a new low in topical enlightenment

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Issue #101 (June 8, 2011)

West from Centennial Ridge

Photo by Joe Carducci

David Stern’s Pivot Foot
by Joe Carducci

Considering it’s the NBA Finals Mark Jackson is adequate and Jeff Van Gundy is fine, but Mike Breen is a cement-head and illustrates the network’s problem. They have no staff. ABC had the NBA in the seventies and Saturday’s “ABC’s Wide World of Sports” where Roone Arledge and crew dignified all kinds of unmajor sports because they couldn’t compete with NBC and CBS for baseball or football. They managed to land the NBA back in its smelly gym-rat days and Chris Schenkel was their man on the mic with Bill Russell as color man. I still think of CBS’s Lindsey Nelson as the voice of football in the fall, but that’s probably because I don’t watch football the same way I did. I do watch basketball and post-Schenkel coverage has near-erased him (he was also the voice of bowling!). I remember Cheech & Chong’s rip in their “Basketball Jones”. FM hit, “Chris Schenkel, don’t sing nothin’”. I don’t remember him being bad on the game, but nobody had computer databases at hand in those days. Even the media guides were bare bones and they probably did the games with two cameras. Even then it would be the teams themselves with their radio broadcasts of each game that would employ the best game-callers. New York, Boston, and LA had the best no doubt, maybe Philly doing okay. Chicago had good ones after the sixties.

The finals are now night games, even on Sundays cause the league needs every penny going into “robust negotiations with the players union”, i.e. Lockout. And there ain’t no Wide World of Nothin’ no more. Instead we’re getting the Disney-ESPN-ABC Narrow World of Sports Marketing. I won’t even talk about the ESPN pre-game experts. The only thing they contributed this spring was Magic Johnson’s jumping ship on his Lakers mid-pummeling at the hands of Dallas. Tim Marchman reviews a new book about ESPN by James Miller and Tom Shales, Those Guys Have All the Fun, in the Wall Street Journal. It ought to be a reckoning but it’s an oral history so as Marchman writes: “A curious reader might want to hear why the quantity and quality of coverage of such sports as soccer and hockey seems to vary depending on how deeply their parents leagues are partnered with the network.” He notes that would require of the talkers introspection. It’s interesting to know that Keith Olbermann is considered an intellectual genius around the ESPN offices, even after he himself left them in 1997. Also ESPN takes credit for inventing college basketball sometime after they launched in 1979.

The NBA Conference Finals underlined the presentation problem. Bulls fans and Miami fans, if there are any, lucked out having TNT’s crew working the games. The play-by-play guys are okay (Kevin Harlan-empty suit-ish, Steve Kehr-good, and Reggie Miller-good), but it’s the panel of Ernie Johnson, Kenny Smith, and Charles Barkley that one really misses when they aren’t around. Barkley does among the worst TV commercials out there, and no doubt his new sideline, CharlesBarkley.com, is unnecessary but Barkley knows the game and team chemistry issues better than even the ex-coaches. That he came close to a championship does make him hard to take when your team isn’t making it because Charles won’t deign to humor fans. He took special pleasure in the first round rounding on the Knicks’ non-existent chances when just their making the playoffs got the number-crunching hearts of David Stern, the NBA, and ABC and ESPN racing. Sir Charles smites the imaginary dragon. The new feature TNT should have introduced, rather than Kenny Smith walking up into a game highlight on a wall-sized TV screen, is one where Charles picks the most offensive sportsman of the week and throws him through a plate-glass window -- all done with CGI of course because of Charles’ back.

David Stern expects to pivot from a Miami Heat championship to pleading with the players union that the league is all-but bankrupt -- a dead man walking. Then when they cut their deal with the owners, Stern will pivot to the sponsors and claim the NBA has never been in better health to stampede corporations to get with the cutting edge of global entertainment. It may be sweaty but it stinks of nothing but money. Should Dallas by some miracle of lapsed officiating win the championship I predict Stern will hold up German multinationals over national hero Dirk Nowitzki like its revenge for the Holocaust.

The network sports divisions are all messed up now, thanks to these kids with their damn cellphones. About the only positive is that you can catch the NHL on NBC, such is that network’s fall. Actually they did cover a Sunday Game-of-the-Week and playoffs back in the seventies, so there is some corporate continuity going on at the original network. But just as with basketball, the networks can’t afford the best on-mic talent. But it is great to see Boston’s Mike Milbury get steamed at the Bruins lackadaisical response to Vancouver’s predations against sportsmanship, such as it is in the NHL. The Bruins did decide to win their first game home after a blind-side interference hit by the Canucks’ Aaron Rome that caused what might have been a career-ending, walking-ending injury for Nathan Horton. Rome was ejected but as teammate Alexandre Burrows was not suspended for biting a Bruin’s hand the previous game there may be some kind of Canadian bias at play, though the word is nobody in Canada likes the Canucks either. Jeff Klein in the New York Times reported that Edmonton’s Ryan Whitney said “I’d say 90 percent of the guys in the league want nothing to do with seeing them win… There’s no doubting their team’s pretty amazing. But who makes up that team makes them so tough to like that it’s frustrating to see them doing this well.” The Blackhawks were not going to repeat after their salary cap decimation, but they managed to wake up against the Canucks and take them to 7. The Bruins seem as casual in their puck-handling and passing but perhaps they’ll prevent the hated Ryan Kesler and Raffi Torres, not to mention the afore-mentioned goons from sipping Molsons from the Stanley Cup.

NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman came over from the NBA where he’d risen to David Stern’s deputy with labor relations specialty. His NHL mandate was to end the reign of the old time original six owners and make the then new southern teams in Florida and Anaheim work -- the Anaheim Mighty Ducks were a Disney 1993 rollout after a 1992 movie! More southern teams came, an aid program for Canadian teams began and continues as there is some plan for team returns to Canadian cities like Winnipeg. There are now cheerleaders, hot chicks with shovels, and general modern NBA-style razzle-dazzle plus labor unrest, and salary caps and financial Rube-Golberg mechanisms… and still, the game is good. The cap decapitated the Blackhawks preventing a real defense of their Cup, so I expect there’ll be more re-tooling of these rules. But since the game’s principal, base attraction is the spectacle of two teams circling on the ice looking for space amid the brutal battle for position to break out into some graceful connection with the puck leading to a goal, the game stays strong. Among my favorite moments are glimpses of the old game you see when someone loses a helmet in the check and you get to see the man skate with the play until the next whistle or line-change. But visually I think one signal change is that generally the away team now wears white. This is apparently a return to the pre-1970 custom but in 2003 in part to use home colors at home and along with the occasional use of vintage-styled jerseys, to sell more merch a league-wide change was made. What it says to me is that the league and its post-war culture has gone from one simpatico with the old compliment, “That’s mighty white of you,” to today’s culture where the older enduring outlaw glamour combines with the middle class fascination with black street culture yielding the desire to be bad, dark or goth -- many colors are heavily black now, especially the vintage designs. Gary Bettman has been called Harry Buttman in Canada but if a few more Canadian teams return to the league, and there's a lockout in the NBA, his stock will rise.

In the NBA it’s been noted that arrogant as LeBron James may be in that casual don’t-know-better manner, he seems a nice enough guy and is a law-abiding citizen. Whenever I mention Kobe Bryant to one of my brothers, he always interjects pro forma, “You mean the rapist?” To which I sometimes respond, “Hey, he took care to avoid an unwanted pregnancy.” LeBron has superseded Kobe, and if he can manage to outshine teammate Dwayne Wade, he’ll be the NBA’s hood ornament and join the NBA arena statuary at retirement if not sooner. Harvey Araton in the Times writes, "James’s Detractors Bracing to Hear Him Laugh Last". This was written after the first victory in Miami. It does appear that Dallas is at best just hanging on. Still Miami lost Game 2 at the free throw line of all places even allowing for Dallas’ comeback, and Dallas lost Game 3 by missing open outside shots at home! And then there’s the referees rooting around in their bag of tricks -- regular magicians they are too. Maybe that’s who Charles should be throwing through the plate-glass window: The worst officiating call of the week: Krassssh! Mark Potash in the Sun-Times wrote up his take on LeBron’s dilemma, LeBron James fails at MJ’s best trick: Image-crafting. Jordan remains the gold standard in the NBA and the championships and individual skills aside, it was his smile that reached the viewer with a take-away that always trumped any stories of Michael’s personal or professional limitations. He did end the professional limitations but he was never the dude that smile might lead one to believe he might be. But only the most selfish “fans” begrudged his two year baseball detour; everyone else intuited good things about him as a person which again that smile sealed. And Jordan looked great, slightly fashion-forward in his semi-boardshorts-style. LeBron’s headband makes him look like a muscle-bound pinhead. The Bulls’ second three-peat after he left baseball like it was a phone booth changing room helped Jordan’s legend as well.

Another interesting side-story this playoff season was Shaquille O’Neal’s retirement. Shaq was not the most sympathetic character in the league though David Stern insisted that kids just loved him. But Shaq profited personally I think when Bryant drove him out of LA after their three-peat. And Shaq’s retirement was very well handled, though he might have been seen as bulling his way into the Finals storyline. But his press conference presented him as generous and gracious except for his running gag of threatening to take Kenny Smith’s job on TNT -- he don’t want an ESPN chair you’ll note. (He’s had it in for the Jet since Shaq’s Orlando lost to Houston where Smith won his rings with Olajuwan while Jordan tried to hit a curve. O’Neal didn’t name Kenny but nobody who knows the game is going to suggest he could replace Charles. Say, imagine Shaq going through a plate-glass window!

