a new low in topical enlightenment

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Issue #126 (November 30, 2011)

Naperville, IL

Photo by Joe Carducci

Lesser Chicagoland
by Joe Carducci

It was interesting to be back in Naperville for a couple weeks. It’s not Chicago but the media is Chicago. It isn’t small-town old Naperville anymore either, so now its doings make the city papers and newscasts regularly, and I see no ex-classmates when visiting, though last time back I did see my cousin who was visiting from Phoenix and met her son who plays in a Norwegian black metal band.

I only went into the city once to see a terrible little movie about an aging small-timer played by Dennis Farina. He’s always fine but having nothing to work with I was struck by the fact of his participation, not to mention Steppenwolf Theater’s, Tribeca Films’ and the rave review it got in the Sun-Times by Roger Ebert. Maybe he gives everything at the Gene Siskel Theater a rave, I’m not sure, but judging all that plus the sellout crowd of actual Chicagoans its clear the Big Town is fully trapped in the aspic of its own self-image, imagined as what others think of the place. The not-New York-or-L.A. but neither one of those other lesser NFL franchisees. Watching the film I kept thinking how Bullet on a Wire was ten times better a dime to the dollar. (One of our actors, Rex Benson, died a month ago, the obit ran two NVs back.)

We weren’t in the city long because my sister drives like she’s still in Beijing. Her husband drove back so that he could be certain we hit Johnnie’s Italian Beef in Elmwood Park or maybe Forest Park or Oak Park. Well worth the detour.

I look at the Tribune and Sun-Times websites when in Wyoming but getting the papers in hand for two weeks gives one a better sense of where they are in their individual glide paths to Pulitzer’s heaven. The Trib is not well and so much national and international news is credited “from Tribune papers,” or “from Tribune wires,” that you wonder whether they have any bureaus anywhere. And the Sun-Times seems to exist on the fumes of Colonel McCormick hatred, which come to think of it powers the Trib too. I pick both up at a Starbucks along with the New York Times (WSJ and FT come to my parents’ house). I was telling an ex-neighbor of ours that it seems as if there are just five bylines that keep the Sun-Times a real newspaper; they are good ones though. I left him the Weekend section with Dave Hoekstra’s Chaka Khan feature which I linked to last week; it was full of local band names from the soul-rock scene circa 1970 (Baby Huey & the Babysitters, Rotary Connection…) that had minor if not purely local hits. Hoekstra’s one of those bylines; my friend knows him and says he lives in Naperville.

There’s plenty of interesting local news and Illinois competes with California and New York for pride of place in the Greek sweepstakes. Illinois is the odds-on favorite unless New York really decides to leave its gas in the ground unfracked. For human interest the papers and newscasts got to set aside politics to observe the death of Maggie Daley. Her cancer being the reason the mayor didn’t run for a seventh term. I will always remember Mrs Daley the younger for her ill-advised beautification campaign which seemed obsessed for quite awhile on tearing down newsdealer sheds throughout the city. She brought the entire weight of the machine down on the poor guy who’d just paid alot in 1984 for the 70 year-old world-class news-shed that stood on the sidewalk north of the old central library, now the Cultural Center. Dude had no contract, the sheds had been a feature of Chicago streets by custom since the old newspaper wars between the Colonel’s Tribune, the Sun, the Times, and all the rest they buried. That beautification drive which included cow statues, and the unauthorized nighttime wrecking of Meigs Field’s runways probably was the younger Daleys managing to drop Chicago from the world-class category by forgetting who they were, what the city was. On behalf of the long-beautified Tribune and Sun-Times who made little complaint, and the old ghosts of the Colonel’s era who couldn’t, we at the New Vulgate break the spell and wish Maggie several uncomfortably warm years in Purgatory on her way to whatever Irish pols have turned Heaven into.

Daley leveraged last minute privatizations for all they were worth to get out of office without the door hitting his ass. Rahm Emanuel is going to have to pull a number of rabbits out of a hat he’s going to have to use as a pot to piss in. I left the city fifteen years ago largely because of the end of parking due to neighborhood permits, night baseball at Wrigley, and quick-timed parking meters. I took those unjust tickets as permission to carry in the car a small ballpeen hammer and plastic bags I could tape around suddenly broken meters. Being half-Italian I thought it best I get out of town before fantasy became reality became nightmare. Now it sounds like the city will go after cars again, as well as property owners, businesses, cabs, retail, tourists, conventions, etc., for another round in an effort to squirm out of right-sizing a city governance. The civic corruption is much cleaner now; in fact its simply baked into the “tight” budgets that since 1970 have risen while the city lost one million in population.

Like the newspaper shed owner, the family that owned McCuddy’s Tavern which sat across the street from old Comiskey Park got the shaft. They even had the full faith and promise of the state of Illinois:

“The tavern stood as a well-known companion to Comiskey Park for eight decades at 245 W. 35th St. When it was demolished in 1988 to make way for new Comiskey Park, the Senese family said the Illinois Sports Facility Authority and Gov. James Thompson promised that they’d be able to rebuild in three years, across from the new stadium, now U.S. Cellular Field…. But a judge ruled in 1991 that the Seneses did not secure an enforceable contract and that the authority did not have to honor the agreement.” (CT)

Perhaps the Daleys no longer drink.

The former capitol of working class America is now the largest tourist trap in America (Chicago Blues! Lollapalooza! Taste of Chicago! Theater! Cuisine!). The statistics were assembled by Thomas Hargrove in the Sun-Times, “The Lost Decade: Cook County.” The county had the second largest drop in manufacturing jobs in the first decade of the 21st century.

