Photo by Nick DeWolf
Remembering or Forgetting?
There’ll be a flood. It’s still early. But there’s enough up and out already. Bret Stephens in the WSJ with his “9/11 and the Struggle for Meaning” starts with a telling reminder:
“December 7, 1951, came and went with scant ceremony. Harry Truman spent the day vacationing in Key West. Alben Barkley gave a speech in Honolulu in which he defended the war in Korea. Time magazine skipped the Pearl Harbor anniversary altogether: Its cover story that week was a lengthy profile of DeWitt and Lila Wallace. The Daily Double goes to the reader who can identify Barkley or the Wallaces without first turning to Google.”
Smart as people were then, they were even better grounded, news media included. Many of the same organs exist but they read completely differently now, and they’ve fully tamed our political leaders. The President, Senators, Congressmen, Mayors, Governors all must run to this weather incident or that memorial and be ready for the cameras. And Americans now may truly demand such pampering. Maybe it follows from universal suffrage and the middle class center of gravity of the place now.
Still one expect more from the New Yorker, but even it’s been sucked into the midcult vortex which the mag itself conveniently just revisited (see Louis Menand’s link below). Editor David Remnick’s lede this week, “When the Towers Fell,” reaches for a more obscure, far less relevant parallel from 1904 and the piece falls flat, but I like this little ouroboros-like editing snafu where-in because his final wallop to Dick Cheney involves “anti-absolutism” (Al Qaeda = Bush-Cheney-Tea Party…?) he had to go back up the paragraph to dilute his critique of Cheney’s claim they “got it right” to finding that this is merely “dubious.” Merely dubious? What’s all this huffing and puffing been about then? Here’s the section:
“The publication of Dick Cheney’s memoirs is the latest instance of Bush Administration veterans serenely insisting that they ‘got it right,’ that the explosion of popular discontent that began in Tunisia last December and spread through the region is the direct result of the American-led invasion and the occupation of Iraq. This is as dubious as it is self-serving. In fact, the Arab Spring was not inspired by the wondrous vision of post-Saddam Iraq…. Ten years after the attacks, we are still faced with questions about ourselves — questions about the balance of liberty and security, about the urge to make common cause with liberation movements abroad, and about the countervailing limits. Only absolutists answer these questions absolutely.”
Righteo! I guess Renata Adler was correct more or less (not absolutely correct, of course), when she titled her memoir of her New Yorker, Gone. George Packer follows with the mag’s major piece on 9/11, “Coming Apart - After 9/11 transfixed America, the country’s problems were left to rot”. Packer also reaches mightily to tie in the problems small town light-industry workers and American start-ups depending on Pentagon contracts have when they aren’t led by an FDR who after 9/11 would’ve instituted the draft and poured in far more troops, even into wars we shouldnta fought, apparently. Packer recounts the consensuses around the Civil War (!) and WWII (whither Korea? Vietnam? Nicaragua?) to note its absence after 9/11, which he blames on the asymmetry of the attack: “the enemy was nineteen Arab men in suits, holding commercial airline tickets.” He concedes these “presented a tremendous challenge, one that a country in better shape would have found a way to address.” Then he retreats to “definition and understanding” which apparently means Washington D.C., and this messed up country hadn’t understood what just happened after all that TV watching, radio listening, and newspaper and magazine reading. Who edits the New Yorker anyway? Oh that’s right. The New York Times I expect will do a better job, starting with a nice Damon Winter photo-essay in Sunday’s Magazine, “Where Steel Meets Sky,” which lets the iron workers up above ground zero today talk about what they are doing. That Manhattan dip into respect for blue collar and military manhood was another short-lived phenomenon after 9/11. Edward Rothstein’s complaint regarding the tone of the memorials is also good (see below).
There actually was as much consensus as there could possibly have been. Imagine how little there might have been had Al-Qaeda only targeted the Pentagon?! Instead, the news media humanized all the brokers and traders and Globalization itself as manifested by all that occurred at the World Trade Center on that given day by citizens of just about every country on the planet. That the principal devastation was visited on Manhattan is the only aspect of 9/11 that gave President Bush any leeway at all in his response. Earlier attempts would’ve altered this as well. An attempt by Algerian Islamists to fly a plane into the Eiffel Tower was stopped in 1994, and a 1995 plan to hijack and scuttle a number of planes leaving Manila was also foiled. There was a 1999 plot to bomb LAX too. Any of these might have raised just slightly more attention than the first 1993 carbombing of the World Trade Center had. As Christopher Hitchens notes below, the follow-up successful outrages in Bali, Madrid, and London confirmed that their target was not so narrow as to be harnessed as simple blowback for use in ongoing political battles against the “Jacksonian millennial capitalists” of Packer’s nightmares.
Shelby Steele in the Wall Street Journal writes in “Obama and the Burden of Exceptionalism” about the psycho-sociopolitical dead-end the left cannot help but run down into since its where they live:
“Our national exceptionalism both burdens and defames us, yet it remains our fate. We make others anxious, envious, resentful, admiring and sometimes hate-driven…. So we Americans cannot help but feel some ambivalence toward our singularity in the world — with its draining entanglements abroad, the selfless demands it makes on both our military and our taxpayers, and all the false charges of imperial hubris it incurs. Therefore it is not surprising that America developed a liberalism — a political left — that took issue with our exceptionalism. It is a left that has no more fervent mission than to recast our greatness as the product of racism, imperialism and unbridled capitalism. But this leaves the left mired in an absurdity: It seeks to trade the burdens of greatness for the relief of mediocrity.”
