a new low in topical enlightenment

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Issue #104 (June 29, 2011)

Brooklyn Ridge, Wyoming

Photo by Joe Carducci

New York x The World ÷ Manhattan ≈ $2
by Joe Carducci

Now that the music’s stopped and the chairs’ve been grabbed and the chairless escorted from the gleaming transparent new New York Times premises I think I’m seeing next exec editor Jill Abramson’s slightly different profile’s shadow cast over a couple largish stories already, two Sundays running. Bill Keller is now, though not this week, writing short pieces in the Times magazine that are almost as well considered as my dashed-off work here. Abramson’s most famous hobby horse makes the first of these, Mike McIntire’s “The Justice and the Magnate” pretty obvious; Clarence Thomas’ inelegant entrance upon the national stage was hardly his fault. A lot of it was hers. Deep into the Republican twelve years of Reagan-Bush the sexual harassment bar as used politically by Democrats was getting to be raised pretty high for the party of just about any black man not to mention the Kennedys. Luckily our first black president Bill Clinton came tooling along to get gender relations back into realistic shape. But Abramson’s career going back to her WSJ articles co-authored with Jane Mayer and one or more Democratic Senatorial staffers, which became their book, Strange Justice, was made then. In Manhattan journalism terms Abramson and Mayer used Thomas to launch themselves from the Wall Street Journal which supported the Thomas nomination in editorials, to the Times and the New Yorker respectively, which are still as institutions questioning the Judge’s sanity as well as his qualifications. (David Brock, now an uncloseted liberal media critic of Fox, Limbaugh etc., had stripped bare Anita Hill to somewhat less reward in his book, The Real Anita Hill.) Clinton’s fine-tuning of harassment etiquette-and-law seems to have had no impact upon Thomas Studies as they advance over time in high-end newsmedia.

The story that appeared two Sunday’s ago, date-lined Pin Point, Ga., found its way above the fold on the front page and it continued inside for a full page. It involves a derelict seafood cannery of some historical importance to coastal Gullah populations going back to the 1920s. McIntire writes, “That Pin Point’s history is worthy of preservation is not in dispute.” Yet the scandal seems to be that Thomas referred a friend of his (the Magnate) to the cannery’s descendent-owner (Algernon Varn) to help that effort. The Reporter quotes the Professor of Legal Ethics at Chapman University Ronald Rotunda (!), “I don’t think I could say it’s unethical. It’s just a very peculiar situation.” But then Clarence is a strange justice, no? That’s been established. A lot of the thousands of words here are about Harlan Crow, no not a Georgia cracker trying to re-enslave the freedmen islanders, but “a Dallas real estate magnate” prone to donating money and time to conservative causes. Strange that he would even know Justice Thomas. The photo on the front page is of Thomas speaking after receiving a bust of Lincoln that he shouldnta oughta got apparently.

I realize I may be the only person not named Jill or Jane to have read the whole overblown feature. It sure won’t be Pulitzer bait for ol’ Mike McIntire. You’re left guessing that it’s meant to be a little tap on Clarence’s shoulder from Jill from atop her new position which is after all almost as prestigious as his.

Last Sunday’s suspicious piece was less obviously personal so it got top right above the fold, which is what the Times considers top story placement. Nominally part of an ongoing series, this time its Ian Urbina taking one for the Times, spinning a similar sized Sunday piece out of even more not-much, and what’s more following up with two additional articles of nothing-at-all in Monday’s paper. The series is called “Drilling Down: the Shale Gamble” but what gives it that uniquely non-disinterested NYT flavor is all that padding they add to disguise the obvious. As I mentioned in the April essay, “From the Dept. of Enervation”, a New Yorker piece on North Dakota’s fracking bonanza was remarkably deferent to all those Dakotans and Oklahomans and Texans, almost as if oil and gas and what-not, all that dirty stuff, might be found, extracted and used with the New Yorker’s permission. Well those drawlin’ fools apparently do not have the New York Times’ permission. I wrote that earlier piece over another pre-Jill Bill-era Times flurry of carbon-hate. This week’s three articles (so far) seem most concerned with over-inflated stock valuations for energy companies based in the rush for shale gas and new rules allowing looser estimations of gas reserves. A couple hundred words could’ve dealt with that, except they seem to have gone to some trouble to obtain the emails of energy company executives….

Sunday’s “Insiders Sound an Alarm Amid a Natural Gas Rush” is long enough, but Monday’s double barrel of “Behind Veneer, Doubt on Future of Natural Gas”, and “S.E.C. Shift Leads to Worries of Overestimation of Reserves” overkill the overkill, but again all direct politicking elided by max word count, hopefully it won’t become a book, maybe there’s a vote imminent… Anyway the point of all these pieces: there’s a gas bubble created by a gas rush. I guess they feel culpable for natural gas’ clean reputation since they’ve done their best to rule coal, oil, and nuclear out entirely. Seems to me this all leads back to the stone age: an Anarcho-Salafi theme park with gay marriage and just enough sexual harassment to keep things interesting. That is if they’re serious about all this. Perhaps the Times feels impotent and so have decided to err on the side of general obstructionism, hoping against hope to save the planet. But the dishonest construction of these pieces, whereby one expects to find the abrotext (see R&TPN) come along at any moment in the next sentence or paragraph only to reach the end and find that Ian Urbina and editors have removed it. The heart of these pieces is a void you faithful reader-to-whom-the-Times-is-a-religion are to fall into.