“Among the bigger-name casualties: a Motorola plant in Harvard in 2003; a Jays’ Potato chip plant on the South Side in 2007; a Brach’s Candy factory on the West Side in 2003; Replogle Globes announced it was closing its plant in Broadview 2010; Wrigley shuttered its South Ashland plant in 2006.” (CST)

The piece claims that “Illinois manufacturers still employ about 600,000 people and account for 13 percent of the state’s economic output…” slightly less than Michigan, though Illinois is up slightly and Michigan is plummeting. However, there is as of yet no reported farming on vacant stretches of reclaimed Chicago.

In the Tribune Ray Long has a piece called “Union lobbyist’s children scored scholarships” which spells out how the politics of Illinois costs the public:

“A Tribune/WGN-TV investigation disclosed last month how a 2007 law allowed (Steven) Preckwinkle and fellow lobbyist David Piccioli to sub one day in a public school and line up their teacher pensions for life.” (CT)

Preckwinkle also got tuition waivers at ISU for two of his children and a nephew. It pays to be an insider, here the political director of the Illinois Federation of Teachers. These public service unions need a paint job bad. Even if they fend off cuts to their pensions and privileges this time there’s really no future in driving these states off a cliff. They only succeeded to date because WWII destroyed the rest of the world’s manufacturing capacity. Conditions have changed.

Whatever Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s playbook proves to be, there’s no question of Governor Pat Quinn’s reformer bona-fides, he’s like a less colorful Jerry Brown who never got bored with the dullest political questions regarding utilities rates. There’s only a question of his comprehension of the nature of the crisis. He only stepped up into office when former Gov. Rod Blagojevich managed to get caught being colorful. That scandal keeps giving too. Natasha Korecki in the Sun-Times has the story of Tony Rezko’s sentencing, “'Great Fall’ of Rezko”:

“‘Just looking at you physically is evidence of the great fall that you have had,’ U.S. District Judge Amy St. Eve told Rezko. At that, the pallid Rezko flushed, his eyes welling up. But the one-time top fund-raiser to Rod Blagojevich and former friend of Barack Obama remained steady even as St. Eve handed down a 10 ½ year sentence for corruption, describing Rezko’s actions during the former governor’s tenure as ‘selfish and corrupt…. This sentence must send a message that enough is enough.’” (CST)

John Kass underlines the outline of Rezko’s case in his column, “Up the ladder and down the chutes of Chicago Way”. He describes Rezko and his family at the sentencing,

“His two stone-faced sons would sit quietly, their black eyes deep-set, young hawks angry and wounded. I could see their father in them. Watching the boys I thought about what Rezko must have been like years ago, at 19, coming out of Syria hungry and broke, with nothing but ambition. It didn’t take him long in Chicago to see how things were done, how crooked politics are here, played as politics are played in the Middle East and everywhere else. Everywhere, that is, but in those embarrassing Obama creation myths spun by myth masters from Chicago’s City Hall, all about hope and change and Barack transcending the broken politics of the past. Rezko was of the old broken politics, which is the same as the new, hopeful politics.” (CT)

Rezko appeared to hurry his own imprisonment and was never called during the Blago trial, apparently to help clear the air for his neighbor, the President of the United States, but its hard to imagine him receiving a pardon from on high.

Another surprise is reported in the Trib by Katherine Skiba, “House Ethics Committee says it will continue investigating Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr.”

I had thought Blagojevich’s attempted sale of Barack Obama’s Illinois Senate seat a notional crime to an immaculate customer. But apparently the Jackson family’s eagerness to commence raising the purchase money seemed to confirm the worst too loudly. I predict both Jesses will walk, though since they are giving off the whiff of cash the Congressional Ethics Committee may be hard pressed to turn down the offer by fining them.

The Tribune’s editorials have improved in these crisis years of late, though they are still written by Bruce Dold I think. They are also laid out in a more assertive way, though that is difficult to pull off given just how narrow a narrow-sheet the former broadsheet is today. (Come to think of it, I didn’t see the tabloid edition of the Trib during weekdays this time distributed through Starbucks, and they only intermittently had a stack of the RedEye edition on weekdays.) Here the Tribune hails progress in Illinois budgetary matters to its dubious readership, “Government success stories. In Illinois. Really.”

The sub-head: “With their 2012 budgets, Emanuel and Preckwinkle are forcing efficiencies and representing taxpayers. Imagine that.” (This Preckwinkle is Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, a well thought of black female reform pol who uncannily, is not a Stroger.)

The city, county and state are less dependent on the CBOT and Merc exchanges than New York city county and state are on Wall Street, but revenues are down and that ain’t good. David Roeder in his Sun-Times piece, “CME’s reputation gets a stress test,” recounts how the markets entered into new vulnerabilities in this decadent phase:

“The markets that make up CME Group created financial futures here in the 19th century as a service to agriculture, which needed certainty and a centralized information source for prices…. The Merc was the first exchange to ‘go public’ and issue stock in itself so it could better compete as technology was remaking the business. It absorbed the Chicago Board of Trade a few years later. Traders who used to own the joints sold out for their benefit, or kept shares and watched them rise more until the financial crisis undercut stocks. But they were no longer in charge. Shareholders and heavy users of the markets, the big investment banks, were in control” (CST)

Commodities keep the Chicago exchanges grounded compared to how their tools were adapted to other purely financial uses in the New York and London markets. Still the Mayor and Governor are looking at those revenues and the cost of doing business will go up.

In lighter news while I was reading the Chicago papers, Scott Tyler was remembered for his Flag stunt back in the 1980s at the School of the Art Institute. He wasn't in Repulse Kava but “Dread Scott” was a classmate of Bill and John's at SAIC and when he lost interest in music donated his equipment which the new guy, Craig White, also a black kid but much poorer, got to use. Don’t know what Craig is doing now but he was a favorite guitarist.

