a new low in topical enlightenment

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Issue #82 (January 26, 2011)

North of Sheep Mountain, Wyoming

Photo by Joe Carducci

MTV’s Adults-Only Juvenilia
By Joe Carducci

Life and Death are a single continuum. We at the crown of creation are allowed glimpses of that but do our best to forget it, especially we moderns busy as we are spinning our fictions, myths and legends. The primitives had their rituals for appeasing or fending off Death, but the modern age for all its sophistication -- because that sophistication -- can use the drive to solve the particulars of the many varieties of deaths to forget about Death itself. The modern believes mostly in physics now, and yet hopes to earn the ability to ignore the physics that governs him in particular. For every advance here, there’s unforeseen charges due there. Marshall McLuhan was mostly a physicist of communications, and even though academia was full of haters of broadcast media and low publications and movies, these others were so reflexive as to merely manifest those physical laws. It wasn’t like McLuhan really dug TV, but perhaps as a truly elite intellect where he worried about what new media was doing to people, the merely elitist false intellects only grabbed for social profit by impuning the audiences for the media’s programs.

Like that earlier disinterest in the coming media environment, there is little interest in tracing or deducing the physics that govern what happens beyond the newest new media which are seen to be separating persons rather than connecting them. Certainly the former mass media of three television networks created mass audiences which could share a deeper culture than just baseball’s World Series. I think often of Lester Bangs’ summation of his 1977 Elvis Presley obit, “[W]e will never again agree on anything as we agreed on Elvis. So I won’t bother saying good-bye to his corpse. I will say good-bye to you.” Bangs was making a point about American culture rather than the efficacy of mass media (outside the south Elvis was first heard and seen via network television, then radio, then touring, then movies), but no longer do teenagers nor their parents set the cultural table for any but themselves. In the 1950s, pop had to make room for rock and roll, and Hollywood had to make room for Elvis. Today nobody outside the Disney channel demographic bubble even hears about some new pop-thrush until she’s “grown up” and the prospect of another pop-tart immolation begins to interest adulter women and men as well as the young fans, the youngest of whom are often the most outraged at the sight of their former favorite’s sleepwalk into the media’s sex/porn flame. For all the attention paid Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera, Lindsay Lohan, Miley Cyrus and others, there’s a lost voice of those young fans, some now college girls or even fully adults.

What’s in this spectacle for men is the prospect of sudden permission to act as boys or animals. What’s in this for women is where Physics breaks down. No Fermi Lab or Hadron Collider can lift the dark energy that cloaks any truth or truths which pertain. Rape rules certain sad harems of Islam and sadder jungles of Congo but men have such practical minds they learn nothing from the sparks of these collisions. The rest of Mankind begs no question of Womankind in hopes of a favor or two in the dark.

Luckily we have the MTV programming department particle accelerator just now beginning to focus all they’ve learned from their decades of reality programming and apply it to the fever dreams of screenwriters and directors and a young cast ready to grind Larry Clark’s m.o. into series television sausage as “Skins”. David Carr writes as the light sparks, “‘Skins’ has a TV-MA rating and MTV has suggested in press releases that the show is ‘specifically designed to be viewed by adults.’” Carr has written about music I think, so he knows that’s laughable, no adult has watched MTV since they dropped rock and roll (?!), although the channel has been the place on the dial where the true-lies are fleetingly visible ever since the talk shows touched bottom. Somebody black once said they didn’t realize white people were just like niggers until they saw them paraded on “Maury Povich” in the bright light of a television studio. The n-word means a number of things but an old meaning to whites was accepted and sharpened in the urban ghetto to mean an id-like country creature lost in-the-moment, out-of-control in the city’s 24-7 stimuli, a raping robbing fighting machine that runs until it either meets another of its kind or the po-lice. MTV’s cameras hope the hope of all pornographers, that the messed-up self-loathing exhibitionists they’ve cast will be productively messed-up self-loathing exhibitionists at the command, “Action!”, and the most skilled cameramen with state-of-the-art steadicams and double-drive digicams won’t miss a money-shot drip.

Author Harris Gaffin quotes pornographer Ron Hightower:

‘Being a director is like being a baby-sitter. Everybody’s got a problem. Everybody comes into the business thinking sex is easy. Girls on the set change their mind, have flashbacks of home. They miss their mother…. I tend to be hard on the guys because they come in here with no respect for the industry…. I’ve seen girls freak out. They go through so many head trips.” (Hollywood Blue - The Tinseltown Pornographers)

That’s hardcore of course, which for MTV remains in development, but still it’s quite relevant. Carr continues about MTV in the NYT, “Senior executives are now considering additional editing for coming episodes, but that’s a little like trying to lock the door after a naked 17-year-old has already busted out and gone running down the street, which is precisely what one of the characters does in Episode 3 -- with a pill-enhanced erection, no less.” The cast of this show is apparently full of first-time actors and one wonders what is going on behind-the-scenes if a 17 year-old boy requires Viagra even for a re-take.

Carr concludes conceding “You could produce a show that clearly depicts what happens when kids do only what they want and exercise some poor judgment. There’s already a very good one on MTV, by the way. It’s called ‘Teen Mom.’” Well, now, really… let’s then move along to Carr’s colleague, Times TV critic, Alessandra Stanley’s piece, “…And Baby Makes Reality TV”, which begins: “DEATH is scary, but it’s not nearly as frightening as birth.… Motherhood, at least the way it is depicted on cable networks like MTV, TLC and even FitTV, is a menacing, grotesque fate that is mostly ill-timed. Procreation comes either way too soon, ruining the prom and summer beach plans of teenage girls on MTV shows like ‘16 and Pregnant’ or ‘Teen Mom 2,’ or way too late.” Sounds like MTV is doing its Lord’s work pushing various pills and abortion on the premise that children cannot otherwise stay modern.

The Times doesn’t understand this victory they chide and disown in the culture pages, so Abortion is treated separately in the metro pages by Ariel Kaminer in the ‘City Critic’ column, "Abortion: Easy Access, Complex Everything Else":

“This is officially the abortion capital of America. A health department report released last month proves it: about 40 percent of all pregnancies in the city end that way, an average of about 90,000 a year in recent years. No one is exactly celebrating the title. Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan and a group of multidenominationally horrified clergy condemned the statistics this month. Even abortion rights advocates expressed some concern about the numbers, trying to change the conversation to a broader one on reproductive health.”

The sainted Provider quoted later in the piece doesn’t give her name for obvious as well as covert reasons, but the Times’ Sabrina Tavernise gives you another Provider’s name in her story, "Squalid Abortion Clinic Escaped State Oversight":

“It was always open late, way past the time the pizza place next door closed at midnight. The women who emerged from it — often poor blacks and Hispanics — appeared dazed and in pain, and sometimes left in ambulances. The doctor who ran the clinic, Kermit Gosnell, had been sued at least 15 times for malpractice. Two women died while under his care. But the dangerous practices went unnoticed, except by the women who experienced them. They were discovered entirely by accident, during a prescription drug raid by federal agents last February…. On Wednesday, the Philadelphia district attorney, Seth Williams, indicted Dr. Gosnell on eight counts of murder in the deaths of seven infants and a Bhutanese refugee who died after a late-term abortion in 2009. A grand jury report issued on the same day offered its own theory on why so little happened for so long. ‘We think the reason no one acted is because the women in question were poor and of color,’ the report said, ‘and because the victims were infants without identities, and because the subject was the political football of abortion.’ Kevin Harley, a spokesman for Gov. Tom Corbett, said Friday that the governor ‘was appalled at the inaction on the part of the Health Department and the Department of State,’ the two agencies that were responsible for overseeing the clinic.”

Those agencies sound under-funded; yeah that’s probably the problem, they desperately need sufficient funding. And that Doctor, he may have some kind of disorder. I sure hope he gets treatment, maybe the Health Department can help him out. But more to point, switch out those poor folks of color for some hot teen white-niggers and you got MTV’s next smash hit. A new down low.

I don’t want to sound like an Islamist or a Christian but there’s a missing component to these four pieces, each actively dis-associated from the others by the editors of the New York Times on behalf of their modern readership. With each new micro-generation young women are further away from the wrongo precepts of sixties’ Feminism, and yet there’s a new version of female silence that oddly enough is now a tribute paid to those first feminists and all their bitter regrets.

Again, physics applies, but requires a McLuhan and Bangs to comprehend. Welfare, The Pill, any grand step forward in the progress of mankind is first visited upon a society that was formed before it. They utilize the innovation close to the way conceived by the engineers, also formed before its introduction. But those younger who grow up with the breakthrough in place, leverage it and thus are changed, and those who follow them further reorient to the change and any wreckage wrought. There’s a great work of philosophy to be written but it won’t be. Women aren’t often philosophically inclined, and extant philosophers have little to go on. Heidegger didn’t sense it in Arendt because she wasn’t modern either and neither had a clue they weren’t, because earlier breakthroughs and breakdowns in Europe were contained in a class structure at least until America came back to stay in 1942.

It seems likely that American knowhow’s next trick will be bio-engineering, something Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin Shelley wrote about as a teenager in her 1818 novel, Frankenstein, or The Modern Prometheus. Her parents were both philosophers, William Godwin and Mary Wollstonecraft, and her mother was at first claimed by the Feminists but they just don’t seem comfortable with the past generally. It’s easier to misinterpret the present. But bio-engineered humans… now there’s a modern Prometheus. And probably not something to commence in the dark, girls.

Sheep Mountain from Highway 130, Wyoming

Photo by Joe Carducci

Neafrapus Boehmi by James Fotopoulos

From the Wyoming Desk of Joe Carducci…

CT: "Mayor Chainsaw".

“Different times call for different mayors. Mediator, manager, uniter, developer, good cop, bad cop, salesman, visionary … in 21 years, Mayor Richard M. Daley has been all of those things, though never all at once. What Chicago needs now is a fiscal disciplinarian — not a resourceful Mayor Fix-It who can dream up clever gimmicks to balance the budget, but a Mayor Chainsaw who will do what it takes to make the city live within its means. Chicago is broke. There are not enough dollars coming in to replace the dollars going out. Yes, times are tough, but the city's money problems didn't begin and won't end with the recession.”


Pat Quinn in CT, "Border Wars".

“While I appreciate Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker's zeal to debate economic development in the Midwest, no amount of rhetoric changes the fundamental facts: Illinois is the economic engine of the Midwest, and our efforts to stabilize and reform our budget only strengthen our competitiveness in the global economy. As The New York Times editorialized last weekend, criticism of Illinois' recent tax and budget reforms ‘… makes great political theater. But businesses and voters in Illinois, and around the country, should take a closer look at the facts and figures, including their own.’ Facts are stubborn things, and it's time to set the record straight.”


CT: "Just a Quinncidence".

“On Wednesday this lame-duck legislature quacks its last. Don't be astonished if, in coming months, you read exposes about exiting legislators who cast votes to raise state taxes and debt — and who then miraculously landed secure public jobs or judgeships. (Tribune editorial, Jan. 11, 2011)

We're always grateful when politicians do things that make us look like we knew what was about to happen. But in this case we had tried to be genteel, suggesting that jobs or judgeships might be doled out ‘in coming months,’ not the more cynical ‘in coming days.’ Then we learned of a turn of events that landed former state Rep. Careen Gordon an $86,000-a-year state job — just days after she supplied a crucial vote to pass Gov. Pat Quinn's huge tax increase….

She said that Quinn asked her in that conversation what she thought of the possibility of a tax increase. She said she told him she could support it only if she knew how the money would be used, cuts were included and there would be 'no new programs.' He did not ask for her vote, she said. Nor did she feel pressured to vote for the legislation, she said. Then, on the same day our editorial about lame ducks and secure public jobs appeared in print, the tax bill cleared the Illinois House with the minimum 60 votes — Gordon's included. The bill included no cuts, and let state spending rise. And then Quinn gave Gordon a new job…. Gordon said she did not consider whether voting against the 67-percent tax increase would affect her job prospects. We would never suggest otherwise. But lest we see any more coincidences in the future: If we have our lame ducks in a row, 14 of them — two senators and 12 representatives, all Democrats — voted for Quinn's tax plan and then waddled out of the Legislature.”


Michael Corkery in WSJ, "Illinois Confirms Inquiry by SEC".

“The Illinois inquiry is focused on public statements concerning an overhaul measure passed in 2010 meant to help shore up the retirement system, said the governor's spokeswoman, Kelly Kraft. ‘We are fully cooperating’ with the inquiry, said Ms. Kraft in an interview. ‘We feel our disclosure was always accurate and complete.’ SEC spokesman John Nester, reached late Monday night, declined to comment. An issue being examined is whether Illinois was taking future savings and treating them as current reductions in the cost of the pension fund, said Robert Kurtter, a managing director in the public finance division at Moody's Investors Service, who said his firm spoke with Illinois officials about the inquiry. One of the measures that Illinois took to save costs was to raise the retirement age for newly hired Illinois workers. Mr. Kurtter mentioned the inquiry in a report released Monday evening.”


Dennis Byrne in CT, "The worst is yet to come in Illinois".

“None of this bothered New York Times editorial writers who, from afar, lauded the tax increase in a Jan. 17 editorial, headlined ‘Illinois wakes up.’ Reflecting the cant of Illinois social liberals who don't see the train wreck coming, the Times suggested that other states follow Illinois' example as ‘a first step toward getting (their financial) house in order.’

Gratefully, virtually none are. Even California Gov. Jerry Brown, once dubbed Gov. Moonbeam by the late Mike Royko, has stepped into the realistic light of day, proposing $12.5 billion in spending cuts from an $84.6 billion general fund budget. Even he isn't proposing new taxes, calling only for voter approval of a five-year extension of taxes and fees set to expire this month. Actually, Illinois can learn something from other places that eschew big income tax increases. In New York City, for example, Mayor Michael Bloomberg is calling pension reform a major state priority and says he will refuse to sign any union contract with salary increases without accompanying major pension reforms.
Compare that with Illinois, where state and local officers have stood weasel tall in controlling labor costs — handing out job guarantees (Gov. Quinn) and signing 10-year contracts (Mayor Richard M. Daley). Nationally, public pensions are facing a collective deficit of more than $3 trillion. States, not just Illinois, are in such distress that talk has begun of bankruptcy as a way out. When I raised the possibility a few weeks ago, it was generally considered to be an absurdity, but Thursday it was memorialized by Times reporter Mary Williams Walsh. Bankruptcy proponents, she wrote, ‘… say some states are so burdened that the only feasible way out may be bankruptcy, giving Illinois, for example, the opportunity to do what General Motors did with the federal government's aid.’”