The New Republic found Bill McKibben, author of the book, The End of Nature, and got him to succinctly overfill that void the Times in its high-minded probity leaves open for you to fill, with his piece, “Canada and Its Tar Sands: What the Country Can Learn From Brazil About Protecting the Environment”. It may be hysterical, but it’s honest about its interestedness. McKibben is an unmasker of climate-denial and he asks and answers, “Shouldn’t Canada feel the same kind of responsibility to keep carbon safely in the ground that Brazil feels to keep its trees rooted? Absolutely.” I guess he’s principally concerned here with tar sands and unconventional oil, and it might very well be true that these strange solid-oil lands which require heating to get at are being worked because of governmental givebacks and subsidies and the ruling out of other easier to tap energy fields. But really, “keep carbon safely in the ground”? I think that phrase is what’s missing from all the overblown, lighter-than-air New York Times energy reporting… the MacGuffin… the abrotext itself… darkness visible.

Ira Stoll is still occasionally close-reading certain New York Times literature as he used to do at his Smartertimes.com, and he had an interesting item Tuesday at his new Futureofcapitalism.com site, NYT on Natural Gas and Fracking”, which pulls interesting detail about Times sources from a rebuttal by the Independent Petroleum Association of America. Apparently the NYT’s “Houston-based geologist who worked for two decades at Amoco” is the IPAA’s anti-car (both gas-powered and electric) zealot quoted, “The idea of private transport needs to go away.” And the NYT’s “member of the advisory committee of the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas… former stockbroker with Merrill Lynch” is the IPAA’s “steering committee member of the Oil and Gas Accountability Project” which considers natural gas “filthy” and seeks a ban on fracking. Furthermore she is an “artisanal cheese maker and goat farmer." My fellow Americans: case closed. These sources are “interested” activists and when they are disguised to appear to be “disinterested” experts than their “interestedness” transfers to the New York Times itself, and that Pulitzer rewards “disinterested and meritorious public service.”

What enables this misconstruing of our world is a pretty simple class war, and it’s boringly the same old one, just acted out by our new elite against the remnants of the American working class. This series, "Drilling Down", is perhaps half-read by people who know nothing of gas-flares and oil-rigs or coal-mines, but whose faulty education leaves them believing that their prejudices and inadequacies are rather pertinent moral sentiment. Thanks to some highly interested and invested movement documentary this elite’s idea of fracking is flames pouring out of a kitchen faucet. And we simply cannot have that.

NYT addendum

Tuesday’s Science Times section features more enviro-science in Nicholas Bakalar “Greatest Threat to Caribou Herd in Canada Isn’t From Wolves”. It’s intended as another argument against those diabolical oil men up in Alberta, but if you read it the piece what you get is not science or journalism at any level you are promised by the Times marketing department. Its as if the Science desk reports to the Washington bureau. Here are my favorite knucklehead passages:

“Wolves’ preference for deer, the researchers conclude, draws them away from the areas where caribou thrive. But the oil sands contain the second largest reserve of petroleum in the world, and so they face a heavy human presence as they are developed. And by looking at hormone levels in caribou scat, the scientists found that when humans were most active in an area, caribou nutrition was poorest and psychological stress highest. When oil crews left, the animals relaxed and nutrition improved…. Researchers found the caribou population larger than recent estimates, and moose, wolf and caribou populations were steady during the study period. They emphasize that this does not mean that these caribou are free from risk. But they say management of human activity, not wolf control, is the still best way to minimize it.”

Is caribou psychology a doctorate program now? Somehow I think a nice Gilda Radner “Never mind” would be appropriate here.

If you want pure science in the Science Times move to Sindya Bhanoo’s “Saturn Moon’s Surface May Conceal Salty Ocean”. There is no Times interest in Enceladus since there are no drawlin’ oil-men up there threatening to turn that icy hell into an boiling ammoniated nightmare, and so I think Sindya’s piece simply flew through the Washington bureau and the executive editor.

And Wednesday morning... Times Hits Paydirt as Ian Urbina covers the echo, "Lawmakers Seek Inquiry of Natural Gas Industry".

Last Friday’s New York Times was a great looking newspaper, at least above the fold. I believe it’s the first black and white top since they began printing color. And the great fifties mug shots of “Whitey” Bulger really made for a classic front page. Only the paper’s now about four inches too narrow and a couple too short.

Eremomeia Icteropygialis by James Fotopoulos

From the Desk of Joe Carducci…

Roger Sandall in American Interest on Robin Fox’s book, The Tribal Imagination: Civilization and the Savage Mind.

“The stories mankind tells itself about its own origins in creation myths repeatedly and predictably echo a primeval conflict between the bonds uniting kin, on the one hand, and the evolutionary need to marry out on the other — to divide the primal unity, to socially separate, to genetically disperse. Often the original bonded creators were brother and sister, like Osiris and Isis. ‘For the Egyptians, as for the Greeks and Teutons, a series of sibling marriages characterized the early history of the gods.’ For ordinary mortals this was forbidden. But although brothers and sisters cannot marry (a near-universal human rule), their children in turn not only can but often should. And in the commonly prescribed marriage of a brother’s daughter and sister’s son (more common than the Arab union of brother’s daughter and brother’s son) the centrifugal tendency of parents marrying ‘out’ is balanced by the centripetal tendency of children marrying ‘in.’ This is the original atom of kinship from which a wide range of marital, procreative and residential patterns throughout the world derive. It is also a source of continually repeated tensions and conflicts that humanity dramatizes in its myths, legends and art — conflicts originating in the one between the illegitimate primordial pair of brother and sister and the legitimate outsiders (those strangers always regarded with suspicion) as marriage partners…. In his essay, “The Virgin and the Godfather: Kinship Law versus State Law in Greek Tragedy and After”, Fox radically alters our usual understanding of the play. He begins with a quotation about the clash of kinship and early proto-state authority from his own book Kinship and Marriage that is worth reproducing:

