a new low in topical enlightenment

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Issue #112 (August 24, 2011)

North of Highway 130, Snowy Range, Wyoming

Photo by Joe Carducci

End Times for the Hero: The Batman and Frank Miller
by Joe Carducci

When we easy-living post-mod children of the post-war boom reach back for handfuls of cultural humus to ground our own reveries, it’s usually twenties-thirties modern. Our conscious backstop is WWII, which mobilized the men, transformed the homefront, and lived on through the cold war where we wore the white hat globally. This began to break apart in the sixties but not fully and not soon enough to save them with the black hat. However baby boom myth preferred to portray the 1950s humus as sterile, and this more recent golden age wasn’t made much use of until the punk era had run through its immediate sources and found itself fascinated with Johnny Cash, Link Wray, et. al. So the attachment to the Roaring Twenties and the Depression tends to be reflexive. Harry Smith began it for us in the early 1950s with his excavation and representation of songs and art from back before the war. This continued thru folk music and the blues revival. And early hippie-era graphics often trolled the twenties for inspiration; R. Crumb is famously only interested in the twenties. And just a year ago music photographer Jenny Lens was insisting on the silent vamps influence on the seventies punk female look – Exene in particular.

But in this ongoing borrowing the sunnier appetite of fans is in a footrace with the sour drive of university adjuncts as they interrogate the hero or at least knock the white hat off him. The collegiate plaintiffeoisie has some ongoing need to pose as their own supercritic hero dragging into the dock some stand-in for their parents. American WWII victory culture was that intimidating, and the burdens of the cold war that intolerable to the generations that followed, suspecting any achievements of their own must necessarily pale in comparison, or even have questionable authorship given the headstart in a clear field the thirties-forties provided us.


The Superman franchise has been easier to relaunch and so it has greater continuity through comics, movies, television, merch. Bob Kane’s answer to Superman bears a heavier load, and as a creature of the night can even be sucked into that still spreading after-the-fact revisionist applied faux category, Noir, from which there is now no escape. Batman and Johnny Cash both got caught on the goth conveyer-belt to noir at the end of the nineties. If all those gospel recordings and all his praying couldn’t save the man in black what chance did the Batman have?

Superman had a six-year gestation before anyone saw him, whereas Batman was ordered up one weekend to reproduce Superman’s sales figures. If Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster pulled from science fiction and the Jewish legend of the Golem, Kane pulled rather from films: two Roland West films adapted from the 1922 Broadway hit, The Bat, as well as Douglas Fairbanks’ The Mark of Zorro (1920). West’s 1926 version featured sets by William Cameron Menzies and was shot by Arthur Edeson with Gregg Toland apprenticing; West remade his own film as a talkie titled, The Bat Whispers (1930). Both films are visually innovative comic mysteries -- what used to be called “old dark house” pictures. In these films (and the play) a master thief wears the mask and cape. He bait’s the police with mocking notes and the earlier film even features a bat signal. Fairbanks played Don Diego as a louche fop so as to better disguise the masked, stout-hearted, acrobatic Zorro. Superman’s Clark Kent alter ego tracks closer to Zorro, both feature comic relief as women despair over the uselessness of the alter ego, wishing he might be more like the hero. The mask Bruce Wayne wears to become Batman had an interesting pull on young boys and their heroic fantasies. The mask promises that one’s deeds will speak for themselves and reveal one’s true identity, rather than the grubby little kid one actually is. The Lone Ranger used this aspect as well.

Batman debuted in Detective Comics in 1939, one year after Superman. Dick Tracy had debuted in Tribune papers in 1931. It was Chester Gould’s daily comic strip that set the crime-fighting scene and discovered readership appetite for an implacable force for justice against criminal impunity. This appetite was struck in twenties Chicago. The big town was an instant city of new money and immigrant poverty -- the biggest crap game ever, where America bet that masses of Catholics could be made over into Americans, and that blacks might had a future here as well. Prohibition had failed to dent Catholic drinking habits, and they re-charged cracker racism of the south with grave peasant fear. Marcus Garvey was promoting repatriation to Liberia in the twenties. It wasn’t clear this bet would be won. But Bismarck was right, “God has a special providence for fools, drunks and the United States of America,” though he too (Bismarck, that is) had his doubts about Catholics. America’s enemies at home and abroad would thus do well to surrender, drop rifle or pen and emigrate or immigrate as the case may be. The immigrants that did come and the blacks who came north understood finely in a first-person risk-reward sense that beneath all the roiling cruelty of the city a better deal might be had.

Mayor Anton Cermak was one of those immigrants; elected in 1931 he made a political machine out of the ethnic stew spilling through the neighborhoods. Convention still has it that Giuseppe Zangara was aiming for Franklin Roosevelt went he shot and killed Cermak but FDR wasn’t the President yet and wasn’t standing near Cermak. In Chicago, given the pace of events ahead of Prohibition’s end and the approaching World’s Fair, no-one doubted Capone, on his way to jail, and Nitti, who’d survived assassination by Cermak’s extra-legal thugs, had sent the Sicilian sharpshooter to hit “Pushcart Tony.” Chicago was the capitol of the country until FDR’s New Deal and the War resized the Federal government only to see the national imagination shift west to Los Angeles come the forties and fifties.

The superhero phenomenon arose from young sons shamed by their immigrant fathers who couldn’t speak English and worked unheroic though often quite dangerous jobs. They kept their heads down while bootleggers and white slavers fought for streets in a wide open town. They understood only the old country ways and saw this crossfire as a kind of WWI redux – a Chicago World War – fought by ethnic mafias rather than states – the Italians, Poles, Czechs, Slovaks, Serbs, Croats, Irish, Jews, and blacks all had their rooting interests in the crime-family battles. So did the Pols and the Police, and sometimes even the miniscule wasp elite. Newsprint was the cultural currency. And little boys burned for a response to this impunity and from the early thirties they found it in Dick Tracy, radio’s “Lone Ranger” and “Green Hornet”, Superman, and Batman. Picture those kids helping their European-born or former sharecropper fathers read Dick Tracy at the end of the day.

Chester Gould introduced high-tech gadgets and super-villains but Tracy himself was not quite a superhero; the other superheroes would be more fully owned by the kids.


Frank Miller, a lover of Gotham, has his Dark Knight Batman-reset nod to this Chicago source with a reference to Commissioner Gordon’s “sketchy” early days as a Chicago cop – now there’s some story loam, Tracy’s departmental rival. And Batman’s Gotham continues to feature the human scale surface street bridges one sees rising and lowering over the Chicago River rather than the few massive arterial bridges that barely connect Manhattan to the other boroughs. But Miller picked the right superhero to adapt. The original can be improved. Kane eventually built up a distinctive gallery of arch-criminals, but graphically, only the title-page portraits of “the Batman” really hit like arcane icons, and DC Comics didn’t dare commit graphically to a night-world of black-and-white and so Batman jumps around in an incongruously brightly colored night. None of Hollywood’s black-and-white chapter-serials based on these comics were any good, but the four Dick Tracy features made in the mid-40s look great and point to the kind of production Batman in particular would’ve benefited from (these were directed by William Berke, Gordon Douglas, and John Rawlins). Another missed bet was the quick addition of sidekick Robin which insulted all but the youngest reader. If Batman can’t be a brooding loner in the night, who can be? Robin appears one year into Batman’s run in Detective Comics when he is still battling run-of-the-mill criminals and syndicates. One issue later is the first free-standing Batman No. 1 comic and it introduces The Joker.

