and Europe; and in Britain, accountable government appeared for the first time.’”


Andrew Bast in Newsweek, "The Beginning of History".

“While the world can’t take its eyes off the Middle East, Fukuyama is, instead, looking ahead to China. Beijing has gone to great lengths — stymieing communications, hitting protests with an iron fist — to keep any democratic wave from rolling too far east. The Chinese government, he argues, will be successful in stifling protest, at least in the near term. ‘Authoritarianism in China is of a far higher quality than in the Middle East,’ he wrote recently. Revolutions, he argues, don’t come from the disenchanted poor, but from an upwardly mobile middle class fed up with anachronistic government that does little but keep them from achieving their potential. So Beijing may be able to keep its people happy for now, but in the coming years its biggest risk is putting off democratic reforms and ending up with a regime that’s fallen behind its people. When the Chinese middle class is no longer willing to forgo political freedom for bigger paychecks, or when the Communist Party grows stagnant, unable to keep up with the masses, then change is going to come, one way or another. Strange as it may sound for a man who secured fame and fortune with an essay titled ‘The End of History?’ his prescience as a political philosopher flows from his ‘revulsion at triumphalist views’ (in the view of Paul Berman, author of Flight of the Intellectuals). When Fukuyama first joined up with the neocons back in the 1970s under the tutelage of Allan Bloom (who wrote The Closing of the American Mind), it was largely a reaction against the left-wing triumphalism of the Great Society and of the cultural rebellions of the New Left spawned in 1968. More recently, Berman says, ‘the same kind of triumphalism overtook the neoconservatives on the right, and he turned away from them.’”


Ron Nixon in NYT, "U.S. Groups Helped Nurture Arab Opposition".

“Some Egyptian youth leaders attended a 2008 technology meeting in New York, where they were taught to use social networking and mobile technologies to promote democracy. Among those sponsoring the meeting were Facebook, Google, MTV, Columbia Law School and the State Department. ‘We learned how to organize and build coalitions,’ said Bashem Fathy, a founder of the youth movement that ultimately drove the Egyptian uprisings. Mr. Fathy, who attended training with Freedom House, said, ‘This certainly helped during the revolution.’ Ms. Qadhi, the Yemeni youth activist, attended American training sessions in Yemen. ‘It helped me very much because I used to think that change only takes place by force and by weapons,’ she said. But now, she said, it is clear that results can be achieved with peaceful protests and other nonviolent means. But some members of the activist groups complained in interviews that the United States was hypocritical for helping them at the same time that it was supporting the governments they sought to change. ‘While we appreciated the training we received through the NGOs sponsored by the U.S. government, and it did help us in our struggles, we are also aware that the same government also trained the state security investigative service, which was responsible for the harassment and jailing of many of us,’ said Mr. Fathy, the Egyptian activist.”


Bill Keller in NYTMag, "Team America".

“The American missionary impulse crosses boundaries of party and ideology. Paul Wolfowitz, the Bush defense deputy who argued that invading Iraq would catalyze new freedom across the region, and Samantha Power, the Obama adviser whose passion for humanitarian intervention has helped drive our involvement in Libya, are more alike than either would probably admit. Although Power opposed the invasion of Iraq in 2003, she would have used force in 1988 to stop Saddam Hussein from gassing the Kurds. And on stopping the bloodletting in Libya, Wolfowitz and Power are singing from the same hymnal. Eight years ago, when I was an Op-Ed columnist for this paper, I aligned myself with something I called the I-Can’t-Believe-I’m-a-Hawk Club — baby boomers whose distrust of foreign intervention, forged during the bloody mess of Vietnam, was tempered by the noble rescue of Bosnia and Kosovo, leading to a grudging sympathy for the invasion of Iraq. I’m sure the Bush administration did not need permission from the East Coast pundit chorus to go to war, but it was a high-water mark of the missionary impulse.

Some members of that club have since repudiated their support for the Iraq invasion. Others have not. It’s intriguing to watch them variously extrapolating from Baghdad to Benghazi.”


Tim Arango in NYT, "Bottoms Up Democracy".

“In January, bars and clubs, including the Writers Union, were raided in what many Iraqis saw as a government move toward a stricter interpretation of Islamic law. The author of the ban on alcohol was the head of the Baghdad Provincial Council, Kamil al-Zaidi, who told The New York Times, ‘We are a Muslim country, and everyone must respect that.’

But soon after, as protests for reform began about other issues, the boozy haunts were allowed to reopen. And since then, Baghdad has seen a surprising renaissance of its night life. It hasn’t been the only sign here this year of a tilt away from Islam, and toward a more expansive view of personal freedoms. The new education minister reopened art and music classes that the previous minister had banned. An attempt to require female government employees to wear a veil was blocked in Parliament. Even Moqtada al-Sadr, the anti-American cleric, responded to France’s ban on full-face veils for women with a statement that sounded remarkably like an embrace of democratic tolerance: ‘According to Muslim law, it is not an obligation to wear the niqab, but to ban it by law is a repression of freedom. Forcing women to wear the niqab, or not to wear it, both are unacceptable.’”


Tim Arango in NYT, "Iraqi Youths’ Political Rise Is Stunted by Elites".

“In a country where the demographics skew even younger than in places like Egypt, Tunisia and Libya, the wave of political change in the region has laid bare a generation gap here split by old resentments nurtured by dictatorship and war and a youthful grasping for a stake in the new Iraq. ‘The younger generation is ready to go forward; they are carrying less resentments,’ said Rawaz M. Khoshnaw, 32, a Kurdish member of Parliament, in a recent interview. But the forces of youth are blunted by the same forces that have robbed Iraqi society of so much for so long — violence, a stagnant economy, zero-sum politics and sectarianism — and that have prevented a new political class from emerging to take Iraq into a new democratic future. A common sentiment from nearly three dozen interviews with young Iraqis around the country recently is a persistent disenchantment with both their political leaders and the way democracy has played out here. ‘The youth is the excluded class in the Iraqi community,’ said Swash Ahmed, a 19-year-old law student in Kirkuk. ‘So they’ve started to unify through Facebook or the Internet or through demonstrations and evenings in cafes, symposiums and in universities. But they don’t have power.’”


