a new low in topical enlightenment

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Issue #113 (August 31, 2011)

Brooklyn Ridge, Snowy Range, Wyoming

Photo by Joe Carducci

The Center Holds - Times Rundown
Joe Carducci

The New York Times will soon commence doing backbends leading into next year’s elections, mostly because it is deeply invested in the further advance of the Federal government at the expense of every other level of government -- actually literally an anti-Federalism that distrusts Americans, democracy, game theory, etc. Centralization is pushed in the name of… I’m not sure, justice if not freedom. The problem is that this project of the center-left, call it Involuntary Civic Order, can no longer progress except by cutting back -- dropping certain activities or departments entirely -- and this goes against everything they think they stand for. The center-left however, if pressed, will claim their program saved capitalism in the thirties, and several times since. The real Left either rejects the very idea or nods with a strange gleam in its eye when it hears it. But if we concern ourselves first with the public sector’s prerogative as in the thirties, we will require a world war to resurrect the economy. Only by backing off of the private sector can the public sector hope to thrive at the tasks that it must perform and perform better. The other direction requires all Federal activity be universal, a la the Left’s ideal health-care proposal; presumably the compulsory nature of these would whither away with the, uh… state.

The public sector and its advocates are prime examples of being educated beyond one’s intelligence and are quite willing to do with less revenue if only they can dominate the private sector. They in truth prefer to slow it down so they don’t feel so slothful themselves in their government work. They’d feel better about things even if the revenue they get to play with plummets. The creeping state-corporatism the Democrats believe in and the Republicans sell-out to features state-of-the-art stealth technology and this Leviathan disappears every crisis so that our long lost laisse-faire free market can be pulled down from the attic and the dust beaten from it in a rather strange exercise.

While the Obama Administration does everything it can conceive of to juice the economy, given it believes the private sector is creature of the public sector, the Times, National Public Radio, and the rest, argue for raised taxes, increased regulations, and criminal prosecutions. Gretchen Morgenson’s reporting from Wall Street for the Times is often about which bankers and brokers belong in jail. The book she co-authored about the crash, Reckless Endangerment, was reviewed and excerpted in the Times and yet I was surprised when after the release push David Brooks wrote a column, "Who Is James Johnson?", that claimed the book’s focus was not on prosecuting extremely well-dressed readers of Barron’s, Vanity Fair, and Cigar Aficionado, but on Fannie Mae.

“The Fannie Mae scandal has gotten relatively little media attention because many of the participants are still powerful, admired and well connected. But Gretchen Morgenson, a Times colleague, and the financial analyst Joshua Rosner have rectified that, writing Reckless Endangerment, a brave book that exposes the affair in clear and gripping form. The story centers around James Johnson, a Democratic sage with a raft of prestigious connections. Appointed as chief executive of Fannie Mae in 1991, Johnson started an aggressive effort to expand homeownership.”

None of the Times other coverage, including Morgenson’s own reporting indicated such a focus. Morgenson’s column Sunday, "The Fed’s Rescue Missed Main Street", is of also interest as it too seems oddly disguised:

“The American people were right to question Mr. Paulson’s pitch, as it turns out. And that became clearer than ever last week when Bloomberg News published fresh and disturbing details about the crisis-era bailouts. Based on information generated by Freedom of Information Act requests and its longstanding lawsuit against the Federal Reserve board, Bloomberg reported that the Fed had provided a stunning $1.2 trillion to large global financial institutions at the peak of its crisis lending in December 2008. The money has been repaid and the Fed has said its lending programs generated no losses. But with the United States economy weakening, European banks in trouble and some large American financial institutions once again on shaky ground, the Fed may feel compelled to open up its money spigots again…. And who will be surprised if foreign institutions, which our central bank has no duty to help, receive bushels of money from the Fed in the coming months? In 2008, the Royal Bank of Scotland received $84.5 billion, and Dexia, a Belgian lender, borrowed $58.5 billion from the Fed at its peak.”

My brother and his Ron Paul/Tea Party friends were talking about that then; do you suppose that’s who Gretchen and her editors mean when they refer to “The American people”? That’s some concession! Somehow they guessed that our Fed would not recognize its own limitations. And sharp folks who watch the markets could tell Fed funds were overshooting American corporate volunteers for state partnership and landing quietly overseas.

In a short term, any true laissez-faire crash would cause sharper pain, but the economy would recover faster and the memory of such pain, unrelieved by Washington, would temper future behavior. It’s the only thing that will accomplish these good good things -- one might say its simple physics. Otherwise the regulatory state tries to outrun a marketplace full of players on painkillers who know they will feel no pain next time they go off the rails or hit a wall. The illogic leads me to assume that the point of all this federal busywork is the hiring of legions more of college grads to fill this expanding regulatory state.


There’s probably less brainpower on the Times’ masthead in recent decades and so less discipline in maintaining a minimum of political responsibility to its journalism. There will always be name-calling and threats of prosecution over a newspaper’s release of secrets involving national security. These play out politically as they should, or in the courts if they must. Still it was fortunate the ol’ Times that back in the Truman Administration Oppenheimer or one of the grubbier commies running around Los Alamos hadn’t lobbed the A-bomb design onto their national desk. Fortunate for us too. Truman had become president in place of Roosevelt’s first VP Henry Wallace or the Soviets would’ve already had the design. Some Timesman might easily have taken it upon himself to rectify that one mistake of FDR’s in the name of world peace. (If Truman is well thought of today its because the Times’ calumnies against him then didn’t stand the test of time.)

As the tenth anniversary of 9/11 approaches recall the way the Times was laying for President Bush that week, setting him up by questioning why he hadn’t run to ground zero in Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday editions. The Times editorial board wasn’t too busy with coverage of the diabolical crimes-upon-crimes to set traps which might blunt some edge this all could give to a new President in his first year (and already floundering as he went up against Congress and the Pentagon with his initiatives). The Times editors wrote as if they expected the nation to admit-as-one that it now wished Al Gore was president. In any case the Times got what it demanded and Bush, winging it that Friday on the smoking pile of debris and DNA, “hit a home run” in the political parlance of the time.

The wars which followed were openly debated but once begun the Times changed its mind. It created a new opposition by asserting that no weapons programs meant there’d been lying, this predicated on an assumption that intelligence comes with consumer guarantees. I wouldn’t call this simple naiveté. As if trying to get themselves off on a technicality the Times (and others) argued that Saddam’s yellow-cake rap sheet and his bluffing weren’t enough to take him off the street; he died an innocent man.

This is not to argue that any of this is a job for our hard power or our soft power. But that was leadership and it is always costly and it runs somewhat against our national mission, if not against our constitution itself. Roosevelt, Wilson, & Roosevelt pretty much set it all up as our job, with an assist from Churchill. The Cold War convinced the Republicans, but as Pat Buchanan argued that all ended when it ended. Eisenhower warned of the military-industrial complex, but I guess he didn’t notice the rest of the federal complex. In any case Ike was the one president who had the standing to try to roll back what FDR had set in motion under cover of WWII; he even had a Republican congress for a couple years and did nothing. It’s hard to imagine any way anything can be taken away from the electorate once it expects it. That some parts of the Tea Party argue for shutting programs, departments, and downsizing the military and decriminalizing drugs, etc., just places them outside the bounds of serious politics as far as the center-left/center-right beltway crowd is concerned. This is why the failure of the Supreme Court to police what can or cannot be made into a federal case has been so costly.