Steele is wrong in that others were attacked as well, both before and after 9/11, and in fact what one of my pet theories is that what’s really stoked the fire under Islamists has been the recent rise of various pagans who are not people of the book: Japanese, Koreans, Chinese, Indians. Islam has long practice excusing their predicament vis-à-vis the Jews or the Christians, but I don’t believe they can make any sense of falling behind the rest. But Steele has much of the old-new left pegged. That cognitive dissonance forces any left candidate such as Hillary or Obama, if they run or even rule, to adapt to the rolling conventional wisdom of the DC-NYC axis. They may not have sold out so much as that they never were serious about their former convictions. One doubts those most exercised at President Obama’s failure to do X and Y as he said he would, really mean it either. Its all so much social coloration, whether its grounded in Marx or Gramsci or Amy Goodman.
The most telling detail of the simultaneous attacks was that as diabolical and coordinated as they were, the final fourth plane-missile was stopped. Random Americans with their cell-phones and improvisational skills allowed Al-Qaeda less than half-hour in the cockpit before they were foiled and the attack was turned. And whatever size footprint our military was to have on their windpipes, the truly suicidal aspect of the attack on 9/11 was that the Islamists had finally fully drawn and engaged the attention of The West with all its voracious, free-thinking 24/7/365 energy onto the problems of Islam. Islam got looked over up-and-down by the likes of Paul Berman, Lee Harris, Christopher Hitchens, David Goldman, Oriana Fallaci, and specialists like Bernard Lewis, Gilles Kepel, and Bat Ye’or, found new readers. One doesn’t have to step back too far to see the scale and speed of what has gone on since. The regimes in Syria and Iran are currently living on borrowed time. When they pass, the center of gravity in the middle east will fully come loose from what has been a uniquely corrupt civic stasis.
Paul Berman in New Republic, "From September 11 To The Arab Spring: Do Ideas Matter?".
“Islamism’s demise was going to look like a flowering of liberal ideas, in some version or another. I pictured a liberal revolution, or a liberal-leaning revolution, or at least a few liberal implications turning up in metropolitan centers of the Islamist movement, or wherever the Baath or pan-Arabist dictatorships were thriving — a partial revolution, feeble maybe, but identifiably modern and liberal. Back in the 1990s, certain Iraqi émigrés were already predicting a regional uprising along those lines, though naturally their own concern was principally with Saddam Hussein. But the émigré ideas were in sync with worldwide events, and I did not see why the Arab zones and the ‘stans’ and Iran (where an anti-Islamist student movement was already visible) should remain forever immune to impulses cropping up everywhere else on the planet. Or I looked for something not-so-revolutionary — an Islamist evolution resembling the slow development of the Italian Communist Party, which was at one time the largest communist party outside of the communist bloc, with excellent prospects for inheriting Italy someday. The Italian Communist Party nonetheless chose, after a while, to renounce its own historic doctrine, and to criticize it, and to abandon its own name, and to embrace instead a spirit of liberal reform. And along with the official communists came, with a lag, Italy’s ultra-left splinter groups as well, with their desperado mentality — the violent guerrillas who looked up one day and discovered that, while they still had pistols, they no longer had a doctrine.”
Christopher Hitchens at Slate.com, "Simply Evil".
“Moreover, many of the attempts to introduce ‘complexity’ into the picture strike me as half-baked obfuscations or distractions. These range from the irredeemably paranoid and contemptible efforts to pin responsibility for the attacks onto the Bush administration or the Jews, to the sometimes wearisome but not necessarily untrue insistence that Islamic peoples have suffered oppression. (Even when formally true, the latter must simply not be used as nonsequitur special pleading for the use of random violence by self-appointed Muslims.) Underlying these and other attempts to change the subject there was, and still is, a perverse desire to say that the 9/11 atrocities were in some way deserved, or made historically more explicable, by the many crimes of past American foreign policy. Either that, or — to recall the contemporary comments of the "Reverends" Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson — a punishment from heaven for American sinfulness. (The two ways of thinking, one of them ostensibly "left" and the other "right," are in fact more or less identical.) That this was an assault upon our society, whatever its ostensible capitalist and militarist "targets," was again thought too obvious a point for a clever person to make. It became increasingly obvious, though, with every successive nihilistic attack on London, Madrid, Istanbul, Baghdad, and Bali.”
Edward Rothstein in NYT, "Amid the Memorials, Ambiguity and Ambivalence".
“Indeed, so anxious is the White House to filter out any historical aspects of Sept. 11 that it proclaims this anniversary ‘the third official National Day of Service and Remembrance.’ It should be used to encourage ‘service projects’ and a ‘spirit of unity.’ Through such demonstrations, the memos affirm, our communities can withstand ‘whatever dangers may come — be they terrorist attacks or natural disasters.’ If that is the sense the national leadership finds in that day, why should we expect much more from cultural commemorations than miscellany, euphemism, self-effacement and self-blame?
But what might such commemorations look like if approached with more clarity? Some aspects would stay very much the same: this week’s miscellany, after all, is partly a reflection of the world that has provoked our enemies. For the Sept. 11 attacks were not just inspired by Islamist extremism. There are similarities in the motivations behind diverse acts of recent terror, including those of Timothy J. McVeigh, the bomber of the federal office building in Oklahoma City, and Theodore J. Kaczynski, the Unabomber. They all involved a disgust with modernity in the West and tried, in different ways, to destroy its culture and institutions. Democratic culture might seem innocuous to us, but it assaults fundamentalisms with its variety, unpredictability, contradiction, dissipation and possibility.”
