a new low in topical enlightenment

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Issue #106 (July 13, 2011)

Creek, Wyoming

Photo by Joe Carducci

Thoughts on Tron

by James Fotopoulos


Fragments and Awareness

“Memories Are Not the Same”

When the sun sets I am fully aware that it is going to rise the next day. Its disappearance doesn’t mean my death as early man allegedly believed. I have this same feeling when I look at films (or any art), especially older films. I cannot detach myself from the mechanics of the whole. Those pieces and how they are controlled is where I learn the most about the philosophy of the work. The knowledge of the orchestration of those parts for me is the most powerful part of the experience.

For example, once when discussing Shostakovich and how he weaved traditional folk songs into one of his symphonies I was asked, “How can anyone tell?”- the tone was as if this was a foul offense of artistic elitism. I thought that I was aware of the mechanics of the piece meant everything – it was like being awake and not asleep.

I was once asked to write an article on Curse of the Werewolf (1961) for a book on horror films (which as far as I know never was published). A few lines from that article:

“The only images and sound from the film I remember are: 1) a pan across a room from a standing mirror and out a door into a very blue night. The walls of the room were covered in very red blood. As the camera pans a woman’s scream is heard. 2) Broken wood in the shape of a teepee on a white floor. I had no other memory of the film, but I carried this cluster of images in my mind pretty much my whole life.

When I viewed Curse as an adult what was revealed to me was that those images are not even in the film. Elements of these images are in the film: the interior/exterior color separations throughout, a shattered mirror, a dead woman’s arm and very red blood. From these elements I had created a very specific false memory, but the rest of the film was a blackout. The color and texture of the sets and feel of the film were there.”

Memories of people, places and events from an artificial shadow-world that never existed are imprinted and woven into my personal history.

(Curse of the Werewolf, Shostakovich)


A Different Logic

A number of years ago I was watching Manhunt (1941) on television. And as I looked at the image I thought that perhaps the films of the past that compositionally translated successfully by elevating the image into caricature through a digital medium may be the ones of most value (incidentally the more static the image the more this is achieved) – something the makers could not have predicted. That same year I caught Vertigo (1958) playing on TV and thought the same thing – that the reduced image was interesting in how it revealed all the pieces very clearly like a miniature – giving a bird’s-eye view of the puzzle pieces of the film’s language. The acting of the film, I could not judge based on any standard as to whether it was good or bad – the painted backdrops were just that – paintings = a synthetic flat world. It was simply part of the object and beyond any such judgment – which made me think of works such as Murders in the Zoo (1933) or Shadow of Chinatown (1936) – where the film, through the strange randomness of the narrative and total lack of not just cinematic logic, but of all conceivable logic of character and story, which when all combined created a world beyond the criticism I had learned up through that point in my life – I simply had to accept and reckon with its sprawling vulgar existence. Later that year I was watching Fletch Lives (1989) and at a certain point became confused by the editing. Of these three viewings the last one I thought most about. That last film thrust me back into confusion – a primitive state of perceiving the piece. I do not believe it was the intention of the creators – but it simply occurred through the march of time and technology.

(Manhunt, Vertigo, Murders in the Zoo, Shadows of Chinatown, Fletch Lives)


All One

Once in Cleveland during a question and answer period for my film Migrating Forms (1999) I was asked by a film student why I talked almost exclusively about how the film was made (the camera, film stocks, lights, etc) and not about what things meant. I told him that I thought that they were completely connected - there was no separation. He didn’t agree.

A number of years ago there was an attempt to remake Psycho (1960) shot-for-shot. This always confused me because I thought that in order to do this correctly one would have to use the television equipment that the original had used. In my mind the use of those tools (which were innovative at the time) were inseparable from the whole of the piece. The very essence of the original’s grammar was the use of that TV crew model, the equipment and so on. One could not simply “paste” that style onto a different medium. If one was to attempt such an experiment, one should deal with the inner/outer space and separate fields that must be woven together – the field of the synthetic machine that freezes the actions before it = the camera, film stock etc. And the living field of the space with which one shoots into = set construction, location, actors etc.



An Invention

Often people draw parallels between filmmaking and other mediums– “as if a painter…”, “visual music” etc. This I never understood because both the machine and the information phases of audio-visual work, exist because of a machine invented at a certain point in history (the movie camera and so on); it cannot be separated from it, regardless of the continuum that seems to exist toward the realization of particular media = still images into moving, plays with stage directions that could not be realized in their time until adapted into film or video productions, Alexander Scriabin’s Mysterium, etc. And to this day I ask myself when making work = how much is that machine doing? The film stocks… The computer programs… Therefore the need to master the parts, control them, fracture and reduce them in order to repress the level of their influence and maintain a primitive core, so that these pieces move through and brush against the primal center as the maker weaves them into a whole. When I began to show my work I described what I was attempting to do as trying to “elevate a film above the machinery that creates it.” If one could master the breakdown and assembly of the parts, an “elevation” could occur = the creation of a unified whole, which creates tension in the viewer’s perception, pushing him back onto his own personal history and into a state of strangeness and unknowing.

As I got older this was further complicated when it became clear that a lack of mastery can also achieve the same affect. I realized this did not occur necessarily from great art, but in fragments alone from either profound technical accomplishment or utter failure.



Similar … But Not the Same

When I began to make videos (between ages thirteen and sixteen) I quickly realized that what I was doing was not what I understood films to look like. I had shot a scene where my younger brother fell and hit his head on a crate. At the time this tortured me because I could not achieve the same visual language I had become so used to seeing. So by sixteen I moved to film and abandoned video. I was fully aware that I would most likely in the future be working only on video, but at whatever cost I had to move through what I considered a dead mode first – working on 16mm films – in order to understand film history and what I found familiar or strange in my own world of images and symbols. I did this for a number of years even as I started to work on video in the late 90s – fully aware I was working in a “corpse-medium”. One immediately realizes that a 16mm production is not the same as a 35mm (although there is slight affinity) and neither are remotely like a video production – only in the most abstract skeleton of the grammar – like ghostly appendages – shadows of a previous history. But I had to move through one to get to the other. The very nervous system of each was a different language and had to be approached that way. Only fragments of the language overlapped – or as one medium dies – only pieces of that collective language move forward, parts of the larger historical grammar – I tend to think of it as this image:


Optical printer = flat world

In the late 90s when I started Christabel (2001) I had originally planned to make it on 16mm film. I even came close to shooting it that way, but I halted it on the day of the first shoot. I realized that if I was to create what I imagined, the film would have been destroyed in the optical printer – the negative never could have survived so many passes through the machine: I did not have the resources Lucas had in Return of the Jedi (1983) which I believe contains some of the most optically printed shots in history – and foreshadows what would come in digital production decades later = shots with no subject, just constant movement and activity on all planes (perhaps Giorgio Morandi should be reflected upon). Around this time I had become intrigued with effects I had seen in videos projected by DJs in clubs and started to explore these techniques. Christabel would be my first shift into video.

Thinking along the lines of the optical printer, what has fascinated me about Citizen Kane (1941) was not so much what is normally praised about it, but that so much of it was created with an optical printer. The film was one giant special effect. A consciously synthetic work – which in my mind made it a truly modern work – a realization of the “inner-vision” using the most modern tools at the time – a work totally “inclusive” - piling in a multitude of elements from other mediums and the production – it seemed as if nothing was excluded but twisted (via the optical printer) into being “included.” And on the other end of the spectrum I would think of China Gate (1957) and how the optical printer was used to create close-ups of actors by zooming into the black-and-white ‘scope frame because there wasn’t time during production to cover the shots – but then “including” all that was minimally shot and “twisting” to create a new shot, a new piece of the puzzle of that film’s grammar = the close-up – to unify the whole. In these two poles one has the use of the machinery creating something totally unique – but approached in different ways, though both achieving, for me, a thrust back into the perception of unknowing – through the use of technology and orchestration of the production. In the case of the former, pushing the tool into a new realm to construct a whole and in the latter through the speed of the production and lack of resources, using the tool to try to push “back” into a whole – both reckoning with the “inclusiveness” of the creative process.

(Return of the Jedi, Morandi, Citizen Kane, China Gate)


The Core

In 2003 when I made my last 16mm film The Nest – I tried to make a film that was completely machine based – the sound was mixed all during recording and the negative timed in camera. I cut into the magnetic tape, spliced it and sent it to the lab for the optical track and then ran the answer-print off one light. I did not want to bring in any digital elements or even any post-production. All special effects were done in-camera. I wanted to create a film made “all at once” during shooting and be done with it.

After this film, when I moved into video, it was as if a great organic weight was lifted from me. I didn’t have a stable physical grounding from which to work. My sense of composing, editing and dealing with the human form was off kilter. I compensated by constructing videos at first around a series of sculptures, paintings and drawings to give a physical anchor that I was used to in filmmaking just by the nature of the equipment (the heaviness), the film stocks, the lights, all the processes involved in making a film and most of all the history of the language I had become accustomed to thinking in.

