a new low in topical enlightenment

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Issue #105 (July 6, 2011)

Southwest Peak, Snowy Range, Wyoming

Photo by Joe Carducci

Frampton Comes A Double-Live
By Joe Carducci

All the indie heroes of yore are out playing their old formerly unsellable unbroadcastable classic albums in non-shuffled sequence because that seems to promise a time machine for young concert-goers desperate to drop out of their iPod world for a night and let some old real thing wash over them. But it was not so predictable that Peter Frampton would get it into his head to tour his biggest hit album, “Frampton Comes Alive!,” this same way. First of all, he probably still gets big checks in the mail, and secondly the damn thing was a live double-album in the first place! It seemed appropriate to learn of this tour in the USA Today -- the damn paper sells platinum every day of the week!

It’s a big tour too. No word in the paper who’s in his band these days. That album and a handful of others pretty much signaled the end of band-think in the music industry, and the platinum album racket oddly sent the mindset of the business back to the shallow cynicism of the old singles racket. Joe Smith of Warner Bros Records put this succinctly when he claimed “You can take three people out of Uriah Heep and put three others in, and it won’t make a hell of a lot of difference.” (Rock ‘n’ Roll Is Here to Pay) As luck would have it, all those interchangeable Smiths and Joneses squirreling away in the industry finally managed to destroy more than just rock and roll. All that’s really left are the publishers it they who primed this tour by resurrecting the old hits on Classic Rock radio starting a few years ago. Even as the old major labels drop out of the picture the publishers respond to tour-sync opportunities even to the point of playing a 35 year-old 14-minute recording off a live album.

But its actually unfair to rip on Frampton himself, or the era and culture that allowed for such a seeming anomaly as “Do You Feel Like We Do” from a #1 album played at that length on FM stations, and cut merely to half for AM play (where the single peaked at #10). It wasn’t really an anomaly except that the industry itself was doing its best to destroy the rich musical culture that had educated the audience for music to that level of pop. Peter Frampton’s first band, the Herd, was probably a bunch of naïve kids who were turned into a confection by managers and A&R over in the UK. By 1968 Frampton quit and joined Steve Marriott who was bailing on the Small Faces, a much better band but similarly frustrated by management and the industry. Their new band, Humble Pie, was a musicians’ band and as such interested in various rock and roll, folk, and blues styles. (See below for some live clips.) The 1970s began as the music graduated from singles and small-halls to albums and arenas. Mixed bills were made up of American and British bands, blues-rock, prog-rock, acid rock, southern rock, art-rock, boogie, funk, et. al. Everything that had been thrown into the sixties blender had graduated to this larger ecosystem. It was very competitive but encouraged originality, at least for awhile. I suspect that one support for the early arena rock economy was that it still wasn’t safe to smoke pot in your house or apartment. Until later in the 1970s safety could only be had in the numbers at a large music hall. When this changed the older, more musically demanding part of the arena audience stopped going out. Humble Pie broke pretty big in America by touring too much, as most bands did. They tried to write on the road or in the studio and a generation of great bands burned out on drugs and alcohol under industry pressure. I don’t think many bands had managers who actually looked out for them. And Brit musicians could really get lost in the American tour grind.

As Humble Pie dropped its acoustic and bluesy richness for the electric boogie that worked best in the arena circuit, their songwriting deteriorated and Peter Frampton left for his solo line-ups which featured at times players from the Herd, Spooky Tooth, and various knowns and unknowns. These albums were lighter than need be and oddly keyboard-heavy for someone who let it be known he left Humble Pie so as to be able to hear his guitar. I don’t remember hearing any Frampton solo studio stuff at first, though I was struck by what a dumb name “Frampton’s Camel” was when I saw ads or reviews of that album. But Peter was a handsome dude and he could play and so the business believed in his upside. He stayed on A&M and all that arena touring he did in 1973-74 got him to where he could put together the live album that both labels and bands had reason to make mandatory in those years. The labels liked reselling the same tunes without advancing studio time to record, and the bands often felt that their studio recordings were rushed and that they didn’t really have their arrangements fully worked out until sometime after those records were released and they’d been touring those tunes nightly for a few months. The live album was born in 1961 when Del-Fi put out the LP “In Concert at Pacoima Jr. High” by Ritchie Valens after his death in the February 1959 plane crash that also killed Buddy Holly, J.P. Richardson and the pilot. Then touring was often conducted for vocal groups and bands with their own instrumental backup were often at a disadvantage with the limitations of PA equipment and venue managers’ pop expectations. But the currency by the 1970s was live, played music, and bands were out touring with and against hellacious competition -- it was another golden age of rock and roll, or perhaps rock music, and the form was still rich with all kinds of musical crosscurrents and the audience was still full of older sophisticated listeners as well as younger kids. Women and girls were still around in large numbers too, which helped out Frampton quite a bit.

The four concerts that contributed to “Frampton Comes Alive!” took place in early 1975. The album came out in early 1976 and was one of those mid-seventies platinum blockages on the radio and in the culture that practically ordered up punk rock in response and then doomed it to fail as well. But unlike the other blockages (The Eagles - “Hotel California,” Boston, Fleetwood Mac - “Rumours,” Bee Gees - “Saturday Night Fever”), “Frampton Comes Alive” was a live album, well recorded but not expensively recorded, apparently half of it was recorded 24-track and half 16-track; Fleetwood Mac spent as much on their snare sound.

Frampton can’t be blamed for dumbing down American musical culture. Though he’s a legit enough guy to confess to the USA Today:

“‘I wished for that success, and then it hit when I was just 26, and it was nuts, with huge highs and lows,’ he says. The biggest low: being pressured into rushing out a follow-up, 1977's "I'm in You." ‘I bowed to voices that were focused on greed,’ he says. ‘Peter Frampton the musician became buried by Peter Frampton the pop star.’”

