a new low in topical enlightenment

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Issue #96 (May 4, 2011)

Forest Road, Centennial Ridge, Wyoming

Photo by Joe Carducci

Paradise, and Step on It!
by Joe Carducci

The finest minds of jihad had a real hard-on for the World Trade Center. They came close the first time in Feb. 1993 when the Blind Sheik’s followers drove a car bomb into the parking garage beneath one of the towers. Maybe the WTC really was hard to take if you’re stuck staring at them from New Jersey. You wouldn’t think a blind man would have that problem, but I guess he took their motes in both eyes on faith. Fortunately for the American polity Al Qaeda did not confine their attack that September day to the Pentagon. Had they hit just the Pentagon Al Qaeda would’ve killed far less people and produced nothing in the way of the spectacle we all witnessed, but they would have done far more damage to America by tempting the left to opt out if not sign up. Instead their dumb luck erased a Manhattan landmark. And so we witness within a day of the President’s announcement that bin Laden had been killed the New Yorker’s Jeffrey Toobin dismissing his own question, Was it legal?, in less than four hundred words (and that man is a New York lawyer). And not to be outdone the New York Times decided to withdraw the use of the honorific “Mr.” which they normally insist on using even when it leads them to refer to, say, Meat Loaf as Mr. Loaf. Its worth looking at Jim Romenesko’s report of the internal memo to this effect just to see Ms. Abramson and Mr. Keller referred to as Jill and Bill.

Toobin blogs, “Bin Laden didn’t get a trial and didn’t deserve one. But the number of people for whom that is true is small. At least it should be.” Such would not be the non-tabloid noise coming from New York had New York itself not been hit. Once upon a time Paul Krugman tried to argue that Al Qaeda was made up of extremely intelligent people; his double-dome bank-shot way of reminding by indirection that we had a very dumb guy as president. Of course that could be just inter-Ivy League brand loyalty. I have to laugh when I hear the regional intelligence specialist-author Michael Scheuer insist the same. I used to live in northern Wisconsin, and when I hear that northern Midwest Bo-Hunk accent pronounce someone intelligent it just sounds extra comical. In any case the geniuses at Al Qaeda prosecuted its own strategery, uniting the entire world against themselves by blowing up every kind of people in Saudi Arabia, Kenya, Morocco, Jordan, London, Madrid, Bali, Delhi, as well as giving the Chinese, the Russians, and Thailand convenient rationales for handling domestic troubles in muslim regions all the more roughly. There was an earlier attempt to crash an airliner into the Eiffel Tower. That would’ve put a interesting spin on these years of late capitalism as cleverdick Francophones swallowed their bile and spun a generation of American Humanities grads to God-knows-what indirection.

In the Times roundup of 8 Bin Laden books by Michiko Kakutani, she telescopes his achievement to lower Manhattan so as to round up the usual suspect, former President George W. Bush. She may well be in denial in her disappointment in her present former dream-President since he has done little but legitimize the policies of the former office-seizer war-criminal of her nightmares. She notes the overwhelming consensus in these books as if she’s not chosen them to represent the narrow range of what is conceivable to a… not-so-smart-girl. The point of consensus is that the Iraq War played blindly into the highly intelligent Osama bin Laden’s hands. Whereas former CIA Middle East specialist Reuel Marc Gerecht has this all "virtually the opposite":

“Bin Laden… was undone by his love of violence. He pushed it too far: Slaughtering innocent Africans in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998 was tolerable since the targets were American embassies. Killing American sailors on the USS Cole in the port of Aden was praiseworthy since no modern Muslim power had ever so humbled an American man-of-war. And destroying the Twin Towers and punching a hole in the Pentagon was just astonishing. But then came the slaughter that could not be ignored, as al Qaeda affiliates started killing in Muslim lands. The suicide bombers who hit Casablanca in 2003 and Amman in 2005 made an impact. But the war in Iraq was bin Laden's great moral undoing. Iraq was supposed to be where al Qaeda and other ‘good Muslims’ broke the American back. Instead the carnage there, carried in all its gore by Arabic satellite channels, produced a backlash. There was a limit to the number of Shiite women and children that Sunni Arabs could see murdered.” (Gerecht, WSJ)

And Christopher Hitchens considers that a Baathist Iraq allowed to continue into this year would have been a force for stability of the not-so-ancien regimes in Egypt, Tunisia, Syria, Libya, Yemen, Bahrain, etc. Again, an argument for the worth of an Ivy League education in the person of George W. Bush. It’s crazy ennit Michiko?

I happened to be finishing up a reading binge on the history of the Mongol invasions when the towers fell. It seemed that I could hear history rhyming. The Mongol Khans were practical and not ideological which is why it isn’t so apparent that they left cultural residue behind after ruling over so much of the Eurasian landmass. But there’s something specific to Pakistan that makes me wonder about some kind of Mongol-imposed Masoch-complex that features the worst of jihadi rationale balled up in the worst kind of wounded national pride -- like adding Iran’s outsized ambition to Russia’s bad manners and bringing to boil. Before the Mongol books, I had read a dozen or so recent books on the Vietnam War. What the Vietnam revisionism yielded was a framework with which to watch Presidents Bush and Obama and the Pentagon and CIA and the ever-lovin’ newsmedia step around every self-defeating syndrome of the later years of that war. Based on his campaign, Obama in office might have been expected to scuttle the Iraq war a la Vietnam. Certain bug-out noises had been made about Afghanistan too. All those changes to these two wars that President Obama did not make, tell me that the Democratic Party without the baby boom’s youth culture would not have cut the Republic of South Vietnam loose either, no matter how much they hated President Nixon. They feel they paid too high a price (see Carter, Jimmy or Reagan, Ronnie).

Jamal Khashoggi covered the mujahideen war against the Russians in Afganistan in the 1980s and knew bin Laden then. At Arabnews.com Khashoggi is quoted:

“[H]ad Bin Laden been a good reader of history and if he had had a chance to go on air he would have definitely admitted defeat after the people’s revolution in Tunisia and Egypt. ‘The Arab youth took the path of nonviolence to effect change in their countries. Nonviolence is in total variance with the Al-Qaeda ideology … Osama and his men believed in violence … nothing but violence — no reconciliation — no dialogue.’”

Khashoggi believes that Arabs have escaped the influence of Al Qaeda, but that Pakistan and Afghanistan are “still in its thrall.” He doesn’t mention Iran but here’s Majlis National Security and Foreign Policy Commission member Javad Jahangirzadeh’s take on the death of bin Laden, according to Memri.org:

“The U.S. has killed Al-Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden in a bid to prevent any possible leakage of intelligence and information about U.S.-Al-Qaeda joint terrorist operations, a senior Iranian legislator said today. ‘The West was fully satisfied with bin Laden's performance during the past years and today... it was obliged to kill him to prevent possible leakage of the priceless intelligence that he had.’”

I’m guessing Al Qaeda’s number two, al-Zawahri, wishes he never left Egypt.


bin Laden addenda

Ajai Sahni at South Asian Intelligence Review, The Virtue of Perseverance.

“After an unrelenting effort spanning more than a decade, Osama bin Laden, the amir and ideological fountainhead of al Qaeda, its founder, and the architect of the 9/11 attacks in the US, was killed in the intervening night of May 1-2, 2011, in a US operation in the garrison town of Abbottabad, less than 62 kilometres from Islamabad, and a stone's throw from the Pakistan Military Academy, the country's top training established for officers, and the local Army Brigade Headquarters. Barely a week earlier, on April 23, 2011, Pakistan's Army Chief, General Ashfaq Kayani, had driven by this location to the Kakul Military Academy, just over half a kilometre away, to boast, in his address to cadets there, that ‘the terrorists' backbone has been broken’ by his Forces. Over the past years, the Pakistan establishment, including two successive Presidents -- General Pervez Musharraf and Asif Ali Zardari -- have actively spread a smokescreen over the al Qaeda leadership's presence on Pakistani soil, repeatedly asserting that bin Laden, in particular, was either dead or holed up in some caves in Afghanistan. Bin Laden was, however, living safely in the heart of an Army cantonment, in ‘an extraordinarily unique compound’, a three story building constructed around 2005 on a one acre plot, surrounded by 12 to 18 foot security walls, topped with barbed wire.”

Christopher Hitchens at Slate.com, Death of a Madman.

“The colonial British — like Maj. James Abbott, who gave his name to this one — called them ‘hill stations,’ designed for the rest and recreation of commissioned officers. The charming idea, like the location itself, survives among the Pakistani officer corps. If you tell me that you are staying in a rather nice walled compound in Abbottabad, I can tell you in return that you are the honored guest of a military establishment that annually consumes several billion dollars of American aid. It's the sheer blatancy of it that catches the breath.”