Bill Plaschke wrote up O’Neal’s Lakers years for the LA Times, and Howard Beck who’d been in LA revisited O’Neal’s SoCal “Joy Ride” in the NY Times. My favorite O’Neal coverage though was his former Orlando Magic teammate Dennis Scott’s sit-down interview with Shaq for Scott’s NBATV. Shaq apologies to himself and his father for underachieving at the free-throw line, and even demanded Dennis hit him on the head for losing that ring to Houston. That Magic team may have been a two-dimensional inside-out offense but what dimensions: a Shaq dunk or a Scott or Brian Shaw three pointer -- no wonder Penny Hardaway was unhappy.

Well the humans are all rooting for Dallas, but I do like seeing Miami coach Eric Spoelstra pull it off. He himself was dissed by the league and no doubt LeBron and Bosh asked Wade whether they all didn’t deserve to be coached by GM Pat Riley instead of this up-from-the video room youngster. His story and his basketball pedigree is detailed by Jonathan Abrams in the New York Times, "Spoelstra, Raised to Be in N.B.A., Rises to Challenge", though it skips what might be an interesting subplot on his mother’s side, Eric being part Filipino.

But I have to wind things up in this winter sports wrap with Charles Barkley. He’s got some ridiculous contest for an award of $25,000 for business ideas. Kenny immediately rattled off two losers:

1. The fried chicken-barbershop, and
2. The shoeshine-tailor.

Did I mention that the TNT basketball panel was David Lightbourne’s favorite television program? The Bulls managed to shorten TNT’s run this year but Charles moved over to NBATV, but only for the Finals Game 2 where he signed-off: “Everybody have a great summer, and don’t call me.”

Chicago Punk - There With No Air
by Joe Carducci

There’s at least one doc about all God’s punk scenes. I saw that the Punk: Attitude doc was shamed into adding L.A. material for its DVD extras, but that’s due to Brit myopia finally putting on some prescriptions. I didn’t think much of the oral historical book on the SF scene, Gimme Something Better, probably because it was written by two nineties free-weekly types, and it reads like Green Day is all the publisher was cared about. How could that be anywhere near as good as what Legs McNeil did for NYC’s scene in Please Kill Me, or Brendan Mullen did for LA with We Got the Neutron Bomb, and Lexicon Devil, when it’s the early SF punk scene that is of interest. The docs I’ve read references to that sounded interesting to me were the Portland and Chicago ones, since I’d had some involvement with each. I stumbled across the Chicago doc, You Weren’t There: A History of Chicago Punk 1977 - 1984 on the Documentary Channel last weekend just as Game 2 of the Stanley Cup finals ended. The film was just starting so I watched it (repeats in mid-July). I had missed the title card and the Dish Network program guide called it simply, “A History of Chicago Punk”, so I thought at first that it was some other production. It was over two hours and did a conscientious job of the earliest years when Chicago certainly didn’t fight its weight, but did have a scene. The filmmakers trace that seventies period of beards and gaybars particularly well. The town is, or was, a blue collar town culturally speaking, so it was asking maybe more to drop into an unformed punk subculture there. The film accepts Chicago’s limitations without ignoring what was happening, and many of the principals survived and are on camera. Unfortunately my principle early Chicago contact, Jim Nash, owner of Wax Trax Records, died quite awhile ago. His shop was one of our best accounts while I was at Systematic and Jim was under standing order to send me one of everything any local band sold to him over the counter; I got some good stuff and we sold what we could around the country.

The film does have knowledgeable interviews with Steve Albini, Jeff Pezzati, and others, but true to the town there are feuds still being fought out decades later on camera, and I suspect several off camera as well with regard to folks I imagine ought to have been filmed. The other problem Chicago had was a near total lack of media interest locally. There’s something about the radio and press culture in that then second city that saluted the latest London fob, or major label roll out. You couldn’t expect much out of the dailies back then, but the Reader and WXRT were the most retarded culture organs of their type. Westword in Denver was better on its local scene than the Reader, and WBCN in Boston was better than WXRT.

I was reminded how bad the Reader was when I got back to town in 1986 in Sunday’s Times Book Review of Rob Young’s book, Electric Eden: Unearthing Britain’s Visionary Music, by Bill Wyman, then the Reader’s rock writer. Young is an editor at The Wire, the British music magazine that is the one music mag that seems immune to record label, artist management marketing pressure. Sure enough platinum hog Wyman kvetches several times in his review of this overdue book about all the obscurities he was forced to drag his eyeballs across. In the late 1980s the Chicago music scene was suddenly very deep. I remember listening to the Saturday local show on WNUR and being struck that it was the best two hours on a very good station. Finally the Reader hired Peter Margasak, ex-editor of Butt Rag fanzine and the scene, which had become the last important rock scene before the internet leveled everything, got coverage it deserved.


Rob Young interviewed by Scott Timberg at LAT.

“But the book’s mission is far broader: Young connects these arts and others to Britain’s Celtic and pagan past, their relationship to its landscape, the English classical tradition and the anti-industrial Arts and Crafts movement. Over all of it is the struggle to find a distinctly British culture amid the onslaught of classical music from the continent and rock and blues from the U.S.”

From the London desk of Steve Beeho...

Hitchens addendum addendum

One day somebody will eventually write a critical study of the intellectual/ideological trajectories followed by Christopher and Peter Hitchens, although by then the actual sting of their views will have been safely inoculated by history. Although it often feels as if an unbridgeable chasm separates them (especially on the Iraq War and religion, where Peter’s book The Rage Against God was effectively a riposte to God is Not Great), at times their thinking converges uncannily, such as when they both simultaneously eviscerated the historical inaccuracies in The King's Speech.
As Peter put it in moving piece about their recent reconciliation:

“My brother and I agree on this: that independence of mind is immensely precious, and that we should try to tell the truth in clear English even if we are disliked for doing so. Oddly enough this leads us, in many things, to be far closer than most people think we are on some questions; closer, sometimes, than we would particularly wish to be”

Using both brothers as a case study it's intriguing to speculate on the extent to which personality determines your politics. While both are masters of scorn, on TV Christopher exudes a warmth which Peter simply doesn't, so it seems to make psychological "sense" that Christopher should be an avowed internationalist and romantic, whereas his brother is a far more hard-nosed realist (although categorically not one of the amoral Kissinger school).
But it's interesting that Christopher has been engaging in counter-factualism about WW1 because his brother has for a while been seeking to puncture Britain's comforting myths about WW2.
Even more quixotically, for the last few years he’s also been fighting a one-man campaign urging Conservative voters to with-hold their votes from the party, in order to accelerate its demise and thereby hasten the future realignment of British politics. (You can take the Marxism out of the Hitchenses but never the contrarianism!).
While both brothers love a good scrap, Peter takes this much further than most columnists, clearly relishing taking on all comers in the comments boxes of his blog. and occasionally devoting lengthy crushing posts to individual combatants. Many find the withering disdain with which these broadsides are delivered pompous in the extreme but I must admit I find it hilarious.
And although Peter may not be the internationalist that Christopher is, he’s still a great foreign reporter, as his recent Mail piece on the possibility of a Chinese bubble shows:


"The rise of China, a crude police state inherited from communist rule by greedy, corrupt cynics who appear to believe in nothing, was a shocking break with all that we had known. 

It meant that the link between liberty and prosperity, which we had assumed throughout the Cold War was unbreakable, was gone. From now on, the world could get rich without being free.

Later I would see much more of China's majesty, power and squalor - the cruel treatment of the poor who wish to defy the one-child policy; the dismal sweatshops that produce so much of what we buy, all unaware of the sad places where it is made; the horrible massacre of unborn baby girls in this fiercely male-dominated culture; the filthy pollution that goes unchecked; the bullying and suppression of minority peoples by increasingly nationalist Chinese; the cynical corruption and greed of China's colonial enterprise in Africa; the crude destruction of historical treasures that do not suit the regime - and all of this against a background of apparently unstoppable energy and hard work, of freemarket economics made visible.

Did I wish it well or ill? I was never sure, and China does not much care what we think of her anyway.

But we have to care about China whether we want to or not."


• James Williamson being interviewed by the magic of Skype on the Chosen Few, the Stooges “extended death march” in 1974, “Metallic KO”, Rocket Records mysteriously turning down “Kill City”, his rebirth as a Stooge and how “I’ve spent a great deal of my life trying to be normal”.

• Dan Fox interviews Simon Reynolds at Frieze about his new book, Retromania.

“What seems to have happened, and this sounds almost mystical, is that the axis of time has flipped, culturally speaking. The structural position occupied by the future in pop is now occupied by the past. The way people see what they’re doing now is not like it was in the ’60s, or in ’90s electronic music; the quest for the unknown, beyond the horizon. Now people formulate their impulses through archaeology and the quest for the lost. This is where the romance of things is generated; not for the future, but for the past. It’s the same kind of Utopianism, except one located in history. I think the people operating now are the same kind of people who were once cosmonauts of music going out into the beyond, but working with a different cultural predicament. It’s to do with technology, the Internet and the past that’s put everything out there like an archival universe.”