Michael Peel in FT, "Regional turmoil concentrates minds".

“On the one hand, the uprisings gripping the region have made the nation’s partially democratic status look far-sighted and wise -- and a crucial foundation for its continued survival as a rich small state in a tough neighbourhood. On the other, revolutions from Egypt to Yemen have reinforced a sense of malaise and a feeling that, 50 years on from independence from Britain, a country that is the world’s 15th-richest and one of its top oil exporters, should be doing better. Also, the Kuwaiti monarchy‘s financial handouts at the time of the anniversaries -- including KD1,000 gift for every citizen -- have been seized on by critics as further evidence of a political culture that remains in hock to short-term consumption and has failed to wean the country off its dependence on oil.”


Samir Grees at Qantara.de, "The Merit Publishing House in Cairo".

“A small sign in the entrance bears the name of the publishing house based on the first floor. It's difficult to believe that this small, unassuming apartment is the headquarters of the ‘Merit’ publishing house, the foundation of which triggered a small earthquake on the Egyptian book market in 1998. Many now-famous names published their debut work through Merit…. Merit focused on young, sophisticated literature right from the outset, and quickly became a good outlet for this kind of genre. Don't judge a book by its cover. Neither a publishing house: Entrance to Merit, one of Egypt's most influential publishers The motor behind the publishing house is founder and director Muhammad Hashim. He looks almost like a small, meagre civil servant – thin, as though he's suffering from anaemia. Chaotic, restless, hyperactive. Many writers complain about him bitterly, calling him unreliable, accusing him of making promises that he doesn't keep. But as soon as they have a new manuscript in their hands, they run to him and want him to publish it more than anything else. Muhammad Hashim is a revolutionary and political publisher through and through. His publishing house is the scene of debates more heated than any taking place in the offices of Egyptian political parties. He is a die-hard opposition figure, against the government, the president and the corruption that blights the nation. A vehement advocate of civil society and secularism in Egypt. ‘When I founded the publishing house in 1998,’ says Muhammad Hashim, ‘I decided that either I achieve something, or I commit suicide.’ Previously, in the 1970s under Sadat, Hashim was politically active and was persecuted and detained ‘for Communism, an attempt to topple the regime and insulting the president,’ he says.”


Hillel Fradkin in Claremont Review of Books on Fred Donner’s book, Mohammad and the Believers, and Robert Reilly’s book, The Closing of the Muslim Mind.

“His most generally helpful emphasis is the claim that Muhammad originally conceived his venture as a movement of monotheistic reform. Muhammad’s earliest and most fundamental teachings are in their very simplicity supportive of the conception and might offer a certain ‘ecumenical’ embrace of Jews and Christians who saw the need for reform. Moreover, the Koran is explicit that earlier monotheists -- i.e., Jews and Christians -- had distorted the true revelations that were bequeathed them, and so needed reform. Although Donner does not note this, the conception of ‘reform’ is also helpful for understanding Islam’s subsequent history. Down to the present day important Muslim movements have presented themselves as movements of ‘reform,’ evoking Muhammad’s original reform and even imitating it through the practice of ‘emigration.’

…Reilly’s very powerful, crucial point is that the theological debate of the 9th century issued, through the victory of the Asharite view in an understanding of God and man which banished reason not only from man but from God Himself. God’s essential characteristics were understood to consist entirely of His will and power -- or almost entirely because as the Koran frequently asserts, God is also just and merciful. But both His mercy and His justice were understood to be entirely derivative from His will. Moreover, this general theological understanding embraced as its ‘physics’ a form of ancient atomism that denied any intrinsic causality to the world other than the continual but unknowable and unpredictable exercises of God’s will. As Reilly points out, this theology was implicitly hostile to that pursuit of philosophy of science that had begun to flourish under the early Abbasid rules, nurtured by their great project of translating ancient Greek but also Indian and Persian texts.”


Laura Kasinof in NYT, "Offended Yemeni Women Protest President’s Remarks".

“Mr. Saleh’s comments on Friday, in which he called on the antigovernment protesters at Sana University ‘to prevent the mixing on University Avenue, which is not approved by Islam,’ seemed only to further embolden female protesters in Yemen, where virtually all women are covered in black head to toe, including a niqab, or face veil. ‘The reason why people are upset is that you cannot talk about women’s honor here,’ said Atiaf Alwazir, a Yemeni woman raised in the United States who is now a youth organizer. ‘That is really a big shame. It’s a black shame. It shames the tribe, the husband, the brother, the whole family.’ ‘You tell us mixing is haram,’ she added, using the Arabic word for sin. ‘Killing is haram.’ The women surrounding Ms. Alwazir chanted, ‘Oh Ali, you’re a lowlife, the honor of women is not cheap,’ and, ‘Oh Bilqis, oh Bilqis, tell your father we don’t want crazy talk,’ in reference to both one of Mr. Saleh’s daughters and an ancient queen who ruled Yemen thousands of years ago.”


Thomas Friedman in NYT, "Pray. Hope. Prepare."

“Let’s start with the structure of the Arab state. Think about the 1989 democracy wave in Europe. In Europe, virtually every state was like Germany, a homogenous nation, except Yugoslavia. The Arab world is exactly the opposite. There, virtually every state is like Yugoslavia — except Egypt, Tunisia and Morocco. That is to say, in Europe, when the iron fist of communism was removed, the big, largely homogenous states, with traditions of civil society, were able to move relatively quickly and stably to more self-government — except Yugoslavia, a multiethnic, multireligious country that exploded into pieces. In the Arab world, almost all these countries are Yugoslavia-like assemblages of ethnic, religious and tribal groups put together by colonial powers — except Egypt, Tunisia and Morocco, which have big homogeneous majorities. So when you take the lid off these countries, you potentially unleash not civil society but civil war. That is why, for now, the relatively peaceful Arab democracy revolutions are probably over. They have happened in the two countries where they were most able to happen because the whole society in Tunisia and Egypt could pull together as a family and oust the evil ‘dad’ — the dictator. From here forward, we have to hope for ‘Arab evolutions’ or we’re going to get Arab civil wars.”