Jessica Garrison in LAT, "California cities race to shield funds from state".

“A revolt by city officials against Gov. Jerry Brown's proposal to abolish municipal redevelopment agencies is rapidly spreading across the state. Over the last several days, officials in Long Beach, Pasadena, Palm Springs and numerous other cities have hastily called special meetings to discuss transferring billions of dollars from their redevelopment agencies to city control to keep the money out of the state's reach.”


Catherine Saillant & Jessica Garrison in LAT, "California to audit 18 redevelopment agencies".

“The state will dispatch auditors to towns and cities across California to scour the books of 18 redevelopment agencies to see how officials have been spending the billions of taxpayer dollars they take in each year to improve blight, state Controller John Chiang announced Monday. The financial probe comes amid a deepening fight over the future of California's 400 redevelopment agencies, which control about $5 billion in property taxes a year. Gov. Jerry Brown has proposed abolishing redevelopment and sending the money instead to counties and school districts. Brown, who would also take $1.7 billion next fiscal year to balance the state budget, argued that redevelopment is a luxury the state cannot afford at a time when it can't pay for schools and other basic services.”


David Skeel in WSJ, "A Bankruptcy Law -- Not Bailouts -- for the States".

“Is there anything states can do in bankruptcy that a well-motivated governor can't do without it? You bet there is. First, the governor and his state could immediately chop the fat out of its contracts with unionized public employees, as can be done in the case of municipal bankruptcies. In theory, the contracts could be renegotiated outside of bankruptcy, and many governors are doing their best, vowing to freeze wages and negotiate other adjustments. But the changes are usually small, for the simple reason that the unions can just say no. In bankruptcy, saying no isn't an option. If the state were committed to cutting costs, and the unions balked, the state could ask the court to terminate the contracts. Second, the state could reduce its bond debt, which is nearly impossible to restructure outside of bankruptcy. While some worry about the implications for bond markets, the alternative for the most highly indebted states—complete default—is far worse….. Third, state bankruptcy could even permit a restructuring of the Cadillac pension benefits that states have promised to public employees. These are often ‘vested’ under state law, and in some states, like California, are protected by the state constitution. Under state law, little can be done to adjust them to more reasonable amounts.”


Fred Siegel in WSJ, "How Public Unions Took Taxpayers Hostage".

“The first to seize on the political potential of government workers was New York City Mayor Robert F. Wagner. The mayor's father, a prominent New Deal senator, had authored the landmark 1935 Wagner Act, which imposed on private employers the legal duty to bargain collectively with the properly elected union representatives of their employees. Mayor Wagner, prodded by Jerry Wurf of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (Afscme), gave city workers the right to bargain collectively in 1958. Running for re-election in 1961, Mayor Wagner was opposed by the old-line party bosses of all five boroughs. He turned to a new force, the public-sector unions, as his political machine. His re-election resonated at the Kennedy White House, which had won office by only the narrowest of margins in 1960. Ten weeks after Wagner's victory, Kennedy looked to mobilize public-sector workers as a new source of Democratic Party political support. In mid-January 1962, he issued Executive Order 10988, which gave federal workers the right to organize in unions.”


Douglas Schoen in WSJ, "The Union Threat to the Democrats’ Future".

“There is a crisis in state and municipal finance. That much is clear. What hasn't been fully understood is that the fate of the Democratic Party is bound up in the resolution of that crisis. In the November midterm elections, the Democratic Party lost its congressional majority. The far graver threat to the party, though, is that its base is made up disproportionately of public-employee unions, liberals, trial lawyers and other special-interest groups…. By providing Democratic candidates the bulk of their campaign funding, public unions have essentially bought control of the party. This is particularly true when it comes to the politicians who control union contracts and pensions at the state and municipal level.”


James Purnell in Prospect on Eric Hobsbawm’s book, How to Change the World.

“Social democracy in Europe triumphed during the last century; so why is it in such retreat now? In part because its victory is so total: the right (at least in Europe) accepts the role of government in protecting people, the debate now is about how best to do that. It’s also because of the limits of the European social democratic tradition. In his opening essay on pre-Marxian socialism, Hobsbawm brilliantly traces the difference between the scientific socialism of the continent and the utopian socialism of Britain and Robert Owen. France and Germany had the theory; Britain, in the Chartists and then the first ‘real’ proletariat, had the movement…. The left in Britain was never Marxist because it was always a movement, rather than a theory—and, for that reason, a better solution to the cruelty that Engels found. First through the Chartists, and then the co-operatives and labour movement, people came together to protect themselves. They weren’t pursuing a theory; they were choosing between security and exploitation. Marx was right to identify false consciousness—but it was the false consciousness of the intellectuals, not the proletariat, that he should have worried about. And it was the wisdom of the labour movement that proved a better solution to reducing this unnecessary suffering than the predictions of inevitable revolution.”


Tim King in Prospect, "Collaboration: are the French still in denial?"

“At 46 Jardin is the successful author of ‘smiley, sentimental novels’ (his own words)—gushing, hopelessly romantic bestsellers. A week ago he published a very different kind of book, Des Gens Très Bien (Worthy, Well Brought-Up People), which has polarised opinion in France and caused convulsions in the French press. In essence Jardin’s 300 page book simply puts two statements together—that his grandfather Jean Jardin was a good, decent, honest man and that he was also one of the prime organisers of the arrest and deportation of 13,000 Jews from French soil to German camps in July 1942. Neither statement is disputed by historians, yet, for reasons which many British people find hard to understand, in France saying them in the same breath is considered national blasphemy…. The facts about Jardin grandpère are simple: in April 1942 he was appointed directeur de cabinet to Pierre Laval when the pro-German Laval stormed back to power as undisputed head of the French government. A directeur de cabinet is a senior politician’s key man. He runs the inner cabinet of advisers and staff, he organises the politician’s life, supplies the background to every question of the day. Loyalty is imperative. For this crucial job Laval chose Alexandre Jardin’s grandfather, Jean Jardin.

For years the French government had been trying to persuade the Germans to take back their Jewish refugees, popularly considered as immigrant spongers, and in the spring of 1942 the Germans obliged—telling Laval’s new government to round up 28,000 Jews aged between 16 and 50. In July Pétain and Laval agreed to deport their ‘stateless’ Jews, insisting that children go as well.”


Nidra Poller at Meforum.org, "A French Intifada".

“France's politique arabe (pro-Arab policy) has been unwittingly transposed to the domestic scene. The twisted logic and adulterated ethics devised to blame Israel for failing to bring peace on earth has come back to haunt the French. A compassionate discourse that excuses Palestinian atrocities against Israeli civilians as a reaction to ‘injustice’ also excuses French domestic criminality as payback for colonization, discrimination, exclusion, unemployment, and police harassment. Confusion between avowed genocidal intentions and elusive legitimate aspirations—a Palestinian state living side by side in peace with Israel—breeds confusion at home between insurrectional thugs and frustrated but law-abiding immigrants. The ‘disproportionate reaction’ accusation played like the ace of spades against Israel turns into a joker when riot police are portrayed as Robocops oppressing a ‘Palestinized’ immigrant population. Having expropriated the moral high ground by rough riding over the heads of Israeli soldiers, French authorities are disarmed in confrontations with homegrown shabab or youths.”


James Bennett in New Criterion, "Assimilation & the persistence of culture".

“A great deal of ‘Americanization’ literature… deals with the weakening of European family obligations in America as patriarchs discovered that, without the law enforcing their will, their children began to define their own lives and ends. This has particularly been true in the matter of mixed marriages and religious conversion. The breakdown of family authority goes hand-in-hand with expanding the radius of trust. Typically, a wider radius of trust correlates to exogamous cultures -- that is, ones in which marrying outside of the family is encouraged and marrying relatives is discouraged.”


Madhav Das Nalapat in New Criterion, "India & the Anglosphere".

“During Churchill’s youth and beyond, the concept of ‘blood ties’ as a civilizational—indeed as a civilizing—link was commonplace. It was carried to an extreme by the National Socialist German Workers Party during 1933–45. This was an age when the ‘physical’ predominated, even in the creation of wealth. Manufacturing and chemical production were central to the economy. But if the United Kingdom still holds a position of respect within the international economy today, it’s because of its creative output: the literature, cinema, art, drama, and other expressions of the imagination that flourish in the native soil of the English language. Given that the intangible has overtaken the physical, there is a need to refine the concept of ‘Blood’ to include not only the more superficial of genetic codes that comprise the ‘Blood of the Body,’ but also the abstract virtues and mindsets of the ‘Blood of the Mind.’ If we define the Anglosphere as not simply a geographic or even a linguistic entity, but as an entity that encapsulates the type of thought and behavior that led to Magna Carta, to the movement for the abolition of slavery, to the Industrial Revolution, and to the war against the Nazis’ attempt to conquer continental Europe, then it is a fact that such minds exist not only within the geographical spaces visualized in a Churchillian Anglosphere, but also much farther afield. India, for instance—together with the United States and the United Kingdom—forms the core of a twenty-first-century Anglosphere.”


Nicu Posescu at EUobserver.com, "Is soft power freeriding?"

“The EU is proud that it is a ‘soft power’ (when you make others what you want through attraction, rather than coercion). It also thinks this is the most sophisticated and beneficial way to exercise power (‘post-modern’ in other words). It might be true, but seen from outside the logic of soft power might not be that appealing for others. In fact if you sit in Dushanbe, Caracas or Karachi why would you care for someone’s soft power? Basically the logic of soft power is the following: ‘I am attractive, prosperous, nice, friendly, make good movies, have good schools etc and that is others you should do and want what I want’. This is a bit of a free-ride. First of all, soft power is not even designed as a foreign policy tool or an instrument of power. It is simply a useful potential side-effect of (EU and US, mainly) politicians responding to their voters’ needs. And one can be both attractive, and irrelevant in international politics. Second, when you try to use soft power, you basically expect others to do something not because you exchanged concessions, but just because you invest in making yourself nice.”


Chrystia Freeland in Atlantic, "The Rise of the New Global Elite".

“The rise of the new plutocracy is inextricably connected to two phenomena: the revolution in information technology and the liberalization of global trade. Individual nations have offered their own contributions to income inequality—financial deregulation and upper-bracket tax cuts in the United States; insider privatization in Russia; rent-seeking in regulated industries in India and Mexico. But the shared narrative is that, thanks to globalization and technological innovation, people, money, and ideas travel more freely today than ever before. Peter Lindert is an economist at the University of California at Davis and one of the leaders of the ‘deep history’ school of economics, a movement devoted to thinking about the world economy over the long term—that is to say, in the context of the entire sweep of human civilization. Yet he argues that the economic changes we are witnessing today are unprecedented. ‘Britain’s classic industrial revolution was far less impressive than what has been going on in the past 30 years,’ he told me. The current productivity gains are larger, he explained, and the waves of disruptive innovation much, much faster.”


James Traub in NYT Magazine, "Turkey’s Rules".

“You increasingly hear the view that power in the Middle East is shifting away from Arab states and toward the two non-Arab powers, Turkey and Iran. Indeed, in Reset: Iran, Turkey and America’s Future, Stephen Kinzer, a former New York Times reporter, describes Turkey, Iran and the U.S. as ‘the tantalizing power triangle of the 21st century,’ destined to replace the Cold War triangle of the U.S., Israel and Saudi Arabia. Davutoglu has climbed aboard the Turkish rocket. Turkey’s success raises his status; his achievements do the same for his country. Foreign Policy magazine ranked him No. 7 in its recent list of ‘100 Global Thinkers,’ writing that under his leadership, ‘Turkey has assumed an international role not matched since a sultan sat in Istanbul’s Topkapi Palace.’ Davutoglu has maintained close relations with both Erdogan and President Abdullah Gul — one of the few senior figures to do so.”


Abbas Milani in National Interest, "Zoroaster and the Ayatollahs".

“Faced with the inexorable challenge of modernity, Shiism in the twentieth century in fact split into two different camps, some trying to reconcile it with democracy and rationalism, while others, led by Khomeini, rejected nearly every cultural component of modernity as a colonial construct. In a sense, this was the fourth critical cultural paradigm in Iran’s encounter with modernity. The other three offered different ways of embracing change, while this version provided reasons why the whole temptation of the progressive era should be ignored and overcome. Ayatollah Khomeini and his small band of cohorts criticized nationalism and denigrated individualism as a ploy of colonialism. Instead, they advocated ‘brotherhood’ in an internationalist ‘ummah,’ or spiritual community of the believers. As early as 1944, with the publication of his book Kashf al-Asrar (Solving Mysteries), Khomeini offered a paradigm of politics and culture that not only dismissed modernity and much of the modernization project, but fought on two religious fronts as well. On the one hand, he took issue with clerics who advocated a ‘quietist’ interpretation of Shiism…. At the same time, Ayatollah Khomeini fought against Islamist reformists—most notably Ali Shariati and his attempt to eclectically mix Marx, Freud, Sartre, Fanon, Che and Islam…. While the Shah was busy fighting the cultural influence of the Left, and while the Left, ever self-congratulatory in its exaggeration of its own importance and influence, flirted with the clergy as ‘allies’ in the anti-imperialist struggle, Khomeini and his cohorts worked quietly to enhance their own influence and strengthen their labyrinthine network of groups, mosques, neighborhood ‘mourning’ committees and even professional organizations…. Khomeini’s concealment of his true intentions just before the revolution, as well as his ability to portray himself both to the majority in Iran and even to the American embassy in Tehran as a proponent of democracy, allowed for the formation of the unwieldy alliance of advocates and foes of modernity against the Shah’s authoritarianism.”


Jane Perlez in NYT, "‘Colonel Imam’ Dies in Taliban Custody."

“When the Taliban dominated Afghanistan in the 1990s, General Babar, then the interior minister of Pakistan under Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto, called the new rulers ‘our boys.’ Colonel Imam, working for Pakistan’s Inter-Services Intelligence served as Pakistan’s consul general in the strategic Afghan town of Herat, providing vital financial and military support to the Taliban. Colonel Imam formed a close bond with Mullah Muhammad Omar, the Taliban leader who welcomed Osama bin Laden to Afghanistan.

