Photo by Joe Carducci
by Joe Carducci
It hadn’t yet occurred to me back when the networks turned on Gary Hart in 1988. Reporters hadn’t actually wanted to out him because back then they too were still on the Kennedy q.t., caught halfway between their own nerd selves and their insider surmisal of the ribald habits of the stars of politics and showbiz. And a certain type of male style leveraged the still middle American reserve to live like Bluebeard in that strange period after the Pill was available but before it was handed out like candy by the school nurse. Since the sixties Gary Hart was living a dry-look dream, nominally married but carrying the JFK, RFK, MLK torch, posing for his money shot, enabled by his earnest, ex-seminarian nobility. But the greasy-look news directors decided Hart was dead meat after one of Gary’s girlfriend Donna Rice’s girlfriend called the Miami Herald on him, and they all piled on like the resentful nerds they were. What you saw then was a dissection of Gary Hart’s political persona. One of the networks went through footage of Hart getting off of planes, shaking hands, giving speeches. They would freeze frame and underline by comparison to old footage of John F. Kennedy. It was like a Zapruder film as Rosetta stone. There it was, the hand in the pocket, the crimped shoulder, the wince-smile and wrenched back… all on display as imitation in tribute to a man in pain and on drugs who never should have offered himself as a candidate by a guy who could no longer tell who he was.
After the up-and-up Carter, Reagan, and Bush terms it was the get-down Bill Clinton era that pulled it all together in my mind. Everything was different by then except Gary Hart’s hair. All you had to do was pick your news and you could find charitable or critical coverage of anybody. Especially in those first two years the Bill and Hillary show was really out of hand, just ask the notional then vice-president Al Gore. Bill was wearing European-cut suits fit for the globalizing technocratic elite and vacationing at Martha’s Vineyard, where the Kennedys would finally have to put up with that damn wannabe who gottobe. But it was that Bill got caught and the news media, reluctant as ever after twelve years of Republican White House etiquette, got caught out by DNA and the Drudge Report that forced me to contemplate the politico-erotic implications of his and Gary’s dog-pile of Kennedy-love and satyriasis.
There was more than enough out-of-hand coverage of it all, especially as the New York Times, Time magazine, and the network news divisions could no longer determine the manner of coverage, though they did manage to save the Clinton presidency. But there was very little Kennedy-context in any of the coverage, even though Kennedy could only make any of these pikers look better. JFK’s secrets had come out very slowly over the decades. Only a couple years ago was it confirmed that he was locked in a metal back-brace that held him bolt upright in the back seat of that convertible. He’d wrenched his back reaching for some bimbo and so he could only sit and wait for the third bullet. Decades of conspiracy theories to explain that his body stayed upright because he was hit from the front by a second gunmen in the grassy knoll -- all so we’d be spared the knowledge that our young dead president had had one foot in the grave before he ever set foot in Dallas.
Kennedy was getting shot up with speed, steroids, testosterone and God-knows-what-else in those brave days of better living through chemistry. He wasn’t interacting with the women he was fucking. He wasn’t even fucking them in any normal sense; he wasn’t alone with them. He was blowing his nose in some kind of chemo-compulsive reaction to the drugs and the illness and being in over his head. He’d gotten what his father wanted. Given the early sixties, most of the women were professionals anyway. That Kennedy mystique actually had a greater homoerotic half-life. Women generally were more interested in Jacqueline, as an American princess. All of that cold rutting by Bill, Gary and a whole generation of wannabes was homoerotic communion with Jack; the women were mediums.
Chris Matthews has a new ridiculous mediation on his own never-ending teen-crush on John F. Kennedy. This from a guy who actually was sick to his stomach over Bill Clinton’s much more trivial and limited foibles. Today at least the Kennedy industry doesn’t have such an easy time of it. Even its prime architect, Ted Sorensen, just before he died wrote an overdue graceless memoir finally take his bows for all the words he put in President Kennedy’s mouth. His book tour killed him.
Jeff Bercovici talked to Matthews and wrote up his book, Jack Kennedy: Elusive Hero, at Forbes.com, “The One Question You Should Never Ask Chris Matthews”:
“We’re talking about his new book… when the subject turn to ‘Profiles in Courage.’ Kennedy won a Pulitzer for the book even though he farmed out most of the actual writing to an uncredited co-author, his aide Ted Sorensen. Did Matthews have a Sorensen of his own, I wonder? Matthews’ genial, boyish face darkens. ‘Forget you,’ he says.
(Only he doesn’t say ‘forget you.’ Both Matthews and my editor asked me not to print what he actually said….) ‘Forget you,’ he repeats. ‘Where’d you get that? Is that what you think? You think I don’t write my books?’ I try to explain that I hadn’t meant the question to be insulting.” (Forbes.com)
As if the question wasn’t relevant. Call Kennedy your hero and be prepared to defend what he did, and entertain queries as to whether you’ve done same. Matthews was treated much better by Charlie Rose; in fact it was a double-gush of that kind of homo-mimetic submission to the idea that they’d been mentored as young boys into “public service” by JFK; manhandled by the Man. Those damned Catholics!