Philip Stephens in FT, "Hooray! The Yanks are going home."

“You can see why European leaders might be alarmed. They are already struggling to enforce the Libyan no-fly zone, which scarcely counts as even a medium-size conflict. Germany, unhelpfully, has sided with Russia and China in opposing the operation. So has Poland. Italy, Sweden and the Netherlands have contributed warplanes, but with caveats. Their pilots can patrol the skies, but must not shoot at anything. That leaves most of the burden on the French and British, who are said to be running short of precision bombs. What would Europe do in a real war?”


Peggy Hollinger in FT, "France adjusts to German Strength."

“Germany’s self-assertiveness has been all the more galling for France because the competitive strength of its partner across the Rhine is a reminder of its own relative economic weaknesses. While Germany stormed out of recession with 3.6 per cent growth last year thanks to structural reforms in the aftermath of unification. France struggled to get barely half that. While France clocked up a budget deficit of 7.7 per cent in 2010, Germany’s was just 3.5 per cent. Over 10 years, German exports have grown more rapidly France’s and its wage costs more slowly. While Paris still sees a Franco-German motor at the heart of the European Union, the growing competitiveness gap between the two countries means France appears the junior partner.”


Rachel Donadio in NYT, "Fears About Immigrants Deepen Divisions in Europe."

“But today few issues are proving more divisive within the bloc than immigration.

That much was clear this week, when the fractious 27-member European Union rejected Italy’s idea to make it easier for immigrants who first land in Italy to travel elsewhere in Europe. At a time when a wave of immigrants fleeing the unrest in North Africa shows no signs of abating, the rejection raised the possibility of tightened intra-European border controls for the first time since visa-free travel was introduced in the 1990s. Frustrations have been building here for weeks, and over the weekend Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi finally said enough was enough. Visiting the Italian island of Lampedusa, the point of entry for thousands of North African immigrants to Europe, he said: ‘Either Europe is something that’s real and concrete or it isn’t. And in that case, it’s better to go back to each going our own way and letting everyone follow his own policies and egotism.’ Mr. Berlusconi’s statement, echoed by other members of his government and criticized by his European counterparts, highlighted a looming showdown within Europe over how to handle the 23,000 migrants who have arrived in Italy since January.”


James Stewart in WSJ, "Emerging Markets: Another Reason to Be Wary."

“Vale is the second-largest metals-and-mining company in the world and the largest producer of iron ore. It also is one of the 30 largest publicly traded companies. Vale is currently the fifth-largest holding in the $38.2 billion #iShares MSCI Emerging Markets Index ETF and the second largest (after #Petrobras) in the $13.2 billion #iShares MSCI Brazil Index ETF. Mr. Agnelli is a native of Sao Paulo who grew up in modest circumstances. He was named Vale's chief executive in 2001. Since then he has shown a shrewd eye for international acquisitions and has steered Vale through a global boom in commodities fueled by Chinese demand. Vale's stock price has increased more than tenfold during his tenure. Vale, which ended the week at $32.78, has an ownership structure unusual among public companies, though not among former government-owned companies in developing countries. According to Vale, 53.3% of its common shares are owned by Valepar, a holding company, and 6.8% are owned directly by the Brazilian government. Brazil's national development bank owns a stake in Valepar, as do various pension funds, and it is widely perceived as heavily influenced, if not controlled, by the government. Though the government denies interfering in Vale's affairs, it has been widely reported that Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff and her top ministers orchestrated the ouster. One of many points of contention between Ms. Rousseff and Mr. Agnelli appears to be the government's interest in boosting employment and investment in Brazil by having Vale expand from its historic roots in mining into labor-intensive steelmaking. Does this make any sense?”


Chris Giles in FT, "Slow train of diplomacy is worth keeping on the tracks."

“From the US and European perspective, there is also the hope that as time passes emerging economies, particularly China, will change their economic analysis and share the view that export-orientated growth is not in their domestic interest. They see the ground slowly shifting. Were China to change its policies and ditch what others see as mercantilism, and others follow suit, that would be a prize worth many sleepless nights. So the G20 train will continue to the next station. The fear is that if it comes off the rails, the destination will never be reached.”


MercoPress: "BRICS members discuss trade grievances with host China."

“The five nations agreed to push for Russia’s entry into the World Trade Organization and called for progress in the Doha Round of WTO trade talks. Chen told reporters that the BRICS nations ‘still face economic overheating issues such as inflationary pressure and asset bubbles.’ The difficulties faced by Brazil, Russia, India and South Africa in increasing high-technology and manufactured exports to China was underscored this week by Brazilian aircraft-maker Embraer. The company failed to get China’s government to approve final assembly of its E-190 aircraft in China because of concerns it would compete with a domestic regional jet, Chief Executive Officer Frederico Curado said in Beijing. Howeer Embraer will build business jets in China. ‘We had the goal of building the 190 here but the Chinese government didn’t approve the project,’ Curado said. The government was concerned that there wouldn’t be enough demand for both the E-190 and China’s rival ARJ21, he said. Complaints from Brazilian unions and industry groups, including toymakers and textile producers, have led the Brazilian government to enact 29 anti-dumping measures aimed at Chinese-made goods, more than those against any other country and almost four times more than directed at the US, according to the Trade Ministry.”


Arieh O’Sullivan in Jerusalem Post, "Ties remain strained, but Turkey, Israel keep on trading."