Around this time an image came to me in a daydream:

Then a second image:

Finally a third:

For a while I had thought about musical scores throughout history that could be played on any instrument or a text that can be realized by using any medium – but both retaining their strength as art at the very core = the words or notes on the page – that pure. I started to work with these three images over the next few years – first drawing them and then moving them into different media = sculptures, paintings, digital prints, computer programs etc. They appeared in videos (analog and digital), animated and so on. The idea of them as a central primitive core appealed to me and with that the idea of the power of a central style as an image or written word that was separate from the machine that creates it. For me this became a challenge as to whether I should or could continue making work. If I could not do this naturally or tap into the threads of that which I naturally contain, and harness it - then I probably should stop.


Transmission = Over

Around this same time I was in a museum and saw a video of Vito Acconci’s Claim Excerpts (1971) and was fascinated by it. It looked to me like a decaying object on a monitor. The transmission of the performance was no more - after decades it had become something else – a dead performance. I realized that in working in the video medium I had to jump ahead and create already dead transmissions in order for me to pull those fragments of the film grammar forward. So in a sense I had to create dead or false “performances.” What was intended originally with Claim – transmitting a performance - in a sense, vanished. Although at the time in which it was created that intent was necessary, but only as a start and stop - a small break in the greater arc of art making. (I’ve tried to create these small “start and stops” within the body of my own work by making certain short videos, attempting certain techniques that use an archaic grammar in film and or video – an attempt at exhaustion.) The transmission died – an advanced technology, audio-visual, did just that = it advanced forward. And in doing so reinforced the notion that the ultimate core strength in art making resided in the basic primitive elements of the craft skill – the marketplace created new tools – rendering conceptualism = marginalized.

I was always uneasy about the abandonment of narrative elements (and to go even further = genre) in art – elements that so many people use in their lives. For me it had to be reckoned with in the larger context of art making – they simply could not be excluded from the work one created (and I am fully aware as why this was once briefly necessary historically – and often first done as a phase within the greater creative careers of those that practiced it). When humans stop being born and then dying – then maybe those elements of the grammar (the narrative and figurative) could be abandoned – until then – both those elements and the singularity of art – the single unified piece – had to be worked with - in my mind anything other was an adolescent vision of life - a simple artistically limited exercise. What was needed in order for advancement was that narrative, genre, the abstract and the conceptual had to merge into “one” inclusive whole piece when creating. The conceptual was inherent in the act of any advanced production and the new technology it utilized in some sense was beyond the control of the people at the helm of the production. (I imagine the interplay like a cat and mouse game of humans vs. limited time - ie. Ridley Scott’s use of the three camera set-up) Therefore it was a natural almost commonplace piece of the puzzle (which has become grotesquely abused) – but to focus only upon it and exclude the mastery of the historical craft skills, the singular style or the primitive id core, for me, simply made no sense – and denied the reality of one’s inevitable death.

(Claim Excerpts)


Tron – Future Film

I had been interested in Disney’s animation, especially their mutliplane camera (invented by Ub Iwerks) and in particular its use in Sleeping Beauty (1952). In 1979 former Disney animator Don Bluth along with others formed their own studio and set out to make The Secret of NIHM (1982), a project that was a return to the intense and elaborate traditional animation techniques used during the zenith of Disney’s animated features of 1940s and 50s. When I was younger and considered a career as an animator I was captivated by this serious return to the “hand” and the look of the piece that Bluth and his team achieved.

As I became older I realized that the films which appealed to me were ones that possessed a strong graphic quality –a powerful display of the “drawing” ability = where an obvious command of hand-eye coordinated intelligence was apparent. Which I realize now accounts for my early fondness for the works of Fritz Lang and John Ford. They had an ability to elevate the image, the characters, sets, landscapes, into objects and caricature thus communicating a vast amount of information to the viewer. Also my interest drifted toward works where only the fragments, not unified, are in control. For example I went through a phase of watching all of Michael Curtiz’s films where the parts of the studio machine fulfilled that role. I can remember some the sets and miniatures clearly to this day – not even remembering the films – but just pieces of them. Whereas with Lang and Ford I remember the unified films.

A constant that has remained with me through my life is my interest in special effects, animation and puppetry. I enjoy works that are complete synthetic universes of effects the most. Counter to the popular trend to control production by collapsing the different productions phases into one via computers (which is a positive development if understood and managed properly – the phases always bled together, but now they can exist as a whole – a great advancement – when I draw, I draw as a whole). Much filmmaking hinges on how well one collects the various pieces of production and then arranges them to fall together – sometimes it all works, but most often it does not. Usually only certain parts of a film work. Now in the digital era, filmmaking has returned fully to the drawing impulse. For a while there was a separation – where only elements of that drawing ability could make it into a film if one had the skill to impose that graphic ability into the space of the production. But there was a distance then, now it is more immediate – where films have become so processed and constructed (the nature of editing is so fluid – like holding a pen) – the psychology of the animator, the FX person, the designer are now the dominate force at play in production and bleed into one master role.

At the same time as NIMH, and as a strange parallel, Disney made Tron – which I found more fascinating than the Bluth. With both new computer animation and traditional animation (much of which is the same as used in NIHM such as rotoscoping) the film achieved, in my mind, a profoundly unique look. Tron as far as I can see, posed a greater production risk than the Bluth in this parallel creation of the “hand”– it pushed further, in some respect, forecasting a type of filmmaking that was to come about twenty years later – the fusion of the computer, animator and designer – where the human and FX are one – existing in “drawing.” In a sense = a Future Film.

A side note:

Bluth spent a great deal of the 1980s on his video game "Dragon Slayer" (from what I remember it was difficult to play). An arcade near my parents’ home had this game as well as the "Tron" game – both of which, along with an early hologram game – visually dominated the arcade’s setting.

(Nimh, Sleeping Beauty, multiplane camera, Ub Iwerks, Lang, Ford, Curtiz, Nimh, "Dragon Slayer", "Tron")



I had always admired Jean Giraud as well as a number of other Heavy Metal magazine artists, mainly because of its focus on style, figurative work and narrative. (I mention Heavy Metal because a number of these artists would enter filmmaking in the late 70s and early 80s and have quite a visual impact, mainly through Ridley Scott productions via Alejandro Jodorowsky’s failed Dune.)

As I mentioned earlier, the notion of a single style moving through mediums greatly appealed me at this time, but I was equally intrigued with Giraud’s ability to change styles with projects, adopting them with different content – and it made me think about my interest in what I believe is little understood = an artist’s mastery over his or her skill and conscious control over their creative ability. The design of his sets and costumes in Tron when merged with the special effects of the production created a unified vision similar to what I referred to earlier about Kane – a complete synthesis and creation of a modern work albeit, with Tron, only in certain sequences the total film comes together and becomes whole – not the “real world” subplot (whereas in Kane the entire film is woven together).

Giraud’s Tron design – in its singularity, fused seamlessly with the filmmaking process and content and revealed what was to come in film production and what can truly be achieved, if handled properly – a designer-art fusion - a bleed where old techniques of the cinema’s historical grammar, aren’t simply discarded, but absorbed with newer digital processes – an alchemy where a film can be digitally-molecularly assembled, truly maximizing the hand-eye power to including all the of language from the earliest silent film to the most contemporary computerized creations.

A mastering of this language can create a balance when the history is fully understood. For example, when I see a film where an entire city is green-screened and computer generated, and then the film goes onto a planet in outer space for a climax and the same technique is used = the psychology of the grammar remains the same – the street looks the same as the planet (wouldn’t a street in the opening of a film be perceived differently visually than a planet at the climax – and how would one achieve this?) – which to me reveals that at the very root of the conception there was a creative weakness – history and technology were ignored and denied – the notion of unifying was not taken into account. The content had not been psychologically wedded with the tools. When I first started to make films this idea was at the forefront of my mind – what tool, element of the grammar equates with the content and in turn how it affects the viewer.

(Giraud, Heavy Metal, Dune - Jorodowsky & Giraud, Dune - Jorodowsky & Giger, Legend, Alien, Blade Runner, Tron designs - Giraud)



In the Tron computer world - the design merged perfectly with the content and most importantly with the actual techniques and tools of how the film was created (no longer a window to the world – but a flat world). If that latter piece were to be pulled out – the “whole” would collapse. In order to achieve the same unification now, one would have to return to those same machine-based techniques that achieved the original film. The Giraud design itself in another medium retains its primitive uniqueness – but never obtains the same “wholeness” when removed from the series of technical processes that created the original (high contrast film, backlighting, colorization, rotoscoping, kodalith). Which again makes me think about my abandonment of appropriation (and film remakes). Its a time to create new works from the life history of the creator, with the new tools, and to stop returning to the heap of the recorded past, unless sublimating its contribution to the collective historical language, and birthing a new mode in the continuum. What is needed is the acceptance of the commonplace of conceptualism inherent in the use of advanced technology in audio-visual production (big or small) and a focus upon weaving that together with the mastering of the craft skill, personal style and themes, into an “inclusiveness”… in a way a returning to the manner in which Rousseau painted.


From the London Desk of Steve Beeho...