Christopher Hitchens wrote one of the harsher appraisals of the Clintons, No One Left to Lie To, which was perhaps somewhat optimistic in its titling since Bill’s Global Initiative and Hillary’s Secretary of State gig have given them billions more folks to lie to. In the current Vanity Fair he goes after “The Myth of Jackie Kennedy” almost casually, as the Kennedy myths dissolve before him as he simply follows the trail of public record. It’s taken fifty years for most of it to be available to assemble. Hitchens writes:
“Recent years have seen the departure of Schlesinger and Sorensen from the scene, and a continued slow erosion of the old bodyguard of liars, prepared at least to prick themselves with their swords as they contested any additional unwelcome disclosures about what had sometimes gone on down Camelot way. The John F. Kennedy Presidential Library is now renowned among presidential and other scholars as the most obstructive and politicized of the lot.” (Vanity Fair)
Given what we know, there must really be some enquiring minds-type stuff hidden yet. However Vanity Fair itself will soon enough purchase some glorious-looking previously unseen photographs of the Kennedys at work or play and reconstitute the mystique as if they’d never run Hitchens on Camelot. (His principal point is that Jackie actually lowered the tone of the Kennedy White House and its Camelot legend beginning with her naming of it.)
Gary Hart still pops up on occasion to remind us all what might have been; he must hear such charitable blather from everyone who recognizes him on the street. He must strike the eye as a ghost from the old, strange sixties, when at first the older fifties-formed Hefner-types had fed at the trough of the sexual revolution. Ghostly, as if our minds at first confuse him with one of the assassinated. As if not electing him amounted to the same thing. Hart had expected his busy social life to be contrasted with old-fashioned Republican marriages; he lived in a Kennedy bubble. After Bill Clinton one might be any sort of sex criminal short of a serial killer and get and keep the gig. And this too makes Gary a sadder case haunting “public service.” The last time Hart set up as if to run was in 2004, likely a feint to impress John F. Kerry of Massachusetts. Hart decided to become a Soviet specialist as a way of redeeming himself and keeping an oar in on policy if not politics. He saw himself as a Secretary of Defense who could really understand the Soviets. And given there is zero need for super-empathetic Soviet specialists he’s left to have his mock summits with Strobe Talbott.
I’ve written before about James Piereson’s book, Camelot and the Cultural Revolution. It’s a key text in the necessary recalibration of the Kennedy mystique at this late date, and a clear re-reading of what was wrought by the dissembling that Jackie, Sorensen, the news media, and the publishing industry performed over the assassination of the last cold warrior Kennedy by a communist. They required that JFK be seen as rather a martyr to civil rights (to which he’d contributed nothing). Piereson writes:
“The idea of national guilt, which surfaced in more innocent form following Kennedy’s assassination, had now spread through the institutions of politics, academe, and journalism that shaped liberal culture. The reformist emphasis of American liberalism, which had been pragmatic and forward-looking, was overtaken by a spirit of national self-condemnation.” (Camelot and the Cultural Revolution)
That got us to the point where the otherwise dominant Democratic Party seemed unable to win the White House when the party’s first order of business seemed to be to bring the war home. That sour constituency is routinely disappointed that their infrequent winners are sell-outs once in office. But in their way they enjoy this. Meanwhile the straights in the party cling to dreams of Jack. They are wet ones.
From the Wyoming Desk of Joe Carducci…
Immanuel Wallerstein at YaleGlobal, "The 19th-Century World-System: Yesterday and Tomorrow".
“Centrist liberalism won out on three crucial fronts. First, it installed the liberal state in the two key countries – the new hegemonic power, Great Britain, and its junior partner, France. The liberal state was not the night watchman state it claimed to be. Quite the contrary! Not only centrist liberalism but its two avatars, enlightened conservatism and pragmatic radicalism, all talked an anti-state language, but they all were in practice devoted to expanding state powers. The second crucial front was that of ‘citizenship.’ The geoculture proclaimed the legitimacy of popular sovereignty. But, in fact, all the powers that be were terrified by the prospect of the exercise of real popular sovereignty. To limit its impact, the powers-that-be divided ‘equal’ citizens into two categories – ‘active’ and ‘passive’ citizens. The former could participate in decision-making. The latter – those without property, women, ‘minorities’ – had natural and civil rights, but were said to be incapable of exercising political rights. Throughout the 19th and 20th centuries ‘passive’ citizens fought to be given political rights. It was a difficult, never fully-completed process, in which centrist liberals did their best to slow it down. The third pillar was the creation of the social sciences as ways of understanding the real world – the better to control it in the interests of centrist liberals. The restructuring of the universities, the separation of knowledge into the ‘two cultures,’ and inventing a limited number of ‘disciplines’ were all part of this process.”
Andrew Rettman at EUobserver.com, "Chinese fund manager lambasts EU ‘sloth, indolence’".
“Using language recalling German tabloid depictions of ‘lazy Greeks’, the chairman of China’s sovereign wealth fund… Jin Liquin made the comments during a TV interview with Al Jazeera on Sunday. ‘If you look at the troubles which have happened in European countries, this is purely because of the troubles of a worn-out welfare society. I think welfare laws are outdated. The labour laws induce sloth, indolence. The incentive system is totally out of sync,’ he said. He referred to ‘some countries happily retire at 55 to languish on the beach.’”
Lawrence Rosenthal at Opendemocracy.net, "Occupy Wall Street and the Tea Party: bedfellows?".
“Yet the Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street (OWS) are expressions of pain from differing points of view of the same social process. This process has been the dismantling of American middle class life. This is sometimes called the American Dream. Sometimes the American Deal. Or the Fordist Deal. It was the essential quality of the working lives of the so-called ‘greatest generation’: the expansive home-owning world that generation stepped into after returning from World War II. It is a deal that has been undergoing a slow-motion erosion since the first oil shock of 1973. One example of this unfolding erosion: over these years, even conservatives most closely tied to a notion of the ‘traditional family’ have come to accept the two-earner family. It’s now an economic given. Not so for the middle class of the 50s, 60s and early 70s.”