“Speaking on condition of anonymity, Israeli officials told The Media Line that the government of Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has toned down its anti-Israel rhetoric lately, a move they see linked to the upcoming national elections June 12. Ergodan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) is going after moderate votes, they said. ‘Our understanding is that they are turning toward the center which it turns out didn’t like all this Israel bashing. It only made the AKP look like extremists,’ said one official. Israel has also been cautiously buoyed by the Turkish authorities’ decision in late March to intercept an Iranian cargo jet bound for Syria and force it to land at a Turkish air base. The Turks discovered weapons on board that were suspected to bound for Hezbollah, the Lebanese Shi'ite terrorist group and Israeli foe. Turkey filed a complaint with the United Nations.”


Tobias Buck in FT, "Jihadis have capacity to push Hamas into conflict."

“For Hamas, the Jihadi Salafist presence offers an unusual ideological challenge. Suddenly, the Islamist group finds itself under attack not for being violent and extremists -- but for not being violent and extreme enough. Shunned by Israel, the US and the European Union as a terrorist organization, Hamas is seen by the Jihadi Salafists as something entirely different. They regard Hamas as an Islamist group that has betrayed its origins, abandoned the war against Israel and become too enamored with the trappings of power.”


Katrina Manson in FT, "Somaliland’s painstaking frankincense producers scent sweet smell of success."

“Two thousand years after the three wise men’s journey, the price of gold is hitting new highs, while frankincense bumps along at $1.65 a kilogramme. Keenly watching this price is 33-year-old Guelleh Osman Guelleh, Somaliland’s biggest natural gums exporter. His family’s trading company, Neo Trading/Beyomol, buys and sells $600,000 of aromatic resins a year, and employs dozens of people such as Ms Jama. Mr Guelleh, sitting in a hotel garden gazebo in Somaliland’s capitol, Hargeisa, says: ‘There is a lot of room for production to be increased, but the main obstacle is we‘re pressured on price. The lower the price, the more problematic it is for farmers to go out and spend time tapping and collecting.’ Each tree is handed down through generations of local clans who appoint someone to tend and slash the bark of the stout leafless Boswellia tree, which grows wild in the region’s sparse mountain forest.”


Peter Godwin in NYT, "Making Mugabe Laugh."

“The parallels between Ivory Coast and Zimbabwe are striking: both were once viewed as the singular successes in their respective regions, the envy of their neighbors. Both Mr. Gbagbo, a former history professor, and Mr. Mugabe, a serial graduate student, are highly educated men who helped liberate their countries from authoritarian regimes. Both later clothed themselves in the racist vestments of extreme nativism. Mr. Gbagbo claimed that his rival Alassane Ouattara couldn’t stand for president because his mother wasn’t Ivorian; Mr. Mugabe disenfranchised black Zimbabweans who had blood ties to neighboring states (even though his own father is widely believed to have been Malawian). The two countries have also been similarly plagued by north-south conflicts. And when they spiraled into failed statehood, both leaders blamed the West, in particular their former colonial powers — France and Britain — for interfering to promote regime change. Finally, the international community imposed sanctions against both countries, including bans on foreign travel and the freezing of bank accounts, that have largely proved insufficient. But here’s where the stories crucially diverge — why Laurent Gbagbo is no longer in power, while Robert Mugabe, who lost an election in 2008, continues to flout his people’s will.”


Christopher Hitchens at Slate.com on Peter Godwin’s book, The Fear.

“Writing on all this some years ago, Peter Godwin opted for the view that Mugabe wasn't explicable by any change in circumstances or personality. He had had the heart and soul of a tyrant all along, and simply waited until he could give the tendency an unfettered expression. Even though I have a quasi-psychological theory of my own — that Mugabe became corroded by jealousy of the adulation heaped on Nelson Mandela — I now think that this is almost certainly right. In the Sino-Soviet split that divided African nationalists in the 1960s and 1970s (with the ANC of South Africa, for example, clearly favoring the Soviet Union) Mugabe was not just pro-Chinese. He was pro-North Korean. He enlisted Kim Il Sung to train his notorious Praetorian Guard, the so-called ‘Fifth Brigade,’ and to design the gruesome monument to those who fell in the war of liberation. Some of his white-liberal apologists used to argue that Mugabe couldn't really be a believing Stalinist because he was such a devoted Roman Catholic. But this consideration — while it might help explain his obsession with sexual deviance — might weigh on the opposite scale as well. Catholics can be extremely authoritarian, and Mugabe has, in addition, done very well from his Vatican connection. He broke the ban on his traveling to Europe by visiting the pope as an honored guest. The church unfrocked Pius Ncube, the outspokenly anti-Mugabe bishop of Bulawayo, for apparently having an affair with his (female) secretary. Festooned and bemerded with far graver sins, Mugabe remains a Roman Catholic in good standing, and it's impossible to imagine what he would now have to do to earn himself excommunication.”


David Hayes at Opendemocracy.net, "Thinking of Cambodia."

“I was thinking about Cambodia tonight. I remembered the Ben Kiernan story about his first visit back after the genocide, and how he asked a Khmer Rouge cadre what had happened to an arrested man in a village. ‘We killed him for the time being’. I remembered the story of how the peaceable Cham were hunted down and massacred because they were not pure Khmer. I remembered reading Francois Ponchaud and Lek Hor Tan on the pathology of absolute power, and then finding a leftist magazine discussing the Kampuchean ‘workers’ state’. I remembered the story of how the graduates, technicians and intellectuals answered the call to return from Paris after liberation in 1975, and were met at the airport to be taken away to be tortured and murdered. I remembered Malcolm Caldwell, who never got the chance to report on his last interview with Pol Pot in December 1978, and whose farewell words on the night he was murdered compared Cambodia to Scotland.”


Ulrich Herbert interview at Signandsight.com, "Mass murderers of conviction."

In the 1950s the Nazis were considered underclass criminals…

…‘real antisocial elements,’ as Konrad Adenauer said. 

Why didn't historians work to ensure a more detailed picture of the offenders?