After Sept. 11, when the Taliban movement became stronger in Pakistan, Colonel Imam struggled to stay relevant to a new younger generation of jihadists, more ruthless and uncontrollable. Last March, he escorted a British journalist of Pakistani origin, Asad Qureshi, to North Waziristan. Another former ISI official, Khalid Khawaja, was in the group. The three men were kidnapped by militants calling themselves ‘Asian Tigers,’ a wild bunch of Mehsud tribesmen and Punjabi militants who fought among themselves.
The Tigers killed Mr. Khawaja in April, branding him an agent of the Central Intelligence Agency and the ISI. The British journalist was released in September. Colonel Imam’s family appealed for his release through the Haqqani network, the most powerful militants in North Waziristan and allies of the Pakistani military. But the Haqqanis were unable to secure his release, and it appeared that the Pakistani Army and security services were either unable or unwilling to organize a rescue operation. ‘This was a big error on his part believing he would be welcome now in North Waziristan,’ said Rahimullah Yusufzai, a Pakistani journalist who covered Colonel Imam for many years.”


Nick Cohen at Thejc.com, "Tunisia and our black and white mentality".

“Every morning I read the Times, the Guardian, the Telegraph, the Financial Times and the Independent. I stay with the "Today" programme until Radio 4 drives me away by insulting my intelligence with Thought for the Day and look at the Economist and the New York Times if I have a moment. But I knew nothing about Tunisia. No journalist thought it worthwhile to tell readers about the grotesque figure of Leila Trabelsi, an Imelda Marcos and Marie Antoinette rolled into one, who was looting a country millions of western tourists knew well. No one looked at how she hoarded gold on the one hand, while keeping her dirty old man of a husband sweet on the other. No one bothered to look at her equally ghastly and rapacious children, who, along with the wider clan, formed a Mafia state that forced businesses to pay off the ruling crime family. I would have liked have to read about the brutality of the secret police, as well, and to have had a little advance notice that the subject people was preparing to revolt. Leaving all political considerations aside, Tunisia was in journalistic terms a great story from the Middle East that virtually sat up and begged journalists to take notice, but because it did not involve Israel, foreign desks looked the other way.”


Saifedean Ammous & Edmund Phelps in FT, "Tunisians set off on the road from serfdom".

“In Mr Ben Ali’s Tunisia, nearly all business activities, not just selling vegetables on city streets, were placed under the supervision of the regime. Permits were sold to poor people to raise the revenue that increases in income and sales taxes might not. Among the middle class, those awarded privileged positions were selected for loyalty to the regime more than for business acumen…. Thus state agencies and state-run corporations had a stranglehold on virtually all the economy. The losses of inclusion into the market economy suffered by poor people were a grave injustice. Millions of Bouazizis, unable to find a job in a state-controlled labour market and powerless to start a business without the proper connections, found it impossible to be productive members of society. ‘It was peaceful,’ a young woman told a reporter, ‘but poor people didn’t have any chance to live.’ The protection of sclerotic state-backed enterprises from the entry of new ideas and new people has closed off many better ways to operate. The dearth of innovation, in turn, has had a chilling effect on job creation and the growth of incomes. There are many problems in the Arab world, and they vary from country to country. But the grip of the state on the economy is extensive in many Arab countries – and non-Arab ones too.”


Celia Dugger in NYT, "Art Exhibit Stirs Up the Ghosts of Zimbabwe’s Past".

“Before the World Cup in South Africa in June, a minister in Mr. Mugabe’s party, ZANU-PF, invited the North Korean soccer team, on behalf of Zimbabwe’s tourism authority, to base itself in Bulawayo before the games began, a gesture that roused a ferocious outcry. After all, it was North Korea that trained and equipped the infamous Fifth Brigade, which historians estimate killed at least 10,000 civilians in the Ndebele minority between 1983 and 1987. ‘To us it opened very old wounds,’ Thabitha Khumalo, a member of Parliament, said of the attempt to bring the North Korean team to the Ndebele heartland. ‘We’re being reminded of the most horrible pain. How dare they? Our loved ones are still buried in pit latrines, mine shafts and shallow graves.’ Ms. Khumalo, interviewed while the invitation was still pending last year, wept as she summoned memories of the day that destroyed her family — Feb. 12, 1983. She was 12 years old. She said soldiers from the Fifth Brigade, wearing jaunty red berets, came to her village and lined up her family. One soldier slit open her pregnant aunt’s belly with a bayonet and yanked out the baby. She said her grandmother was forced to pound the fetus to a pulp in a mortar and pestle. Her father was made to rape his mother. Her uncles were shot point blank.”


Simon Mundy in FT, "Zambian workers alienated by cultural and linguistic divide".

“Xiao Lishan and Wu Jiuhua, who fired on the workers at Collum and were charged with attempted murder, attended a court hearing last week. Michael Sata, leader of the opposition Patriotic Front, claims the Zambian government has turned a blind eye to Chinese breaches of labour law in exchange for political funding -- an allegation denied by the embassy…. ‘Some [Chinese] companies told me they tried to offer payment for work during the weekends,’ Mr Wang says. ’In China people would be more than happy to do that -- but here they like to go home to enjoy their lives. The Chinese couldn’t understand that.’ Mr Wang rejects suggestions China is exploiting Zambia’s resources; Chinese-produced coal and grain are sold almost entirely on the domestic market. While copper is exported to China in large quantities, Zambian mining officials say Chinese companies only own two big copper mines in the country -- a much smaller presence than that of British or Australian companies.”


Andrew Rettman at EUobserver.com, "Transniestria 'zombies' stake their future on Russia, not EU".

“The 350,000-or-so people living in political limbo in Transniestria, the private fiefdom of a Russian businessman on the EU's eastern fringe, want to integrate with Russia despite a new wave of euro-optimism on the other side of its unofficial border with Moldova. But decades of repression have shaped their views. Ever since it split from Moldova in the early 1990s, the official policy of the ‘Pridnestrovian Moldavian Republic’ is that it wants to be recognised as an independent country and then to become part of Russia. The revolution in Moldova in April last year, which paved the way for liberal Prime Minister Vlad Filat and his Alliance for European Integration to take power from the Communist Party, has boosted the country's prospects of EU integration and released a burst of optimism about the country's future among young people, journalists and entrepreneurs. The changes in Moldova have had little impact in Transniestria however, with ordinary people in the region as well as its political elite still banking on Russia for their well-being.”


Valentina Pop at EUobserver.com, "More reports pinpoint Kosovo PM as 'big fish' in organised crime".

“In a related development, an EU judge in Kosovo has delayed until 5 February a decision on whether to try seven people on organ-trafficking charges. The charges revolve around the Medicus Clinic in Pristina, which was shut down in 2008 after a police probe was launched when a young Turkish citizen collapsed at the airport after having a kidney removed for a transplant to an Israeli man. Among the suspects is a former health secretary who had issued a licence to the clinic although Kosovo law forbids organ transplants. The Medicus case is also mentioned in the Marty report as being ‘closely related’ to the atrocities carried out by the KLA.”


Marc Champion & Alkman Granitsas in WSJ, "Refugees Stir Greek Anger".

“‘Look at them wearing suits and ties like they're going for coffee in a café,’ Georgios Salamagkas, chief of police for the Orestiada district, said during an interview at his office in Orestiade, as he watched a video of migrants walking across the fields from Turkey toward the Greek border in daylight. Greek and EU border officials describe an explosion of such illegal immigrants, who they say are taking advantage of a cheap, safe expressway to Europe's borderless Schengen area, of which Greece is member. Here, the Schengen area abuts another open-travel zone, the informal visa-free zone developing in the East, around Turkey. Lt. Col. Osman Akdeniz, Turkish border commander, believes the fence will drive more immigrants to cross the Evros. ‘Everyone gets to Istanbul by plane, flying on cheap tickets from Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia and so on. Then it's a three-hour car ride to Edirne [a Turkish city on the border] and a short walk to Greece,’ said Mr. Salamagkas. That makes fees to human traffickers lower, too, as little as €200 ($260) in some cases, compared with the thousands required to travel by dangerous sea routes, he said. According to Frontex, the EU border-support agency that deployed 175 people to help protect the frontier here, Greece now accounts for 90% of all detections of illegal crossings into the EU. Estimates of the number of immigrants now living in Greece range from 500,000 to two million, huge figures for a nation of 11 million that is more used to sending emigrants abroad.”


Geoff Dyer in FT, "China Shapes the World: Signals of a shift".

“For all its rarity, the Sudan referendum is an example of what China will increasingly face as its overseas investments expand -- the diplomatic burdens of being an aspiring superpower. Chinese strategists insist that their country will not be drawn by the temptations of empire and has no desire to become a powerful outside force in African politics. Yet, realists would argue, it is interests rather than ideas that end up shaping the foreign policy of great powers. China‘s expansion into energy, resources and infrastructure across the globe is likely to take it into new entanglements where neutrality becomes ever harder to sustain and Beijing is forced to take sides and influence events. Charles Freeman, a China expert and former US diplomat, remarked last year that China’s statements about the modesty of its international ambitions echoed isolationist sentiments that were common in the US a century ago. ‘The United States did not then seek to dominate or control the international state system, nor did it pursue military solutions far from its shores,’ he said. ‘In time and in reaction to events, however, America came to do both.’”


Joshua Hammer in New Yorker, "A Free Woman".

“A sign on the locked front gate identified the house as the Bogyoke (General) Aung San Museum, the former home of post-colonial Burma‘s founding father and his family, including his then infant daughter, Aung San Suu Kyi. A charismatic student leader in the nineteen-thirties, Aung San agitated against British rule and was trained as a soldier in Japan by the Japanese Army. He and twenty-nine other Burmese nationalists formed the Burma Independence Army in Thailand, then marched into Burma in 1942, with Japanese support, and set up a government in Rangoon parallel with the Japanese administration. Near the end of the war, wary of the intentions of the Japanese, and sensing their imminent defeat, he switched sides, and eventually helped negotiate Burma‘s independence.”


Stephen Walt in Foreign Policy, "Where Do Bad Ideas Come From?"

“In his masterful study of human-induced folly, Seeing Like a State: How Certain Schemes to Improve the Human Condition Have Failed, James Scott argues that great man-made disasters arise when authoritarian governments pursue radical social transformations that are based on supposedly ‘scientific’ principles such as Marxism-Leninism or Swiss architect Le Corbusier's ‘urban modernism.’ Because such schemes epitomize a certain notion of ‘progress’ and also enhance central control, ambitious political leaders are understandably drawn to them. But because authoritarian regimes routinely suppress dissent, these same leaders may not learn that their ambitious schemes are failing until it is too late to prevent catastrophe. In the same vein, Nobel-winning economist Amartya Sen famously argued that authoritarian regimes are more prone to mass famines because such regimes lack the accountability and feedback mechanisms that give rulers a strong incentive to identify and correct mistakes in a timely manner.”


Francesco Sisci at Atimes.com, "Confucius takes a stand".

“In a ritual equal only to that of the church, last week China placed a statue of Confucius in its political heart, Tiananmen Square, before Mao Zedong's portrait and near the modern obelisk to the People's Heroes, two symbols that materially defined China's national identity for 60 years. This is a political statement, not a celebration of art, and it reshapes the country's ideological mission. The removal of images of saints from churches was the pronouncement of the Protestant Reformation and unleashed a wave of radical development in European and world history with the rapid spread of modern capitalism. In this case, it is not rebellion against the seat of the popes, but to give new meaning to the People's Republic which, last October 1, began a new phase by celebrating its 61st anniversary. The Chinese traditional astral/political cycles are 60 years long and a new one started last year. Beijing has decided to stop the old Maoist paraphernalia of great speeches and huge gatherings in the square and instead preferred a sad ceremony where the whole top echelons of the state, followed by a crowd of officials and ordinary people, offered flowers and tributes to the obelisk. The Confucius monument is the seal of this change, but also a powerful signal to a separate part of the country - the nationalists expelled from the mainland in 1949 and perched on the island of Taiwan. Here, in these 60 years, Confucius was the cultural beacon.”


Ron Gluckman in WSJ, "A Cultural Conversation with Ai Weiwei".

“While he spent a dozen years in New York, his was a textbook story of the struggling artist. He snapped the odd picture for newspapers, but mostly survived as a day laborer, often demolishing buildings. ‘I really had a funny feeling when I watched my studio in Shanghai go down,’ he confesses. ‘I was sad, but I also thought, 'Man, they really know what they are doing.'’ Mr. Ai's life in the U.S. was, by his own admission, rather aimless. He returned to China in 1993, when his father, Ai Qing, became ill. Back in Beijing, he resumed a life of such leisure that his mother threatened to call the police on him. ‘After 12 years in the U.S., I came back without a diploma or green card, and no money. I was just hanging around with friends, smoking and playing poker. That's all we did.’ To escape the parental nagging, he fled to the outskirts of Beijing, to a bleak village called Caochangdi. It's now one of Asia's chic artist colonies, along with nearby 798. ‘It was land nobody wanted,’ he says. ‘When I saw it and heard a train go by, I thought: 'This is perfect. Nobody will ever want to come here and develop such a place.'’ Mr. Ai reckons he's responsible for the design of perhaps 100 units around Caochangdi…. Celebrated internationally, Mr. Ai has largely escaped a backlash against his activism. Until now. Days before we met, his first major exhibit at 798 was abruptly canceled. Yet there is little chance he will back down. Perhaps unapparent earlier to his parents, his veins are unquestionably filled with the blood of his father, an artist and celebrated poet exiled to a labor camp during Mao's purges. Ai Weiwei grew up in China's desolate Xinjiang province, watching his father clean toilets.”


Ellen Barry in NYT, "Artist Playing Cat-and-Mouse Faces Russia’s Claws".

“If it sounds like a game, there is a good reason for it. For three years, Voina, which means war, has been playing cat-and-mouse with Russian law enforcement, staging street actions that ranged from the obscure (throwing live cats at McDonald’s cashiers) to the monumental (a 210-foot penis painted on a St. Petersburg drawbridge, so that it rose up pointing at the offices of the F.S.B., the security service). Last September, Voina launched its most audacious project: ‘Palace Revolution,’ which involved running up to parked police cars and flipping them over — a commentary, the group explained, on police corruption. Russian authorities had previously treated Voina as a nuisance; the penalty for the drawbridge action was a fine of 2,000 rubles, or $67, said Joseph Gabuniya, one of the group’s lawyers. But there are new charges aimed at shutting the group down. Two of Voina’s leaders are in pretrial detention, facing sentences of up to seven years; a third fears losing custody of her son. That leaves Mr. Plutser-Sarno as the last of the group’s inner circle who is free to meet with reporters — something he said was safe only outside Russia’s borders. At 48, he looks less like a fugitive than a professor, the kind who stays up until dawn debating hermeneutics and drinking box wine. He spent much of his career in a spotlight of one kind or another; he is the author of a multivolume dictionary of Russian obscenities, and he hosted “The Black Square,” a televised talk show he described as ‘52 minutes of noisy philosophical debate, with shouting, uproar and fisticuffs.’”