Tom Friedman, the dean of the Times’ ex-humanitarian interventionists writes in his Sunday column, "All Together Now", that we need a “hybrid politics…. Either our two parties find a way to collaborate in the center around this new hybrid politics, or a third party is going to emerge — or we’re stuck and the pain will just get worse.” I say to Tom, What’s this ‘we’ shit? If you ask me the center is the problem and it keeps those most obvious Left-Right agreements on drugs, Pentagon, corporate welfare, even tax simplification from being consummated. The money there to be saved might easily disappear into equally counterproductive spending (though quite efficient vote-buying), but that can be fought over later with all of what cannot ever be agreed on. The NYT, NPR, and others head off these deals in the name of their centrist status quo by harping on the cultural inferiority and antiquated stupidity of the Tea Party folks. And thus pied-pipered off the political playing field, they perhaps congratulate themselves on maintaining their political virtue and a view of themselves unheeded leaders rather than followers.

Soon-to-be-former NYT Exec Editor Bill Keller in his NYT Magazine column, "Not Just Between Them and Their God", takes the entry of Rick Perry as an opportunity to replay the Christianity-is-Stupid card:

“If a candidate for president said he believed that space aliens dwell among us, would that affect your willingness to vote for him? Personally, I might not disqualify him out of hand; one out of three Americans believe we have had Visitors and, hey, who knows? But I would certainly want to ask a few questions. Like, where does he get his information? Does he talk to the aliens? Do they have an economic plan? Yet when it comes to the religious beliefs of our would-be presidents, we are a little squeamish about probing too aggressively.”

Ross Douthat, the other conservative on the Times’ Op-Ed page quickly corrects his boss, soon to be just another columnist, the next day in his Monday column, "American Theocracy Revisited", by ticking off the reasons to stick that card back up his sleeve. He reminds Keller that Christianity is not as simple as it looks, and that “If you didn’t spend the Jeremiah Wright controversy searching works of black liberation theology for inflammatory evidence of what Obama ‘really’ believed, you probably shouldn’t obsess over the supposed links between Rick Perry and R. J. Rushdoony, the Christian Reconstructionist guru.” That seems pretty basic. But Paul Krugman keeps trying to fill up his comments bin by using words like “vile”, which is I believe a new low. I like to note new lows because we consider The New Vulgate a new low in topical enlightenment, as you by now realize was no joke.

Krugman writes in his latest NYT column, "Republicans Against Science":

“Now, we don’t know who will win next year’s presidential election. But the odds are that one of these years the world’s greatest nation will find itself ruled by a party that is aggressively anti-science, indeed anti-knowledge. And, in a time of severe challenges — environmental, economic, and more — that’s a terrifying prospect.”

I don’t believe he is terrified; I think he is rather overjoyed, but politics and writing about it is harder than it looks. James Taranto runs circles around Paul, both the real one and the comic invention, Fake Paul Krugman, at wsj.com, "Earthquake! Hurricane! Alien Invasion!".

“Fake Paul Krugman weighed in on the economic impact of the quake: ‘People on twitter might be joking,’ he wrote, ‘but in all seriousness, we would see a bigger boost in spending and hence economic growth if the earthquake had done more damage.’ Former Enron adviser Real Paul Krugman was furious at the ‘right-wing hacks’ who had mistaken Fake Krugman for him, and at Fake Krugman for stealing his material. He offered this advice on how to tell Real Krugman and Fake Krugman apart:

If you see me quoted as saying something really stupid or outrageous, and it didn't come from the [New York] Times or some other verifiable site, you should probably assume it was a fake.

That means it was Real Krugman who wrote, on Sept. 14, 2001, that the terrorist attacks three days prior could ‘do some economic good’ because ‘all of a sudden, we need some new office buildings,’ and ‘rebuilding will generate at least some increase in business spending.’ And it was the Real Krugman, as we noted in September 2010, who described World War II as ‘the miracle of the 1940s’ because it entailed ‘government activism’ that spurred an economic recovery. On the other hand, since Fareed Zakaria's show is on CNN and not the Times website, it must've been Fake Krugman who told Zakaria earlier this month: ‘If we discovered that . . . space aliens were planning to attack and we needed a massive buildup to counter the space alien threat and really inflation and budget deficits took secondary place to that, this slump would be over in 18 months.’”

If you aren’t up to speed on Fake Krugman, don’t worry, it’s not that important. If you aren’t up to speed on the real one… well, same diff I guess.


Other recent Timesian wurm-holes of note this week:

Ian Urbina follows up his ongoing Pulitzer-touted series agitating against natural gas with "Geologists Sharply Cut Estimate Of Shale Gas", which essentially declares victory in its meta-political effort to drive down estimates of the energy form, unfairly dubbed “natural gas,” so as to tame the wildcat small guys of the energy industry and make it more difficult for them to help us frack our way out of these crises. All those Connecticutonians at the Times worst fear is that upstate New Yorkers will demand the Marcellus Shale be opened to drilling on the New York side of the border as it is on the Pennsylvania side and will stampede to oil rig jobs. Thus Urbina brags that the Energy Information Administration “will slash its official estimate for the Marcellus Shale by nearly 80 percent, a move that is likely to generate new questions about how the agency calculates its estimates and why it was so far off in its projections.” My guaranteed prediction is that both projections will be inaccurate, though Mr Urbina may very well win his Pulitzer, and them suckers is shiney!


In a related though unsigned editorial, "Tar Sands and the Carbon Numbers", The Times uncovers some rare bad actors in Canada of all places, the place we were all going to move to if the Cheney coup had taken place or the Tea Party takes over:

“Canada still hopes to meet the overall target it agreed to at Copenhagen in 2009 — a 17 percent reduction from 2005 levels by 2020. If it falls short, as seems likely, tar sands extraction will bear much of the blame. Canada’s government is committed to the tar sands business. (Alberta’s energy minister, Ronald Liepert, has declared, ‘I’m not interested in Kyoto-style policies.’) The United States can’t do much about that, but it can stop the Keystone XL pipeline.”

Just off the top of my head, I think if the Times editorial board could see their way to be in favor of natural gas exploration they might earn a better hearing when they try to get people exercised over something like Tar Sands that is unfortunately just as natural but perhaps a tad dirtier.


An odd dust-up inside the Times involves that constant irritant the reader ombudsman, currently Arthur Brisbane, who was the subject of this Romensco bit Tuesday at Poynter.org, "NYT business editor responds to ombud’s ‘absurd’ column".

Times business editor Larry Ingrassia tells his staff that public editor Art Brisbane’s Aug. 28 column on DealBook ‘was so absurd and so poorly reasoned that I felt compelled to write a response.’ Ingrassia tells Brisbane that ‘your column left me wondering how closely you read the Times – or at least our financial coverage.’”