In the 1950s and 1960s this was not the primary problem. At the time, research was done about groups of perpetrators, but usually by outsiders. During this period society was asking: How could this happen? And not: Who was responsible? The historians responded to the first question. Also, for a long time there was a reluctance to name names in research on National Socialism. The important Nazi historian Martin Broszat, for example, was convinced that the Nazi perpetrators were insignificant, to a certain extent not historically viable. The structures were what mattered, which is true to a certain extent….

How important is the group of perpetrators with this biographic profile for the Nazi system?

It is one of many different profiles, but it's a very important one, because it was found particularly often in key positions of power within the terror regime - as especially Michael Wildt has stated very clearly. However, one hardly finds this personal type within the party. The fact that one finds so many young academics precisely among the leadership of the SS and the Gestapo contradicts the picture painted by Friedrich Meinecke, for example, shortly after the war, in which educated Germany stood for the ‘other Germany’. That's not how it was. The intellectual progress of the past 30 years confirms the realisation that these extreme mass murderers were often competent, intelligent, and often even charming gentlemen, not monsters. This thought is still difficult to bear.”


Paul Hollander in New Criterion on Richard Wolin’s book, The Wind from the East: French Intellectuals, the Cultural Revolution & the Legacy of the 1960s.

“It is difficult to see how the fanatical collectivism and murderous intolerance of Maoism -- even as refracted by wishful and deluded Western perceptions -- could have given rise to, or converged with, the kind of therapeutic individualism that was one of the hallmarks of the 1960s. Equally difficult is to discern an affinity between Maoism and the kind of liberating, classless identity politics the author favors and associates with the 1960s. If, as Wolin proposes, the essence of era was the rediscovery of ‘the virtues of participatory politics,’ neither Maoism in general nor the Cultural Revolution in particular had much to offer unless one confuses the hysterical mob violence with meaningful participation. Likewise, it is bizarre to see a connection between Maoism and ‘acts of self-transformation and the search for personal authenticity’ -- phenomena strictly limited to Western societies.”


James Bowman in New Criterion, "The media: Cerebofacturers."

“There are certain problems that arise when you identify education and intelligence with virtue and good sense, and one of them is that you begin to think yourself immune from stupidity. Among the casualties of the Libyan revolution was Howard Davies, Director of the London School of Economics, whose prestigious institution was revealed to have the kind of close ties with the Gaddafi regime that Ron Schiller could only dream of forming with Mr. O’Keefe’s fake Islamicist philanthropists. It was widely supposed, in the one case as in the other, that the motive for these serious institutional ‘mistakes’ which cost the top people their jobs was money. But I think that Daniel Finkelstein of The Times of London was closer to the mark when he wrote that the LSE scandal was one where it didn‘t make sense to ‘follow the money’ as the intrepid Watergate sleuths in All the President’s Men were advised, but rather to ‘follow the stupid ideas.’ Now there’s a job for an intellectual.”


Sarah Hurst at Opendemocracy.net, "Alaska-Chukotka: when cousins reunite."

“Before the Soviet government took charge in the Russian Far East, Ainana’s grandfather was often hired by American whalers. He was supposed to go out just for the season, but one year he didn’t come back. The ice had closed in too quickly and the captain of the ship couldn’t land at Old Chaplino. Instead, he was forced to take Ainana’s grandfather with him to Nome, then on to San Francisco. Ainana’s grandfather lived with the captain for the rest of the year and learned to speak English fluently. When he came home to Chukotka, he brought back flour, sugar, Ceylon tea, tobacco and crackers. Ainana’s father also went out on American whaling ships and learned how to captain a boat, as well as how to speak English. After the Communists came to power, he began working as a captain on a boat transporting cargo from Provideniya north to Cape Serdtse-Kamen. He was paid a decent salary, and so the family lived well up until World War II. During the war, work was much more difficult: Ainana’s father only had a mechanic on the boat with him, and no sailor to help them. They battled storms and freezing conditions. Some nights he went without any sleep. Exhausted, he died of a heart attack in Old Chaplino shortly after returning from a trip.”


Nicholas Wade in NYT, "Ancient Clicks Hint Language Is Africa-Born."

“Dr. Atkinson, an expert at applying mathematical methods to linguistics, has found a simple but striking pattern in some 500 languages spoken throughout the world: A language area uses fewer phonemes the farther that early humans had to travel from Africa to reach it. Some of the click-using languages of Africa have more than 100 phonemes, whereas Hawaiian, toward the far end of the human migration route out of Africa, has only 13. English has about 45 phonemes. This pattern of decreasing diversity with distance, similar to the well-established decrease in genetic diversity with distance from Africa, implies that the origin of modern human language is in the region of southwestern Africa, Dr. Atkinson says in an article published on Thursday in the journal Science. Language is at least 50,000 years old, the date that modern humans dispersed from Africa, and some experts say it is at least 100,000 years old.”


Jeffrey Hart in New Criterion on James Haley’s book, Wolf: The Lives of Jack London.

“On opposite coasts of the United States, Jack London and Stephen Crane fashioned the direct yet nuanced voice of the twentieth century. Contemporaries born in the late nineteenth century, both worked in the same direction, their prose breaking with the Victorian genteel tradition and using the vocabulary and rhythms of living speech, anticipating Hemingway and many other important writers to follow. Both London and Crane, moreover, called for urgent social reform as slums grew worse in the country’s major urban areas. Despite the warm early reception of London’s work, it is Stephen Crane’s Red Badge of Courage (1885)… that has become a fixture in the canon of American literature. Its direct descriptive style, however, has much in common with London’s prose.”


Craig Fehrman in Boston Globe, "Civil war lit."