Lawrence Kaplan in New Republic, "A Curse, Nothing More".
“‘I want to see some history!’ So went Johnny Rotten’s desperate plea in 1977. But the front man for the Sex Pistols, cursed in so many ways, was not cursed with living in especially interesting times. We are. And, yes, it’s all been very adrenalizing, to the point of downright exhilaration and even mass delirium. But, for all the cheap speechifying about civic vigor and American cohesion, September 11 was a curse. Nothing more.
In the direct aftermath of September 11, policy- and opinion-makers acted in ways that responded to multiple needs unrelated to that day. They were bored by the ‘democratic malaise’ into which Christopher Lasch, writing in 1995, believed the country had descended; or deeply suspicious of the Hegelian teleology embedded in Francis Fukuyama’s The End of History; or downright scornful of the Clinton-era cliché that soft (i.e., economic) power had supplanted hard (i.e., military) power. And they wanted, like Johnny Rotten before them, to see some history.”
Lawrence Kaplan in New Republic, "Where is the ticker-tape parade?".
“Iraq veterans, apparently, merit neither bunting nor ticker tape. This is not as it should be. When the marching bands finally began playing for Vietnam veterans in the 1980s, it was said that never again would we deny a proper homecoming to American soldiers, misbegotten war or not. Love the soldier, went the never-persuasive refrain, hate the war. So why is it that nothing has been learned and nothing remembered? It is past time to celebrate Iraq’s veterans with a welcome-home parade. Taking the lessons of Vietnam to heart, Americans in 1991 feted the veterans of a 100 hour war with a full-on ticker-tape parade in lower Manhattan’s Canyon of Heroes. The ostentatious homecomings given Operation Desert Storm veterans were as much shows of self-congratulatory bravado as anything else — as if parades offered proof of a heightened sense of moral awareness — but, for the soldiers, they were well-deserved tributes. Twenty years on, their fellow soldiers (and, in many cases, children) deserve nothing less.”
Fouad Ajami in New Republic, "The Making of a Hijacker".
“He did not come from poverty; he had an allowance of $2,000 a month from his family. There had been no evidence of a deep religious attachment, no indication of some burning hatred of the United States. There is no aversion to women, no trace of the misogyny that Atta gave voice to in his last will and testament. Atta had not wanted women to pray over him, or to come to his graveside, and rend their garments, and grieve for him. In contrast, Jarrah’s final and most felt sentiments were the consoling words he had sent to his intended bride. Modernism offended Atta and was alien to the 15 young Saudis, most of whom came from the insular southwestern hinterland of that country. This Lebanese young man of 26, who boarded United Airlines Flight 93 in Newark and took it to its grim end, was at ease with the modern world. The very normalcy of his upbringing and the old hedonism giving way to a sudden need for absolution are much more unsettling than the warning signs and the zeal of a true believer.”
Abe Greenwald in Commentary, "What We Got Right in the War on Terror".
“During the most trying times of the second Iraq war, detractors who were not part of the progressive antiwar alliance expressed longing for the foreign-policy prudence and wisdom — the calculating realism — of the first President Bush. He understood, they argued, that the United States would suffer militarily if it exceeded its original mandate to push Saddam out of Kuwait and attempted to unseat him. In other words, Bush the elder knew enough to spare America the hell that Bush the son would invite by going into Iraq. But in reading Bin Laden’s declaration of war on America, it becomes clear that the first President Bush was not realist enough. It was precisely in these realist policies that Bin Laden found an expedient for jihad.”
Graham Rayman in Village Voice, "9/11: The Winners".
“‘The intersection of 9/11 and money is a busy intersection,’ says retired New York City firefighter Kenny Specht. Glenn Corbett, a professor of fire science at John Jay College, active in a range of 9/11 issues, puts it this way: ‘Lots of people have got their hand in the till. A lot of people and a lot of companies have made a lot of money off of 9/11.’ Is it sacrilege to point this out? Last August 16, irate commuters stepped to the microphone at a Port Authority hearing, and blasted a plan to jack up tolls on the bridges and nearly double the cost of a PATH train ride. The Port Authority, a bistate agency that owns the World Trade Center site, initially claimed that the increase was necessary because of maintenance needs in its capital plan. But soon, the real reason emerged: $2.2 billion in more cost overruns at the World Trade Center site. One World Trade Center is over budget by $186 million, the transit center is $200 million over budget, and other site work is $422 million over estimates from just two years ago. And those costs don't include $500 million the agency is trying to recoup from the September 11 Memorial, the MTA and the state DOT. In other words, the already gold-plated construction plan for Ground Zero has blown its budget again and the people who are least responsible for the increase, the people who actually pay their taxes and suffer the daily commute into Manhattan, have to come up with the money to pay for it. And they have no choice in the matter. (Construction unions were all for the toll hike, and appeared at the hearing to cheer for it.)”
Kat Stoeffel in NY Observer, "Ticker Taped: The 9/11 News Crawl".