Frank Miller in his introduction to his collection Absolute Dark Knight makes veiled reference to Frederick Wertham’s 1954 anti-comic book polemic, Seduction of the Innocent, where the good doctor accused Batman comics of being “psychologically homosexual.” In the mid-sixties, The Realist revisited Wertham for laughs but also for real in John Cochran’s “Batman and Robin were lovers.” Of course in the sixties we may be juvenile but we aren’t authentically modern anymore, though the comics are still being issued and in fact the pop zeitgeist-grabbing “Batman” television show is just around the corner. Mad Magazine, The Realist and underground comics are publishing funny, derisive, lewd versions of famous daily strip and comic book characters and it seems the backroom cynicism of politics, newsroom, and showbiz has invaded our living rooms. I often think of Jack Brewer’s poem for the Saccharine Trust piece, “Emotions and Anatomy”, which ends:

“Because the world is perverse
We must live through our imaginations.
When our imaginations become perverse
All that is left is… is… is…”

(V.A. – The Blasting Concept, Vol. II)

Miller responds to the over- and underground subterfuge by enlisting a female Robin (the original Robin, Dick Grayson, has gone bad) which contemporizes his aging Batman’s world, adding sexual tension to Bruce Wayne’s lifelong commitment to honor his parents, murdered back in the roaring twenties of impunity. Miller is grounded in the original real thing of comics, so while influenced by the underground comics of the sixties and seventies he doesn’t surrender to it. He writes that human nature is “immutable”, and with this simple declaration he throws off much of the worst political pretense of the last century. The sixties version of that pretense was dumbed-down New Left cant and proffered by poli-sci washouts or pseudo-artists who moved in the wake of the old left, the civil rights movement, rock and roll or Crumb. The hippies sought the natural man until one named Charlie showed up. Face it, the only New Man possible in the world of comic book crime-fighters is the next hideous black-hearted mutant announcing himself with some insane outrage – like Manson, id in full effect.

Miller loves the melodrama of the comics form and speaks in an interview of hoping to cause his reader to slow down for appreciation of the art against the impulse to race along the storyline. A story chopped into a procession of frames colliding and sparking off each other makes the comic a better illustration of Eisenstein’s theory of montage than film, because the motion picture, or living picture as it was called in its early history, finds its initial power in its framing of motion. But when a comic book run is collected and reprinted in bound editions, much less an extravagant, large, boxed, hard cover glossy re-framing of form like this edition, it’s cheap glory is corrupted by promising too much. The graphic-novelization of comics is a wrong turn as sure as Cinerama was for cinema. I never saw the original issue of Miller’s work and I’m sure those who have, value the high-tone reproductions of the original artwork now available but in terms of storytelling it shifts the weight away from story and the normal porn of form to the distracting fetish of printing specs.


In Miller’s Batman stories it’s the corruption of truth that the electronic news-media yields and wields that concerns him. In Kane’s original, newspapermen are merely bumbling fools blaming Batman for crimes he is hot on the trail solving. Now the omnipresent faces on screens seem a willful chorus of some sealed-off collective id -- reporters barely see the streets and by the end it's “News in the Nude”, cutting to spokesmen, fuming heads and a holographic president.

In The Dark Knight Returns (1986) Miller placed a middle-aged Batman in a seventies New York that inspired films like Death Wish (1974), The Warriors (1979), Defiance (1980), and Escape from New York (1981). In The Dark Knight Strikes Again (2001-2) Batman is fully aged and now the internet deepens the corruption of truth as the superhero’s own fans band together to counter television’s calumny and succeed mostly in presenting one more obstacle to necessary action by the hero. Miller catches a New York at the end of Mayor Rudy Giuliani’s tenure. The one-party polity had turned to a Republican who was seen as a last hope crime-fighter, and amazingly he delivered and head-manned newly ascendant Gotham to the point that even the suits claim they miss the old Times Square. As reward Giuliani was exiting a lame-duck laughingstock, dragging himself towards divorce and chemotherapy. And then super-villains attacked from their secret lair on September 11th.

Miller writes of his Dark Knight stories,

“Much of what I was after was to use the crime-ridden world around me to portray a world that needed an obsessive, Herculean, half-maniac genius to bring order. But that was only half the job. I saved my nastiest venom… for the vapid, pandering talking heads who so poorly chronicled the gigantic conflicts of the time. What would these little people do if giants walked the Earth? How would they regard a powerful, demanding, unrepentant hero? Or a villain whose soul is as black as death? Fifteen years passed. I found out. I was halfway thru The Dark Knight Strikes Again when the Twin Towers collapsed and thousands of my neighbors were slaughtered.” (Absolute Dark Knight, DC)

The Dark Knight Strikes Again couldn’t thereafter be the “affectionate romp” he intended, but it was too late to change its title to, say, The Dark Knight Strikes Out. While the art’s color shifts after 9/11 into an unhinged computer-chromaticized scheme -- not quite air-brush minimal, not quite psychedelic -- the story skids out into an end-times for the hero as Batman -- Bruce Wayne under mask and cape -- begins to break down due to age and the pressure of a seemingly hopeless battle. The overwhelming weakness of the city around him means even the legion of attending superheroes can make no difference as each that throws in with Batman and Robin are quickly preoccupied with simple survival. They mostly do.

The superhero of the world of comics is a profane version of the story of Christ, and not far removed from those mortals who intervened in the histories of their similarly collapsing nations -- Fujimori, Pinochet, Franco -- and were called fascists for their trouble. The simple question, Compared to what?, comes to mind. But the world of comics is not national, it must be a single city -- the city as planet. It’s a mistake to acknowledge Chicago or Washington as Miller does. Cataclysm in Gotham reminded its citizens that they needed Giuliani, but he never should’ve run for President; President of what? For him there is nothing but his city. There are limitations to the pop metaphysics of comics and they are not forgiving. The world they describe implodes at the slightest attempt to redeem their twenties inheritance in sixties social-science terms. In eighties London, Alan Moore and David Lloyd tried to rationalize terror in V for Vendetta by turning Guy Fawkes (a militant Catholic to the right of Franco) into a Nechaev of style and taste who delivers freedom via propaganda-by-the-deed, the destruction of the structures of bourgeois democracy, something of an idée fixe of both national socialism and international socialism until the cataclysm of the forties. There still are idiots running around London in Moore’s Fawkes masks. Moore and Lloyd surrender to sixties-seventies subterfuge and they make Miller look like a genius for accepting that comics can bear no redeeming beyond what a son can describe to his father in this strange new world.

(illustrations: Dark Knight and Superman by Frank Miller; Detective Comics May 1939; Mary Roberts Rinehart & Avery Hopwood’s The Bat, 1920; Roland West’s “The Bat”; William Cameron Menzies’ bat signal, 1926; Roland West’s “The Bat Whispers”; Chicago Mayor Anton Cermak; Giuseppe Zangara; Chester Gould; Dick Tracy comic book; Bob Kane’s “The Batman”; Mad Magazine’s “Bats-man”; Miller's "Dark Knight Returns"; Roland West’s “The Bat.”)

Thanks to Ben Schwartz and the L.A. Review of Books.

Photos by Chris Collins

Drawing by James Fotopoulos

From the Medicine Bow Desk of Joe Carducci…

WSJ: "Notable & Quotable".

“From a speech by Howard Buffett, a congressman from Nebraska (and father of Warren Buffett), reprinted in the Freeman, December 1956:

‘The last 40 years have seen a gigantic expansion of political power over economic affairs by the federal government. This change is linked by many scholars to the passage of the income tax law in 1913. This law revolutionized the taxing system in two ways:

1. It gave the government new powers over the economic status of the individual. This change has curtailed the ability of the individual to achieve economic independence.

2. The part of his production taken from the producer cumulatively increases the power of the federal government proportionately with the increase in its income. This power is not created; it is simply taken away from the people. . . .