Philip Stephens in FT, "History is on the side of democracy".

“American and European politicians still preach the virtues of freedom and democracy, but the sermons are delivered sotto voce. The European centre-left often paints democratic values in the colours of western imperialism. In this curious contortion, promoting human rights is somehow an act of oppression…. Five years ago Mr Bush promised a democratic transformation in the Middle East. The ambition of his second inaugural address was abandoned almost as it was spoken. Offering a voice to the Arab street, it was soon agreed, risked empowering extremists such as Hamas. Better to slip back into the comfortable cold war posture of cuddling up to friendly tyrants. Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak could sleep easily again. There was always, though, a snag. People quite like democracy. Rising nations may decry US imperialism and European meddling and resent the west’s innate sense of its own superiority. But freedom, the rule of law and human dignity have an appeal well beyond the west.”


Blake Hounshell at Foreignpolicy.com, "Seymour Hersh unleashed".

“DOHA, Qatar—David Remnick, call your office. In a speech billed as a discussion of the Bush and Obama eras, New Yorker journalist Seymour Hersh delivered a rambling, conspiracy-laden diatribe here Monday expressing his disappointment with President Barack Obama and his dissatisfaction with the direction of U.S. foreign policy. ‘Just when we needed an angry black man,’ he began, his arm perched jauntily on the podium, ‘we didn't get one.’ It quickly went downhill from there.”


Paul Springer at Traderdaily.com, "Top Five Religions For Financial Crises".

“1. Aztec: when times get tough you can’t go wrong with a religion so full of ancient solutions for modern problems, like human sacrifice for managing human resources issues. In addition to gods of creation, excess and merchants, Tezcatlipoca, or smoking mirror, would appear to be the tutelary deity of economists and chart fanatics. Expect to see more fund managers and titans of industry redirecting R&D funds into temple and altar construction.”


Jeffrey Trachtenberg in WSJ, "Tiger Mother Memoir Unleashes ’09 Title".

“Harper Perennial is dusting off a 2009 memoir by Lac Su titled I Love Yous Are For White People, in the wake of the controversy—and tremendous publicity—kicked up by Ms. Chua's book about raising her two daughters with a relentlessly strict ‘Chinese’ style that sometimes involved harsh insults. Mr. Su's much darker book recounts how he was brought up by a difficult father, a refugee first from China and then Vietnam who beat him and berated him as ‘stupid,’ ‘retard,’ and ‘good for nothing.’ In an interview, Mr. Su, who today is a 35-year-old marketing executive in San Diego, said that as he read an excerpt from Ms. Chua's memoir, ‘my hands trembled, my heart beat fast, and I felt anger, almost hatred.’”


Tom Jacobs in Miller-McCune, "Sexy News Anchors Distract Male Viewers".

“Two Indiana University scholars report that, for male viewers, ‘emphasis on the sexual attractiveness of female news anchors distracts from memory formation for news content.’ They found that ‘men’s cognitive mechanisms favored visual over verbal processing,’ which is a delicate way of saying their focus — and subsequent memory — are more on the broadcaster’s appearance than on the material she was delivering….

The researchers found the men recalled ‘significantly more information watching the unsexualized anchor deliver news than her sexualized version.’ For women, the opposite was true, but the effect was far less pronounced.”


Tom Junod in Esquire, "Why Does Roger Ailes Hate America?"

“Everybody bleeds. We bleed all the time. We bleed when we move, we bleed when we bump into things. But for many years — there wasn't much that could be done for hemophilia until the sixties — Roger kept on bleeding. That's why he has such bad arthritis: because blood collects in the joints and ruins them. And that's why he labors under the judgment of his bulk and finds it so deeply unfair when people call him fat. Because he can't move. And that's why he found a way to fight so many of his life-and-death battles through the television screen: It was his way of fighting the kids he saw playing outside through the window. And that's why he's so sensitive and so instinctively alert to other people's stuff ... why one day, when he was talking about the need for his anchors to have warmth, and the subject of President Obama's warmth problem came up, he responded quickly, instantly, ‘Well, maybe if your father left you when you were two, your stepfather left you when you were four, and your mother was out of your life when you were ten, you wouldn't be warm, either.’ So what kind of man has to win all the time? The kind of man whose wounds are always fresh.”


John Maloof on the late Chicago photographer Vivian Maier, currently showing at Chicago Cultural Center.

“I acquired Vivian's negatives while at a furniture and antique auction. From what I know, the auction house acquired her belongings from her storage locker that was sold off due to delinquent payments. I didn't know what ‘street photography’ was when I purchased them. It took me days to look through all of her work. It inspired me to pick up photography myself. Little by little, as I progressed as a photographer, I would revisit Vivian's negatives and I would ‘see’ more in her work. I bought her same camera and took to the same streets soon to realize how difficult it was to make images of her caliber…. After some researching, I have only little information about Vivian. Central Camera (110 yr old camera shop in Chicago) has encountered Vivian from time to time when she would purchase film while out on the Chicago streets. From what they knew of her, they say she was a very ‘keep your distance from me’ type of person but was also outspoken. She loved foreign films and didn't care much for American films. Some of her photos have pictures of children and often times it was near a beach. I later found out she was a nanny for a family on the North Side whose children these most likely were…. Out of the more than 100,000 negatives I have in the collection, about 20-30,000 negatives were still in rolls, undeveloped from the 1960's-1970's…. I found her name written with pencil on a photo-lab envelope. I decided to 'Google' her about a year after I purchased these only to find her obituary placed the day before my search. She passed only a couple of days before that inquiry on her.”


Christopher Hawthorne at LAtimes.com, LAology reading list by month.


Brian Walsby’s Manchild 5: "Living in the Eighties with Corrosion of Conformity, Punk Rock History, Raleigh NC", is a nice mixed media cartoon-text-photo history of a band and a scene. Plus its great to see an accidental artless snapshot of the band Honor Role in their van with Naomi Petersen aboard.


Andrew Hultkrans at Artforum.com, "Born to Raise Hell".

“Raised by his mother and grandmother, largely in North Wales, Lemmy caught the rock ’n’ roll bug early, idolizing Little Richard and Elvis as a child, and seeing the nascent Beatles live before their debut LP. He joined the beat group the Rockin’ Vickers as a guitarist and enjoyed some regional success in Manchester, Liverpool, and environs. As the band descended to the cabaret circuit, Lemmy moved to London and became a roadie (and unofficial drug dealer) for the Jimi Hendrix Experience. He returned to performance as a bassist-vocalist with space-rock band Hawkwind, which—as Captain Sensible of the Damned, Peter Hook of Joy Division/New Order, and Jarvis Cocker of Pulp all note in the film—was the prog band that punks were allowed to like. Fired by his colleagues for being terminally late (and temporarily jailed in Canada on a drug charge), Lemmy struck out on his own, forming Motörhead (original name: Bastard) in 1975. Speaking to his involuntary dismissal from Hawkwind, Lemmy says, ‘It was ’70s drug snobbery. They were into organic drugs; I was into speed and organic drugs.’”


MercoPress: "Coca Brynco launched in Bolivia".

“Morales entered Bolivian public life as the leader of a coca growers union and is on a crusade to persuade the international community to stop stigmatizing the leaf. As president, he has sharply boosted cocaine seizures while promoting new legal applications for coca leaf. In addition to Coca Brynco, there is also an energy drink on the Bolivian market, as well as toothpaste, teas, sweets, pastries and other products made with using coca as an ingredient. The government, with the support of the European Union, is conducting a study to determine what quantity of coca can be utilized in the legal market, compared to the coca production that is diverted by drug traffickers to make cocaine.”


John Strausbaugh has posted the final chapter of his novel, Bullet to the Moon.


Tobias Grey in FT on the Truffaut-Godard documentary, Two in the Wave.

“The cinematographer Raoul Coutard, who shot 17 films for Godard, including Breathless, and four films for Truffaut, including Jules et Jim, was ideally placed to compare their working methods. ‘Francois used to work with a screenplay and Jean-Luc not at all,’ says Coutard. ‘Francois always knew exactly what he wanted to do on the set and knew how to explain what he wanted. Jean-Luc was harder to communicate with because he was writing his screenplays as he went along so couldn’t afford to think about anything else.’”


Richard Brody at Newyorker.com, The Front Row: Harry Langdon’s The Chaser.

“Langdon’s persona is often described as childlike; he plays meek and befuddled characters who find themselves buffeted by the winds of fate. The other three great silent comedians also played sweet souls bullied by a cruel world, but Langdon’s stock character was distinctively resourceless. Yet he triangulated his innocence with a singular, stunning, deeply poignant maneuver: he looked into the camera, aware of his fate and bringing the viewer into complicity with his awareness. The drama of his consciousness gave the comedy of his pratfalls and mishaps a darkly bittersweet undertone as well as a distinctive psychological modernity. Most of his best-known films of the nineteen-twenties were directed by Frank Capra—whom Langdon had the privilege of firing, in order to assume the direction of his own films. And, as a director, Langdon was far more radical and original than Capra ever was, which accounts for the audience’s rejection of his films.”



“Don Kirshner’s Rock Concert” 1977

The Ramones - “Loudmouth,” “Judy Is a Punk”, “Glad to See You Go”, “Gimme Gimme Shock Treatment”.


Obituary of the Week

George Crowe (1921 - 2011)

“Before signing with the Braves in 1949, Crowe played for the New York Black Yankees and the New York Cubans, said Adrian Burgos, a University of Illinois history professor who has written extensively on the Negro Leagues. Crowe also played for the Harlem Renaissance, an independent black professional basketball team. George Daniel Crowe was born March 22, 1921, in Whiteland, Ind. In 1939, he was the first Indiana high school basketball player to be named the state's Mr. Basketball. He served in the Army during World War II. In 1946, he played for the Los Angeles Red Devils, a professional basketball team that folded after one season. Robinson and another future major league baseball player, Irv Noren, also were on the team. Crowe was 26 when Robinson reached the major leagues with the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947. ‘We had hope once Jackie got in,’ Crowe told the New York Times in 2005. ‘If I'm good enough, maybe I can make it someday, even though my age was advanced.’”


Thanks to Valbona Shujaku, Steve Beeho.

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• The New Vulgate
• Joe Carducci, Chris Collins, James Fotopoulos, Mike Vann Gray, David Lightbourne
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Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Issue #81 (January 19, 2011)

North of Centennial, Wyoming

Photo by Joe Carducci

The American Alloy - Model, Export, Ideal…
By Joe Carducci

Ivory Coast joins Zimbabwe and Cambodia as nations presided over by the losers of their elections. Perhaps Iran belongs here too, Russia not quite as Putin is violating only the spirit of its election law. With his FSB-KGB bonafides he was uniquely able to step down and provide a Washington-like new model for how to leave power in semi-democratic Russia. The leaving of power orderly is the most important technical lesson a polity must learn, which is why it is so destructive to allow idealists or mere opponents to prosecute an ex-president anywhere. They don’t need to be above the law literally but it is certainly best in the long run that they be so in practice or any leader is foolish to leave willingly. The electorate itself is often imperfect and drifting into fealty, strapping in for long-term subject-like relationships with Presidents-for-life. And there are often short-term reasons to choose a security-based tyranny.

Fully stolen elections are a different category but often related to a poverty culture’s lack of interest in risk. Still the machinery of fixed elections can often not survive what are called wave elections here. This was People Power in the Philippines; Marcos had fixed elections fair and square but when it was clear the election machinery made him vulnerable he seized power militarily but then lost it ordering the shooting of one man. Something like this happened in Ukraine as well with the so-called Orange Revolution that vaulted the “loser” Viktor Yushchenko over the “winner” Viktor Yanukovych, but then it unhappened under the pressure from neighboring Russia whose patience is an improvement over the original assassination attempt on Yushchenko that had in part triggered that wave election.

Elsewhere traditional, pre-feudal clan-based gerontocratic patterns survive and lend legitimacy to Egypt’s Mubarak or Belarus’ Lukashenko, or Kazakhstan’s Nazarbayev, or Uzbekistan’s Karimov. Then there’s Thailand where a watershed populist election-winner was deposed constitutionally, then put back in power more emphatically by the electorate before finally (?) being unseated by the King via the Army, or Venezuela where a static class structure led its rural majority to elect a failed ex-military coup-leader, or Nepal where Prachanda’s Maoists came out of the hills to strong-arm the nominal ruling party after a wayward Prince erased the Royal line with a machine-gun. It can be hard to generalize, not so much about the desirability of encouraging democracy but about how it might be received here or there, wherever the Americans or the EU or UN or the Vatican or some NGO or union are pushing it. How could they know, when many indigenous constituencies calling for democracy do not themselves know what may come of it? Often these constituencies are frustrated elite groups with one foot in Europe or North America already via education. In any case, even the most advanced, largely single race nations of Europe only truly settled into mundane democratic means after the two world wars nearly decimated population and place. America’s ongoing loose, de-centered and unsettled reshuffling of power and people lets off steam constantly -- the injustices and tragedies and crimes are smaller and more localized and have been more quickly addressed, however inadequately -- this is all relative. (I’m no idealist.)

Often troubled polities are caught between feudal patterns whereby wealth is held as land in the form of fincas or plantations or ranches which keep a one extended family wealthy but depend on peonage if not slavery. (Industrial wealth creation and the movement of rural population to cities for work in factories broke up that residual pattern in America too, though literature and Hollywood kept the romance of the old South alive for a century or more.) What development is possible in a fuedal mode moves along clan lines, rather than open to applicants on a meritocratic basis and so classes can become separate cultures and even races. A big question as America industrialized, modernized, developed in the late 19th and early 20th centuries was, How can a working class whose wages are depressed by the stream of new factory laborers from the farms, and then depressed again by new arrivals from Ireland, Italy, and Poland, and then further depressed by the exodus of blacks from the South, how can this increasingly impoverished proletariat afford to buy the products they produce? The people who asked that question had an answer in mind, of course, and they mentored graduates who today still counsel despair and centralization. It is a mark of American history that these brainy folks remain frustrated. In many other countries those ideas are not frustrated. Feudal patterns gave way to centralizations that were red or brown or green but which merely allowed their great question-asking answer-knowing class to starve and murder more people than purple ever imagined could be desirable.