Howard Reich does a pretty extensive review of the blues in Chicago today, “Playing the blues in black and white”:

“Two nights later at the Water Hole, a long-running bar on the West Side, the band out-numbered the audience. Septuagenarian blues belter Mary Lane sang for all she was worth, but not more than 15 people, if that, wandered into the place all evening. ‘It’s been steady going downhill,’ Lane said after. ‘I always had a crowd. I ain’t never had no six or seven people.’”

In the Sun-Times novelist Harry Mark Petrakis remembered an old job, “Laboring in the shadows of the ice men”, though I couldn’t find a link to it:

“For the following year, four nights a week, I became familiar with a network of transcontinental transport. Day and night, long trains of freight cars moved east from the Pacific Coast and north from Florida carrying vegetables, oranges, grapefruit and peaches. From the heartland of the country, trains carried bacon, ham and sausage processed at huge packing plants. All this transport required icing to keep down spoilage. For decades, ice cars called ‘reefers’ provided that cooling. Bunkers holding the ice were built into each end of the reefer. Salt was added to hasten the ice melting and lower the car’s temperature. A reefer required as much as 10,000 pounds of ice to fill its bunkers, while a transcontinental trip required that a train make half a dozen stops in railroad yards of different cities to be re-iced.”

I probably won’t get back to Illinois until the spring.

Drawing by James Fotopoulos

From the desk of Joe Carducci…

Matthew Kaminski interviews Fred Siegel in WSJ, "‘The New Tammany Hall’".

“One can appreciate why the ‘we are the 99%’ militants might resist Mr. Siegel's logic. He links the liberalism of the 1960s, not any excess of the free market, to today's crisis. The Great Society put the state on growth hormones. Less widely appreciated, the era gave birth to a powerful new political force, the public-sector union. For the first time in American history there was an interest dedicated wholly to lobbying for a larger government and the taxes and debt to pay for it. A former editor of the left-leaning Dissent magazine, Mr. Siegel has written several well-received books on New York, including the 1997 ‘The Future Once Happened Here.’ He calls his hometown ‘the model for cross subsidies’ in America. ‘Wall Street makes money off the bonds that have to be floated to pay the public sector workers in New York.’ Thanks to union clout, he notes, salaries and benefits for teachers, bus drivers and city secretaries have outgained the private sector during this sluggish economy.”


Robert Costrell in WSJ, "Collective Bargaining Weakens Cities".

“In the heated debates over government collective bargaining, a simple fact is often lost: Benefits for teachers and municipal workers are often more expensive than they are for state employees, let alone for workers in private business. The disparity between runaway local costs and more restrained state benefits is the key rationale -- often misunderstood -- for the efforts of Wisconsin, Massachusetts, Ohio and other states to limit local collective bargaining over benefits.”


WSJ: "A Democrat Bites Union Story".

“The Ocean State has been running a $7 billion unfunded pension liability, one of the largest per capita in the nation, and its annual pension bill was expected to double next year to $600 million. While public unions wanted to keep partying like it's 1995 -- when its pension liability was $1 billion -- the state's left-leaning independent Governor Lincoln Chafee and Democratic treasurer Gina Raimondo took a more sober view.”


Richard Teitelbaum at Bloomberg, "How Paulson Gave Hedge Funds Advance Word".

“After a perfunctory discussion of the market turmoil, the fund manager says, the discussion turned to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Paulson said he had erred by not punishing Bear Stearns shareholders more severely. The secretary, then 62, went on to describe a possible scenario for placing Fannie and Freddie into ‘conservatorship’ -- a government seizure designed to allow the firms to continue operations despite heavy losses in the mortgage markets. Paulson explained that under this scenario, the common stock of the two government-sponsored enterprises, or GSEs, would be effectively wiped out. So too would the various classes of preferred stock, he said. The fund manager says he was shocked that Paulson would furnish such specific information -- to his mind, leaving little doubt that the Treasury Department would carry out the plan. The managers attending the meeting were thus given a choice opportunity to trade on that information.”


Futureofcapitalism.com: "Paulson’s Meeting".

“The Bloomberg Markets scoop about Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson's meeting with money managers at which he disclosed to them his plans to seize Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac while he was telling the public something else is attracting a bit of attention elsewhere. Ben Smith has a post at Politico pointing out that a lot of those at the meeting are Democratic political donors. And Jesse Eisinger has a post at ProPublica calling for a congressional inquiry to get to the bottom of whether any of those at the meeting made money by shorting Fannie or Freddie after the tip from Secretary Paulson. But the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, and CNBC have held back from the full-scale pile-on or swarm that you sometimes see on a big or not-so-big story like, say, Governor Perry's memory lapse. Maybe it's because Henry Paulson is out of office. Or maybe the other news organizations don't want to give Bloomberg Markets credit for the scoop that Bloomberg Markets developed out of envy or out of a desire not to call attention to the fact that they didn't develop the news on their own.”


Edward Glaeser at Bloomberg, "Protesters Ignore American Love of Entrepreneurs".

“The dominance of the European aristocracy provided the old European left with convenient villains, people whose great wealth and power were guaranteed by birth and who seemed to do little to justify their luxuries. By contrast, Carnegie and Jobs earned their billions with ingenuity and effort. The recent biography of Jobs by Walter Isaacson reminds us that he was no saint, but he certainly provided plenty of joy in return for his billions. Every American playing ‘Angry Birds’ on an iPhone or downloading Lady Gaga on an iPod or watching Pixar’s ‘Toy Story 3’ on an iPad owes something to Jobs. To most of us, he’s far more hero than villain. My Harvard colleague Elizabeth Warren, who is running for a Massachusetts Senate seat, recently reminded us that ‘there is nobody in this country who got rich on his own.’ I espoused similar ideas in my book ‘Triumph of the City,’ when I discussed the magic that occurs when people learn from one another in urban clusters. Jobs’ own success was built on collaboration with Steve Wozniak, Mike Markkula and John Lasseter. But the collaborative nature of creativity only makes innovation more delicate and unpredictable and more likely to be damaged by an overly aggressive federal government.”