The transfer of economic power into political hands takes many forms. In 1932 about 2.5 million people received a check from the government every month. Today about 20 million receive a government check every month. What is the effect on the freedom of this great segment of our people being more or less dependent on the political authorities for their daily bread? . . .’”


Conrad Black in National Review, "Buffett Squandering His Chance".

“No reasonable person debates Warren Buffett’s talents any more than Barbra Streisand’s, but in his case, he knows what he is saying is bunk, and he should know that most of his audience is suspicious of his motives. His comments in the New York Times this week on why he should be taxed more are spurious, and presumably just another public-relations exercise by a mega-billionaire who sees what a shambles his friends in the administration are making, and is tilting farther left to preempt public-relations problems. His years of padding around university campuses with Bill Gates in their corduroy trousers and viyella shirts explaining that they weren’t really interested in money were hard enough to take, but this next act, solo, as a slimmed-down Santa without beard, sleigh, or red uniform is wearing thin. Though I consider the spirit of J. P. Morgan’s famous ‘The public be damned!’ to be somewhat dated and in-egalitarian, it did… at least have a ring of sincerity. As President Bush II said, in response to Buffett and others, the Treasury will deposit their checks, if they are so concerned that they want to contribute more to national revenues.”


Christopher Caldwell in FT, "Why Buffett is wrong about soaking the rich.".

"As Mr Buffett puts it, those who 'make money with money' are treated better than those who 'make money from a job'. In saying this, Mr Buffett subscribes to the religious understanding of money that was universal in the Christian world before the rise of Florentine banking (and of Protestantism) and has been restated in our own time by practitioners of Islamic finance. Since money is not alive the way people are, it should not produce and reproduce the way people do. It is a powerful and even a beautiful argument, but there are two problems with it. The first is that just because something is time-honoured moral wisdom does not make it workable captialist fiscal policy. Economics, in fact, prides itself on throwing aside such wisdom. It is inconsistent to argue on Christian grounds that paying interest on 'sterile' money is sinful and then to argue on Keynesian grounds that thrift in a downturn is inefficient. There is a second inadequacy in Mr Buffett's suggestion. Polls show a majority of Americans want rich people's taxes raised. But soaking billionaires will not suffice to address the deficit and debt."


Tim Cavanaugh in Reason, "How Long Will It Take Keynes to Die?".

“This is the kind of laziness that sets in when you never have to entertain a serious challenge to your ideas. It’s remarkable given that the ballyhooed and short-lived return of Keynes was not merely rhetorical. These ideas were put into action, at a cost of trillions of dollars that will someday have to be paid back. The result was either a recovery too microscopic to notice or no recovery at all. Everywhere except the Times, people have noticed. The rise of the Tea Party, the three-fourths majority in favor of a federal spending cap, and the midterm election results were all evidence that Keynesian intervention is no longer a marketable idea. There are few things less relevant than a newspaper, but many people, possibly hundreds, still take The New York Times seriously, and they’re being disserved when the paper misses an important shift in economic theory. The long-defunct economist was brought out for a final bow — a courtesy the Muscular Dystrophy Association won’t even extend to Jerry Lewis — and the result left audiences cold the world over. Keynesian mysticism — with its fancy equations, its cramped vocabulary of “liquidity traps” and “irreducible uncertainty,” and its pre-Copernican belief that a group of wise men in a central office can decide what “aggregate demand” should be among hundreds of millions of people — is over.”


Luca Rastello & Stefano Parola in NYT, "How Italy Is Adjusting".

“As so often happens in Italy, anxiety manifests itself in individualistic survival strategies. People turn away from government and broader society, fall back on family and clan loyalties and the informal sector. Sociologists call the result ‘amoral familism,’ a term Edward C. Banfield coined in the 1950s. There are upsides and downsides to this phenomenon. Italians have a great capacity for reconstruction after hard times — as after the Second World War, when the country emerged from ruins to become one of the most industrialized in the world. We tend to associate those resurrections with what we call the ‘art of muddling through,’ of which we are masters. It’s the capacity to be flexible in the face of change — something families tend to do better than governments. But this is allied to a deep mistrust of government and the public sector. As many sociologists have pointed out, localism and clannishness are the enemies of an open and meritocratic society. Access to the professions is considered almost a hereditary privilege here. And tax evasion is seen as a legitimate defense against an inefficient state.”


Slavoj Zizek at London Review of Books, "Shoplifters of the World Unite".

“We live in cynical times, and it’s easy to imagine a protester who, caught looting and burning a store and pressed for his reasons, would answer in the language used by social workers and sociologists, citing diminished social mobility, rising insecurity, the disintegration of paternal authority, the lack of maternal love in his early childhood. He knows what he is doing, then, but is doing it nonetheless. It is meaningless to ponder which of these two reactions, conservative or liberal, is the worse: as Stalin would have put it, they are both worse, and that includes the warning given by both sides that the real danger of these outbursts resides in the predictable racist reaction of the ‘silent majority’. One of the forms this reaction took was the ‘tribal’ activity of the local (Turkish, Caribbean, Sikh) communities which quickly organised their own vigilante units to protect their property. Are the shopkeepers a small bourgeoisie defending their property against a genuine, if violent, protest against the system; or are they representatives of the working class, fighting the forces of social disintegration? Here too one should reject the demand to take sides. The truth is that the conflict was between two poles of the underprivileged: those who have succeeded in functioning within the system versus those who are too frustrated to go on trying.”


Harriet Sergeant in Spectator, "These rioters are Tony Blair’s children".

“On the third day of the London riots I received a telephone call from Mash, a member of a Brixton gang who I befriended three years ago. He was standing outside an electronics shop in Clapham, watching the looting. I could hear shouts, glass breaking but never a police siren. I urged him to go home. ‘Harri man,’ he remonstrated, his voice hoarse with emotion, ‘You don’t get to do this every day. You do your thing, and you don’t get arrested. It’s wild and exciting. These few days, it’s our time.’ The riots engulfing areas of London and other cities this week are not about poverty or race. They are about young men like Mash who are barely literate, unemployed, with no future and nothing to lose. For them it is suddenly a dream come true. Their favourite video games have become a reality. They have got what they never had before – power, a sense of achievement and lots of goodies. Most of us want the same thing. The difference is we can get them without setting London ablaze.”


Max Hastings in FT, "Charlatans lead us into the lean years".

“I question whether such rationality is the norm among the British, American and European peoples. Our societies cherish a gross sense of entitlement. We have also become wedded to the doctrine, profitably promoted by millions of lawyers, that for every misfortune someone must be indicted as blameworthy. Sir Mervyn King, governor of the Bank of England, said in a recent speech that Britain is at the midpoint of ‘seven lean years’. When I recently put it to a central banker that most western nations seem more likely to be starting 70 lean years, I was shocked by the readiness with which he assented.”


William Wallis in FT, "Why Africa is leaving Europe behind".

“Africa has been enjoying this reversal of roles. As rioting spread from London to other cities, South Africa‘s foreign ministry took the unusual step of issuing a travel advisory warning its citizens against visiting the UK. There was also retaliation for past jibes about their country‘s capacity to organise the 2010 football World Cup, by questioning whether London can be trusted to host a safe Olympics.”


John Plender in FT, "Bond vigilantes keep a close eye on ability to print money".

“The underlying logic is that no country defaults on its domestic bonds if it retains the right to set the printing presses in motion. Yet it seems counter-intuitive that bond markets, with their traditional fear of inflation, should punish a country for not being able to debase its currency. The demise of this conventional market wisdom is one of the achievements, for want of a better word, of European Monetary Union…. As a correspondent to the Financial Times wrote last week… the Weimar Republic would presumably have been entitled to a triple A rating since it was perfectly capable of repaying its debts, even though the hyper-inflated money used for the task would have been close to worthless.”