Presumably on this tour he’ll play the entire album in sequence, and have to use that talk-box thing on his solos again. I’m not sure all the cute seventies chicks in his audience liked watching him suck on that. It surprised me when the hits from that album began popping up again on the radio after a good three decades of a sequestration black-out as thorough as the non-stop AM-FM carpet-bombing airplay the album once received. Between then and recently, I’d only thought of that once-ubiquitous album when Dinosaur Jr. put a great squalling version of “Show Me the Way” on one of their SST EPs. That had reminded me that those songs weren’t intrinsically bad, and that for those younger than me, it wasn’t the worst thing to have as a formative background music considering the rest of what was in the air back then and since. Not that I’m about to go check out the “Frampton Comes Alive” tour. He’s going to play his live album live I hear.

Peter Frampton addendum:

• The Herd - “Diary of a Narcissist” 1967 B-side.

• Humble Pie - “Shaky Jake” 1969 live.

• Humble Pie - “I Don’t Need No Doctor” 1971 live.

• Peter Frampton - “Do You Feel Like We Do” 1975 live

Pixies vs. Mexico
By Joseph Pope

“It’s going to be crazy!” “Yeah?” “ It’ll be crazy!” “ Who is it going to be crazy for?” “ You’ll see! It’s going to be crazy!”

The young man’s face did not change emotion or intent. It was fixed, as if a switch had been flicked and he was at full electrical capacity. Wide open eyes, intense and focused and a posture that portrayed expectation. He wasn’t aggressive in any sense of the word, just on. He was talking to Black Francis of the Pixies, telling him what to expect from the forthcoming Pixies shows in Mexico City (their first ever in Mexico). They were set to play three, the first a large outdoor festival near the airport, the following two in the 4,000 seat capacity Teatro Metropolitan downtown.

I pretty much find any massive gathering of people to be crazy, but the young man’s prediction was correct: a crowd of 60,000 with hardly room to breathe covered a field punctuated by three stages in more or less a triangle. Before Interpol had finished their set (which ran over their allotted time into the Pixies first songs) the crowd had turned their attention elsewhere and had long been chanting “Pixies! Pixies! Pixies!” and had repeatedly moved en masse in such a manner that I could feel the stage undulate beneath me – I’m familiar with the feeling, being a San Franciscan and having lived through several earthquakes. Shoulder to shoulder as far as the eye could see were Mexican youth, seemingly overjoyed to be in the situation they were in.

When the band took the stage the level of energy rose further. Unified screams of appreciation and again, the movement: hard to know just how intentional it was or whether it was the energy of the crowd taking on a lifeform of its own. I do know it was real. As the band played on so did the crowd, always seeming to be smiling, and never losing their intensity. It was a shared, mass celebration. The closest I had ever witnessed that intense and grand a scale of unified human expression at a concert in the States was seeing Metallica at Lollapalooza. But whereas witnessing thousands of white suburban males thrusting their arms in the air and chanting in unison was a bit unsettling as it struck me close to what it may have been like to attend a Nuremberg rally, the Pixies’ mixed sex Mexico City audience left me feeling that perhaps it’s not so bad being part of the human condition. I was moved.

In the theatre setting the next day, the energy level may have been even more intense - it was easier to taste. The energy of the audience and band seemed more focused. The command the band displayed in their performance was more present and forceful and the audience more integrated with the situation than at the larger venue. A 4,000 seat hall felt intimate. As the Pixies songbook rolled forth, so did the expression of the audience, familiarity to the point of singing every song. The highlight may have been a Mexican audience shouting “Chien! Andalusia!” along with an American band.

Adoration for bands is not unique to this situation, of course, but there seemed to genuinely be a mutual, triumphant experience that was being shared equally by audience and band. Perhaps this was best exemplified by the presence of a Mexican flag (also present at the stadium show). It was waved throughout the concert and ultimately was tossed onstage and picked up by a band member. In America, this simple act could/would have been interpreted in any number of ways, most likely politically and ripe for interpretation as a jingoistic maneuver. In Mexico City it came across as an act of love – you are one of us and we are all together.

I consider myself lucky to feel a small part of that interconnectedness. I’ve travelled extensively throughout Mexico, mostly for pleasure, sometimes for business. Fifteen years ago I fell into a recording engineer position with Los Tigres Del Norte, and I feel just as lucky for the experience now as I did the day it arrived. In that capacity I have gained a much deeper understanding and appreciation for Mexico than I ever would have otherwise. I have been fortunate enough to travel south of our border with Los Tigres on more than one occasion, and have attended many of their concerts, both large and small. The band is a cultural institution, regularly playing for 100,000+ people. Their 40+ year story warrants a (long) book, but I can say that I have witnessed multi-generational audiences, with 8 year old children and 80 year old grandmothers standing at the front of the stage for hours, waiting for Los Tigres to appear – they mean that much to people. They have credibility from the field hands to the generals. Though their audience is quite different from what the Pixies drew, and the expression of appreciation may differ, similarities exist and spring forth from the people themselves. Simply put, I think there is a resonance and passion in Mexican people/culture that is lacking in ours, and it extends into not just their understanding of who they are as a people, but also into the things that have meaning to them, whether that be a concert, a mural, or their neighbor. There also seemed to be a certain humility and lack of acute self-awareness and the hipster disease that seems to permeate every breath of western rock audiences. In the parlance of others, the people seem more “real”.