James Grant in WSJ on H.W. Brands’ book, Greenback Planet.

“Worse than Mr. Brands's sin of omission, however, is this sin of commission: His assertions that there is something new under the monetary sun. Actually, with the exception of the automatic-teller machine, we've seen it all before. Inflation is as old as the first coin clipped for a bit of valuable metal, and the first bad loan no doubt followed hard on the founding of the first bank. The author writes that Lincoln, by detaching the dollar from its golden anchor, ‘made possible innovations in finance unimagined by previous generations.’ But John Law, the 18th-century Scottish economist who served as finance minister for Louis XV in France, not only imagined this particular innovation but also implemented it for the king -- with disastrously inflationary results. ‘Stubborn tradition’ is Mr. Brands's explanation for the persistence of mankind's adherence to currencies backed by something other than the good intentions of the governments that print them. If so, humanity is stubborn for cause. The invariable rule on paper currencies, as the author does not quite right come out and say, is that they lose their value. Will the dollar prove an exception? The rising price of gold suggests that many doubt it.”


Ira Stoll at nysun.com, "Owners of New York Times Used Tax Loopholes the Paper Scored Ambassador Lauder for Using".

“The game the Times and its reporter, David Kocieniewski, are up to is clear at the start of the article, with this false dichotomy: “A handful of billionaires like Warren E. Buffett and Bill Gates have joined Democrats in calling for an elimination of the breaks, saying that the current system adds to the budget deficit, contributes to the widening income gap between the richest and the rest of society, and shifts the tax burden onto small businesses and the middle class. Republicans have resisted, saying the tax increases on the wealthy would harm the economy and cost jobs. This is just flat out-false, in at least third ways. First, Warren Buffett and Bill Gates have not called for eliminating the charitable tax break. In fact, they are using the tax break to avoid paying taxes on tens of billions of dollars more than Ronald Lauder has through his charitable activities, which, while vast, are themselves dwarfed by the assets of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, funded by Mr. Gates and Mr. Buffett. Second, if anyone has been calling for the elimination or reduction of special tax breaks in favor of a flatter, simpler system, it’s not been Democrats, but Republicans like Rick Perry, Steve Forbes, and Herman Cain. And third, eliminating the special breaks doesn’t necessary require ‘tax increases on the wealthy’ — one could have revenue-neutral tax reform that lowers rates for everyone while broadening the base.”


Laim Pleven & Russell Gold in WSJ, "U.S. Nears Milestone: Net Fuel Exporter".

“The U.S. was a net exporter of petroleum products in six of the first nine months this year, and the trend accelerated in the third quarter, with September data released Tuesday showing net exports of 919,000 barrels per day, more than any month this year. That indicates to observers that this year will be the U.S.’s first as a net exporter since 1949, when the U.S. economy was ramping up rapidly after World War II.”


Christopher Hitchens in CST, "GOP ‘loyalty oath’: USA is best".

“Long-term ideas of ‘destiny’ are not easily assimilated to shorter-term glooms about the loss of American power and prestige. It’s a strange fact, but in the present political season it is the American right that seems to harbor the most skepticism about American power. I personally find this odd: Yet again the United States has managed to get itself largely on the right side of a massive historical shift — the Arab Spring. And yet, most of the remarks made by seekers of the Republican nomination have been sour or grudging.

I remember Bernard-Henri Levy saying, in the early stages of the Iraq war that he opposed, that America had been essentially in the right about combating fascism and Nazism, and essentially right about opposing and outlasting the various forms of Communism, and that all else was pretty much commentary. Something of the sort seems to apply in the present case, both in recent developments in Burma and Vietnam as well as in Libya and Syria. The crowds have a tendency to be glad that there is an American superpower, if only to balance the cynical powers of Moscow and Beijing. Perhaps if it were not for President Obama being in the White House, our right wing would be quicker to see and appreciate this point.”


Neil King in WSJ, "Antsy Voters Look for a Third Way".

“Ross Perot, who won nearly one in five votes in 1992 to become the most successful independent candidate in modern presidential politics, ran at a moment when 39% of Americans said they were dissatisfied with how the nation was being governed. Today, Gallup reports, 81% say they are dissatisfied. Pollsters and politicians of both parties say those and slate of similar findings show that voters have become unusually open to an independent presidential run next year.”


Yan Xuetong in NYT, "How China Can Defeat America".

“But realism does not mean that politicians should be concerned only with military and economic might. In fact, morality can play a key role in shaping international competition between political powers — and separating the winners from the losers. I came to this conclusion from studying ancient Chinese political theorists like Guanzi, Confucius, Xunzi and Mencius. They were writing in the pre-Qin period, before China was unified as an empire more than 2,000 years ago — a world in which small countries were competing ruthlessly for territorial advantage. It was perhaps the greatest period for Chinese thought, and several schools competed for ideological supremacy and political influence. They converged on one crucial insight: The key to international influence was political power, and the central attribute of political power was morally informed leadership. Rulers who acted in accordance with moral norms whenever possible tended to win the race for leadership over the long term.”


Wei Gu at Reuters, "China’s Little Greeces".

“China can’t afford to be smug about the euro zone’s woes. Although the nation’s total debt comes to no more than 44 percent of GDP, China has some overextended regions of its own - Little Greeces. Hainan province, for example, has amassed debt close to 100 percent GDP. The new policy of allowing local governments to issue their own bonds may make the problem worse. High debt levels threaten to choke a fifth of Chinese cities, as a quarter of the $1.7 trillion local government debt matures in 2011. According to the National Audit Office, as many as 78 Chinese cities have debt to GDP ratios of more than 100 percent.”