A Voicemail Hack Scandal Handbook of the Players for Americans

News of the World (1843 – 2011) - Rupert Murdoch’s purchase of the News of the World in 1969 ultimately acted as the launch pad for his global media empire. Ironically, as Andreas Whittam-Smith who interviewed him at the time has revealed, Murdoch was obsessed with bugging even back then. Although the News of the World was commonly viewed as a mass market tabloid, it was also bought as a “guilty pleasure” by higher numbers of more affluent readers than many “quality” Sunday broadsheets. At its peak its mixture of sex scandals, investigations and campaigns was selling over 6 million copies a week. When it closed it was still selling just under 3 million copies and even that reduced figure was over a million more than the Mail on Sunday, its closest rival. The News of the World also inspired The Jam’s worst 7” but that’s probably the least of Murdoch’s worries right now. Now that it has made its excuses and left for the last time there has been widespread speculation that The Sun might become a 7 day a week operation to fill that 3 million-size potential vacuum. News International now owns the Sun on Sunday domain name, although it’s unclear if they were behind its original registration earlier in July. There have also been reports of a consortium interested in resurrecting the News of the World brand.

The Sun – before Rupert Murdoch diversified into TV the Sun was the cash cow of his empire and at over 3 million sales a day it remains a lucrative part of it. While its clout has waned since its 80s heyday as media concentration has gradually diffused, it still has an unerring populist touch for setting the British news agenda. It remains to be seen though how much its association with the current revelations will affect that. As Murdoch is essentially interested in backing winners, the Sun tends to support either the governing party or whoever is likely to be imminently elected.

Daily Mail / Mail on Sunday are both owned by Associated Newspapers. The Mail may be the self-styled voice of “middle England ” but in reality this probably is true. Gulp. The online version, which relies far more heavily on celebrity gossip than the print version, is staggeringly popular and is now the second-most popular English-speaking newspaper website in the world, beaten only by the New York Times. Although the Mail is reflexively pro-Conservative, in the 2001 election it actually backed Labour (!).

Daily Mirror / Sunday Mirror are currently owned by Trinity Mirror. The Mirror supports the Labour Party with varying degrees of enthusiasm (it was opposed to the Iraq War but probably because the Sun supported it). Despite the Mirror's campaigning zeal its “improving” tone means it has never quite had the panache of The Sun, as it comes across as if it’s competing with one hand tied behind its back. Trinity Mirror also publish the Sunday People, which is basically a witless Sunday Mirror-News of the World hybrid. I suppose people must read it but I’ve never met them. Buying the People would be the equivalent of owning the collected works of The Fluid while not having any records by Nirvana. Some things just surpass all understanding.

Daily Express / Sunday Express (the poor man’s Daily Mail) and the Daily Star (the stupid man’s Sun) are both owned by the pornographer Richard Desmond. Desmond has no background in newspapers to speak of which shows in his stodgy papers which are awful.

Daily Telegraph / Sunday Telegraph – owned by the mysterious camera-shy Barclay brothers. Historically the Telegraph has been the highest selling daily broadsheet but this lead is being steadily chipped away because of its ageing readership. To counter this inexorable demographic march it has tried to reinvent itself in recent years with mixed success as a multi-platform digital operation.

The Times / Sunday Times – the historical prestige of these titles presumably explains why Rupert Murdoch continues to subsidise their massive losses (£45m in last set of accounts, an improvement on the previous year’s £87.7m).

Financial Times – owned by Pearson PLC. The former leader of the National Union of Mineworkers Arthur Scargill once declared that he read the FT because it was the only paper he could rely on for objective news coverage because its readers are only interested in the unvarnished truth. As unlikely tributes go, this is a pretty good one. The FT is surprisingly socially liberal in outlook and has consistently supported the Labour party in the last few elections.

The Guardian – the liberal/left equivalent of the Mail. I’m sure both papers would deeply resent the comparison but each does a brilliant job of pandering to its readers’ prejudices. In fact the Mail occasionally buys in features previously published in the Guardian to rerun so the analogy isn’t as outlandish as it might seem. The Guardian runs at a thumping loss but is cross-subsidised by the more profitable parts of the Guardian Media Group, such as Auto Trader. The GMG also publishes The Observer, the world's first Sunday newspaper, although its long-term future seems uncertain.

The Independent / Independent on Sunday – owned by the Russian oligarch Alexander Lebedev. It has positioned itself far more overtly on the left in recent years but is a pale shadow of the Guardian. The Independent has also had some ethical issuesof its own to contend with lately.

Morning Star - owned by the People's Press Printing Society and backs the Communist Party of Great Britain. Its influence in small pockets of the Labour party and the trade unions belies its miniscule readership.


Peter Oborne in Spectator, What the papers won’t say.

“This should have been one of the great stories of all time. It has almost everything — royalty, police corruption, Downing Street complicity, celebrities by the cartload, Fleet Street at its most evil and disgusting. One day, I guess, it will be turned into a brilliant film, and there will be a compulsive book as well. The truth is that very few newspapers can declare themselves entirely innocent of buying illegal information from private detectives. A 2006 report by the Information Commissioner gave a snapshot into the affairs of one such ‘detective’, caught in so-called ‘Operation Motorman’. The commissioner’s report found that 305 journalists had been identified ‘as customers driving the illegal trade in confidential personal information’. It named each newspaper group, the number of offences and the number of guilty journalists. But, as the commission observed, coverage of this scandal ‘even in the broadsheets, at the time of publication, was limited’.”


The News of the World in WSJ slideshow.


Gary Silverman in FT, A Chicago twist on the tabloid troubles.

“Lingle’s corruption was all American. He did very bad things to make lots of extra money -- way more than he could have ever earned from a straight job toiling for someone else. In a two-year period, Mr Bergreen writes, Lingle managed to sock away $64,000 at the Lake Shore Trust and Savings Bank -- a fortune back in those depression years, and, I would guess, a higher amount of liquid assets than your average US newspaper reporter has sitting in their bank today. By contrast, the alleged malfeasance at the News of the World involved people doing bad things in the pursuit of newspaper stories. These people hacked into the telephone messages of crime victims; in one case, it was alleged that they even deleted messages from the phone of a teenage girl who had been killed, raising false hopes at the time that she was alive, according to The Guardian newspaper. If true, these accusations amount to nothing less than afflicting the afflicted. And I don’t mean to make light of such activity when I say that I don’t think it would have been Lingle’s thing. I just don’t see how the return on investment would have been acceptable to Lingle or the Lingle-like guys I observed during my years as a cub reporter in Chicago during the early 1980s.”


The 80s British sit-com “Yes, Prime Minister” contained the following exchange:

“Hacker: Don't tell me about the press. I know exactly who reads the papers: the Daily Mirror is read by people who think they run the country; The Guardian is read by people who think they ought to run the country; The Times is read by people who actually do run the country; the Daily Mail is read by the wives of the people who run the country; the Financial Times is read by people who own the country; The Morning Star is read by people who think the country ought to be run by another country; and The Daily Telegraph is read by people who think it is.

Sir Humphrey: Prime Minister, what about the people who read The Sun?

Bernard: Sun readers don't care who runs the country, as long as she's got big tits.”

All very amusing but it doesn’t quite hold true now. Although it suits The Guardian to pretend otherwise it is the true voice of the British establishment today.


The original Guardian story which slowly set the ball rolling:

Nick Davies in Guardian, Murdoch papers paid £1m to gag phone-hacking victims.

Rereading it now it seems extraordinary that it took another 2 years to reach this stage.


Meanwhile, the sacked News Of The World journalists at least managed to get in a passing shot:

Beatrice Woolf in Guardian, News of the World staff stow parting barbs in final edition's crosswords: Jibes against Rebekah Brooks survive her alleged order to comb the final edition for hidden messages.


Another piece on the “Home of Metal” exhibition:

Stuart Jeffries in Guardian, Home of Metal turns the Midlands up to 11.

“Iommi and I stood before a huge roto-relief, the Vertigo swirl. I told him that Titchner used to spend hours looking into it. ‘Yeah, a lot of our fans did – on dope probably.’”

From the Desk of Joe Carducci…

Laurence Chandy & Geoffrey Gertz at YaleGlobal, With Little Notice, Globalization Reduced Poverty.

“It is customary to bemoan the intractability of global poverty and the lack of progress against the Millennium Development Goals. But the stunning fact is that, gone unnoticed, the goal to halve global poverty was probably reached three years ago. We are in the midst of the fastest period of poverty reduction the world has ever seen. The global poverty rate, which stood at 25 percent in 2005, is ticking downwards at one to two percentage points a year, lifting around 70 million people – the population of Turkey or Thailand – out of destitution annually. Advances in human progress on such a scale are unprecedented, yet remain almost universally unacknowledged.”


Josh Kron in NYT, As It Emerges as a Nation, South Sudan Extends the Clout of Its Neighbor Uganda.