"At 10:49 a.m. on Sept. 11, 21 minutes after the North Tower of the World Trade Center began to collapse, Fox News launched a news ticker—a ribbon of all-caps text along the bottom of the screen made up of headlines from scenes occurring off camera, in rural Pennsylvania and at the Pentagon, which indicated that the imagery shown was not a horrible accident. At 11:01, CNN had followed suit, and MSNBC got a crawl going by 2 p.m. that day.... This new world, in which American citizens and values are under constant threat of attack, is preferable to the old one in the cable news business. In 2001, CNN was reportedly already developing the technology for a constant news ticker. When news of the terrorist attacks struck, CNN simply rolled it out early. MSNBC briefly removed the ticker in 2002, but when no other networks followed suit, it was revived, according to the Georgetown master’s thesis of Michael Keefe-Feldman."
Drawing by James Fotopoulos
From the Desk of Joe Carducci…
Matthew Continetti in Weekly Standard, "The End of the New Deal Order".
“As Americans struggled for answers, many discerned a spiritual component to the crisis. Runaway spending and institutional decay could be seen as the symptoms of a national delusion that it is possible to get something for nothing. The government’s generous promises of pensions and health care — none of them truly paid for — bred a sense of entitlement among the citizenry. The idea that the good life could be had for free, that the government ‘owed’ people certain material goods, became widespread. Personal restraint and responsibility matter little when someone else is paying the bill. The eruption of public profligacy coincided with a gusher of consumer debt. And a government that shirked any notion of prudence, solvency, or humility was only fitting for a civil society plagued by irresponsibility, obesity, and exhibitionism.”
Mary Kissel in WSJ, "Justice’s New War Against Lenders".
“Talk about not learning from past mistakes: A government department is again intimidating banks into lending to minority borrowers at below-market rates, all in the name of combating "discrimination." Welcome to the next housing mess. The 1990s may have brought us supercharged politicized lending, but Eric Holder's Department of Justice is taking the game to an entirely new level, and then some. The weapon is a "fair lending" unit created in early 2010, led by special counsel Eric Halperin and overseen by Civil Rights Division head Thomas Perez.”
WSJ: "Bank of Political Works".
“This is the Fannie Mae model applied to public works. The new bank would be a government-sponsored enterprise, or GSE, whether or not anyone admits it. The bank would have an implicit subsidy for its debt because it is backed by the government. And the debt it issued would be ‘off-budget,’ which means it wouldn't show up in annual outlays. When she first proposed the concept in 2008, Connecticut Democrat Rosa DeLauro explicitly described the bank as a ‘public private partnership like Fannie Mae.’”
Ira Stoll at Futureofcapitalism.com, "Chu’s Solyndra Rush Job".
“This isn't an attack on Solyndra. Failure is part of capitalism, and the bankruptcy laws are there for a reason. Many of Solyndra's competitors are subsidized by governments as well. Maybe the company will yet make a success of itself. But for Secretary Chu to pat his team on the back for the speed of its due diligence and thorough investigation in approving a $535 million loan guarantee to a company that then went bankrupt is really something. Secretary Chu is a Nobel laureate in physics and even had some private sector experience at Bell Labs before going into academia. Anyway, it's easy to see some Republican presidential candidate or independent expenditure group turning this one into a television commercial for 2012. The next journalist who gets an interview with Secretary Chu might want to ask him whether, in retrospect, that ‘less than two months’ approval demonstrates anything other than ‘the power of teamwork and the speed at which the Department can operate when barriers to success are removed.’”
Steven Greenhouse in NYT, "Postal Service Is Nearing Default as Losses Mount".
“The post office’s problems stem from one hard reality: it is being squeezed on both revenue and costs. As any computer user knows, the Internet revolution has led to people and businesses sending far less conventional mail. At the same time, decades of contractual promises made to unionized workers, including no-layoff clauses, are increasing the post office’s costs. Labor represents 80 percent of the agency’s expenses, compared with 53 percent at United Parcel Service and 32 percent at FedEx, its two biggest private competitors. Postal workers also receive more generous health benefits than most other federal employees.”
Hal Weitzman in FT, "Caterpillar’s optimism eats through the gloom".
“‘There won’t be a double-dip,’ he tells the Financial Times in an interview at the company’s headquarters in Peoria, Illinois. ‘I don’t see a return to high growth, but I think we’re going to bump along.’ Caterpillar’s relative bullishness -- it is forecasting that the US economy will grow by 2.5 per cent this year -- is important, not only because of the size of the company but also because it has a good record of economic forecasting. The manufacturer was one of the first big US companies to warn in 2007 that the US was entering a serious economic downturn. Mr Oberhelman’s view comes primarily from conversations with the companies that buy Caterpillar equipment.”
Suzanne Daley & Stephen Castle in NYT, "Bloc’s New Conservatism Impedes Two European Nations".
“‘It is nice to have a machine to check if there is an illegal person in the back of a truck,’ said Karel van Kesteren, the Dutch ambassador to Bulgaria. ‘But if you can pay 500 euros to someone to look the other way, it makes no sense at all. When you give the key to your common home to someone else, you want to be sure that this person is 100 percent reliable and obeys all the rules.’ The Netherlands is one country likely to veto the entry of Bulgaria and Romania into the free-travel zone, known as the Schengen zone. But others are likely to object as well, including Finland, Germany and France, where President Nicolas Sarkozy’s re-election campaign has courted conservative voters who have been increasingly critical of the European Union’s open borders. Signs of corruption dot both the Bulgarian and Romanian countryside along the borders in the form of lavish villas belonging to border guards and customs officers. Dozens can be found here in Svilengrad, a town of about 20,000 on Bulgaria’s southern border. So notorious is the behavior of border guards and customs officers that they are the object of popular ridicule. ‘What do you give a border guard for his birthday?’ goes one joke. The answer: ‘A shift on his own.’”