The wrecked west European powers in 1946 were open to new ideas and the American model began to be identified as an improved variant of the old models. But what Americans had developed by accident of economic and technological dynamism was not just a bunch of stuff, but a new polity. Many immigrants had actually come to America to purify old world beliefs. But here they found a liquid base of Natives and those early Anglos, Franks and Spaniards who had gone native. The United States of America is the real dream of Mexico whereas the Estados Unidos Mexicanos, though full of mestizos has never allowed industrialization to modernize feudal Spanish land grant patterns and forge a Mexican alloy. The lords survived the revolution in Mexico, and the classes stayed racial and simply made room for Mestizos between the Indios and the Euros.

Given the old European Protestant paranoia regarding the Vatican and its Catholics, it was an enormous risk taken by America to allow millions of Irish, Italians, German and Polish Catholics into the country. In terms of race relations with the newly freed blacks these Catholics, coming in blind to the issue of slavery surely set back race relations even in 19th century terms. And not deporting blacks en masse back to Africa or to the Caribbean was another fateful choice too little appreciated. There is a lot of talk of various and sundry American genocides on campuses but that talk never actually accounts for the reality that eliminationist policies might well have been pursued had white Americans still been merely their unaltered European selves. No, America was simply not going to be as France or Germany. And the settling and industrialization of the country meant that its human mix wouldn’t be merely the multi-cultural Great Britain either. Rather it made this new populace alloy into a new people creating a new culture and polity.

Obviously America remains the model. Many poor countries can learn a lot from China just as they could learn from Japan, South Korea, Singapore, etc. But none of those countries can model for a country that is multi-racial and full of immigrants and different faiths and is looking to live together and become one people. The Chinese are prosecuting a demographic culture war on their conquered peoples in Tibet and Turkestan in the bald way that only a culture with none of America’s experiential knowhow might. The Han may think they are settling their west as America settled its, but Americans went more and more native as they went west. The Han have virtually zero interest or respect for the culture of their peripheral neighbors. There was always obsessive American interest in native tribes. The same is true with regard to blacks.

Just last week in Tunisia the self-immolation of an unemployed college graduate who was not allowed to sell vegetables and fruit on the street for lack of a license or the cash to pay the bribe to get one triggered the government’s fall. His un-muslim, rather Buddhist gesture tells us this was not Islamist act. But on top of the Wikileaks cables of 2008 and 2009 where American diplomats expressed shock and detailed the decadent corruption of the ruling family it unleashed a peoples revolt. There are reports of similar self-immolations across Arab countries in the days since. These static fixed economies filled with clan-based property owners and rent-seekers have no need for young people with or without skills.

The temptation for proud peoples, especially their western educated elites is to obsess not on whether Tunisia can really become democratic, but rather on impuning America (or France) for “backing” the Ben Ali regime. Mohammed Hussainy, called “director of the Identity Center in Amman, Jordan” focuses bitterly on this in a short piece at openDemocracy called “Messages from Tunisia”, which starts out calling the uprising a popular revolt and looking optimistically for its replication across the Arab region, but then settles into his first concern, the maintenance of his personal legend, disguising his lust for the West by berating it:

“Tunisia has also highlighted the double-standards adopted by most democratic states, particularly the Europeans and the United States. Having been involved in occupying Iraq under the pretext that they wanted to help the Iraqi people against the dictatorship of Saddam Hussein, the US and many European nations refrained from advancing democracy and maintained a foggy attitude vis-à-vis what has been taking place in Tunisia. They have failed to justify their support for Bin Ali’s regime -- which is but one example that those democratic states are supporting non-democratic regimes in order to preserve their own vested interests.”

I understand its easy to become a target in that part of the world, but post-Edward Said it may also be that he’s bucking for a chair at Columbia. These pro-democracy anti-Western postures are very common there too.

On Tuesday Francis Fukuyama, once somewhat in favor of the Iraq war, now certainly at least that bit of history is over, writes in an op-ed in the Financial Times called ‘US democracy has little to teach China’:

“Democracy’s strengths are often most evident in times of adversity. However, if the democratic, market-oriented model is to prevail, Americans need to own up to their own mistakes and misconceptions. Washington’s foreign policy during the past decade was too militarised and unilateral, succeeding only in generating a self-defeating anti-Americanism. In economic policy, Reaganism long outlived its initial successes, producing only budget deficits, thoughtless tax-cutting and inadequate financial regulation. These problems are to some extent being acknowledged and addressed. But there is a deeper problem with the American model that is nowhere close to being solved. China adapts quickly, making difficult decisions and implementing them effectively. Americans pride themselves on constitutional checks and balances, based on a political culture that distrusts centralised government. This system has ensured individual liberty and a vibrant private sector, but it has now become polarised and ideologically rigid. At present it shows little appetite for dealing with the long-term fiscal challenges the US faces. Democracy in America may have an inherent legitimacy that the Chinese system lacks, but it will not be much of a model to anyone if the government is divided against itself and cannot govern.”

Now its likely he did not write his own headline and I doubt even “Reaganism” is a term he would use, but notice his oddly disguised reference to the Ron Paul/Tea Party push to cut spending and retract military commitments to our borders. His points exactly! Though he is apparently ashamed to see them in action out in the real world of the American polity and after all he wants his piece published somewhere, you know, legit.

Fukuyama is a smart man and took needless grief over being correct that the Hegelian-Marxoid End of History was upon us with the collapse of communism. Perhaps he should have called it the End of Historicity, but then he has to live on campus, albeit Stanford. In truth it was long clear that communism was failing but it was a measure of Academe’s compromise to it that their eyes were averted as much as possible. Francis is a slight polite Japanese-American, whereas Christopher Hitchens is a boozy, chain-smoking ex-leftist English-Jewish-American. Hitchens’ cancer battle hasn’t slowed him much. His latest column, which I excerpt below, concludes with his own non-revisionist take on the Iraq war, the real one that he still supports with conviction rooted in his formerly leftist solidarity with the Kurds, eternally trapped between Iraq Iran Syria and Turkey. At Slate Hitchens writes:

“Go back to the first days of the coalition presence in Baghdad. The Iraqi people had not been directly consulted about anything for several decades. But the new authorities promised a constitution and elections, and they unshackled the press and television. Might it not have been interesting to see what happened? To test this promise and, where it was wanting, to demonstrate against it and petition for the redress of grievance? The population never had a chance to try this novelty. It was a matter of days before experienced killers and bombers were hard at work, without so much as a leaflet being distributed. And our own willingness to rationalize such behavior on the part of Muslims allowed us to call professional assassins by the name of insurgent and to write that they were defending ‘Muslim soil.’”

There were months of underground Baathist provocations against the Shi’a until with the arrival of jihadis all hell did break loose, but the actual overturning of the Saddam regime went quickly. The Mohammed Hussainy-types refer to these authoritarian regimes as Western-backed and presume we have some magic power to isolate them out of existence after which the naturally-occurring democracy and industry of the people will simply be manifest. They don’t approve of what America and its allies did in Iraq, or what the CIA did in Iran in the fifties. They cannot approve, no matter how fervently they wish for some cavalry to arrive. There were all manner of isolating embargos applied to Saddam’s Iraq and the Ayatolluhs’ Iran, after all, to little affect.

Of course none of this is America’s job per se. We all left all them old worlds. But it was thought to have been learned that we should not have left Afghanistan, and before that it was thought to have been learned that democracy could be transplanted into ruined Japan and Germany and South Korea and Taiwan and Eastern Europe and Latin America and Indonesia… But back in our uni-polar heyday when all right-thinking people (including France) worried about American power, what was left unstated is that the fear was not about neo-colonialism or an American tyranny, but rather about the chaos our model entails, unleashes inside of any society that opens itself to the market, immigration, democratic rules of order, and transparent governance. America since WWII has seemed a Goliath, and as Wilt Chamberlain famously said, “Nobody loves Goliath,” though lets remember the rest of Wilt’s story -- he laid ten thousand women!

America has been more Tasmanian devil than Goliath which is why all these Davids keep missing the point and get scratched to bits in the whirlwind that follows the following of its model. This was the premise of Amy Chua’s book, World on Fire: How Exporting Free Market Democracy Breeds Ethnic Hatred and Global Instability, which toured the world trolling for hot spots made hotter by capitalism and democracy. That’s counseling despair in my book, and akin to saying that all the blood, sweat, tears, and injustice of early America just wasn’t worth it. No passage is possible, when in fact its in all that ignored untheoretical practical American experience where the secret to our special providence lies (incidentally that special providence, reputedly a Bismarck coinage, is the secret to why we’re alleged to be hated by that burning world). Chua is safely on the mommy beat now but judging by reviews she might have called her new book ‘Mommy on Fire’. That book as noted in a review excerpted below, seems to indicate that like most liberals she publicly advocates a soft touch for outsiders yet follows every time-honored tyrannical drill to get her own up to speed to rule over the indulged.

But even Europe seems it may fail to master our model. Europeans are living for themselves and living for today, and with plummeting populations they are making up the difference with immigrants from north Africa, these apparently expected to be content emptying the bedpans of their elder betters even when they manage to gain full citizenship. And further, Europeans don’t seem to remember the bloody battle their ancestors waged to drive the Vatican from governance. They treat the Islam of these immigrants as if it has less not more designs on power.

The New York Times referred Monday to Tunisia as a putative “first Arab democracy”, and this is paper with a bureau in Baghdad dutifully reporting the machinations of a crazy quilt of representatives in a tri-confessional republic. The Times does this out of undue concern for Washington politics; they needed Al Qaeda-in-Mesopotamia, as they term it, to make the cost high enough for the US to not repeat what first seemed easy enough in Iraq, in Iran or North Korea. That’s a legit position, it’s hardly our job to do these things. But nobody knows nothing, after all, which qualifies anyone’s confidence in their best guess whether they know it or not, especially the New York Times.

Still, there’s no honor in not doing them either. Kurt Vonnegut once said of the men who dropped the bombs on Nagasaki and Hiroshima that they might have become in essence the father of all those people had they just flown past and let them all live. Allowing the House of Kim or the Ayatollahs to do their worst when a button-push could erase their asses is also an indirect culpability in their crimes. This is what Hussainy is saying despite himself. And despite our noblest intentions and selfishest motives nobody doesn’t understand why America plays for time with these worst of nations, the ones that believe that exposing one’s culture to the modernizing dynamic is surrendering to America, and appear to believe that nuclear weapons are required to defend their 19th and 8th century ideals. But if these dramas play out as worst-case scenarios more than just conventional Iraq War opinion will change.

Sculpture: 'Guardianes' by Xavier Muscaro, Madrid, photo by Dan Burbach.

La Tuna Canyon Stream, Verdugo Mountains, California

Photo by Chris Collins

Macrodiptryx Vexillarius by James Fotopoulos

From the Wyoming desk of Joe Carducci...

Daniel Pipes in Washington Times, "Turmoil in Tunisia".

“During the first era of independence, until about 1970, governments in Arabic-speaking countries were frequently overthrown as troops under the control of a discontented colonel streamed into the capital, seized the presidential quarters and the radio station, then announced a new regime. Syrians endured three coups d'état in 1949 alone. Over time, regimes learned to protect themselves through overlapping intelligence services, reliance on family and tribal members, repression, and other mechanisms. Four decades of sclerotic, sterile stability followed. With only rare exceptions (Iraq in 2003, Gaza in 2007), did regimes get ousted; even more rarely (Sudan in 1985) did civilian dissent have a significant role.

Enter first Al-Jazeera, which focuses Arab-wide attention on topics of its choosing, and then the internet. Beyond its inexpensive, detailed, and timely information, the internet also provides unprecedented secrets (e.g., the recent WikiLeaks dump of U.S. diplomatic cables) even as it connects the likeminded via Facebook and Twitter. These new forces converged in Tunisia in December to create an intifada and quickly ousted an entrenched tyrant. If one exalts in the power of the disenfranchised to overthrow their dull, cruel, and greedy master, one also looks ahead with trepidation to the Islamist implications of this upheaval.”


The Economist’s Arab press roundup on the fall of Tunisia’s regime:

In the Lebanese opposition newspaper, al-Akhbar, John Aziz suggests some lessons to be learned from the uprising in Tunisia:

"All the blood, sweat and bullet-torn flesh have demonstrated how the neo-conservative model was wrong, how democracy can come about without foreign fleets, without the imposition of the star-spangled banner, without the smiling faces of Jay Garner and David Petraeus. Second, democracy can grow out of cultures of military repression without resorting to Islamic radicalism and without devolving into a situation of "one man, one vote…one time!" Third, not only has America failed to promote democracy in this region, it has actually propped up regimes which stifled its flowering."


Peter Wonacott in WSJ, "A Continent of New Consumers Beckons".

“Some analysts believe a billion-person continental market already has arrived. Consultancy McKinsey & Co. says the number of middle-income consumers—those who can spend for more than just the necessities—in Africa has exceeded the figure for India. The firm predicts consumer spending will reach $1.4 trillion in 2020, from about $860 billion in 2008. While Africa's resource wealth continues to lure the bulk of foreign investment, the rise of that new consumer class is beginning to shift the balance. From 2000 to 2009, foreign direct investment to Africa increased sixfold to $58.56 billion, according to the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development. And that includes a sharp drop during the global financial crisis, from $72.18 billion in 2008.

A growing percentage of foreign direct investment has been going to sectors such as manufacturing and services, with the value of mergers and acquisitions in the manufacturing sector hitting a record $16 billion in 2008.”


Ghanaian Chronicle: "What to Do With African Dictators?"

“The protracted dispute over who rules La Cote D’Ivoire, following the refusal of defeated Laurent Gbagbo to cede power, should inform the various African countries to reform their political systems. Africa is a nation where rulers never want to end their reign. From Cairo to the Cape, African leaders have tended to behave as if the political entities entrusted in their care are their properties. They are either forced out or rule until their death. The God Father of African nationalism, Osagyefo Dr. Kwame Nkrumah was overthrown after nine years as the leader of the newly-independent Ghana. By then, he had declared himself as a Life President.”


Yaakov Lappin in Jerusalem Post, "Saudi Arabia’s war against al-Qaida".