My path to the Pixies shows in Mexico City was a curious one. The simple version is that Black Francis, knowing of my love affair with Mexico and relationship with Los Tigres, graciously invited me to come share part of the experience of his first performances there. How we got there is another story all together. I was in a little rock combo called Angst that used to travel the country and play in whatever hovel would have us. One of those occasions was at The Rat in Boston, 1985. In the sparse audience was a young man who had a dream to start a band: Charles Thompson. It seems our relentless practicing paid off, as we left an indelible impression on him. As Black Francis he’s said that Angst was “very influential on the Pixies and on me” and he covered one of our songs “Some Things (I Can’t Get Used To)” and even wrote a tribute song to us entitled simply “Angst”. Many years removed from The Rat, and in time, we befriended each other (I am happy to report that he is a wonderful human being). And in Mexico he was met with excitement, reverence and dare I say it, adulation. No matter what time, neighborhood or location, whether it be in the street, a cafe, or museum, he was constantly recognized and enthused fans expressed their appreciation. Like Sinatra, I tell ya!

It’s hard to know exactly how much of the enthusiasm for the Pixies was due to their music and influence and the fact they’re “legendary”, and how much is because they were finally playing in Mexico for a Mexican audience. The consensus seemed to be they found the audiences in Mexico “intense” (rivaled only by Brazil’s), and how could one not be impressed with such devotion from an audience? I do know that the band may have conquered Mexico, but they could never have done it without its people. Death To The Pixies! ¡Viva México!

Pixies photographs by Joseph Pope; Los Tigres del Norte and studio engineers, left-to-right: Joseph Pope, Luis Hernandez, Jorge Hernandez, Eduardo Hernandez, Jim Dean, Oscar Lara, Hernan Hernandez.

Skyline Motorway, Verdugo Mountains, California

Photo by Chris Collins

Cisticola Bulliens by James Fotopoulos

From the Desk of Joe Carducci…

Ayelet Banai at Opendemocracy.net, "Sharia and Egypt’s Constitution: an Iraqi blueprint".

“Egypt’s national flag dominated the mass demonstrations in January. Will Egypt’s Islamic parties also rally behind the national flag, foregoing the flags and symbols of the trans-national community of believers? ‘We the people of Iraq’ and equally ‘We the people of Egypt’ poses a fundamental break with tradition not only for Islamists, but also for pan-Arab nationalists. For decades, pan-Arab nationalism has contested and transgressed the national-territorial borders of the countries of the Middle East and North Africa, claiming to speak on behalf of a trans-territorial nation, while excluding many of the citizens and inhabitants of these countries, notably Kurds and Shiah. While the constitution of Iraq still makes clear reference to the country’s affiliation to the Arab and Muslim worlds, the reference point for political legitimacy, according to this constitution, is however no other than the people of Iraq.”


Yasmine El Rashidi in New York Review of Books, "Egypt: The Victorious Islamists".

“Still, within Egypt’s Christian-minority community — which accounts for some 10 percent of the country’s 82 million people — the fear of further incidents of violence and persecution has not subsided, and daily life remains strained. Many Copts I have spoken to say they are considering emigrating to the US or Canada and seeking political asylum on the basis of religious persecution, though many also feel they have an obligation to stay in Egypt to ‘look after the churches and monasteries.’ ‘The media quiet is deceptive,’ Father Sarabamon — the pastor of Imbaba’s Virgin Mary Church — told me on June 5 as I sat with him on the ground floor of the church. Final touches of reconstruction were being put in place, among them a new protective metal fence surrounding the building. ‘There are no sizable attacks,’ he said, ‘but each week there are incidents of women having the cross grabbed from their necks as they walk in the streets. In this very neighborhood people are still being insulted as they leave church; and we still have young girls disappearing, kidnapped, being harassed for what they are wearing or for bearing the cross tattooed on their wrists.’”


Delphine Strauss in FT, "Time to make the most of the limelight".

“Yet rewriting the constitution, a relic from a previous period of military rule, will be a delicate process, with the potential to expose some of the country’s deepest divisions over national identity, the nature of secularism and Kurdish demands for greater recognition of their language and regional autonomy. To win support from opposition parties, Mr Erdogan will have to overcome suspicions that he wants the project to reinforce his own power and carve out a future role for himself in a strengthened presidency. He will also need to answer concerns at curbs on freedom of expression, fuelled by recurring bans on websites and the arrest earlier this year of investigative journalists. ‘To stick,’ says Hugh Pope of the International Crisis Group, ‘the new constitution must be the product of a genuine consensus, including the Kurdish national movement, not a top-down imposition.’”


Sebnem Arsu in NYT, "In Turkey, Lawmakers Refuse Oath in Protest".

“Thirty-five pro-Kurdish lawmakers boycotted the opening, and 134 members from the Republican People’s Party, the main opposition, took their seats but refused to be sworn in. They said the court rulings, which were issued last week, were undemocratic. The lawmakers in jail included five independents who were supported by the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party and were being detained on suspicion of having links to the PKK, a militant Kurdish separatist group. Also in custody are two Parliament members from the Republican People’s Party and one from the Nationalist Movement Party; the three are accused of supporting a failed military coup. In a separate case, the pro-Kurdish politician Hatip Dicle is in jail after having won a seat in Parliament in the June 12 election. But under Turkish law, he is barred from serving because of a previous conviction for spreading terrorist propaganda.”


David Gardner in FT, "Cold reality of confrontation with the neighbours".

“Turkey has become an important rival of and alternative role model to Iran in the region. When Mr Erdogan visited Lebanon in November last year, he came armed with an attractive vision of open borders, free trade and commerical integration. The previous month, the visit of Mahmoud Ahmadi-Nejad, the Iranian president, centred on missiles and the militant Shia movement Hizbollah, Tehran’s proxy in the Levant -- a premonitory vision of more of the violence that has scarred Lebanon.”


Jonathan Littell in London Review of Books, "Infisal! A journey in South Sudan".