David Pilling in FT, "Megacities".
“The idea of a megacity derives from ‘megalopolis’, a pejorative term coined in 1918 by Oswald Spengler, the German historian. He was describing cities that had grown too large and were edging toward decline. Jean Gottmann, a French geographer, used the term more positively in the 1950s to refer to the metropolitan corridor along America’s eastern seaboard. Now, the concept has changed again to mean massive agglomerations, mostly in the developing world. In truth, more of the world’s population is moving to second-tier cities than to the mega cities. But huge, conurbations have a symbolic potency. For some, they represent a brave new world in which Chinese, Indians, Brazilians and others in the developing world are clambering from poverty. For others, the megacity is nothing less than a nightmare. The urban shift of humanity, whose number topped 7bn in October, is inexorable. In 2008, for the first time in human history, more people were living in cities than in the countryside. By this measure, Asia, where only 40 per cent of people are urban, is behind. Much of Asia’s city-building lies ahead.”
Monica Davey in NYT, "Detroit’s Mayor Says Budget Gap May Require Emergency Manager".
“Nationally, the idea of an emergency manager is hardly unique. States have tried all sorts of measures, with mixed results, to prevent cities from falling into default. But in Michigan, the role of emergency managers has drawn particular scrutiny since early this year when the state’s Republican leadership granted them far-reaching powers, especially over union contracts. At the time, union supporters objected vehemently in Lansing, the capital, saying that the move amounted to another effort — similar to moves in Wisconsin and Ohio — to weaken unions and labor contracts. The Michigan Supreme Court has yet to say whether it will consider a lawsuit challenging the new powers for managers. Currently, only four Michigan governmental bodies — including the Detroit public school system — are under the control of an outside manager, but some fear those numbers could grow with local budgets, like that of Detroit, under significant strain.”
Hal Weitzman in FT, "Illinois juggler keeps state creditors at bay".
“Illinois has a chronic inability to pay bills. It’s a condition that affects thousands of small companies that do work for the state, non-profit organisations providing critical social services as well as hospitals and schools that complain they do not know when bills might get paid -- or if they will get paid at all. In many cases, when payments eventually arrive, they are incomplete. Like most US states, Illinois is required to balance its budget, an obligation Ms. Topinka says in practice is a sham. ‘It isn’t balanced. It’s never balanced,’ she says. ‘There’s always ways to have things off budget -- one of them is all of these bills.’”
Bryan Burrough in NYT on Joseph McCartin’s book, Collision Course: Ronald Reagan, the Air Traffic Controllers, and the Strike That Changed America.
“‘Collision Course’ charts the rise of Patco and other public-sector unions over the course of 20 years, from the moment that President John F. Kennedy allowed government workers to bargain collectively. This power, however, came with strict limitations; unions like Patco were not allowed to strike or bargain for higher wages. Their negotiations with the government typically revolved around working conditions. Mr. McCartin is especially good at showing why air traffic controllers quickly emerged as perhaps the most militant group of government workers. As air travel surged in the 1960s and ’70s, conditions in American control towers didn’t keep pace. Controllers were working longer hours than ever, often with equipment dismally out of date. Many controllers had come from blue-collar backgrounds — many were sons of union members, in fact — and came to believe that the responsibility they carried for the safety of millions of travelers entitled them to white-collar wages, a contention that few in government agreed with. Supervisors at the Federal Aviation Administration tended to treat the controllers as drones.”
Guy Dinmore in FT, "‘Baby pensioners’ face a beating".
“Gianfranco Fini, speaker of the Italian lower house who defected from the government majority last year, fired the latest salvo in the national furor over ‘baby pensioners’, wryly noting on a television talk show that the wife of Umberto Bossi, minister for ‘reforms’ and stalwart opponent of pension reform, had retired as a teacher in 1992 at the age of 39. The next morning -- coincidentally when a decorous German parliament was overwhelmingly lending its support to Angela Merkel on her way to the Brussels summit -- Italy’s lower house erupted in turmoil with cries for Mr Fini’s resignation and fisticuffs between one of his members of parliament and a rival from Mr Bossi’s Northern League.”
Guy Dinmore in FT, "Italy’s survivor determined to endure".
“And as his loyal courtiers point out, would any successor do better in reforming Italy’s powerful vested interests -- be that Mario Monti, technocrat in waiting, or as the Berlusconi family newspaper Il Giornale wrote, ‘the Madonna of Lourdes’? Many despondent Italians ask the same question, among them a senior opposition politician who privately conceded he hoped his party would not be called on to fill the gap. ‘It would be a disaster. We are not ready to govern,’ he said.”
Jean-Claude Piris in FT, "An EU architect writes: time for a two-speed union".
“This is a painful admission. I laboured long and hard to produce a treaty fit for a union of 27 members. The EU is ponderous and unable to make rapid decisions. It finds it hard to finalise and enforce rules to govern the internal market, the Schengen agreement, or co-operating on defence. The commission is weak. The one-size-must-fit-all decision-making system does not suit a heterogenous union. Rather than responding swiftly and decisively to events, the EU is more likely to produce a mouse. Irrelevance looms. It is time to admit that the enlargement of the EU from 15 to 27 members was too rapid. Europe’s citizens no longer understand the purpose of the EU, its political aims and what its geographical borders will be. They are lost.”