Jamil Anderlini in FT, "China in crackdown on rogue exchanges".

“Apart from the country’s two main stock exchanges, three commodities exchanges and one financial futures exchange, no other entity is allowed to list new shares, offer centralized pricing or make markets, and no more than 200 investors may hold stakes in a single traded asset, the notice said…. Although there is no official estimate for the number of unregulated exchanges or the volume of trading conducted through them, Chinese analysts say there are well over 300, up from a handful five years ago.”


Andrew Rettman at EUobserver.com, "Tibet leader to EU: Do not believe the myth of Chinese supremacy".

“Asked if he is concerned the EU is going soft on values for the sake of strategic relations, Sangay said EU politicians should not believe the narrative that China is becoming an economic superpower. He pointed to studies which say the Indian model of organic growth, next to China's model of foreign capital and state-run firms, will see India move ahead of China in the coming years: ‘As long as a process is democratic and based on rule of law, rather than top-down, there is more chance of its being fair and sustainable. Because of censorship, we do not see the damage [the Chinese government] is doing. We don't understand the ramifications of the economic and political decisions made by the leadership.’ Lack of proper oversight on dams built on rivers such as the Brahmaputra and the Mekong could cause environmental chaos in future, he warned. Political persecution and mass-scale mineral exploitation in Tibet is also causing ‘a scar on the psyche of the people’ that could end in upheaval, he added: ‘I am not predicting anything, but the Arab Spring also came out of nowhere.’ He noted that Chinese statisticians have been caught lying on GDP growth: ‘The Chinese economy might seem to be booming. But what is really happening on the ground is difficult to asses ... Reports say they are spending $1.4 trillion on an internal stimulus package. But at the same time, China is also spending more on internal security than on external security.’”


Austin Bay in Weekly Standard, "Restitching the Subcontinent".

“In retrospect, splitting British India into East and West Pakistan and India may have been one of the 20th century’s greatest geostrategic errors. I got a hint of this in the 1970s when I was injured at Ft. Benning, Georgia, and befriended by two Pakistani officers attending an advanced military course. My leg-length cast made walking to the mess hall a pain, so the Pakistani major and lieutenant-colonel took turns chauffeuring me in their car. One evening, in slow traffic, the major and I passed an Indian Army colonel standing on the sidewalk. The major cracked his window, yelled, and waved. The Indian colonel smiled, raised his left hand, and wiggled his fingers. The major glanced at me and with a soft chuckle said, ‘That man -- he is my enemy.’ Despite their recent war, I knew better. On at least two occasions the Indian colonel had dropped by our bachelor officers’ quarters to watch television with the Pakistanis.”


Charles Levinson & Tamer El-Ghobashy in WSJ, "Key Clans Seen Keeping a Grip on Egypt".

“At sunset, on the eve of Monday’s vote, a group of local farmers sat sucking on a water pipe on the roadside near Tomiya. Asked what they thought of their local candidates, they named the Muslim Brotherhood candidates and, like everyone here, candidate Yussuf Abu Talab, whose father and grandfather have represented the district in parliament for as long as anyone can remember. ‘Abu Talab’s father was very powerful, anything you needed, he would give you,’ said one of the farmers, Taha Abu Shaaban. ‘He was in the ruling party, but the people loved him.’ As for the young upstarts in Tahrir, Mr. Abu Shaaban said there was one guy from the Revolutionary Youth Coalition running in the area. ‘But I can’t remember his name,’ he said. ‘There are so many new candidates and parties here.’”


Borzou Daragahi & Heba Saleh in FT, "Egypt’s youth rages against old order".

“Young Egyptians at the leading edge of the January revolution watched for 10 months as grey-haired politicians and generals wrangled fruitlessly over the country’s future. Now they have returned to Cairo’s Tahrir Square in full force against both the armed forces that have stifled change and the political elite -- including opposition parties -- that appeared all too willing to collaborate with them.”


FT: "Iraq’s rich pickings entice bankers".

“The number of bombings and attacks has fallen sharply from the peak in 2006-2007, but Iraq still seethes with barely contained sectarian tensions and intermittent bouts of violence. That is not deterring investment bankers hungry for potentially lucrative mandates. Over the past year a trickle of visits from intrepid bankers has turned into a steady stream of senior executives from some of the world’s largest financial institutions.”


Ann Marlowe in Weekly Standard, "Pop Goes Libya".

“The sound was both familiar -- Amazigh music uses half tones, like European classical music, rather than Arab music’s quarter tones -- and hard to pin down. There are suggestions of Spanish and Cuban music, which makes sense given Libya’s proximity to the former Muslim kingdoms of Al Andalus and to Niger, Mali, Sudan, and other points of origin for Afro-American music. The bundeer, of course, is African. And while this music sounds as though it were the fruit of a long tradition, it is not. The guitar arrived in Zuwarah only in the 1970s, as part of a North African Amazigh cultural awakening -- ‘Berber’ is the term outsiders use -- and all of Zuwarah’s young players are self-taught. While Amazigh have always sung at weddings, the first modern song written in the Tamazight language dates only to 1975, when “My City” was sung. When he heard ‘My City,’ the poet Mahrouq wrote ‘Amousnaw’ and gave it to his disciple Naggiar to sing. Neither song was recorded at the time.”


Jeffrey Gettleman in NYT, "African Force Makes Strides Inside Somalia".

“The Shabab have been terrorizing Somalia for years, imposing a harsh and alien form of Islam, chopping off heads and unleashing suicide bombers, including Somali-Americans recruited from Minnesota. But the African Union has dealt the Shabab a crippling blow in Mogadishu, which is what may have encouraged Kenyan and Ethiopian forces to recently invade separate parts of Somalia in an unusual regional effort to spread the Shabab thin on several fronts and methodically eliminate them. But the Shabab are hardly giving up. Young, messianic insurgents are viciously resisting the African Union troops, sometimes fighting hand to hand, with both sides suffering heavy losses. African Union officials, who have been reluctant to disclose casualties and in the past even provided apparently false accounting of the numbers, revealed that more than 500 soldiers had been killed in Somalia, making this peacekeeping mission one of the bloodiest of recent times.”