“To explain a country like South Sudan -- to give some idea of its complexity -- is not an easy thing to do. Where to start? Sudan is the crucible of all colonial fantasies: Gordon in Khartoum, the epic of the Mahdi, the Fashoda Incident; then come the founding fathers of colonial ethnology, with Evans-Pritchard in the lead, followed by a legion of administrator-anthropologists and foreign travellers like Marcel Griaule and Michel Leiris, who flesh out the myth -- which is then taken to a new level, as erotic as political, by photography, Leni Riefenstahl among the Nuba and the increasing popularity of National Geographic. In the postcolonial era, and especially with the second civil war, aid workers, almost all of them white, take over, courageously letting themselves be dropped off in some remote corner of Bahr-el-Ghazal or Jonglei with a crate of vaccines or a few pallets of sorghum, enthusiastic and awed idealists braving malaria and Khartoum’s Antonov bombers in the midst of scarified black giants living with their herds, often still naked or nearly so but already ‘contaminated’ by Christianity and the Kalashnikov, caught in a vice between an Arabic, Islamist and viscerally racist oppressor and a crypto-Marxist peasant rebellion whose forces raped, pillaged and massacred the population they claimed to be defending. Then there are geopolitics, oil and all that it entails….”


John Payne in "Reason on Timothy Parsons’ book, The Rule of Empires, and Stephen Brown’s book, Merchant Kings.

“Not surprisingly, Islamic imperialists resolved the conflict between spiritual duty and worldly goods by altering their faith. The Umayyad Empire conquered an area stretching from South Asia, also known as Southern Asia across North Africa to Spain within a few generations. Seeing the possibility of losing most of their tax revenue, the Umayyads often simply refused to recognize Jews' and Christians' conversion to Islam as legitimate. Parsons points out that no more than 10 percent of the Persian population converted under the Umayyads, and the majority of Egyptians remained Christians into the ninth century. As the Andalusians learned, Christians under Islamic rule face a powerful economic incentive to either convert or migrate. This steady erosion of the tax base, combined with the assimilation of the Muslim rulers into Iberian culture, weakened al-Andalus until it was reduced to the rump kingdom of Grenada and finally conquered by the combined kingdoms of Castile and Aragon in 1492 -- the same year Christopher Columbus set sail on a voyage that would allow Christian Spain to dominate the Americas for the next century.”


Shikha Dalmia in Reason, "Bollywood vs. Jihad".

“It‘s hard to emulate -- and adulate -- a cultural form while simultaneously rejecting its message. And Bollywood’s message is profoundly at odds with the strictures of Islamic extremism. At the simplest level, women who don Bollywood outfits, even when adapted for more modest sensibilities, are resisting the Islamic strictures that would shroud them in a burqa. At a deeper level, Bollywood movies offer a compromise between tradition and modernity that resonates with ordinary Muslims while subverting Islamist designs. Take romantic movies. You might have expected Hollywood’s more sexually explicit romances to pose a bigger threat to puritanical Shariah law than Bollywood’s tamer approach. You’d be wrong. Both Hollywood and Bollywood idealize true love that conquers all. But the obstacles that Hollywood couples face -- previous lovers, infidelity, commitment phobia, baggage from broken marriages -- have little to do with the concerns of people in traditional Muslim countries. They can relate far more with Bollywood’s paramours, whose chief impediment is familial objections, given that arranged marriage is still a revered institution in that part of the world.”


James Lamont & Farhan Bokhari in FT, "An alliance is built".

“Bilateral trade between Pakistan and China is about $8.7bn a year. Although Beijing says this can rise to $15bn in three years, the figure is dwarfed by faster-growing Sino-Indian trade, which stood last year at $60bn. Like most of Pakistan‘s allies, Chinese officials worry about the fragility of the government in Islamabad and the prospects for long-term stability in a country wracked by religiously charged violence. Some of their own contractors have fallen victim to Pakistan’s internal difficulties. Three engineers were killed in a car bomb while on their way to Gwadar port in 2004. Last year, others came under rocket attack. This May, Chinese technicians narrowly escaped a militant strike on an air base in Karachi. The unpredictable environment leaves a ‘friendship centre’ as the only high-profile Chinese presence in Islamabad.”


Thanassis Cambanis in Boston Globe, "How China sees the world".

“Today, a mix of exuberance and self-aware sobriety characterizes the public discourse on foreign policy within China. ‘How to’ books tackle questions of China’s rights and responsibilities as a fledgling superpower. China has no fewer than 428 think tanks involved in policy formulation — a number second only to the United States (although unlike in the United States, all of them have some connection to the state). Even the masses have gotten into the game; state television ran a popular 12-part documentary series in 2006 called ‘Rising Powers,’ which examined the flaws of past empires and analyzed how China could avoid their historical errors. In a widely read article in the most recent issue of The Washington Quarterly, David Shambaugh, a China expert at George Washington University, describes a rich and tumultuous internal foreign policy debate with at least seven discernible schools of thought. ‘Many new voices and actors are now part of an unprecedentedly complex foreign-policy-making process,’ Shambaugh writes. ‘No nation has had such an extensive, animated, and diverse domestic discourse about its roles as a rising major power as China has during the past decade.’”


Aaron Friedberg in National Interest, "Hegemony with Chinese Characteristics".

“While they regard Washington’s professions of concern for human rights and individual liberties as cynical and opportunistic, China’s leaders do not doubt that the United States is motivated by genuine ideological fervor. As seen from Beijing, Washington is a dangerous, crusading, liberal, quasi-imperialist power that will not rest until it imposes its views and its way of life on the entire planet. Anyone who does not grasp this need only read the speeches of U.S. officials, with their promises to enlarge the sphere of democracy and rid the world of tyranny. In fact, because ideology inclines the United States to be more suspicious and hostile toward China than it would be for strategic reasons alone, it also tends to reinforce Washington’s willingness to help other democracies that feel threatened by Chinese power, even if this is not what a pure realpolitik calculation of its interests might seem to demand. Thus the persistence — indeed the deepening — of American support for Taiwan during the 1990s cannot be explained without reference to the fact that the island was evolving from an authoritarian bastion of anti-Communism to a liberal democracy.”