“A Ugandan diplomat in Juba said there were roughly 60,000 Ugandans living and working in southern Sudan, and entire neighborhoods of the small but booming capital are populated by Ugandans. Cross-border trade between Uganda and South Sudan recently surpassed $150 million, and the two governments have been reported to be working on a joint-venture to build a state-of-the-art market in Juba. This is nothing new. Uganda has a history under President Museveni of supporting nearby rebel movements and later exporting large amounts of goods and people to the countries once those groups came to power. The most famous example may be Rwanda, to Uganda’s south. That country’s president, Paul Kagame, grew up as a refugee in Uganda and helped bring President Museveni to power in 1986, later working in the upper echelons of the country’s military. In 1990, Mr. Kagame and other Rwandans in Uganda started a rebel offensive in Rwanda, taking power in 1994 after stopping that country’s genocide. Rwanda and Uganda enjoyed close relations for years, and still do, though some political observers argue that relations have since cooled. In the 1990s, Uganda also teamed up with Rwanda to prop up a little-known soldier in eastern Congo, Laurent Kabila, who soon toppled the longtime dictator Mobutu Sese Seko. In the meantime, Uganda has become a close military ally of the United States. Its forces make up the vast majority of a peacekeeping force to help bolster the shaky government in nearby Somalia, a major foreign policy priority for the United States.”


Alex Rayfield at Opendemocracy.net, West Papua: Indonesian army general tightens the screws on the Kingmi Papua Church.

“In a nutshell the conflict is over whether Kingmi Papua has the right to separate from Kingmi Indonesia and set up an autonomous synod, reverting to an arrangement that existed prior to 1987. The question is this: why has Major-General Erfi Triassunu waded into a conflict that he himself acknowledges is an internal church matter? In the letter (File Number: R/773/IV/2011) addressed to the Governor of Papua, Mr. Barnebus Suebu, dated 30 April 2011 and marked ‘secret’, Triassunu ‘respectfully requests’ the Governor to arrange a meeting between GKII and GKIP. The General also offers himself as a mediator. The letter continues: ‘if the conflict cannot be resolved through discussion then assertive action must be taken’. Let me translate ‘assertive action’ for you. In East Timor when the Indonesian Army took ‘assertive action’ against the Church there, they murdered church workers, massacred parishioners, raped women and burnt churches to the ground. In West Papua the Indonesian Army has a history of killing pastors from the Kingmi Papua Church, as well as other churches. This dates back to May 1 1963 when the Indonesian government took administrative control of the territory and has continued up to the present.”


Damien Cave at NYTimes.com, For Mexicans Looking North, a New Calculus Favors Home.

“The extraordinary Mexican migration that delivered millions of illegal immigrants to the United States over the past 30 years has sputtered to a trickle, and research points to a surprising cause: unheralded changes in Mexico that have made staying home more attractive. A growing body of evidence suggests that a mix of developments — expanding economic and educational opportunities, rising border crime and shrinking families — are suppressing illegal traffic as much as economic slowdowns or immigrant crackdowns in the United States.”


Paul Light in WSJ, The Easy Way Washington Could Save $1 Trillion.

1. “Cut federal jobs. Flatten the number of federal management layers to no more than six. In a 2005 study, I found an average of 18 layers between, say, the secretary of agriculture and the forest ranger, or the secretary of the interior and the oil-rig inspector — up from seven layers in 1960. Washington should also cut the number of presidential appointees and senior and midlevel managers by a third, and establish a pay-as-you-go system to keep all these changes in place. Possible savings, from saved compensation and higher efficiency: $100 billion.”


Mary Walsh & Abby Goodnough in NYT, Edging Toward Default.

“The small city of Central Falls, R.I., appears to be headed for a rare municipal bankruptcy filing, and state officials are rushing to keep its woes from overwhelming the struggling state. The impoverished city, operating under a receiver for a year, has promised $80 million worth of retirement benefits to 214 police officers and firefighters, far more than it can afford. Those workers’ pension fund will probably run out of money in October, giving Central Falls the distinction of becoming the second municipality in the United States to exhaust its pension fund, after Prichard, Ala. ‘Time is running out,’ warns Robert G. Flanders, the state-appointed receiver, who recently closed the public library and a community center to save money. He has no power to cancel the city’s contracts with workers, so instead he has begun approaching retired police officers and firefighters with what he describes as ‘the Big Ask’: will they voluntarily accept smaller benefits in the name of saving Central Falls?”


WSJ: Jobs in the Pipeline.

“If Mr. Obama were drawing up a plan from scratch to boost union employment and deflate Iranian-ally Hugo Chávez of Venezuela, it might look like the Keystone XL. TransCanada estimates that building the pipeline will mean more than $20 billion — $13 billion from TransCanada itself — in investment and 13,000 new American jobs in construction and related manufacturing. The company also expects more than 118,000 ‘spin-off’ jobs during the two years of construction. TransCanada says it has signed building contracts with four major U.S. unions. It projects that construction will generate $600 million in new state and local tax revenue and that over its life the pipeline will generate another $5.2 billion in property taxes. The Energy Policy Research Foundation in Washington estimates that by linking to the XL, oil producers in North Dakota's Bakken region will enjoy efficiency gains of between $36.5 million and $146 million annually. Lower transport costs will mean savings for Gulf Coast refiners of $473 million annually if the pipeline meets conservative expectations of shipping 400,000 barrels per day.”


Clifford Krauss in NYT, Ethanol Subsidies Besieged.

“No one is seeking to end the most important government support for ethanol — a federal mandate that gasoline blenders mix increasing amounts of ethanol into gasoline. But at a time when many tax breaks are under scrutiny, there seems to be little political will to continue giving $6 billion a year in federal tax credits to fuel blenders that must buy the ethanol anyway. Further undermining support for ethanol are food makers and livestock farmers, who say the industry’s huge demand for corn is driving up their own costs, and the oil industry, which has never been fond of a fuel that displaces some of the gasoline in cars and trucks. Recognizing reality, ethanol makers say they are willing to give up most of the money, although they and their allies in Congress want to spend some of the savings on new subsidies instead.”


Joe Nocera in NYTmag, Sheila Bair’s Bank Shot.

“And so there we were, talking about Bear Stearns, the investment bank whose near failure marked the beginning of the crisis. Even knowing that her views of the financial crisis were at odds with many of the others who were involved, I was taken aback: I had never heard anyone involved in the crisis criticize the government’s decision to help Bear Stearns avoid certain bankruptcy. For a moment, Bair seemed a little surprised, too, by the words that had tumbled out. She took a sip of her latte and looked straight ahead, deep in thought. ‘Do you really think they should have let Bear fail?’ I asked. When she put her drink down, her hesitation was gone. ‘Let’s face it,’ she said. “Bear Stearns was a second-tier investment bank, with — what? — around $400 billion in assets? I’m a traditionalist. Banks and bank-holding companies are in the safety net. That’s why they have deposit insurance. Investment banks take higher risks, and they are supposed to be outside the safety net. If they make enough mistakes, they are supposed to fail. So, yes, I was amazed when they saved it. I couldn’t believe it. When they told me about it, I said: ‘Guess what: Investment banks fail.’”


David Sanger in NYT, Gen. Tso’s Default Chicken.

“But one senior American Treasury official noted the other evening, as his colleagues engaged in their giant game of default chicken, that sooner or later whatever agreement goes through the House and the Senate will have to pass muster, at least informally, in the Great Hall of the People. ‘You know how the generals always say that when it comes to our strategy in Afghanistan, the enemy has a vote?’ he asked. ‘Well, when it comes to borrowing a few trillion dollars, the Chinese have a vote, too.’ The nature of that Chinese vote is frequently mischaracterized. It’s not as if the Chinese are about to sell the several trillion dollars in United States Treasury bills they already hold; the last thing they want to do is devalue one of their own biggest assets. But in ways that were inconceivable just a few years ago, the Chinese have used both formal and informal meetings with their American counterparts to explore whether America’s plan for reducing its debt is credible — and to remind American officials that they have options to gradually shift their money, say, to oil wells in Africa or real estate in the Middle East. Two years ago, at the first big annual ‘strategic and economic review’ between the Obama team and Chinese officials, the Chinese asked Peter Orszag, then the head of the Office of Management and Budget, to explain in agonizing detail how the administration planned to pay for its health-care overhaul. The Chinese were not particularly interested in whether Americans used a single-payer option or insured children around the land; they wanted to know how it would affect the deficit.”


Loretta Chao & Don Clark in WSJ, Cisco Poised to Help China Build Surveillance Project.

“Chongqing’s government has said it plans to invest more than $800 million of its own in building the Peaceful Chongqing system. Another $1.6 billion is coming from other, unspecified sources, the city has said…. Mr. Scott said his company spent three years developing software that enables multiple agencies to control cameras and also analyzes video feeds for unusual situations like fires or the formation of crowds. The number of surveillance cameras in Chinese cities including Chongqing appears to dwarf that of other cities around the world, though comparisons are tough because cities generally don’t disclose their camera counts. A 2008 report by the state-run Xinhua news agency said Beijing had some 280,000 cameras in its system. By comparison, privacy advocates in the U.S., including the American Civil Liberties Union, estimate Chicago has 10,000 cameras. The New York Civil Liberties Union estimated in 2009 that there were 8,000 cameras in New York.”