Patrick McGroarty in WSJ, "Africa’s Goal: Europe Without the Currency".

“Europe's crisis has created a world of common-market skeptics. Except in Africa.
Although the euro zone is convulsing from debt contagion brought on by the profligacy of its weakest members, several regional trading blocs in Africa are pushing for closer integration among countries big and small. For decades, African technocrats have admired Europe's common market, where open borders and the right to work in any member country are seen as the kind of steps that would boost trade in Africa as well. Those steps are also seen as lowering barriers that now deter investors, allowing smaller African states to thrive.”


Kerin Hope in FT, "Athens statistics agency chief accused".

“‘I am being prosecuted for not cooking the books,’ Mr Georgiou told the Financial Times. ‘We would like to be a good, boring institution doing its job. Unfortunately, in Greece statistics is a combat sport.’ The accusations against him come as eurozone finance ministers prepare to decide on Tuesday whether to release a delayed 8bn ($10.6bn) loan tranche to Athens, needed to pay public sector salaries and pension next month. Mr Georgiou is due to appear before Greece’s prosecutor for financial crime on December 12. If convicted of ‘betraying the country’s interests’, he could face life imprisonment.”


Edward Rothstein in NYT, "French Museums Atone For a Colonial History".

“Could two museums be more different? Both were unveiled during the last decade (the Quai Branly in 2006, the Patrimoine in 2007). Both evolved out of older collections and defunct institutions. But one displays authentic artifacts, the other reproductions; one focuses on non-Western cultures, the other on a quintessentially Western culture. One takes whole objects out of context, essentially turning them into fragments, while the other takes fragments out of context, essentially treating them as whole objects.
But both are also responses to issues that have been transforming museums in recent decades. And those challenges can seem more evident here in Paris, where so many museums are still staging places for the shaping of civilization. The European Enlightenment, born here, enshrined Reason as its deity. Museums became its temples.”


Excerpt of Goetz Aly’s book, Why the Germans? Why the Jews? Equality, Envy and Racial Hatred 1800-1933, at Signandsight.com.

“The Prussian reforms of 1808 to 1812 granted all citizens freedom of trade, and put an end to serfdom and what until then had been utterly unchecked arbitrariness towards the Jews. The Jews were still only allowed to become public servants in exceptional cases and certainly never officers in the military, but unlike the Christian majority, they made the most of the new opportunities. They emancipated themselves and at high speed. Germany, with its half-hearted reformism, sluggish economic development (until 1870), and strong legal security provided a fertile ground. To top it all, Germany had some of the best Gymnasiums and universities in Europe, as well as some of the worst primary education. Unlike the majority of their Christian and still largely illiterate peers, Jewish boys as a rule had always been taught to read and write Hebrew. Their parents did not put silver spoons in their cradles, but all manner of educational nourishment. Jewish parents knew exactly how much cultural skills such as reading, writing and arithmetic would improve their children's chances, whereas Christian parents and clerics were still claiming, right up into the 20th century, that ‘reading is bad for the eyes!’”


David Harris at AJC.org, "Israel and ‘Pinkwashing’: What was the New York Times thinking?".

“Amidst all the turmoil going on in the world today, the editors chose to publish a column entitled ‘Israel and Pinkwashing.’ In the first paragraph, the author, Sarah Schulman, sets forth her premise: ‘After generations of sacrifice and organization, gay people in parts of the world have won protection from discrimination and relationship recognition. But these changes have given rise to a nefarious phenomenon: the co-opting of white gay people by anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim political forces in Western Europe and Israel.’ Schulman quickly loses sight of Western Europe, however, as do the Times' headline writers, and zeroes in on her real target – Israel. She accuses Israel of ‘pinkwashing,’ which she defines as ‘a deliberate strategy to conceal the continuing violations of Palestinians' human rights behind an image of modernity signified by Israeli gay life.’ In other words, if Israel takes pride in being a country where gays don't have to live in hiding or terror, it's actually nothing more, we're told, than an elaborate ruse to distract attention from the country's true nature.”


Tony Barber in FT, "An Alpine peak the eurozone can only aspire to attain".

“The chaos of Metternich’s era prompted Switzerland’s transformation in 1848 into a federal state that, notwithstanding various blunders and blemishes, has proved a model of freedom, affluence and social stability up to the present day. No wonder other European Union citizens look enviously at Switzerland. Could a Swiss-type solution be the answer to the eurozone’s troubles?”


FT: "In defence of democratic politics".

“‘All those noisy and incoherent promises, the impossible demands, the hotchpotch of unfounded ideas and impractical plans.’ It is hardly surprising that Antonio Salazar, the ruthless dictator of Portugal, had such thoughts when talking about democratic politics. Yet, his appraisal has now become wide-spread among disenchanted voters. Two decades after Francis Fukuyama wrote about the end of history, it is now common to talk about the end of politics.”


Leigh Phillips at EUobserver.com, "The EU’s ‘techno party’ is hollowing out democracy".

“But technocracy is not to be limited to the allegedly wayward southern pair of states. It is such a grand wheeze, believe the project's deep thinkers, that under proposals for deeper economic integration unveiled by the European Commission last week, the unelected EU executive and the ECB are now to dictate national budgets of all eurozone states.