“In the Middle East, one of the regimes most targeted by al-Qaida is Saudi Arabia. It is a confrontation that often pits Saudis against Saudis, and it is likely to continue for years to come. King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz’s government is in the midst of a massive building project in the heart of Mecca, Islam's holiest site. The project, being built by the Bin Laden Group construction corporation (run by relatives of al-Qaida’s figurehead leader) features seven enormous skyscrapers and an array of commercial centers, being built for wealthier pilgrims who flood the city annually for the Haj. The project includes a hotel intended as a kind of replica of London’s Big Ben, which soars many times taller than the original clock tower, and which will house 30,000 guests. It will be the second tallest structure on the planet, according to reports. The complex is surely viewed by Bin Laden and his followers as a towering example of Saudi Arabia’s decadence.”


Michael Bluhm in Daily Star, "Cabinet collapse part of bigger campaign".

“After toppling the government, March 8 occupies a ‘precarious political position,’ in which Hizbullah remains the strongest domestic political actor but also feels acute stress over the tribunal’s looming indictment, which Hizbullah leaders have said will name party members in connection with the 2005 assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, Saad’s father. Hizbullah has also said the court is a tool wielded by the US and Israel to weaken the group. The Shiite movement still desires a speedy settlement of differences over the S.T.L., because it fears the potential damage the tribunal could do to Hizbullah, Khashan said. ‘They have been frantic, trying to get Saad Hariri to denounce the tribunal, to attenuate the effects [of the indictment],’ Khashan added. ‘Hizbullah wants a quick resolution, because they feel the indictment will come very soon. The opposition is escalating.’

Linking Hizbullah cadres to Rafik Hariri’s killing would thoroughly sully the group’s image in the Middle East as the vanguard of resistance against Israel and the U.S., Khashan said. ‘The indictment will vilify Hizbullah, and this is their concern,’ he said. ‘They are worried about their reputation in the Arab-Islamic world.’ Hizbullah is also apprehensive that being implicated would offer a credible international justification for Israel or the U.S. in any future conflict against the group, Salem said. ‘They fear that the U.S. will use this, as it were, against them in the next war,’ he added.”


Christopher Hitchens at Slate.com, "Reflections on Political Violence".

“The best political speech I ever heard was delivered by the late Paul Foot, scion of one of England's great radical and socialist families, at the Oxford Union in the late 1960s. The motion before the house was in favor of the African National Congress and its decision to renew ‘armed struggle’ against the white supremacist regime in South Africa…. What impressed me about this masterly speech was not so much the case itself, with which I already agreed, but the "decent respect to the opinions of mankind" that it exemplified. A decision to resort to violence was not something to be undertaken without great care—and stated in terms that were addressed to reasonable people. From his prison cell, Nelson Mandela had joined the great tradition of the French philosophes, of Thomas Jefferson and Thomas Paine, of Marx and Engels in 1848, and of Jawaharlal Nehru in the 1930s—of men and women who felt the historic obligation to make a stand and to define it. This is occasionally done by governments, as well, though usually in less lapidary prose: The Atlantic Charter of 1941 showed that Churchill and Roosevelt needed a credible and honorable statement of war aims (including the outline of a future United Nations)….

Now look at the grinning face of Mumtaz Qadri, the man who last week destroyed a great human being. He did not explain. He boasted. As ‘a slave of the Prophet,’ he had the natural right to murder Salman Taseer, the governor of Punjab, not even for committing ‘blasphemy’ but for criticizing a law that forbade it for Muslims and non-Muslims alike. And this sweeping new extension of the divine right to murder not only was not condemned by the country's spiritual authorities; it was largely approved by them.”


Amira El Ahl at Qantara.de, "The Dome Dispute".

“The events last November in Omraniya, an informal area in the south of the city, were a turning point for the Coptic community. ‘Something happened there that has never happened before,’ says Bahey al-Din Hassan, the director of the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies. ‘For the first time, thousands of furious Christians took to the streets with the intention of attacking government institutions. In the past they always demonstrated in churches or in front of their cathedrals.’ …The angry demonstrations in Omraniya began after riot police used force to stop the construction of a church in the early hours of the morning of 23 November. The building is situated directly adjacent to the main ring road that encircles the metropolis of 18 million people…. Work on the building had been going on for months, but it was only in November that the authorities in charge noticed that the building was crowned with a dome….

‘I admit that the Copts had built in contravention of the planning permission,’ says Yousef Sidhom, editor-in-chief of the Coptic weekly newspaper Watani. ‘The question is why they did it.’ He states that it is virtually impossible for Christians to build churches in Egypt. A decree issued in 1934 established ten preconditions for the building of a church. Among other restrictions, a church may not be built alongside or in the vicinity of a mosque. Furthermore, there cannot be any train stations, post offices or electricity stations nearby. ‘These restrictions were intended to prevent the building of churches in the city centre,’ says the journalist.”


Nisrin Elamin at Pambazuka.org, "Sudan: The Price of Separation".

“A vote for secession will give the South control of about 80 per cent of Sudan's current oil production of 490,000 barrels a day. This will represent a drastic shift from the 50-50 share between the Sudanese government and the Government of Southern Sudan set for the interim period, following the signing of the CPA. Meanwhile, the burden of these potential losses, are likely to be carried by those already marginalised in Northern Sudan. In the days leading up to this referendum for instance, the Sudanese government raised the price of fuel and sugar in preparation for the nearly 70 per cent oil revenue losses, which are expected once the South secedes….

Sudan is currently sub-Saharan Africa's third-largest oil producer, behind Nigeria and Angola, providing China with 30 per cent of the oil that fuels its factories. And yet very little of Sudan's oil profits have benefited its people. Instead, oil companies, primarily from China and Malaysia, have been providing the technology to explore the oil, while sharing the profits with the elites in power. Khartoum's regime is said to have siphoned off as much as 40 per cent of total oil revenue, lining its own pockets through various forms of mis-pricing, instead of taking on the task of developing vast regions of the country that have been neglected for decades.”


John Eibner & Charles Jacobs in WSJ, "Will Freedom Come for Sudan’s Slaves?"

“Since 1998, Achol was a slave serving her master in the North and was only liberated just before the voting began. The war booty of a man named Adhaly Osman, Achol was threatened with death, gang-raped, genitally mutilated, forced to convert to Islam, renamed ‘Mariam,’ and racially and religiously insulted. She lost the sight in one eye when her master thrashed her face with a camel whip for failing to perform Islamic rituals correctly. This mother of four saw two of her children beaten to death for minor misdemeanors. She also lost the use of one arm when her master took a machete to it in response to her failure to grind grain properly. Achol is one of 397 slaves whose liberation was facilitated and documented by Christian Solidarity International and the American Anti-Slavery Group in the state of Northern Bahr el Ghazal as voting commenced.

The British suppressed black slavery in Sudan in the first half of the 20th century. But the practice was rekindled in the 1980s as part of the surge in Islamism in the region. In 1983, when Khartoum's radical leaders declared strict enforcement of Shariah law throughout the country, the Christian and tribalist South resisted. Shariah-sanctioned slave raids were used as a weapon to break Southern resistance.”


Nikki Whaites at Genderlinks.org, "Rape. Re-Rape. Gang Rape. But Really, Who Cares?"

“While in DRC [Congo] I had heard that a major TV journalist from an American news channel was in the East of the country filing stories. I was excited; too few media outlets are covering this epidemic. And it is an epidemic. The world needs to wake up and he, I thought at the time, was the man to do it. As details emerged, however, I learned that this journalist was not there to report on the situation of women; his story was on gorillas. In a region of the world where a nine-year-old girl can tell you the story of the second time she was raped and the fourth surgery she underwent to repair the resulting damage, this journalist's focus was on gorillas. Sadly, I can't blame him. Gorillas make great television; they're cute, endangered, exotic and genuinely do need help. Who wouldn't want to watch them on the six o'clock news? What makes the gorilla story even better is that we can easily help - give money now to save them and their habitat. We can sleep well at night knowing we've made a difference. Conversely the story of a nine-year-old watching her father murdered while she and her mother were gang raped and her brothers abducted to be ‘soldiers’ is not comfortably watched.”


Bret Stephens in WSJ, "Haiti, Sudan, Cte d’Ivoire: Who Cares?"

“Haiti is no longer a colony of the West, but it has long been a ward of it. Even before the earthquake, remittances and foreign aid accounted for nearly 30% of its GDP. The country is known as the ‘Republic of NGOs,’ since some 3,000 operate in it. What good they‘ve done, considering the state the country has been in for decades, is an open question. Security, to the extent there is any, is provided by some 12,000 U.N. peacekeepers. Should more responsibility be handed over to the Haitians themselves? I used to think so, and debate on this subject rages among development experts…. But last year‘s fraudulent elections are a reminder that Haitians have been as ill-served by their democracy as by their periodic dictatorships. When ‘Baby Doc’ Duvalier was overthrown in 1986, per capita GDP was $768. In 2009, on the eve of the quake, it was $519.… Put simply, Haiti has run out of excuses for its failures at the very moment the ‘international community’ has run out of ideas about how to help….

The West professes to ‘care’ about countries like Haiti, Cte d’Ivoire, and -- at least for as long as George Clooney is in the area -- south Sudan. But ‘care’ at the level of simple emotion is little more than a cheap vanity. The colonialists of yore may often have been bigots, but they were also, just as often, doers. Their colonies were better places than the shipwrecked countries we have today.”


Marc Lynch’s Middle East blog at Foreignpolicy.com.

“An interesting discussion has already broken out over whether Tunisia should be considered a ‘Twitter Revolution’ -- a far more interesting and relevant discussion than whether it was a ‘Wikileaks Revolution’ (it wasn't). I've seen some great points already by Ethan Zuckerman, Evgeny Morozov, Luke Allnut, Jillian York, and others. I'm looking forward to being one of the social scientists digging into the data, where I suspect that both enthusiasts and skeptics will find support for their arguments. For now, I would just argue that it would be more productive to focus more broadly on the evolution of the Arab media over the last decade, in which new media such as Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, forums and blogs work together with satellite television stations such as al-Jazeera to collectively transform the Arab information environment and shatter the ability of authoritarian regimes to control the flow of information, images, ideas and opinions. That feels like a sentence which I've written a hundred times over the last decade.... and one which has never felt more true than the last month in Tunisia.”


Gundula M. Tegtmeyer at Qantara.de on "The Story of Iran and the Jews" exhibit.

“During the reigns of Shah Reza Pahlavi and his son and successor Muhammad Reza Pahlavi, minorities attained social equality for the first time since the Islamisation of Iran. From then on, Jews were permitted to leave their ‘Mahale’ (Jews only) neighbourhoods.

The Jewish communities experienced an economic boom, and with the ‘White Revolution’ of 1963, a golden age began for the Jews of Iran. Mohammad Reza Pahlavi maintained close contacts with the new state of Israel. A photograph in the exhibition shows the Israeli general Moshe Dayan at the entrance to a mosque during a visit to Iran in 1960. One of the glass display cases is dedicated to the popular weekly magazine Tehran-e Mosavar, with the issue of 16 June 1967 sporting a front page photo of Dayan.

The upheavals of the ‘White Revolution’ brought opposition from sections of the population, however, and ultimately paved the way for the Islamic Revolution. A series of photos in this part of the exhibition documents the enormous solidarity shown by the Iranian Jews with the rest of the population. On the eve of the Islamic Revolution, Jews marched in a demonstration against the Shah in Tehran. In one of their photos they are holding a banner bearing the words ‘our ties with the Iranian people are unbreakable’.”


Andrew Jacobs in NYT, "Chinese Driver Sentenced to Life in Prison for Evading Road Tolls".

“There seems to be little dispute that Mr. Shi, who had turned to hauling sand and gravel to make a living, behaved egregiously. He purchased two fake military license plates and other documentation that allowed him and his hired drivers to escape paying tolls on his two trucks during 2,300 trips between May 2008 and January 2009. In announcing the verdict this week, The Dahe Daily suggested that the defendant had accepted his guilt because he declined to appeal. He also did not have a lawyer. But the financial details of the violations for which Mr. Shi was convicted only served to feed suspicions that he had been railroaded. The toll per truck trip averages more than $200 — a high figure, though truck tolls can go by weight. But many people noted that his profit during those toll-free days amounted to $30,000. If he had truly evaded $556,000 in road fees, as the police charge, he would have lost more than $520,000 from his trucking business. The local judiciary was so unnerved by the uproar that it took the unusual step of holding a news conference this week to explain Mr. Shi’s transgressions in detail.”


Peter Tasker in the FT, "Rising wages will burst China’s bubble."

“Who has survived the global credit crisis in the best shape? As Zhou Enlai is reputed to have said about the impact of the French Revolution, it is still too early to judge. The snap verdict that China is the big winner and the US and rest of the old Group of Seven big losers is already looking questionable. True, China has continued to register turbo-charged growth while many of the debt-laden economies of the west have struggled. No surprise, then, that a tsunami of financial capital has surged eastwards, or that European politicians are scrabbling for trade deals, despite China’s extraordinarily aggressive posture over the Nobel peace prize and other diplomatic issues. The financial markets, however, have taken a rather different view. The Shanghai market is at less than half its all-time high, significantly underperforming the other three members of the Bric group. More surprising, since the start of the US subprime crisis in August 2007, Shanghai’s total return in dollars has been beaten by the American S&P500, the UK’s FTSE 100, and even the Japanese Topix. The message is clear. The China story that has been sold so skilfully all over the world is simply another version of the ‘new era’ thinking that has characterised every investment mania from the South Sea bubble to the dotcom frenzy.”


Paul Springer at Traderdaily.com, "China to World: Yuan a Rumble?"

“President Hu Jintao has been said to dismiss criticism of his nation’s yuan policies in his recently publicized responses to questions from The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal…. The more direct statement came over the weekend from other parties such as He Keng, the deputy director of the financial and economic-affairs committee of the National People’s Congress, according to Dow Jones:

‘China should keep the yuan stable, and the yuan shouldn’t appreciate,” He Keng, deputy director of the financial and economic-affairs committee of the National People’s Congress, told a forum in Beijing. He also said it isn’t bad for a country to hold a large amount of foreign-exchange reserves. His comments are in stark contrast to the universal opinion held by economists and U.S. politicians that a fast rise in the yuan will help China to curb the country’s burgeoning inflation.’

So who in China really calls the shots when it comes to explaining China’s currency? It’s not necessarily Hu. The New York Times advances the argument that Hu has internal problems of his own that weaken his regime and make it difficult for him to respond to U.S. concerns over issues like currency, human rights violations, and copying of other nations’ technology:

‘American officials… have felt at times that Mr. Hu agreed to address their concerns. But those problems have festered, and after first wondering if the Chinese leader was simply deflecting them or deceiving them, President [Barack] Obama’s top advisers have concluded that Mr. Hu is often at the mercy of a diffuse ruling party in which generals, ministers and big corporate interests have more clout, and less deference, than they did in the days of Mao or Deng Xiaoping.’”


