a new low in topical enlightenment

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Issue #116 (September 21, 2011)

Sunset, Centennial Ridge, Wyoming

Photo by Joe Carducci

Bruce Kalberg - No & Yes
by Joe Carducci

Most of what I know about Bruce I take from Sub-Hollywood, a novel by Bruce Caen about a character called Ronnie Kale that Kalberg wrote and published in 2005. It’s a handsome production with a cover by Gary Panter and a frontispiece by Raymond Pettibon. On the back cover Bruce writes: “This is an autobiographical novel written by a person who is quite possibly less intelligent than yourself.” But since the plot involves Ronnie Kale’s tripping through the L.A. underworld during the punk era and publishing intermittent issues of a magazine as if they were acts of benevolent vandalism, it can’t all have happened inside Bruce’s own life or he wouldn’t have been alive to write it all down. But then it barely did make it to paper. Bruce died Saturday of leukemia. Between publishing the book and dying, he killed somebody. It was ruled self-defense but the victim was known in the L.A. music world and some hate came Bruce’s way. I mention it because it changed what was to be Bruce’s next novel; what he called his post-traumatic-stress-disorder over the killing had simply taken over his waking reverie. And he probably wasn’t sleeping too well either.

I happened to get back in touch with him when I ordered a copy of Sub-Hollywood after reading a short notice about it in the L.A. Weekly. I had recently been shocked to learn that our photographer at SST, Naomi Petersen, had died quietly two years before and this triggered a book about my own L.A. years and I was looking to read as much of others’ material as I could find. I got my copy in the mail and saw that Bruce was doing his own business so after I read it I wrote him an email with some suggestions for where it might be well received outside Los Angeles. Bruce only then clicked to who I was or had been and was very embarrassed for having charged me for the book. He sent me a second copy personalized and finger-printed and I was able to send the first copy on to a friend who wrote a nice review in the Boston Phoenix. Celebrating his arrival as a novelist, Bruce bought a Harley and noting my Wyoming address made that his destination to air it out, so in no time he was here in Centennial.


Bruce understood that if you have to self-publish you may as well take advantage of the freedom and produce something that no advance-taking hireling would dare contemplate, and trick it out with primo absurdist detailing. Bruce did that with his novel which he published on Yes Press, and he certainly did that in No Mag which was produced intermittently from 1978 to 1984 or so in Los Angeles. Bruce described the beginning of No Mag in an interview by Rick Klotz in June 2010:

“Fresh Jive: When did you start NOMAG?

Bruce Kalberg: I started working on it in 77 and the first one came out in 78. It just sort of grabbed me by the seat of the pants. There was Slash and Search and Destroy, and they were fascinating to me. You didn’t know where they were coming from or how they were being published or even how they were arriving in your house. But they’re showing up and they were not like any other medium. They were liberated and free as far as their expression. My friend Mike Gira from the Swans and I started NOMAG together. We argued for several days about the name. We had to get a real nihilistic name. The idea behind NOMAG was to invert all the clichés one might expect when reading a magazine. So sex was portrayed without eroticism, everything was inverted, the humor was black humor. So when we did stories about cannibalism we illustrated them photographically at a dinner party. We had people dressed up in formal wear, like tuxedos and we served them beef stroganoff. But the lead up to that was my friend Berry dressed up in medical gear and stood in front of Cedar Sinai emergency entrance and gave it a veracity. The story was that Berry cut a couple pounds of meat off a cadaver then we had a party. It was kind of a private joke where they made beef stroganoff, but it was really human meat. Everybody had a great time at the party and then they all washed the dishes. So after that story people thought we were cannibals. They actually believed it. I went up to Tower records on Sunset when it was a big store and they told me they couldn’t have me in there anymore, you’re eating people. You’re cannibals. And the sales guy was sweating! The guy that managed the magazine section. Then 18 months later I get a call from Pulse Magazine (Tower Records in store magazine at the time) then they wanted to review me. I guess they got the joke after a while.” (Freshjive.com)

I think Vale had Bruce send me a sample copies of the first two issues when I was at Systematic in Berkeley; I remember writing a letter giving him some unsolicited advice with my order. Issue #2 was the grossest mix of band features (Bags, DOA, Germs) with autopsy and medical photographs; it made you wonder about his advertisers!