“In the 1850s, the ideals that were driving the nation toward war often issued from literary writers — and from Boston, the nation’s literary capital. Outside Boston’s Court House, Thomas Wentworth Higginson, one of the period’s most infamous abolitionists, led riots over the Fugitive Slave Act. Inside his Worcester home, Higginson was studying authors like Ralph Waldo Emerson, whose essays he found ‘starry with statements of absolute truth.’ One of Fuller’s key claims is that the North’s literary culture — especially the pro-war, antislavery writing appearing in The Atlantic Monthly — exerted a powerful influence on its broader culture. Emerson and his disciples had spent decades calling for moral and cultural transformation. Now the war offered them a perfect set of causes.
Not every Northern writer fell in line. Nathaniel Hawthorne, who, like Emerson, had written books popular enough to turn him into a celebrity, admitted in a letter the month after Fort Sumter that ‘I don’t quite understand what we are fighting for, or what definite result can be expected.’ This uncertainty carried over to Hawthorne’s writing. Struggling to complete his novel-in-progress, and in need of a break, he headed to Washington to do some reporting — and to write about what he saw for The Atlantic. Hawthorne got to meet Abraham Lincoln and General George McClellan on his trip. But his eventual essay, ‘Chiefly about War-Matters,’ applied fiction’s perspectives and ambivalences to nonfiction. Hawthorne critiqued everything from mechanized warfare to Lincoln’s appearance — his editors cut the latter bit — and even managed to satirize The Atlantic’s self-assured support of the war.”


WSJ Graphic: "An Economy Divided, United States, 1860".


Nicholas Dames in N+1 on Terry Caste’s book, The Professor and Other Writings, Louis Menand’s book, The Marketplace of Ideas, and Martha Nussbaum’s book, Not for Profit.

“The young humanist, as Castle depicts her, is necessarily perverse, and certainly ‘neurotically invested.’ She is likely to be a prig, but is also a cynic, at least about some cultural norms. She disbelieves many hoary old narratives, but still thinks academic achievement earns love. (These days: she knows all the numbers, but still thinks she will get a job.) She is the bad child of Dewey’s progressive educational model — an introvert, a solitary, an obsessive — who can fake the moves of the good child. And by trying so sincerely to earn a way into the academic middle class while feeling uneasy about it she lives out a contemporary contradiction, in which ‘being middle-class these days means feeling freaky a lot of the time.’ She is good, in other words, at inhabiting the gap between sincerity and irony, between cultural gatekeeper and cultural rebel, between grandiosity and humility. And she is good at making others feel similarly. Richard Rorty once argued that Western culture needs the novel, in order to force us to imagine lives and destinies different from our own. Perhaps the humanities, in their current plight, need to be novelistic again. Not necessarily in their fictional mode, such as the moribund campus novel genre with its essentially demystifying comedy, but the novelistic ability to marshal narratives and details that give us back some sense of why the humanities exist for individuals — how, to put it bluntly, they still rescue lives. One doesn’t enter the academy to become a disillusioned professional (although that will happen along the way). One doesn’t enter it to equip businesses with flexible analytic intellects (although that will also happen). One enters it, shamefacedly and unhappily, perhaps, but enters it nonetheless, in order to devote oneself to something greater than personal resentments — to salvational or transformational modes of thought.”


Wilfred McClay in Claremont Review of Books on Claude Fischer’s book, Made in America: A Social History of American Culture and Character.

“Stimulated partly by the work of cultural anthropologists such as Ruth Benedict and Margaret Mead and other social scientists with an interest in culture and personality, and partly by a burst of postwar scholarly interest in Tocqueville’s Democracy in America, an influential group of writers including Richard Hofstadter, Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., David Riesman, David Porter, Perry Miller, Daniel Boorstin, and Louis Hartz argued for a fresh view of American history and society, one in which a unifying framework of ideas, myths, symbols, and values was thought to have created and sustained a distinctively American people and culture…. Clearly whatever sins the consensus writers committed, they have been more than surpassed by those of the opposition, which is still going strong some half-century after the academic rout of what the late historian John Higham derided, in a 1959 Commentary article, as ‘The Cult of the American Consensus.’ That’s 50 years and hundreds of monographs for the ‘cult of the anti-consensus,’ compared with 15 years and a handful of books for the original ‘cult’ -- a startling disproportional that somehow escapes mention.”


James Hohmann at Politico.com, Watergate’s ‘last chapter.’

“Woodward is 68, seven years older than Nixon at the time of his resignation. Bradlee, who turns 90 in August, first met Nixon while covering the 1960 presidential campaign. His confrontations with the Nixon White House on Watergate and the decision to publish the Pentagon Papers cemented the Post as a top-tier newspaper. He has lived long enough since retiring at 70 in 1991 to see his old home struggle to maintain itself during an industrywide crisis for newspapers. Meanwhile, a new generation of Nixon admirers believes that telling the Watergate story with more scholarly detachment will allow the rest of his record to be appraised more fairly. Asked by an audience member whether he thought Nixon was a good president, Bradlee made a so-so gesture with his hand. Reflecting on Nixon’s resignation, he said Arizona Sen. Barry Goldwater was a ‘tremendously useful source’ in the Post’s Watergate coverage. ‘No one thought that Barry Goldwater would have a friend at The Washington Post, but he was my wife’s mother’s — should I say it? — boyfriend,’ he confided to the huge crowd. ‘We saw a lot of Barry Goldwater.’ ‘Too much information, Ben,’ Woodward cracked in return.”


Matt Ridley in WSJ, "When Scientists Confuse Cause and Effect."

“When in 1999 Antarctic ice cores revealed carbon-dioxide concentrations and temperature marching in lockstep over 400,000 years, many — including me — found this a convincing argument for attributing past climate change to carbon dioxide. (About 95% of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is natural, coming from the exhalations of living things. In the past, carbon-dioxide levels rose as the earth warmed at the end of ice ages and fell as it cooled at the end of interglacial periods.) Then four years later came clear evidence from finer-grained analysis of ice cores that temperature changes preceded carbon-dioxide changes by at least 800 years. Effects cannot precede their causes by eight centuries, so temperatures must drive carbon dioxide, chiefly by warming the sea and causing carbon dioxide dissolved in water to ‘out-gas’ into the air. Climate scientists fell back on a ‘feedback’ hypothesis, arguing that an initial change, probably caused by variations in the earth's orbit that affect the warmth of the sun, was then amplified by changes in carbon-dioxide levels. But this made the attribution argument circular and left the reversal of the trend after a period of warming (when amplification should be at its strongest) still harder to explain. If carbon dioxide is still driving the temperature upward but it falls instead, then other factors must be stronger than expected.”