Brisbane’s article appeared in the Sunday Review section. "Financial News for the Rest of Us" begins with a concern that deeper coverage in the online version of the “DealBook” column is tailored for Wall Street insiders. Bribane and those he quotes worry this may be both too close to its sources and subjects, and an indication that the print Business section may come to be shorted on resources:

“DealBook was created 10 years ago by Andrew Ross Sorkin as an e-mail newsletter, but as Sorkin’s star rose because of his mergers-and-acquisitions scoops, DealBook became a centerpiece of The Times’s Wall Street coverage. The expansion last November added 11 journalists, swelling the DealBook staff to 15, a large investment for a newspaper company in today’s straitened circumstances. To celebrate, The Times had a party at the Four Seasons restaurant that was attended by Wall Street’s elite, some of them representing charter advertisers like Goldman Sachs and Barclays Capital. But the new DealBook has a strangely precrash feel to it.”

Larry Ingrassia’s letter (see Poynter link) doesn’t address these points but merely makes a generic defense of all coverage, as if there are no print vs. online issues in the air currently. Goes to prove nobody has thinner skin than a journalist. My sense is that the Times Business section does good work during the week though it seems odd that media reporter David Carr only appears once a week. But it is Sunday Business that is often weak; unless Tyler Cowen is writing there can be nothing of interest. Sunday editions are put together by a different crew and since the ombudsman appears Sunday he must be doubly alienated from the staff. The position is an imposition on the editors by the publisher, caused by the various journalistic scandals that threatened the Times vaunted self-conception I suppose.


Here’s a classic Times sort of lifestyle commotion. Lisa Belkin in Sunday kvetches over being a good twenty years out of college and having missed out on something so good she disapproves of it. The story, "After Class, Skimpy Equality", is of a style found only in Manhattan. It has something to do with the city’s publishing industry’s fascination with wild America out beyond the Hudson. A subset of this concern is the string of books that chronicle the life of Jews in this heathen land of the goyim -- do such books sell anywhere but the upper west side? Jews have contributed as much to modern immorality as any old-line WASP decadents, but they don’t seem to want to take credit for it; they do however, expend mucho writer’s body english to avoid treading into conservo-femme territory, as if auto-generating some kind of immaculate conception of morality. You wonder who they married, Alan Alda or Phil Donahue?

“Why has the pendulum swung back to a feeling that sexualization of women is fun and funny rather than insulting and uncomfortable? Why are so many women O.K. with that? Odds are that the women dancing at that Duke party had mothers who attended more than one Take Back the Night march in their college days. What has changed? I’ve been puzzling over this since last year, when I returned to Princeton University to teach, more than two decades after I had graduated. The women I met were outspoken, self-confident and unapologetic about running rings around their male cohorts in the classroom. That was a marked change from my day, when there were nearly two men to one woman on campus, and we felt a little like guests in the boys’ club treehouse. I wasn’t surprised by the progress, though. The male-female ratio is essentially equal now, and the message of female achievement comes from the top: the university’s president is just one of many powerful women on campus. What stunned me was what was happening outside class, where women seemed not to have budged in decades. In social settings and in relationships, men set the pace, made the rules and acted as they had in the days when women were still ‘less than.’ It might as well have been the 1950s, but with skimpier clothing, fewer inhibitions and better birth control.”

This appeared in the Sunday Styles section which was otherwise full of the usual shoe porn, purse porn, the “On The Street” photo objectification of upwards of three dozen female passersby, you know, the Manhattan high-life come-on and its sad reality.

I’m as yet still paying $6 for the Sunday Times so I can sit with coffee and page through it non-virtually.

Nancy Taft sends out an email post with Centennial news and this week’s included this letter from the Sheriff’s department about a missing 71 year-old out for a morning hike who was lost when the river bank gave out under him due to the rushing water from last winter’s heavy snows. The current seems to have kept his body submerged and early searches two months ago on foot, with dogs, and a helicopter failed to locate him:

“We at the Sheriff’s Office as well as the many volunteers and friends are continuing our efforts to bring some closure to this tragic event for the Lantz family. We are at this time planning an extensive search to take place on Sunday September 11th, 2011 starting at 7 a.m. at the Centennial Fire Department parking lot. The extensive resources being requested is the reason for scheduling so far in advance. Though we would rather conduct this effort on a Saturday, law enforcement manpower is significantly depleted on Game days at the University of Wyoming which are set on September 3rd, 10th, and 24th.

Our plans are to have search teams in the water starting at the believed point of entry probing and searching tree snag areas. Last Thursday there were snag areas that were still somewhat dangerous to investigate. In addition we will have searchers on the banks spread out to what is believed to be the flood plain for this year and slowly proceed in line with the searchers who are in the water.

There is still a small area on the log jam located between #73 and #79 North Fork that will have a team in the water again removing more wood from the jam. We will have equipment to assist but it will not be a track hoe as earlier expected.

At this time this is expected to be our 10th organized search of the area. I will be in contact with the Centennial Fire Department within the next day or so to begin organizing with them as well as other volunteer fire departments from within the County. We will be seeking searchers from the Air Force base in Cheyenne, UW ROTC, Wyoming Technical Institute, Albany County Search and Rescue, Nordic Ski Patrol, and several K-9 teams to include Cathy Orde and Moose.

As stated at the start of this letter, we are sincerely hoping to locate something to help the Lantz family have some closure.

Robert J. DeBree
Albany County Sheriff's Office
Laramie, WY 82070”

Photo: North Fork of Little Laramie River above Centennial, Wyoming, by Joe Carducci

Drawing by James Fotopoulos

From the Desk of Joe Carducci…

James Warner at Opendemocracy.net, "Milan Kundera and the Invisible Tribunal".

“Kundera himself rarely convicts, preferring to muse on the future's incompetence to judge the past, the incomprehensibility of our younger self to our older self, and the impossibility of truly understanding even those we feel intimately close to. Writing in his essay collections 'Encounter' and ‘Testaments Betrayed’ about Martin Heidegger, Louis-Ferdinand Céline, Maxim Gorky, or Vladimir Mayakovsky – authors he feels we nowadays risk thinking of as apologists for tyranny first and writers second -- Kundera always sides with the accused. In ‘What Will Be Left of You, Bertolt?’ repudiating a hostile biography of Brecht, Kundera rejects the idea that the truth about an artist is to be found in his worst failings, and alleges that Europe is ‘moving into the age of the prosecutors.’”


Michael Lind in FT, "The intellectual collapse of left and right".

“The two most plausible visions developed by the US centre-left and centre-right -- the ‘knowledge economy’ and the ‘ownership society’ -- lie in tatters, leaving a void in America’s discussion of its economic future.”


Mark Moyar in WSJ on Stephen Glain’s book, State vs. Defense: The Battle to Define America’s Empire.