When the Slash magazine people took in a new partner the dude decided to turn off the magazine and concentrate on the record label which at that point had released 45s by the Plugz and the Germs, and the Germs (GI) album which came out in 1979. The most important record label in Los Angeles and hence the world at that point was Dangerhouse, but Slash was the most important publication extant by an even wider margin. It’s end made Bruce’s No Mag, born at Otis Art Institute, even more directly a music magazine. It maintained its art sensibility but no more dissection close-ups, and whereas in other towns art mags were often closed down to punk rock in favor of disco, or goth, or industrial or new romantic, et. al., No Mag stayed interested in new bands, young bands, Hollywood or suburban, didn’t matter. Mike Watt writes, “Very sad news. I liked Bruce. Frank [Gargani] did take that shot that Bruce ran in No Mag way back - it was our first ‘press’ photo, right in front of the Improved Order of Red Men building in Pedro. At first we didn't wanna take pictures or do spiels cuz we thought it was mersh but thought it was more mersh not to do them (don't ask me to explain that train of logic, please) so when we got the call to do this, we relented.” There was plenty of tension between the Hollywood scene and the new bands from the south bay and Orange county, but at Slash the principle writers, Claude Bessy, Chris D., and Jeffrey Lee Pierce, were very interested in the bands and their records and shows and Bruce was of a similar mindset. Even the late Brendan Mullen, who never hesitated to argue out the old south bay vs. Hollywood issues, was extremely interested in learning about anything he’d missed out on as owner-booker at the Masque and Club Lingerie, and his books are unexpectedly generous given how strongly he felt about those old things. (It was strange to see the worst of old Hollywood’s anti-suburban bias replicated over in England in Jon Savage’s California punk compilation, though its very title is lifted from the Adolescents epic teen hardcore masterpiece, “Kids of the Black Hole.”)

Kalberg really knew what the point of living as an artist is in Los Angeles. It’s not the same as living as an artist in New York or Paris, though movie money allows a few such foreign fantasies to be lived out by the lucky in the hills or on the coast. But it’s the strangely deceptive L.A. street, the air of the place that makes one worry about friends who’ve stayed there.


Bruce was a bit zoned when he got to Laramie on his Harley. He’d bought too big a bike, he said, and the long drives were a strain. If I remember he rode up through the bay area where he was from, and then had come out to Wyoming. I met him at a motel in West Laramie and we went over to Lightbourne’s. They understood each other right away as they were both music obsessives with distinct criminal pasts. Dave happened to have friends over practicing and since they were acoustic players we were able to talk while they played in the other half of Dave’s big split level apt. Later Bruce followed me out to Centennial on his bike. I showed him the No Mags I had and he said he no longer had the first issue, but there were some I was missing. Those he got me. We went back into Laramie to watch Dave play the Buckhorn. Bruce got together with Dave and shot a portrait of Lightbourne which last year, after Dave died, was part of a New York show of Bruce’s photography. I hope to use that shot in a book of Lightbourne’s writing I’ll get together in a couple years.

Last year Bruce and his longtime friend Ewa (she novelized well) organized a conference of small publishers at USC where she teaches so I got to see him there again. I don’t imagine Bruce would’ve been invited to that had Ewa not been involved. And yet he was the rarest of bohemes, the funniest and the one you were glad the younger folks attending got to glean from. With No Mag Bruce showed up the cliché that the press is free only to those who own one; I think the issues of the magazine as they rolled out in the early eighties were so well put together they belied Bruce’s actual living situations. Again, its hard to be sure. Reading about his pad on the boulevard at Las Palmas in the mid-seventies I suspect I must have walked past him often in 1976-77 as I walked that daily or nightly going to work at the Vogue theater. He too noticed the strangeness of tourist groups dropping by Hollywood back then. Sub-Hollywood is very good on those unique properties of Los Angeles. Its also full of people I suspect I know or knew. Sometimes its easy to tell; other times you’re just suspicious. One page in the novel is made up of L.A. band names; another features nothing but Black Flag song titles. Bruce Caen (Kalberg) writes:

“This small independent group of musicians and artists was what kept me interested and once the whole scene went upscale to the big time I knew that I wasn’t going to make the leap. Times would eventually change and when they did I would have to go do something else. Darby Crash, the Germs singer said to me one day as we were talking on the sidewalk on Hollywood Boulevard, downstairs from my office in front of the pizza parlor, that the only way that punk could keep its essence and continue to make a vital statement was to keep changing and negating itself before the greedy fat cats could package it up into another media product. He was thinking dialectically and I thought that with guys like him up front the whole movement was in pretty good shape. Darby moved like a wild leopard onstage stalking wild-eyed shirtless back and forth before his audience. He soon killed himself.” (Sub-Hollywood)

Elsewhere in the novel Ronnie Kale has found his beautiful teenage girlfriend Clarissa dead (someone I think I may know who did not die):

“I wanted to cry. I tried to cry. I couldn’t cry. I can’t cry. Maybe I’m shallow or numb. Maybe I don’t feel the human emotions in the correct sequence. Kindness, sadness, grief, remorse, anguish, happiness, love, anger, all come out screwy at the wrong time. With me bad experience gets internalized and digested slowly through the tissues, deep into the knotted back muscles and neck.”

Ewa wrote on Saturday, “Just to let you all know that Bruce passed away this morning at 1:30 am. He fought a tough battle in the hospital for the last month, was improving and then took a bad turn.”

Bruce wrote very funny poetic emails and I’m glad I kept them. He didn’t let on how sick he suddenly was.


Page through this early 1982 issue of No Mag, which features artwork by Bruce Kalberg as well as Raymond Pettibon, Fred Tomaselli, and Chuck Dukowski’s History of LA Punk; it also features the full page ad for the Damaged album that I repro’ed in R&TPN.

(No Mag images by Mike Safran; Minutemen photo for No Mag by Frank Gargani; Su Tissue photo by Bruce Kalberg)

Drawing by James Fotopoulos

From the Desk of Joe Carducci…

Steve Sailer at Vdare.com, "How Smart Is Obama, Anyway?".