Jamil Anderlini in FT, Problems flagged up.

“‘In the US context, nearly every Chinese company is dodgy in terms of their accounting and disclosure because it really is a completely different game here,’ says one Beijing-based forensic accountant, who asked not to be named because of the sensitivity of his business. ‘But in china you are hugely disadvantaged in business and sometimes can’t even operate if you follow the letter of the law.’ The vast majority of the hundreds of Chinese companies quoted on US exchanges or bulletin boards, where public companies can trade without listing on the New York Stock Exchange or the Nasdaq were brought to market in the US through the back door in reverse takeovers, ore reverse mergers. This perfectly legal procedure allows a company with all its operations abroad to merge with an existing publicly traded US shell company and eventually raise money by selling shares to American investors.”


David Barboza in NYT, Building Boom in China Stirs Fears of Debt Overload.

“In the last few years, cities’ efforts have helped government infrastructure and real estate spending surpass foreign trade as the biggest contributor to China’s growth. Subways and skyscrapers, in other words, are replacing exports of furniture and iPhones as the symbols of this nation’s prowess. But there are growing signs that China’s long-running economic boom could be undermined by these building binges, which are financed through heavy borrowing by local governments and clever accounting that masks the true size of the debt. The danger, experts say, is that China’s municipal governments could already be sitting on huge mountains of hidden debt — a lurking liability that threatens to stunt the nation’s economic growth for years or even decades to come.”


Jamil Anderlini in FT, It is time to act on Mao’s call for democracy.

“Indeed, members of the political class in Beijing talk casually of the ‘100 families’ that control the country’s politics, military and the commanding heights of the economy. Even so, there are growing signs the party is starting to cannibalise itself as rampant corruption and infighting among these powerful families intensify in the lead-up to a leadership transition next year. In a private conversation the scion of one of these families lamented the current state of political affairs and the lack of brave policy initiatives. ‘When the eunuchs are running the country then the dynasty is nearing its end,’ this person said.”


Edward Steinfeld in Boston Review, China’s Other Revolution.

“The cases of Taiwan and South Korea also suggest that we should be cautious about the frequent observation that politics in China has lagged economics. Both Taiwan and South Korea, right up until the end of the democratization process, were successful and creative on the economic front but politically retrograde. At minimum the lesson here is that the absence of overt regime change doesn’t tell us much. That leads to a final point about the Taiwanese and South Korean experiences, one equally applicable to the contemporary Chinese scene. Even as authoritarian regimes and their supporting institutions remain in place, subtle political shifts may be under way. Such shifts can include recomposition of the ruling establishment (i.e., the ruling party stays in place, but it ends up populated by new kinds of members), societal pluralization, depoliticization of daily life, and evolving efforts at regime legitimization—efforts that often lead to major changes in political discourse and participation. Ruling elites may push such changes with the most conservative intentions. The goal may be nothing more than regime survival. However, as the cases of Taiwan and South Korea show, such processes can take on a life of their own with members of the state and ruling establishment swept up in the wave of new attitudes, aspirations, and values. And that wave may crest suddenly or over the course of years.”


David Aikman in WSJ, Beijing’s Theology of Repression.

“China tolerates Christian church services, but only within the narrow boundaries of theology and church life dictated by the State Administration for Religious Affairs, which oversees two church umbrella groups, the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association and, for Protestants, the Three-Self Patriotic Movement (TSPM). Estimates of the number of Christians in China vary widely, ranging from the TSPM’s figure of about 20 million for its own churches to that of outside observers who say the total is as high as 130 million. The reason? Most Chinese Christians belong to unofficial house churches like Shouwang, which reject Communist Party-controlled TSPM theology and consider God -- not the Communist Party -- the head of the church. The number of house-church Christians, while hard to estimate, is likely more than 60 million. The recent crackdown on house-church Christians is the outgrowth of a Communist Party initiative launched last December, called ‘Operation Deterrence,’ to force all house-church Christians to be incorporated with the TSPM or suffer persecution. In light of the savage treatment of practitioners of Falun Gong, a meditation group brutally repressed since 1999, the implications of ‘Operation Deterrence’ are alarming.”


Simon Rabinovitch in FT, China’s satellites cast shadow over US Pacific operations.

“Chinese reconnaissance satellites can now monitor targets for up to six hours a day, the World Security Institute, a Washington think-tank, has concluded in a new report. The People’s Liberation Army, which could only manage three hours of daily coverage just 18 months ago, is now nearly on a par with the US military in its ability to monitor fixed targets, according to the findings. ‘Starting from almost no live surveillance capability 10 years ago, today the PLA has likely equaled the US’s ability to observe targets from space for some real-time operations,’ two of the institute’s China researchers -- Eric Hagt and Matthew Durnin -- write in the Journal of Strategic Studies.”


Carlyle Thayer at YaleGlobal, South China Sea: A Commons for China Only?.

“China and Taiwan claim virtually the entire South China Sea on the basis of historical discovery. China occupies the entire Paracel Islands group and at least seven features in the South China Sea. Taiwan occupies arguably the only island – in the legal sense established by UNCLOS – in the Spratly Islands. The rest of the Spratly Islands is parceled out as follows: Vietnam occupies more than 20 features, the largest number; the Philippines, nine; and Malaysia, at least five. Brunei does not occupy any feature and only claims its 200 nautical mile EEZ. In 2002, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and China sought to manage their territorial disputes by adopting the Declaration on Conduct of Parties in the South China Sea (DOC). They pledged to resolve differences peacefully without resorting to the use or threat of force. This document also set out a number of cooperative activities and confidence-building measures that were never taken up. Current tensions in the South China Sea were generated, in part, in May 2009 when the UN Commission on the Limits of the Continental Shelf set a deadline for submission of claims for extended continental shelves, that is, beyond 200 nautical miles. Vietnam and Malaysia, both separately and jointly, lodged their submissions. This provoked a protest by China.”


James Hookway & Wilawan Watcharasakwet in WSJ, Fears Rise Thailand’s New Populism Could Boost Inflation, Cut Growth.

“The sister of exiled former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra wooed voters not only with her charisma, but with an array of vote-grabbing promises: An increase of 36% to 89% in the minimum wage, guaranteed rice prices for farmers, starting salaries of at least 15,000 baht ($492) for university graduates, tablet PCs for students, and high-speed trains across the country. ‘Even if they only deliver a fraction of what they promise [on wages], the impact will be significant’ on inflation, said Santitarn Sathrathai, an economist with Credit Suisse in Singapore. A few days before the election -- with both parties promising to raise the minimum wage -- Mr. Santitarn boosted his average inflation target for 2012 to 3.7% from 3.5%. Inflation rose 4.06% in June from a year earlier.”


Sean Matthews at Opendemocracy.net, Bersih 2.0: Malaysia’s democracy movement is not just a copy of the Arab Spring movements.

“In the past two weeks, as the 9 July rally date has approached, we have witnessed a remarkable sequence of events. The Police made signal arrests of prominent MPs, activists, and even civilians wearing or owning the coalition’s trademark yellow t-shirts. The Home Office Minister declared Bersih 2.0 an illegal association. Most of those detained remain in custody, and today a further 91 individuals (of whom some 60 were associated with Bersih 2.0) were served with Restriction Orders, forbidding them from entering the area of the city in which the rally is to take place. Bersih 2.0’s leader, respected former President of the Malaysian Bar Council Ambiga Sreenevasan, has been accused of being anti-Muslim and of insulting the King. The Chief Minister of Malacca (and member of the Supreme Council of UMNO, the dominant Malay party in the BN), demanded that her citizenship be revoked. Bersih’s organizing committee has been under investigation variously for plotting communist revolution, fomenting racial hatred, being in the pay of foreign governments (unnamed), attacking the Malay people, and for questioning the terms of the constitution (an act of treason). In the face of these accusations, Bersih 2.0 continued to promote its 8 points, and insisted that the rally – which was to involve a march through the capital, Kuala Lumpur, would take place. Astonishingly, as the deadlock looked complete and the parties irreconcibable, the King of Malaysia himself intervened earlier this week. His action was unprecedented. He granted Bersih 2.0 an audience. At a stroke, it appeared that accusations of treason and insurrection would be dropped.”


Raymond Ibrahim at MEforum.org, Pakistan’s Christian ‘Sex-Slaves’.

“Earlier we saw Egyptian preacher Huwaini and Kuwaiti political activist Mutairi call for the reinstitution of sex-slavery. Before dismissing their position as aberrant, that is ‘radical,’ for the record, here are respected Muslim scholar Majid Khadduri's thoughts on the matter:

The term spoil (ghanima) is applied specifically to property acquired by force from non-Muslims. It includes, however, not only property (movable and immovable) but also persons, whether in the capacity of asra (prisoners of war) or sabi (women and children). … If the slave were a woman, the master was permitted to have sexual connection with her as a concubine.