Superheroine: Ass-kicking as Ass-kissing
by Joe Carducci

The two principle movie critics at the New York Times, Manohla Dargis and A.O. Scott have a kind of written “conversation” about ass-kicking women in their Sunday feature, "Gosh, Sweetie, That’s a Big Gun". These are female characters in movies, rather than actual women of course, and though they as cinema chimera do reflect something of the tension in the lives of women and girls that may be in the audiences for these action films, these are still primarily designed for boys and young men by a Hollywood system anchored in archetype and demographic science. There’s been a change in what the female lead does in an action film and if the marketing department can intrigue women by images of stylish babes with a gun or sword than they look forward to a slight bump in box-office. Hollywood from the beginning amended the traditional dramatic forms of tragedy, comedy and epic to suit working and middle class audience taste. Some measure of salt was removed from tragedy’s hero and given to the heroine. This yielded a feature film with the weight of a tragedy but the sunny disposition of a comedy (though salt was removed from the traditional comedic element as well). Such films generally targeted the whole family.

The stroboscopic power of the 35mm black and white moving image yields a more powerful identification with leading characters than occurs in the theater or in literature. The star system searched for distillations of look and behavior in the person of individuals who could balance the real with the ideal. A perfect balance in an actor included some small specificity (Gable’s ears, say), but enough generality to allow frictionless identification. Without that an audience is left with an animal flinching at action if it is well presented, which is more today’s style and what Dargis and Scott seem to be discussing under their meaningless genuflections at all feminist and sociological concerns. Action films were gradually taken over by the 2nd unit crews who once specialized in action sequences with stunt men and stand-ins, while dialogue scenes with the stars were shot on soundstages. Better directors oversaw the 2nd unit, but in the most cursory productions, the serials of the 30s and 40s, they simply credited two directors who made the chapters in half the time.

The 2nd unit auteurs began to break down and choreograph fight scenes with the cinematographers, whereas well into the 30s fights were often simple melees in wide-shot. This evolved into the specialized choreographic cutting that allows a willowy blonde like Uma Thurman to appear to deliver flying kicks to some gang of stolid villains without making mincemeat of her ACL, that being the knee ligament most often torn in sportswomen. If Title IX and a kind of political push to professionalize sports for women produces some useful psychological benefits, they also encourage a kind of false sense of one’s place in the physical world.

The movies were built on portrayals of female jeopardy and rescue. This was going to be changed when birth control in the society that watches movies removes the biological consequences that once gave that jeopardy such overwhelming power. But originally the free incorporeality of the film image transformed this jeopardy, and the cartoon-like way early film heroines bounced back into the arms of heroes or family created a real existing suffrage that began to “reprogram” women and girls in the audiences who otherwise still lived within traditional or immigrant or Victorian strictures. Until the Pill and contemporary alienation, reputation and paternity was everybody’s business. Movies (and music) often got into trouble by promoting wild adventure as if it might be costless. In fact the first order of business for the motion picture industry at the turn of the last century was to design and promote and administer film exhibition in such a way as to make that simple adventure unquestionably safe for females. They were after all being asked to sit down in a darkened theater with strangers. Exhibition had to remove itself from certain disreputable Vaudeville and peep-show associations.

It’s probably not clear to us today how powerful the average Hollywood movie was to women trapped in some feudal order in the third world. We see the old Hollywood tradition as depending on a mode of female jeopardy that often grates. But this dismissing of the old formula is actually mere difference of style blown up by pretense reflex stamped out in colleges. The amazing accessibility of all of a century of cinema leaves no excuse for such ignorance; what could they possibly be watching in all those damn film courses? Camille Paglia wrote of Elizabeth Taylor after her recent passing:

“To me, Elizabeth Taylor's importance as an actress was that she represented a kind of womanliness that is now completely impossible to find on the U.S. or U.K. screen. It was rooted in hormonal reality -- the vitality of nature. She was single-handedly a living rebuke to postmodernism and post-structuralism, which maintain that gender is merely a social construct.” (Salon.com)

Paglia goes on to describe today’s prototype of “the contemporary American career woman” on the screen as “painfully scrawny to look at on the screen. This is the standard starvation look that is now projected by Hollywood women stars -- a skeletal, Pilates-honed, anorexic silhouette, which has nothing to do with females as most of the world understands them.” She even reaches for the word “Android”. This is not only sad, its quite dishonest, even compared to the hoariest of formulas past. One trusts that mothers still lay it down for their daughters as to what is real and what is some self-interested male or feminist fantasy.

I remember being struck by a kind of feint that was made in the plot of a once-notorious made-for-TV movie called Born Innocent (1974); Linda Blair plays a runaway from a broken-home thrown into a reform school where she is set upon by a girl-gang that rapes her with a broom-handle. The film was the kind of visceral movie one saw in movie theaters then, but not on television. If I remember correctly she manages to earn some kind of standing in the school and there is a strong scene where she is channeling her anger in the workyard, punching a bag. You expect you know where the film is going, except you’ve never seen a fourteen year-old girl piloting the ass-kicking revenge story. And you didn’t then either, after all; the story goes back to some kind of semi-family reconciliation I think.

Speaking of mid-seventies girldom, I was playing records by all-girl bands on a friend’s radio show a couple years ago and I made a point of opening up the gatefold of the first Runaways album to show her what Joan Jett’s first band looked like when they were still teenagers and also to display the glories of the LP era. What struck her, born in the eighties, was how un-toned and non-showbizzy -- how natural -- they seemed. I guess that means Kim Fowley wasn’t all that bad a Svengali compared to what young wannabes will do to themselves these days. Its also true that late hippie style was a good one at least as long as the bellbottoms were jeans. Today if one can bear to listen to rock radio (I can) one hears in the more carnally focused anthems that the dudes are describing porn star/call girl action, rather than what they do with a real girl. And in terms of their musical abilities the bands usually put me in mind of what I wrote in R&TPN about the similarly carnally focused band Kiss: “Either they ‘kiss’ better than they play or the groupies of America are easily amused.”

CGI is beginning to relieve some of the pressure on starlets and their personal trainers and plastic surgeons; the synthetic come-on in the videogame Tomb Raider or the movie Avatar is or ought to be ideal if what the designers are trying to do is pull an icon of male fantasy directly from their own head, bypassing any real woman. In this they follow after pin-up art and underground comics. I know nothing about videogames, they seem the worst kind of pseud-cultural black hole, but I happened to be waiting at the Blasting Room studio years ago just as they had decked out their lobby with a game console. Jason, the other drummer-engineer there, was trying to get the hang of the game and it seemed to me that what it gave you first was a good look at Lara Croft’s backside as you tried to get her to jump to the ledges as she runs. Of course if you’re a dude, and you are if you’re playing this game, what you want is a good look at her enormous CGI breasts that the beginner must only assume are bouncing around with all her jumping around. Back then Jason couldn’t earn so much as a peek. I’m sure he’s gone all the way with Lara by now. Of course it is of some interest to speculate what it means to have millions of boys spending thousands of hours as if they are this stacked babe. Narcissism was never so selfless.

The other Lara, CBS’s Lara Logan went right up to that thin line where jeopardy awaits with her crew and bodyguard, and then during the celebration in Tahrir Square at word of Mubarak’s resignation, she got pulled over to the other side. Her description on “60 Minutes” was a valuable bearing witness to the reality that can strike, taking American and Western practices as provocation and opportunity. Her story followed the perils of Lynsey Addario, New York Times photographer held for days in Libya fortunately along with other western journalists. While watching the general coverage of events in Cairo it seemed to me that American and British news directors were finding the few Egyptian women in these crowds and marketing events on these covered “Mariannes”. My assumption was that unless these crowds were all graduates of the American University this had to be a misrepresentation. Logan herself admitted more ignorance than I find plausible. The Times piece, "CBS Reporter Recounts a ‘Merciless’ Assault", reported:

“Before the assault, Ms. Logan said, she did not know about the levels of harassment and abuse that women in Egypt and other countries regularly experienced. ‘I would have paid more attention to it if I had had any sense of it,’ she said.”

She followed up with boiler-plate feminism about why that’s bad, but it seems she’s admitting to a level of self-involvement on the part of at least the broadcast media that if true they ought not let this utterly predictable attack distract themselves from dealing with. It’s hardly a surprise that such danger lurks in Cairo when tourist agencies still note certain Mediterranean manners when advising travelers to Greece and Italy. I remember wondering about Ms. Logan’s sanity seeing her report from streets in Iraq, sometimes in flak jackets, but other times dressed to tempt fate or at least make Katie Couric very angry.