Scott Peterson in CSM, "Turkey’s rising clout leaves Iran fuming on sidelines of Arab Spring".
“On many fronts, Turkey's rhetoric – including its increasingly strident anti-Israeli views – had prompted Western analysts to question whether the NATO ally was forsaking its pro-West outlook to join the Iranian-led axis of resistance. But the Arab Spring has changed Turkey's calculation. That may have factored in to Turkey's decision in September to end years of foot-dragging and accept US anti-missile radar units on Turkish soil – part of a NATO missile shield aimed at thwarting Iranian ballistic missiles. Turkey's adjusted approach is not a ‘coordinated number of steps, following each other, complementing each other,’ adds Kalaycioglu. ‘Rather there are lots of disparities, trials and errors, some erratic moves, and it looks as if the Turkish government currently is testing the waters.... The former policy is completely down the drain, of 'zero problems with neighbors.' Now we have mounting problems with neighbors.’ Iranian officials have sharply criticized Turkey as a sellout to the West, but recent polling of Arab views indicate that they don't buy it, and Iran's popularity has dropped.”
Nicola Clark in NYT, "As Trial Nears, ‘Carlos the Jackal’ Retains His Bluster".
“In 1992, France convicted Mr. Ramírez in absentia for the 1975 Paris killings. He spent a decade on the run across Eastern Europe and the Middle East, but in 1994, French secret service agents, acting on a tip from the C.I.A., seized him from a hospital bed in Sudan. He was wrapped in a burlap bag and spirited away to France, where he was re-tried in 1997 and given a life sentence. In 2007, a French investigating judge ordered Mr. Ramírez and three others to stand trial for complicity in four bombings in 1982 and 1983 that left 11 people dead and wounded 195 others, but it was not until this year that a trial date was set. The charges against Mr. Ramírez stem from a bombing in March 1982 of a Paris-Toulouse train in southwestern France; an attack in April 1982 on the Paris offices of an Arabic-language newspaper, Al Watan; and the bombing in December 1983 of a high-speed train and the main rail station in Marseille. Prosecutors allege that those attacks were part of a personal war that Mr. Ramírez waged against the French authorities in an effort to secure the liberation of his girlfriend at the time, Magdalena Kopp, a German former revolutionary who had been imprisoned for an attempted bombing in 1982.”
Aymenn Al-Tamimi in American Spectator, "Charlie Hebdo, Free Speech, and Islam".
“A report by the center-right Le Figaro provides a useful overview of reactions to the firebombing. For example, the center-right Union for a Popular Movement's secretary general -- Jean-François Copé -- rightly pointed out that ‘there can be no impunity [for this]. It's an act which must give rise to legal proceedings.’ The Communist party was unequivocal in describing the vandalism as an ‘appalling act,’ adding that ‘political and media debate cannot be controlled at the hands of Molotov cocktails.’ In fact, the firm support for free speech across the French political spectrum was also apparent in 2007, when the Grand Mosque, World Islamic League, and Union of French Islamic Organizations sued the magazine for incitement to racism for reprinting the Danish cartoons. The case resulted in an acquittal by a court in Paris as leading figures of the left and right came to testify on Charlie Hebdo's behalf. So too calls to support Charlie Hebdo unreservedly in the wake of the firebombing have come from the major French media outlets like Le Monde and Le Figaro. The contrast with the debate in English-speaking circles is quite telling. Already the Guardian has put up an article by one Pierre Haski -- a ‘co-founder and CEO of the French independent news website Rue89’ -- who does not explicitly condemn the attack and effectively urges readers to understand the firebombing in light of the fact that ‘for many French Muslims, religion has become a cultural identity, a refuge in a troubled society where they don't feel accepted.’ …So back in 2006 and 2007 the Guardian went out of its way to publish articles by the likes of Karen Armstrong, a leading non-Muslim apologist for Islam. Her words speak for themselves: ‘But equally the cartoonists and their publishers, who seemed impervious to Muslim sensibilities, failed to live up to their own liberal values, since the principle of free speech implies respect for the opinions of others.’ The result is that in Britain, this subject has often become a partisan left-right issue, even though it should transgress political boundaries.”
Qantara.de: Ziad Majed on "Islamism and the Arab Spring".
“Ziad Majed: The demographic boom that we had in the past was over a few years ago, but the product of this boom is there, and it was young people taking to the streets now. However, the birth rate of this generation is much lower than that of its parents. That means at the age of 25 or 26, when their parents had two or three or four children, they don't have any kids. That makes them more capable of being mobilized. In addition, the fact that the age of marriage, whether for economic reasons or changing values, is becoming higher allowed them to take to the streets. This explains why the revolutions happened now and not five or 10 years ago. But youth still plays a role. You have to realize that people were simply extremely tired of seeing the same old faces in power who ruled when their parents were young. What I could also add is urbanization. That means territorial and social continuity. Young people are no longer isolated in small villages or small towns.”
Tim Arango in NYT, "A Long-Awaited Apology for Shiites, but the Wounds Run Deep".