Jim Yardley in the NYT, "The Eye of the Indian Hurricane".

“It was last Sunday, and like almost every other day during the last two decades, Ms. Banerjee, 56, continued her unswerving pursuit of toppling one of the most entrenched political machines in the world. The Communist-led Left Front government has won seven consecutive elections and dominated the state of West Bengal for more than 30 years even as the state, once an intellectual and economic capital of India, has suffered a gradual decline. Now, with new elections expected to be called no later than May, the Left Front appears on the verge of being beaten by a woman who, quite against convention and expectation, is emerging as one of the most powerful and unpredictable politicians in India. If Ms. Banerjee wins, she will join a group of regional leaders whose successes are reshaping the Indian political map.

‘We have been fighting this battle for a long time, since my student days,’ she said as the small black car sped through the streets of Calcutta. ‘We have been the only and lonely people who have opposed them.’ There are 90 million people in West Bengal, more than in Germany, and for many of them Ms. Banerjee is the blunt instrument knocking down their own Berlin Wall. Her admirers regard her as an elemental force as much as a politician. She is unmarried, and when asked what she does for entertainment, or whether she likes to travel, she seemed incredulous. ‘Entertainment?’ she said, repeating the word. ‘In my life?’”


Andrew Rettman at EUobserver.com, "New Year message: ‘Geriatric’ Europe needs ‘vigorous’ Turkey."

“‘Turkey-EU relations are fast approaching a turning point,’ he added. ‘We are no more a country that would wait at the EU's door like a docile supplicant.’ Ankara believes that the Cypriot problem is being exploited for strategic reasons by anti-Turkish-accession governments in Germany and France. But two US cables published by WikiLeaks on Monday give an insight into EU fears at the popular level of what Turkish enlargement could mean. A cable from the US embassy in the Hague dated September 2004, in the run-up to the formal launch of EU-Turkey accession negotiations in 2005, voiced worries by mainstream Dutch parties that anti-immigration politician Geert Wilders will easily ‘arouse difficult-to-manage populist sentiments based on deeply held fears and prejudices.’ The mainstream Dutch parties themselves expressed ‘central worries, such as how the EU will share structural, agricultural and solidarity benefits with Turkey, assuming these programs will look the same then as they do now.’”


Peter Gordon in New Republic on Matthew Specter’s new book, Habermas: An Intellectual Biography.

“For pragmatic conservatives who were ready to embrace Germany’s subordinate role in the Cold War alongside the United States, the thought that the FRG could simply acquire its democratic ideology from abroad presented little cause for concern. If one could successfully import Woolworth’s five-and-dime convenience stores, one could also import an ideology to unleash the fullest energies of market capitalism. For hard conservatives such as Carl Schmitt and Ernst Jünger, the importation of the Anglo-American model was seen as tragic, and it provoked a stream of resentful (and sometimes anti-Semitic) diatribes lamenting the rise of ‘technological’ liberalism while mourning the loss of ‘the political.’ But earnest young intellectuals on the left found themselves in a more serious quandary. Rejecting West Germany’s official policy of uncritical alliance with the United States, they also stood apart from the postwar consensus that celebrated Anglo-American style bourgeois capitalism as the only valid model for the future. Were there in fact no native resources in the canons of German philosophy to which the younger generation might appeal?”


If I remember right Paul Krugman was hired by the New York Times towards the end of the Clinton administration. The thinking was to use an economist to rewrite the Democrats as the party of prosperity. But then there was a recession and he began to prepare to advise-by-column President Albert Gore Jr as he was expected to struggle to avoid looking like Bill’s fool left holding the bag. Only George Bush Jr got in there instead and so Professor Krugman instead went berserk, hardly ever using his expertise to inform his ad hominem political attacks. Sunday in the NYT Magazine he showed what he might have contributed for the last decade in his article, "Can Europe Be Saved?"

In part its that he has no dog in that hunt over there, plus neither Bush nor Palin are involved at all so he can think in peace. Since he is wrapping up his column he managed in the same week to cough up both a new personal low with his "Climate of Hate" column and his best article.


Andrew Willis at EUobserver.com, "Liberals suggest scrapping some EU institutions".

“The measures are contained in a list of revenue-saving measures outlined in a Liberal position paper published on Tuesday (11 January), relating to the EU's future multi-annual financial framework (MFF), post 2013. Possible savings can be made by ‘fundamentally restructuring certain parts of the EU administration, such as the Committee of Regions ... [and] abolishing the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) and others,’ says the document. The group also calls for the European Parliament's shuttling between Brussels and Strasbourg to come to an end through the creation of just one fixed seat, together with spending cuts for EU programmes whose aims have already been achieved or whose goals are ‘dubious’, such as support for tobacco production….

Leaders from Britain, France, Germany, Finland and the Netherlands sent an open letter to European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso last December, calling for any rise in the size of the post-2013 multi-annual framework to remain below inflation.

Parliament's Liberals on the other hand want a redirecting of current funding, away from areas such as agriculture and towards the EU's 2020 strategy for growth and jobs.”


WSJ: "The Congressional Accountability Act".

“The basic problem is that Congress delegates far too much power to regulators, passing ambiguous laws that convert the agencies into quasi-legislative bodies that aren't politically accountable. Even if President Obama is exploiting this trend like never before, it is hardly new, nor unique to either party. Most politicians support the status quo because, being politicians, they can take credit for popular goals and then blame the bureaucracy for the costs and problems they create. Yet the Constitution vested Congress with the duty to make laws, not to make vague suggestions about what it might be good for the law to be…. The last two years have offered an especially instructive lesson in regulatory excess. ‘Major’ regulations are defined as those with annual effect on the economy exceeding $100 million, and over the past quarter-century both Democratic and Republican Administrations have averaged between 30 and 40 such rules a year. The Obama Administration promulgated 59 major regulations in 2009 and 62 in 2010. Another 191 are in the works, many of them based on little more than a vague Congressional order.

The Dodd-Frank financial reform is a tabula rasa that the law firm Davis Polk & Wardwell estimates requires no fewer than 243 new rules by 11 agencies over a dozen years. In the mere 10 months since ObamaCare passed, HHS has engineered rules that impose both a ceiling on insurance industry profits and de facto price controls on private premiums. The EPA is abusing the clean-air laws of the 1970s to raise carbon energy prices as a cap-and-tax surrogate. Only last month, the Federal Communications Commission imposed ‘net neutrality’ despite a federal court ruling that the action was outside its purview. There are many other examples.”


Monica Davey in NYT, "Budget Gaps Push Governors to Same Mind-set".

“Some states seem better off (North Dakota) and others worse (California), but the shared, essential problem in many states is simple: not enough money coming in to pay for all that is going out. While state revenues — shrunken as a result of the recession — are finally starting to improve somewhat, federal stimulus money that had propped up state budgets is vanishing and costs are rising, all of which has left state leaders bracing for what is next. For now, states have budget gaps of $26 billion, by some estimates, and foresee shortfalls of at least $82 billion as they look to next year’s budgets.”


The NYT editors go on record with "Illinois Wakes Up", out there alone with their public sector union friends in celebrating Illinois’s tax increase as if that stabilizes the state’s finances, rather than relieves pressure on politicians. They might have sunset the tax increases after two years, giving them a near term emergency rationale in fact rather than fancy. The Times is using Illinois’ sleepwalking to chide their own new Governor who like the other forty-eight are focused on spending and pension obligations.


It can be hard to understand what different publications are doing with their websites. The internet digest version of the cover story in The Economist, "The Battle Ahead - Confronting the public-sector unions", completely neuters what is quite a useful Briefing on comparative budgetary crises that various governments have with public-sector unions. What is online actually white-washes matters, which is something not uncommon in the British business press. Therefore I must quote extensively from the print edition:

“The private sector is dominated by competition and turbulence. Performance-related pay is the norm, and redundancy commonplace. The public sector, by contrast, is a haven of security and stability. Many people have jobs for life and performance measures are rare. The result is a paradox: the typical public worker is better off than the people he is supposed to serve, and the gap has widened significantly over the past decade. In America, pay and benefits have grown twice as fast in the public sector as they have in the private sector….

Public-sector unions enjoy advantages that their private-sector rivals only dream of. As providers of vital monopoly services, they can close down entire cities. And as powerful political machines, they can help to pick the people who sit on the other side of the bargaining table…. Private-sector bosses are accustomed to playing hardball with unions because they know they can go bankrupt if they don‘t. Politicians have no such discipline: they can always raise taxes or borrow from future generations….

Wage differentials are relatively small in the public sector. Lower-level workers, such as secretaries, are usually better paid than their private-sector equivalents, whereas higher-level workers are worse paid. This not only makes it difficult to attract high-flyers into the public sector, but also makes it hard to raise standards by, for instance, putting the best head teachers in charge of groups of schools.”


WSJ: "Detroit and Decay".

“Another emblem of civic decline is a plan to desert nearly half of Detroit's public schools so that it can afford to fulfill its teachers union contract. The school district is facing a $327 million deficit and has already closed 59 schools over the last two years to avoid paying maintenance, utility and operating costs. Under a worst-case scenario released this week by Robert Bobb, an emergency financial manager appointed by the state to resolve the Detroit education fisc, the district will close another 70 of its remaining 142 schools to save $31.3 million through 2013. ‘Additional savings of approximately $12.4 million can be achieved from school closures if the District simply abandons the closed buildings,’ the proposal explains, purging costs like boarding up buildings, storage and security patrols. Steven Wasko, a spokesman for Mr. Bobb, said that urban property sales have been difficult, in part because until recently the state board of education banned transactions with ‘competing educational institutions’ like charter schools. Once buildings are deserted, even if the doors and windows are welded shut with protective metal covers, scavengers break in and dismantle them for copper wire, pipes and so on.”


Steve Lopez in LAT, "Dissident L.A. teachers want more from their union".

“‘I think there is a silent majority of teachers who are very frustrated with the status quo,’ Mike Stryer said in opening remarks at the Jan. 8 meeting, held at Mercado La Paloma south of downtown and attended by 21 NewTLA members. Stryer, a Fairfax High teacher and former school board candidate, helped establish NewTLA last fall with his friend Jordan Henry, a Santee Education Complex teacher. Henry had been considering a campaign to succeed outgoing UTLA president A.J. Duffy but pulled out in November after the UTLA board of directors moved up the self-nomination deadline, making it harder for him to officially declare his candidacy. ‘As the call for reform in public education has mounted locally and nationally, UTLA leadership has emphatically chosen to double down on existing positions rather than ante up to new conversations,’ Henry wrote to supporters on Nov. 16 in a letter mapping out a different strategy for change.

‘I have conceded,’ he wrote, ‘that there is more to be gained aggressively building a base than there is steadily chipping away at a machine.’ Henry and Stryer recruited like-minded reform-starved teachers to volunteer to fill vacancies in UTLA's House, and they now occupy about 20% of the House seats. Henry called the uprising ‘an unprecedented event in our union's history.’”


Clare McHugh in WSJ on Amy Chua’s book, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother.

“There's nothing like parenting for uncovering our most deeply held beliefs. In general conversation with friends, plenty of us exercise a certain liberal-mindedness, a flexibility of perspective that eases social intercourse. Why alienate pals by lecturing them on the need to be more detail-oriented, or frugal, or neat? At work it's rarely smart to tell colleagues that their thinking is sloppy or dull, even if it is. But this self-restraint goes out the window when we are confronted with our own teenage offspring. With them we do not hesitate to pontificate on everyday virtues, every day. We extol the benefits of doing homework and studying for tests. We pass on our hard-won nuggets of wisdom to the people we most love in the world.”


Louis Menand in the NYer, "Why the women’s movement needed The Feminine Mystique".

“‘The Feminine Mystique’ came out in the middle of a four-month newspaper strike in New York City, and it had to get the public’s attention at first without the benefits of newspaper advertisements or reviews. (Eventually, the Times ran a three-paragraph, rather skeptical assessment.) But the book was excerpted in McCall’s and Ladies’ Home Journal, magazines whose combined readership was a staggering thirty-six million, and its publisher, W. W. Norton, was astute enough to sense that it might have a blockbuster on its hands. It hired a publicist who arranged a book tour, then an unusual promotional tool, and it gave the book a dust jacket that was the color of a fire truck. ‘The Feminine Mystique’ ended up spending six weeks on the Times best-seller list. The first paperback printing sold 1.4 million copies.

For many women, and not a few men, the publication of Friedan’s book was one of those events which seem, in retrospect, to have divided the sixties from the fifties as the day from the night…. By all accounts, Friedan was not a person inclined to share the credit. (Some men have been known to be this way as well.) The implication that she had diagnosed a condition no one else had even managed to identify—that the problem she wrote about had no name until she named it—was a pretty open invitation to revisionism. Thirty years later, the revisionists arrived. In 1993, Joanne Meyerowitz, a historian who is now at Yale, showed that Friedan’s claim that mass-circulation magazines in the nineteen-fifties represented women in submissive and domestic roles was oversimplified. The record was mixed: there were also many depictions of women as active and independent.”


In the Guardian, "Revealed: Second undercover police officer who posed as activist".

“The controversy over a police surveillance network embedded in the environmental protest movement has deepened dramatically after the Guardian identified a second undercover officer who spent years living a double life as an activist. The woman's name has been known to a group of six activists since Mark Kennedy – the police infiltrator identified by the Guardian on Monday as having spent seven years inside the movement – claimed she was also a police officer when confronted by them about his own identity last October…. Meanwhile politicians across Europe demanded information about the activities of Kennedy, the first undercover operative identified, who was on Tuesday accused of having had several sexual relationships with activists while undercover. Senior police sources have described these relationships as ‘unacceptable’. His UK-based handlers have flown to the US in an attempt to find an agent now accepted to have ‘gone rogue’.”


Nicholas Carr in New Republic on Douglas Coupland’s new book, Marshall McLuhan: You Know Nothing of My Work!

“One of my favorite YouTube videos is a clip from a Canadian television show in 1968 featuring a debate between Norman Mailer and Marshall McLuhan. The two men, both heroes of the ’60s, could hardly be more different. Leaning forward in his chair, Mailer is pugnacious, animated, engaged. McLuhan, abstracted and smiling wanly, seems to be on autopilot…. Watching McLuhan, you can’t quite decide whether he was a genius or just had a screw loose. Both impressions, it turns out, are valid. As Douglas Coupland argues in his pithy new biography, McLuhan’s mind was probably situated at the mild end of the autism spectrum. He also suffered from a couple of major cerebral traumas. In 1960, he had a stroke so severe that he was given his last rites. In 1967, just a few months before the Mailer debate, surgeons removed a tumor the size of an apple from the base of his brain. A later procedure revealed that McLuhan had an extra artery pumping blood into his cranium….