Thomas Mallon in NYTBR on Nassir Ghaemi’s book, A First-Rate Madness.

“‘There is no Kennedy curse. There is a Kennedy gene — for hyperthymia — that is both a curse and a blessing.’ The president misused anabolic steroids as well as amphetamines until a ‘medical coup d’état,’ headed by a White House doctor, George Burkley, and carried out some time before the Cuban missile crisis, got Kennedy on the proper regimen of prescription drugs. The result, Ghaemi believes, paraphrasing Kennedy’s urologist, was ‘a spectacular psychochemical success.’ From it the author seems to derive a kind of contact high, one that sends him on a fanciful flight of alternate history: ‘The military presence in Vietnam, later disastrous, was a mistake made in 1961, when Kennedy was medically ill and psychiatrically erratic. By 1963, Kennedy expressed reservations about further involvement in that conflict. Had he lived, he probably would not have responded the way Lyndon Johnson did.’ Or he would have. Ghaemi does nothing by halves. Admitting that his next psychological autopsy is a ‘delicate’ matter, he moves on from Kennedy’s case to Hitler’s. ‘Up to 1937, I think his moderate bipolar disorder influenced his political career for the better — fueling his charisma, resilience and political creativity.’ Later, though, Hitler’s personal physician, Theodor Morell, began injecting the Führer with amphetamines, thereby lighting ‘a fuse that exploded the entire world.’ Ghaemi would have rendered a malpractice judgment at Nuremberg.”


Edward Wong in NYT, "Photo Turns U.S. Envoy Into a Lesson for Chinese".

“A photograph taken last Friday of Gary F. Locke, the new United States ambassador to China, buying coffee with his 6-year-old daughter and carrying a black backpack at a Starbucks in the Seattle airport has gone viral on the Chinese Internet. The seemingly banal scene has bewildered and disarmed Chinese because they are used to seeing their own officials indulge in privileged lives often propped up by graft and bribery and lavish expense accounts…. Mr. Locke and his family were waiting to fly to Beijing when a Chinese-American businessman shot the photograph and posted it on Sina Weibo, a popular Chinese social networking site. It has been reposted over 40,000 times and has generated thousands of comments. State news organizations have weighed in with favorable articles about Mr. Locke, a former governor of Washington State and President Obama’s first Commerce secretary, who on Tuesday presented his credentials to President Hu Jintao of China to start his posting. The first impression from the Starbucks episode has been bolstered by another photograph that shows Mr. Locke, his wife, Mona, and their three children carrying their own luggage after landing at Beijing Capital International Airport. Chinese who saw them then spread the word that the family had gotten into an anonymous minivan because a formal sedan that had been sent to pick them up was too small. ‘To most Chinese people, the scene was so unusual it almost defied belief,’ Chen Weihua, an editor at China Daily, an official English-language newspaper, wrote in an article Wednesday. Cheng Li, a scholar at the Brookings Institution who studies Chinese elite politics, said in an e-mail: ‘Ambassador Locke’s photo contrasts sharply with the image of the Chinese officials who often live in a secret, insulated, very privileged fashion.’”


Scott Kilman & Brian Spegele in WSJ, "Chinese Hunger for Corn Stretches Farm Belt".

“China's influence on corn demand underlines how its fast-growing economy is reshaping global commerce. The nation, with its growing population of 1.3 billion people, has been a major player in commodities markets in recent years. China already buys about a quarter of all U.S. soybeans. But its sudden demand for corn caught many off guard. China, which hadn't been a net importer of corn for 15 years until last year, has a vast corn belt of its own and for many years strove to be self-sufficient. And because China is secretive about the levels of commodities it holds in its strategic reserves, the rest of the market can only guess what its supply needs are. Many attribute the larger-than-expected demand to a growing middle class that is changing its tastes more quickly than anticipated. As the Chinese population becomes wealthier, for example, it is eating more pork. And the Chinese government is pushing its farmers to adopt Western methods of raising their pigs, including feeding them more corn. Citizens are also slurping up juices and other products that include corn-based sweeteners: Coca-Cola Co. said that its volume in China spiked 21% in the second quarter.”


Stephen Kinzer in New York Review of Books, "Triumphant Turkey?".

“Shortly before Erdogan won his first national election in 2002, prosecutors charged that he was plotting to subvert the secular order, and asked the Constitutional Court to shut down his party and ban him from politics. He survived by a single vote. That apparently led a cabal of officers to discuss the possibility of deposing him by force. Documents implicating these officers and others in a host of crimes — not just plotting to overthrow the government, but also organizing horrific murders like that of the Turkish-Armenian journalist Hrant Dink in 2007 — have been leaked to the press. The first hearing in 2008 set off a cascade of legal charges, an indictment that runs to several thousand pages, and the arrest of hundreds of suspects, including at least thirty active-duty generals. The plot to destabilize the country, and the cases connected to it, are popularly known as ‘Ergenekon,’ a reference to a mythic Turkic homeland and the name that plotters allegedly gave to their subversive plan. Many Turks greeted the opening of this case with both astonishment and jubilation. Investigating the military and its corrupt allies in the judiciary and bureaucracy was widely seen as a major step toward consolidating democracy. As the case has dragged on, however, it has taken on a different tinge. The authenticity of some incriminating documents has been challenged. Prosecutors have cast their net so widely that people have begun to wonder whether the true purpose of the case is to punish conspirators or to intimidate critics of the government. Since the government has been slowly replacing prosecutors with people it favors, there is suspicion that politics is once again intruding into the judiciary.”


David Gardner in FT, "Turkey’s newly faltering foreign adventures".

“It is far from obvious that the Erdogan government’s vaunted ‘zero problems with the neighbours’ policy passes muster. When Mr Erdogan and his AKP party were re-elected for the third successive time in June, his triumphal seemed to know no bounds. The result, he proclaimed, was a victory ‘for Bosnia as much as Istanbul, Beirut as much as Izmir, Damascus as much as Ankara’. Within days, thousands of Syrians were streaming across the Turkish border, seeking refuge from the savagery uncaged by their president, Bashar al-Assad.”


Mary O’Grady in WSJ, "Bernanke Reflates Kirchner’s Presidency".

“The easiest explanation for Mrs. Kirchner‘s strong showing is the economy, which grew 9%-10% in 2010 and is on track to grow more than 8% this year. Primary government spending (before interest on the debt) is no small part of this. As a percentage of gross domestic product it averaged 23% from 2000 to 2004. That average in the years 2005 through 2008 was around 27%. But this year it is on track to 38%, a figure higher than in socialist Venezuela or Ecuador. Where is all the money coming from? That‘s where the luck comes in. This perpetual-motion machine wouldn‘t be working if Mrs. Kirchner wasn’t the beneficiary of Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke’s easy money policy. That policy has helped push up global soybean prices and created a farm export boom. The strong flow of dollars combined with the central bank’s weak peso policy has produced a windfall of monetary stimulus. All this funny money has pushed up internal demand and, when combined with increased levels of protectionism, has stimulated the need for import substitution which is being met by domestic production.”


Hillary Burke & Malena Castaldi at MercoPress.com, "Feisty Uruguay wins respect from neighbours and investors".