Jens Kastner at Atimes.com, "Taiwan, kingmaker from the shore".

“In recent years, China has urged Taiwan many times to jointly protect what it calls 'common ancestral rights'. This has openly been promoted by researchers at the People's Liberation Army Academy such as Major General Luo Yuan, the academy's deputy secretary-general", said Wang Jyh-perng, an associate research fellow at the Association for Managing Defense and Strategies and reserve captain of the Taiwan Navy, in an interview with Asia Times Online. Wang dismissed the notion that military-grade weaponry or marines on Taiping would be of use in deterring Vietnam or the Philippines, the other two claimants. ‘Presently, from a purely military perspective, both Vietnam and the Philippines are no match for Taiwan. But its distance to Taiwan proper is farther compared to Vietnam and Philippines, so that the Taiwanese air force would find it difficult providing air superiority support, neither Vietnam nor the Philippines would calculate they can easily put up with a Taiwanese naval task force’, Wang said.”


Philip Stephens in FT, "Working out what China wants".

“Like many European and American commentators I spend a fair amount of time listening to Chinese scholars, officials and diplomats. A few years ago such figures were a rare sighting on the international conference circuit. And visitors to Beijing were left feeling that their interlocutors had been carefully screened to admit only one view of the world. Not any more. Some months ago I listened to a Chinese vice minister casually acknowledge divisions at the illustrious Central Party School about relations with Washington. Some among the keepers of the ideological flame thought the US would only ever understand the currency of raw power; others that China‘s self-interest still lay in co-operation as well as competition.”


Kathrin Hille in FT, "Global pioneers of ‘China Inc’".

“Its ‘exportable talent programme’ includes pre-posting assessment of English skills, cultural sensitivity and training to help executives deal with the transition overseas. But such efforts often fall short as the expertise of most coaches in China focuses on western markets, even though a large proportion of Chinese expats is being sent to emerging markets in south and south-east Asia, Africa and the Middle East. ‘When we were sent to Afghanistan, lessons about which fork and knife to use were completely worthless,’ says a ZTE executive. ‘It was crucial for survival to understand that you can‘t hang out on the roof bare-chested to cool down from the heat -- the neighbours will shoot you as they think you intend to molest their wives.’”


Brian Spegele & Jason Dean in WSJ, "China Vows More Sudan Investment".

“China pledged further investments in war-torn Sudan's oil and gas reserves at the start of a state visit to Beijing by President Omar al-Bashir, who is wanted by the International Criminal Court for alleged war crimes. Ahead of Sudan's planned north-south split next month, China, an influential supporter and a major oil buyer, is keen to secure relations with both Sudan and Southern Sudan, which will become the world's newest state on July 9. Heavy fighting along the north-south border has displaced tens of thousands of people and raised new questions about the stability of China's significant imports of Sudanese oil.”


Evan Osnos in NYer, "The Han Dynasty".

“In the global canon of teen-angst literature, the novel was tame, but in China it was unprecedented: a scathingly realistic satire of education and authority, written by a nobody. China Central Television moved to tamp down the frenzy with an hour-long discussion on its national broadcast. But on TV Han Han projected insolent glamour, with a boy-band shag haircut that swept down and across his left eye. When educators in tweeds and ties fulminated against ‘rebelliousness’ that ‘might contribute to social instability,’ Han smiled, cut them off, and said, ‘From the sound of it, your life experience has been even shallower than mine.’ He was instantly famous -- a seductive spokesman for a new brand of youthful defiance, which the Chinese press dubbed ‘Han Han fever.’”


Robert Marquand in CSM, "Wen spreads China’s billions in Europe but can’t buy goodwill".

“Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao today said China may give Europe ‘a helping hand’ with its current debt crisis – but warned in uncharacteristic tones for a second successive day against European officials and media that ‘meddle’ in China’s affairs. Mr. Wen, seen as one of China’s more liberal and sympathetic senior officials, ended a goodwill jaunt through Europe that is partly intended to put a better face on China, experts say, and meant to keep Sino-European business flowing during a US election season that could result in significant China-bashing.”


Joshua Chaffin in FT, "Debt travails add urgency to eurocrats’ habitual angst".

“For a certain class of Europeans, a cushy -- if not quite extravagant -- life goes on as usual, insulated by pay and benefits packages that are the envy of the world’s civil servants. But even if austerity remains a cocktail-party abstraction, the crisis has added a thick layer of existential gloom to a city renowned for its grey skies. ‘You can feel something going away that has been rather important,’ is how Gisela Robinson, who last year retired from her job at the European Commission, the EU’s executive arm, described it. Ms Robinson, a German, came to Brussels three decades ago, part of a generation that was excited to work on a project that seemed an antidote to the war their parents had experienced. Back then, the single currency, eastern expansion and other beacons of European integration were still on the horizon. Now, she said, it felt as though the EU was ‘disintegration’.”


Lauren Collins in NYer, "Letter from Luton".

“The E.D.L. traces its origins to March 10, 2009, when Luton hosted a homecoming parade for the soldiers of the 2nd Battalion of the Royal Anglian Regiment, who were returning from a second tour of duty in Iraq. They had lost two men. It was a dry, gray day. Lutonians waved Union Jacks while a brass band played. As the Sunday Times later recounted, the soldiers made their way to St. George‘s Square, the heart of the town. On the way, they encountered a group of about a dozen Muslim men, who were holding placards: ‘BUTCHERS OF BASRA’; ‘ANGLIAN SOLDIERS GO TO HELL.’ Later, the men started shouting that the British soldiers were baby-killers. (Five of them have since been convicted of using threatening and abusive language.) The crowd shouted back: ‘Eng-er-land!’ ‘We pay your benefits!’ A woman shrieked, ‘They‘re all in their nightdresses. Go ’ome and get dressed!’ Someone climbed onto the roof of Luton’s shopping mall, known as the Arndale center, and dumped bacon on the protesters‘ heads.”