“Yet, considering his weak college grades, my guess is that Obama did quite well on the Law School Admissions Test compared to the black average. He apparently only applied to Harvard, Yale, and Stanford, which suggests he knew he was a sure thing and didn’t need any safety schools. A relatively strong LSAT performance might also explain Obama’s otherwise seemingly inexplicable self-confidence at Harvard. One classmate was Jacqueline Fuchs, bass guitar player in the 1970s girl group The Runaways with Joan Jett. Jett subsequently turned herself from a fifth wheel in The Runaways into an arena rock star in the 1980s through force of will. Fuchs marveled in 2008:

‘.. Barack Obama reminds me of Joan Jett. … When I met Barack Obama, in our first year of law school, he had already put on his big-time politician act. He just didn't quite have it polished, and he hadn't figured out that he needed charm and humor to round out the confidence and intelligence. One of our classmates once famously noted that you could judge just how pretentious someone's remarks in class were by how high they ranked on the ‘Obamanometer,’ a term that lasted far longer than our time at law school. Obama didn't just share in class — he pontificated. … In law school the only thing I would have voted for Obama to do would have been to shut up.’

More naïve white people at Harvard Law with no experience with wanna-be stars were blown away by Obama’s act. He was the One they’d been waiting for.”


John Kass in CT, "Obama’s Solyndra scandal reeks of the Chicago Way".

“The FBI is investigating what happened with Solyndra, a solar panel company that got a $535 million government-backed loan with the help of the Obama White House over the objections of federal budget analysts. Obama and Vice President Joe Biden got a nice photo op. They got to make speeches about being ‘green.’ But then Solyndra went bankrupt. Americans lost jobs. Taxpayers got stuck with the bill. And members of Congress are now in high dudgeon and making speeches. Federal investigators want to know what role political fundraising played in the guarantee of the questionable loan. Washington bureaucrats warned the deal was lousy. And White House spokesmen flail desperately, like weakened victims in a cheesy vampire movie. So forget optics. What about smell? It smells bad, and it's going to smell worse. Or, did you really believe it when the White House mouthpieces — who are also Chicago City Hall mouthpieces — promised they were bringing a new kind of politics to Washington? This is not a new kind of politics. It's the old kind. The Chicago kind.”


Daniel Yergin in WSJ, "There Will Be Oil".

“This is actually the fifth time in modern history that we've seen widespread fear that the world was running out of oil. The first was in the 1880s, when production was concentrated in Pennsylvania and it was said that no oil would be found west of the Mississippi. Then oil was found in Texas and Oklahoma. Similar fears emerged after the two world wars. And in the 1970s, it was said that the world was going to fall off the ‘oil mountain.’ But since 1978, world oil output has increased by 30%. Just in the years 2007 to 2009, for every barrel of oil produced in the world, 1.6 barrels of new reserves were added…. Yet the fear of peak oil maintains its powerful grip. The idea owes its inspiration, and indeed its articulation, to a geologist who, though long since passed from the scene, continues to shape the debate, M. King Hubbert. Indeed, his name is inextricably linked to that perspective — immortalized in ‘Hubbert's Peak.’ Marion King Hubbert was one of the most eminent — and controversial — earth scientists of his time. Born on a ranch in San Saba, Texas in 1903, he did his university education, including his Ph.D., at the University of Chicago. One of his fundamental objectives was to move geology from what he called its ‘natural history phase’ into its ‘physical science phase,’ firmly based in physics, chemistry and, in particular, rigorous mathematics. In the 1930s, while teaching at Columbia University, Hubbert became active in a movement called Technocracy and served as its educational director. Holding politicians and economists responsible for the debacle of the Great Depression, Technocracy promoted the idea that democracy was a sham and that scientists and engineers should take over the reins of government and impose rationality on the economy.”


Leif Babin in WSJ, "We’ve Won in Iraq, So Let’s Leave".

“I deployed three times to Iraq between 2004 and 2010, and my question is this: Why leave any troops in Iraq? Make no mistake, for those of us who have fought and bled and lost close friends and brothers there, we want more than anything to know that the sacrifices were worth it. But what does winning mean? What does completing our mission entail? Never have I seen this clearly articulated or defined. The vision of Iraq as a flowering democracy free of violent extremist attacks and wielding advanced military capability in close alliance with the U.S. was always a utopian fantasy. That is not to say the U.S. hasn't succeeded in Iraq. On the contrary, we've won. As good soldiers will do, the troops on the ground defined the mission for themselves. Like many other units, the Special Operations Task Force, for which I served as operations officer, defined success as lowering the level of violence to a point where Iraqi Security Forces can unilaterally maintain a relative, sustainable peace. ‘Unilateral’ meaning the Iraqis can do it themselves, without U.S. assistance. "Relative" meaning that violence is substantially reduced from its peak but is still present. ‘Sustainable’ meaning the stability of the Iraqi government is not threatened despite this modicum of violence.”


Thom Shanker in NYT, "Turkey Joins NATO Missile Defense Shield".