“Particularly galling for the Iraqis was that President George Bush publicly encouraged the revolt and then allowed American forces to stand by while it was suppressed by Saddam Hussein’s helicopter gunships and execution squads in a bloodbath that claimed tens of thousands of lives. The perception of American betrayal still resonates deeply in the Iraqi psyche, and explains one of this war‘s enduring contradictions: that even though the Shiites benefited most from the war that overturned a long reign of tyrannical Sunni rule, they never completely trusted the Americans. Meanwhile, the Middle East revolts this year have reopened the wound of 1991, with Iraqis left to wonder what might have happened if their own revolution had received the same support as Libya’s did this year…. Amid the Arab Spring, policy makers and academics, if they consider Iraq at all, largely regard the Iraq war as a cautionary tale, a model of democracy-building to avoid. But Iraqis have tried to bill themselves as leaders of the regional revolution. Local television has shown an image of Mr. Hussein as the first dictatorial domino to fall, and journalists have claimed that the image of Mr. Hussein’s hanging was the original inspiration for the young people in Egypt and Tunisia.”
Friederike Ott at Qantara.de, "Fostering Democracy through Commercial Advertising".
“‘The system that is so familiar to us is completely new there,’ says Koch at the start of his trip. ‘There are very few companies that are placing advertisements, but lots of media.’ It is estimated that there are 200 newspapers and magazines, 60 radio stations, and 30 television channels in Iraq. Most of them are funded by parties or other interest groups, who then exert a massive influence on the way that medium reports. In order to support the independent media, Koch and Klaas Glenewinkel of the non-profit-making organisation Media in Cooperation and Transition (MICT) set up the media agency Plural Media Services. MICT specialises in media development in crisis regions. The organisation has been active in Iraq since 2003, for example training local journalists.”
Tom Wright in WSJ, "Pakistan to Boost Trade With India".
“Pakistan's Information Minister Firdous Ashiq Awan told a news conference Wednesday that Pakistan's cabinet decided to grant India ‘Most Favored Nation’ status, a decision that will likely boost bilateral trade. ‘This was a decision taken in the national interest and all stakeholders, including our military and defense institutions, were on board,’ Ms. Awan said. Under World Trade Organization agreements, the MFN principle is supposed to ensure that WTO members don't discriminate against one another, allowing all countries in the organization to benefit equally from the lowest possible tariffs. India granted Pakistan MFN status in the mid-1990s, but Pakistan declined to reciprocate despite its WTO obligations. Both countries are members of the WTO.”
Bernard Porter in London Review of Books on Julia Lovell’s book, The Opium War: Drugs, Dreams and the Making of China.
“The irony -- in view of the wars’ importance to the Chinese now -- is that at the time they didn’t take them very seriously. On the emperor’s part this was largely due to ignorance, both of the world outside China -- ‘Where is this England?’ he asked, quite late on in the war -- and of the progress of events. His officials constantly lied to him…. It was only much later, in the 1920s, that Western capitalist imperialism came to seem the real villain of the piece, ‘discovered’ by Lenin and then scapegoated by Sun Yat-sen in order, Lovell suggests, to get desperately needed Soviet funding for the Nationalist revolution he was leading.”
Andrew Jacobs in NYT, "Another Tibetan Nun Dies by Self-Immolation in China".
“Exile groups say that scores of monks and nuns have been detained, among them three women who were said to have been given three-year prison terms for their role in a June demonstration. The ruling Communist Party has sought to portray the self-immolations as a form of terrorism inspired by the Dalai Lama, who has lived in India since fleeing Tibet during a failed uprising against Chinese rule in 1959. Beijing consistently accuses the Dalai Lama of agitating for an independent state despite his insistence on greater autonomy for the region’s five million ethnic Tibetans.”
Jeremy Page in WSJ, "Many Rich Chinese Consider Leaving".
“Many Chinese who have profited most from the country's growth also express increasing concerns in private about social issues such as China's one-child policy, food safety, pollution, corruption, poor schooling, and a weak legal system. Rupert Hoogewerf, the founder and publisher of Hurun Report, said the most common reason cited by respondents who were emigrating was their children's education, followed by a desire for better medical treatment, and the fear of pollution in China. ‘There's also an element of insurance being taken out here,’ he said, citing concerns about the economic and political environment.”
Kathrin Hille & Jamil Anderlini in FT, "Netizens chip in to help Ai Weiwei pay tax demand".
“This week Chinese authorities ordered Fake Cultural Development, the company Mr Ai runs with his wife, to pay more than Rmb15m in back taxes, interest and penalties within 15 days. Chinese web users responded to news of the fine, which Mr Ai revealed on Twitter, by requesting the artist’s bank account details so they could send him donations…. The use of Alipay by Mr Ai’s supporters has put the Chinese company in a difficult position, possibly forcing it to choose between offending the government and helping a dissident raise money and annoying netizens if it blocks their transfers.”
Ellen Barry in NYT, "Russia Declares Deal to Join Trade Group".
“Because accession to the trade group is a consensus process, Russia had to gain the consent of Georgia, a member, overcoming the hostility that has divided the two countries since they went to war in 2008. Russia has built military bases in Abkhazia and South Ossetia, two separatist enclaves that make up a large portion of Georgia’s territory, and Moscow has recognized them as sovereign nations. In exchange for its consent, Georgia sought transparency of trade on its border with Russia, a delicate issue because two sections of that border abut Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Russian leaders said Georgia’s demands were political, and urged Western governments — in particular, the United States — to pressure Georgia into giving its consent. The trade monitoring proposal put forward by Switzerland would station observers in three places: at the main crossing from Russia into Abkhazia; at the Roki Tunnel, which cuts through the Caucasian Ridge into South Ossetia; and at a mountainous crossing into central Georgia, Mr. Kapanadze said.”