James McPherson in New York Review of Books, "What Drove the Terrible War?".

“There were doubtless numerous journalists, writers, clergymen, and so on who sympathized with the Confederacy. But how many of them were ‘progressives’ is open to debate. On the whole, those most likely to express pro-Confederate or anti-American sentiments tended to be conservatives and members of the aristocracy or gentry. The Earl of Shrewsbury looked upon ‘the trial of Democracy and its failure’ in America with pleasure. ‘I believe that the dissolution of the Union is inevitable, and that men before me will live to see an aristocracy established in America.’ The voice of the British establishment, The Times, considered the downfall of ‘the American colossus’ a good ‘riddance of a nightmare…. Excepting a few gentlemen of republican tendencies, we all expect, we nearly all wish, success to the Confederate cause.’ Charles Francis Adams believed that ‘the great body of the aristocracy and the wealthy commercial classes are anxious to see the United States go to pieces. On the other hand the middle and lower class sympathize with us.’ The leading spokesmen in Parliament for these middle and lower classes — the foremost ‘progressives’ in Britain — John Bright (for whom Foreman has little respect), Richard Cobden, and William Forster, were strongly pro-Union. The famous liberal political philosopher John Stuart Mill believed that Confederate success would be ‘a victory of the powers of evil which would give courage to the enemies of progress and damp the spirits of its friends all over the civilized world.’”


Misha Glenny in London Review of Books on Federico Varese’s book, Mafias on the Move.

“Varese looks at several instances where mafias have attempted to transplant themselves in regions well away from their home territory. Most transplants are a consequence of compulsion, and the soggiorno obbligato – the enforced migration of convicted criminals from the south of Italy to elsewhere in the country – offers Varese the perfect opportunity to study how transplantation works and why it sometimes fails. In the 1950s, the Italian criminal justice system began trying to break up the networks of the Mafia in Sicily, the ’Ndrangheta in Calabria and the Camorra in Naples and Campania by sending their members to northern Italy, where very different social and political conditions pertained. In the north there were high levels of trust both within communities and between them and state institutions. A powerful trade-union movement and well-organised business associations ensured that the labour market was subject to relatively effective institutional checks and balances, so there was no demand for a non-state regulator like the mafia.”


Nancy Koehn in NYT on Tomas Sedlacek’s book, Economics of Good and Evil: The Quest for Economic Meaning from Gilgamesh to Wall Street.

“At the get-go, Mr. Sedlacek, who was once an adviser to Vaclav Havel, the former Czech president, and is now chief macroeconomist at the big Czech bank CSOB, argues that all of economics is, in the end, about good and evil. He adds: ‘Even the most sophisticated mathematical model is, de facto, a story, a parable, our effort to (rationally) grasp the world around us.’ Only in the late 18th century, he argues, did today’s concept of economics emerge as a mathematical science. Before then, he says, economics lived within myths, religion, theology and philosophy. Mr. Sedlacek sets out to investigate these origins and to reflect what they might mean for the discipline today. It is a big, rambling quest, and he yanks his readers along through economic perspectives, practices and meanings in the Old Testament and early Christianity, and in the writings of Plato, Aristotle, Descartes and others. There are interesting insights along the way. Consider the story in Genesis in which Joseph interprets the pharaoh’s dream of seven fat and seven lean cows. The dream, Joseph tells the ruler, means that seven years of abundance will be followed by an equal period of poverty and famine. Joseph advises the pharaoh to store food during the boom, in preparation for the dearth. Unexpectedly, Mr. Sedlacek identifies this as the ‘very first historic economic cycle’ and calls Joseph’s advice a form of ‘Keynesian anticyclical fiscal policy.’ Mr. Sedlacek devotes a fair bit of attention to unpacking the origins of the ‘invisible hand.’ This metaphor, one of the most powerful in economics, is usually attributed to Adam Smith…. Mr. Sedlacek argues persuasively that this concept did not originate with Smith; its roots go back at least as far as Thomas Aquinas, the 13th-century philosopher who suggested in his masterwork ‘Summa Theologica’ that evil things may produce larger, good outcomes ‘as a consequence of the providence of the governor.’”


Mike Ramsey & Evan Ramstad in WSJ, "Once a Global Also-Ran, Hyundai Zooms Forward".

“Globally, Hyundai and Kia together sold 5.7 million cars and trucks in 2010, enough to move the tandem past Ford to become the world's fifth- largest auto maker, behind General Motors, Volkswagen, Toyota and Nissan-Renault. For the past century, the auto industry has been dominated by three countries — the U.S., Germany and Japan. Those nations and the auto makers based there have enjoyed most of the billions of dollars and millions of jobs the industry has created. But now the industry is growing rapidly in emerging markets like China, India and Brazil. Jobs and wealth are accruing in countries that a decade ago had no auto industry to speak of. South Korea's Hyundai, an upstart from a country of just 49 million people, is only the most prominent. Others that have potential to enter the global stage include China's SAIC and India's Tata Group.”


Pepe Escobar & Jason Florio at Atimes.com, "Karen rebel photo essay".

“It's an honor to be part of a group that includes the spectacular Michelle Yeoh. Malaysian-born film superstar Yeoh - of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon fame, among countless others -- confirmed this week she was deported on arrival from Burma/Myanmar on June 22, ‘for no reason and without providing any justification’. Well, the unstated reason is that for the military junta in Rangoon/Yangon/Naypyidaw, Yeoh is more lethal than the kung-fu chicks she played early in her Hong Kong film career. Yeoh stars as Aung Saan Suu Kyi in the upcoming biopic The Lady, directed by Luc Besson….”


Thomas Fuller in NYT, "Rural Thais Find an Unaccustomed Power".