• Richard Meltzer waxing poetic in an extract from the unreleased video, "Rhymes w/Seltzer".

Xeocopsychus Ansorgi by James Fotopoulos

From the Desk of Joe Carducci…

Joe Nocera in NYT, "Why Khodorkovsky Matters".

“A man named William Browder once had zero sympathy for him, too. Browder is an interesting character: the grandson of Earl Browder, a prominent, early American communist, he ‘rebelled,’ he told me recently, not only by becoming a capitalist but by moving to Russia and setting up an investment fund. Started with $25 million, Browder’s Hermitage Fund swelled to $4.5 billion in assets by the early 2000s, making it the biggest Russia-only fund in the world. ‘I always knew Russia was corrupt,’ he says. ‘Our theory was that stocks would rise in value as Russia went from complete chaos to merely terrible chaos.’ Still, galled by the blatant theft of shareholder assets by many of the oligarchs, Browder decided to prod things along by becoming a shareholder activist. He hired investigators to root out fraud, which he then exposed in the news media. Quite often, Putin’s government, which was trying to wrest power away from the oligarchs, would step in and take corrective action. Which, of course, would cause the stocks to rise.

Khodorkovsky was one of the executives Browder tangled with over the years. As a result, says Browder, ‘I was happy when he was arrested.’ He adds ruefully, ‘I didn’t understand that everything had changed.’ But it had. Khodorkovsky’s trial and sentencing forced the other oligarchs to either flee or fall in line. Suddenly, government officials were partaking in the theft instead of trying to stop it. Foolishly, Browder continued his shareholder agitation. But instead of pleasing Putin’s henchmen, his actions angered them.”


Rahul Jacob in FT, "Ai and I".

“Ai could have spoken about growing up in the desolately beautiful western province of Xinjiang, where his father, a revered poet, was banished to a labour camp. Or he could have spoken about the killing of demonstrators at Tiananmen Square in 1989, or even his years in New York in the early 1980s. Instead, Ai replied that getting on the internet had been the defining moment of his life. ‘At the time I thought it was glib, such a technology-boostery answer,’ she says. ‘Later, I thought that the internet years of Ai Weiwei are a transformative period. It was a platform that led to so many things.’ A vivid example of this is a very public dinner party Ai organised last year in Chengdu by declaring on Twitter that he was going to a restaurant renowned for its pig’s trotter in broth. The incident was a distillation both of Ai’s genius for political theatre and his wacky sense of humour. Not only did he pick a speciality that would resonate in a city of foodies, but he told the policemen who urged him to move the gathering inside the restaurant that al fresco dining was the best way to savour the local delicacy. He was joined by people from all walks of society in a moving show of support, even as the police cameras rolled. Ai’s bravado founders when his mother, Gao Ying, is interviewed in his presence. ‘I’m proud of him because he speaks out for the average person,’ Gao, 78, says. Then she says she wishes he were a more conventional artist because she wouldn’t have to worry about him. ‘If he was wrong, I could tell him he was wrong but he’s not wrong, so what can I tell him?’ Gao chokes up and turns away from the camera; Ai, the performance artist who roguishly revels in provoking the police, is momentarily undone and unable to speak before he gently tells her not to upset herself unduly.”


Carl Elliott in WSJ on Scott Carney’s book, The Red Market: On the Trail of the World’s Organ Brokers, Bone Thieves, Blood Farmers and Child Traffickers.

The Red Market is not an abstract philosophical meditation or an ethnographic treatise, though it has elements of both. It is a work of investigative journalism, written by an experienced health reporter who lived in India for more than 10 years. Mr. Carney knows how to tell a story and digs deeply. He visits a tsunami refugee camp in the Indian province of Tamil Nadu whose inhabitants are so desperate (and the organ brokers so ruthless) that it is known as ‘Kidneyville.’ He travels to a high-end fertility clinic in Cyprus that recruits egg donors from a population of poor Eastern European immigrants. He interviews surrogate mothers at the Akanksha Infertility Clinic in Gujarat, in western India, who are confined to the clinic for the duration of their pregnancy and are paid between $5,000 and $6,000 — a terrific bargain by American standards, where surrogates are paid many times that rate. He visits the Indian border town of Gorakhpur, where at least 17 emaciated people were held captive for years in brick-and-tin sheds on a local dairy farm, so that their blood could be siphoned and sold to local blood banks.”


Kenneth Rogoff in FT, "The global fallout of a eurozone collapse".

“Unfortunately, as currently construed, the euro is looking very much like a system that amplifies shocks rather than absorbs them. The UK, which of course did not adopt the euro, has benefited from a sharp sustained depreciation of the pound. The peripheral countries of Europe are meanwhile stuck with woefully weak competitive positions and no easy adjustment mechanism . European leaders’ plans to achieve effective devaluation through major wage adjustment seem far-fetched. The only clean rescue for Europe would be if growth far outstripped expectations. Unfortunately, post-financial crisis growth is likely to continue to be hampered by huge debt burdens.”


Stewart Brand interview at TheEuropean-magazine.com.

“Brand: And people get angry at Steven Pinker for pointing out these positive trends. But why would you be angry about good news?

The European: I would respond that it is problematic to focus on the good news while neglecting the present problems….

Brand: That’s a very German strain that has been influential ever since the Romantics were surprised by the violent aftermath of the French Revolution. Nietzsche is full of cultural pessimism, of heroic despair. Today, we see many environmentalists embracing the idea that the earth is headed for doom. The problem with that is that it begins to celebrate and elevate the apocalypse as inevitable, rather than think about ways to make things better. Just look at the idea that nuclear power is going to destroy us all. There is no rational basis for that fear.

The European: What motivates that apocalyptic rhetoric?

Brand: It’s tied to the Christian experience of rapture, to the coming of Christ in the end times of the world, when only the Christians will be gathered to meet him in heaven. Remember that there was an apocalyptic enthusiasm even in the counterculture of the 1960s and 1970s. Many of the communes were survivalist, planning to outlive a dying civilization and then reinvent it. They all failed. They are great fun and very educational, primarily because the world did not end. I put this challenge to anyone who desires the apocalypse: Go to an island and pretend that civilization has destroyed itself. And then build something that is better than the world we know today.”


Steven Watson in WSJ on Richard Pells’ book, Modernist America.

“‘Form follows function’ is often attributed to the Bauhaus design movement that thrived in Germany in the 1920s. But as Richard Pells reminds us in Modernist America, the Bauhaus theorists simply adopted the line from the American architect Louis Sullivan, the pioneer of the skyscraper, who proclaimed in 1896 that the appearance of a building should be dictated by its actual use. But the spare Bauhaus aesthetic — an off-shoot of Modernism — would cross the Atlantic as the International Style of architecture, which was put on prominent display in the United States, particularly in the glass-and-steel towers that dominated the building boom in postwar New York City. The premise of Mr. Pells's book is that 20th-century Modernism was something of a transatlantic tennis game. Europe influenced American culture and America, after adapting and embellishing Modernism, marketed it back to the world. (Today the heirs of the International Style are most likely to be found again in Europe, Japan or the Mideast, and China is where the most important buildings are being constructed. Ping and pong, the match goes on.) Mr. Pells traces the many ways in which people outside the United States, ‘whether they worshiped Fitzgerald or Hemingway, Duke Ellington or Leonard Bernstein, Citizen Kane or The Godfather, came to recognize that, ‘increasingly in the twentieth century, America was the land of both modernism and modernity.’”


Martin Wolf in FT, "Intolerable choices for the eurozone".

“The eurozone was supposed to be an updated version of the classical gold standard. Countries in external deficit receive private financing from abroad. If such financing dries up, economic activity shrinks. Unemployment then drives down wages and prices, causing an ‘internal devaluation’. In the long run, this should deliver financeable balances in the external payments and fiscal accounts, though only after many years of pain. In the eurozone, however, much of this borrowing flows via banks. When the crisis comes, liquidity-starved banking sectors start to collapse. Credit-constrained governments can do little, or nothing, to prevent that from happening. This, then, is a gold standard on financial sector steroids.”


Bob Davis in WSJ, "Were China’s Leaders Conned?".

“To understand the debate over currency policy, it's important to recall how deeply nationalistic Chinese economic policy had become by early 2009, as the world was mired in recession. China's premier blamed U.S. policies for the downturn, while Chinese academics argued that a new ‘Beijing consensus’ of state-controlled economic development had been proved superior to market-based ‘Washington consensus’ policies. China had frozen the appreciation of the yuan, which had moved upward since 2005, amid signs that it was thinking of a devaluation as a way to protect its endangered exporters. The atmosphere was especially grim for Mr. Zhou, now 63 years old, who long championed market-based reforms at the central bank, the People's Bank of China. His close ties with central bankers and politicians in the U.S. and Europe had become a liability. Noticing that his hair had turned grayer and that he looked wan, reporters speculated that he was being ushered out the door.”


Tom Orlik in WSJ, "Get Ready: Here Comes the Yuan".

“A yuan that's more widely used in international trade and investment could eventually challenge the dollar's supremacy, correct some of the imbalances that plague the Chinese and global economy, and force a profligate U.S. to live within its means. It won't be an easy transition. There are powerful vested interests in China that are satisfied with the status quo and will try to put the brakes on any reform effort. But the changes China has made so far have generated momentum both at home and internationally — and may prove too strong to resist. For more than a decade, China's closed capital account has been a defining feature of the global economy. It has insulated the mainland from international capital flows, enabling China to ride out the Asian financial crisis in 1997 and leaving its banks unscathed by the near-collapse of the U.S. financial system in 2008.”