‘The war between kinship and authority is alive in legend. In story and fantasy kinship struggles against bureaucratic authority, whether of church or state. It undermines, it challenges, it disturbs. The Mafia constantly fascinates because ‘the family’ demands total loyalty and provides total security. When the state fails to protect, people look longingly at the certainty of kinship. Fox sees the European habit of viewing society as a loose aggregate of autonomous individuals as a barrier to understanding. It prevents us from seeing the truth of Ernest Gellner’s argument in Muslim Society that, under Islam, ‘the individual acts toward the state essentially through the mediation of his kin group.’”


Matt Bradley in WSJ, "Young Brothers Rebel in Egypt".

“Central to the Brotherhood youths' complaints is the way in which Brotherhood leaders founded the Freedom and Justice Party and appointed its members by decree, instead of through an election of the group's members. Brotherhood leaders have stressed the distinction between the Brotherhood and Freedom and Justice. But dissenters within the group say they doubt Freedom and Justice will remain independent from the Brotherhood organization, which has historically focused on charitable and social work. Yet even as some members peel away from the Brotherhood with their own political ambitions, the group's new political party has made an effort in the past few weeks to reach out to secular-minded parties. Freedom and Justice said Tuesday it planned to form an electoral coalition with 17 leftist, Islamist and liberal political parties to coordinate a unified strategy ahead of parliamentary elections scheduled for September. Mohammed Qassas, a founder of Al Tayar Al Masry, dismissed the coalition as a cosmetic effort to assuage popular fears of a Brotherhood sweep in parliament, rather than a genuine attempt to moderate the group's conservative Islamist ideology. Given that Egypt's interim military rulers have yet to publish a set of laws governing parliamentary elections, analysts said the goals and function of the coalition are unclear. In most parliamentary systems, parties form coalitions after parliamentary elections. Founders of Al Tayar Al Masry say they will seek to articulate ‘Egyptian values’ with a focus on youth-driven economic development—a political platform echoed by several new political parties that have sprung from the revolutionary ferment of Tahrir Square.”


Hazem Saghieh at Opendemocracy.net, "The Arab Revolutions: An End to Dogma".

“The radical, pro-Iranian pro-Syrian camp in the middle east is extremely confused nowadays. The Arab revolutions which at first triggered its enthusiasm and energy have turned out to be very different from what it expected and hoped for. The Tunisian revolution did not release any ‘anti-imperialist’ sentiment; the Egyptian revolution did not burn American flags in the streets of Cairo and Alexandria, nor annul the 1978 treaty with Israel. The whole notion that the Tunisians and Egyptians were imitating the Khomeini revolutionary model, a notion promoted by the Iranian leaders, was proven wrong. Moreover, the radical prophecy that the west and its influence are going to shrink in the region was also proved wrong. The international intervention in Libya widened the presence of the west and its influence in the Arab world. What is more annoying to the radical camp is that this intervention is welcomed by most Libyans and acceptable to most of the Arabs.”


Chris Nicholson in NYT, "Women Break Down Barriers in Mideast Finance".

“Hoda Abou-Jamra still remembers the meeting when potential investors for her private equity fund thought she was the secretary. ‘I would ask a question, and they would answer to the man next to me. I would answer their question, and they would look at him,’ she said, laughing. ‘I didn’t let it bother me. I just stood up straighter and talked louder.’ Women deal makers, financiers and entrepreneurs are a rare breed in the Middle East.”


Marc Champion & Ayla Albayrak in WSJ, "Kurds Call for Boycott of Turkish Parliament".

“The boycott by the Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party, or BDP, came after Turkey's High Election Board ruled late Tuesday that Hatip Dicle wouldn't be allowed to enter Parliament because of a prior conviction on charges of spreading terrorist propaganda. Mr. Dicle was one of 36 Kurdish-backed candidates to win a seat in elections June 12.

‘The [ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP] administration should at once return our rights,’ said BDP legislator-elect Serafettin Elci, in a televised party statement. ‘Until we see a concrete step taken we will not go to parliament.’ Altan Tan, a senior BDP politician confirmed in a phone interview that this meant either all 36 winning BDP candidates would go to Parliament, or none at all. ‘The AKP should return this stolen deputy's seat,’ he said. The election board and courts have to decide whether to release from jail nine elected candidates, including Mr. Dicle and five others backed by the BDP, so they can enter Parliament. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's ruling AKP won a third sweeping election victory on June 12, a result widely welcomed in the business community after years of strong economic growth. But on Thursday, political tensions rose as both the BDP and the main opposition Republican People's Party, or CHP, saw winning candidates potentially barred from participating in Parliament.”


Marc Champion & Jay Solomon in WSJ, "Turkey-Israel Ties Warm Over Syria".

“In the latest sign on Friday, Turkish newspapers published an interview with Israel‘s hardline Deputy Foreign Minister Danny Ayalon in which he called for reconciliation with Ankara and praised Turkey‘s Syria policy, appealing to a common interest in the stability of a country that Israel and Turkey border…. Mr. Ayalon’s comments followed surprisingly warm letters of congratulation to Mr. Erdogan for his June 12 re-election, from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the Israeli Knesset. Turkey, for its part, pressed a Turkish charity not to send the Mavi Marmara, the Gaza-bound aid ship on which Israeli commandos last year killed nine passengers, for a repeat voyage later this month.”