“‘This is probably the biggest strategic decision between the United States and Turkey in the past 15 or 20 years,’ one senior administration official said Thursday at a White House briefing meant to call attention to the developments. Turkish officials were careful in their comments to avoid identifying Iran as the specific threat motivating their decision to join NATO’s American-designed missile shield. But Turkey is worried by Iran’s evolving missile capabilities and by signs that Tehran has secretly supported the bloody crackdown on protesters in Syria. (Iran crushed its own pro-democracy demonstrations in 2009.) There were hurdles to the deal. The Turkish news media published objections to the sharing of information gathered by the American radar with Israel.”


FT: "Australia tightens US military ties".

“Leon Panetta and Hillary Clinton, the American secretaries of defence and state respectively, will on Thursday hold talks with Stephen Smith and Kevin Rudd, their Australian counterparts. Mr Smith this month described the agreements being negotiated as the ‘single biggest change or advancement’ of the Australian-US alliance in 30 years. Although they are likely to cement months of work on allowing greater American access to Australian military bases, the official announcement is likely to be made in November, when President Barack Obama makes a long-awaited visit to Australia. Analysts said the progress was significant. ‘What we are seeing is the beginning of the hard evidence that the US security fulcrum is moving from the Middle East to Asia,’ said Ernest Bower, of the Center for Strategic and International Studies. The two governments have been working for years on the agreements that would give the US military access to a naval base at Stirling in Western Australia, an army base near Townsville in the north, and a port in Darwin. The countries are also discussing greater US access to Australian training and test ranges and pre-positioning of US equipment on Australian soil. This comes as part of a broader rejig of US military operations worldwide.”


Andrew Rettman at EUobserver.com, "Polish FM in Wikileaks: Germany is Russia’s Trojan horse".

“According to a US cable recently published by Wikileaks, Sikorski, in a conversation with the then US under secretary for global affairs Paula Dobriansky in Warsaw on 23 April 2008 ‘Wryly commented that many accused Poland of being the US Trojan horse in the EU when it joined in 2004, but there is another Trojan horse in Nato’. The cable went on: ‘Asked what the US strategy should be towards Germany and Russia, Sikorski responded that Germany appears to have a deal with Russia. 'They'll play with Russia and in return German companies will get hundreds of billions of euros of business there, a pretty good deal'.’ Sikorski made the comment after Germany opposed giving Georgia and Ukraine a Membership Action Plan (MAP) at a Nato summit in Bucharest.”


Ethan Bronner in NYT, "Israel and Turkey, Foes and Much Alike".

“The founder of modern Turkey, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, and the founding prime minister of Israel, David Ben-Gurion, had much in common. This was not an accident. Ben-Gurion, who studied law in Istanbul, modeled himself on Ataturk, seeking to build an instantly modern society of like-minded and “ideal” citizens with few deviations in language or culture. Both saw religion as a deviation and ethnicity as a problem. Like the Kurds of Eastern Turkey, the Moroccan and Yemeni Jews on the Israeli periphery faced an official — if less brutal — disregard. Sidelining religion and ill treating minorities can be hard to sustain in a democracy, however. The founders’ heirs were dislodged by electoral revolutions — in Israel in 1977 and in Turkey in 2002. Today a religious nationalism plays a central and growing role both in Israel, dominated by the Likud Party of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and in the Turkey of the Justice and Development Party of Mr. Erdogan. The secular elites who set the cultural and political agenda for decades have lost much of their influence.”


Arvind Subramanian in FT, "Coming soon: when the renminbi rules the world".

“In other words, loyalty to the dollar and China’s lack of the policy prerequisites seem to make the renminbi’s rise a distant possibility. How wrong that is. First, the usual historical analogy is misleading. Great Britain ceded its economic dominance much later, and sterling its dominance much earlier, than is believed. Economic dominance, in the sense of the factors that determine reserve currency status, is affected not just by the size of an economy but by its trade and external financial strength. On this metric, the US overtook the UK not in the 1870s but only around the first world war; in fact, the UK was the world’s largest exporter and net financier until the 1920s. Second, China has all but caught up with the US as an economic power. Its economy is about as large, in purchasing power, while its exports and overseas assets are much larger. If one were to draw the correct historical analogy, the potential eclipse of the collar is just a decade away.”


Bret Stephens in WSJ, "What Comes After ‘Europe’?".

“The hardest fact on which postwar Europe was founded was military necessity, crisply summed up by Lord Ismay's famous line that NATO's mission was ‘to keep the Russians out, the Americans in, and the Germans down.’ The next hard fact was hard money, the gift of Ludwig Erhard, author of the economic reforms that created the Deutsche mark, abolished price controls, and put inflation in check for generations. The third hard fact was the creation of Jean Monnet's common market that gave Europe a shared economic — not political — identity. The result was the Wirtschaftswunder in Germany, Les Trente Glorieuses in France and il miracolo economico in Italy. It could have lasted into the present day. It didn't. In 1965, government spending as a percentage of GDP averaged 28% in Western Europe. Today it hovers just under 50%. In 1965, the fertility rate in Germany was a healthy 2.5 children per mother. Today it is a catastrophic 1.35. During the postwar years, annual GDP growth in Europe averaged 5.5%. After 1973, it rarely exceeded 2.3%. In 1973, Europeans worked 102 hours for every 100 worked by an American. By 2004 they worked just 82 hours for every 100 American ones.”