“In Mr. Glain's view, the increased powers of the Defense Department result from a ‘militarism’ that has thrived in the United States since World War II. He acknowledges that American "militarists" have not advocated military dictatorship like the extreme militarists of Wilhelmine Germany or imperial Japan, but he sees an over-eagerness for war among those who push for ever larger American defense budgets and more overseas deployments. Mr. Glain draws no distinction between campaigns that approach standard definitions of militarism and the spending devoted to defensive purposes or deterrence. Nor does he deem any foreign threat to be as serious as ‘militarists’ believe. Even Jimmy Carter and Barack Obama are accused of militarism. Mr. Glain dwells at length on Gen. Curtis LeMay, who became known as ‘Bombs Away’ LeMay for his readiness to use air power, and other figures known (fairly or unfairly) for their trigger-happy disposition, as if they were representative of broad and influential trends in U.S. foreign policy. Elsewhere, though, he concedes that even the most ‘militaristic’ administrations have frequently declined far-right calls for flexing America's military muscle. Ronald Reagan rejected the advice of hawks who favored a prolonged military presence in Lebanon and an invasion of Nicaragua; George W. Bush disregarded those who urged bombing Iran's nuclear sites and blockading North Korea. The variable effects of politics and personality make any simple ‘militaristic’ pattern hard to detect. The Defense Department held the upper hand under Lyndon Johnson and George W. Bush; State was dominant under other presidents, including supposed militarists like Reagan and Dwight Eisenhower. As Mr. Glain's historical narrative shows, again undermining his thesis, the Defense Department is not necessarily more inclined toward military action than the State Department. Secretary of State George Shultz was more enthusiastic than Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger about injecting U.S. ground forces into Third World crises. During the 1999 Kosovo debate, the Pentagon found more to like in the antiwar dirges of Ron Paul than in the war cries of Secretary of State Madeleine Albright.”


Catherine Rampell in NYT, "Why Washington Really Likes Itself".

“The city’s economy is built not only on government employees, but also on defense contractors, nongovernmental organizations and research institutions that get federal money. Unlike just about any other earnings source, federal funds have continued to flow freely through recession and recovery. What’s more, the government is moving ahead with major overhauls of financial regulation and health care, and Congress has its sights on taxes and spending, as illustrated by the debt-ceiling battle. All these targets have attracted major industrial stakeholders, injecting billions into the Washington lobbying industry. ‘Let’s say you have a whole new department of financial consumer affairs,’ Mr. O’Rourke said. ‘That means a huge growth in the corresponding lobbying industry. If you’re a credit card company and you don’t have a lobbyist there, you’ve got to be suicidal.’ In turn, these factors have helped prop up the housing market, unlike elsewhere in the country where foreclosure rates seem as high as pessimism.”


John Gordon in WSJ, "A Short Primer on the National Debt".

“In 1970 it was a mere 39%, the lowest it had been since the depths of the Great Depression. And while the debt nearly tripled in the 1970s (to $909 billion), the raging inflation of that decade caused the debt to continue to decline to 34.5% of GDP. When the Federal Reserve under Paul Volcker broke the back of the 1970s inflation, the debt relative to GDP began to soar. Why? Because Washington continued to increase spending faster than government revenues increased (and revenues increased a whopping 99.4% in the 1980s thanks to the great boom that began in 1983). The debt was 58.15% of GDP in 1990, a full 24 percentage points above its 1980 low. It continued to increase dramatically in the early 1990s, reaching 68.91% of GDP in 1994. But then a Republican Congress was swept into power that year, the first time the GOP controlled both houses of Congress since 1954, and President Clinton tacked sharply to the center. In the next six years, while revenues increased 61%, federal outlays increased only 22%. The years 1998-2000 actually showed the first surpluses in the federal budget in 30 years.”


Paul Carr at Techcrunch.com, "Unredacted Wikileaks Cables Found Online? Probably Depressingly".

“‘Leck bei Wikileaks’. The headline in German-language news weekly, Der Freitag, described the irony with Teutonic efficiency: ‘Leak at Wikileaks’. In the story, published on Friday, editor Steffen Kraft claims to have found online a ‘password protected csv file’ containing a 1.73GB cache of entirely unredacted diplomatic cables, originating from Wikileaks. According to Kraft, the password for the file is also easy to locate. The same day, Wikileaks dumped a large number of cables online and asked its followers to help sift through them. Copies of the files have been in the possession of news organizations like the Guardian, the New York Times and Reuters for months, but this is the first time the documents had been made available to the public. The release came, says chief leaker Julian Assange, because the media has lost interest in the diplomatic revelations as yet unreported. (A cynic might infer that Assange — who remains under house arrest in the UK pending extradition on sexual assault charges — is worried that the media has lost interest in him too.)”


WSJ: "The Politics of a Pipeline".

“Getting that approval has turned out to be harder than building the 1,711-mile underground pipeline would be. TransCanada first filed its application in September 2008. After dozens of public meetings, hundreds of thousands of comments, and extensive consultations with the EPA, DOT, USDA, DOI, DOE as well as several other federal and state agencies, State produced a draft environmental impact statement that said the pipeline posed little risk to the environment. That was in April 2010. But the EPA cried foul, and State went back to work. Sixteen months later, State has now produced its latest impact statement. Volume One alone runs to more than 500 pages, taking in such considerations as ‘direct impacts to beetles’ — and there are eight volumes in all. But the bottom line is that the pipeline poses ‘no significant impacts’ to the environment. Alas, the saga is far from over. As State noted in a press release yesterday, the impact statement will now be followed by a 90-day review ‘to determine if the proposed project is in the national interest. This broader evaluation of the application extends beyond environmental impact, taking into account economic, energy security, foreign policy and other relevant issues. During this time the Department will consult with, at least, the eight agencies identified in the Executive Order to obtain their views. The Department will also solicit public comments, both online and in public meetings in the six states the proposed project would traverse and in Washington D.C.’ We quote at length because you can't make this stuff up.”


Dennis Byrne in CT, "The real science trashers".

“The CERN experiment's initial results, announced Thursday, show that increased cosmic rays ‘significantly enhance’ aerosol formation in the mid to upper atmosphere, ‘tenfold or more.’ In the lower atmosphere, the role of cosmic rays is less clear. Finding out what makes the difference in aerosol formation in the lower atmosphere will be CERN's next job. CERN scientists carefully avoid any engagement in the debate over what's missing to explain the variations in aerosol formation in the lower atmosphere. They do know that the presence and interaction of components normally in the lower atmosphere — water, sulfuric acid and ammonia — that help form aerosols are not enough to explain the amount of aerosols actually there, not even when cosmic rays are added to the soup.

Some say the missing element is man-made, namely emissions of greenhouse gases. Others hypothesize it could be other things, natural things, that enter just the lower atmosphere, such as dust particles or sea spray. Henrik Svensmark of the National Space Institute in Copenhagen has advanced a controversial theory that the sun's magnetic field is intimately involved in aerosol formation: The stronger the magnetic field, the more cosmic rays are deflected away from Earth, thus fewer aerosols, fewer clouds and a warmer Earth. He may or may not be right. The CERN experiment is basic science at its best and is newsworthy even without the global warming context. I've brought up the CERN experiment not to debunk the positions of one side or the other in the global warming debate, but to illustrate the uncertainty of science, especially how one discovery leads only to more questions, further uncertainty and deeper research.”


Amity Shlaes at Bloomberg.com, "The One Thing Congress Can Do to Help the Markets".