Michael Martina & Alexander Dziadosz at Reuters.com, "Sudan’s Bashir likely keen to ease China investment worry".

“Sudan's war crime-indicted president will seek to soothe his most powerful ally's worries about its investments when he visits China next week, days before Sudan's oil-rich south splits from the north. That July 9 secession is the outcome of a January referendum that will see President Omar Hassan al-Bashir and his government in the northern capital Khartoum lose three-quarters of the country's current oil output, roughly 500,000 barrels per day. Sudan is one of China's largest foreign supplier of crude oil, making Beijing all the more keen to ensure a smooth transition along the volatile north-south border and that supplies are not interrupted.”


Tony Barber in FT, "Echoes of history in Greece’s corrupt clientelist state".

“The corruption and political patronage that infest Greece’s public sector are sometimes attributed to the experience of centuries of Ottoman overlordship, a time when people needed highly placed patrons to protect them against arbitrary power. After Greece achieved independence, the under-developed economy meant that the public sector usually provided the most secure jobs. Government evolved into a beehive of clientelism.”


Andrew Malone in Daily Mail, "The Big Fat Greek Gravy Train".

“Even on a stiflingly hot summer's day, the Athens underground is a pleasure. It is air-conditioned, with plasma screens to entertain passengers relaxing in cool, cavernous departure halls - and the trains even run on time. There is another bonus for users of this state-of-the-art rapid transport system: it is, in effect, free for the five million people of the Greek capital. With no barriers to prevent free entry or exit to this impressive tube network, the good citizens of Athens are instead asked to 'validate' their tickets at honesty machines before boarding. Few bother. This is not surprising: fiddling on a Herculean scale — from the owner of the smallest shop to the most powerful figures in business and politics — has become as much a part of Greek life as ouzo and olives. Indeed, as well as not paying for their metro tickets, the people of Greece barely paid a penny of the underground’s £1.5 billion cost — a ‘sweetener’ from Brussels (and, therefore, the UK taxpayer) to help the country put on an impressive 2004 Olympics free of the city’s notorious traffic jams. The transport perks are not confined to the customers. Incredibly, the average salary on Greece’s railways is £60,000, which includes cleaners and track workers -- treble the earnings of the average private sector employee here.”


Andrew Rettman at EUobserver.com, "One in 20 EU officials could lose jobs in ‘solidarity’ cuts".

“A source in the EU parliament said selected departments were already briefed on the measures. He noted that ‘if they are smart’ the job losses will target people who are near to retirement or on long term sick leave and who could be pensioned-off with minimum pain. ‘They already did something like this in the run-up to the 2004 enlargement in order to avoid an explosion in staff numbers. At the time they used the unfortunate French word 'degagement',’ he added. 'Degagement' in French means 'clearing' but also 'freeing prisoners' or 'releasing gas'. The high ranking EU official said that with some 50,000 EU fonctionnaires serving all 27 member states compared to more than 50 million civil servants in the EU countries themselves, any cuts would be about showing ‘solidarity’ rather than saving big money.”


Marcus Walker in WSJ, "Is Germany Turning Into the Strong, Silent Type?".

“German leaders argue that they don't want to tinker with a winning formula, and they're already making significant contributions to the EU and NATO. But critics see it differently. They attack the country for wanting to be a big Switzerland: a trading nation that profits from the business opportunities of a globalized economy but shirks the dirty work of globalization, including international involvement in armed conflicts. Germany's traditional allies even fret that the country is losing interest in Europe and the West. After all, when you've carved out a lucrative niche selling precision machinery and luxury cars to fast-growing emerging economies such as China, who needs stodgy old Europe? ‘Germany is rising in a Europe that's coming apart at the seams,’ says John Kornblum, former U.S. ambassador to Berlin. ‘How is this country — the only major economy in Europe that can keep up with globalization — going to fit into this Europe?’ Both NATO and the EU were built around Germany, by allies that wanted to bind Europe's strongest country into a multilateral structure. Germany, rueful of its history, also felt more comfortable inside their embrace. Today's Germany, more confident of its own strength and virtue, exudes the sense that it no longer needs either alliance quite as much as it used to.”


Pilita Clark in FT, "China in threat to block Airbus deal".

“China and the United States oppose the European Union’s move to force all airlines flying into the 27-member bloc to pay for their pollution. China has denounced the EU proposal as a violation of national sovereignty that also contravenes aviation industry norms. The European Commission said China’s retaliation would have no effect on its emissions scheme, which forces companies to pay for permits for each tonne of carbon dioxide they emit above a certain level, and has been written into EU law. ‘There’s no plan B on this,’ said a spokesman for Connie Hedegaard, EU climate commissioner.”


Nicu Popescu at EUobserver.com, "How China sees Russia".

We also asked the Chinese whether they consider Russia is a BRIC country. Not in a technical sense as the source of letter R in this acronym, but whether they consider Russia a rising power – economically and politically. Instead of a reply, we heard a joke:

‘A BRIC summit is discussing how and when to unseat the US dollar as a global reserve currency. After days of deliberations the leaders of BRIC countries decide to go and ask God about the prospects of their currencies to become global reserve currencies. The first to go is Dilma Rousseff, president of Brazil – she asks God when will the real become a reserve currency. A few minutes later she returns crying. Her RIC colleagues ask her ‘what happenned?’ ‘God said I will not live to see that’ she explained.