Still, some may seek to dismiss the notion of sex-slavery in Islam as theory, not actual practice, arguing that even if Sharia permits the sexual enslavement of infidel women, neither Egypt nor Kuwait formally permits it. Let us therefore make an important distinction: While few Muslim governments would formally institute sex-slavery — thereby egregiously undermining their ongoing and very successful efforts at duping the West — the sort of supremacist culture Sharia breeds, wherein seizing anything from the infidel, including his women and children, is an everyday fact of life. Thus in Huwaini's Egypt, the increasingly Islamist-leaning government does not have an institution to buy and sell infidel women; yet Egypt's Christian girls are constantly being abducted and, as one recent report puts it, ‘kept as virtual slaves.’ …To better demonstrate that this Sharia-induced worldview permeates the Muslim world — that infidel women are seen as little better than sex-objects for Muslim men — let us briefly focus on one Muslim nation: distant Pakistan, where Christians make a tiny minority of less than 2%, and where at least 700 Christian girls are abducted annually.”


Gary Gambill at MEforum.org, The Hard Man of Damascus.

“Alawites, a heterodox Islamic sect comprising roughly 12 percent of Syria's population, may not be the privileged minority suggested by some Western media reports, but they provide both the brains and the muscle for a secular authoritarian political order that would otherwise be untenable. Alawite solidarity renders the loyalty of the internal military-security apparatus nearly inviolable, enabling Assad to mete out a level of repression far beyond the capacity of most autocrats. The bloodiest government reprisal during Poland's long struggle for democracy -- the killing of nine Solidarity strikers in December 1981 -- would make for a very placid Friday afternoon in today's Syria, where over 1,400 have been gunned down in less than four months. Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak's police quickly disintegrated under comparable strains, while his army engineered his downfall in less than three weeks. The powerful stigma associated with Alawite hegemony over a majority Sunni population both necessitates and enables this police state.”


Nour Malas & Jay Solomon in WSJ, Syrian Protest Seen Bolstered by U.S. Visit.

“Mr. Ford’s trip marked a more aggressive brand of diplomacy toward Syria by the White House. It follows weeks of criticism from Capitol Hill and human-rights groups that the U.S. has been too soft on Mr. Assad. Some lawmakers have called on the White House to recall Mr. Ford, arguing his presence in Damascus has been viewed as a signal of support for the Syrian government. Mr. Ford arrived in Syria as a recess appointment this year, filling a post vacant since 2005. A video posted on YouTube shows what appears to be protesters marching along both sides of a car, which the person shooting the footage says is Mr. Ford’s. Some marchers were carrying olive branches. Others threw flowers at the windshield. The video couldn’t be independently verified.”


Nour Malas in WSJ, In Syria’s Capital, Opposition Broadens Tactics.

“In recent weeks, protests have become larger, more frequent and closer to central Damascus. This past week, two separate protests marched through central Baghdad Street, not far from the parliament building. Violence against protesters is partly what has motivated more people to join protests, city residents and activists said. In a show of the regime’s willingness to crush dissent even at a central college campus, security forces stormed Damascus University on June 21, killing one student. Students described thugs breaking down dorm doors and dragging women out of their beds, just a day after Mr. Assad had delivered a speech at the university acknowledging protesters had legitimate demands and promising reforms.”


Daniel Pipes at MEforum.org, Middle East Studies in Upheaval.

“Little did I know, but by taking up Islamic history when I did meant slipping in before the deluge of revisionism. Back in 1969, scholars respected Islamic civilization while usually (but not always) maintaining a proudly Western outlook. Symbolic of old-fashioned learning, my first Middle East history professor assigned us Julius Wellhausen's study, Das arabische Reich und sein Sturz (in English translation to be sure), published in 1902. Then came the revolution. Martin Kramer ascribes the changes in Middle East studies to the publication of Orientalism by Edward Said in 1978; I see it more resulting from the sharp leftward turn of universities. Whatever the cause, the field descended into revisionist, apologetic, jargon-laden, error-prone Third-Worldism.
The old masters dropped out of syllabi. The Hartford Seminary rapidly ‘turned from being the premier Protestant seminary for missions to the Muslim world into an institution promoting Islamization.’ The academic understanding of jihad epitomizes this transformation: in a single generation, jihad went from being interpreted as aggressive warfare to moral self-improvement. Academics took their biased and shoddy work into government.”


Raymond Ibrahim at MEforum.org, Egypt: Desire for Money - Jizya - Prompts Attacks on Christians.

“Consider: on June 24, hundreds of Muslims surrounded a Coptic church in Egypt, vowing to kill its priest — who was locked inside serving morning mass to several parishioners. The Muslims cried ‘We will kill the priest, we will kill him and no one will prevent us,’ adding that they would ‘cut him to pieces.’ As usual, police and security forces gave the terrorists ample time to terrorize — appearing a full five hours after the incident began; and when they escorted the priest out, it ‘looked as if he was the criminal, leaving his church in a police car.’ What, exactly, did the rioting Muslims want this time? Why were they threatening to kill the priest? The official story is that they were livid that the priest had earlier tried to make renovations to the 100-year old church (Islam forbids building new or repairing old churches). After forcing renovations to cease on threats that they would demolish the church, they also tried to banish the priest, giving him 50 days to quit the region. The priest's time was up, yet he refused to abandon his flock. Hence, the wild attack. However, Arabic news sources like El-Bashayer reveal a different, more practical, motivation: the desire to extort money from the Christians — echoed in an earlier report as a desire for a ‘donation’ from the church:

Security forces succeeded in rescuing the life of the priest of St. George Church in Beni Ahmad, west of al-Minya, from being killed at the hands of the Salafists because of his refusal to pay them jizya money, according to sources…. [T]he church's priest had declared that the Copts would not pay jizya, in any way, shape, or form. This is what caused the Salafists to want to banish him from the region, so they could collect jizya from the Copts.”


Aymenn Jawad al-Tamimi in Jerusalem Post, North Sudan: What Next?.

“But what about North Sudan's future? One noteworthy development in the north is the aerial bombardment targeting civilians in the Nuba Mountains, which are part of the petroleum-rich province of South Kordofan that will be the main oil producing region for North Sudan, following the south's secession. The Nuba Mountains – once a base for the Sudan People's Liberation Army that fought against the Arab-led government in Khartoum during the second civil war – are primarily inhabited by the Nuban people, a mixed Christian and Muslim population with their own language and culture. Indeed, as Amar Amoun (a Nuban MP in North Sudan's opposition) says, the bombing is a deliberate tactic to depopulate the Nuba Mountains. With Nuban rebels starting to take up arms and hoping to achieve more civil rights or independence for the Nuban people, war with the central government appears likely, hence the potential for another humanitarian catastrophe as in Darfur. Here is the heart of the issue. It's all very well to have South Sudan secede, but the root of the problem has still not been addressed: namely, the traditional doctrines of jihad that underlie the Islamist and Arab supremacist ideology of the ruling elite in Khartoum.”


Fouad Ajami in WSJ, The Road to Serfdom and the Arab Revolt.

“For generations the Arab populations had bartered away their political freedom for economic protection. They rose in rebellion when it dawned on them that the bargain had not worked, that the system of subsidies, and the promise of equality held out by the autocrats, had proven a colossal failure. What Hayek would call the Arab world’s ‘road to serfdom’ began when the old order of merchants and landholders was upended in the 1950s and ’60s by a political and military class that assumed supreme power. The officers and ideologues who came to rule Egypt, Syria, Iraq, Libya, Algeria and Yemen were men contemptuous of the marketplace and of economic freedom. As a rule, they hailed from the underclass and had no regard for the sanctity of wealth and property. They had come to level the economic order, and they put the merchant classes, and those who were the mainstay of the free market, to flight. It was in the 1950s that the foreign minorities who had figured prominently in the economic life of Egypt after the cotton boom of the 1860s, and who had drawn that country into the web of the world economy, would be sent packing. The Jews and the Greeks and the Italians would take with them their skills and habits.”


Tyler Cowen in NYT, Choices for Greece, All of Them Daunting.

“The wealthier European Union nations could transfer funds to Greece and the central bank as permanent debt relief, rather than continuing with debt rollovers that may look similar to Ponzi schemes. As it stands, vulnerable countries are being pushed into ever-higher debt levels. Yet the central bank has strict rules, including a no-bailout clause and price stability as the sole goal of monetary policy, while the European Union often requires member unanimity for major changes. In other words, these rules were written to prevent what is now the only coherent response to Greece’s troubles — namely, a timely recognition of the losses and an agreement that they will be shared jointly in some way.”


Patrick Jenkins in FT, Italy’s desperate struggle to fend off contagion.

“What the market has focused on of late is the worrying parallel between banks in Greece and in Italy. Greek banks have been similarly peeved about their plight, having been generally cautious lenders with no big self-inflicted problems. But they are Greek. With their home country in all kinds of trouble, they will inevitably be hurt by two things -- the bleak outlook for the Greek economy and the threat of default hanging over Greek sovereign bonds, which they own in great quantity. Italians naturally bridle at the idea of being compared with Greece, but at a macro-economic level, the market is focused on one data point more than any other at the moment: the 120 per cent gross debt-to-gross domestic product ratio the country is expected to show this year, according to the IMF though stable, is too close for comfort to Greece’s 150 per cent.”