“Being sandwiched between South America's biggest economies ‘is like being small in a pack of big dogs. You have to bark the loudest and act the toughest or else you don't exist,’ said Ignacio Otegui, head of Uruguay's construction chamber. Uruguay demands respect from its neighbours but also earns it from outsiders, who value its stable institutions, low corruption levels and respect for the rule of law -- setting it apart from many others in Latin America. Foreign direct investment in Uruguay jumped to 1.63 billion dollars last year, nearly doubling the amount in 2005. Its small size will probably keep it off any list of hot emerging markets, but ‘it does attract attention’ said Jim Barrineau, a New York-based strategist for ICE Canyon, a 2 billion dollars emerging markets hedge fund. ‘Uruguay is likely to be viewed as one of the best-run countries in Latin America. What debt it does have is not very actively traded because the fundamentals are so good that most managers buy and hold,’ Barrineau said.”


Colin Thubron in New York Review of Books on Yuri Rytkheu’s book, The Chukchi Bible.

“Several thousand years before Russia’s expansion in the seventeenth century, their Mongoloid ancestors spread into Siberia’s remote northeast. They were notoriously independent. An eighteenth-century map inscribes their enormous territory ‘Chooktchi natio ferocissima et bellicosa, Russorum inimica,’ and long after other Siberian tribespeople were paying the tsar an annual tribute in furs and tusks, the Chukchi refused.

Only with forced Soviet collectivization did their way of life change. Then they found themselves numbered among Stalin’s malye narody, the ‘little people’ whose culture was considered so thin or nonexistent that they might evolve unimpeded from Stone Age savages to Homo Sovieticus. A notable byproduct of this redundant hope — and arguably the foremost writer to emerge from the minority peoples of Russia’s far north — was the writer Yuri Rytkheu, who died in 2008. His life was a controversial one, apparently betraying — then returning to — his native roots. Now his The Chukchi Bible, just published in English, reads like a last, ringing testament to his people: a reworking of their myths, their history, and his own ancestry, in a poetic act of reclamation.”


Chip Cummins in WSJ, "Canada Escalates Its Arctic Activities".

“The exercise, called Operation Nanook, involves more than 1,000 Canadian troops. Military aircraft and navy vessels, and — for the first time — pilotless drones are taking part. Mr. Harper is also expected to unveil several economic initiatives aimed at developing the increasingly accessible Canadian Arctic. Melting ice — blamed by many scientists and governments on global warming — promises to open new shipping routes and make oil and mineral deposits there more accessible. The U.S. Geological Survey estimates that already-discovered onshore Arctic fields contain about 10% of the world’s known, conventional petroleum reserves. The agency thinks there could be another 90 billion barrels of oil -- just a little less than the reserves of a super producer like Kuwait -- still undiscovered, especially in the largely unexplored offshore. That has set off a scramble by rival Arctic powers to position themselves to take advantage. Last month Canada announced details of its military exercise just days after Russia said it would deploy two army brigades to the north to defend its own interests.”


Dennis Overbye in NYT, "Offering Funds, U.S. Agency Dreams of Sending Humans to Stars".

“Interstellar travel is a tall order. It would take Voyager 1, humanity’s fastest artifact, now traveling 38,000 miles an hour relative to the Sun, more than 70,000 years to reach Alpha Centauri, if it were headed in that direction. In the late 1950s and early 1960s, a group of physicists led by Theodore Taylor of General Atomics and Freeman Dyson of the Institute for Advanced Study proposed propelling a ship by the pressure waves from atomic bombs dropped one after another out of the back, every three seconds. Such a spacecraft, they calculated, could reach Jupiter in a year but would take hundreds of years to reach Alpha Centauri. The British Interplanetary Society used a more benign form for this propulsion idea in its interstellar spaceship study, Project Daedalus, in the 1970s. Their spacecraft would be powered by tiny thermonuclear explosions caused by compressing pellets of deuterium and helium-3 with laser blasts. It would carry a 500-ton scientific probe to Barnard’s Star, 5.9 light-years away, in about 50 years, reaching a top speed of 12 percent of the speed of light along the way.”


Neal Gabler in NYT, "The Elusive Big Idea".

“But if information was once grist for ideas, over the last decade it has become competition for them. We are like the farmer who has too much wheat to make flour. We are inundated with so much information that we wouldn’t have time to process it even if we wanted to, and most of us don’t want to. The collection itself is exhausting: what each of our friends is doing at that particular moment and then the next moment and the next one; who Jennifer Aniston is dating right now; which video is going viral on YouTube this hour; what Princess Letizia or Kate Middleton is wearing that day. In effect, we are living within the nimbus of an informational Gresham’s law in which trivial information pushes out significant information, but it is also an ideational Gresham’s law in which information, trivial or not, pushes out ideas. We prefer knowing to thinking because knowing has more immediate value.”


Michael Kimmage in New Republic on Robert Vanderlan’s book, Intellectuals Incorporated: Politics, Art and Ideas inside Henry Luce’s Media Empire.

“Vanderlan’s subject is ‘the interstitial intellectual,’ neither fully autonomous nor coercively employed. Such a subject requires him to trace a historical trajectory. American intellectuals veered toward bohemian autonomy in the 1920s, decrying the pursuit of money as vulgar. Then came the Great Depression. Not only had the imperative of making money, or making a living, grown unforgiving, but the cherished autonomy of the 1920s could be experienced over time as unwanted solitude. The paradigmatic example, for Vanderlan, is the poet-intellectual Archibald Macleish, who took a job at Time in the late 1920s because it offered him a regular income, and also because he ‘was frustrated by his isolation.’ Time and Fortune put him in the company of tens of thousands of readers. Vanderlan demolishes the cliché that intellectuals ceased being intellectuals by writing for Time or Life or Fortune. In the 1930s and 40s, mass-media journalism and the life of the mind merged in the offices of Luce’s empire, with significant consequences for American journalism and intellectual culture. James Agee smuggled ‘his own vision of journalism into Luce’s magazine.’ John Hersey, Theodore White, and Whittaker Chambers pioneered a new genre of ‘political literature’ at Time. Hersey’s writing in particular can be read “as a forerunner to the ‘new journalism’ of the 1960s.”


Gordon Crovitz in WSJ, "Google, Motorola and the Patent Wars".

“The value of patents in software and hardware such as smartphones has everything to do with litigation risk. It has almost nothing to do with technology. ‘A smartphone might involve as many as 250,000 patent claims’ that are largely questionable, David Drummond, Google’s chief lawyer, wrote in a blog post earlier this month, before the Motorola acquisition. The arbitrariness of patent grants means mobile-phone operators are inevitably infringing patents, risking billions in infringement lawsuits, but they have no way to know which broad patents will be upheld and which rejected. The best and maybe only defense is a good offense…. It’s a measure of the deeply dysfunctional U.S. patent system that the most sophisticated technology companies have been reduced to investing in patents to defend themselves from one another.”


Matt Richtel & Jenna Wortham in NYT, "Motorola’s Identity Crisis".

“‘It’s like, thanks for everything you did in the 20th century, but you’re being bought by a search engine,’ said Roger Entner, a telecommunications industry analyst and founder of Recon Analytics, a market research firm. He added, ‘Nobody ever buys a company and leaves it alone.’ Motorola traces its beginnings to 1928, when two brothers, Paul and Joseph Galvin, started a company making power converters for household radios. In 1947 it changed its name to Motorola, after its popular car radio brand. The company produced radio phones that helped American troops communicate in World War II, car phones in the 1980s, and the trend-setting MicroTac and Razr cellphones, among other products. But in recent years, after the Razr’s popularity faded, Motorola flirted with financial doom. It was only in the last few quarters that it surged back under the leadership of Sanjay Jha, a former executive at Qualcomm, who joined Motorola in 2008 when it was in danger of missing the rise of the smartphone.”


Bee Wilson in London Review of Books on Ruth Barton’s book, Hedy Lamarr: The Most Beautiful Woman in Film.