“It's called the Congressional Effect Fund. Founded by Wall Streeter Eric Singer in 2008, the fund is premised on the idea that equity markets dislike a hostile Washington, tolerate a friendly Washington, but prefer an inactive Washington above all. It follows that stock-market rallies would come most often when Congress is idled -- in recess, at home, in the districts. From 1965 until early this summer, the Standard & Poor's 500 Index, Singer's proxy for stocks, rose 17 percent while Congress was out of session versus only 0.9 percent while Congress was working in Washington. In one study, four scholars took a step back to look at a century of returns -- from 1897, just after the Dow Jones Industrial Average was founded, to 1997 -- and found that average daily returns when Congress was out of session were almost 13 times higher than when it was in. Their explanation: ‘Perhaps the market enjoys the temporary certainty exhibited by the absence of Congressional decisions.’ Singer is blunter. About Washington's impact on the economy, he says simply: ‘Congress subtracts value.’ His fund seeks to profit from this dynamic by holding Treasuries and other neutral bonds during Congressional sessions, and S&P proxies, such as S&P Index futures contracts, when Congress is on holiday.”


Samuel Brittan in FT on Vito Tanzi’s book, Government versus Markets: The Changing Role of the State.

“Tanzi would like governments to shift their efforts from ever-increasing spending -- which could hardly go much further -- to more and better regulations. But he is not starry-eyed, pointing to the 70,000 pages of the US federal tax code. As he asks, ‘how many people know or can know what is contained in these 70,000 pages of laws and regulations? Strange and previously unnoticed special tax preferences, worth billions of dollars to some industry or even a specific company, find their way into these laws, and occasionally surface, surprising everyone except those who had inserted them or lobbied for them?’ He quotes an earlier economist, George Stigler, who worried that as an organization grows the able subordinate must get able subordinates, who in turn must get able subordinates -- until the demand for ability ‘begins to outstrip the supply of even mediocre genes’. It is an illusion to assume the president of the US, however able, is truly in charge of his government‘s policies and actions.”


Patrick Cooke in WSJ on Marc Levinson’s book, The Great A&P and the Struggle for Small Business in America.

“Together the brothers, neither of whom had finished high school, built what would be, for 40 years, the largest retail outlet in the world. The brothers' business philosophy was simple, writes Mr. Levinson: ‘If the company keeps its costs down and prices low, more shoppers would come through its doors, producing more profits than if it kept prices high.’ The more stores they could open, the greater the take. But the Hartfords had a public-relations problem. Since the nation's earliest days, small family stores had served as community anchors. There were thousands across the country. Mom and pop knew every customer who came through their door; they extended credit to families down on their luck. If low-priced chains drove out such stores, what would happen to small-town America? In fact, many mom-and-pop operations were inefficiently and incompetently run. A&P might be coldly corporate by comparison, but it offered consumers far more variety and fresher, better-quality goods at less cost to the family budget. But it didn't seem to matter: By 1912, chain retailing had become a political issue, Mr. Levinson says, one that would nag A&P for the next 50 years. The critics' persistent charge was that A&P's prices were too low. Because the chains were so much bigger, they could offer special deals to wholesalers. They could also build their own bakeries and canneries, options unavailable to the independents. New Dealers and other politicians, like Texas Rep. Wright Patman, would spend their careers in Washington attempting to punish the chains for their ‘unfair’ advantages by forcing them to close stores or taxing them out of town. ‘We, the American people, want no part of monopolistic dictatorship in . . . American business,’ Patman declared in a radio broadcast. ‘Think of Hitler. Think of Stalin. Think of Mussolini.’”


Economist: "Chinese financial scandals".

“The study found that companies caught up in mere accounting scandals saw their shares drop by an average of 8.8% over the six months on either side of the incident. In those involving the bribery of government officials or theft of state assets, on the other hand, the stock fell by almost a third. Collapsing share prices tell only part of the story. Companies caught up in funny business involving the government faced a withdrawal of short-term financing and changes to the board — responses common in Western companies implicated in all sorts of scandal but rare among Chinese companies caught cooking the books. The reason for the difference is that Western markets rely on contracts being enforced by courts and on investors, suppliers and customers all acting on the basis of audited accounts. In China and other less developed markets, by contrast, business is done on the basis of political and social relationships, not numbers. That changes the dynamic of a scandal.”


Andrew Ward & Leslie Hook in FT, "Chinese tycoon’s plans for $100m tourism project in Iceland raises security concerns".

“Huang Nubo, a real estate investor and former Chinese government official, has struck a provisional deal to acquire 300 square kilometres of wilderness in north-east Iceland where he plans to build an eco-tourism resort and gold course. Opponents have questioned why such a large amount of land -- equal to about 0.3 per cent of Iceland’s total area -- is needed to build a hotel. They warned that the project could provide cover for China’s geopolitical interests in the Atlantic island nation and Nato member.”


Susan Berfield at msnbc.com, "The mystery of the double eagle gold coins".

“The story begins just after the inauguration of Franklin Roosevelt on Mar. 4, 1933, in the midst of the Great Depression. Thousands of banks had already gone under as people panicked and withdrew their gold and other deposits. As the gold supply — much of it kept at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York — dwindled, the country faced possible insolvency. On Apr. 5, Roosevelt issued Executive Order 6102, which prohibited the hoarding of gold and required citizens to exchange their gold coins for paper currency.

It was Roosevelt’s distant cousin, Theodore, who had commissioned the sculptor Augustus Saint-Gaudens to design a high-relief $20 gold coin in the early 1900s. Teddy Roosevelt wanted an American coin that matched the beauty of the ancient Greek ones, and Saint-Gaudens completed the work just before his death from cancer in 1907. On one side is an image of Liberty, a figure reminiscent of a Greek goddess, hair flowing, olive branch in her left hand, torch in her right. On the other is an eagle in midflight, the sun rising behind it. The Mint had produced the Saint-Gaudens Double Eagles almost every year since 1907, and 1933 was no different. By May, as the gold recall was under way, the Mint finished pressing 445,500 of the coins. None were issued. Instead the coins, weighing nearly 15 tons, were put into 1,780 canvas bags and sealed behind three steel doors in Philadelphia Mint Vault F-Cage 1. Only two were thought to have been saved, and they were sent to the Smithsonian. In January 1934, Congress passed the Gold Reserve Act, which allowed the President to nationalize, in effect, the gold held by the Federal Reserve and increase the price of an ounce. This in turn devalued the dollar, which was supposed to stimulate the troubled economy. The director of the Mint then ordered all the nation’s gold coins to be melted into bars. The bars would be kept in the newly constructed Fort Knox. The task was enormous: It wasn’t until early 1937 that the Philadelphia Mint sent its $50 million worth of coins, including the 1933 Double Eagles, to the furnace.”


Hans-Olaf Henkel in FT, "A sceptic’s solution - a breakaway currency".

“Having been an early supporter of the euro, I now consider my engagement to be the biggest professional mistake I ever made. But I do have a solution to the escalating crisis…. If it was possible to form one currency out of 17, it should also be possible to form two out of one. This plan will not be easy, but we need to focus on saving Europe, not the euro.”


Pascal Bruckner at Signandsight.com, "Lubricious Puritanism".