K Biswas in Le Monde diplo, "UK and France: far right’s opposing fortunes".
“Griffin and Le Pen had been comrades for decades. They share experiences — physical attacks, accusations of Holocaust denial and convictions for race-hate crimes. Although the media, mainstream politicians and the majority of French and British people found their brand of aggressive nativism vulgar and dangerous, each managed to establish a solid support base and take votes from the traditional parties. Since Le Pen was replaced by his daughter Marine earlier this year, the FN has increased its poll ratings, with Le Pen Jr working hard to detoxify the party’s image. Given President Nicolas Sarkozy’s growing unpopularity, she considers herself a serious contender for France’s presidential elections next year. The changing fortunes of these far-right populists is remarkable. Is it because of differences in leadership style, the presentation of their anti-establishment credentials or shifts in political discourse around immigration and identity?”
Economist: "France’s Socialists, Among the dinosaurs".
“The oddity is that almost everywhere the European left is in decline. Among the large countries, Socialist parties rule only in Spain, where they look likely to lose November’s election. The only big place where the left has a good chance of returning to power is France, at next spring’s presidential election. Yet France’s Socialist Party also stands out as Europe’s most unreconstructed…. For a hint of French Socialist thinking, consider recent comments from some of the candidates who will contest a primary vote in October. Ségolène Royal, who lost the 2007 presidential election to Nicolas Sarkozy, argued this week that stock options and speculation on sovereign debt should be banned. Denouncing ‘anarchic globalisation’, she called for human values to be imposed on financial ones, as a means of ‘carrying on the torch of a great country, France, which gave the world revolutionary principles about the emancipation of the people.’ Ms Royal, believe it or not, is considered a moderate. To her left, Arnaud Montebourg, a younger, outwardly sensible sort, argues for ‘delocalization’. He wants to forbid banks from ‘speculating with clients’ deposits’, and to abolish ratings agencies. Financial markets want ‘to turn us into their poodle’, he lamented at a weekend fete in a bucolic village, celebrating the joys of la France profonde with copious bottles of burgundy. No one seems to have told him that there is a simple way to avoid the wrath of bond markets: balance your books and don’t borrow.”
Simon Nixon in WSJ, "Leaders in Athens and Rome Are Holding Europe to Ransom".
“But Greece has learned that whenever the crisis in Europe‘s periphery threatens to overwhelm the core, Europe will ignore previous broken promises and step up with a fresh bailout. Italy now appears to be making the same calculation. The government insists it will fulfill its commitment to balance the budget by 2013. But ministers show no appreciation of the urgent need for structural reforms…. Instead, they talk incessantly of euro-zone bonds as a solution to misfortunes they blame largely on external forces. But Italy’s dream of euro-zone bonds is likely to remain a fantasy until trust between member states is restored. This no longer depends simply on implementing austerity budgets. Structural reforms have no taken center stage because they are a test of whether the euro zone is worth saving at all: If countries refuse to improve competitiveness, then any attempted solution to the immediate sovereign-debt crisis will prove short-lived.”
Markha Valenta at Opendemocracy.net, "Breivik: killing the left".
“Yet however nuanced, it is striking how little these interpretations attend to the fact that Breivik’s most grotesque violence was not directed at Muslims or immigrants as such but at the youthful members of the Social Democrats. Had Breivik completed his plan, he would have killed the former prime minister of Norway and attacked the headquarters of the Labor Party, as well as the Norwegian royal family. First and foremost, Breivik is a man at war with his own country, deeply alienated from the culture and nation of his birth. Little wonder that once in police custody, he requested that he be evaluated by Japanese psychologists. He said he thought they would understand him better than Norwegian ones.”
Ben Birnbaum in New Republic, "Generation Why: South Korean youth question unification".
“But, since the ’70s, South Korea has transformed itself from a poor autocracy into a first-world democracy that exports cars, electronics, and ‘Korean Wave’ culture around the globe. Over the same period, North Korea has become more repressive, more impoverished, and more insular. Today, the average South Korean is about three inches taller than his Northern peer and speaks a very different form of Korean, expanded by contact with the wider world. While many parents and grandparents in South Korea still have brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles, north of the thirty-eighth parallel, for many in their twenties and thirties, North Korea is simply another foreign country.”
FT: "China and the world - A chilly reception".
“In a recent report for the European Council on Foreign Relations, Francois Godement and Jonas Parello-Plesner voiced some of the concerns being raised in European capitals and in many other parts of the world. ‘Crisis-hit Europe’s need for short-term cash is allowing Chinese companies not just to strike cut-price deals but also to play off member states against each other and against their own collective interests -- replicating a strategy China has already used in the developing world,’ the authors said. They also voiced concerns about reciprocity that are widely held in countries with companies trying to crack the Chinese market. ‘The problem presented by Chinese direct investment in Europe becomes even clearer when one considers Europe’s limited access to similar opportunities in China,’ they wrote.”
Keith Bradsher in NYT, "China Aims to Rein In Car Sales".