“Frequency hopping became a basic technology for military communications: it is used, for example, in the Milstar system that controls all US intercontinental missiles. But its civilian application is most significant. Spread-spectrum -- in which signals are deliberately spread across a wide band-width to ensure privacy -- is the basis of much of our current telecommunications system, from mobile phones to wireless broadband. Over the past couple of decades, Lamarr‘s films have been ignored, but her reputation as an inventor has risen. She and Antheil were not the first or the only people to devise versions of frequency hopping…. But it is still pretty jaw-dropping that Lamarr, who left school at 16, should have come up with the essential concept by herself. Inventors‘ Day in Europe is now celebrated on her birthday, 9 November.”


Charles Recknagel at Atimes.com, "Persian classic too sexy for censors".

“The Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance decided that some parts of the epic poem Khosrow and Shirin by Nezami Ganjavi needed reworking, despite the fact that the book-length masterpiece has been a classic of Iranian literature for 831 years. The news not only astounded the publishing house, which had expected routine approval when it sought to publish its eighth edition of the book, it also shocked Iran's intellectual class, despite decades of inurement to the censors' heavy hand. ‘This poem existed for nine centuries and ... Iranians were Muslims during those nine centuries,’ says Iran's best-known contemporary female poet, Simin Behbahani. ‘No one [during that time] had any objections to [the] Khosrow and Shirin poem and didn't think of censoring parts of the poem ... Nothing would be left [of the poem] by now, if they had. Those who talk about censoring the poem should be ashamed.’ The Ministry of Culture and Islamic Guidance has given no official explanation for its decision to belatedly censor the epic. But one objection reportedly concerns the poem's reference to the heroine Shirin embracing a male body. That the body is that of her husband and the embrace is a key to understanding her suicide at the end of their tragic love story seems not to have mattered one bit to the censors.”


Eamon Duffy in New York Review of Books on Caroline Bynum’s book, Christian Materiality: An Essay on Religion in Late Medieval Europe.

“‘Holy Feast’ included a characteristically sophisticated exploration of a well-known feature of the period, the abstinence by Saint Catherine of Siena and many other holy women from ordinary food, and their reliance for survival instead on the regular reception of holy communion. Other historians had interpreted this bizarre and radical asceticism through modern medical categories, seeing in it a form of ‘holy anorexia,’ evidence of a morbid and dysfunctional sensibility, driven by an internalized misogyny and self-loathing determination to punish the body and eliminate female sexual characteristics. Bynum, while not altogether discounting such explanations, argued against the anachronistic reductionism of modern medical or psychoanalytical readings of complex medieval behaviors and beliefs. She emphasized the special links between these women and the Eucharist, and pointed to the many ways in which the manipulation of food in sacred settings gave them control and direction over their own lives and environments, and established a privileged space for them in an institution otherwise dominated by male concerns and male authority.”


Geoffrey Hosking in London Review of Books on Wayne Dowler’s book, Russia in 1913.

“Another threat to civil society, according to Dowler, was posed by the various Symbolist and Futurist aesthetic movements. His view is provocative, given their high reputation among contemporary Russianists. As he sees it, the Symbolists and Futurists favored free speech, but only so that they could disseminate their own intolerant and authoritarian visions of how to change the world. They despised the market economy and the consumerist aspirations of the masses. Some of them deployed a deliberately violent rhetoric. In December 1912, for example, the self-proclaimed Cubo-Futurists -- Mayakovsky, Khlebnikov et al -- published a manifesto entitled ‘A Slap in the Face of Public Taste,’ in which they called for ‘Pushkin, Dostoevsky, Tolstoy etc, etc‘ to be thrown overboard from the steamer of modernity’. They and those like them, as Dowler puts it, ‘lionized the strong and independent personality but deplored a rights-based individualism’. In general, their apocalyptic visions and extravagant language helped to poison public discourse in the years before 1917.”


Holland Cotter in NYTBR on Hunter Drohojowska-Philp’s book, Rebels In Paradise: The Los Angeles Art Scene and the 1960s.

“The story starts in 1955, when Los Angeles was a boomtown thanks to movies and the aerospace industry, but a cultural backwater. There were plenty of homegrown artists, but few galleries and no modern art museum. Into this bare terrain came a couple of driven personalities. One of them, Walter Hopps, preppy and bespectacled, was a college dropout and art addict. The other, Edward Kienholz, was a bearish farm boy-artist with a peppery temperament. On the surface, their alliance was an unlikely one — Mr. Peepers meets Bigfoot — but it worked. Both wanted to get some art action going in the city, and in 1957 they pooled their meager resources to open the Ferus Gallery. Initially conceived as a showcase for local talent, Ferus expanded its scope after an early shift in personnel. Kienholz bailed; he really didn’t want to run a business. Hopps, a person of pathologically impractical habits, didn’t know how to. So when an amiable former actor and New York transplant named Irving Blum turned up and bought out Kienholz’s share, he became the gallery’s functional director and made its range of artists­bicoastal. These three men are recurrent figures in Drohojowska-Philp’s narrative, which pans back and forth in time. Around them, or around Ferus, circulated a constellation of figures who would become the city’s first glamorous art stars, among them John Altoon, Larry Bell, Billy Al Bengston, Robert Irwin, Craig Kauffman, Ed Moses, Ken Price and a young Oklahoman, Ed Ruscha. The Ferus scene, as described in the book, started out fairly relaxed and mildly countercultural. Even its hardest-working members put in serious surfing time. After all, why worry about shows and sales if there was no market?”


Dave Kehr in NYT, "Streaming Video’s Emerging Bounty".

“Both Netflix and Hulu are full of hidden gems, but often it’s not easy to dig them out. Somewhere on Netflix, between Ashley Tisdale in Sharpay’s Fabulous Adventure and Christopher Walken and Jennifer Beals in The Prophecy II, there’s a very good copy of Edgar G. Ulmer’s 1948 film noir Ruthless in its full 105-minute version, rather than the 88-minute public domain cut that’s been the only edition available for years. To find it, though, you have to know it’s there. One useful service is instantwatcher.com, an independent Web site that monitors the Netflix streaming library (and has a beta site up for Hulu, at instantwatcher.com/hulu, that for the moment only covers Hulu’s free, commercially supported programming). Instantwatcher keeps track of the new releases on Netflix, as well as those about to expire, and offers several searchable sub-indexes: pages devoted to various genres, languages and years of release; lists of films recommended by Rotten Tomatoes and the critics of The New York Times (including links back to The Times’s reviews). Streaming video will probably never live up to the utopian dream of many cinephiles: the notion that every movie ever made will suddenly be available with the click of a mouse. Neither Netflix nor Hulu is particularly friendly toward older films. Instantwatcher reports only 26 Netflix streaming titles for the banner year 1939, more than half of them B westerns (but also One Third of a Nation, a fascinating and quite rare offshoot of the Federal Theater Project’s Living Newspaper Unit).”


Jonathan Foltz at LAreviewofbooks.org on Malcolm Turvey’s book, The Filming of Modern Life: European Avant-Garde Film of the 1920s.

“No film better demonstrates the conflicted status of avant-garde cinema than Francis Picabia and René Clair’s collaborative Dada document, Entr’acte, which opens with a note of overt defiance, if not aggression, towards its audience. In the initial shots, Picabia and Erik Satie (who composed a score for the film) descend from the air in slow motion to aim and fire a canon directly into the lens of the camera. Dressed in formal attire, the two gentleman pause before lighting the fuse and appear to hold a reasoned discussion as to how to proceed, motioning to each other as if carefully weighing their options. Then Satie lifts the missile from off-screen, holding it out for them both to smell; only upon finding the odor repugnant does Satie load it into the canon and fire into our direct line of sight. It is a manifestly destructive gesture that bluntly taunts both the good taste and apparent safety of its spectators (whose original members were attending one of Satie’s productions at the Swedish ballet in Paris). Clair would later wax nostalgic for the shock the film had on its audience, remarking in his book Cinema Yesterday and Today (1970):

“Now that Entr’acte is shown in film societies and film libraries with all the deference due to an antique, I am tempted to pay my respects to those who once hissed it. …Nothing is more distressing than a tame, disciplined audience that feels obliged to applaud in cadence even what it finds dull, even what it dislikes.’”