“A few years ago we spent our family holiday on a beach in Florida. My daughter, two years old at the time, wanted to remove her swimsuit when she came out of the water, it was bothering her. Very soon a certain agitation started gathering among the other holiday makers who were sending us embarrassed looks. A few minutes later a sturdy sheriff appeared, armed to the teeth with an arsenal big enough to destroy a whole city, and barked at us that we would have to pay a fine if some clothes weren't put on the little girl right away. She however took this for a game and started running. We ran after her and the sheriff after us. We managed to catch her in a fit of laughter but the uniformed colossus was not amused. In the land of Uncle Sam, nudity is prohibited on the beach, even for toddlers.”


Christopher Caldwell in FT, "America’s morals appeal more than French will admit".

“In a fascinating, erudite and essentially wrong essay about the Strauss-Kahn affair, the French philosopher Pascal Bruckner found its roots in Puritanism -- albeit ‘a perverse Puritanism, in line with the sexual revolution, which speaks the language of free love’. Feminists and Republicans have collaborated to leave the US ‘bereft of any culture of love’, Bruckner believes. Certainly there is something disgusting in the giddily anatomical idiom of some of these court filings. The extreme legalism of US attitudes towards sex, however, comes not from Puritanism but from diversity. Legalism is what you get when nothing can be agreed upon. Most European legal systems assume a common moral code. The US system is designed to regulate interaction among highly mobile drifters who may be some place far, far way tomorrow. Rape seems a more present danger in such circumstances. A rich foreigner is a maximum flight risk. A neglected but crucial aspect of the Strauss-Kahn case was that France has no extradition treaty with the US.”


Economist: "The flight from marriage".

“China has coined new terms to describe the two groups: sheng-nu (left-over women) and guang gun (bare branches, or men who will not add to the family tree). ‘Bare branches’ is most commonly used in China to refer to men who will be unable to marry because of sex-selective abortion. And that encapsulates the biggest worry about Asia’s flight from marriage. If (when?) it spreads to China and India, it will combine with the surplus of bachelors to cause unheard-of strains. Prostitution could rise; brides could be traded like commodities, or women forced to ‘marry’ several men; wives could be kept in purdah by jealous, fearful husbands. This may sound alarmist. But the reluctance of women to marry, together with men’s continuing desire for a wife, is already producing a surge of cross-border brides. According to ‘Asian Cross Border Marriage Migration’, a book edited by Melody Lu and Wen-Shan Yang (Amsterdam University Press), 27% of Taiwanese marriages in 2002 involved foreign women; one in eight births that year was to a ‘mixed’ family. Many girls are illiterate teenagers sold (in practice) by their families to older, richer foreigners. Back in their home villages, therefore, young men’s marriage chances are lower.”


Tammie Harrison in WSJ, "My Life as a Chinese Dating-Game Star".

“Unlike on a Western dating show, my preference for ‘long walks on the beach’ never came up. Instead, I was asked about my consumer habits, my family background, my cooking skills (especially Chinese food) and whether or not I would sign a prenuptial agreement. On the first day, the show's chain-smoking director laid down the law. He told us not to ask about the zodiac signs of the male contestants, and not to say that distance between where we live is a problem, because this is a national program. Finally, he warned us not to post naked pictures on the Internet. ‘This is a Communist show!’ he emphasized.”


Paul Berman in NYT Book Review on Enrique Krauze’s book, Redeemers: Ideas and Power in Latin America.

“Martí lived in New York City during the 1880s and early ’90s, and sometimes liked it, but he also concluded, with regard to Latin America, that the United States was governed, as Krauze puts it, by ‘ignorance and greed.’ Martí conspired against imperial Spain on behalf of Cuban independence. But he worried that once Cuba was free, the greedy Yankee ignoramuses might end up imposing a new tyranny of their own. As it happened, Martí died in 1895, an early martyr in Cuba’s rebellion. Three years later, the United States intervened and with a flick of the wrist, otherwise known as the Spanish-American War, demolished what was left of the Spanish empire. And a tremor of fear passed through Latin America. The tremulous fear is something that, in our English-speaking America, has never been appreciated. We remember the Maine, but not much else. The fear was spiritual, and not just practical. It was an aesthetic revulsion. In 1900, a literary critic in Uruguay named José Enrique Rodó — the second subject of Krauze’s series of portraits — published a brooding pamphlet on this topic called ‘Ariel,’ composed in vibrato tones likely to make you wonder about the man’s tonsils. Rodó was eloquent, though. He pictured Latin America as the heir to Greco-Latin antiquity, endowed with a Catholic spirituality that derived from the Platonic school of mystical beauty-worship. The United States, by contrast, seemed to him crass and inferior, descended from a Puritan loathing of everything beautiful. And Rodó called for a youthful resistance, closer to a Catholic revival or a poetry cult than to anything political.”


Dmitry Vydrin at Opendemocracy.net, "The Tymoshenko Case as the Apotheosis of Postmodernism".

“Ukraine’s political elite, led by its monumental president Yanukovich, is as heavy as iron, as dangerous as molten steel, as clumsy as a tie-laying machine and as predictable as trunk oil and gas pipelines. Its main goal is a slow, gentle evolution along the lines of the Soviet planned modernisation model. For it knows the secret of success: ‘slow modernisation means fast profits’. If, of course, this modernisation is completely under your personal control. The founders of the world’s first Socialist state once described Communism as ‘Soviet power plus the electrification of the whole country’; the present Ukrainian government could describe its ‘Communism’ as ‘the modernisation of production plus the monopolisation of power and profit by the ruling clan’. And opposing this elite, let’s call it ‘modernist’, or better still, ‘modernising’ , we have the counter-elite headed by its Pasionaria, Yulia Tymoshenko. Tymoshenko likes to compare herself to Joan of Arc, but in terms of her personality, aims and motivation she is much closer to Dolores Ibarruri or the almost forgotten Chilean communist leader Gladys Marin. Yulia, like Dolores and Gladys, is a pure product of postmodernism in all its particulars. At the heart of postmodernism lies a repudiation of laws as such (both economic and judicial) and a rejection of all links between cause and effect. It is the absolute primacy of revolution over evolution. It is the replacement of gradual development by ‘breakthroughs’, ‘ruptures’ and ‘great leaps forward’. It is the triumph of aesthetics over ethics, kitsch over classicism, glamour over respectability.”


Sebnem Arsu in NYT, "Turkish Government to Return Seized Property to Religious Minorities".

“The Turkish government said it would return hundreds of properties that were confiscated from religious minorities by the state or other parties over the years since 1936, and would pay compensation for properties that were seized and later sold.
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan made the announcement on Sunday to representatives of more than 150 Christian and Jewish trusts gathered at a dinner he hosted in Istanbul to break the day’s Ramadan fast. The government decree to return the properties, bypassing nationalist opposition in Parliament, was issued late Saturday.”


EuropeNews.dk: "How Should We Treat the Muslims in Our Midst?".