Andrey Kurkov in NYT, "Drinking on the People’s Tab".
“All I know is that the Ukrainians will continue amazing the world by the very fact of their existence, by their flexibility, shrewdness and their ability to adapt to any circumstance. Given the current situation, I find the latter quality encouraging, because as soon as real democracy comes to Ukraine, Ukrainians will quickly grow accustomed to it, life will become civilized, and Ukrainians will turn into law-abiding citizens. Obviously, that is not something that comes naturally to them, but should life require respect for law, they will do it, even if that should run counter to their interests. The authorities must simply create the appropriate conditions.”
Simon Romero in NYT, "Brazil’s Long Shadow Vexes Some Neighbors".
“Brazilian endeavors are being met with wariness in several countries. A proposal to build a road through Guyana’s jungles to its coast has stalled because of fears that Brazil could overwhelm its small neighbor with migration and trade. In Argentina, officials suspended a large project by a Brazilian mining company, accusing it of failing to hire enough locals. Tension in Ecuador over a hydroelectric plant led to bitter legal battle, and protests by Asháninka Indians in Peru’s Amazon have put in doubt a Brazilian dam project. But perhaps no Brazilian project in the region has stirred as much ire as the one here. Financed by Brazil’s national development bank — a financial behemoth that dwarfs the lending of the World Bank and has become a principal means for Brazil to project its power across Latin America and beyond — the plan was to build a road through a remote Bolivian indigenous territory. But it provoked a slow-burning revolt; hundreds of indigenous protesters arrived here in October after a grueling two-month march that took them up the spine of the Andes, denouncing their onetime champion, President Evo Morales, for supporting it.”
Ross Douthat in NYT, "Our Reckless Meritocracy".
“But this sudden fall from grace doesn’t make Corzine’s life story any less emblematic of our meritocratic era. Indeed, his rise, recklessness and ruin are all of a piece. For decades, the United States has been opening paths to privilege for its brightest and most determined young people, culling the best and the brightest from Illinois and Mississippi and Montana and placing them in positions of power in Manhattan and Washington. By elevating the children of farmers and janitors as well as lawyers and stockbrokers, we’ve created what seems like the most capable, hardworking, high-I.Q. elite in all of human history. And for the last 10 years, we’ve watched this same elite lead us off a cliff — mostly by being too smart for its own good. In hereditary aristocracies, debacles tend to flow from stupidity and pigheadedness: think of the Charge of the Light Brigade or the Battle of the Somme. In one-party states, they tend to flow from ideological mania: think of China’s Great Leap Forward, or Stalin’s experiment with ‘Lysenkoist’ agriculture. In meritocracies, though, it’s the very intelligence of our leaders that creates the worst disasters. Convinced that their own skills are equal to any task or challenge, meritocrats take risks than lower-wattage elites would never even contemplate, embark on more hubristic projects, and become infatuated with statistical models that hold out the promise of a perfectly rational and frictionless world.”
Anthony Grafton in New York Review of Books, "Our Universities: Why Are They Failing?".
“The Collegiate Learning Assessment reveals that some 45 percent of students in the sample had made effectively no progress in critical thinking, complex reasoning, and writing in their first two years. And a look at their academic experience helps to explain why. Students reported spending twelve hours a week, on average, studying -- down from twenty-five hours per week in 1961 and twenty in 1981. Half the students in the sample had not taken a course that required more than twenty pages of writing in the previous semester, while a third had not even taken a course that required as much as forty pages a week of reading. Results varied to some extent. At every institution studied, from research universities to small colleges, some students performed at high levels, and some programs fostered more learning than others. In general, though, two points come through with striking clarity. First, traditional subjects and methods seem to retain their educational value. Nowadays the liberal arts attract a far smaller proportion of students than they did two generations ago. Still, those majoring in liberal arts fields -- humanities and social sciences, natural sciences and mathematics -- outperformed those studying business, communications, and other new, practical majors on the CLA. And at a time when libraries and classrooms across the country are being reconfigured to promote trendy forms of collaborative learning, students who spent the most time studying on their own outperformed those who worked mostly with others.”
Steve Sailer at Vdare.com, "Steve Jobs: Nature, Nurture, And Apricot Orchards In Silicon Valley".
“How do you get to be the top businessman in America? The first element is will, which Jobs had in abundance. The second is luck. For example, getting to know the older brother of a high school classmate, who turned out to be the hardware genius Steve Wozniak. Jobs was lucky to have been raised in Santa Clara County, the R&D capital of the military-industrial complex, where every other dad on the block was an engineer. That the San Francisco Bay area was also the center of hippiedom interacted in unforeseeable ways with the slide rule set. The third and fourth factors are nature and nurture. One fascinating aspect of Steve Jobs is that Isaacson provides enough detail to allow the reader assess the impact of Jobs's being adopted. He was a one-man adoption case study, whose life embodied much of what social scientists have learned about the impact of nature and nurture. Adoption was not uncommon during the middle of the 20th Century. But after the legalization of abortion in the 1970s, the supply of middle class white babies started to dry up. Sentiment turned against adoption as people (at least those who had already been born) seized upon the notion that adoptees would inevitably grow up damaged, thus making abortion seem more humane than adoption. (Isaacson has caused a bit of a scandal by quoting Jobs saying, ‘I'm glad I didn't end up as an abortion.’) Since there's never a shortage of unhappy individuals, there was an ample supply during the 1980s and 1990s of stories in the press about unhappy adoptees. Normally, there's no market for happy tales about adoptees.”