Joe Leahy in FT, "Latin America ponders role of the renminbi in bilateral trade".

“No one can deny that the internationalisation of the renminbi has a certain sense of inevitability about it. If China is to become the world’s biggest economy, then the renminbi must also become a global currency, if not the premier one. But the question is how long and what form will that process take? Latin America promises to be a crucial part of this puzzle, not only because it has become such an important trading partner with China but also because of the challenges the region poses to Beijing’s ambitions for its currency. It is hard to exaggerate China’s growing importance in the region. Between 2000 and 2010, Latin America’s annual trade with China increased fivefold from $57bn to $310bn. During the same period, Chinese direct investment into Latin America rose from $2.7bn to $59bn. For the architects of Beijing’s renminbi plan, however, the difficulty is in converting these huge mostly dollar-denominated trade flows into Chinese currency.”


James Areddy in WSJ, "Mining Fuels Mongols Hoard".

“Better known as nomadic tent-dwelling herders, Mongolians now are stockholders in a coal company that is one of the coming year's hotly anticipated initial public offerings. The government has just given every Mongolian 538 shares in it. The giveaway of stock in Erdenes-Tavan Tolgoi Ltd., popularly known as TT, is part of the government's effort to prove to its people that they will be well-served by its decision to pursue large-scale mining in Mongolia. That is a worrying strategy for some here because, beyond concerns such as environmental effects and the distribution of the wealth, it fundamentally ties the proudly independent country to the commodity appetite of its giant, often-resented southern neighbor, China.”


David Pilling in FT, "Asia’s quiet anger with ‘big, bad’ China".

“Vietnam said a Chinese patrol boat cut cables trailing from one of its survey ships. The cables were apparently 30m under water, implying the Chinese vessel was equipped with deepwater cutters. Chinese coastguard vessels routinely detain Vietnamese fishing boats in disputed waters, capturing them and charging a ransom for their release. Clashes with oil survey ships are rarer, although Vietnam said this was not the first time Chinese vessels had cut cables. China claims almost the entire South China Sea, which also borders on the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei, Indonesia and Vietnam.”


Minxin Pei in FT, "China has another way to defuse ethnic strife".

“Han Chinese businessmen are seen by ethnic minority groups as carpetbaggers, stealing their jobs and profits. What makes things even worse is the lack of sensitivity to minority customs and culture on the part of the Han Chinese, whose behavior can easily be seen by locals as chauvinistic. The fundamental cause of ethnic disharmony, however, is not economic or cultural but political. China’s ethnic policy may include some special benefits for ethnic minorities, who are exempt from the one-child policy. But they do not have much political power. In ethnic minority areas, the Communist party bosses -- the most powerful local politicians -- are invariably Han Chinese. They are appointed by Beijing, not elected by the local population.”


Ian Johnson in New York Review of Books, "The High Price of the New Beijing".

“What caused this self-destruction? From the mid-nineteenth century onward, China suffered a series of traumas that exposed its inability to compete economically or militarily with Western countries’ and Japan’s potent combination of the scientific method and industrial capitalism. A series of reformers tried, and failed, to meet the challenge, hoping to import Western technology while keeping traditions intact. But the inflexibility of the imperial system and the continued humiliations visited on the country by Western countries and Japan discredited these measured efforts. Finally, the Communists, the most radical of those advocating change, took control. For them, the problem was the past, all of it, including language, art, architecture, religion, politics, family structures, dress, music, and so on. Like nothing else, Beijing exemplified this vilified past. The entire city — all twenty-four square miles of it, from its layout based on geomancy and mythology to its tens of thousands of tree-shaded courtyard homes — was China’s traditional belief system incarnate. As the Australian writer Geremie Barmé put it, Beijing was ‘one of the most extraordinary monuments to any civilization in the classical world.’ That meant it had to go, although the old city of Beijing was enormous and the campaigns didn’t completely gut it. By the end of the Mao era in the late 1970s, Beijing was still recognizable.”


Xinhua News Agency president, Li Congjun, was given space in the Wall Street Journal last week to wheedle for a reserved spot on the dial in the West. His column is called, "Toward a New World Media", and it brings to mind the special pleading by and on behalf of Al-Jazeera several years ago. When I moved to this cable-less receptionless area I got a satellite dish and decided I’d get Dish Network so I could check out an Arab language package to see what the hell was up with that God-forsaken part of the world. This was a couple years after 9-11 and before the English-language Jazeera. I found it worth looking in on, and I almost ordered it up again when change came to Egypt. I also check the “Mosaic” program of translated TV news items from the Middle East on Link TV when events there seem unrehearsed. President Congjun of the state-run Xinhua (kind of like the Chinese NPR or BBC, they themselves might say!) even calls his proposal a “Media UN”. If the U.S. Congress is a parliament of whores, than the UN is a congress of tyrannies, necessary in some ways perhaps, but really hard to take when it pretends to possess the moral standing of even a parliament of whores. Li Congjun wants a Security Council of media:

“The world established a new international order after World War II with the founding of the United Nations. For over six decades, the international community has endeavored to create a more balanced, just and rational political and economic order. Unfortunately the rules governing the international media order lag behind the times, especially compared to changes in politics and economics. The gap is seen, first and foremost, in the extremely uneven pattern of international communication. The flow of information is basically one-way: from West to East, North to South, and from developed to developing countries. In 1980, the 21st General Conference of the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (Unesco) addressed the imbalance and inequality in international news reporting and called for a new order in international mass communication. Over the years, a growing number of insightful people, including many from the West, have proposed changes with the conviction that the existing order is far from just, rational and balanced.”

He seems to assume that if equal distribution were enforced on carriers that his Party-line piccolo would get a listen in the West. You’d think he might understand that if he had something anyone outside his monopoly area wanted to read or see he’d already have enough folks reading online to crash his servers. There’s been a push this year for the English language edition of China Daily. Ads offering a free month ran in the NYT and WSJ and I signed up and turned out it wasn’t daily, but a weekend edition that I got for about two months without ever getting a subscription offer or bill in the mail. I guess things can get sloppy when you have no competition. I watch the CCTV English language channel occasionally too, and its hard to tell where politesse ends and the Party line begins, though when its dateline Tibet or Xinjiang it’s laughable. And the constant low hum of compromised perspective is everywhere. As with much Arab media, Xinhua exhibits a Leninist abuse of bourgeois open enquiry for the purpose of suppressing internal enquiry and attacking the external voices which make that job tougher. No doubt they’d like a top down solution to their lack of an audience in the West and South.

The Chinese are rapidly identifying themselves to Africans as a plague of inhuman exploiters that make even the French look good. Mr Li is rolling out a Xinhua African service to counter all the influence they believe the BBC has. There is a faint sense that the Brits believe that in talking about and covering every last lost corner of the globe they can still retain a ghost empire. Still they have an honest interest in those corners. Britain was a peripheral island; China the Middle Kingdom. Its fantasy of China’s lost empire is much more self-involved. The Party understands that it is trying to behave as a normal industrial country purchasing raw materials around the third world and selling manufactured goods so as to deliver China from a century or two of humiliation. The peaceful rise may yield them the largest economy in the world with a military and space program to match, but then what? The old preeminent China turned inward centuries ago. It seems determined not to this time. But peaceful seems mostly to pertain to large neighbors and powers that can hurt them. They aren’t as considerate with smaller neighbors and those aren’t likely to be listening to Xinhua either when its coverage of any breaches of the peace such as recent attacks in Vietnamese and Philippine waters do not correspond to the reality they know. The coming Xinhua push will help the Western media news giants unless they can pull a rabbit out of the UN.


James Areddy in WSJ, "Beijing Fires Back in Google Hack Row".

“Beijing in recent weeks has acknowledged more participation by its military and government on the Internet and suggested that China's capabilities are weak compared with those of the U.S. Since its entry into the Chinese-language world in 2000, U.S. search giant Google Inc. has struggled to balance its growth ambitions in the vast but restrictive new market while adhering to a self-held principle: ‘Don't be evil.’ PLA spokesman Geng Yansheng last week confirmed the existence of a long-rumored military unit devoted to cyberspace, according to a posting on the government's primary website. The PLA unit is popularly known as the Blue Army, a name apparently picked to distinguish it from the Communist Party's main fighting machine, nicknamed the Red Army. Mr. Geng offered few details, and it was unclear exactly what the unit does. ‘There are reports the PLA established a Blue Army. That is set up based on needs of training and improving the level of network security,’ he said.”


Loretta Chao in WSJ, "People’s Daily Raps Google Over Email Accusations.".

“A leading Chinese government newspaper lashed out at #Google Inc., saying the company's allegations of China-based hacking were a politically motivated attempt to spark new disputes between China and the U.S. The People's Daily, the official mouthpiece of the ruling Communist Party, printed the editorial on the front page of its overseas edition Monday with the headline, ‘Google, What Do You Want?’ It said the company's allegations last week were politically motivated with ‘a vicious intent of sparking new disputes concerning Internet security between China and the U.S.’”


Holman Jenkins in WSJ, "The Way to Fight China’s Hacking".