“The officials’ remarks strongly suggested that the Chinese auto industry’s lobbying for the reinstatement of the incentives would fail and that restrictions on registering new cars would be extended to more cities. Any slowdown in growth is likely to shock the world’s automakers. Practically every American, European, Japanese and South Korean automaker is expanding in China, including General Motors, Ford Motor, Nissan Motor and PSA Peugeot Citroën. Chinese automakers are building assembly plants even faster. Years of double-digit expansion have increased Chinese auto production to almost 17 million cars, minivans, pickup trucks and sport utility vehicles last year, from fewer than two million in 2000, making it almost twice the size of the United States or Japanese industries and far larger than any European country’s auto manufacturing sector.”
Peter Wonacott in WSJ, "In Africa, U.S. Watches China’s Rise".
“Washington has taken notice. Some U.S. officials say the number of governments in Africa finding favor with China's path of development gives Chinese firms an edge over U.S. competitors and reflects Beijing's strategic ambitions for the continent. ‘It's quite clear that the model of state-led capitalism is being used as an instrument of China's soft power,’ said Robert D. Hormats, the U.S. State Department's Under Secretary for Economic Affairs. ‘It's part of a broad notion that China's economic model is successful and can be used elsewhere.’”
Anil Gupta & Haiyan Wang in WSJ, "How Beijing Is Stifling Chinese Innovation".
“China today hosts about 1,000 foreign-owned R&D labs. Yet, with rare exceptions, these labs focus primarily on local adaptations of innovations developed elsewhere, rather than the development of leading-edge technologies and products for global markets.
Tech company executives are eager to leverage the quality and scale of China's talent pool. However, given the indigenous innovation measures, they do not trust China as a secure location for leading-edge R&D. A comparison with India is illustrative. India has no equivalent to indigenous innovation rules. The government also is content to allow companies to set up R&D facilities without any rules about sharing technology with local partners or the like. These policy differences appear to have a significant influence on corporate behavior. Consider the top 10 U.S.-based technology giants that received the most patents from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office between 2006 and 2010: IBM, Microsoft, Intel, Hewlett-Packard, Micron, GE, Cisco, Texas Instruments, Broadcom and Honeywell. Half of these companies appear not to be doing any significant R&D work in China. Between 2006 and 2010, the U.S. Patent Office did not award a single patent to any China-based units of five out of the 10 companies. In contrast, only one of the 10 did not receive a patent for an innovation developed in India.”
Economist: "Bashing Baidu".
“So what might the criticism signify? Is CCTV attacking Baidu for political reasons, or commercial ones? CCTV has a search engine, too, which hardly anyone uses. So do two other big government-run media outfits — the People’s Daily newspaper and the Xinhua news agency. CCTV, though state-run, is not just a propaganda outfit. It is also expected to make money through advertising (and it does). It must be tempting to nobble a rival. That no other state-run media outlets carried stories on Baidu suggests this is not a government-orchestrated campaign against the company or the internet more generally. However, the Communist Party is wary of the influence of private internet companies, and no doubt keen to see that Baidu doesn’t get too big for its boots. The party was slow to grasp how big the internet was going to be in China, and it missed its chance to own the digital commanding heights. So it tries to control them indirectly. On August 23rd, for example, Beijing’s Communist Party chief paid a friendly visit to the offices of China’s biggest microblogging site, Sina Corp’s Weibo, and suggested that it ‘absolutely put an end to fake and misleading information’. Sina Corp, a private firm, deletes postings that annoy the party within hours. Not quick enough, said the party chief.”
Brahma Chellaney in FT, "Water is the new weapon in Beijing’s armory".
“At the hub of Asia, China is the source of cross-border river flows to the largest number of countries in the world -- from Russia to India, Kazakhstan to the Indochina peninsula. This results from its absorption of the ethnic minority homelands that make up 60 per cent of its land mass and are the origin of all the important international rivers flowing out of Chinese territory. Getting this pre-eminent riparian power to accept water-sharing arrangements or other co-operative institutional mechanisms has proved unsuccessful so far in any basin. Instead, the construction of upstream dams on international rivers such as the Mekong, Brahmaputra or Amur shows China is increasingly bent on unilateral actions, impervious to the concerns of downstream nations.”
Ben Bland & Girija Shivakumar in FT, "Beijing flexes muscles with South China Sea challenge to Indian ship".
“This latest example of China’s naval assertiveness has irked defence officals in India and Vietnam. China claims the South China Sea in its entirety, rejecting partial claims by Vietnam, Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines and Taiwan over the resource-rich region. ‘Any navy in the world has full freedom to transit through these waters or high seas,’ said one Indian official familiar with the encounter.”
Vikas Bajaj in NYT, "India Measures Itself Against a China That Doesn’t Notice".
“Indians, in fact, seem to talk endlessly about all things China, a neighbor with whom they have long had a prickly relationship, but which is also one of the few other economies that has had 8 percent or more annual growth in recent years. Indian newspapers are filled with articles comparing the two countries. Indian executives refer to China as a template for development. Government officials cite Beijing, variously as a threat, partner or role model. But if keeping up with the Wangs is India’s economic motive force, the rivalry seems to be largely one-sided. ‘Indians are obsessed with China, but the Chinese are paying too little attention to India,’ said Minxin Pei, an economist who was born in China and who writes a monthly column for The Indian Express, a national daily newspaper. (No Indian economists are known to have a regular column in mainland Chinese publications.)”
Rahul Jacob in FT, "India: Asian powerhouse or failing state?".