Adam Shatz in London Review of Books on Patrick Wilcken’s book, Claude Levi-Strauss: The Poet in the Laboratory.
“It was the mind, and what he considered to be its formal patterns -- particularly as revealed in art and storytelling -- that fascinated Levi-Strauss. Reading this biography one sometimes wonders whether he might in the future be thought of as a theorist of cognition and aesthetics who only happened, because of disciplinary prejudice, to take tribal cultures as his material. Like Freud, he believed that the deeper truths of culture are hidden from consciousness, lodged in a subterranean stratum of the brain the interpreter can never fully excavate. He came to believe that anthropologists would have to team up with neuroscientists to explain the mysterious patterns of behaviour: a view, Wilcken suggests, that ‘presaged the cognitive revolution in the social sciences’.”
Theodore Dalrymple in New English Review, "Knowledge Without Knowledge".
“Be that as it may, there is a single reference to Dostoyevsky in the fragment that illustrates perfectly Deutscher’s learned obtuseness. Writing of Lenin’s father, an inspector of schools who was loyal to the Tsar and the Orthodox church, Deutscher says:
‘In his young years memories of the suppression of the Decembrist rising were still fresh and forbidding. Then came the terror that crushed the Petrashevsky circle and broke a man of Dostoyevsky’s stature.’
Admittedly I do not read Russian, unlike Deutscher, but still I do not think it would be possible to write a single sentence that could misunderstand Dostoyevsky more fundamentally, completely and deeply that the second which I have just quoted. Far from breaking Dostoyevsky, his imprisonment, death sentence, reprieve and exile were the making of him, in the sense that they were the experiences upon which his subsequent philosophy, for good or evil, was based. The reason for Deutscher’s most elementary error is obvious. Lenin was the very embodiment of precisely the kind of ruthless, murderous revolutionary to whom Dostoyevsky was drawing attention: he was the very fulfilment of Dostoyevsky’s prophecy. Dostoyevsky foresaw not by ‘scientific’ deduction, a la Marx, of course, but rather by intuition and imaginative insight into the souls of men, and he was vastly more accurate as a guide to the future than Marx ever was. But to have admitted this would have been to blow apart Deutscher’s whole world-view, the world-view that made his very considerable literary labours meaningful for him, and for which he had, when in Poland, risked his life. So he preferred to see Dostoyevsky not as a man who, as a result of his experiences (in conjunction with native talent, of course) had penetrated to what others had not penetrated, but as a broken reed, a man successfully terrorised by the powers that were.”
Michael Kimmage in NYTBR on Adam Kirsch’s book, Why Trilling Matters.
“For Kirsch, Trilling’s liberalism affirms a timeless notion of human diversity more than any New Deal tradition. In his essays on literature, Trilling upheld the pluralism Isaiah Berlin promulgated in his philosophical essays. He learned from Henry James that ‘not all human goods’ can be attained simultaneously. Trilling believed, as Kirsch puts it, that ‘the preservation of human difference, the ability to imagine opposing characters with equal sympathy, is the greatest expression of love,’ and he practiced the pluralism he preached. He welcomed T. S. Eliot’s reactionary Anglicanism as a provocation to liberal complacencies. At the same time, he corresponded at length with Allen Ginsberg, a precocious student who asked his professor to tutor Neal Cassady, patron saint of the Beats. (The tutorial never took place.) Trilling found Ginsberg’s incendiary poem ‘Howl’ the opposite of shocking — he labeled it ‘dull’ — but he also lent Ginsberg support and encouragement.”
David Kelly in NYTBR on James Wolcott’s book, Lucking Out: My Life Getting Down and Semi-Dirty in Seventies New York.
“[Patti] Smith is a welcome presence in Lucking Out, whether she’s performing or offering consolation to a young woman whose boyfriend vomited on her: ‘A guy’s not really your boyfriend until he’s thrown up on you.’ There are also guest appearances by John Cale, Lester Bangs, Tom Verlaine — who, on a night Television was playing, demanded that Lou Reed, sitting in the audience, turn over his tape recorder — and Tina Weymouth of Talking Heads, on whom Wolcott had a ‘crush.’ He seems to have had various unrequited crushes, lamenting ‘those 3 a.m.’s of the soul when you know there’s a lot going on in the untamed night and you’re not doing any of it.’ The woman he was most attentive to, however, was Pauline Kael, to whom he devotes 50 genuflecting pages and who lurks around every corner here. Wolcott was one of the more talented of the Paulettes, but that word doesn’t do him justice: maybe the less popular Paulinista, or just cinephant.”
Dave Kehr in NYT, "Another Nice Set We’re In, Stanley".
“The set also contains several foreign-language versions of the shorts, which were made in the days before dubbing was perfected and feature Stan and Ollie speaking phonetic Spanish and French. (There were a few German versions as well, though none are included here.) The alternate versions often include different gags and interpolated variety numbers to bring them up to feature length for foreign release. (For example, ‘Politiquerías,’ the Spanish version of the 1931 ‘Chickens Come Home,’ contains a complete performance by the Egyptian vaudeville star Hadji Ali, whose specialty — swallowing water, gasoline and small objects and regurgitating them in spectacular fashion — has sadly gone out of style.) Most important, these are new transfers, scanned from restored copies of the original release versions — no small thing for these films, which were so often sliced, diced, rescored and retitled over the years, as they were reissued by various companies for various markets. If anything, these were movies that were loved too much, copied so frequently that the original negatives for many of the early shorts were worn out and either lost or junked.”