A further breakthrough in American amending of tradition is the now decades-long project to incorporate females into the military services. The UN wars and the wars on terror have accelerated this. Certain allowances have been made for the Marines, Special Forces, and submarine crews but otherwise the courts do not recognize any rationale to keep women out of any military assignment they can qualify for. This is less political now than it was but physical requirements were inevitably lowered and I imagine boot camp ain’t what is used to be, though combat assignments make up less than a fifth of military tasks and women can certainly do any of the tech or administrative jobs. I wasn’t particularly sympathetic to that female push into the services, but I have to say the images of American women on patrol with men in Iraq and Afghanistan were just what those feudal bastards need to see.

From the London desk of Steve Beeho…

Nick Cohen in VG via Spectator.

“Unlike the EU, unfortunately, the United Nations is a club without membership rules. On the Security Council sits Russia, aptly described by the US State Department as a ‘mafia state,’ and the representatives of the Chinese Communist Party. Such are the arbiters of international law. And to get them to agree to the action in Libya, Europe, the US and their Arab supporters had to promise not to overthrow the regime or put soldiers on the ground to support the use of air power. We are now in the absurd situation where we can offer the rebels air support but not the military units they need to win the war. We cannot target the dictator personally, because his life must be protected, while the wretched people of Misurata suffer and die. We may have to live with the fact that Gaddafi will survive – and by clinging on to power give hope to the region’s embattled dictators and depress the morale of their opponents. What is the point of a humanitarian intervention that prolongs the conflict and leaves the abuser of human rights in charge? None that I can see. But apparently it is legal.”


Angelique Chrisafis in Guardian, French football race row.

“According to Mediapart, one of the most senior football federation figures wanted to set a cap of 30% on players of certain origins, but insisted at a meeting the quota should be kept quiet. At another meeting, the French national team coach Laurent Blanc allegedly backed changing youth talent selection criteria to favour players with ‘our culture, our history’. Sources claimed Blanc cited current world champions Spain, saying: ‘The Spanish, they say: 'We don't have a problem. We have no blacks.'’ Amid stupefaction from players, the French government has asked for clarification from the football federation, which has denied setting out a quota policy.”


As part of his “Reading LA” series in the LA Times, Christopher Hawthorne tackles Richard Meltzer’s Guide to the Ugliest Buildings of Los Angeles.

“Each of the essays is memorably offended in its own way, but the real heart of the book comes at the end, in what Meltzer labels a ‘Grimly Serious Afterword.’ There he delves into L.A.’s strange architectural split personality, the fact that its anything-goes commercial strips run through many neighborhoods where any change you want to make to your house has to be approved by a many-headed, self-appointed, righteously powerful design-review committee. Meltzer refers to that divide as ‘Calvinism meets the forces of Babylon.’ As he puts it, ‘staggering decades of incessant push-pull between abstemiousness and ostentation have left virtually no one with a clear fix anymore on either extreme, or a non-neurotic feel for the myriad (self-necessitated) parameters of any so-called ‘balance.’ We all walk a tightrope just to get through the visual encounters of a single sunlit day.’”


Burkhard Bilger in New Yorker on David Eagleman’s experiments which seem to confirm that drummers’ brains are wired differently.

“A drummer’s timing is a physical thing, they agreed, like dancing. Tapping a rhythm on a trackpad robs it of all sense of movement or muscle memory. Yet many of them played to click tracks even onstage, and their sense of tempo had been conditioned and codified by years in the studio. Hip-hop was eighty or ninety beats per minute, they said, Afrobeat around a hundred and ten. Disco stuck so insistently to a hundred and twenty that you could run the songs one after another without missing a beat. ‘There wasn’t a fraction of deviance,’ Eno said. In the heat of a performance, drummers sometimes rushed the beat or hung back a little, to suit the mood. But as click tracks became more common such deviations had to be re-created artificially. To Champion’s amusement, Coldplay had lately taken to programming elaborate ‘tempo maps’ for its live shows, with click tracks designed to speed up or slow down during a song. ‘It re-creates the excitement of a track that’s not so rigid,’ Champion said. When it was his turn to take Eagleman’s test, Champion spent nearly twice as long at the computer as the others — his competitive spirit roused at last. He needn’t have worried. Eagleman’s results later showed a ‘huge statistical difference,’ as he put it, between the drummers’ timing and that of the random control subjects he’d tested back in Houston. When asked to keep a steady beat, for instance, the controls wavered by an average of thirty-five milliseconds; the best drummer was off by less than ten. Eno was right: drummers do have different brains from the rest. ‘They kicked ass over the controls,’ Eagleman said. His next task would be to use the EEG data to locate the most active areas of the drummers’ brains, then target them with bursts of magnetic stimulation to see if he could disrupt their timing. ‘Now that we know that there is something anatomically different about them,’ he said, ‘we want to see if we can mess it up.’”


John Robb interviews Death at louderthanwar.com and uncovers the influence of “Brain Salad Surgery” on proto-punk.


Via the great WaitakereWalks blog, Claude Bessy with the Hardy Boys and Philip K Dick (but tragically not in the same shot), and as an added bonus, here's the actual episode of “The Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew” where that’s from. I guess that band qualifies as the anti-Catholic Discipline.


Mick Middles was Sounds’ Manchester correspondent during the punk years. At the time he was somewhat overshadowed by Paul Morley’s willful journeys into prolixity at the NME but a recent stream of excellent books, including an Ian Curtis biography and his engaging semi-collaboration with Mark E Smith (its mixture of the personal and the oblique making it arguably the best Fall book of all) have evened up the score. Middles has now embarked on a vivid reconstructed diary covering the punk era, which is now up to six parts:

• Part 1

• Part 2

• Part 3

• Part 4

• Part 5

• Part 6

Middles’ abandoned 1990s Fall documentary which recently sneaked out on the “Northern Cream” DVD is also well worth a look.

Nicator Vireo by James Fotopoulos

From the Medicine Bow desk of Joe Carducci…

Daniel Ben-Ami at Spiked-online.com, "The Malthusians who masquerade as Marxists".

The Enigma of Capital concludes with a call for a vaguely defined anti-capitalist alliance of workers, the dispossessed, grassroots organisations, traditional left-wing organisations and others. Harvey even claims there are millions of ‘de facto communists’ around, although they apparently do not realise it. It is not necessary to do a detailed textual analysis to see that Harvey’s points are entirely at odds with the thrust of Marx’s argument. The main aim of Capital, Marx’s theoretical masterwork, is to show how under capitalism the drive to raise productivity (produce more stuff) comes into conflict with the imperatives of profitability. Although capitalism can produce growth, which Marx welcomes, it tends to be uneven and crisis-ridden. For Marx, it was desirable to overthrow capitalism in order to attain an even more productive society. Ending the scourge of scarcity is, in Marx’s view, a necessary pre-condition for realising the human potential…. Harvey’s arguments, in contrast, are more akin to those of Thomas Malthus (1766-1834), the notorious campaigner against ‘overpopulation’. Whereas Marx wanted society to produce more, both Malthus and Harvey present output as inherently limited. And where Marx wanted to remove economic constraints, both Malthus and Harvey view the imposition of extra limits as necessary. Indeed, the essence of Harvey’s convoluted attack on neo-liberalism is a demand for economic restraint. In effect, Harvey has turned Marx into a green and has transformed left into right.”


Howard Jacobson in Independent, "Ludicrous, brainwashed prejudice".

“Forget Holocaust denial. Holocaust denial is old hat. The new strategy – it showed its hand in Caryl Churchill's ‘Seven Jewish Children’, and surfaced again in Channel 4's recent series ‘The Promise’ – is to depict the Holocaust in all its horror in order that Jews can be charged (‘You, of all people’) with failing to live up to it. By this logic the Holocaust becomes an educational experience from which Jews were ethically obliged to graduate summa cum laude, Israel being the proof that they didn't. ‘Jews know more than anyone that killing civilians is wrong,’ resounds an unmistakably authorial voice in ‘The Promise’. Thus are Jews doubly damned: to the Holocaust itself and to the moral wasteland of having found no humanising redemption in its horrors. It matters not a jot to me that the writer/director of ‘The Promise’ is a Jew. Jews succumbing to the age-old view of them and reviling what's Jewish in themselves has a long history. Peter Kosminsky would have it that his series is about Israel, not Jews, but in ‘The Promise’ Israel becomes paradigmatic of the Jews' refusal to be improved by affliction.”


Russell Shorto in NYTmag, "Marine Le Pen: The Kinder, Gentler Extremist".

“The real secret to her success, however, may be in her adroit scrambling of traditional leftist and rightist positions. Signaling a clear break from her father and the right in general, she has come out with a detailed critique of capitalism and a position promoting the state as the protector of ordinary people. ‘For a long time, the National Front upheld the idea that the state always does things more expensively and less well than the private sector,’ she told me. ‘But I’m convinced that’s not true. The reason is the inevitable quest for profitability, which is inherent in the private sector. There are certain domains which are so vital to the well-being of citizens that they must at all costs be kept out of the private sector and the law of supply and demand.’ The government, therefore, should be entrusted with health care, education, transportation, banking and energy. When I pointed out that in the U.S. she would sound like a left-wing politician, she shot back, ‘Yes, but Obama is way to the right of us,’ and opined that proper government oversight would have averted the American financial crisis.”