“Some of the attacks were so brazen — like the Alicia Star, whose cargo of cigarettes was unloaded on Hainan Island and the ship itself sold for the benefit of the Hainan government — that Beijing tried to pass them off as legitimate ‘anti-smuggling exercises.’ Others hinted frightfully at a mainland bordering on anarchy. A missing Australian freighter was eventually tracked to a Chinese salvage yard after a wrecking crew discovered, in a sealed storage locker, the remains of 10 seamen who had been doused with gasoline and burned alive. Name-and-shame prevailed not because Beijing craved to be seen as a good citizen. Beijing craved to be seen as in control. The lesson was being drawn all over Southeast Asia that China's central government no longer had the power to discipline local elites who were damaging China's national interests in the wider world. In early 2000, the government finally made a show of executing 13 Chinese pirates who, in military uniforms, had hijacked the cargo ship Cheung Son in 1998, murdering 23 crew members. Ever since, even as piracy has remained a plague particularly in the Indian Ocean, Chinese government-sponsored piracy no longer is a conspicuous source of trouble.”


Christopher Hitchens in Vanity Fair, "From Abbottabad to Worse".

“Salman Rushdie’s upsettingly brilliant psycho-profile of Pakistan, in his 1983 novel, Shame, rightly laid emphasis on the crucial part played by sexual repression in the Islamic republic. And that was before the Talibanization of Afghanistan, and of much of Pakistan, too. Let me try to summarize and update the situation like this: Here is a society where rape is not a crime. It is a punishment. Women can be sentenced to be raped, by tribal and religious kangaroo courts, if even a rumor of their immodesty brings shame on their menfolk. In such an obscenely distorted context, the counterpart term to shame — which is the noble word ‘honor’ — becomes most commonly associated with the word ‘killing.’ Moral courage consists of the willingness to butcher your own daughter. If the most elemental of human instincts becomes warped in this bizarre manner, other morbid symptoms will disclose themselves as well. Thus, President Asif Ali Zardari cringes daily in front of the forces who openly murdered his wife, Benazir Bhutto, and who then contemptuously ordered the crime scene cleansed with fire hoses, as if to spit even on the pretense of an investigation. A man so lacking in pride — indeed lacking in manliness — will seek desperately to compensate in other ways. Swelling his puny chest even more, he promises to resist the mighty United States, and to defend Pakistan’s holy ‘sovereignty.’ This puffery and posing might perhaps possess a rag of credibility if he and his fellow middlemen were not avidly ingesting $3 billion worth of American subsidies every year.”


David Brooks in NYT, "The Depravity Factor".

“For 30 years, the Middle East peace process has been predicated on moral obtuseness, an unwillingness to face the true nature of certain governments. World leaders have tried sweet-talking Syria, calling Bashar al-Assad a friend (Nancy Pelosi) or a reformer (Hillary Clinton). In 2008, Nicolas Sarkozy invited Assad to be the guest of honor at France’s Bastille Day ceremonies — a ruthless jailer celebrating the storming of a jail.

For 30 years, diplomats and technocrats have flown to Damascus in the hopes of ‘flipping’ Syria — turning it into a pro-Western, civilized power. It would be interesting to know what they were thinking. Perhaps some of them were so besotted with their messianic abilities that they thought they had the power to turn a depraved regime into a normal regime. Perhaps some of them were so wedded to the materialistic mind-set that they thought a regime’s essential nature could be altered with a magical mix of incentives and disincentives. Perhaps some of them were simply morally blind. They were such pedantic technocrats, so consumed by the legalisms of the peace process, that they no longer possessed the capacity to recognize the moral nature of the regime they were dealing with, or to understand the implications of its nature.”


Hamed Abdel-Samad at Qantara.de, "A Blatant Lack of Objectivity".

“Born in Egypt and himself a Muslim, Hamed Abdel-Samad claims that in writing this book he was on a humanistic mission; after all, he says, ‘anyone who really takes Muslims seriously, must criticise Islam.’ With untiring intensity, he repeatedly explains to his readers just why he feels the need to leap to the defence of Islam on behalf of humanity: ‘the downfall of the Arab Islamic world is inevitable. Two principles dominate life and nature: variety and flexibility. Anyone who goes against these principles, dies out. The Islamic world has been doing just that for some time now and will, consequently, fall apart.’”


Ross McCullough in First Things, "Westernizing Islam and the American Right".

“Better than anybody, we know that a committed believer will not enter the public square on the secularist’s terms. The false dilemma of secularism -- accept the benefits of the West and an anemic faith, or retain a robust faith and continued backwardness -- is no help to the Muslim struggling to bring together the Western and Islamic traditions of justice into a system that can speak persuasively in the modern world. The secular pedant, for all his simpering about communication across cultures, is not a helpful interlocutor for one struggling with questions of Creation and sin, of reason and revelation, of human and divine justice. But the Muslim and I can talk together: of truth, and God, and good and evil; of the sanctity of life and the perfecting of people; of the errors in his culture and the errors in mine precisely as errors and not mere differences. He as much as I remains suspicious of the naked public square, entered as individuals rather than communities, with preferences rather than values, aimed at stability and dialogue rather than virtues.”


Lester Brown in NYT, "When the Nile Runs Dry".

“Some of these land acquisitions are enormous. South Korea, which imports 70 percent of its grain, has acquired 1.7 million acres in Sudan to grow wheat — an area twice the size of Rhode Island. In Ethiopia, a Saudi firm has leased 25,000 acres to grow rice, with the option of expanding. India has leased several hundred thousand acres there to grow corn, rice and other crops. And in countries like Congo and Zambia, China is acquiring land for biofuel production. These land grabs shrink the food supply in famine-prone African nations and anger local farmers, who see their governments selling their ancestral lands to foreigners. They also pose a grave threat to Africa’s newest democracy: Egypt. Egypt is a nation of bread eaters. Its citizens consume 18 million tons of wheat annually, more than half of which comes from abroad.”


Dan Murphy in CSM, "Virginity tests: Misogyny and intimidation in Egypt".

“Amnesty International broke the news with a report on the case of 18 women detained by the military for protesting at Tahrir Square on March 9. The women were held in makeshift detention facilities at the Egyptian museum, beaten, given electric shocks, strip searched while male soldiers photographed them, and finally administered the so-called test by a man in a white coat. They were told if they failed the ‘test’ – a form of pseudoscience since it can't reliably determine if a woman is a virgin – they'd be charged with prostitution. The story got a flurry of fresh attention after CNN carried a piece yesterday quoting an anonymous Egyptian general admitting the practice and using the ‘they were asking for it’ defense. ‘The girls who were detained were not like your daughter or mine,’ the anonymous general told CNN. ‘These were girls who had camped out in tents with male protesters in Tahrir Square, and we found in the tents Molotov cocktails and [drugs]... We didn't want them to say we had sexually assaulted or raped them, so we wanted to prove that they weren't virgins in the first place.’”


Mo Ibrahim in FT, "African leaders must harness potential of the young".

“Microfinance, the current fashion, may or may not help alleviate poverty, but it will not create wealth. The recent Danish Commission for Africa focused its findings on youth and employment. The commission recommended realizing the potential of Africa’s youth by giving them influence over development policies and strategies. Yet there seems little recognition among a disproportionately ageing African political elite of the potential of their youth. Mohamed Bouazizi, the young man whose self-immolation on December 17 set off the recent wave of protests across north Africa and the Middle East, is a case in point. Here was a young entrepreneur struggling to support his family, only to have his capital confiscated by the same government that promised to create 300,000 jobs.”


Delphine Strauss in FT, "Rough tactics beset Turkish campaign".

“But Mr Erdogan also wants a new constitution to change Turkey’s system of government, to a presidential system along US lines. The prime minister has promised his third terms will be his last -- but makes little secret of his ambition to fill this newly strengthened presidency, perhaps for two five-year terms. This is an alarming prospect for liberals worried by his increasingly authoritarian behaviour and unchecked power. They point to wire-tapping, growing pressure on journalists, internet censorship and intolerance of protesters. Kurds who no longer trust the AKP to meet their demands for autonomy, and secularists who view its conservative social policies as a threat to their lifestyle, also hope the elections will leave the AKP reliant on their support to craft any new constitution.”


Bret Stephens in WSJ, "Iran, Syria -- and Seymour Hersh.".

“When does a half-cooked notion, a conspiracy theory or a tissue of vaguely sourced and improbable claims become an item of journalistic ‘fact’? If you're a person of normal intelligence, the answer is: never. If, however, you're a faithful reader of the New Yorker, it happens roughly every time investigative reporter Seymour Hersh commits a word to print, presumably after having undergone the rigorous review of the magazine's world-famous fact-checking department…. To get a better sense of Mr. Hersh's record, I turned from the Iran article to some of his earlier work. In January 2005 he wrote that Donald Rumsfeld would play the starring role in President Bush's second term. In fact, Condoleezza Rice did. In April 2006 he suggested that President Bush had all but made up his mind to bomb Iran before it started enriching a single kilo of uranium. All Mr. Bush did was pursue sanctions at the U.N. and support European efforts to engage Tehran diplomatically. In March 2007, Mr. Hersh reported that the U.S. had provided ‘clandestine support’ to the Lebanese government, which in turn had aided a Sunni terrorist group called Fatah al-Islam. Shortly thereafter the Lebanese government went to war against Fatah al-Islam. In February 2008, Mr. Hersh claimed that the mysterious Syrian facility Israel bombed the previous September ‘apparently had little to do with . . . nuclear reactors.’ Last month, International Atomic Energy Agency Director General Yukiya Amano wrote that ‘the Agency concludes that the destroyed building was very likely a nuclear reactor.’ In April 2009, he returned to Syria to write a hopeful piece about the prospects of a U.S.-Syria rapprochement, strongly hinting that Damascus could gradually be peeled away from Tehran. The evidence of the past two months suggests otherwise.”