“Fast forward and everything would seem to have changed. The growth rate has risen sharply over the past two decades to about 8 per cent and a vast Indian middle class has enticed billions of dollars in foreign investment from western multinationals seeking new consumers. Yet the unfinished economic reforms begun in 1991 have a poor report card in areas where the government must take the lead. The majority of the population still lacks access to a toilet, the average time children spend in school is about four years, and about half of those under the age of five are severely malnourished -- a record worse than that of many countries in sub-Saharan Africa.”
Patrick Knapp at Meforum.org on Michael Young’s book, The Ghosts of Martyrs Square.
“The good news, Young argues, is that at least part of the puzzle of Lebanon is a form of liberalism at its core. Whereas the region's autocrats are easy to read, Lebanon thrashes around with a ‘paradoxical’ liberalism, in which ‘illiberal institutions tend to cancel each other out in the shadow of a sectarian system that makes the religious communities and sects more powerful than the state [which is] … the main barrier to personal freedom in the Middle East.’ Lebanese politics may be the haunt of swindlers and stomach churning deals with the devil, but there is an invisible hand at work here, one that works against the totalitarian machinations of all confessions jockeying for power. But in this book about Lebanon, the bad news overpowers the good news. Lebanon is a small state in a shady neighborhood where whatever invisible hand may exist is no match for the foreign hand. Young describes a dazed Lebanon in the fresh ruins of ‘Pax Syriana’ where Syrian president Bashar al-Assad can shamelessly threaten to ‘break Lebanon’ to the U.N. secretary general.”
Farnaz Fassihi in WSJ, "Iran’s Wet Blankets Put a Damper on Water-Park Fun".
“Although the water wars and the government response have a comically absurd quality, the recent tension shows how fearful the regime is of its young. Iran is one of the world's youngest countries, with 65 percent of its 75 million people under the age of 30. The Islamic Republic imposes strict social codes that call for segregation of sexes in school and some public spaces and demands a conservative demeanor from citizens. Authorities are particularly sensitive to events organized through social-networking sites in light of the pro-democracy Arab Spring uprisings where youth mobilized through Facebook and toppled governments. Fars News Agency, affiliated with Iran's Revolutionary Guards, blamed Zionists and Americans for corrupting the minds of the youth and coaxing them into water parks. Pictures of the young women, their tight coats and colorful scarves drenched, squirting water at young men in wet, tight T-shirts surfaced on websites and newspapers, creating an uproar that reached the parliament.”
Roger Scruton in Prospect, "From Christ to Coke".
“‘It is true that a work of art can also show us “how things really were’ — Leonardo portrays the actual face of Lisa Gherardini: this is the woman, as she looked. But that is not why we look at her portrait. For all we know or care, there was no such person. The significance of Leonardo’s portrait is not specific but general. Lisa appears in the picture as the ideal of herself. She is both present and absent; her enigmatic smile is not a specific smile from her to us. It conveys the highest gentleness to which a human being can attain — a gentleness almost divine. Mona Lisa looks into the heart of the viewer in something like the way Christos Pantokrator looks into the soul of the one who worships him. This image fascinates us because it steps out of our world, unlike the Coke bottle, which insistently belongs within it.”
Louis Menand in NYer, "Dwight Macdonald vs. middlebrow".
“In 1953, Macdonald published a revised and expanded version of his Politics essay on popular culture, renamed ‘A Theory of Mass Culture,’ in Diogenes, a journal funded by the Ford Foundation. Macdonald now cited, along with Greenberg, critical work on mass culture by writers associated with the Frankfurt School, including Max Horkheimer, Leo Lowenthal, and Theodor Adorno, whose analysis of standardization in popular music Macdonald called ‘brilliant.’ For the Frankfurters, too, had made a marriage between anti-capitalist politics and modernist aesthetics. ‘Folk Art was the people’s own institution, their private little garden,’ Macdonald argued in the new essay. ‘But Mass Culture breaks down the wall, integrating the masses into a debased form of High Culture and thus becoming an instrument of political domination.’ The most insidious development in this process was what he called l’avant-garde pompier, phony avant-gardism. As he put it, ‘There is nothing more vulgar than sophisticated kitsch.’ Macdonald eventually categorized this pseudo avant-gardism as the culture of middlebrow aspiration -- Midcult. Real kitsch, he decided, could be left to the masses. The true enemy was bourgeois high-mindedness in literature, music, theatre, art, and criticism, and, over the next ten years, he turned much of his critical might to the job of identifying this culture, exposing its calculated banalities, and, often with genuine success, persuading readers of its meretriciousness.”
Carl Elliott in WSJ on Benjamin Ginsberg’s book, The Fall of the Faculty.
“In his lacerating The Fall of the Faculty, Mr. Ginsberg argues that universities have degenerated into poorly managed pseudo-corporations controlled by bureaucrats so far removed from research and teaching that they have barely any idea what these activities involve. He attacks virtually everyone — from overpaid presidents and provosts down through development officers, communications specialists and human-resource staffers — but he reserves his most bitter scorn for the midlevel ‘associate deans’ and ‘assistant deans’ who often have the most direct control over the faculty. Mr. Ginsberg refers to them as ‘deanlets,’ but at my institution they are often called ‘ass. deans.’ From 1975 to 2005, the costs of attending an American university tripled. During that period, faculty-to-student ratios stayed relatively constant, but administrator-to-student ratios ballooned. The number of administrators increased by 85%, and the number of staffers rose by 240%. Administrative salaries shot up as well. Today, 81 university presidents are paid more than half a million dollars a year, and 12 earn more than a million.”