Economist: "Reforming gloomy France".

“Over the past ten years, Germany’s share of exports within the euro-zone has grown, while France’s has shrunk. In 2000 French labour costs were lower than those in Germany; now they are 10% higher. A big part of the gap can be blamed on France’s heavy payroll taxes. These make employers’ total wage costs 41% higher in France than in Germany, according to Medef, the French bosses’ federation. They are one reason why French firms hesitate to grow, let alone to seek to export, and are reluctant to hire staff on permanent contracts. The average French firm employs just 14 people, according to COE Rexecode, a French research group, compared with 35 in Germany. The upshot is high structural unemployment in France, an over-reliance on temporary work, and a two-tier labour market that over-protects insiders and under-protects the rest. The young, who have become serial collectors of short-term contracts, pay the price by lacking the security that the insiders enjoy. Such concerns ought to be at the heart of any debate today about French economic reform, and yet they are not. No politician dares to contemplate the spending cuts that would be needed in order to bring French social charges down to competitive levels.”


Christopher Caldwell in FT on David Marquand’s book, The End of the West: The Once and Future Europe.

“Through Marquand’s new book… runs a dark sense that his two enthusiasms -- the European Union and democracy -- no longer fit together logically. The EU’s governing institutions, he admits, are ‘only dubiously legitimate’. The EU, as Marquand sees it, is imperiled by paradoxes. It was launched by those who wanted Europe to reclaim ‘its rightful place as the chief custodian of ‘western values’ -- but there is no longer a ‘distinct, identifiable place called ‘the west’.’ Marquand exaggerates, but puts his finger on a genuine problem. When Europe’s leaders act on the world stage, they are liable to the same criticisms that they have leveled at European nation-states -- xenophobia, ethnocentrism, and the like. If Europe is not going to defend highly specific local things, then who would rather be a ‘European’ than a citizen of the world? A second paradox is that Europe sometimes betrays western values as it spreads them, especially democracy. Something went terribly wrong as the EU expanded from its ‘Carolingian’ core of six countries into today’s 27-nation behemoth.”


Daniel Bell interviewed by Roberto Foa & Thomas Meaney at The-utopian.org.

“I grew up on the Lower East Side, which juts out into the river. Before the highways came, there were these long piers…. And they had these so-called ‘Hoovervilles’ on the piers, which were tin shacks, and people living there. Everything was in the open. You could see people fornicating, fighting, everything. There were big garbage scows which turned up, and we’d jump on the top of these to see if there were bits of food. At 11 o’clock at night we’d go to the West Side markets and we’d break open crates, and run away. Everything was marked out by turf and ethnicity. The Italians were here, the Ukrainian kids were there, the Polish kids were there, the Jewish kids here. And there was ‘turf.’ Before E.O. Wilson, it was about ‘turf.’ We really believed in biological determinism, with every group having its place. There’d be fights. And — this was particularly true of the Polish kids — they’d take potatoes, and put in the potatoes these double-edged razor blades, and throw them at you. A hail of potatoes with razor blades being thrown at you! What you’d do then is you took the top of the garbage cans, and those were our shields. And then our brave socialist women would go on top of the building and throw down hot water to get the kids scattered. And that was life, life on the Lower East Side. People talk about ‘rent checks’ and such now. About how poor people are because they don’t have enough to get their rent check. In those days, you didn’t have anything like a rent check! We lived in backyard tenements. So I looked around, and I said to myself: what’s going on here? Twenty percent of the country was unemployed. At that time, there was no social security, there was no government aid of any kind. No unemployment insurance, no old age pensions, nothing. As a kid of thirteen, I figured capitalism was doomed. And so, through a couple of friends, we all became socialists.”


Fritz Raddatz at Signandsight.com, "E.M. Cioran: The poor man’s Gottfried Benn".

“You really don't even want to read it or comment on it, this hair-raising torrent of abominations which, again and again, intones adorational observances in keeping with the chant ‘I believe -- even in Germany -- there are very few people who hold Hitler in greater admiration than I do.’ His rhapsodic ecstasy is mostly lofty and heroic -- ‘The masses want to be given orders’ -- and yet there is something bloated about it; especially when Cioran, who was later to lace though the streets of Paris by night scouting for adventure, also demands clean sexual morals. His Dix-like drawings of brothels and syphilis betray the trembling hand of a pious churchgoer, who nevertheless does not sing the praises of heavenly salvation but voices the desire for dictatorship. Repugnant crowing. Cioran's praise for military music as the accompaniment for the throes of ecstasy ends with this bizarre conclusion: ‘Adam was a sergeant.’ Compared with this, the heroic diarist Ernst Jünger was a bonehead; Celine, husky with hatred, a sweetheart, and Ezra Pound a poet of verses for friendship albums.”


Steven Smith in National Affairs, "In Defense of Politics".

“The excess of politics is a kind of partisan zeal that holds absolute attachment to one’s own way of life -- one’s country, one’s cause, one’s own -- as unconditionally good. This is the kind of loyalty expressed in sentiments like ‘my country, right or wrong,’ or that once-popular bumper sticker urging, ‘my country -- love it or leave it.’ The most potent expression of this attitude was given by the German legal philosopher Carl Schmitt in his short and incendiary 1927 book, The Concept of the Political. Schmitt drew extensively on Thomas Hobbes, but rather than tying the state of war to a pre-political state of nature, Schmitt saw war -- and the constant preparation for war -- as the inescapable consequence of political life. Man is the dangerous animal because he can kill; individuals, then, are always in a state of virtual war with one another, or at least of constant preparation for war. Schmitt believed Hobbes had concluded correctly that war is the natural condition of human beings; he thought Hobbes was wrong, however, to believe that the social contract could create a sovereign that could put an end to war. There is no way of putting an end to war, and therefore the inescapable political fact is the distinction between friend and enemy -- those who are with us and those who are against us. Rather than putting an end to war, the social contract intensifies it -- creating a new grouping of friends who then owe one another their loyalty, drawing yet another line of distinction by which all others may be classified as enemy…. For Schmitt, only partisanship and war were real; consensus and peace were phony. The politics of the future would be determined by those who have the courage to recognize this fact and act upon it. At the other end of the continuum, the deficiency of politics involves a kind of transpolitical cosmopolitanism. Such cosmopolitanism has been shaped decisively by another German thinker: Immanuel Kant. Kant stressed that our moral duties and obligations respect no national boundaries or other parochial attachments such as race, class, or ethnicity. In this view, we owe no greater moral obligations to fellow citizens than to any other human beings on the planet.”


Ekaterina Loushnikova at Opendemocracy.net, "Pavel Galitsky: The last prisoner".

“‘At first we slept in a tent, then we built a hut. The bunks were in two layers and made of poles. Mattresses were stuffed with straw and the ceiling was covered with peat. If it rained, the peat got soaked through and started to drip. The stoves smoked, it was airless, steamy and the stench was unbearable. We did have blankets, but when it was cold we slept in our clothes. We were issued with padded clothes: trousers, a jerkin and a short jacket. We even got fur coats, but what good are they when it’s 70° below freezing? Someone’s ear fell off once, but life goes on without it,’ laughed Pavel Kalinkovich. ‘What you can’t live without is….’ ‘What?’ I interrupted in horror. ‘Boots. I remember a Jewish man, a railway engineer. He was so polite you couldn’t believe it. One evening we were issued with boots, but when he woke up in the morning – no boots! They’d been stolen! ‘Comrades, who’s taken my boots? It’s not funny. Give them back!’ Of course no one did and there was much mirth in the hut. He was sent out to work barefoot, got frostbite, lost the will to live and then died. ‘What was bad was that educated, cultured people…gave up more quickly and died. The peasants knew how to survive, no matter what.’”


Rodric Braithwaite at Opendemocracy.net, "The Russians in Afghanistan".

“The 1st company of the Muslim Battalion then moved forward in their armoured fighting vehicles. The KGB special forces groups under the command of Colonel Boyarinov travelled with them. They had orders to take no prisoners, and not to stop to aid wounded comrades: their task was to secure the building whatever the odds.