Firstly, let us be clear about what has not happened. Goldman Sachs has not been made king of Europe, as some recent articles in the French press have hinted at, given the association of Mario Monti, Lucas Papademos and the new head of the ECB, Mario Draghi, with the organisation that American journalist and professional muck-raker Matt Taibbi described as a ‘great vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity, relentlessly jamming its blood funnel into anything that smells like money.’ The reality is far worse than a cabal of undead 'banksters' imposing their will. It is systemic and not a conspiracy by a coterie of Trilateral Commission members, Bilderberg Group attendees or Goldman Sachs staff.”


Georg Diez in Der Spiegel, "Habermas, the Last European".

“‘Zur Verfassung Europas’ (‘On Europe's Constitution’) is the name of his new book, which is basically a long essay in which he describes how the essence of our democracy has changed under the pressure of the crisis and the frenzy of the markets. Habermas says that power has slipped from the hands of the people and shifted to bodies of questionable democratic legitimacy, such as the European Council. Basically, he suggests, the technocrats have long since staged a quiet coup d'état. ‘On July 22, 2011, (German Chancellor) Angela Merkel and (French President) Nicolas Sarkozy agreed to a vague compromise -- which is certainly open to interpretation -- between German economic liberalism and French etatism,’ he writes. ‘All signs indicate that they would both like to transform the executive federalism enshrined in the Lisbon Treaty into an intergovernmental supremacy of the European Council that runs contrary to the spirit of the agreement.’ Habermas refers to the system that Merkel and Sarkozy have established during the crisis as a ‘post-democracy.’”


Gideon Rachman in FT, "The long shadow of the 1930s".

“The lesson of the 1930s is that a global depression weakens democracies, leads to the rise of radical new political forces -- and, in the process, raises the risk of international conflict. A modern version of the 1930s would see a new generation of nationalist politicians rise to power in Europe, against a background of economic chaos and the break-up of the EU. Tensions would also rise outside Europe, as the global economic situation worsened. The balance of power in Asia would shift even faster, with a rising China facing a weakened America.”


Modris Eksteins in WSJ on the Harry Kessler collection, "Journey to the Abyss".

“If Kessler was at the center of everything, the center itself -- owing in part to his own efforts -- was disappearing in his lifetime. He was witness to an astounding process of demolition, the collapse of empire and of centuries-old authority, intellectual and artistic as much as political, social and economic. The process had clearly begun in the decades leading up to World War I but then accelerated at a blinding pace in the war years and after. W.B. Yeats said as much -- ‘things fall apart; the centre cannot hold’ -- in his famous poetic assessment of 1919, ‘The Second Coming.’ Kessler was in the eye of the storm, actually wallowing in the adventure, but he was always more a witness, or facilitator, than a primary actor. Born in 1868, the eldest child of the Paris-based German banker Adolf Wilhelm Kessler and the Irish baroness Alice Harriet Blosse-Lynch, he was a cosmopolitan from the outset. Schooled in Paris, Ascot and Hamburg, with subsequent military service in a socially prestigious Prussian cavalry regiment and surrounded by wealth and privilege, he would nevertheless exemplify a revolutionary turmoil that was the antithesis of his family and social milieu. His sexuality, which Mr. Easton rightly emphasizes in his excellent introduction, may have motivated this revolt. Kessler was decidedly homosexual and reveled in his own sensuality. The senses, he insisted, were the only source of true beauty. ‘Is it possible that our culture can find its way... to a standpoint from which it can say yes, with a good conscience, to lust, to the naked, to all of life, as did the Greeks?’ he asked in May 1908. ‘This,’ he then asserted, ‘is the fundamental problem of our culture.’ An emphatic presentism, a celebration of life and experience as opposed to history and morality, guided him in all his pursuits.”


Christopher Caldwell in FT, "Why climategate is a catastrophe for good science".

“All the emails have shown is that scientists are no less prone to vanity, rivalries and corner-cutting than people in other walks of life. But that is everything. Voters in a democracy do not argue about science. They argue about the authority of scientists. And scientists’ claim to authority comes from the perception that, in fact, they do not let their vanities and rivalries influence their work. Where others pursue their grubby little self-interest, scientists pursue only the truth…. Defending a scientist’s furtiveness on the grounds that ‘his science is good’ is like defending a politician’s blunder on the grounds that he ‘did nothing illegal’. The emails were damaging because they undermined the scientists’ claim to be speaking as scientists rather than as interested parties.”


Raymond Pettibon at Regen Projects, "“Desire in Pursuyt of the Whole”".


Mike Watt’s "Spielgusher".

“the story of spielgusher begins at what would be near the end of the minutemen. me and d. boon were huge richard meltzer students. we knew of him from his helping to create rock-write. in most places where we read him, it was the only thing we found interesting. it was also gut busting and for corndogs like us, that meant brain busting - or was it the other way around? we dug the confusion. we knew of him from his ‘hepcats from hell’ radio show on kpfk, they were on after midnight on saturdays. they were the best, they were a trip. literally for us - I'd be on the deck w/lights out and just listening/ tripping/ pondering/ voyaging. of course we knew of him from writing lyrics for the blue oyster cult, of course! ‘scientist rock’ is what he called the minutemen in creem magazine for a review of the ‘bean-spill’ e.p.”


The Nervous Breakdown: Mark Evans’ book, Dirty Deeds: My Life Inside/Outside of AC/DC.

“Evans’ three years touring and recording with AC/DC account for the lion’s share of the material, and fans won’t be disappointed. Beginning with his audition for the band through his unceremonious dismissal in London in 1977, Evans issues a page-turning, unsparing look at the personalities and attitudes that dominated that group. Brothers Malcolm and Angus Young, who founded AC/DC in 1973, are seen as the band’s creative, financial and strategic shot-callers, dictating virtually all aspects of the group’s operations and soliciting minimal input from the other three members. While their passion for making music and for achieving commercial success is white hot, their interpersonal skills evoke images of towering glaciers. Evans describes frontman Bon Scott as savvy enough to stay close to the brothers and tow the company line, but whenever circumstances allowed, Bon was out the door, eager to enjoy the trappings of the rock and roll lifestyle away from the Youngs’ sharp, puritanical assessments.”