Economist: "The daughter also rises".
“Young, middle-class women are overtaking their male peers when it comes to education. In the United Arab Emirates 65% of university graduates are female. In Brazil and China the figures are 60% and 47% respectively. In Russia 57% of college-age women are enrolled in tertiary education; only 43% of men are. Business schools, those hothouses of capitalism, are feminising fast. Some 33% of students at the China Europe International Business School in Shanghai and 26% at the Indian School of Business are female, a figure comparable with those of Western schools such as the Harvard Business School and INSEAD.”
Bryan Burrough in Vanity Fair, "What Happened to Conrad Black in Prison?".
“Black opens up to Burrough about every aspect of his experience in jail at Coleman Federal Correction Complex where he served for over two years and where he is likely to return this fall. ‘I’m not embarrassed in the least bit I was in prison — not the slightest,’ he says. ‘There’s nothing to be embarrassed about. You can’t talk to Martha Stewart about it, or Alfred Taubman. They didn’t see it as I did, as a nightmarish change in careers. I see it as a temporary vocation.’ ‘I quickly developed alliances with the Mafia people,’ Black says, ‘then the Cubans. I was friendly with the good ol’ boys and the African-Americans. They all understood I had fought the system, and I do believe I earned their respect for that. Everyone got along,’ he says, ‘except with the child-molesters. There was the occasional scuffle there, I heard.’ He recalls the welcome he received from a senior member of the Genovese crime family: ‘No one will bother you here. If you catch a cold, we will find out who you got it from. You know, we have much in common .… We are industrialists.’”
Keith Morris interview at TheQuietus.com.
“Please tell me about the time when you first met Steven (McDonald). As far as I know he was only eleven years old then and had already started Redd Kross, right?
KM: Well, he wasn't playing in Redd Kross then, he was playing in a band called The Tourists. Part of our lineage is that The Tourists had a guitar player who later became the guitar player in the Circle Jerks and who's now the guitar player in Bad Religion. So Steven and his older brother Jeffrey came to a Black Flag rehearsal and they loved us. They looked up to us as if we were their older brothers. We had no problem with that, it was all really cool because we were all from the south bay which is about a 20 mile piece of land in southern California, part of L.A. county. So they came to us, they were in awe, we got to rehearsing and Chuck Dukowski and Greg Ginn took it upon themselves to hand the brothers their guitar and bass and we said – 'show us what you can do, play for us, let's hear ya.' At the end of the night we told them 'and you've also got to change the name of your band from The Tourists, you got to come up with another name.' So that's when Redd Kross were born.”
Fred Mills at Blurt-online.com, "Welcome to Hollyweird - The Weirdos".
“‘You know, we pretty much kicked off the local punk scene in L.A.,’ says Roman now. ‘The scene actually evolved around the early Weirdos shows. For us, it was great and we were much admired and respected. We were the only local band in 1977 that could draw a sizable crowd. We wrote our own material, designed our look, and created our own posters and art; we were a little bit wary of the punk label and wanted to differentiate ourselves from other bands in the scene back then. But we met many talented, creative people, doing a lot of shows with the Zeros, Dils, Nerves and Germs. We played the Masque, Starwood and the Whisky. Later we did shows with the Plugz and the Screamers. Devo opened for us when they first came to L.A. and we played the Hollywood Palladium with Blondie. It was an exciting time.’”
Obituaries of the Week
• Vann Nath (1946 - 2011)
“Shackled and tortured along with other prisoners when he was arrested at the end of 1977, Mr. Vann Nath was spared by his jailers to paint portraits of the Khmer Rouge leader, Pol Pot. His more recent paintings of scenes of torture now hang on the walls of Tuol Sleng, now a museum. Just 14 prisoners are known to have survived Tuol Sleng, where at least 14,000 people were sent to their deaths, according to the Documentation Center of Cambodia, a repository of Khmer Rouge records. Altogether 1.7 million people died during the Khmer Rouge rule, from 1975 to 1979. Mr. Vann Nath’s 1998 memoir, ‘A Cambodian Prison Portrait: One Year in the Khmer Rouge’s S-21 Prison,’ is the most vivid written account by a survivor.”
• Wade Belak (1976 - 2011)
“A police source confirmed Thursday that Belak’s death was being treated as a suicide.
The 35-year-old native of Saskatoon, Sask., is the third NHL tough guy to die since the spring. Winnipeg Jets forward Rick Rypien, who suffered from depression, was found dead earlier this month. In May, New York Rangers forward Derek Boogaard’s death was ruled an accidental overdose of an alcohol and oxycodone mixture. ‘What? ... What’s with all the tough guys dying or having problems?’ said retired enforcer Georges Laraque when reached by the Star. ‘Am I next on the list? That’s unbelievable.’ Belak leaves behind wife Jennifer and children Andie and Alex, who were born during his time in Toronto. ‘Sad day for the entire hockey fraternity! We really need to take a deep look into the WHY?’ tweeted ex-Leaf Jamal Mayers. Former minor pro hockey player Troy Kahler said he saw Belak drinking on Tuesday night at the Underground Garage at King and Spadina with some friends, including fellow Battle of the Blades contestant Todd Simpson. Kahler said he got his picture taken with Belak on his BlackBerry when they were leaving the bar around 2 a.m.”
Thanks to Steve Beeho, Jay Babcock.
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