Katherine Bouton in NYT on Howard Friedman & Leslie Martin’s book, The Longevity Project.

“After reading The Longevity Project, I took an unscientific survey of friends and relatives asking them what personality characteristic they thought was most associated with long life. Several said ‘optimism,’ followed by ‘equanimity,’ ‘happiness,’ ‘a good marriage,’ ‘the ability to handle stress.’ One offered, jokingly, ‘good table manners.’ In fact, ‘good table manners’ is closest to the correct answer. Cheerfulness, optimism, extroversion and sociability may make life more enjoyable, but they won’t necessarily extend it, Howard S. Friedman and Leslie R. Martin found in a study that covered eight decades. The key traits are prudence and persistence. ‘The findings clearly revealed that the best childhood personality predictor of longevity was conscientiousness,’ they write, ‘the qualities of a prudent, persistent, well-organized person, like a scientist-professor — somewhat obsessive and not at all carefree.’”


Carl Bialik in WSJ, Reliable Tally of Gay Population Proves Elusive.

“Other demographers say the 3.5% figure seems much more plausible than the discredited Kinsey number. But they say the data available are too scant to draw definitive conclusions. One problem they cited with Dr. Gates's findings is that they combine results from surveys with different sample sizes and interview formats. The California Health Interview Survey canvassed about 50,000 Californians in 2009 by phone, finding that 3.2% identified themselves as gay, lesbian or bisexual. In contrast, roughly 5,900 people took Indiana University's online National Survey of Sexual Health and Behavior in 2009, and nearly twice as many — 5.6% — identified themselves that way. ‘I think there are a lot of problems with every one of those data sets,’ says Randall Sell, associate professor at Drexel University's school of public health. A concern, he says, is that people are more likely to reveal their sexual identity via computer than by phone or in person. Dr. Gates says without more information about the validity of each survey, averaging the results is the best compromise. ‘You can make an argument they're all credible,’ he says. Dr. Sell also notes that if just a small percentage of heterosexuals accidentally identify themselves as gay, lesbian or bisexual, that can skew counts for those relatively small groups. ‘There are people who have never heard the word 'heterosexual,'’ Dr. Sell says.”


Dorothy Rabinowitz in WSJ, "The Loud Family Returns."

“HBO's ‘Cinema Verite’ rescues the Louds from that artifice all these years later and gives them the human voices so evidently stifled in the documentary. In this dramatization, Bill Loud (Tim Robbins) doesn't react with smooth urbanity and chatter to his wife's surprise announcement that she's divorcing him and wants him out of the house, as the real Bill did when he got that news, in 1973, in the presence of the camera.

He looks like a man stunned and in pain. And when he makes the same response — ‘That's short-sighted’ — that the real Bill did, they come as words torn from a man barely able to breathe. Nothing like the reflexive control and affability the chronically ebullient original brought to his on-camera scenes. Mr. Robbins has found every nuance and side of this character and delivered them to such dazzling effect that he appears to have out-Louded Bill Loud and, along the way, brought him to life.”


Carolyn Heinze at Runninginheels.co.uk, "I was a Parisian booth bunny".

“But what – you ask – just what is a ‘booth bunny?’ Well, for us booth bunnies, it’s not so much what you are as what you ought to be. For one, booth bunnies must beam. (That’s ‘smile’ in booth bunny-speak.) No booth bunny boss wants you skulking and sneering and sulking around her stand – even if you are Parisienne. Next, there is the issue of les toilettes. One must be able to tell non-booth bunnies where to find them. (I find the swoopy-sweeping hand signals signature to in-flight stewardesses suffice.) Directing people to les toilettes is an especially important part of Parisian booth bunnydom, since Parisian convention center architects all seem to have conspired to treat les toilettes as an afterthought. So nobody ever knows where the hell they are.”


Paul Gorman digs up the first mention of Sex Pistols, December 1975, NME.

“Not published in the 36 years since appearing in the issue of the New Musical Express dated December 27, 1975, this is the very first media mention of the Sex Pistols (just seven weeks after their live debut). These sentences were written by NME staffer Kate Phillips in her review of the All Night Christmas Ball on November 27 1975 at Queen Elizabeth College (then in Campden Hill, Kensington, west London). The Ball had occasioned the fifth appearance by the Pistols, somewhere down a bill dominated by such mid-70s London live stalwarts as Georgie Fame & The Blue Flames, Mike Absolom and Slack Alice. I recall exactly when + where I first read this, on Christmas Eve afternoon with friends on the top deck of a 31 bus traveling through Westbourne Grove. The previous Friday we had been at a dance at Chelsea College Of Art (then in Manresa Street off the King’s Road), where talk had focused on the Pistols’ gig there the week before.

This first slice of media coverage has not featured in any of the many histories of punk and the Pistols. Received opinion has it that the band didn’t make it to print until the February 1976 review by Neil Spencer, so I made sure there was at least one reference to Phillips’ prescient words in my music press history In Their Own Write.”