Manmohan Singh goes to ask God when will the Indian rupee become a global reserve currency. Just like Dilma Rousseff he returns crying after a few minutes. God told him that the Rupee won’t become a reserve currency in his lifetime.

Hu Jintao goes through the same experience.

Then Medvedev goes to God. A few minutes later Medvedev returns completely calm. The others ask him what happened, and Medvedev replies: ‘I asked God when will the Rouble become a global reserve currency… and God started to cry. I asked him what happened, and he told me this will not happen in his lifetime…’

The joke is half funny, but captures how many Chinese see Russia.”


Patti Waldmeir in FT, "Chinese sharpen tactics for tackling social unrest".

“When Shanghai authorities set out in April to resolve a lorry drivers’ strike that had disrupted trade for days at China’s largest port they employed carrot and stick tactics. First, the municipal government administered a few strategic beatings to strikers. Then it came in with the cash. The authorities called on container shipping centres to cancel or lower fees that had prompted the protest, including charges for unloading containers, road tolls and higher prices for night loading. Finally, they made sure no one in China knew what had happened. A while later, some of the strike leaders were arrested.”


Mary O’Grady in WSJ, "A Get-Well Card for Hugo Chavez".

“Because Mr. Chavez has destroyed institutions in order to foster a cult of personality, his mortality implies sheer chaos -- as well as opportunity for the violent and ambitious. The bloodbath for power would not be between democrats and chavistas. It would be between the many armed factions that he has nurtured. Once victorious the winner will try to inherit his power by insisting that the nation worship his memory. Since none of his likely successors shares his charisma, repression is likely to get worse. Cuba will be ready to help. The Castro brothers have long provided the security and intelligence apparatus that Mr. Chavez uses to stifle dissent. In exchange, Mr. Chavez funnels at least $5 billion annually to the island regime. The survival of that symbiotic relationship would be a top priority for the Cuban military dictatorship.”


John Rathbone in FT, "Boom times despite safety fears".

“‘Mexico is not just about cheap labour and preferential market access,’ says Jose Munoz, president and director-general of Nissan Mexicana, the Japanese car manufacturer, which last year announced it would invest $600m in its Mexican plants. ‘It has a skilled labour force and know-how.’ The reasons for such bullishness -- at odds with many news headlines -- are plain. The macroeconomy is virtually bulletproof. Inflation is about 3 per cent. There are no fiscal or current account deficits to speak of, and, unlike many Latin peers, exchange rate strength is not an issue.”


Michael Barone in WSJ, "The Surprising Roots of Liberal Nostalgia".

“[L]iberals pine for what I call America’s Midcentury Moment. It was the product of World War II, lasting from 1940 until the mid-1960s when the wartime experience wore off and the emerging baby boomers led culture and politics in another direction. For those of us who grew up in those years, the Midcentury Moment seemed the norm in American experience. But in fact it was the result of a unique time in U.S. history, when a united nation was mobilized for total war and Americans were, literally and figuratively, put into uniform.”


Michael Spence in WSJ, "Why the Old Jobs Aren’t Coming Back".

“During the two decades before the crisis of 2008-09, the U.S. economy added 27 million jobs, primarily in government, health care, construction, retail and hospitality. This employment growth was almost all in the ‘nontradable’ side of the economy -- sectors generating goods and services that must be consumed where they are produced. But several factors will depress these sectors. Government budget woes, a likely leveling-out of the dramatic growth in health-care consumption, and a permanent reduction in domestic consumption as asset prices reset downward and debt-financed purchased are reduced, will all have effects in the short-to-medium term. The ‘tradable’ side of the economy (which includes exportable goods and services) has its own set of issues. While finance, consulting, computer design and managing complex international businesses all fueled job growth for 20 years, these gains were matched by declines in the manufacturing jobs held by the middle class. The very things that propped up our tradable sectors through the export market -- high growth rates in emerging economies and a more educated consumer class in those countries -- have challenged middle-class U.S. employees on the job front.”


Henny Sender in FT, "Banks lose out as Washington rigs the game in its favour".

“In an era of greater regulation the government is writing the rules. The definition of what constitutes an adequate capital cushion keeps going up. At the start of this month, for example, Daniel Tarullo, Federal Reserve board governor, suggested that bank capital levels should be far higher than the 7 per cent level required by Basel III. Regulators have further determined that investment in government securities involves no capital hit, despite the fact that sovereign debt these days is in some cases as risky as lending to companies with junk ratings. At the same time, governments are raising liquidity requirements and -- no surprise -- it is government securities that are classified as the most liquid. That incentive structure means that every ratcheting up in the required level of capital and liquidity is good for the bond market and will help keep interest rates from rising even as the Fed’s large-scale asset purchase programme ends next week.”


Steven Rattner in NYT, "The Great Corn Con".

“Corn is hardly some minor agricultural product for breakfast cereal. It’s America’s largest crop, dwarfing wheat and soybeans. A small portion of production goes for human consumption; about 40 percent feeds cows, pigs, turkeys and chickens. Diverting 40 percent to ethanol has disagreeable consequences for food. In just a year, the price of bacon has soared by 24 percent. To some, the contours of the ethanol story may be familiar. Almost since Iowa — our biggest corn-producing state — grabbed the lead position in the presidential sweepstakes four decades ago, support for the biofuel has been nearly a prerequisite for politicians seeking the presidency. Those hopefuls have seen no need for a foolish consistency. John McCain and John Kerry were against ethanol subsidies, then as candidates were for them. Having lost the presidency, Mr. McCain is now against them again. Al Gore was for ethanol before he was against it. This time, one hopeful is experimenting with counter-programming: as governor of corn-producing Minnesota, Tim Pawlenty pushed for subsidies before he embraced a ‘straight talk’ strategy.”