Martin Jacomb in FT, "Beware the paradox that a system to limit risk invariably increases it".

“The report is sound when dealing with competition. As to the rest I remain skeptical. The ringfencing proposal involves much detailed regulation. But there is an inherent problem with this approach. When governments decide that retail depositors must not lose money and that some banks are too big to be allowed to fail, regulation becomes essential, and the importance of sound management is diminished. When regulation governs conduct it is this that sets the limits of behaviour, rather than reliance on prudent commecial judgment. It follows that when the regulations prove defective, as in 2007, trouble arises. I had hoped the report would prioritise the need for a serious incentive for prudent management.”


MercoPress: "BRICS countries preparing aid package in support of the European Union".

“The BRICS bailing out the Old World is a scenario that few would have imagined just a few years ago before the financial crisis and recession, when Europe and the United States were on top. But those economies are stagnant now, as countries such as Greece, Portugal, Ireland and Italy struggle with huge debts, government austerity drives and high unemployment. ‘The BRICS nations will meet next week in Washington and we will discuss how to help the European Union get out of this situation,’ he said. BRICS nations would likely increase their holdings of Euro-denominated bonds as a way to provide support for the region’s spreading financial problems. But as new troubles in Europe roil the markets daily, the question is how much the BRICS group can help the embattled 17-member monetary union.”


Andrew Jacobs in NYT, "Popularity May Have Doomed ‘Idol’-Style TV Show in China".

“Others suggested that the show’s reliance on voting by audience members was dangerously democratic. Such conjecture is not far-fetched: regulators banned text-message voting from viewers in 2007, forcing the show to largely limit audience participation to those inside the cavernous television studio. Zhan Jiang, a journalism professor at Beijing Foreign Studies University, said the ban reflected the growing chasm between Chinese youths and the conservative bureaucrats who keep a tight leash on the production and dissemination of popular culture. ‘The old guard still has a very different notion of morality from the younger generation,’ Professor Zhan said. ‘Maybe government regulators just got too many complaints from retired cadres.’”


Economist: "Not fade away".

“Yet China must now reckon with a potentially destabilising consequence of this new, improved process. It is that the cohort of retired leaders is burgeoning. And before they go to meet their Marx, most are keen both to continue exerting political influence and to go on protecting the (business or less often political) interests of family members, along with their vast networks of protégés. Next year the ten-year reign of President Hu Jintao and Wen Jiabao, the prime minister, will begin winding down. Jockeying to replace them is well under way. There is no guarantee that today’s widely touted front-runners, Xi Jinping and Li Keqiang respectively, will finish on top — nor indeed that the process will run as smoothly as it did last time round. But assuming that it does, Mr Hu and Mr Wen will join a growing crowd that includes not only their immediate predecessors, Jiang Zemin and Zhu Rongji, but plenty of other old-timers. Among them are such political heavyweights as Zeng Qinghong, a former vice-president, and Li Peng, prime minister from 1987 to 1998.”


David Pilling in FT, "When the Singapore sling meets the Arab spring".

“If Singapore is such a paradise, why should there be any discontent at all? One answer comes from Goh Chok Tong, the prime minister from 1990-2004, who also quit politics in May. ‘The electorate has changed, it has matured,’ he told a small conference last week. People, he said, were better educated with more aspirations than before. They could not so easily be satisfied with basic housing or decent jobs. Rather endearingly, Mr Goh admitted he did not quite know what people wanted.”


Nada Bakri in NYT, "Nation’s Uprising Turns Into Town’s Grim Stalemate".

“In Daraya, as in other towns across the country, the government has proved its ability to infiltrate protesters’ cells. Demonstrators, meanwhile, have persisted despite the arrests and overwhelming force. ‘Daraya security is flabbergasted,’ wrote Mohja Kahf, a Syrian activist in a post on her Twitter account after last Friday’s protests there. ‘More than two dozen field activists and protest organizers were in detention, and the town protested as usual,’ said Bsher Jawdat Said, an activist near Daraya. ‘It was as if nothing had happened,’ Mr. Said added. The questions now are, How long can this uneasy stalemate persist, and when the tide does shift, where will it go?”


Michael Collins at Opendemocracy.net, "Misrepresentations of Rabindranath Tagore at 150".