David Carr interview at Baristanet.com .

Was it embarrassing for you to have him writing the kinds of things he was writing about Twitter and fighting with Arianna [Huffington]?

Let me be very very clear. I am never ever embarrassed about Bill Keller, a colleague and my boss. My argument to Bill Keller was not in the form of an intervention. An intervention makes it sound like we came up to his desk with lanterns and pitchforks.
I sent him an email. One, I said, when your boss is doing your job it’s never good for you, so I have an obvious stake in this, so take what I say with a grain of salt. But B, you pulled us across Death Valley, in business terms. Our capital structure is solid and our sales are sufficient. You have maintained journalistic footprint the whole time. You’ve prosecuted a two-front war journalistically. And you’ve landed the New York Times on the other side. Why do you want to add another leg to the stool by become the conscience of media? If you write about Fox, if you write about Huffpo or Twitter, what you say is much more important than we say. It just is, because you’re the editor. Per se what he does is a lot more important and there’s always the chance that his writing is going to create turbulence that me and Brian and others have to report through. But what’s important to know about that is I said to him: If that’s how it is, no big deal, we can totally manage. I just want you to know. And he responded very thoughtfully. I was listened to. And he went ahead and did exactly what he was going to do in the first place.”


James Taranto at WSJ.com, "All the News That’s Fit to Scrub".

“‘In my house growing up, The Times substituted for religion,’ Jill Abramson told the New York Times yesterday upon being designated the paper's new executive editor. ‘If The Times said it, it was the absolute truth.’ This quote prompted blogress Ann Althouse, who is a much nicer person than we are, to contemplation:

‘Let's analyze the analogy. A newspaper is like religion, believed in, and taken, unquestioningly, as true. Then what happens when you are in charge of it?

1. You have a deep moral obligation to insure that it is absolutely true, to respect the faith that others put in it and to preserve and grow the community of believers because of your dedication to truth, or...

2. You are embedded in the faith, carrying on the commitment to the idea that it is the truth and impressing that faith that it is the truth on readers, so that they keep looking to you as the mouthpiece of truth and don't go wandering off looking for some other viewpoints.

It could be #1 or #2 or both or neither.’

So, which is it? The Abramson quote, which caused quite a stir when it appeared in a story on the Times website yesterday, is no longer there. That argues for #2 over #1.”


Serge Halimi in Le Monde Diplo, "Taking liberties with egality".

“Any criticism of the privileges enjoyed by the oligarchy, of the venality of the ruling classes, of generous handouts to the banks, the joys of free trade or savage wage-cuts in the name of international competition, is now construed as ‘populism’ and ‘playing into the hands of the extreme right’. When New York’s courts refused to grant special treatment to the IMF’s managing director, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, accused of raping a chambermaid in a Manhattan hotel, a commentator – joining the chorus of French political and media pundits – purported to be shocked by this ‘violence of egalitarian justice’. He added, almost automatically: ‘The only comment one can make with any certainty is that the anti-elite feelings aroused by the scandal will increase the chances of the far-right Front National of Marine Le Pen in the [French] presidential elections’.

So protecting the elite, and their policies, against an angry mob of down-and-outs is a democratic exercise?”


Frits Bolkestein in WSJ, "How Europe Lost Faith in Its Own Civilization".

“Europe's debate over multiculturalism, and how to deal with non-European immigrants, will only intensify as the full effects of the Arab Spring play out on our continent. But it's worth stepping back to consider how we arrived at this point — how it became so controversial for a Western leader to affirm a preference for his own culture. In short, how did Europe lose confidence in its own civilization? In their modern forms, the noble Western traditions of self-assessment and self-criticism have often degraded into sentimental self-flagellation. Consider Africa, whose underdevelopment many people blame on the West. This guilt over Africa's poverty is a sentiment that underlies Western development aid. But the question to ask is not, ‘Why are poor countries poor?’ The right question is, ‘Why are wealthy countries wealthy?’ In the beginning we were all poor.”


David Goldman in First Things on Palle Yourgrau’s book, Simone Weil.

“Working backward from her abhorrence of national idolatry, according to Yourgrau, Weil’s theology seeks to excise the fleshly, Jewish side of Christianity and repudiate the supposedly cruel God of the Hebrew Bible. She is so thorough that she leaves us with nothing but pure spirit, allying herself with Plato, in whom she claimed to find ‘intimations of Christianity.’ It‘s all beautifully, madly logical. No simple Marcionite preaching a de-Judaized Christianity, Weil is far more consistent than Marcion and his successors: to root out all affirmations of the election of Israel implies expunging every vestige of the flesh from Christianity. She brings to mind Chesterton’s comment that it is not the poet but the mathematician -- and she had a keen mathematical mind -- who goes mad.”


Michael McDonald in New Criterion on Garry Wills’ book, Outside Looking In.

“Wills’s title is revealing: Wills wants to be perceived as an ‘outsider’ and a mere ‘observer.’ Why does Wills think of himself as an outsider? …Wills portrays himself as an outsider because he thinks that he is not easily categorized. He maintains that he stands between the liberal and conservative poles, as shown by his presence on two very different enemies lists: Nixon’s and Alger Hiss’s. Furthermore, whereas liberals are secularists, he is a Catholic. Similarly, he is viewed as a journalist in the academy and as an academic by journalists. But isn’t an ‘outsider’ a person who is isolated from and does not fit into conventional society? Such a definition more than applies to a writer and intellectual such as George Orwell, but not Garry Wills, who is the very model of an insider, and specifically an honored member of the liberal establishment. Consider the evidence. Even during his National Review years he sailed not only with Buckley, but also, as he takes care to point out, with John Kenneth Galbraith and Walter Cronkite. Buckley also helped Wills in the search for a scholarship which took him to Yale, where he studied under the eminent classical scholar Bernard Knox. The evidence of his insider status following his break with Buckley is still more impressive. Important civil rights leaders, such as Jesse Jackson, asked him to ghostwrite their memoirs. He offers a celebrity list of protesters with whom he has marched: Gloria Steinem, Marlo Thomas, Bella Abzug, John Conyers, Judy Collins, Richard Avedon, and the Berrigan brothers, to name but a few. He casually mentions writing a speech on Jefferson for Sargent Shriver to deliver in France…. In the 1970s, along with Lillian Hellman, Hannah Arendt, and Robert Silvers, Wills was invited to attend a private conference exploring the possibility of impeaching Nixon.”


Nellie Bowles in SFC, "Patri Friedman makes waves with ‘seasteading’ plan".

“Milton Friedman's grandson Patri has a vision that might have made the economist proud: to build a floating libertarian nation 12 miles off the coast of California. Billed as ‘Burning Man meets Silicon Valley meets the water,’ the planned nation flotilla would be constructed on a variety of barges and water platforms within sight of San Francisco. It would include everything from homes, schools and hospitals to bikes for transportation and aqua farms for food. Despite the widespread skepticism that the project is bound to invite, Friedman already has secured more than $2 million in venture capital for the development, which strives to create a free-market society in which members are free to form their own governing structures.”


George Melloan in WSJ, "The Fed Has Trapped Itself on Rates".

“The Fed has not bought up Treasury bonds and notes with newly created money. Instead, it has been getting its $600 billion by borrowing from the vast excess reserves owned by the private banks. These are deposits with the Fed in excess of those required by law. They expanded enormously post-2008, when the Fed was creating new money to replace the liquidity the banks had lost in the market crash. The Fed is borrowing the money cheaply, at only a quarter of a percent interest rate. The Treasurys it buys yield over 3%. Meanwhile, the Fed can claim that it also is ‘immobilizing’ reserves that, if loaned into the economy, could be inflationary. Sounds pretty clever, doesn't it? It sounds even more clever when you look at last year's robust earnings of the 12 Federal Reserve banks. For 2010, they posted combined earnings of $81.7 billion, about $6 billion shy of the earnings of the entire commercial and savings bank industry. By law, the U.S. Treasury got most of this bonanza, $79.3 billion, with some $1.4 billion going into dividends to member banks and less than $1 billion to expand Reserve bank capital. It looked like nothing short of a heroic performance by the much-criticized Fed. But the Fed is running a big interest-rate risk. Over the past few years, the Fed has borrowed about $1 trillion in excess reserves from member banks. The banks can call in those loans to the Fed on demand, which is about as short-term as you can get. Should the economy pick up and banks need that money to make private loans, the Fed would have to offer a higher rate to try to hold those reserves. But when interest rates go up, the value of bonds goes down—and so too would the market value of the Fed's $2 trillion-plus portfolio of Treasurys and mortgage-backed securities.”