Almost as soon as they started, one of the BMPs [infantry fighting vehicles] from the Muslim Battalion stopped. The driver had lost his nerve, jumped out of the vehicle, and fled. He returned almost immediately: things were even more frightening outside the vehicle. The vehicles crashed through the first barrier, crushing the Afghan sentry. They continued under heavy fire, and for the first time the crews heard the unfamiliar, almost unreal, sound of bullets rattling against the armour of their vehicles. They fired back with everything they had and soon the gun smoke inside the vehicles made it almost impossible for the crews to breathe. The safety glass in the vehicles was shot out. A vehicle was hit and caught fire; some of the crew were wounded when they bailed out. One man slipped as he jumped and his legs were crushed under the vehicle. Another vehicle fell off the bridge which the Russians had constructed across the irrigation ditch and the crew were trapped inside. Their commander called for help by radio, and in doing so managed to block the radio link, paralysing the communications of the whole battalion.

The assault force drove as near as they could to the palace walls, disembarked, and threw themselves at the doors and windows of the ground floor. They burst into the palace in ones and twos. Boyarinov was among them…. The Russians’ distinctive white armbands were by now barely visible under a layer of grime and soot. To make matters worse, Amin’s personal guards were also wearing white armbands. But in the excitement, the Russians were swearing horribly, using the choicest works in the Russian lexicon; and it was this that enabled them to identify one another in the darkness. It also meant that the defenders, many of whom had trained in the Soviet airborne school in Ryazan, now realised for the first time that they were fighting Soviet troops, not Afghan mutineers as they had thought. They began to surrender, and despite the order not to take prisoners, most of them were spared.”


Peter Berkowitz in WSJ, "Our Elite Schools Have Abandoned Military History".

“There is little chance today's college students will study the strategy that underlay Gen. Robert E. Lee's decision to lead the Army of Northern Virginia on a second invasion of the North, or the tactics that Gen. George Gordon Meade and his commanders of the Army of the Potomac adopted to repel the attack. They are probably no better versed in any other Civil War battle. One reason for this ignorance is that our bastions of liberal education barely teach military affairs. No doubt the same post-Vietnam hostility to all things military that impelled faculties and administrations to banish ROTC from campus is a major factor. To be sure, military history continues to command popular audiences through best-selling books and television documentaries. It is taught at the service academies and flourishes at a few, mostly public, universities including the University of North Carolina, Ohio State, Texas A&M and the University of Wisconsin. Where it is taught, courses in military history attract impressive numbers of students. But as military historian Edward M. Coffman (professor emeritus at the University of Wisconsin) notes, only about 5% of America's approximately 14,000 history professors identify military history as an interest.”


Gabriel Schoenfeld in National Affairs, "Legalism in Wartime".

“Over the course of the 20th century, judicial encroachment into national-security policy was made possible by two important forces: the civil-liberties movement that took shape after World War I, and a new, more internationalist understanding of war crimes and the laws of war in the wake of World War II. During the First World War, the administration of President Woodrow Wilson imposed repressive measures to stifle dissent -- including restrictions on speech by anti-war activists, censorship of mail, and mass arrests of immigrants suspected of disloyalty or anarchy. Wilson’s crackdown gave rise to a civil-liberties movement, including, most notably… the American Civil Liberties Union. In the following decades, this movement pursued two sometimes contradictory objectives: the expansion of the sphere of personal freedom in American life, and the advancement of a ‘progressive’ political agenda. The tension between these objectives frequently flared in the movement’s early years. From the 1930s through the 1950s, the presence of American communists in the leading councils of the ACLU led to bitter divisions within the organization. Of these controversial figures, Corliss Lamont -- who avidly defended the Soviet Union during Stalin’s most repressive phases -- was pre-eminent; serving on the ACLU’s board of directors for 22 years, he was a precursor of the radical civil-liberties lawyers of recent decades. As with today’s civil-liberties activists, when those early ACLU radicals saw their progressive aims in conflict with the preservation of liberty, liberty was often the loser. Indeed, figures like Lamont were among the most avid supporters of President Franklin Roosevelt’s decision to intern 150,000 Japanese-Americans after Pearl Harbor.”


Christopher Caldwell in FT on Francis Fukuyama’s book, The Origins of Political Order.

“For Fukuyama, democracy‘s foundations lie in ‘pockets of local resistance‘ to centralizing authority. Conflicts between states and their adversaries play out in different ways. In Russia, the peasant masses were overrun by an upper class in alliance with the state. Result: absolutism. In Britain, Protestant outrage against the catholicizing Stuarts, bolstered by an attachment to the Common Law, made it impossible for kings to dent parliamentary solidarity, as they had done elsewhere. Result: liberty. ‘No taxations without representation‘ is not a moral princicple but a demand based on a calculus of power. Fukuyama‘s view runs counter to a lot of clichés. His democracy is a rearguard ideology, not a vanguard one. Old hierarchies, loyalties and even bigotries are the sand that forms the democratic pearl. Fukuyama‘s grimmest message, though he never puts it quite so bluntly, is that moreal and cultural progress might signal political and civilization decay.”


Harsh Pant at MEforum.org, "India’s Changing Role, The Afghanistan Conflict".

“As the Afghan war enters its final and most decisive phase, India's strategic position in the country has turned a full circle. Having maintained a close relationship with the post-Taliban government for years, New Delhi suffered a humiliating setback last January when its warning against the folly of making a distinction ‘between good Taliban and bad Taliban’ was summarily ignored by the Afghanistan Conference in London. At a stroke, Pakistan squeezed its nemesis from the evolving security architecture by persuading the West that the time had come to incorporate the ‘moderate’ faction of the Taliban into Afghanistan's future state structure and to give Islamabad a key role in mediating this process. Meanwhile, despite its best attempts to keep a low profile, India and its nationals have been increasingly targeted by extremist forces in Afghanistan. The Indian embassy in Kabul was struck twice over the past two years, and guest houses frequented by Indians were attacked with nine Indian nationals killed. Viewing these strikes as a blatant attempt to drive it out of Afghanistan, something New Delhi has explicitly ruled out despite the recent setbacks, the Indian government has embarked on a major rethink of its Afghanistan-Pakistan policy; and while this process has yet to be completed, it might eventually culminate in a new regional alignment — between India, Iran, and Russia — that will only complicate Washington's exit strategy from Afghanistan.”


Roula Khalaf in FT, "Arab leaders pressed to break silence on Syria".

“The Syria crisis is not officially on the agenda of Thursday’s Arab League foreign ministers’ meeting to discuss the next secretary-general of the organization. But diplomats acknowledge that a discussion on Syrai is becoming inevitable. ‘The silence is embarrassing,’ admits one senior official in the region. Arab officials said that the situation in Syria, where at the weekend troops shelled the old quarter of the southern town of Deraa, the epicentre of the unrest, was ‘going out of control’ and would force itself on the League’s meeting agenda. The dilemma for neighbours is that Syria is far more strategically important than Libya.”


Ethan Bronner in NYT, "Tensions Rise as Hamas Refuses To Take Sides in Syrian Unrest".

Al Hayat, the London-based pan-Arab newspaper, reported Saturday that Hamas’s political wing was decamping to Doha, the capital of Qatar, but Hamas officials in Syria and beyond it denied it. Similar reports circulated on Monday and denials were again issued. But Hamas officials acknowledged in a series of interviews that relations with Syrian officials have been tense. ‘The Syrian government said to us, ‘Whoever is not with us is against us,’’ said a senior Hamas official at a Palestinian camp near Damascus. ‘It wants us to express clearly our position over what is going on in Syria. It wants us to be against the Syrian demonstrations. We told them we are neutral. We said to them we are living in the country as visitors and we have no right to comment or interfere in the country’s problems.’”


Peter Wonacott in WSJ, "A New Class Of Consumers Grows in Africa".

“Sustained economic growth in Africa has produced for the first time a broad middle class, one that cuts across the continent and is on par with the size of the middle classes in the billion-person emerging markets of China and India. The rise of a middle class in the world's poorest continent is a dramatic marker for the global economy. At a time when the U.S., Europe and Japan are struggling to grow, Africa is beginning to beckon as a consumer of what other nations produce, thanks in part to a young population more upwardly mobile than ever before. Over the past decade, the number of middle-class consumers in Africa has expanded more than 60% to 313 million, according to a new report from the African Development Bank Group.”


Economist: "The Chinese in Africa".

“On his first trip three years ago Mr Zhu filled a whole notebook with orders and was surprised that Africans not only wanted to trade with him but also enjoyed his company. ‘I have been to many continents and nowhere was the welcome as warm,’ he says. Strangers congratulated him on his homeland’s high-octane engagement with developing countries. China is Africa’s biggest trading partner and buys more than one-third of its oil from the continent. Its money has paid for countless new schools and hospitals. Locals proudly told Mr Zhu that China had done more to end poverty than any other country.

He still finds business is good, perhaps even better than last time. But African attitudes have changed. His partners say he is ripping them off. Chinese goods are held up as examples of shoddy work. Politics has crept into encounters. The word ‘colonial’ is bandied about. Children jeer and their parents whisper about street dogs disappearing into cooking pots.”