“By 1912 Tagore had rejected nationalism and made his most explicit denunciation of it in his lectures in Japan and the United States during 1916, which were published as Nationalism by Macmillan in 1917. A nation, Tagore claimed, is understood ‘in the sense of the political and economic union of a people’ and is ‘that aspect which a whole population assumes when organised for a mechanical purpose’. A nation was not be equated with an ethnie, nor straightforwardly with a cultural or linguistic group. It may have comprised such phenomena, but for Tagore the nation was distinctively modern and exclusively Western. Its ‘mechanical purpose’ implicates an instrumental rationality in its political and organisational form and the purposeful element of the nation is reified in the form of the state. Therefore, in Tagore’s critique, the nation is always the ‘nation state’. The nation state can thus be seen as an organising system and a structure of power. This ‘hardening method of national efficiency gains in strength, and at least for some limited period of time it proudly proves itself to be the fittest to survive … but it is the survival of that part of man which is the least living’. It produces efficiency but also monotony and sameness, such that Western modernity – for example as manifested in modern towns, which present to us ‘the physiognomy of this dominance of the nation’ – are ‘everywhere the same from San Francisco to London, [and now] from London to Tokyo’. The nation is characterised by Tagore as externally aggressive and competitive, but is also equated with internal disciplinary and regulatory power and the erosion of difference. Tagore’s anti-nationalism was born out of the violence that engulfed the anti-partition movement in Bengal between 1905 and 1908. Lord Curzon sought to divide the Hindu and Muslim communities of the large and politically active Bengal Presidency, and in response the swadeshi (self-sufficiency) movement in Bengal anticipated Gandhi with its boycott of British goods. Tagore had initially supported the movement but soon turned away in disgust after it spiralled into violence.”


Raymond Ibrahim at Meforum.org, "A Tale of Two Apostasies".

“As for the Uganda anecdote, Susan's father actually opted to follow the most lenient form of punishment allowed for apostasy: while Islam's three Sunni schools of law condemn the apostate to death, the Hanafi School ‘progressively’ advocates beating and imprisoning females until they see the ‘error of their ways’ and return to Islam.
Likewise, though Susan's father was arrested, he was ‘quickly released,’ doubtless because the authorities recognized that he was only upholding Islam. Such is the potential fate of all Muslim converts to Christianity wherever Islam is strong. Thus, a Christian pastor in Iran remains behind bars, where he is being tortured and awaits execution for refusing to recant Christianity. Even in onetime Christian Norway, a Muslim convert to Christianity was tortured with boiling water and told by fellow Muslim inmates ‘If you do not return to Islam, we will kill you’; if deported to his native Afghanistan, he risks death by stoning for leaving Islam (note again the agreement on the penalty for apostasy between individual ‘fanatics’ and Muslim governments). To all the relativists out there, they have but one question to ask themselves: where is the other religion that kills defectors? There are none; only gangs, not religions, exhibit such a ‘mafia’ mentality—hence the argument that Islam is more a political system than a religion.”


Caroline Moorehead in NYTBR on Roya Hakakian’s book, Assassins of the Turquoise Palace.

“Immediately clear after the killings was that there was far more at stake than an assassination. Bruno Jost, the tenacious German prosecutor leading the investigation, soon found himself at odds with his government’s political masters, who were eager not to jeopardize the country’s good but fragile dealings with Iran. While pressure was put on him to identify and accuse extremists of a separate Kurdish movement, it became more and more obvious that the killings were the work of the Iranian regime itself. The men were murdered because they had featured on Ayatollah Khomeini’s death list of 500 ‘enemies of Islam’ who had fled abroad — the first death sentences he issued, Hakakian notes, before the word ‘fatwa’ entered the vocabulary of modern repression. By 1992 at least 60 of Khomeini’s targets were already dead, murdered by gunfire, stabbing, beheading or staged accidents in countries as far apart as Austria and Japan. Hakakian follows the lives of many of those involved in the Mykonos case, including the wife and daughter of the slain dissident, Noori Dehkordi, and the families of judges and prosecutors. Helped and encouraged by Dehkordi’s widow, Shohreh, and by Parviz Dastmalchi, one of the guests at Mykonos who survived, journalists began investigations of their own. Dastmalchi’s obsession with the killings, his feeling that he owed it to his murdered compatriots to determine the truth, began to cut him off from his colleagues and friends. For a while, Bruno Jost had to live surrounded by bodyguards. In time, the affair came to be seen as a test of Germany’s judicial system and its impartiality, all the more so after Ali Fallahian, the Iranian minister of intelligence, paid a surreptitious visit to Berlin and met with his German counterpart.”


Daphna Berman in Moment, "The Revered and Reviled Bernard Lewis".

“Much of the debate took place on the pages of the New York Review of Books, but it also spilled over to conferences sponsored by the Middle East Studies Association (MESA), the reigning umbrella association of Middle East scholars founded in 1966, and which was eventually, in Lewis’ words, ‘taken over by Saidians.’ Said and Lewis met only once, at a MESA conference, and their meeting was brief and uneventful, Lewis tells me. Lewis believes he became a target primarily because he was Jewish and British. ‘We all tend to judge others by ourselves; that’s human nature,’ Lewis says. Edward Said, a Palestinian born in Jerusalem and an English professor, was bitterly and viciously anti-British, he says. ‘He assumed that an Englishman who was a professor of Arabic would have the same attitude to his subject as he had to his.’”


Ellen Bork in WSJ on Liao Yiwu’s book, God Is Red: The Secret Story of How Christianity Survived and Flourished in Communist China.