Jan at Trust:

“On the www.goodbadmusic.com there are always (re-) posts of SST bands music and rare video footage plus some (always well written) thoughts by Erich on the music and art.



Please buy music at SST.”


Henry Rollins in LAWeekly.com, on Alice Bag’s book, Violence Girl.

“More than 30 years ago, in Washington, D.C., I secured a copy of a single by a Los Angeles band called The Bags. The two-song 7-inch, released on Dangerhouse, had a girl on the cover who looked right at you with huge eyes. The songs, ‘Survive’ and ‘Babylonian Gorgon,’ were great and made many of my mix tapes. A few weeks ago, the girl on the cover of the single sent me her new autobiography, released on Feral House Press. It's called Violence Girl, and the author is Alice Bag. I read it from cover to cover. If you are a fan of the classic, early punk music that was happening in the late 1970s here in Los Angeles, this is a well-written and informed read from someone who was there from the beginning. Alice wasn't one of those who turned up late to the game and benefited from the hard work and innovation of the L.A. punk bands and musicians who came before her. Rather, she was in one of the bands that got the whole thing started.”


Pat Place interview by Tim Broun at PerfectSoundForever:

PSF: So that line up, did the band end because of the dysfunction?

PP: Oh yeah. Oh, absolutely. What happened was when James hooked up with Anya Phillips, who was a good friend of mine - I loved Anya but um, she was his manager. She became the manager of the band, and she had visions of James being this big star, and thinking that he should be separate from the band, that it was really James' thing. She kind of planted that, and the truth is James was writing most of the music, but Jody was an amazing guitar player and really, the sound of the music was created by the individuals as musicians so it was, in that respect, a band. But she kind of separated the band, and that's why when we were recording she wanted to pay the band just session fees, and it started this divide. That's when George Scott quit the band, and then they brought in Dave Hofstra, who's also an amazing player, but to re-do George's parts on some of the record... It got really messy, and in Paris it all blew up, and I was kind of the go-between between the band, and James and Anya. So they'd say ‘tell the boys this,’ you know? So (a resignation laugh) what happened, basically, is they took the money from the Paris gig and - should I say this?- they bought drugs and so the band was really pissed. So we had to decide and Anya said ‘stay with us,’ and I kinda just said, ‘Ah, you know, I'm gonna quit with the boys.’”


“Scarcity Of Tanks is a music group that began in Cleveland, Ohio, U.S.A. during the summer of 2004 by Matthew Wascovich. They played their first show on 28 December 2004 in Cleveland. SOT has released five full-length albums from Total Life Society Records and have toured throughout the United States. Their latest albums are "Vulgar Defender" and "Fear Is Not Conscience." These albums, released on 22 January 2012, feature Nick Lesley on guitar, Kid Millions on drums, John "Broken Hand"(r) Morton on guitar/theremin, Jim Sauter on saxophone, Weasel Walter on bass, and Matthew "Muug Shank" Wascovich on vocals. Familiar names? Yes, these guys play(ed) in Necking, Oneida, the electric eels, Borbetomagus, Impractical Cockpit and The Flying Luttenbachers, so these are albums worth checking out."

More information.


Peter Hartlaub at SFChronicle, "News Cowboys".

“I’ve been working on what may become my all-time favorite Chronicle photo morgue archive gallery, a tribute to TV news anchors of Bay Area past. I was reminiscing on YouTube and beyond the other day, and ran across this epic 1970s promo for KGO, which featured Van ‘The Kid’ Amburg and the news cowboys. The San Francisco Peninsula Press Club has more information about the video here. KGO was pioneering in a more conversational/ sensational news delivery style in the 1970s, which was controversial at the time.”


Adam Jahns in CST, "NHL up next for bout with labor pains".

“Like the NBA, revenue sharing should be a topic. Players are entitled to 56 percent-57 percent of league revenues in any year in which revenues exceed $2.7 billion. The NHL topped that mark last season and is expected to this year. Long-term, front-loaded contracts also figure to get attention. They had become common practice under the current CBA, which had to be amended after Ilya Kovalchuk’s contract debacle with the New Jersey Devils. Still, many believe the negotiations won’t be as volatile as they were in 2004, when the players finally agreed to a hard salary cap.”


Obituary of the Week

Odumegwu Ojukwu (1933-2011)

At 33, he found himself at the vortex of simmering ethnic rivalries among Nigeria’s Hausas in the north, Yorubas in the southwest and Ibos in the southeast. The largely Christian Ibos were envied as one of Africa’s best-educated and most industrious peoples, possessed of much of Nigeria’s oil wealth. Tensions finally exploded into assassinations, coups and a massacre of 30,000 Ibos by Hausas and federal troops. While he denounced the massacre and cited other Ibo grievances, Colonel Ojukwu for months resisted rising Ibo pressure for secession. He proposed a weak federation to separate Nigeria’s three tribal regions politically. But Col. Yakubu Gowon, leader of the military government in Lagos, rejected the idea. A clash over federal taxation of the Ibo region’s oil and coal industries precipitated the final break. ‘Long live the Republic of Biafra,’ Colonel Ojukwu proclaimed on May 30, 1967. Five weeks later, civil war began when Nigerian military forces invaded the breakaway province. It was a lopsided war, with other nations supporting federal forces seeking to unify the country and Biafra standing virtually alone. Nigeria was Africa’s most populous nation, with 57 million people, of which 8 million to 10 million were Ibos.”


Thanks to Steve Beeho, Jay Babcock, Jan Roehlk, Joe Pope, Dave Naz.

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