“As campaigning for the national election Sunday entered its final days, there was broad consensus that rural votes would be crucial in deciding the outcome. But no one is quite sure what rural means anymore. Villagers here complain of slow Internet download speeds. On a single street that winds past rice paddies, residents tell of work stints in Taiwan, Singapore, Israel and Saudi Arabia, enough frequent-flier miles to rival the inhabitants of a tony Bangkok condominium. Once passive and fatalistic, villagers are now better educated, more mobile, less deferential and ultimately more politically demanding.”


Gennady Burbulis in Foreign Policy, "Meltdown".

“Legislatures in the republics, which had already demanded greater freedoms within the USSR, began calling for independence. By the spring of 1991, five republics -- Armenia, Estonia, Georgia, Latvia, and Lithuania -- had declared it officially. In Russia, democratic forces wanted an end to Soviet totalitarian rule. Our aim was not to allow the chaotic dissolution of the USSR, but to transform it into a confederation that would afford each republic considerable self-determination under its aegis. We had been moving in this direction for several years. Yeltsin and the other democratic candidates had been elected to the Russian parliament in 1990 with the goal of securing more legally protected rights and freedoms, as well as a market economy, and Yeltsin had been elected president of Russia in June 1991 with almost 60 percent of the vote. But while we were secure in our popular mandate, we were utterly powerless to deal with the greatest threat to Russia: economic collapse. More than 93 percent of the economy, by our estimation, was controlled by the Soviet government. Yeltsin and those of us in his circle of closest associates soon came to believe that unless we were to content ourselves with being nothing more than a ceremonial body, we had to change the legal and economic bases of the union itself. Gorbachev and a small group of Soviet reformers had accepted this, too. We began to work together on a new union treaty that would transform the Soviet Union into a confederation of sovereign states with a limited central government. Yeltsin planned to sign the controversial pact on Aug. 20. As we milled about Yeltsin's living room on the morning of Aug. 19, it was instantly clear to us that the coup was an eleventh-hour attempt to prevent the treaty from being signed the next day. But that was the only thing that was clear. Americans watching the events unfold live on CNN knew more about what was going on in Russia than we Russians did; the news anchors in Moscow simply read a formal statement issued by the coup plotters' hastily appointed ‘Emergency Committee.’”


Leon Aron in Foreign Policy, "Everything You Think You Know About The Collapse of The Soviet Union Is Wrong".

“In a 1989 interview, the ‘godfather of glasnost,’ Aleksandr Yakovlev, recalled that, returning to the Soviet Union in 1983 after 10 years as the ambassador to Canada, he felt the moment was at hand when people would declare, ‘Enough! We cannot live like this any longer. Everything must be done in a new way. We must reconsider our concepts, our approaches, our views of the past and our future.… There has come an understanding that it is simply impossible to live as we lived before -- intolerably, humiliatingly.’ To Gorbachev's prime minister Nikolai Ryzhkov, the ‘moral [nravstennoe] state of the society’ in 1985 was its ‘most terrifying’ feature:

‘[We] stole from ourselves, took and gave bribes, lied in the reports, in newspapers, from high podiums, wallowed in our lies, hung medals on one another. And all of this -- from top to bottom and from bottom to top.’

Another member of Gorbachev's very small original coterie of liberalizers, Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze, was just as pained by ubiquitous lawlessness and corruption. He recalls telling Gorbachev in the winter of 1984-1985: ‘Everything is rotten. It has to be changed.’”


Simon Kuper in FT, "The tulips of Srebrenica".

“The Dutchbatters mostly just wanted to get out of Bosnia alive. After Mladic marched in, Muslims fled to Dutchbat’s compound, thinking the Dutch would save them. But Dutchbatters stood by and let Mladic’s soldiers pick out Bosnian men of military age…. Eventually Mladic allowed Dutchbat to leave Srebrenica. On video (available on YouTube) we see delighted Dutchbatters downing Heineken and dancing the conga. Mladic hands Karremans two presents. ‘Is this for my wife? Is this for my wife?’ asks Karremans. ‘Have a safe journey,’ says Mladic. The Bosnian Serb general gives the thumbs-up and waves as the Dutch drive off. When Dutchbat got home, Dutch Crown Prince Willem-Alexander told them how proud he was of ‘your accomplishments in Srebrenica’. The Dutchbatters got medals. But soon the Dutch mood shifted. Srebrenica wasn’t merely a horror. It also echoed the other great Dutch horror: the selection and murder of three-quarters of all Dutch Jews during Hitler’s war. Then, too, the Dutch -- contrary to foreign myth -- had mostly stood by and watched. No other western European country lost a greater proportion of its Jews.”


Kimberly Hefling at AP, "Last Vietnam-era draftee is retiring from Army".

“Mellinger, 58, says his stories of being in the Army during the tumultuous 1970s as the Army struggled with issues of drugs, race and the role of women are so foreign to young troops that they look at him like he's a dinosaur when he shares them. A recruiting poster hanging today on Mellinger's office door at Fort Belvoir, where he's the command sergeant major for the Army Material Command, that encourages female troops to try out for female engagement teams that work in war zones with Special Forces troops shows just how much things have changed since Mellinger was drafted. Until 1978, female troops were in the Women's Army Corps separate from the regular Army. Mellinger said he recalls when most female troops weren't allowed to carry weapons and were taken out of the field at night to sleep in a separate barracks away from the men. ‘There were some stymied leaders. What do we do with all these females?’ he said. ‘A lot of those things together caused a lot of turmoil, caused a lot of difficulty and problems and a huge leadership challenge because the military was being torn apart like the country was.’”


Walter Russell Mead in WSJ, "The Future Still Belongs to America".