Economist: "Huawei’s world".

“Having just passed Nokia and Siemens, Huawei looks on track to overtake Ericsson, the industry leader, this year. But it faces some big impediments, perhaps the most important being the concerns of many governments, notably America’s and India’s, about a private company suspected of links to the security apparatus of a country said to be conducting sophisticated hacking. Because of such worries, Huawei’s efforts to buy American companies have been blocked and some sales have been lost. The report is clearly an effort by Huawei to lay such concerns to rest. For the first time, its directors are named and given brief biographies. The rags-to-riches story of Ren Zhengfei, the chief executive, is fleshed out: the son of rural schoolteachers, he left the army in 1983, founding the company with savings of 21,000 yuan four years later. None of the other directors is said to have military ties. However, a somewhat conspicuous omission from the profile of Sun Yafang, the chairman, is that — according to a report in the Financial Times — she used to work for the Ministry of State Security. That three other directors are (according to the Chinese press) closely related to Mr Ren is also omitted.”


Simon Romero in NYT, "Returned to Power, a Leader Celebrates a Checkered Past".

“Rather than playing down his past, Mr. Bouterse has defiantly celebrated it since his election last July by Parliament. He has designated Feb. 25, when he and other soldiers carried out a coup in 1980, as a national holiday, calling it the ‘day of liberation and renewal.’ And while Mr. Bouterse has said he will not interfere in the murder case against him here, he named one of his co-defendants in the trial as ambassador to France, showing little deference to the legal cloud hanging over them. Mr. Bouterse has also begun remaking Suriname’s governing institutions, sometimes with his own family. He put his wife, Ingrid Bouterse-Waldring, on the government payroll, paying her about $4,000 a month for her duties as first lady. He also named his son, Dino Bouterse, 38, convicted here in 2005 of leading a cocaine and illegal weapons ring, as part of the command of a new Counter-Terrorism Unit. Dino Bouterse, released from prison in 2008, had also previously been arrested in connection with a 2002 theft of weapons from Suriname’s intelligence agency. ‘We are witnessing the return of immorality to our small country,’ said Eddy Wijngaarde, 67, whose brother, a prominent journalist, was among the 15 dissidents killed by Mr. Bouterse’s government on Dec. 8, 1982.”


Kenneth Minogue in WSJ on Peter Corning’s book, The Fair Society.

“Mr. Corning regrets that John Rawls has not yet been taken up as a guide to the remaking of America. The extent of current ‘injustice’ might seem to be revealed in the fact that, when compared with many other developed nations, the U.S. suffers from high levels of poverty — and the poverty seems all the worse because of the widening gap between rich and poor. Are Americans therefore fleeing the country and seeking greener pastures elsewhere? On the contrary. Aspiring immigrants clamor for American visas — or clamber over fences to get in. Why would so many fling themselves toward an ‘unfair’ land? It is difficult to reconcile the clash between poverty and immigration statistics. What is the reality? How should we orient ourselves? Mr. Corning suggests bringing science into the matter — it's right there in the book's subtitle: ‘The Science of Human Nature and the Pursuit of Social Justice.’ Making America a fair society, he says, is a project that has behind it something he calls ‘the multidisciplinary science of fairness,’ which has supposedly found that ‘most of us do have a bias toward cooperation and a readiness to reciprocate — a sense of fairness.’ That's odd: Science usually deals in things more concrete than human dispositions. But Mr. Corning's claim is even grander: ‘An organized complex society,’ he says, is ‘a purposeful biologically based survival enterprise.’ We never quite learn whose survival is at stake or how evolution figures into all this, with its decidedly unfair survival-of-the-fittest theme. Nevertheless, survival — of the species? of the American state? of American individuals? — is the highest value, above both liberty and property. Mr. Corning would obviously have no truck with Patrick Henry's ‘liberty or death’ proposition. Large questions slide by here without the attention they deserve.”


James Taranto at WSJ, "Why the Left Needs Racism II".

“‘No one ever thinks they're a racist’ -- including, it is safe to surmise, David Remnick. For him, white guilt is directed outward; he is certain that other people are racist. His ‘evidence’ is the assertion that they have ‘feelings’ that are ‘half buried’ and ‘latent.’ Could we get The New Yorker's storied fact-checking department to confirm that, please? Baselessly accusing their political foes of racism is a way in which today's liberals attempt to incite fear and loathing of ‘the other.’ As we argued last year, this serves a political purpose in that it helps persuade blacks not to consider voting Republican. But it serves a psychological purpose as well. It reinforces white liberals' sense of their own superiority. Yet that sense of superiority is not as secure as it once was. Here is Remnick's most telling quote from that interview: ‘Really, I'm not in the habit of screaming racist at every turn. I don't think you [interviewer Michele Norris] are and I don't think most people are.’ It used to be that people expressing politically incorrect views about race felt compelled to preface their statements with a defensive denial: ‘I'm not a racist, but…’ The editor of The New Yorker, speaking to an NPR audience, now has a similar compulsion to deny that he is ‘in the habit of screaming racist.’ The tables have turned. Now it is the left that is on the defensive over ‘racism.’ Their outdated attitudes about race put them in the absurd position of arguing that the most powerful man in the world is a victim of oppression because of the color of his skin. Men like David Remnick turn out to be the ones who aren't ready for a black president.”


Yuval Levin in National Affairs, "Beyond the Welfare State".

“Unresponsive ineptitude is not merely an annoyance. The sluggishness of the welfare state drains it of its moral force. The crushing weight of bureaucracy permits neither efficiency nor idealism. It thus robs us of a good part of the energy of democratic capitalism and encourages a corrosive cynicism that cannot help but undermine the moral aims of the social-democratic vision. Worse yet, because the institutions of the welfare state are intended to be partial substitutes for traditional familial, social, religious, and cultural mediating institutions, their growth weakens the very structures that might balance our society’s restless quest for prosperity and novelty and might replenish our supply of idealism.”


Benjamin Wallace-Wells in New York, "Paul Krugman’s lonely crusade".

“Back in 2006, when he was writing The Conscience of a Liberal, Krugman found himself searching for a way to describe his own political Eden, his vision of America before the Fall. He knew the moment that he wanted to describe: the fifties and early sixties, when prosperity was not only broad but broadly shared. Wells, looking over a draft, thought his account was too numerical, too cold. She suggested that he describe his own childhood, in the middle-class suburb of Merrick, Long Island. And so Krugman began writing with an almost choking nostalgia, the sort of feeling that he usually despises: ‘The political and economic environment of my youth stands revealed as a paradise lost, an exceptional moment in our nation’s history…’ Krugman remembers Merrick in these terms, as a place that provoked in him ‘amazingly little alienation.’ …The Krugmans lived in a less lush part of Merrick, full of small ranch­houses each containing the promise of social ascent. ‘I remember there was often a typical conversational thing about how well the plumbers — basically the unionized blue-collar occupations — were doing, as opposed to white-collar middle managers like my father.’ This Edenic Merrick has long since evaporated, giving way to something more socially distended and bizarre. Would he prefer Merrick in the sixties to his current life? ‘Knowing that I am in fact me, this is a much better society for me to live in. And not because of the money but because it’s more open, more tolerant,’ Krugman says…. But talking about Merrick prompts Krugman to think about how that moment might have been extended. ‘Suppose an alternative history in which big-box stores, Wal-Mart and others, were unionized,’ he says. ‘You could easily imagine that you could have a large number of service-sector workers who were, if not like autoworkers, like manufacturing-sector union workers in the golden age of private-sector unions.’ He thinks for another minute. It might not have been Utopia, he says, but it could have been France.”


Economist: "Direct Democracy: From Athens via Switzerland to the Wild West".

“From the start, Californian direct democracy thus had the opposite social purpose of its Swiss mother. As Ms Casanova says, the Californian system was designed to be ‘confrontational’. For example, it is quite difficult for petitioners to call a referendum, which merely passes judgment on a decision by elected representatives. But it is easy to launch an initiative, which circumvents the legislature by letting citizens make law.

California is also unique, in America and the world, in treating every successful initiative as irreversible (unless the initiative itself says otherwise). The legislature cannot change it. In effect, this makes initiatives a higher class of law. In California they often amend the constitution. And whereas Switzerland ensures that different initiatives are mutually compatible, California makes no such effort. A single ballot can contain directly contradictory initiatives, in which case the one with the most yes votes wins.

Direct democracy in California is thus an aberration. It has no safeguards against Madison’s tyranny of the majority. It recognises no saucer that might cool the passions of the people. Above all, it is not a system intended to contain minority factions. Instead, it encourages special interests to wage war by ballot measure until one lobby prevails and imposes its will on all. Madison and Hamilton would have been horrified.”