Joseph Califano in the New York Times asks us to listen to how LBJ’s “struggle in 1967 and 1968 to raise the debt ceiling, ward off draconian cuts and raise taxes offers important lessons for Mr. Obama.” His guest column, "A Way Through the Debt Mess"., indicates no sense of anything but the shortest term “mess” is what is being dealt with. This Magoo-like blindness is the politics that authored the sealed-off leverage-credit-securitize-sell game that ran the markets past the economy. Califano reminds us how deep the crisis is. He’s talking about the era when the currency was gold-backed for one. And secondly the entitlements as they exist have no solution. They threaten to choke off the state’s ability to do anything but deliver checks to retirees, indigents, and swindlers until even those numbers won’t add up.

Califano writes:

“Enough liberal Democrats had joined Republicans and conservative Democrats to defeat the bill, attributing their negative votes to opposition to the Vietnam war, which, they charged, was short-changing domestic programs. Johnson was furious. ‘There’s plenty of money for domestic programs,’ he told me. ‘Tell them we’re prepared to put big public housing projects right in the middle of their districts to show their constituents how much money is available for domestic programs. Maybe that’ll change their minds.’ This wasn’t just an idle threat; he knew that a little hardball, combined with some well-placed promises, could save the bill. Indeed, after some choice conversations with liberal representatives — and a quiet commitment to conservatives to curb domestic spending — the increase passed the House on June 21. But that wasn’t the end of Johnson’s woes. Like Mr. Obama now, he knew that he had to raise taxes to reduce the deficit (though Johnson’s $28 billion in red ink was chump change compared to today’s trillions) and that Congress and the public would strongly oppose such a move.”

Those were the best years of Califano’s life, you can tell. And he has no idea that Johnson ought have lost that battle and the rest of us would be better off today and tomorrow.


Stephanie Saul in NYT, "Charter Schools Tied to Turkey Grow in Texas".

“The charter school movement did not begin in Texas, but the state embraced it with ideological fervor in the late 1990s as a pet project of the governor at the time, George W. Bush. The schools’ independence from local school boards and union contracts, the theory went, would free them to become seedbeds of educational achievement in a landscape of underperforming failure. While Texas charter schools must meet core curriculum standards, they may emphasize some subjects over others, as Harmony does with math, science and technology. They do not have to hew to standard public school calendars or hours. They may — and some do — pay teachers less than the standard state-mandated salaries. (In exchange for this flexibility, the schools get less state money than regular schools, with various calculations showing an annual difference of between $1,000 and $2,000 per pupil.) David Bradley, a member of the Texas Board of Education, served on the panel that reviewed the early charter proposals. ‘The only requirement was that you expressed an interest,’ he said, adding, ‘The first time Harmony came forth, they had a great application, and they were great people.’ One of those people was Yetkin Yildirim, who had arrived from Turkey in 1996 to attend the University of Texas in Austin. He also worked as a volunteer tutor in local high schools. The idea for the Harmony schools was born, he said, when he and friends — including Dr. Tarim — saw how much less rigorous the American high schools were in teaching science and math.”


Robert Pear in NYT, "Report Finds Inequities in Payments for Medicare".

“The system of paying doctors has ‘fundamental conceptual problems,’ and the method of paying hospitals is so unrealistic that almost 40 percent of them have been reclassified into higher-paying areas, the report said. White House officials agreed to commission the study in March 2010 — in the last tense days of Congressional debate over President Obama’s health care overhaul — as a way to secure the votes of lawmakers from Iowa, Minnesota, Wisconsin and other states who believed their doctors and hospitals had long been shortchanged by Medicare. As a result of such underpayments, the lawmakers said, many parts of their states have difficulty recruiting doctors, nurses and other practitioners, and consumers often have difficulty finding specialists. However, the new study says that geographic adjustments should be used to increase the accuracy of Medicare payments, not to address shortages of providers in some places.”


David Brooks in NYT, "Where Wisdom Lives".

“The fee-for-service system is incredibly popular. Recipients don’t have to think about the costs of their treatment, and they get lots of free money. The average 56-year-old couple pays about $140,000 into the Medicare system over a lifetime and receives about $430,000 in benefits back. The program is also completely unaffordable. Medicare has unfinanced liabilities of more than $30 trillion. The Medicare trustees say the program is about a decade from insolvency. Some Democrats simply want to do nothing as Medicare careens toward bankruptcy. Last Sunday on Face the Nation, for example, Nancy Pelosi said, ‘I could never support any arrangement that reduced benefits for Medicare.’ Fortunately, more responsible Democrats are looking for ways to save the system. This is where the philosophical issues come in. They involve questions like: Who should make the crucial decisions? Where does wisdom reside?”


Andrew Porter in Telegraph, "Health Secretary: funding crisis threatens the NHS".

“While insisting he would never privatise the NHS, Mr Lansley warns that its future as a universal service, available to all and free at the point of use will be at risk ‘within years’ if radical change is blocked. Mr Lansley’s remarks are his first since the end of the listening exercise ordered by David Cameron to try to rescue the plans, which have angered many health professionals and disgruntled Liberal Democrat Coalition members, including Nick Clegg, the Deputy Prime Minister. While admitting that he is prepared to accept ‘substantial and significant’ changes, the Health Secretary’s article will be seen as a clear reaffirmation of his belief in the reforms, which would abolish two tiers of NHS management and allow GP-led consortia to decide whether to buy treatment from local state-run hospitals or private providers. It will also serve as a warning to his Cabinet critics who have privately been suggesting that the Health Secretary might resign or be sacked over his handling of the NHS changes.”


Nicholas Wade in NYT, "Teeth of Human Ancestors Hold Clues to Their Family Life".

“The evidence emerged from study of the fossil teeth of 19 australopithecines, the still apelike ancestors of the human lineage. The makeup of teeth can reflect local geography because some chemicals like strontium are drawn from rocks into plants, and then into tooth enamel when the plants are eaten. In australopithecines, the absorption of strontium continued until the teeth were completed around age 8. The researchers were measuring different versions, or isotopes, of strontium to see if the australopithecines traveled far from home in search of food. As the data rolled out of the measuring device, ‘we were at first disappointed,’ said Julia Lee-Thorp of Oxford University, a member of the research team, ‘but we soon realized that we had found another prize.’ This was that half the females had been born far away, whereas all the males had grown up locally, the team reported Wednesday in the journal Nature. The team was led by Sandi R. Copeland of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Germany. In most mammals, the females stay in the home community and the males disperse after adolescence to avoid inbreeding. But chimpanzees and many human hunter-gatherer groups are unusual in following the opposite pattern. The reason may have to do with the aggressive territoriality of both species: A group of males who have grown up with one another is more cohesive and better at defending a territory against competitors. This obliges the females to be the gender that disperses.”


LATimes.com: "Are wild horses native to the U.S.?".

“The lawsuit cites researchers who say that the concept is widely accepted by most of the scientific community, although not by the BLM. ‘It's significant because BLM treats the wild horses like they are an invasive species that is not supposed to be out there,’ Fazio said in a recent interview. A reversal of that long-held belief could have the effect of moving the native horses to the front of the line when divvying up precious water and forage in the arid West. BLM maintains that the horse advocates are perpetuating a myth. And many ranchers claim it's part of a ploy to push livestock off public lands. ‘There are plenty of horses out in the Nevada desert,’ said Tom Collins, a Clark County commissioner who has a ranch outside Las Vegas. ‘Most of these folks, maybe their father slapped them or their mother didn't love them, so now they are in love with these wild horses that aren't really wild,’ he said. BLM devotes ‘Myth No. 11’ on its website to the ‘false claim’ that wild horses are native to the United States. ‘American wild horses are descended from domestic horses, some of some of which were brought over by European explorers in the late 15th and 16th centuries, plus others that were imported from Europe and were released or escaped captivity in modern times,’ it says. ‘The disappearance of the horse from the Western Hemisphere for 10,000 years supports the position that today's wild horses cannot be considered 'native' in any meaningful historical sense,’ BLM explains.”


Hal Herring in High Country News, "Wolf Whiplash".

“The lawsuits wound up opening deep schisms between the pro-wolf groups and the hunters’ groups that were formerly considered fellow conservationists. The Rocky Mountain Elk foundations, for instance, claims to have protected 5.9 million acres for wildlife, with guaranteed public access on over 600,000 acres of private land. But the Elk Foundation shifted to take a hard-line position against wolves, diverging even from the Wildlife Federation’s moderate stance…. Even worse, the pro-wolf lawsuit groups effectively distanced themselves from the state biologists and other professional wildlife managers that had, for the most part, been staunch traditional allies of protection. It was as if the most extreme environmentalists had decided that even the biologists who worked with the wolves on a daily basis were no longer sufficiently pure in the their commitment. Steeped in their righteousness of their cause, the groups believed they could go it alone.”


Andrew Browne in WSJ, "China Embraces Li Na’s Victory".

“The normally staid People's Daily, the mouthpiece of the Chinese Communist Party, splashed a color picture of Ms. Li kissing the trophy at the top of its front page along with a gushing story framed in a celebratory red border. ‘Li Na reaches the summit of the Grand Slam,’ read the headline. A commentary on Chinese Internet portal Sina.com said that Ms. Li has ‘conquered the whole world with her unique charm as a lady from the East.’ Chinese fans have grown used to watching the scientifically selected products of their state sports machine pumping out medals in gymnastics, table tennis and other Olympic events. Success at the highest level of professional tennis has eluded China until now. But what's captured the popular imagination is the way that Ms. Li achieved her breakthrough — not by submitting herself to the discipline of the sports bureaucracy, and its brutal but phenomenally successful formula of breeding national champions, but by splitting from it. Ms. Li's personal narrative has come to embody the wider aspirations of young Chinese to challenge convention and take risks. Much is made in the Chinese media of the flower tattoo on her chest. In December of 2008, four Chinese tennis players, including Ms. Li, Peng Shuai, Zheng Jie and Yan Zi, signed an experimental ‘fly alone’ agreement with the Tennis Management Center of the General Administration of Sport of China. The deal permitted them to freely choose their coaches and decide which matches to play. It also gave them a much bigger cut of their winnings. After being forced to hand over as much as 65% of their purses, players who have opted out of the state system now pay only 8%.”