“Many of us are reading their source books. We know the doctrine. We would be foolish not to assume a Muslim believes in Islamic doctrine. So it is up to Muslims to tell us they do not believe in that doctrine, and to say specifically which parts of the doctrine they do not endorse. What got me thinking about this was an article by Christopher Hitchens who said that Governor Mitt Romney (a Mormon) firmly stated ‘that he did not regard the prophet, or head of the Mormon church, as having ultimate moral and spiritual authority on all matters. Nothing, he swore, could override the U.S. Constitution.’ Why did Romney feel he needed to say that? Because many of us are aware of Mormon doctrine. So he openly reassured us as to where his loyalties lay. Have you ever heard a Muslim do this? And yet Muslims are in a worse situation. They experience far more suspicion and hostility in our society than Mormons. But rather than doing what Romney did, what do Muslims do? Usually they blame us for the suspicion and hostility, and imply the problem is our lack of ‘tolerance.’”


Soeren Kern at Thecuttingedgenews.com, "Growth of Islamistan in Europe means No-Go Zones for Non-Muslims".

“The ‘no-go’ areas are the by-product of decades of multicultural policies that have encouraged Muslim immigrants to create parallel societies and remain segregated rather than become integrated into their European host nations. In Britain, for example, a Muslim group called Muslims Against the Crusades has launched a campaign to turn twelve British cities – including what it calls ‘Londonistan’ – into independent Islamic states. The so-called Islamic Emirates would function as autonomous enclaves ruled by Islamic Sharia law and operate entirely outside British jurisprudence. The Islamic Emirates Project names the British cities of Birmingham, Bradford, Derby, Dewsbury, Leeds, Leicester, Liverpool, Luton, Manchester, Sheffield, as well as Waltham Forest in northeast London and Tower Hamlets in East London as territories to be targeted for blanket Sharia rule. In the Tower Hamlets area of East London (also known as the Islamic Republic of Tower Hamlets), for example, extremist Muslim preachers, called the Tower Hamlets Taliban, regularly issue death threats to women who refuse to wear Islamic veils. Neighborhood streets have been plastered with posters declaring ‘You are entering a Sharia controlled zone: Islamic rules enforced.’ And street advertising deemed offensive to Muslims is regularly vandalized or blacked out with spray paint.”


Bertil Lintner at Atimes.com on Fergal Keane’s book, Road of Bones: The Epic Siege of Kohima 1944.

“The siege of Kohima lasted from early April to late June 1944. It was a fierce, hand-to-hand battle where the frontline went right across the British deputy commissioner's tennis court, and where many of those who died fighting on the Allied side are buried in a beautifully laid-out cemetery, now Kohima's main tourist attraction. There were so-called ‘native troops’ on both sides. The Japanese had the support of soldiers from Subhas Chandra Bose's Indian National Army (INA) - although most of them never got beyond Imphal in Manipur to the south, and, according to Keane, ‘suffered heavy casualties on the retreat from India and troops complained bitterly of being used as porters by the Japanese’. Apart from regular Indian troops on the British side, local Naga tribesmen also took part in the war as scouts and fighters in guerrilla-type units that harassed and ambushed the Japanese wherever they could. One such unit was commanded by a female British anthropologist, Ursula Graham Bower, who had fallen in love with the Nagas and the Naga Hills. During the war, some tribesmen believed she was the reincarnation of a Naga priestess and became her loyal followers.”


Economist: "At Buddha’s birthplace".

“After Prachanda, the leader of Nepal’s Maoists, stepped down as prime minister in 2009 he several times met representatives of the ‘Asia Pacific Exchange and Co-operation Foundation’. The Nepalese media speculated that this mysterious organisation was a front for either the Indian or the Chinese intelligence services, the two giant neighbours often accused of meddling in Nepal’s politics. The truth seems even stranger. In July Chinese media reported that the Hong-Kong-based foundation — which is widely thought to have China’s backing — had signed an agreement with UNIDO, the UN’s industrial-development organisation, to invest $3 billion in Lumbini, a village in southern Nepal. Lumbini is the birthplace of the Buddha, which the project aimed to make a ‘Mecca for Buddhists’, with train links, an international airport, hotels and a Buddhist university. The news caused uproar in Nepal. Neither the central government nor the local authorities responsible for Lumbini said they had been consulted about, or even heard of, the project. UNIDO’s officers say they will not comment on the affair while they try to discover how the organisation got involved. If this was an exercise in Chinese ‘soft power’, it was a disaster.”


Geoffrey Wheatcroft in London Review of Books on Orlando Figes’ book, Crimea: The Last Crusade.

“A belief has persisted that the war was more than usually senseless and inconsequential, but Figes rejects this, seeing it as a turning point in the history of Europe, of Russia and of the Middle East. Any historian is tempted to invest his subject with special importance, but Figes makes a convincing case. The conservative alliance of Russia and Austria, which had effectively suppressed nascent European liberalism and nationalism, was ended by the Crimean War, and Russia was further angered by the sight of two Christian powers fighting alongside a Muslim ally. Lingering Russian resentment was one cause of the disruption of international relations and the destabilisation in the Balkans that ultimately led to the Great War. And the participation of the greatest Muslim power in a European war opened the Muslim world to Western arms and technology, ‘accelerated its integration into the global capitalist economy, and sparked an Islamic reaction against the West which continues to this day’: large consequences indeed.”


Dylan Stableford at Yahoo.com, "The Onion looks back on ‘cathartic’ 9/11 issue".

“The September 11 issue of The Onion never made it to print. The next week, the staff — which had moved operations from Madison, Wisconsin, to Manhattan a few months before — gathered at The Onion’s offices on 20th Street. ‘It was a terrible meeting,’ Krewson recalls. ‘We knew we wouldn’t be able to ignore what had happened, but it was hard to make any sort of comedy.’ Eventually, Krewson remembers, one of the staffers said that American life had become ‘a bad Jerry Bruckheimer movie.’ That headline, which would become a front-page story in the 9/11 issue, got the ball rolling, and loosened everyone up, Krewson says. Another one, by former head writer Carol Kolb, got the comedic juices flowing even more. Not Knowing What Else To Do, Woman Bakes American Flag Cake. ‘It was poignant,’ Krewson says. ‘It captured how stunned and confused everyone was at that time.’ Others headlines followed:

‘U.S. Vows to Defeat Whoever It Is We're At War With’

‘Hijackers Surprised To Find Selves in Hell: 'We Expected Eternal Paradise for This,' Say Suicide Bombers.’”


Jaron Lanier in New Statesman, "The suburb that changed the world".

“In Sofia Coppola's 2006 film of the life of Marie Antoinette, there is a scene where an entourage of palace jeunes filles sweeps through a ball at which the set and costumes are period, but the music and manners are straight out of a modern dance club. The proposition seems to be that an elite few were able to put a toe into the future to experience what is ordinary today. Something like that went on in the Silicon Valley I knew in the 1980s. The debates and dilemmas that occupy a generation today appeared in miniature before there was an internet. We took our anticipation of the internet deadly seriously, to the point where it seemed already real. Thus I have experienced the internet age twice. Experiencing the internet in reality is different - and even bizarre, because although it seemed reasonable to expect the thing to come about, it is still uncanny that the reasoning was right. It feels as though we got away with something we shouldn't have done. The internet arrived from two directions, one top-down and the other bottom-up.”


Randy Kennedy in NYT, "Chicano Pioneers".