“Beginning with a 100-year-old nun and ending with a recovering slacker in his 20s, his subjects describe the days of Western missionaries, the advent of communism — ‘like hearing the sinister caw of dark ravens,’ the nun recalls — and the ambiguous tolerance of the post-Mao era. Most of the vignettes take the form of transcribed conversations, and the voices of individual believers are lively and immediate in Wenguang Huang's translation. Mr. Liao is an unlikely chronicler of China's roughly 70 million Christians. Though skeptical about the vicious, anti-religious Communist propaganda he was raised on — he is 53 — he is also skeptical of religion itself. Mr. Liao, who once worked as a street musician, gravitates to people from society's ‘bottom rungs,’ some of whose compelling stories he told in ‘The Corpse Walker’ (2008). Yet it is precisely this interest in marginalized people and his staunch opposition to totalitarianism that led him to Chinese Christianity.”


Roger Scruton at Opendemocracy.net, "Unreal Estate".

“After the dreary years of socialist Puritanism, this new morality was undeniably liberating. But it liberated both good things and bad, and never faced up to the truth that had dawned on Muhammad – the truth that, in an economy of fictions, nobody can be called to account. Whether bubbles of the kind we have recently seen are a necessary part of the trade in unreal estate I do not know. I suspect that they are, and that the search for regulations that would prevent them is a futile use of public funds and political energy. Nobody can enjoy the sight of people becoming stinking rich by trashing the scant savings of others. But matters are not usually improved when the state steps in. The underlying premise of state interference is that the state and its clients come first. The main concern of the political class is to ensure that those on whom it immediately depends for an easy life – the bureaucrats and the clients – will be properly provided for, with a reserve fund to buy favour from the discontented. The trade in unreal estate goes on.”


Lew Daly at Democracyjournal.org, "The Church of Labor".

“In 1891, Pope Leo XIII issued the Church’s first ‘social encyclical,’ Rerum Novarum, which ushered in a major sea change in labor and social rights. Grounded in a revival of Thomistic natural law thinking, Rerum Novarum gave moral sanction to trade unions, social assistance for the poor, and critical concepts such as the just wage, the dangers of concentrated wealth, the social obligations of ownership, and even worker ownership.

American Catholic thinkers influenced by Leo emerged as a distinctive presence in public life in the decade before World War I. The most important was the moral theologian and social reformer John A. Ryan. Born in Vermillion, Minnesota, Ryan was a product of the Upper Midwest’s distinctive tradition of social Catholicism and a convert to Populism in the 1890s. Ryan’s most important contributions focused on the problem of the just wage as distinct from the market wage. Ryan also authored the American Church’s Bishops’ Program for Social Reconstruction, issued in 1919. The program demanded a legal minimum wage, public housing for workers, and social insurance for illness, disability, unemployment, and old age, and called for labor participation in industrial management. Widely promoted by Church agencies and in the progressive and labor press, the program was arguably the most important official act of the American Church in its history to that point, and in the years to come it would remain a major touchstone both in the development of social policy and in the consolidation of Catholic loyalty to the Democratic Party.”


A.G. Sulzberger in NYT, "In Small Towns, Gossip Moves To the Web, and Turns Vicious".

“‘Something about rural culture seems to make people want to have conversations in public,’ said Mr. Sandvig, who has studied the use of social media sites in rural areas.

Topix, a site lightly trafficked in cities, enjoys a dedicated and growing following across the Ozarks, Appalachia and much of the rural South, establishing an unexpected niche in communities of a few hundred or few thousand people — particularly in what Chris Tolles, Topix’s chief executive, calls ‘the feud states.’ One of the most heavily trafficked forums, he noted, is Pikeville, Ky., once the staging ground for the Hatfield and McCoy rivalry. ‘We’re running the Gawker for every little town in America,’ Mr. Tolles said.

Whereas online negativity seems to dissipate naturally in a large city, it often grates like steel wool in a small town where insults are not easily forgotten.”


Norman Birnbaum in Nation, "Gratitude and Forbearance: On Christopher Lasch".

“He did not seek contact with the British New Left intellectuals or the radical historians grouped around the journal Past and Present. (I was at Oxford then and a member of both groups: we would have been very glad to meet him.) Instead, he used his geopolitical distance from the United States to write about American intellectuals from 1889 to 1963. The argument, that intellectuals neglected their responsibilities to educate the nation, was not new. What was distinctive was his portrait of intellectuals not as utopians but as self-indulgent strivers. In the pursuit of modern freedoms (especially in the realm of sexuality), they grew even more distant from ordinary Americans. Offering their fellow citizens guidance in a common struggle against capitalism, they seized their share of power and status. Hence the transformation of the thinkers of the Progressive movement from adversaries of bigness to propagandists for Woodrow Wilson’s war, and for the migration of New Deal reformers from universities and statehouses to Washington.”


Donald Morrison in FT on Michel Houellebecq’s book, The Map and the Territory.