Juliane Lorenz at LAreviewofbooks.org on Rainer Werner Fassbinder.

“Fassbinder had invented some rather oddball characters for Eight Hours Don’t Make A Day, such as the old couple, Grandma and Grandpa, who still had sex, came up with inventive schemes, and generally behaved more like young kids than old people. After dinner every day they drank a little schnapps and discussed the world and the problems of their grandchildren very openly. The series also dared to portray unalienated workers who showed initiative, who thought about how to communicate with their bosses and foremen, who actually tried to increase the amount of time they worked and to produce more quickly so that the owner of their factory could make more money, and who offered suggestions as to how they could also benefit from this increased productivity. Moreover, the factory boss — played by Klaus Löwitsch, a rising Fassbinder star who would soon play the lead in World on a Wire (1973) — actually accepted a number of his workers’ ideas and saw the economic benefits they offered. These were revolutionary ideas at a time when Germans were still somewhat influenced by the notion that people need a leader who tells them what to do…. Although Rainer was commissioned to write more, the series came to an abrupt end after the fifth episode. Certainly the audience was ready for more. However, politics intervened: Members of the very powerful German trade unions complained that there were no scenes in the series dealing with their issues and wanted the stories changed. Why, they wanted to know, was Fassbinder not including their stories as working-class representatives? From the outset, Rainer and Peter Märthesheimer’s idea had been to tell stories of working class people who wanted to solve their problems for themselves. Nevertheless, in the new scripts Rainer included the issues trade unionists had wanted to see focused on. But when Günter Rohrbach read the three new episodes he found the stories too artificial, and as a result they were never filmed.”


Victor Griffin (Pentagram) interviewed by Ron Holzner (Trouble) in Reader.

You've got a five-disc CD player in your car. What five CDs are you gonna put in it?

Right now I actually have a six-CD changer in my car. I have Creedence Clearwater Revival, I have the new Pentagram album, I have the new Place of Skulls album, I have "Steppenwolf 7", I have Alice Cooper "Love It to Death", and I think I have an empty space.

It's a shame that Steppenwolf got lost in the shuffle where people just know a couple of songs. They've got so many good ones, like ‘The Pusher.’ As a kid, I didn't know what the song was about; I just thought it was a cool tune. But as I got older, it's just like, ‘Man, this song is heavy.’

Well, they're a really blues-based band and they're sort of an acquired taste, other than the obvious radio songs like ‘Magic Carpet Ride’ and ‘Born to Be Wild.’ They're one of those bands where a lot of people would buy the album for the hit song and think the rest of the album sucked. You and I come from the same school. We're album guys, we're not radio-play guys.”


Obituary of the Week

• Raul Ruiz (1941 - 2011)

“As a boy, he steered clear of the local movie house that showed serious Mexican, French and Italian films, favoring the theater that showed Flash Gordon serials and cowboy movies. He began writing plays at a furious rate while still a teenager, and although he studied law and theology at the University of Chile, he gravitated toward the film club and the department of experimental film. After spending a year at the film school run by Fernando Birri in Santa Fé, Argentina, he worked as an editor on television news programs in Chile and as a scriptwriter for soap operas produced by Televisa in Mexico, an experience reflected in his career-long fascination with popular culture and the conventions of serial narrative. Mr. Ruiz came of age as a filmmaker soon after the socialist politician Salvador Allende was elected president of Chile in 1970. He had already built a small reputation for his first feature, the experimental sociopolitical comedy ‘Three Sad Tigers,’ which won the top prize at the Locarno International Film Festival in 1969. In an interview with Bomb in 1991, he called it ‘a film without a story,’ describing it in terms that indicated his natural bent toward artistic subversion. ‘All the elements of a story are there but they are used like a landscape, and the landscape is used like story,’ he said.”


Thanks to Jay Babcock, Steve Beeho.

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• The New Vulgate
• Joe Carducci, Chris Collins, James Fotopoulos, Mike Vann Gray, David Lightbourne
• Copyright retained by the writer, artist, or photographer

Friday, August 19, 2011

Issue #111 (August 17, 2011)

Snowy Range, Wyoming

Photo by Joe Carducci

Cheese - How Much Will Money Buy?
Joe Carducci

In old SST parlance, much evolved from surf-lingo if not coined by Black Flag, the Descendents, or the Minutemen themselves, “cheese” was a kind of false rock. We used it mostly in relation to metal, as in cheese-metal, but it was clear by 1982 that what had been interesting punk-related rock and roll termed new wave was also devolving into similarly processed, industry-friendly shuck and jive. You could stand to listen to Elvis Costello or the B-52s, at least early on. But the thing about what came to be called hair metal is that it could never fully ditch the guitar or the general rock and roll band template, no matter how much abuse the form could take from Industry-hands like managers, A&R men, producers, engineers, session musicians….

In 1981 KROQ was still playing a lot of tunes off of Los Angeles punk records. When we got the “Damaged” album out they were playing “Rise Above,” “TV Party,” “Six Pack,” “Thirsty and Miserable,” “Police Story,” and “Gimmie Gimmie Gimmie.” The station also played deeply into albums by X, the Adolescents, the Circle Jerks and others. But come 1982 KROQ tightened up around the rock-is-dead Brit-pop that followed Malcolm McLaren rather than the Sex Pistols themselves. These synth-based New Romantic groups at most used guitars to create washes and textures that could done to by engineers in a way that expressive playing could not. Such sounds sit still and bear more echo, eq’ing, and other outboard wonder-toys. By mid-82 we no longer listened to KROQ at SST. If rock stations were on it was usually KMET or KLOS, so we had a working knowledge of the beginnings of hair metal. In October 1981 while the Meat Puppets first album was being worked on at the Unicorn studio Daphna brought in a test pressing of the still unreleased first Motley Crue album. Chuck and Greg and Laurie O’Connell (of Monitor, then working at Unicorn) knew of Nikki Sixx’s earlier band London which had been a Hollywood glam failure, and so they were interested even though the new band was barely known. We listened to it a couple times in the studio and talked about whether or not it was a piece of shit and/or whether Unicorn should release it. Who knows what Daphna was really doing but the band’s management was hoping for a major deal and couldn’t get one. The impending “Damaged” release had made Unicorn a logical plan B, especially since her other signings were commercially intended AOR / CHR pop (Joe Chemay, J.D. Drews, Frankie Blue). I only liked the last tune, “Piece of Your Action,” which had a lower-pitched, less hysterical riff and the band managed to more-or-less pull it off. The album came out in November on a self-released label through Greenworld (the distributor was just beginning to reorient themselves toward releasing records ultimately as Enigma). The release made a splash and Elektra picked it up a few months later.

Arena rock (1969 - 1974+) dried up after the AOR formatting of underground FM meant that playing together as a band was no longer the currency. This was suddenly true whether you were Humble Pie or Gentle Giant. Kiss was probably the first band that really couldn’t play, and made it anyway on studio precision and live spectacle. Lesser bands such as Grand Funk Railroad, and Black Oak Arkansas had some good players in them but tended to be undisciplined in line with the indulgent, looser musical culture of the album era and the fact that the arena became a kind of free-fire-up zone for pot-smoking in a way that bars never could, and kids could attend.