Monica Davey in NYT, "A State Manager Takes Over and Cuts What a City Can’t".

“The city is now run by Joseph L. Harris, an accountant and auditor from miles away, one of a small cadre of ‘emergency managers’ dispatched like firefighters by the state to put out financial blazes in Michigan’s most troubled cities. In Benton Harbor, where, records show, finances have spiraled downward in a morass of commingled funds, puzzling accounting and unchecked spending, Mr. Harris has been handed sweeping new powers under recent state legislation that emergency managers like him say was needed to remedy dire situations. Critics say the new powers, granted by the state’s new Republican leadership, are Michigan’s way to shrink benefits for public workers and undermine the strength of labor unions, just as officials have tried in Indiana, Ohio and Wisconsin.”


Ray Long in CT, "Quinn wants to withhold cities’ money as pressure to borrow billions".

“Gov. Pat Quinn wants to stop nearly $100 million in monthly payments to Chicago, the suburbs and other Illinois towns if lawmakers won't let him borrow billions of dollars to pay overdue bills, according to a confidential memo the Tribune obtained Thursday.

The idea drew immediate blowback from local leaders worried about balancing their own budgets in a sluggish economy. ‘To me, it sounds like they're holding us hostage,’ said Tinley Park Mayor Ed Zabrocki, a former Republican legislator. The proposal, outlined in the memo and quietly distributed to top legislators, represents a pressure tactic by the Democratic governor. He hopes mayors from Zion to Cairo will squeeze their town's lawmakers to help get him the loan he wants.”


John Cochrane in WSJ, "Why the 2025 Budget Matters Today".

“To buy a 30-year Treasury at its current 4.5% yield and get a decent 2% return, you have to bet that inflation will not exceed 2.5% for the next 30 years. You have to bet they will solve the 2025 deficit. If you decide that the government will just keep kicking the deficit can down the road, sell your 30-year Treasurys. Sell fast, before everyone else does — because if we all try to sell, we just drive down the price and long-term interest rates rise. So as long as we don't solve 2025, we are at risk of a spike in long-term rates if investors dump long-term U.S. debt. It gets worse. Our government borrows money for relatively short terms. Every few years it has to borrow new money to pay off the old debt. But if we, the bond market, decide that the government will end up inflating its way out of its fiscal problems, we refuse to roll over short-term debt. Then the government must print new money to pay off the maturing debt, bringing us inflation right away.”


Amity Shlaes at Bloomberg.com, "Chastity Belt Needed to Keep U.S. Budget Pure".

“Top Senate Democrat Harry Reid advocates a limit on the deficit, a law binding Congress to reduce the deficit when it reaches certain levels. Others are proposing simple caps on spending that make it harder for committee chairmen to push through extra outlays when no one is looking. Of course the calm counsel on the need for devices is supposed to distract us from the fact that the devices are being put forward as part of a wild package that would increase the debt ceiling well above the appalling and unsober level of $14 trillion. But what was Gramm-Rudman and what did it accomplish? A look back a quarter century makes clear that some of today’s consolation Gramm-Rudmans might yield the opposite of the result their advocates intend. The first Gramm-Rudman gesture was, just as now, a gesture of contrition. Spending seemed to be out of control, everyone blamed Congress. ‘It is 1985,’ said a Wall Street Journal editorial, ‘there’s congressional government, and there’s chaos.’”


Clive Crook in FT, "Obama’s perilous assault on the rich".

“The US income tax system is anomalous not because its rates are low but because, given its middling rates, it collects so little revenue. Between 2004 and 2008, US taxpayers surrendered, on average, a little over 12 per cent of their income in federal income tax. The bottom 50 per cent of households faced an average tax rate of roughly 3 per cent; the top 50 per cent an average tax of 14 per cent; the top 5 per cent a tax of 21 per cent; and the top 1 per cent a tax of 23 per cent. The system turns regressive for the very richest; the top 0.1 per cent of taxpayers (incomes starting at between $1.5m and $2.2m) faced a slightly lower average tax rate than the merely rich. There are two main reasons for the gap between average and marginal rates. The first, in the middle of the income distribution, is the value of tax deductions for mortgage interest, employer-provided health insurance and other things that Congress has chosen to promote. The other, at the top of the income scale, is the fact that capital gains and dividends are taxed at much lower rates than employment income. To propose mending such a system by raising the highest marginal rate misses the point. The base needs broadening, so that marginal rates can stay put or even come down while revenues go up.”


Steven Davidoff at NYtimes.com, "As Wall St. Firms Grow, Their Reputations Are Dying".

“Today’s Wall Street is not the Wall Street of 1907 when J.P. Morgan single-handedly used his reputation and wallet to stem a running financial panic. Until the 1980s, as William J. Wilhelm Jr. and Alan D. Morrison document in their excellent book, Investment Banking: Institutions, Politics, and Law (Oxford University Press; 2007), Wall Street was made up of traditional partnerships. These were small groups of investment bankers who represented companies in offering and selling securities and occasionally acquisitions. These bankers put their individual reputations on the line, because there were so few of them. Morgan Stanley, for example, had only 31 partners in 1970 and fewer than 1,000 employees. But this began to change in the 1980s. Trading markets became much more sophisticated, and trading and brokerage became the investment banks’ primary business. This is a technology game. The better the technology, the better the trading and brokerage operation. Individuals became less important.”


CT: "Daley’s Decades".

“For 22 years, Richard M. Daley has ruled from his father's wooden desk in his father's wood-paneled office. But if Richard J.'s legacy leaps quickly to the tongue — laced with bold nouns like builder and kingmaker and boss — the final judgment on Richard M. will not be written for several years. Why so? Chicago is broke. For that, Daley is significantly responsible. He spent too much money fulfilling proud ambitions for his city. He awarded sweetheart labor contracts that extend years beyond his reign. And he let unfunded pension obligations metastasize to a potentially devastating $20 billion-with-a-b. Thus the peculiar dependency: The ultimate verdict on Daley rests with… one or perhaps more of his successors. If the next mayor, or the mayor after that, rescues City Hall from imminent financial peril, then Chicago, its prospects and its spirit will survive and thrive. For Daley, then, all likely would be forgiven. Why would history obsess on a financial crisis that went away? If, though, a City Hall too timid or inept to tame its runaway finances presides over a rising exodus of people and jobs, Daley would be remembered as the mayor who stayed too long. His achievements would recede, forgotten, into the Chicago decline of which he warned in 1989. For Chicago's sake, and for Daley's, we would rather see recovery and redemption than bankruptcy and blame.”


Thomas Bender in NYTBR on Maya Jasanoff’s book, Liberty’s Exiles: American Loyalists in the Revolutionary World.

“Jasanoff estimates that 60,000 loyalists opted to leave America, including at least 8,000 free blacks. In addition, 15,000 enslaved people of African descent were carried away by their owners. The migration was hardly a small one: in proportion to population, the American Revolution resulted in five times more departures than its more violent French counterpart. Why did so many go? There were many reasons, but the largest and most obvious factor was the availability of the commodious British Empire. The loyalists were able to leave their homeland while remaining under the British king. And the king’s own loyalty to his American subjects also made a difference: his government provided the loyalists with transportation and established a mechanism for making claims on the British treasury for loss of property. At the heart of this smart, deeply researched and elegantly written history is Jasanoff’s re-creation of the lives of those who emigrated — rich and poor, white, black and in some cases red. She brings these displaced people to life: we learn their reasons for leaving, their understanding of the losses and gains, and more generally the ‘bittersweet’ experiences of even those who successfully rebuilt their lives.”


Domenick Ammirati & Mevis Van Deursen in Art Lies, "Structure, Metaphor, Contemporary Art".

“If change is a domestic animal in this model of the art world, so too are all its modes and forms turned to feeding the belly and dragging the cart of the economy. Lapdog revolutions bark, but they won’t give you rabies. The gorilla only rattles its cage bars, or draws them. There remains hope that something from outside art, perhaps -- something wild -- could really sink in its teeth, which is why the field’s porousness appeals, especially at the moment, whether in terms of a self-aware return to Pop content or an appropriation of its new forms. The emergence of a new ‘postmodern’ -- that is, the move outside another ossified cultural formation of the continuing modern age -- seems to require such. The inherent risk is that it is far too easy to make an artistic practice of expeditions to the hinter territories of exotic subcultures (cf., again, the 1990s).”


Ariella Budick in FT, "Dizzying waltz of desire and disgust".