His books read like accounts of acid trips written by a bureaucrat. That kaleidoscopic, almost psychedelic style made him a darling of the counterculture—the bearded and the Birkenstocked embraced him as a guru—but it alienated him from his colleagues in academia. To them, McLuhan was a celebrity-seeking charlatan. Neither his fans nor his foes saw him clearly. The central fact of McLuhan's life, as Coupland makes clear, was his conversion, at the age of twenty-five, to Catholicism, and his subsequent devotion to the religion’s rituals and tenets. Though he never discussed it, his faith forms the moral and intellectual backdrop to all his mature work. What lay in store, McLuhan believed, was the timelessness of eternity. The earthly conceptions of past, present, and future were, by comparison, of little consequence.”


Ex-Trib editor Charles Madigan in the Columbia Journalism Review with an open letter full of double talk as if he or anyone else since the sixties have had any respect for Col. McCormick’s institution to the next CEO of the company, "Welcome to Tribune Company".

“Dear Sir or Madam: Your most important responsibility before you settle in as CEO is to make certain everyone knows you respect the institution, not just what its stately gothic tower represents, but also the mission of its embattled employees. It is likely that you are not from the world of news, but from the world of finance. I suspect your objective will be to make Tribune, once the gold standard for journalism in Chicago, a viable, respected company again. A significant anniversary that nearly coincides with your arrival should not be allowed to pass without notice. Robert R. McCormick took control of the Chicago Tribune in 1911 after its owners had decided to shut it down as a lost cause. He would not allow that and spent much of his troubling, controversial life building a strong Chicago institution. Your challenge is just as great as his was.”

“Spent much of his troubling, controversial life”?! McCormick was a rich Scots-Irish scion of grandfathers Tribune founder Joseph Medill and International Harvestor inventor-founder Cyrus McCormick; the Daleys were low-born Irish Chicagoans, but these latter day Tribune Irish were go-along get-along j-school corporate types who missed one bet after another, now one of them starts making demands like he was part of the golden age of the Chicago Tribune or Chicago itself.


John Lloyd in FT is a little mixed up with his column, "The shock jocks at the gate", for one thing “shock jocks” are a different breed than the politically engaged talk-show hosts he means. Only Bob Grant maybe was both. Lloyd writes as Brit afraid of the importation of American style, when in fact our news coverage here has been heavily influenced by both the cold-blooded Fleet Street sensibility, and the arrogant myopia of the BBC’s political coverage.


The Economist, "The crucible of print"

“As online commentators and rivals have gleefully pointed out, News Corporation’s paywalls have led to a drastic drop in traffic. A survey by Mark Oliver, a consultant, finds that only 14% of regular Times readers and just 1% of non-regular ones subscribe to the website in some form: upon hitting the paywall, most head for the BBC’s free website instead. That does not worry News Corporation. It sees online advertising as an unreliable source of revenue. Online ad spending is growing, but the number of ad slots available is rising much faster; as a result, prices are so low that a reader who visits a website once or twice a month is hardly worth having. The firm would rather extract more money from dedicated readers directly. Thus the pages of the Times and Sunday Times are thick with in-house ads offering entertainments to readers, from iPad applications to theatre tickets and Italian holidays. Some 250,000 people buy from the Times wine club. These things tend to make money, but the main goal is to hook readers on a bundle of services. Katie Vanneck-Smith, chief marketing officer for News Corporation’s British papers, wants to get to the point where a newspaper subscription is like its pay-television or mobile-phone equivalents: something it hurts to cancel. Rivals fear the firm will bundle newspapers with BSkyB, a hugely successful satellite broadcaster that it controls and wants to take over completely.

Britain’s second great innovator takes the opposite view. The Daily Mail contends that online advertising works fine—if you are huge. The paper has been one of the most consistent sellers in print over the past few years, crushing its nearest competitor, the Daily Express. But it is even mightier online. With 35m unique visitors each month, it is now the world’s second-biggest newspaper website, according to comScore, which measures online traffic. It may take the top spot when the New York Times goes behind a paywall this year.”


Chicago Reader 40th Anniv. post: "Inside the Challenge, 1972" by Steve Sewall & Olimpia Guerriero.

“We speak of the Sixth Illinois Constitutional Convention in 1969 and 1970 where Wayne won a double victory: a seat representing his native Hanover, and his wife. Then we settle on the Illinois Challenge. Our main question to him: what should Chicago know about the Challenge and its long range effects? He gives three responses.

--‘First, Daley's delegate composition was a clear articulation that the Daley machine is racist and discriminatory. We got Daley on precisely the same grounds that Julian Bond had removed Lester Maddox in 1968. As I see it, Daley and Lester Maddox are in the same boat; on this score, there's no difference whatsoever between them.’

--Second, the public saw the extent to which Daley, when confronted with a political problem, responds with force and violence. It was curious, the Daley people actually believed there was no violence. Even when we brought down the photographs to the Credentials Committee in Washington they would say, ‘What violence? There was no violence.’ But, of course, the didn't fool anybody.’

--Then, last and most important, the response of the Daley machine to the legalities of the Challenge demonstrated the intellectual bankruptcy of the machine hierarchy and its decision-making process. From Chicago, to Washington and the Credentials committee and the Supreme Court, all the way to Miami, they made 25 or 30 major mistakes. With 17 or 18 lawyers working for them, the Organization seemed unable to make a right decision. The Challenge showed that Daley, confronted with a political problem such as this, can no longer bring the necessary intellectual forces to bear on it. They no longer know how to work with the rules, let alone within them. The conduct of this group of people in responding to the challenge demonstrated they are not fit to govern.’

…What about the Daley machine in five or ten years?

‘It will become increasingly weak and more conservative.’”


Dennis Byrne in CT, "Mayoral script: Wallowing in niceness."

“Allow me to interrupt all this comity by suggesting that banging some heads together may be what Chicago needs to end its spoils system. Daley, as powerful as he has been, pushing through whatever he wanted (e.g. the destruction of Meigs Field), has been unable (or unwilling) to rein in the spoils system. It took a federal jury to stop what Daley should have — a practice of awarding jobs and promotions to the politically connected. Daley's patronage chief, Robert Sorich, and three other cogs in the Democratic machine were convicted of mail fraud in connection with the practice. Daley would have everyone believe that he knew nothing about the practice because, if he did, he would have been accountable. But, to borrow a phrase from the mayor, ‘everyone knows’ that the spoils system exists, and that it is costly and unfair. How can the mayor not know? Because Daley had neither the will nor the ability to confront the spoils system…. Certain folks in this town have had it their way for far too long — the insiders, the connected and the public employees unions whose outrageous benefits and work rules have put the city in hock. Telling them that the ride is over will take more than passion. It will take a bruiser of exceptional determination and skill.

This city operates on the principle that everyone better know someone someone sent. That the way to get ahead is to ‘know a guy.’ Making nice is for losers. That's not my code; it's the way of the Chicago spoils system. Pretty pleases won't get the job done.

So, if we elect a tough mayor, then the next question is: What will he or she be tough about? Every candidate pledges to be for the middle class, the disadvantaged and the voiceless. And against the corrupt and greedy. We know who's tough, but who's going to do the right thing?”


"The Assassination of Carlo Tresca", Jan. 11, 1943 at Onthisdeity.com.

“As an editor and journalist for several underground anarchist papers including his own publication, Il Martello (The Hammer), Tresca wrote uncompromising and scathing attacks on labour agents, bankers, consular officials, and priests. In the 1930s, he turned his pen against the Communists – condemning Stalin’s repressive tactics and, particularly, the ‘liquidation’ of anarchists and other non-Communist Loyalists during the Spanish Civil War. But his most damning vitriol was reserved for Italy’s Fascist regime, the greatest crusade of Tresca’s life. His relentless written war against the Fascisti in Italy and the United States eventually prompted the Italian ambassador to request that Tresca be deported or ‘silenced’. Deportation attempts failed, and the indefatigable Tresca would not be silenced; when one of his papers was closed down, he’d start another…. But Tresca’s list of enemies, however, was growing rapidly. Besieged as always from the right, Tresca found himself attacked on the left by Communists riding the wave of wartime popularity. And he was embroiled in an ongoing battle with the powerful Fascist newspaper publisher, Generoso Pope, who had even more powerful Mafia allies. And so, when a short, heavy-set man emerged from the shadows and fired four shots at Tresca as he and an associate crossed 15th St and 5th Ave on the night of 11th January 1943, the assailant could have been any number of foes. When the District Attorney’s office took a look at the long list of possible suspects, they didn’t even bother pursuing the investigation.”


Leon Aron in WSJ on Lev Loseff’s biography, Joseph Brodsky: A Literary Life.

“Though Brodsky's poems were circulated in samizdat he was not a ‘dissident’ and did not write ‘anti-Soviet’ verses. Yet, with unerring instinct, the Soviet state sensed that this high-school dropout supporting himself by menial jobs was an enemy of a higher, more dangerous order: someone who denied it moral authority over its subjects—its right to mold their souls, not just own their economic and political selves. In February 1964, Brodsky was arrested on charges of ‘parasitism,’ that is, not working in any of the branches of ‘socialist economy.’ A handful of Brodsky's supporters managed to infiltrate the tightly guarded courtroom, packed with snitches and ‘worker activists’ from Leningrad plants and factories, during his trial. They were struck by how calm, indeed serene, the defendant was. A key part of the charges was that he called himself a ‘poet’ without having been accepted into the Writers' Union:

‘And what is your profession?’ the judge barked at him in a celebrated exchange.

‘Poet,’ Brodsky answered.

‘And who told you you were a poet? Who assigned you that rank?’

‘No one. Who assigned me to the human race?‘

Brodsky had resolved to see the trial as no more than an annoying distraction from his life's work. In jail, he wrote love poems in which there is no hint of the ordeal. Brodsky titled the cycle ‘Songs of a Happy Winter.’ In his final statement, he said: ‘I am no parasite. I am a poet who will bring honor and glory to this country.’ Laughter reportedly broke out in the courtroom.”

(ed: Joseph Brodsky interview and poem, 1988)


American knowhow defeats all comers.


Dan Steinberg at Washingtonpost.com, "DC team owners on the media".

“One of the great things about having all the D.C. sports owners in The Post's auditorium for Tuesday's Business of Sports symposium thing was that they could all take shots at the media and we had to just sit there and smile and take it since we invited them there. On the other hand, we could console ourselves with slices of banana bread, while they had to sit on stage. It started early, when moderator Mary Jordan asked about the particular challenges of owning a sports team in this market.

‘You,’ Ted Leonsis said, meaning ‘You, The Post.’

‘I agree with him,’ Dan Snyder chimed in, to much laughter….

‘I'm an extrovert, and I get my energy and my input from fans,’ Leonsis said. ‘I think this new media is like oxygen. Get used to it. I think that there is no more steering wheel in the hand of The Washington Post. I used to live in mortal fear about what you would write. Now, I don't care.’

More laughter.

‘I think it's something that you need to internalize: that we're our own media company,’ Leonsis said, again addressing The Post. ‘I announce things on my blog. I get 40 to 90,000 people coming to my blog, depending on the subject. I have a direct, unfiltered way to reach our audience now, and I think that harnessing that is what you have to do as ownership, because we are media brands. We're in the subscription business. We call them season-ticket holders. We're in the sponsorship business. We're in the same business.’”


Mike Tanier in NYT, "Bears After Luckman: Monsters of the Middling."

“The Bears revolutionized professional football when they drafted Columbia quarterback Sid Luckman in 1939: they modified the T-formation to suit Luckman’s talents, all but inventing the modern passing game. They should not have bothered. Luckman became a Hall of Famer, but the Bears have not had a good quarterback since…. The Bears abandoned the passing game in 1969 by drafting Bobby Douglass, an Age of Aquarius proto-Tebow with matinee-idol looks, a fullback’s physique, a powerful arm and the accuracy of a Farmers’ Almanac. A typical Douglass passing season: 5 touchdowns, 15 interceptions, 30 sacks and a 40.4 percent completion rate. Coach Jim Dooley moved in with Douglass to teach him the finer points (or even the coarser points) of quarterbacking. Douglass, in turn, married a Playboy Playmate. Though not while Dooley bunked with him. That would have been awkward.”


WSJ: Daily Wonders From NASA’s Photo Album


Museum of the Moving Image upcoming rediscovered and restored:

The Big Combo
1955 (Joseph H. Lewis / Cornel Wilde, Jean Wallace) Jan. 21, 22

Valerie and Her Week of Wonders
1970 (Jaromil Jires / Jaroslava Schallerova) Jan. 28

The Salvation Hunters
1925 (Josef von Sternberg / Georgia Hale) Jan. 29

• Upstream
1927 (John Ford / Grant Withers) Jan. 30


Obituary of the Week

David Nelson (1936 - 2011)

“‘The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet’ began on radio in 1944, focusing on the home life of bandleader Ozzie Nelson and his vocalist wife, Harriet Hilliard. In 1949, the popular show became a true family affair when 12-year-old David and 8-year-old Ricky replaced the child actors who had been portraying them on radio. ‘The Adventures of Ozzie and Harriet’ moved to television three years later, debuting on ABC in October 1952.… In the process of playing fictionalized versions of themselves on television each week for 14 years, David and Rick Nelson literally grew up in front of millions of Americans. Indeed, after David and Rick were married in the early '60s, their wives — first David's wife, actress June Blair, and then Rick's wife, the former Kris Harmon — became their TV wives. The blurring of what was real and what was not real caused confusion in some viewers' minds. When David enrolled at USC and joined a fraternity after graduating from Hollywood High School in 1954, his TV character started college and joined a fraternity. But unlike his TV character, who became a lawyer on the show, David did not go into law. Instead, he launched his career as a director by taking the reins from his director-father for about a dozen episodes of the show in the early '60s. He spent the next several decades directing commercials and occasional TV series and movies.”


V.A. - “Who Knows What Tomorrow Might Bring”

New 16-track compilation/mixtape from Arthurmag.com, featuring Peter Stampfel & Baby Gramps, Jim Dickinson, Marnie Stern and more.


Thanks to Jay Babcock, Matt Carducci, Steve Beeho.

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