Ludovic Hunter-Tilney in FT, "The Fall guy".
“After leaving school in 1974, he worked as a clerk on the Manchester docks, at a time when there were still merchant ships from around the world trading there. This cosmopolitan aspect of Manchester, one of the industrial age’s first modern cities, finds an echo in the Fall’s music, with its openness to avant-garde traditions alongside a grittier attachment to rockabilly and punk. ‘You got it in one, cock,’ he agrees. But then he changes his mind. ‘I don’t want to push it too far. I can’t stand Manchester.’ He has tried living elsewhere, in Edinburgh and Chicago but was always drawn home. ‘They were too nice.’ Smith’s contrariness is deep-rooted, automatic. It is the psychic balancing act of the clever working class boy from north Manchester unwilling to betray his class by moving away from it, but who also didn’t want to be constrained by the low expectations of remaining within it. When he passed the exam to get into grammar school, ‘My dad used to complain about buying a bleeding blazer. That was the worst news in my house when I passed the 11 plus.’ There was more grumbling when he began the Fall. ‘When I said to my dad, I’m going into a group, he said, You’re bleeding mentally ill. But not in a nasty way.’”
"“We Were Feared”" The Cuckoo’s Nest, Costa Mesa punk doc.
Disaster Amnesiac begins on the post-Black Flag "Greg Ginn releases".
“Next week Greg Ginn will be releasing a new recording, that of his Greg Ginn and the Royal We project. It seems as if our man at SST has started yet another new chapter in his going on four decade career of music making. This turn of events has had Disaster Amnesiac thinking about, and listening to, as much of Ginn's work from the 2000's as I can scour up.”
Dave Hoekstra in CST, "Two sidemen play at Chess Records once again".
“When artists had time they would swing around the corner from Chess to lunch at Mama Batt’s restaurant at 22nd and South Michigan. The restaurant was a favorite of Mayor Richard J. Daley, and owners would send a bowl of chicken soup to City Hall when Hizzoner had a cold. Batt’s was part of the Lexington Hotel, where Al Capone lived between 1928 and 1931. Batt’s closed in the late 1970s. The hotel was demolished in 1996. ‘They had a ‘Redemptive Beef’ [sliced, freshly cut on rye] sandwich, and the Lemons brothers were cooks who eventually opened their own barbecue joint,’ Barge said. ‘They cooked Jewish food like blintzes [and fried kreplach] at Batt’s. They had a very good corned beef sandwich. Most of our sessions were done in the daytime. When I was there it was Little Milton. Fontella Bass. [Vocalist] Billy Stewart was a character. He had two dispositions, either really jolly or hostile. I met Billy in the 1950s when he was a young kid and Bo Diddley’s keyboardist. Bo was a Chess artist and I was a Chess artist in ’55 and ’56.’ Stewart was an amazingly powerful singer. One of the first Chess hits for the rotund singer was the 1960 self-penned Latin-tinged ‘Fat Boy.’ He probably ate at Mama Batt’s, too.”
LAT Mag: Excerpt from Laurel Saville’s book, Unraveling Anne: A Memoir of My Mother’s Wreckless Life and Tragic Death.
“I thought, The most striking thing about my mother is not that she was murdered but that she survived her own life for as long as she did. It is also striking that my older brothers and I survived our childhoods with her. My mother positioned herself in the epicenter of 1960s Los Angeles, and like most parents of that milieu, she thought nothing of bringing her three young children along for the ride. I thought, The most striking thing about my mother is not that she was murdered but that she survived her own life for as long as she did. My earliest memories are of the gatherings that so defined that era. Sometimes we would set out to join a horde collecting for a ‘love-in.’ Twisting my body like a cat that didn’t want to be held, I would squirm as my mother’s boyfriend, Henry, carried me to the car, begging to be left behind, while my mother exhorted me to stop being such a ‘drag.’ I didn’t want to get flowers and rainbows painted on my face or beads and ribbons plaited into my hair. I didn’t want to watch glassy-eyed people twirling in tie-dye skirts and peasant blouses -- or without shirts at all, their thin, bare chests and small, drooping breasts open to the air and sunshine as they tangled together on a blanket or in the mud, their mouths and limbs slack against one another.”
Obituary of the Week
Joe Frazier (1944 - 2011)
“‘A kind of motorized Marciano’ is how Time magazine described his style in a 1971 cover story before Mr. Frazier’s $5 million fight with Muhammad Ali, the first of their three epic battles and the most lucrative boxing match ever at the time. Fans could watch Mr. Frazier fight for minutes at a time and not see him take one step back. ‘There were fights when he didn’t step backward. He took very few backward steps in his career,’ recalled Larry Merchant, the HBO boxing analyst, who was a Philadelphia newspaperman during Frazier’s early years. ‘What made him good was not so much his punching power as his willingness to keep coming and walking through the fire, his toughness and grit — and willingness to train so he could take the kind of punishment a fighter take in order to get to his opponent.’ Mr. Frazier’s signature weapon was a destructive left hook, which he used to win his first title in 1968 and floor Ali in their first meeting in 1971. He developed his powerful left as a young child, growing up without electricity or plumbing in rural Beaufort, S.C. His father had lost his left arm in a shooting over a mistress, and young Joe became his father’s left arm.”
Thanks to Jay Babcock, Chris Collins.
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