Gordon Marino in NYTBR on Library of America’s At the Fights: American Writers on Boxing.

“More than any other sport, even baseball or golf, boxing calls forth the muse in writers. It’s no surprise. Where there is risk there is drama, and boxers put more at risk than other athletes. In a single evening, they roll the dice with their health, marketability and sense of identity. When you have a bad night in the ring, you can’t make it up in a double­header on Sunday, or on another football field in a week’s time. And after the very last bell, there is seldom a diploma to fall back on, and there sure won’t be any pension checks coming in the mail. It’s a very hard game — maybe even crazy — but as the affection-filled writers who have attached themselves to these warriors know, the masters of the ring possess a unique nobility. That nobility is perfectly framed in this remarkable volume from the Library of America. The essays here capture every angle of this world, both solemn and comic.”


Jeff Shesol in NYTBR on Brian Walker’s book, The Comics: The Complete Collection.

“As Walker’s book states, the advent of the high-speed rotary color press in the 1890s started a riot in the staid Sunday paper, which became a haven for some of the most gleefully weird characters in popular culture, then or since. Creations like the Katzenjammer Kids, the fiendish Hans und Fritz; squinty-eyed Popeye, the steroidal star of ‘Thimble Theatre’; and Krazy Kat and the brick-slinging sadist Ignatz Mouse ran amok, shouting in invented dialects. Other strips, notably Winsor McCay’s ‘Little Nemo in Slumberland’ and the weekly hallucinations of Lyonel Feininger, challenged basic conventions of narrative and design. Altogether, it was the most fun anyone had ever had in print. This freewheeling period was unfortunately brief. Walker explains that when comics caught on as mass entertainment, cartoonists faced editorial pressure to clean up their act. By the 1920s, most of the miscreants had been domesticated or escorted off the page, and the premium, increasingly, was on gags about golf, money and henpecked husbands. But this sells them short. Even within these constraints, the comics crackled with energy and irreverence. Panels filled up with flappers, hustlers and orphans, many of them enduring creations.”


Byron Coley interviewed by Tony Rettman at Vice.

Yeah, so your first paid pieces ran in the NY Rocker?

"I met Andy Schwartz [NY Rocker editor] when he appeared at the Hampshire college Halloween gig circa 1976. He was wrapped in a mic cord, singing ‘Anarchy in the UK,’ backed by the Suicide Commandos. He had just moved back east at that point, and became a good friend. When he took over the NY Rocker from Alan Betrock, I was hanging out there a lot. At one point they needed someone to do a Beefheart interview, and they asked me if I thought I could do it. I managed to pull it off, so things went from there. Not all my stuff was accepted, but it was a great way to learn how to write, and gave me an excuse to hang out even more. I ended up living in the office when I was in NYC, sometimes for months at a stretch. It evolved into the role of just doing whatever needed to be done. Sweeping up, delivering mags to the uptown record companies, whatever. I think I got a $5 per diem after a while, which was enough to get by in NYC in the late 70s. Some slices, some cigs, some coffee, and I was set! I could get in everywhere for free, and plenty of records rolled through the office, so I was in hog heaven. My aspirations were never very great.”


Berry Gordy interviewed by Marc Myers in WSJ.

“‘To understand my first reaction to Marvin's 'What's Going On,' you have to understand my close relationship with him,’ said Mr. Gordy, whose sister Anna was married to Gaye at the time. ‘Marvin often came to me with crazy ideas. One time he wanted to be a professional boxer. Then later he wanted to join the Detroit Lions. He was a restless genius, and with genius comes a little craziness. My job was to make him see the consequences of his decisions, to protect him.’ When Mr. Gordy returned from Bermuda, he and Gaye had several conversations about the single. He told Gaye that as one of the label's best-selling stars and a Motown leader, he had certain responsibilities. ‘Marvin's answer was, 'No, BG, you don't understand, you have to let me do this. I want to awaken the minds of men,'’ Mr. Gordy said. ‘When I heard that, it changed my mind.’ But Mr. Gordy still had reservations about some of Gaye's lyrics for ‘What's Going On,’ specifically the line about police brutality. ‘I told Marvin he couldn't generalize like that, that the people in the Detroit Police Department were my friends and that every policeman wasn't brutal,’ Mr. Gordy said. ‘I said, 'Even though something is true, Marvin, why should you and Motown be the ones to say it?' Marvin said, 'Who else but us?' Of course, Marvin was right.’”


Amy Annelle:

“Fine Folks,

If there is one show you make it to this year, I hope it's this one, hosted by the

Annie Street Arts Collective
811 W. Annie Street, 8 pm on June 10
Austin, Texas USA

Friends near and dear will be playing my songs surprises will manifest and funds will be raised to help with medical bills.

love to you
and as ever,


Annie Street Arts Collective:

“Hi everyone, This is only the first of many many encouragements that you are going to get from us to check out the music of our favorite unsung local hero, Amy Annelle. We met Amy at the second or third secret show we ever did. The show was down in Bouldin creek and our friend Ralph White was going to play and suggested his friend Amy should too. Ralph and Amy hiked in up the creek with banjos, guitars, dogs, and swinging kerosene lanterns and we've been friends ever since. We've always been admirers of Amy's laid back country lilt when she sings, summoning the ghosts of old blues pickers with names you've never heard, outlaws, campfire yarns, and dark secret musings.

Amy just released an album that we really love called The Cimmarron Banks. It's a collection of songs she wrote while staying in a cabin in wild and yawly Cimarron County, in the Oklahoma Panhandle. Unfortunately, right at the time she finished the album, Amy fell ill and it hasn't been able to get out there where it belongs singing its way across the world.

The show is going to feature a night of performances of Amy's music by:

Amy Annelle, Ralph White, Some Say Leland, Bruce Salmon, Will Johnson, Adam Kobetich and Mila Ringo, Lindsey Verrill, Steve Bernal, Dan Grissom.

Admission to the show is (as always) free but if you can please bring a donation. Amy will have all her cds and other goodies there for sale and trade. The show is meant to be a benefit to help Amy with medical expenses she is having to deal with so every little bit helps. Thanks and see you soon!

Annie Street Arts Collective”


Obituaries of the Week

Felix Zandman (1928 - 2011)

“Mr. Zandman was born in Grodno, where his maternal grandfather ran a prosperous construction firm and his father, descended from Talmudic scholars, was a chemist with Zionist sympathies. After surviving the first part of World War II as a young slave, Mr. Zandman and an uncle escaped to the countryside where a Catholic family sheltered them for 17 months in a tiny underground chamber along with two other Jews…. To while away the hours underground, Mr. Zandman's uncle taught him trigonometry and higher math by rote. Most of the rest of Mr. Zandman's family died in Treblinka, he wrote in a 1994 memoir, ‘Never the Last Journey.’ In 1962, Mr. Zandman founded Vishay…. The name, Vishay, came from their grandmother's village in Lithuania. During the 1980s, with Mr. Zandman as chief executive, Vishay went on an acquisitions spree, creating a broad-based electronics company with sales of $2.7 billion in 2010. The Malvern, Pa., company has manufacturing facilities in China, Israel and several other countries. Mr. Zandman led Vishay's $500 million 1998 acquisition of Temic Telefunken microelectronics GmbH, a producer of semiconductors and a leading German manufacturer during World War II. When the contract was signed, Mr. Zandman put on a yarmulke and said a blessing, he told the Hebrew popular science magazine Galileo in 2007.”

James Arness (1923 - 2011)

“Of Norwegian descent, Arness was born James Aurness in Minneapolis on May 26, 1923. His brother, future actor Peter Graves, was born three years later. After being drafted into the Army during his freshman year at Beloit College in Wisconsin, in early 1943, Arness was assigned to the 3rd Infantry Division and took part in the landing at Anzio, Italy, in 1944. (Because of his height, he was chosen to be the first off his landing craft to test the depth of the water.) Later, while walking point on a night patrol through a vineyard, Arness walked into a German machine-gun nest, and rounds severely splintered the bones in his lower right leg. The wound resulted in his leg being shortened by about 5/8 of an inch, and he thereafter wore a lift in his shoe. After undergoing months of rehabilitation in a stateside hospital, Arness was honorably discharged from the Army in January 1945 with a $56-a-month disability pension. At the suggestion of his brother, Arness enrolled in a radio announcing school in Minneapolis. He quickly found work as a disc jockey at a local station. But after several months, he quit to join a friend on a trip to Los Angeles. He figured he'd spend a few weeks out West and then return home.”


Thanks Joe Pope, Steve Beeho.

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1 comment:

  1. Anyone else catch S. Hersch claiming US Special Forces are putting radiation monitors on stop signs and in bricks in brick walls in Iran on Democracy Now last week?