Honor Mahony at EUobserver.com, EU moves to rein in ratings agencies.

“The commission has been grumbling about what it sees as the too-powerful role of ratings agencies for months but matters came to a head last week when Moody's, one of the three major international agencies, downgraded Portugal's credit rating to 'junk'. It made the move directly after Lisbon had agreed new austerity measures. It provoked a strong reaction from EU commission chief Jose Manuel Barroso who questioned both its "timing" and its "magnitude" and suggested it was based on only superficial analysis. Brussels has in the past suggested that a European ratings agency should be created, pointing out that the big three - Moody's, Fitch and Standard and Poor's are all international. However, analysts suggest such an agency will have an immediate credibility problem if it is perceived as being too close to governments.”


Gaia Pianigiani in NYT, Italian Cowboys Refuse To Ride Off Into History.

“While the maremmana are gaining in numbers, they are still listed as at potential risk of extinction under European legislation, as there are fewer than 7,500 cows. They are not, in fact, endangered, but having that status entitles the farms that raise them to subsidies that help assure the breed’s survival. But the number of butteri (pronounced BOO-teh-ree) has dropped. Today, only five can be found on horseback here in Tuscany (there are some others in Lazio). But they are defying extinction with the same resilience as the cattle they have tended in these marshlands for centuries.”


Gary Bass in NYT Book Review on Orlando Figes’ book, The Crimean War.

“This is history with an argument. Figes maintains that the conflict was essentially a religious war, and he is frustrated that most writers have neglected that theme: ‘If the Balkan wars of the 1990s and the rise of militant Islam have taught us anything, it is surely that religion plays a vital role in fueling wars.’ Figes writes of Russians and Turks clashing over “religious battlegrounds, the fault line between Orthodoxy and Islam,” and explains that ‘every nation, none more so than Russia, went to war in the belief that God was on its side.’ The Crimean War ‘opened up the Muslim world of the Ottoman Empire to Western armies,’ and ‘sparked an Islamic reaction against the West which continues to this day.’ The title of the British edition of the book is ‘Crimea: The Last Crusade.’
Figes presents czarist Russia as a deeply religious state, on a ‘divine mission’ to recapture Constantinople and deliver millions of Orthodox Christians from Ottoman rule. More than anyone, he blames the war on Czar Nicholas I: a militaristic reactionary, a pioneer in the use of secret police and censorship, who Figes also suggests was mentally ill. In the decisive hours of 1854, as Britain and France threatened war against him, Nicholas failed to make ‘any calculation’ about his military strength or give ‘any careful thought’ to British and French military superiority; he chose war in a ‘purely emotional reaction,’ based ‘perhaps above all on his deeply held belief that he was engaged in a religious war to complete Russia’s providential mission in the world.’”


Paul Hockenos in Boston Review, Hungary’s Ascendant Right Wing.

“The 81-year old Lendvai is one of the grand old men of Central European journalism, author of a stack of books translated into a dozen languages. But never before has one of his titles provoked such fierce reactions from the powers that be. The right-wing network of the Fidesz party, led by its undisputed front-man and Hungary’s current prime minister, Victor Orban, has done all it can to discredit Lendvai. Thanks to a landslide victory in the 2010 elections, Fidesz now controls more than two-thirds of parliament, and the liberal and leftist oppositions have imploded. Yet the right is paying attention to My Squandered Country -- perhaps too much attention for its own good. Without a penny of advertising the book emerged as Hungary’s best-selling nonfiction title this spring. The son of middle-class Hungarian Jews, Lendvai was already covering politics in Hungary when the first major challenge to Soviet power in the Eastern Bloc broke out on the streets of Budapest in 1956.”


Seth Lipsky in WSJ, Lunch With the Holy Roman Emperor.

“One of the persons I invited was the publisher of the Asian Journal at the time, Peter Kann, who would go on to become chairman of Dow Jones & Co. in America. Mr. Kann said he couldn’t make it because he had two competing lunches. I shrugged and started to walk off when Mr. Kann looked up from his desk and said, ‘With whom are you having lunch?’ ‘Otto von Habsburg.’ ‘What?!’ Mr. Kann exclaimed. ‘Otto Habsburg,’ I repeated. ‘Do you know who that is?’ the publisher asked, rising from behind his desk. ‘Yes,’ I replied. ‘He’s the father of one of Eddie Lachica’s girlfriends.’ ‘He’s the Holy Roman Emperor!’ Mr. Kann exclaimed. He instructed his secretary to cancel both of his lunches, and we dashed to the restaurant where Mr. Kann, normally an aloof sort, suddenly became uncharacteristically deferential…. When Habsburg discovered that Mr. Kann’s father was the historian Robert Kann, who wrote a seminal history of the Habsburg empire, he became highly animated.”


Ross Douthat in NYT, More Perfect Unions.

“Once equipped with marriage’s ‘entitlements and entanglements,’ Jonathan Rauch predicted in his book ‘Gay Marriage: Why It Is Good for Gays, Good for Straights, and Good for America,’ ‘same-sex relationships will continue to move toward both durability and exclusivity.’ At the same time, the example of gay couples taking vows will strengthen ‘marriage’s status as the gold standard for committed relationships.’ At the other end of the spectrum from Rauch’s gay conservatism are the liberationists, who hope that gay marriage will help knock marriage off its cultural pedestal altogether. To liberationists, a gay rights movement that ends up reaffirming a ‘gold standard’ for relationships will have failed in its deeper mission — which Columbia law professor Katherine M. Franke recently summarized in a Times Op-Ed article as the quest for ‘greater freedom than can be found in the one-size-fits-all rules of marriage.’”


Felix Gillette in Bloomberg Businessweek, The Rise and Inglorious Fall of Myspace.

“Part of his challenge, DeWolfe says, was the pressure to monetize the site. While developers at Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter — startups backed by venture capital — were more free to design their products without the immediate pressure of advertising goals, Myspace managers had to hit quarterly revenue targets. That pressure increased dramatically in the summer of 2006, when Google paid $300 million a year for three years to be the exclusive search-engine provider on Myspace on the condition that the social network hit a series of escalating traffic numbers. In retrospect, DeWolfe says, the imperative to monetize the site stunted its evolution: ‘When we did the Google deal, we basically doubled the ads on our site,’ making it more cluttered. The size, quality, and placement of ads became another source of tension with News Corp., according to DeWolfe and another executive. ‘Remember the rotten teeth ad?’ DeWolfe says. ‘And the weight-loss ads that would show a stomach bulging over a pair of pants?’”


Stephen Holden in NYT on Joseph Dorman’s film, Sholem Aleichem.

“One of the film’s central themes is Sholem Aleichem’s personification of the tug of war between nostalgia for the past and the impulse to leave it behind. As millions of Jews emigrated to the United States, where they found it easier to assimilate, Sholem Aleichem was not everyone’s idea of a forward-looking cultural hero. The movie reveals that Sholem Aleichem was every bit as colorful a figure as the characters in his stories. He was one of 12 children whom his recently widowed father hid with relatives before remarrying, then introduced one by one to the dismay of his shrewish second wife. One of his earliest works was a glossary of his stepmother’s curses. As a young man Sholem Aleichem, who was something of a dandy, took a job tutoring the daughter of a wealthy Jewish landowner. When a relationship between them was discovered, he was fired, and the lovers eloped. He was eventually accepted by her family. Hebrew was the written Jewish language, and Yiddish, a mixture of German, Hebrew and Slavic languages, had no literature, no newspapers or publications. According to the movie, Sholem Aleichem, who founded a Yiddish literary journal, aspired to be ‘the designer of modern Yiddish literature.’ This rich, highly expressive language, which one scholar in the film likens to Shakespeare’s English, is remembered as having been ‘a protective shield’ and ‘a portable homeland’ separating insular rural Jews from their Russian neighbors.”


Dave Kehr in NYT on the film, People on Sunday.

“Released in the spring of 1930, this late silent production was an immediate success — perhaps because, after a decade of Expressionism and its gloomy, romantic heirs, the popular audience was excited to recognize people much like themselves in situations everyone could relate to. Almost literally ‘People on Sunday’ was a breath of fresh air, letting sunshine and spontaneity into a German cinema that had become studio bound and hermetic. The original director, Rochus Gliese, was an established set designer (known best for Murnau’s ‘Sunrise’) who quit the project after a week, allowing a younger, largely untested crew to take over. The principal director became Robert Siodmak, a former film editor whose younger brother, Curt, had written the plot outline. At some point during the film’s production Edgar G. Ulmer, who had been one of Gliese’s assistants, joined the crew long enough (some sources say only a week) to earn a co-director’s credit. Behind the camera was the brilliant technician Eugen Schüfftan, aided by his young assistant, Fred Zinnemann. And a 23-year-old Billy Wilder was around enough to earn himself a screenplay credit, though the extent of his contribution has been hotly debated.”