John Kass in CT, "Blagojevich’s telltale hand".

“He was mute, perhaps numb, but that vein of his did all the talking. His wife, Patti, wearing a white suit of a boucle knit, sobbing in her brother's arms, shaking her head ‘no’ as she sat in the seat in front of me, the clerk reading the 17 guilty criminal verdicts, ‘With respect to count 12 in the indictment, we the jury find the defendant guilty. …’ There was meter to the chant of his guilt, and it went on like that for some time, with the clerk tolling off the counts as if in liturgy, and Rod finally still, except for that vein pulsing away in the forgotten hand. At least he'd finally stopped acting. Dead Meat didn't have to play a part anymore. There was nobody to charm, nobody to convince. All he had to do was sit there and take it. And I wonder if Dead Meat had time then to consider the arc of his life as the perfect Chicago political cautionary tale: The desperate kid who wanted to be liked, the boy who married the ward boss's daughter, the kid who ingratiated his way into the 5th Congressional District, and who, with the help of patronage armies of knuckle draggers, was finally elected governor as a self-professed reformer.”


Washington Post: "Obama’s focus on visiting clean-tech companies raises questions".

“After Obama’s visit was scheduled, waves of Secret Service agents, military communications crews and White House advance teams descended on Solyndra. When the president strode onto the factory floor, the mood was festive as the crowd listened to him praise what he said were Solyndra’s plans ‘to hire a thousand workers.’ ‘The future is here,’ Obama said. Buoyed by government confidence, Solyndra planned an initial public stock offering expected to raise $300 million. Its largest investors were venture capital funds associated with Kaiser, the Tulsa oil executive who served as a major Obama fundraiser in 2008 and who has been a frequent White House visitor. But just weeks before Obama’s arrival, the company released sobering news from independent auditors evaluating its public offering plan. PricewaterhouseCoopers said Solyndra’s losses and negative cash flow raised ‘substantial doubt about its ability to continue as a going concern.’ The report, covered by financial media, added to doubts on Wall Street. Solar analyst Ramesh Misra, who works for the investment firm Brigantine Advisors, was skeptical about Solyndra’s signature product. Its solar panels are composed of an array of glass tubes that are expensive to produce, causing investment advisers to question whether the product could compete with less-expensive Chinese models…. ‘Solyndra stands out,’ agreed Robert Lahey, an analyst with Ardour Capital who added that he thinks the government took a substantial risk in backing Solyndra. A month after Obama’s visit, the company withdrew its public offering plans. A few weeks later, congressional auditors announced that Energy Department had given favorable treatment to some loan-guarantee applicants. A Government Accountability Office report found that the department had bypassed required steps for funding awards to five applicants, including Solyndra. The GAO did not publicly identify those five in its report; the Energy Department asked that some information about companies be excluded as business sensitive.”


James Bovard in WSJ, "The Food-Stamp Crime Wave".

“Perhaps the biggest fraud of all is the notion, which the USDA has been touting lately, that the food-stamp program is a nutrition program. (The program's name was formally changed in the 2008 farm bill to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program — SNAP — to make it sound more wholesome and attractive.) What is really does is boost caloric intake, which is why numerous studies (including a 2009 Ohio State University report) link food stamps to the worsening obesity epidemic among low-income Americans. The USDA has vetoed all proposals from local or state governments to prevent food stamps from being used for junk food. With the feds' approval, food stamps are increasingly being redeemed at fast-food restaurants — one of the primary culprits in ballooning American bellies. But the Obama administration doesn't deserve all the blame. Food-stamp enrollment surged before Mr. Obama took office. The number of food-stamp recipients on George W. Bush's watch rose by more than 50%, even before the recession hit in 2007. As Slate reporter Annie Lowrey wrote for the online magazine last December, President Bush and his food-stamp chief Eric Bost ‘went on a quiet crusade to expand eligibility, increase enrollment, and reduce stigma around nutrition aid.’

H.L. Mencken quipped that the New Deal divided America into ‘those who work for a living and those who vote for a living.’ The explosion in the number of food-stamp recipients tilts the political playing field in favor of big government. The more people who become government dependents, the more likely that democracy will become a conspiracy against self-reliance.”


Sam Kazman in WSJ, "Why Your New Car Doesn’t Have a Spare Tire".

“Getting rid of spare tires alone won’t be nearly enough to meet the more stringent mandates that are looming. In early June, GM unveiled another strategy -- higher gasoline taxes. GM CEO Dan Akerson proposed boosting the federal tax by up to $1 per gallon to increase small car sales. This isn’t the first time a car maker’s chief executive has called for higher gas taxes. In 2009, after gas had dropped to below $2 a gallon from $4, Bill Ford made a similar proposal, citing the need for a ‘price signal… strong enough so customers will continue buying smaller, fuel-efficient cars.’ …Mr. Akerson’s stand demonstrates CAFE’s real perversity -- by forcing mileage standards far above what consumers want, it pits car makers against their customers. Car makers need high gas prices to force buyers into the vehicles that government demands the industry sell.”


Christopher Caldwell in FT, "Smoking ads are more about class than compassion".

“The FDA argues that 213,000 people will be moved to quit smoking after they see the new labels next year. Even if those estimates turn out right, the new labels are a mistake. They reflect an ideology-driven havit of mind: if someone is not following your orders, it must be because you are not yelling loud enough. They are disrespectful, dehumanizing and abusive of law-abiding citizens. They are the sign of a governing class that has lost its sense of proportion and its sense of accountability to the public…. The FDA is not ‘advising’ or ‘informing’ citizens at all. It is trying to ban tobacco without legislation.”