“In other words, The Map and the Territory is a delight to read -- a felony in contemporary French fiction…. Like all Houellebecq novels, it has an emotionally stunted protagonist modeled on the author -- two, in fact. There is Jeo Martin, a French artist who gains notice with his photographs of old Michelin road maps. Martin soon befriends a French novelist named Michel Houellebecq. Like the original, this Houellebecq has a reputation for drunkenness and ‘strong misanthropic tendencies’, a fondness for charcuterie and a serious case of athlete’s foot. Well into the book, Houellebecq is murdered with picturesque brutality, and what was a mediation on Martin’s inability to enjoy or even comprehend his growing artistic fame turns into a brisk police porcedural, with excursions into euthanasia, art theft and trafficking in endangered fauna.”


“Dwan, Los Angeles / New York: The Ephemera of a Gallery, 1959 – 1971”
 an exhibition to be held at "Specific Object"
September 12 – November 18, 2011


Leslie Mann in CT, "Reworking infamous Haymarket trial".

“Today, the eight Haymarket defendants — local radicals who were quickly rounded up after the bombing — might have had separate trials. Messer-Kruse, author of ‘The Trial of the Haymarket Anarchists: Terrorism and Justice in the Gilded Age’ points out that the defendants were tried together. Now, the judge sits in front, jury at the side and gallery behind a barricade. Then, the gallery surrounded the judge and jury in an arena that is chaos by our standards. Now, the witnesses' talks are limited. Then, they spoke for hours. Now, police need warrants. Then, they routinely searched homes and people's clothing. The case went down in history, said Messer-Kruse, as ‘America's first big show trial where ideology was on trial.’ Crowds attended the well-publicized courtroom drama. Seven men were sentenced to death. By the time the story was boiled down for 21st century textbooks, the defendants were labor movement martyrs, said Messer-Kruse. ‘I can hear them spinning in their landmark-designated graves,’ he said. ‘In fact, they weren't philosophical. They were grab-your-gun revolutionists who wanted capitalism … overthrown.’ A professor of ethnic studies at Bowling Green State University in Ohio, Messer-Kruse began his Haymarket studies 10 years ago after one of his students asked him what was said during the six-week trial. ‘I couldn't answer that, so I started researching,’ he said. ‘I was lucky because the entire 3,000-page trial transcript had just been digitized. So my predecessors had to go to reading rooms but I had the advantage of sitting at home in my bathrobe.’”


Barry Bearak in NYT, "Where Football and Higher Education Do Mix".

“The University of Chicago, well known for Saul Bellow, Milton Friedman and its links to 85 Nobel Prizes, was once famous sea to shining sea for football. It boasted a legendary coach, a Heisman Trophy winner and a national championship. Fans flocked to a game against Wisconsin in 1904. Chicago beat Michigan to win the national championship in 1905. Then, in 1939, it did something extraordinary. It gave up the game to save its soul…. Seventy-two years later, what Hutchins called the ‘infernal nuisance’ of college football is troubling more university administrators than ever. Ohio State, Miami, Southern California, North Carolina and on and on: it is as if global warming were affecting the number of big-name colleges in hot water. And yet Chicago is quietly back on the field. Instead of euthanizing the game, Hutchins merely put it in a coma. In 1969, football returned as a varsity sport, oddly enough during the Vietnam War era when many rebellious students were comparing blocking and tackling to bombing and strafing. Since then, the game has been thriving on its own measured terms in N.C.A.A. Division III, free of the highest level of competition. Winning is a preference and not an obsession. Players, though zealously recruited, are not given athletic scholarships. Championships are won but little noticed.”

NYT slideshow: "University of Chicago Maroons".


Obituaries of the Week

• Malcolm Wallop (1933 - 2011)

“Malcolm Wallop was born in New York City on Feb. 27, 1933. His father, Oliver Malcolm Wallop, was descended from an aristocratic English family; his mother, the former Jean Moore, the daughter of an East Coast society family, died when Malcolm was 10. Malcolm’s paternal grandfather, Oliver Henry Wallop, was in all likelihood the only person to have served in both the House of Lords and the Wyoming House of Representatives. He became a prosperous cattle rancher, a naturalized citizen and a state legislator after coming to the United States in the late 19th century. Then in 1925, after the last of his siblings died without bearing children, Oliver Henry Wallop became the eighth Earl of Portsmouth. Resuming his original citizenship, he returned to England, where he sat in the House of Lords. He remained a British subject until his death in 1943.”

• Wade Mainer (1907-2011)

"In the mid-1920s, Mainer hitchhiked from Buncombe County to Concord, N.C., where he worked in a cotton mill. Along with his older brother, J.E., Mainer landed on the popular 'Crazy Water Barn Dance' show on radio station WBT in Charlotte, N.C., in 1934. The Mainers became one of the hottest acts in the Southeast, making records for RCA's Bluebird series. The Mainers' pre-bluegrass versions of such songs as 'Maple on the Hill' and 'Take Me in the Lifeboat' later became bluegrass standards. The brothers split in 1936, and Wade Mainer formed the band Sons of the Mountaineers. In 1941, American folklorist Alan Lomax arranged for Mainer to join such artists as the Golden Gate Quartet and Josh White to entertain President Franklin Roosevelt. Mainer arrived at the White House in bib overalls with a red bandanna in his hip pocket. 'I dressed for the farmers of North Carolina,' he told the Charlotte Observer in 2003."


Thanks to Steve Beeho.

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