Battle for Brooklyn (2010, Michael Galinsky)

Movie tour:

• Aug 5 - Providence, RI - Cable Car Cinema
• Aug 19 - Los Angeles, CA - Laemle Music Hall
• Aug 25 - Santa Fe, NM - The Screen
• Sept 8 - Seattle, WA - Northwest Film Forum
• Oct 8 - Portland, OR - Hollywood Theater


Kid Blue.
(1973, James Frawley / Dennis Hopper, Warren Oates, Ben Johnson, Peter Boyle)
• July 16, 9:30pm
Anthology Film Archives, NYC


Kira interviewed at VillageVoice.com

"What music were you exposed to before you joined Black Flag?

Kira: I was going to gigs in Hollywood all the time. My first gig was the Germs—they were friends of ours in high school, when I was in junior high. We would go see them, The Bags, The Avengers and The Dils would come out from San Francisco, The Weirdos were a Hollywood band, The Screamers—these were the "big bands." Basically, the measuring stick was there's a club here called The Whiskey—if you can sell out The Whiskey, about 350 people, you were like a big band. The Dickies got signed first, which we all thought was the beginning of the great things for punk rock. It didn't work out that way. [laughs]"

New dos album, "dos y dos"

dos "number eight" video

dos album release party
• Sat. July 16, 8 pm
Sacred Grounds 468 W. Sixth St. San Pedro
Free All Ages


Joe Carducci interviewed by Matt Smith-Lahrman on Meat Puppets, etc.

“Matt - So go ahead then and continue the difference between Meat Puppets and Meat Puppets II; the first record and the second record. Were you ever in the studio while it was happening?

Joe - Not for II. I was in the studio for One, and so I remember them. I don’t remember what it sounded like when they were set up normally, but they wouldn’t talk to Spot or anybody. They would talk to Laurie and so she’d tell them, or she’d tell Spot that they would have to be able to watch each other to play and so he’d turn the amps facing the drums, and as I say in my book, you could move the faders up and down but there was so much bleeding that you couldn’t get rid of the guitars or the bass because of the drum mics’ are picking everything up. But it’s a coherent record. The other thing that Spot did in that record, which again makes it, even that first punk rock record of theirs, not simple hardcore, is that Spot believed Laurie when she told him that, she didn’t say that they were on drugs, although Spot knew enough about it to surmise that, but she put it in mystical terms. So Spot set up a sub mix direct to a slow running quarter inch deck. So he had this live mix to catch everything. So he didn’t have to cut, you know, like ‘Tumblin’ Tumbleweeds’ and ‘Walking Boss,’ and maybe another one were off of that quarter inch. They were a live mix on the quarter inch, and because they were complete songs they were caught. They were not on the two inch tape because it got to be where you didn’t say ‘rollin’.’ They would finish the song and Curt would start picking away at something, and those songs were those somethings. And then Cris would join in and they would play the song or sometimes they didn’t play, they didn’t finish the song. It didn’t matter because as far as they knew we weren’t rolling (tape). But at some point they heard what Spot had caught on the quarter inch and decided, ‘Yeah, we’ll put that song on there.’ You know, seat of the pants. There’s nothing like that anymore needless to say.”


Adam Curtis at BBC.com, "Between the Gutter and the Stars".

“Ever since I read the early part of Sharon Osbourne's autobiography I have wanted to make a film about the wonderful, odd culture of the British music industry. She writes vividly about her father who was a legendary music promoter called Don Arden -- and the world she describes is a mixture of ‘Entrepreneur spelt S.P.I.V.’, British music hall and even pantomime. It is a culture that is often obscured by the waves of Americanization that Britain goes through -- but it persists. And since the most recent wave of Americanization seems to be receding -- and people are now becoming interested in how modern Britain links to its more distant past -- I thought I would put up some extracts from films that show that odd Britishness peeking out every now and then in the music industry.”


Obituaries of the Week

Otto von Habsburg (1912 - 2011)

“Otto was the eldest son of Charles I, the last emperor of Austria-Hungary, who ruled for just under two years, until the end of World War I also brought an end to his multiethnic empire in the heart of Europe and sent the family into exile. Otto did not, however, fit the part of the exiled would-be monarch waiting for his throne to be restored. He remained deeply involved in the turbulent events of the last century, opposing the Nazi annexation of Austria and later serving two decades as a member of the European Parliament. It was as president of the Pan-European League that he had perhaps his greatest impact on European events. Along with his Hungarian counterpart, Imre Pozsgay, Otto organized a peace protest called the Pan-European Picnic near St. Margarethen, Austria, and the town of Sopron in western Hungary. The picnic took place on Aug. 19, 1989, and in the process of a symbolic opening of the border, nearly 700 East Germans managed to flee to the west. This momentary piercing of the Iron Curtain became one of the events that hastened the fall of the Berlin Wall and the unification of cold war Europe. Less than a month later, Hungary officially opened its western border for East Germans seeking to leave the Communist bloc.”

• John Mackey (1941 - 2011)

“Mackey was first found to have frontal temporal dementia in 2000, the same year that the owner of the Cowboys, Jerry Jones, told ESPN he would push his oft-concussed quarterback Troy Aikman into crucial games because ‘there is no evidence of any long-term, lasting impact’ from head trauma in the N.F.L. A few years later, a committee of doctors appointed by the league published several papers making the same claim, to the howls of more independent experts. As this unfolded, Mackey deteriorated to the point that he needed continual in-home care. He could no longer fly after becoming so enraged at an airport security checkpoint — agents asked him to remove his Super Bowl V and Hall of Fame rings — that he burst toward the gate and had to be wrestled to the ground, screaming, by armed officials. He kept mumbling, ‘I got in the end zone.’”

• Armen Gilliam (1964 - 2011)

“Remember UNLV? We were taught that they were the opposite of what a college program should be. That this coach, Jerry Tarkanian, didn't care about following NCAA rules like the other coaches and the players were not true student-athletes like the rest and that they were just there to play basketball. The NCAA was always trying to find something on Tarkanian. It even resulted in a lawsuit he field against them for persecution. They made it to the Final Four in 1987 where they lost to eventual champion Indiana. In his book ‘A Season on the Brink,' John Feinstein writes that Indiana coach Bobby Knight was deeply worried that he had no one to stop Gilliam, so big and athletic and virtually unmatchable in college. The wonderful, clean Indiana program beat the evil UNLV team so all was right with the college basketball world. Tarkanian would get bigger, badder teams that no one would beat a few years later. In this era where pretty much every program has been hit by NCAA investigations and players only stay in college for a year (only because they can't go to the NBA right out of high school anymore) it is almost quaint to remember how UNLV was portrayed not that long ago.
‘Taking kids marginally academic? Oh my!! And they didn't stay all four years and, horrors, they didn't get their degrees on time? Shocking!’ For better or worse, everyone is now UNLV.”

• Jimmy Roselli (1925 - 2011)

“In performance, his ready emotionalism stood in stark contrast to Sinatra’s studied cool. ‘He was not a nuanced singer; he was a heartfelt singer,’ David Evanier, the author of ‘Making the Wiseguys Weep: The Jimmy Roselli Story’ (1998), said in an interview on Wednesday. ‘Jolson was his hero, and he sang many Jolson songs.’ By Mr. Roselli’s own account and many published ones, mobsters adored him — at least some of the time. ‘He sang at John Gotti Jr.’s wedding, and he sang the wiseguy anthem ‘Little Pal’’ — a song popularized by Jolson — ‘about how when Daddy goes away, you have to be a good little boy to your mother,’ Mr. Evanier said. ‘His greatest fan was Carlo Gambino, who cooked for him.’ At other times, though, Mr. Roselli appeared to bite the hands that fed him by refusing to share his earnings. ‘They ran all the clubs,’ Mr. Evanier explained. ‘They’d skim off the top, and they weren’t able to do that frequently with him.’ By the late 1960s, Mr. Roselli had antagonized enough people to have committed a measure of professional suicide. Among them was Sinatra, whose mother Mr. Roselli was said to have offended after he demanded a large fee to sing at a charity benefit she was organizing. Suddenly, according to many published accounts, his recordings vanished from jukeboxes, club dates dried up and he received little radio play.”

Ahmed Wali Karzai (1961 - 2011)

"I got to know Ahmed Wali before Sept. 11, 2001, when he lived in exile from Taliban-controlled Afghanistan in Quetta, Pakistan, with his half brother Hamid. He was the practical operator while Hamid was the ethereal dreamer. After 9/11, when Hamid Karzai became the first Pashtun tribal leader to enter Afghanistan (on a motorbike) to take on the Taliban, it was the ever-practical Ahmed Wali who provided him with cash to buy food, guns and a pair of binoculars. For the rest of the war from Quetta, Ahmed Wali ran a clandestine network of Afghans in the city of Kandahar who, over satellite phones, called in the location of Taliban commanders so that the Americans could target them with cruise missiles. It was a nerve-racking job, and he lost many good friends to the Taliban. At that time he was quiet, unassuming, removed from the news media or controversy. I spoke to him often because he would tell me when his brother’s satellite phone was free so I could ring Hamid Karzai and ask how the war was going."


Thanks to Jay Babcock, Steve Beeho.

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

1 comment:

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