Ross Douthat in NYT, "160 Million and Counting".

“Over all, Unnatural Selection reads like a great historical detective story, and it’s written with the sense of moral urgency that usually accompanies the revelation of some enormous crime. But what kind of crime? This is the question that haunts Hvistendahl’s book, and the broader debate over the vanished 160 million. The scale of that number evokes the genocidal horrors of the 20th century. But notwithstanding the depredations of the Chinese politburo, most of the abortions were (and continue to be) uncoerced. The American establishment helped create the problem, but now it’s metastasizing on its own: the population-control movement is a shadow of its former self, yet sex selection has spread inexorably with access to abortion, and sex ratios are out of balance from Central Asia to the Balkans to Asian-American communities in the United States. This places many Western liberals, Hvistendahl included, in a distinctly uncomfortable position. Their own premises insist that the unborn aren’t human beings yet, and that the right to an abortion is nearly absolute. A self-proclaimed agnostic about when life begins, Hvistendahl insists that she hasn’t written ‘a book about death and killing.’ But this leaves her struggling to define a victim for the crime that she’s uncovered…. the sense of outrage that pervades her story seems to have been inspired by the missing girls themselves, not the consequences of their absence. Here the anti-abortion side has it easier. We can say outright what’s implied on every page of Unnatural Selection, even if the author can’t quite bring herself around. The tragedy of the world’s 160 million missing girls isn’t that they’re ‘missing.’ The tragedy is that they’re dead.”


Jorg Pierach at Fasthorseinc.com, "Newspapers Should Get Out Of The Opinion Business".

“If you want my opinion, it’s time for newspapers to get out of the opinion business.
Yes, opinion pages are good for civic discourse – but I believe they’re also bad for business. At some point soon, for-profit daily newspapers are going to have to choose one or the other. The conversation has already started at The New York Times. A column by Executive Editor Bill Keller in last Sunday’s edition laid out plans to make over the Gray Lady’s Sunday opinion section, heretofore called Week In Review. Starting Sunday, wrote Keller, the section will be renamed Sunday Review, ‘the last vestiges of a weekly summing up replaced by a more general timeliness, and that dividing wall breached, so that argument (which will be labeled Opinion) can appear alongside explanation (which will be labeled News Analysis.)’ I’d argue that’s a step in the wrong direction.”


Nathan Hodge in WSJ, "Marines Seeking Postwar Identity".

“The reorientation is in part because of the coming contraction of the defense budget, in part because of the shifting balance of power in the world, and in part because of a historical fear embedded in Marine culture. Since World War II, the Marines have fretted about being remade into a second land army or, in times of economic contraction, cast aside as extraneous. Soon after enlisting, recruits are taught of great Corps victories — at Guadalcanal and Fallujah — its most devastating casualties — at Iwo Jima — and the story that President Truman tried to eliminate the Corps altogether. Though no service commands more respect and fierce loyalty on Capitol Hill (it is impossible to think of Congress ever eliminating the Corps), current Marines note with trepidation that Defense Secretary Robert Gates said last year that they functioned too much like a ‘second land army’ and were too removed from their expeditionary and maritime roots.”


Gideon Rose in NYT, "What Would Nixon Do?".

“Although Mr. Nixon and Mr. Kissinger had steeled themselves for the possibility of an eventual South Vietnamese collapse, they hoped it could be avoided and did what they could to prevent it. And had events in Washington played out differently — with Watergate not crippling the administration and with Congress less hell-bent on slamming the door behind the departing ground troops — they might have succeeded. Mr. Obama does not have a Watergate to contend with, nor does he face a passionately antiwar Congress. And his opponents on the battlefield don’t have the capabilities or support the North Vietnamese did. Without these stumbling blocks, he should be able to pull off a Nixonian strategy in Afghanistan. But this will involve more than simply tinkering with the number of troops being pulled out. It will mean denying what is going on, aggressively covering the retreat and staying after leaving.”


Peter Foges at Laphamsquarterly.org, "The Mystique Of The Manual".

“One of her ‘big ideas’ was that the sickness of the modern world is caused by ‘uprootedness.’ We are, Simone Weil believed, lost. The only antidote is a social order grounded in physical labor. Only manual work can save us. Weil herself was preternaturally a worker by brain, not by hand. Small, myopic, physically awkward and weak, it is difficult to think of anyone less suited to toil in a factory, workshop or field. Weil was a French intellectual of the purest sort. Considered a prodigy from childhood alongside her brother Andre, who went on to become one of the twentieth century’s greatest mathematicians, she had mastered classical Greek by age twelve, was steeped in advanced mathematical physics by fifteen and at twenty came top in the entrance exam to the super-elite École Normale Supérieure. That was the same year, 1928, that Simone de Beauvoir had finished second. Part philosopher, part activist, part mystic, Weil is almost impossible to classify. A youthful Marxist who abandoned the faith in favor of liberal pluralism. A lover of all things ancient Greek who equated the Roman Empire with Nazi Germany and Hitler with Caesa, she was a mass of contradictions. Yet her reputation has grown over time as one of the most original and uncomfortable thinkers of the twentieth century.”


Andrei Konchalovsky interview by Ian Christie at Opendemocracy.net.