“While Paris’s cubists and Milan’s futurists fragmented the human body into dangerous little shards, the Viennese cherished their nudes. Flesh flooded the dreams of philosophers and surged into the paintings of Klimt, Schiele and Kokoschka; anxieties about women infiltrated every debate, an ambivalence that mirrored the way these painters felt about modernity itself. Deluging the workforce in ever larger numbers and agitating for shifts in the power structure, women represented a threat to most men whatever their politics. Jill Lloyd’s absorbing essay in the exhibition catalogue details the violent reactions against even the most modest demands for equality. Conservatives noted the emancipation of women and the influx of Jews, condemning both groups as diseased destroyers of the old social order. But the intelligentsia outdid even the political rearguard in vehement misogyny. Karl Krauss denounced Vienna‘s ‘vaginal society’. Sigmund Freud pronounced women’s desire for equality a form of penis envy. And the exhibition includes a copy of Otto Weininger’s Sex and Character, in which the author laments the rise of ‘virulised women’ and Jews, in both of whom he detects the lack of an autonomous moral self.”


Alice in Wonderland

A James Fotopoulos film / 2011, Premiere, presented by the filmmaker.
• Sat. May 7, 7pm, Microscope Gallery, Brooklyn.

An 1886 musical pantomime score by Walter Slaughter, script by H. Savile Clarke.
Produced and arranged by Ben Hanna; original music by ONO, Rahdunes, Nate Archer, Aaron Coyes, Indra Dunis, Sunny Walker.

Extra: Amy Taubin at ArtForum on Fotopoulos's Alice in Wonderland.


3rd Annual Migrating Forms Festival.

• May 20 - 29, 2011

Anthology Film Archives, New York

Featuring Glauber Rocha, Straub-Huillet, Juche, Destroy All Monsters…


Patrick Goldstein & James Rainey at LAtimes.com, "New York Times finally gets around to panning ‘Atlas Shrugged’".

“Aglialoro added: ‘The New York Times gave us the most hateful review of all -- they didn't cover it.’ In fact, New York's paper of record routinely reviews virtually every movie, no matter how small, that has a commercial run in New York. But not ‘Atlas Shrugged,’ a decision that prompted lots of jeering from the arch-rival New York Post, which repeatedly hammered the NYT for ignoring the film. On Friday things changed. Two weeks after the film opened, the paper ran a review by Carina Chocano, a former critic at my paper who's been freelancing for Rupert Murdoch's the Daily and writing movie-related essays for the Times' Sunday magazine. Clearly no fan of Rand, Chocano was just as dismissive of the film as all the other liberal critics.”


Dan Kois in NYTmag, "Confessions of an aspirational viewer".

“‘You have to watch it!’ Upon hearing those words — uttered by her friend Cassie, just a year older but, in her eyes, impossibly sophisticated — my daughter Lyra became infatuated with a TV show of which she can barely make heads or tails. ‘Phineas and Ferb’ is an animated program about the absurd summer-vacation adventures of two stepbrothers and the endless frustration of their older sister, who’s constantly trying to bust them in the middle of, say, carving a new face onto Mount Rushmore. Each 12-minute episode bounces maniacally through a convoluted plot (always including a subplot about the brothers’ pet platypus, who is, of course, a secret agent) and is spring-loaded with jokes, gags and parent-friendly pop-culture references (Cool Hand Luke, Stanley Kubrick, Shepard Fairey). For Lyra, just turned 6, this rapid-fire show is bewitching in its complexity — the epitome, she thinks, of sophisticated viewing. She watches ‘Phineas and Ferb’ aspirationally, as a sort of challenge to herself. She’s trying as hard as she can to adopt the knowing, self-aware manner of story-watching that older children already have. And Lyra now becomes exasperated when her younger sister forces her to watch what were, not long ago, her old favorites on Nick Jr. Yuck! Dora the Explorer asks you questions and then waits for the answers! Phineas and Ferb, flattering their viewers by assuming a base-line level of comprehension, never wait for the answers. There’s never time; another joke is fast approaching, and though Lyra doesn’t get the jokes, she understands the rhythm of jokes, and so when she hears that rhythm, she laughs, knowingly, in a manner that tugs at my heart — and feels more than a little familiar.

I was reminded of Lyra and ‘Phineas and Ferb’ as I sat in a dark movie theater watching Kelly Reichardt’s ‘Meek’s Cutoff.’”


WSJ: "Grace Slick interview".

Your voice always sounded like a warning. Was it?

Sometimes. For example, on ‘Somebody to Love,’ the opening lines are ‘When the truth is found to be lies, and all the joy within you dies.’ When you learn that a truth is a lie, anger follows. There's an annoyance in my voice because I'm annoyed. I would add vibrato to drive home points. I liked to get ear-crushing loud but then bring my voice down.

How long did it take you to write ‘White Rabbit?’

About an hour. There were two influences there. I loved the bolero used by Miles Davis and Gil Evans on their 1960 album ‘Sketches of Spain.’ I also had a long-standing love affair with ‘Alice in Wonderland.’”


NYT: Jim Brown interview.

"Today, star high school athletes often concentrate on one sport and do it year-round. Do you think that’s a good trend?

Money has stepped to the forefront of everything. And if you want to make money, you play one sport. If you want experiences to make you a better person, then you play two or three sports. One of the most fantastic experiences I ever had was as a decathlete. I finished fifth in the nation my senior year of high school. I had no training or nothing.

So you have pole-vaulted?

That’s what’s so interesting — it’s against the grain. Rafer Johnson was at that meet. I had to do the pole-vault. I’ll tell you this: pole-vaulting did not help my case.”


Vickie Chang in O.C. Weekly, "Jack Grisham of T.S.O.L.: Bedeviled".


Obituaries of the Week

• Harry Jackson (1924 - 2011)

“After being shipped to Los Angeles, he was made an official Marine Corps combat artist, with the assignment to execute drawings and paintings depicting, as he put it, ‘my bloodiest close-combat experiences.’ This he did in paintings like ‘Tarawa-Betio’ (1944), now in the collection of the National Museum of the Marine Corps in Triangle, Va. After seeing the Jackson Pollock painting ‘The Moon-Woman Cuts the Circle,’ Mr. Jackson underwent an artistic conversion. The painting, he said, ‘shot the first crack of daylight into my blocked-off brain.’ He moved to New York, where he became a close friend of Pollock’s and began painting in the Abstract Expressionist style. He quickly gained notice as an artist to watch when Meyer Schapiro and Clement Greenberg included him in their ‘Talent 1950’ exhibition at the Kootz Gallery, and over the next several years he exhibited at Tibor de Nagy, a nerve center of second-generation Abstract Expressionism. After traveling to Italy in the early 1950s, he re-embraced realism and undertook a journey in reverse that Life magazine chronicled in an extensive 1956 photo essay, ‘Painter Striving to Find Himself: Harry Jackson Turns to the Hard Way.’ …Returning full circle to the subject matter that had captured his imagination as a boy, the West, he produced works like ‘The Stampede’ and ‘The Range Burial,’ sequential paintings depicting a frenzied herd of longhorn cattle dragging a young cowboy off his horse and the somber burial ceremony on the prairie. He became good friends with John Wayne in the last decade of that actor’s life…. In a review of Mr. Jackson’s cowboy art for The New York Times in 1980, Hilton Kramer called his career ‘unlike any other in the recent history of American art.’ His change of direction, Mr. Kramer wrote, ‘has turned a well-known and highly praised but penurious young artist into one of the wealthiest ‘unknown’ artists in America — an artist unknown, that is, to the art world where his first reputation was made 30 years ago.’”

• Madame Nhu (1924 - 2011)

“Her parents named her Tran Le Xuan, or ‘Beautiful Spring.’ As the official hostess to the unmarried president of South Vietnam, her brother-in-law, she was formally known as Madame Ngo Dinh Nhu. But to the American journalists, diplomats and soldiers caught up in the intrigues of Saigon in the early 1960s, she was ‘the Dragon Lady,’ a symbol of everything that was wrong with the American effort to save her country from Communism. In those years, before the United States deepened its military involvement in the war, Madame Nhu thrived in the eye of her country’s gathering storm as the wife of Ngo Dinh Nhu, the younger brother and chief political adviser to Ngo Dinh Diem, the president of South Vietnam from 1955 until 1963. While her husband controlled the secret police and special forces, Madame Nhu acted as a forceful counterweight to the diffident president, badgering Diem’s aides, allies and critics with unwelcome advice, public threats and subtle manipulations. Then, after both men were killed in a military coup mounted with the tacit support of the United States, she slipped into obscurity.”


Thanks to Jay Babcock and Mike Vann Gray.

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• The New Vulgate
• Joe Carducci, Chris Collins, James Fotopoulos, Mike Vann Gray, David Lightbourne
• Copyright retained by the writer, artist, or photographer

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for Taranto's opinion of Remnick's interview; I don't read the WSJ, but I did hear Remnick's interview on NPR and his opinion went perfectly unchallenged by Norris. I say it's shocking that this passes for radio journalism.