“Asco’s method was a kind of bombastic excess and elegant elusiveness that would have made Tristan Tzara proud, not to mention Cantinflas and Liberace. The Los Angeles Times art critic Christopher Knight wrote that the group ‘brought Zurich Dada of the late-1910s to 1970s Los Angeles.’ But it was a distinctly Chicano brand of Dada, by way of David Bowie and Frank Zappa, drag and Pachuco culture, telenovelas and oddball UHF television stations, and New Wave and silent movies…. In a 1997 interview with the Smithsonian’s Archives of American Art, one of the group’s founders, the artist who calls himself Gronk (though at times also Groak and Grunk) described the collective as ‘just a rumor to a lot of people for the longest time’ and ‘sort of thought of as drug addicts, perverts.’ ‘All kinds of names were hurled at us by other Chicano artists,’ he said. The collective’s chosen name, Asco, set the outré tone — it means disgust or nausea in Spanish and also evokes a sinister corporation or a mockery of the acronyms of the social-service organizations then proliferating in poor neighborhoods as a legacy of President Lyndon B. Johnson’s Great Society. But the foursome’s unpredictable street theater and prodigious image-making beginning in the early ’70s — fake publicity shots and film stills, Super-8 movies, mail-art fliers — made clear that they were not simply trying to express their disgust with racism, police harassment and the Vietnam War but also using revulsion as a raw material and spreading a fair amount of it around.”


Eddie Dean in WSJ on Jack Isenhour’s book, He Stopped Loving Her Today.

“Mr. Isenhour remains focused on how a country-music classic was constructed by a team of studio pros and the dead-man-walking specter of Mr. Jones, and the book does double duty as a celebration of the collaborative craft of record-making in Music City. The legend is willing to talk, but Mr. Jones is little help illuminating the alchemy of his gift; he is ‘as plain as an unbuttered biscuit,’ notes Mr. Isenhour. ‘Then he opens his mouth to sing.’ To be sure, Mr. Jones did have his muses, in the form of his devoted mother, Clara Jones, and the singer Tammy Wynette, his duet partner and wife of six years beginning in 1969, during which they were known as Country's First Couple. Mr. Jones lost his connection to both women in the mid-1970s: His doting mother died in 1974, and the following year Ms. Wynette gave up on her husband, who seemed wedded to the bottle. Mr. Jones went haywire after the wrenching divorce, repeatedly trying to win back Ms. Wynette and lurching beyond the usual drunk-and-disorderly into the throes of drug-fueled psychosis.”


David Goldman in First Things, "Incestuous Narcissism".

“Wagner’s mythological tragedy preceded and in some part inspired the modern domestic tragedies of Ibsen, Strindberg, and Shaw, who presented prosaically what Wagner re-created as sensuous experience. More than the playwrights who hammered at the hypocrisy of bourgeois family life, though, Wagner poisoned the well of covenantal love by conjuring a seductive alternative. Narcissistic love knows neither the trials of courtship nor the fruitfulness of family life but only the climactic moment. It can point only toward death. In keeping with this idea of love, Wagner’s music stakes everything on the musical climax. In contrast to classical composition, whose teleology and formal coherence conveys a sense of the journey toward redemption, Wagner’s music offers us the overpowering moment of ecstasy.”


Maximum RocknRoll: "From the Depths of the Deaf Club - An Un-Oral History".

“Klaus Flouride: The only really solid, all-the-time venue had been the Mabuhay. The Deaf Club was one of the few places that had established itself as possibly a place that had more than two shows. Most of the time there were maybe one to two shows in the basement of a place. We played the Finnish Hall, all these places, like one time. I can see Dirk saying, ‘If you play that place, you’ll never play the Mabuhay again,’ in some sort of bluff, but I don’t think, or I don’t remember there being anything along the levels of anybody threatening anybody other than when Bill Graham put on one or two shows. At the Bill Graham show we played with the Clash. It was a big show, his goons got out of hand. He didn’t like how stuff went, and he said, ‘I’m never going to put on another punk show.’ This is after he said, ‘I’m going to show punk rockers how it’s done. I‘m going to show these goddamn punk rockers how you put on a rock ’n’ roll show.’ Then by the end of it, he’s like, ‘I’m never going to book one of these kinds of shows again.’”


Susan Orlean in NYer, "The Dog Star".

“Of the six Rin Tin Tin silent films still available, the most memorable is ‘Clash of the Wolves’ (1925). Rinty plays a half-dog, half-wolf named Lobo, who is living in the wild as the leader of a wolf pack…. He scrambles up a tree -- a stunt so startling that it has to be replayed a few times to believe it. Can dogs climb trees? Evidently. At least, certain dogs can. And they can climb down, too, and then tear along a rock ridge, and then come to a hlat at the narrow crest of the ridge. The other side of the gorge slooks miles away. Rin Tin Tin stops, pivots; you feel him calculating his options; then he crouches and leaps, and the half-second before he lands safely feels long and fraught. His feet touch ground and he scrambles on, but moments later he plummets off the edge of another cliff, slamming through the brandches of a cactus, collapsing in a heap, with a cactus needles skewered through the pad of his foot. The action is thrilling, but the best part of the movie is the quieter section, after Rin Tin Tin falls. He limps home, stopping every few steps to lick his injured paw; his bearing is so abject that it is easy to understand why Duncan felt the need to explain that it was just acting.”


Rock Scene, Star!, and other archive-stashes.


MercoPress: "Lager beer yeast arrived in Europe from Patagonia 500 years ago".

“Hittinger added that the newfound yeast, which is prevalent in the beech forests of Patagonia and distinct from every known wild species of yeast, was 99.5% identical to the non-ale yeast portion of the lager genome. Scientists said eggs laid by insects on tree leaves give rise to sugar-rich bulbous materials called galls in which the yeast strain flourishes and ferments spontaneously. ‘The sugar-rich galls ferment the tree and after getting over-matured, they fall all together to the [forest] floor, where they often form a thick carpet that has an intense ethanol odour, most probably due to the hard work of Saccharomyces eubayanus’ said Diego Libkind of the Institute for Biodiversity and Environment Research in Bariloche, Argentina.”


Obituary of the Week

"David “Honeyboy” Edwards" (1915 - 2011)

“His parents, who worked as sharecroppers, gave him the nickname Honey, which later became Honeyboy. His mother played the guitar; his father, a fiddler and guitarist, performed at local social events. Mr. Edwards’s father bought him his first guitar and taught him to play traditional folk ballads. His first real exposure to the blues came in 1929, when the celebrated country bluesman Tommy Johnson came to pick cotton at Wildwood Plantation, the farm near Greenwood where the Edwards family lived at the time. ‘They’d pick cotton all through the day, and at night they’d sit around and play the guitars,’ Mr. Edwards recalled in his autobiography, The World Don’t Owe Me Nothing (Chicago Review Press, 1997). ‘Drinking that white whiskey, that moonshine, I’d just sit and look at them. I’d say, I wish I could play.’”

"David “Honeyboy” Edwards" , interviewed January 2008.


Thanks to Nancy Taft, Arthur Krim, Andy Schwartz, Archie Patterson, Steve Beeho, Mike Watt, Don Fausett, Mediabistro.

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• Joe Carducci, Chris Collins, James Fotopoulos, Mike Vann Gray, David Lightbourne
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