“I remember Prokofiev came back to Russia from abroad in 1936. And he came back basically because Stravinsky squeezed him out of the West. Stravinsky was very jealous and afraid of Prokofiev, because Prokofiev was far more talented – certainly to my understanding… So he returned to Russia, and the secretary of the Composers’ Union told him uncomfortably: ‘You know, Sergey Sergeevich, your music is not very popular in Russia. Other composers are much more in demand, like [Dmitri] Prokras’. Prokras was a composer who wrote things like communist marches – ba-BAM, Bam, ba-ba Bam, ba-BAM, Bam, Bam – that were really popular in 1936. And Prokofiev laughed and said ‘No. We have different professions. Don’t worry!’ The point is that not everything that consists of sounds made by instruments can be called music…. Several times I’ve tried to balance being popular and being myself – being more sincere – and each time I’ve failed, or not failed, but I never felt really satisfied. I made seven films in America and only two of them received wide distribution. Maria’s Lovers never went into distribution, nor Shy People or Duet for One. And it’s funny – I made Duet for One after Runaway Train, which had made me flavour of the month. And Billy Wilder started to court me. He’d call me and say ‘Ah, Andrei, it’s Billy Wilder. Come round to my house’. And I kind of became his disciple, driving him around Hollywood. He wanted to make me a pet student, because I was promising. And then I showed him this bloody Duet for One, and I said to him ‘No one wants to take this film; what should I do?’ It was a much starker version that I showed him than the final version and he said ‘You have to cut this and that and that, Andrei – you can’t tell if it’s a dream or reality’. He was very annoyed and disappointed that I had gone in this direction. And I said [puts on childish, pleading voice] ‘Billy, isn’t it going to end up being too short?’ And he said [declaims dramatically] ‘My friend, there are only two things that are too short in life – your life and your penis. The rest is too long.’ He was right! So in a sense my American experience was successful for myself because I learned a lot, but as a filmmaker I disappointed Hollywood. I didn’t use the opportunities properly and I have to bear this stigma.”


Curt Kirkwood interview, April 2011, by Matt Smith-Lahrman.

“M- What was it between those two records that lead to you becoming the principal song writer in the band? Because in the first record Derrick writes some lyrics and it’s all attributed to Meat Puppets and then it becomes Curt Kirkwood.

C- Yeah, well, I had kids, or you know, it’s kind of on the way there, and I wrote a lot of that stuff when their mom was pregnant. And it was also just my realization, after the exuberance of getting to record a couple of records, we didn’t really expect to have the opportunity to make another one. We did it without thinking about it. There was no direct effort to make a record. It was just stuff that we had and it wasn’t that organized. Then after that first record was done we go, ‘Ok, now what?’ And I realized, ‘Uhg! Wow, you have to do something. Someone’s gonna have to do something. Everyone’s laying around stoned all the time.’ I had this realization that you have to do a little work and I was the one that did it. I don’t know why that was but they didn’t feel that inspired.”


There’s a new issue out of 8-Track Mind! Its issue number 101 (Summer 2011). Russ Forster asked me a few months ago if I wanted to write something about blogging and its relationship to fanzines or self-publishing generally. So I did and Russ and others go at the subject too. If you don’t live near one of the usual places one finds fanzines these days write to russelforster@hotmail.com - he’s charging $4 via PayPal. Here’s my opening paragraph:

“I didn’t want to be doing a blog per se, but I was sending out an occasional email with a string of items culled from what people send to me and what I read in the papers. Since high school I’ve always read the newspapers: Tribune in the morning and Chicago Today and Aurora Beacon in the afternoon, plus the weekly Naperville Sun. I’d even go through the Diocese weekly that my Grandma got. Now you don’t really need the papers for news so much as for background features and analysis that help you make sense of the news you pick up from television or radio or online. The best papers for that are the national dailies, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and Financial Times, though I pick up the local papers too when I travel. I go through the magazine racks thoroughly and Laramie is blessed with Grand Newsstands 1 & 2, plus a Hastings. In high school you think you’re a critical reader but after reading papers for four decades you get to be a pretty good on-the-fly critical reader-editor.”


Constantine Papanicholas (1932 - 2011)

"One sip, and he could name the coffee’s country of origin, and break down what percentage of the beans came from flavorful Arabica plants grown near the tops of mountains, and which portion were Robusta — the lesser-quality beans from lower altitudes. 'He could tell you ‘It’s got 15 percent Robusta,’ for example, or ‘It’s got Columbian and Brazilian Santos [beans] in it,' said his son, Tom. 'He could pretty much pin what was in the cup.' Mr. Papanicholas, the head of Aroma Coffee Co., knew 'Coffee is grown in 60 different countries,' his son said. 'Even without traveling to those countries, he understood what the plant was; where it had come from originally. He knew about the genetic mutations that would take place with temperature and soil conditions.' And when the founders of Starbucks had a roaster-fire in the 1970s, Mr. Papanicholas and his brother, Nick, roasted beans for them, Tom Papanicholas said. Gust Papanicholas, patriarch of what his son describes as the oldest family-run wholesale coffee-roasting business in Chicagoland — it is now in the hands of the fourth generation — died June 20 at Elmhurst Memorial Hospital at age 79. For an estimated 150 years in their native Greece, the Papanicholas’ 'had coffee in their blood,' Tom said. 'Before they came to this country they were coffee, tea and spice traders in Greece; Turkey; Ethiopia; Asia.' Gust Papanicholas’ great-uncle, Stavros Cantzas, founded their American outpost, Overland Coffee Co., about 1906. In the 1920s it became Aroma Coffee Co."


Thanks to Steve Beeho.

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