It cannot make a lot of sense to send your best music writer across country to something like the Coachella Festival but its possible the NYT’s Ben Ratliff had business in Los Angeles. His review, however, does allow for him to note indirectly in passing the anomaly of Keith Morris’ career as a singer:

“Off!, a new band with an old punk-rock eminence — Keith Morris — played a lean, smoking 25-minute set. These new songs find within Mr. Morris the guy he was in the late 1970s when he was Black Flag’s first singer, squirmy and paranoid and disempowered; with graffiti guitar solos and fast, swinging rhythm, they’re studiously close to the sound and songwriting from the first Black Flag EP, ‘Nervous Breakdown,’ which deserves a place in the National Recording Registry. Dreadlocked, balding and worn, Mr. Morris, 55, is a great Southern California artist, one of the few at this year’s Coachella.” (Ben Ratliff, NYT)

Keith was at first determined to play drums but Greg convinced him to sing since he was regularly observed to go off like the Tasmanian Devil of Looney Tunes’ artists imaginations at other bands’ gigs. Keith agreed to sing only after he and Greg and probably Raymond went up to Hollywood and saw the Ramones on their first trip west -- seeing Joey, then, he could conceive of it. (Keith is one of the great voices in Stevie Chick’s Black Flag book, Spray Paint the Walls) And Ben’s right Keith on that first Black Flag EP and the band itself were uniquely on point in one of those initial punk rock compactions of rock and roll form and history. Today when young bands play the style there is no historical compaction of music as they know only the punk form’s surface. The rest of that 1978 session plus an October 1979 live in studio session comprise the 9 songs Keith recorded in Black Flag. When he left to form Circle Jerks they did an instant album and got caught lifting songs from BF and the Angry Samoans, so their popularity was resented, and not just by his former bandmates. What’s more surprising is that Keith himself didn’t sing as well with his new band, even given the songs themselves weren’t more than serviceable. (I remember Greg and Chuck making fun of the CJ’s song from their second album, “Question Authority,” as if that was a radical proposition.)

I never saw Black Flag play with Keith (or Ron for that matter – another drummer turned singer); Dez was the singer when I first saw them. And I never saw much of Greg or Chuck working over the particulars of Henry’s approach to phrasing, though I’m sure some of that happened initially. So I doubt that went on much with Keith either, though they must’ve talked music alot. I think maybe Keith stopped drinking a few years back and maybe that’s part of it. There’s always a good practical reason for alcohol or pot when it comes to musicians when they are young and so full of energy as to leap out of the tune itself during performance. Keith did that finally on stage one night when he quit Black Flag. Quickly the drugs drain emotional content, wreck musical interplay and then kills them ahead of schedule unless they can stop. Musicians usually have to quit music too as they are so bound up together by then. If Keith is that good again, it's great news.


It’s pretty rare for a screenwriter to have his filmography programmed anywhere. I don’t think the Writers Guild does anything like what the Directors Guild or even SAG does for their memberships. So the Anthology’s Rudy Wurlitzer series is a nice surprise, though there’s probably a couple hundred screenwriters I’d program before Wurlitzer, though its always good to see Two-Lane Blacktop again at least:

Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid

• April 29, May 1, 4

Two-Lane Blacktop
April 30, May 2

Glen and Randa
• April 30, May 2, 4

Keep Busy / Energy and How to Get It / Birth of the Flag Pts I & II

• May 1, 5


• May 1, 3

Candy Mountain

• May 3, 5


The Los Angeles Review of Books, a new print quarterly begins with a site and Ben Ehrenreich’s The Death of the Book.

“In 1967, when Jacques Derrida took up the theme of ‘the end of the book’ in Of Grammatology, McLuhan’s ideas were still sufficiently in the air that the philosopher could refer to ‘this death of the civilization of the book of which so much is said’ without need for further explanation. But the ‘civilization of the book,’ for Derrida, meant more than the era of moveable type. It preceded Gutenberg, and even the medieval rationalists who wrote of ‘the book of nature’ and via that metaphor understood the material world as revelation analogous to scripture. The book for Derrida stood in for an entire metaphysics that reached back through all of Western thought: a conception of existence as a text that could be deciphered, a text with a stable meaning lodged somewhere outside of language. ‘The idea of the book is the idea of a totality,’ he wrote. ‘It is the encyclopedic protection of theology and of logocentrism against the disruption of writing, against its aphoristic energy and … against difference in general.’ Those, in case you couldn’t tell, are fighting words. It is perhaps a symptom of print’s decline that the current conversation about the book’s demise has forgotten all these other ones. Instead we shuttle between two equally hollow poles: goofball digital boosterism a la Negroponte on one side and on the other a helpless, anguished nostalgia for the good old days of papercuts.”


April 1955 WGN newsreel of Richard J. Daley’s first election as Mayor. He’d been elected Cook County Democratic Party Chairman two years earlier and many heard their personal bell toll when he broke convention and did not resign the position upon his election.


Obituary of the Week

• Cyrus Harvey (1925 - 2011)

“Janus Films, founded in 1956, grew from his part ownership of the Brattle Theater in Cambridge, Mass., which he and a partner, the actor Bryant Haliday, had transformed from a live-theater venue to a movie house that showed the art films Mr. Harvey had grown to love as a Fulbright scholar in Paris. ‘Instead of spending two years at the Sorbonne, he spent two years at the cinémathèque,’ his wife said. Mr. Harvey and Mr. Haliday showed Janus films at the Brattle and at the 55th Street Playhouse in New York. They had named the company for a Roman god usually depicted with two heads facing in different directions. ‘They named it that because they themselves were opposites,’ Ms. Harvey said. ‘Bryant was gay and Catholic. Cy was straight and Jewish. They really liked that.’ Before they sold the company in 1966, Janus helped introduce American audiences to dozens of films that have since been accepted as masterpieces of world cinema: Antonioni’s L’Avventura, Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai, Fellini’s La Strada, and Bergman’s Seventh Seal and Virgin Spring, which won the Academy Award for best foreign film in 1960, among many others. The Brattle Theater still stands and is still a symbol of Harvard intellectual hip.”


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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1 comment:

  1. I saw OFF! last Thursday in SF. They're energetic as hell, but Keith spent a lot of time in between songs giving his far Left opinion about things. I guess that was OK for most in the VERY large crowd, but, for me, pretty much a waste of time. That said, he's pretty riveting once that band starts playing the tunes.