“But what is unique about the United States is not our problems. Every major country in the world today faces extraordinary challenges -- and the 21st century will throw more at us. Yet looking toward the tumultuous century ahead, no country is better positioned to take advantage of the opportunities or manage the dangers than the United States. Geopolitically, the doomsayers tell us, China will soon challenge American leadership throughout the world. Perhaps. But to focus exclusively on China is to miss how U.S. interests intersect with Asian realities in ways that cement rather than challenge the U.S. position in world affairs. China is not Germany, the U.S. is not Great Britain, and 2011 is not 1910. In 1910 Germany was a rising power surrounded by decline: France, Russia, the Ottoman Empire and Austria-Hungary were all growing weaker every year even as Germany went from strength to strength. The European power system grew less stable every year. In Asia today China is rising -- but so is India, another emerging nuclear superpower with a population on course to pass China‘s. Vietnam, South Korea, Taiwan, Indonesia and Australia are all vibrant, growing powers that have no intention of falling under China’s sway. Japan remains a formidable presence. Unlike Europe in 1910, Asia today looks like an emerging multipolar region that no single country, however large and dynamic, can hope to control.”


Christopher Caldwell in FT on Eli Pariser’s book, The Filter Bubble: What the Internet Is Hiding from You.

“The internet we were promised bears little relation to the one we got. We once thought that anonymity would allow users to experiment and explore. But since identifying peoples’ predilections is so profitable, companies are now hard at work ‘de-anonymizing’ the web. Newspapers and other media, as Pariser sees it, must reinvent themselves as ‘behavioural data companies’. On the one hand, this might make us safer -- an internet data-tracking and marketing company called Acxiom turned up more information on 11 of the 19 September 11 hijackers than the entire US government was able to. But Pariser fears that ‘the new, personalised Web may no longer be as well-suited for creative discovery as it once was.”


Andrei Konchalovsky interview Part II at Opendemocracy.net.

“K: Well, those who read, read! It’s extraordinary what Herzen knew about the Russian nation, for example. He was sceptical about Russia’s ability to become a Western society. In that sense one of the biggest delusions of the West has been that Russians are white. If we were black or blue, or dots, the west wouldn’t misunderstand Russians so much. But because we’re white by race, they think we’re the same as Europeans.

C: But you’re really ‘other’ – more like Asians?

K: Yes, we’re Asians – no, not even Asians, because the Muslim world is highly structured and Muslim society is quite rigid, with rules and obligations, ethical codes that hold society together. Western society involves a kind of indoctrination, an internalisation of ethical codes in its citizens. But the ethical code of a Russian is as loose as a pagan. And that’s very important to understand. We are not Europeans; we do not have this indoctrination. We are as loose in our ethics as the Brits were in the thirteenth century, or perhaps in Shakespeare’s time perhaps, when Protestantism was still quite new. We, however, are pagan. Tolstoy wrote about it in his letter to the Synod – it was extraordinary!”


Jim Fusilli in WSJ, "Psycho Maestro at 100".

“In the mid-'60s, Hollywood's conception of what film music should be changed. Producers wanted pop hits in the score: A hit soundtrack album could serve as a promotional tool. When Hitchcock's Marnie disappointed at the box office, Universal Studios executives told the director that one reason was Herrmann's traditional score. The shift in taste left Herrmann deeply embittered. ‘You couldn't spend an evening with Benny without his spending half of it in a terrible diatribe against one of the young musicians who'd gotten a job,’ actor-producer John Houseman told Herrmann biographer Steven C. Smith in 1984. Hitchcock hired Herrmann for 1966's Torn Curtain, but stipulated that the composer needed ‘to break away from the old-fashioned cued-in type of music we have been using for so long.’ The composer agreed to Hitchcock's demands, then wrote a score very much in the Herrmann tradition, precipitating a bitter quarrel between the two men. Hitchcock dismissed Herrmann, ending a 12-year collaboration.”


Jake Austen in Chicago Reader, "An organist transplant for the White Sox".

“Technical skill is important for any musical gig, but for this one personality is key. Looking like she was born to wear her Sox jersey, Moreland greeted us with a cheerful smile and in a warm midwestern accent asked my distracted son his name. She and I bonded right away over a couple of old snapshots of her two sons she'd put up — in one, labeled ‘first inning,’ they looked bright and eager, and in the other, ‘ninth inning,’ they were bedraggled and barely awake. Faust had kept a wall of fan pictures, and though so far Moreland only had one such pic to go with her family photos, she meant to uphold the tradition. And tradition is serious business in this gig: Chicago is a stadium-organ town. The Cubs are credited with introducing the organ to baseball in 1941. The instrument remained Wrigley's primary music-making machine until 2010, when the team began introducing players with the canned jams typical of the rest of the league instead of Gary Pressy's pleasant playing (a move they've since reconsidered). The organ at Chicago Stadium was so legendary that late-50s LPs of Al Melgard playing the "World's Largest Theatre Pipe Organ" showcase the instrument on their covers, not its beloved player, who accompanied thousands of Blackhawks and Bulls games between the 30s and the 70s. And of course Chicago was home to Faust, who redefined the art form in the early 70s and retired last year after 41 seasons at Comiskey Park and U.S. Cellular Field. What made Faust historical was that she introduced rock 'n' roll into venues that previously drew the line at "How Much Is That Doggie in the Window." Throughout the 50s and 60s, Major League Baseball ignored Elvis, the Beatles, and the Woodstock generation, but that changed when Faust took her job with the White Sox in 1970.”

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• The New Vulgate
• Joe Carducci, Chris Collins, James Fotopoulos, Mike Vann Gray, David Lightbourne
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  1. "I suspect that one support for the early arena rock economy was that it still wasn’t safe to smoke pot in your house or apartment."
    --best zinger in weeks!

  2. Pope's comments re: US white male Metallica fans vs. unisex Mex Pixies ones strike me as ripe for an inclusion in (a non-existent future) RATPN in the sidebars to illustrate the retarded and sublime; Pope's being in the former.