And so it was Lee Abrams, whose work successfully drove expressive, played music from the airwaves, that fostered cheese rock. There were still kids knocking themselves out trying to master chops off their Yes or Zappa albums, but the music culture began to be shaped more by what got played on the radio, and the labels followed suit by narrowing what they signed, and then leaning heavily on studio techs to process the songs for AOR programming. A band like Pink Floyd comes close to telling the story technically as they went from recording inspired off-the-cuff druggy pop to producing turgid musique concrete to audiophile specifications. They managed to get included in AOR on concept album pretense, rather than prog rock playing. Lee Abrams seemed to think his mix needed art and “Dark Side of the Moon” was it. Most of the AOR playlist constituted rock bands from the arena world who could saw off their edges: Alice Cooper could, Mountain could not.

Punk came along at this point and was a perfectly logical development, a classical roots retrenchment coming at the end of the baroque prog era. But even the overtly retro-styled punk bands like Blondie, DMZ, The Last, The Pop, etc., couldn’t sneak past the Programmer. The first Cheap Trick album was a beautifully rendered hard rock pop album produced by Jack Douglas who’d done the early Aerosmith albums, and they were stone-walled as well -- at least Epic tried. The south bay SST bands had mostly grown up at arena gigs in LA and Long Beach and so when I came down from Systematic to run the office I found an interest in hard rock on the part of Greg, Chuck, Mugger, Dez and Bill, that one didn’t find in the San Francisco punk world. Spot, Mike Watt, D. Boon, Jack Brewer and Joe Baiza knew the stuff but had somewhat expunged it from their sensibilities, whereas the Meat Puppets and of course the Stains, Overkill, and Saint Vitus were all arena-grounded as well. Simon Reynolds tagged SST “progressive punk” in his book, Rip It Up And Start Again, a Brit-orientated understanding of how such playing could still be going on within punk that was supposed to have killed off rock and roll.

The Brit-punk analog to Pink Floyd was Joy Division. They lost their singer to suicide rather than acid, and they changed the name of the band to New Order, but they similarly emptied out what had been a Stooges-derived rock, and stopped playing almost entirely leaving sequencers and samplers and syn-drums to be hung onto a bass melody. Even the singing was emptied out by guitarist Bernard Sumner who now played synthesizer as often as guitar. New Order also switched to a funk-style rhythm, though funk had rarely sounded more white. This was certainly cheese on white bread, though hardly edible to anyone looking for surviving rock and roll.

The Industry did without rock and roll, but after Motley Crue’s success what came to be called hair-metal was accepted by radio and the new MTV and so more such bands were signed by the majors. The best of this stuff may not even be cheese: Guns n’ Roses, the Sea Hags, Dirty Looks, and a few others. But in the cheese section, there are fine cheeses:

Billy Squier - "In the Dark"

By 1980 there'd been many botched attempts to new wave-up hairy hard rock but this is one that worked. Hell, now you hear Kraftwerkisms in Nashville hits, but I like how this 1981 video cuts to the wavester with his goofy haircut in those parts. This was probably an early MTV clip, something for everyone. Squier was in a failure called Piper and seemed to move his concept toward the Raspberries, only his rock-tease fanfare has real impact -- the wavester isn't on camera in these moments. In retrospect I can remember signs that Greg was losing interest in what it took to be in a band. He thought one might do non-cheese solo music; he got interested in what Ronnie Montrose was doing with machines, and then I walked into Total Access once when Greg, Henry, Kira, and Bill were dug in working with Dave Tarling on songs that became the last two Black Flag albums and saw about twelve rolls of two-inch recording tape along the floor. Half of them were marked "Loose Nut," and the rest were titled, "The Squier Sessions." Apparently for a second or two Greg intended "In My Head" to be his first solo album and he did some vocal tracking. Hard to picture that, but there's your Billy Squier influence on Black Flag.

• Dokken - “The Hunter”

Dokken recorded at Total Access and I generally liked their style of song-writing and playing. The tunes were slower and lower pitched, and George Lynch was one of the better guitarists in that cheese-whiz style, though in his later Lynch Mob band, a nice slice of cheese like “Dream Until Tomorrow” suffers with no Don Dokken on the mic. I think they hate each other.

• W.A.S.P. - “I Wanna Be Somebody”

There was interest in W.A.S.P. around SST because Blackie had been a rock fixture in Hermosa-Redondo record stores and clubs -- the Fleetwood if not the Church itself -- and Dave Tarling of Media Art/Total Access who engineered the first Panic-Black Flag sessions had shepherded W.A.S.P. through demos, showcase, and signing. We saw their showcase at the Troubadour and it was the first gig I had my tape recorder taken away from me, thus no animal blood smeared my Aiwa; this was the real record business, and sure enough Tarling was supplanted as manager and producer upon the band’s singing to Capitol.

• Sword - “Stoned Again”

This I first heard on WVVX in Chicago. Z-Rock was hard rock ABC satellite programming from Texas, owned or managed or consulted to by Lee Abrams who was attempting to squeeze money from the metal underground since Metallica refused to go away even without AOR play. Sword were Canadian and don’t know what happened to them, but in a moment of clarity they sure got this riff identified.

• Kix - “Cold Blood”

This band never made an impact on me until I re-checked the MTV slog-pile tapes I used to make after reading Chuck Eddy on them. And the man does know his cheeses. They play good within the parameters set by music-loathing radio industry players, and they released many albums of rockin’ mouse-bait.

• Winger - “Seventeen”

This live MTV clip got my attention back then. They are obviously great players -- the drummer, Rod Morgenstein, had been in the instro-prog Dixie Dregs -- and here they are beating up on their defenseless pop song, even though the average MTV viewer might have preferred a lip-synced version. The dancers are directly in front of the band which plays from a short stage in this New Year’s TV party and the band is responding to the best dancer, and it is carnal beyond its lyric.

Finally by the late 1980s the parallel record industry that a number of us were forced to create for our era’s rock and roll began delivering sales number despite the radio blockade still in effect. The American major labels had been bought into by Japanese companies, Sony and Panasonic, and the German company, Bertelsmann, and to the record industry’s eternal shame this is what it took for them to begin signing rock bands again, out of the nominal punk underground. This led to new flavors of cheese, as if you needed to be told. Again, one wouldn’t call the retro-styled Smithereens cheese, and the limit placed on their radio play is probably proof of that. Rage Against the Machine may not be pure cheese, but they did have cheese-flavored guitar. Tom Morello can’t even play a straight up cheese-whiz solo so he squeezes out foot pedal sound effects. Nirvana was the hinge of history for punk rock or whatever new wave / indie diminutive they were using back then when their second album went platinum, produced not by Jack Endino, but by Butch Vig of a veritable smorgasbord of Wisconsin cheeses: Spooner, Fire Town, and Garbage. Nirvana went on to Steve Albini for the last album, but Kurt Cobain’s suicide obscured a true assessment of his talent. He was a fine singer and writer-arranger but he was not much of a guitar player and not getting any better. Once a platinum-selling, yea an arena-rock god, he might have continued writing many albums of tour-spiel just as many of the first wave of arena rockers had. Kurt no longer lived in the real world of his audience though it was a punk burden that he had to pretend he did. And I guess Courtney Love prevented him from experiencing and writing his own “Hey Lawdy Mamas,” and “Mississippi Queens.” Bummer.

Before you knew it there was Classic Rock in two flavors. Punk form shorn of edges moved on through the better bands like Green Day and Fall-Out Boy, but you know the rest.

• Puddle of Mudd - “Drift and Die”

These guys were on Limp Bizkit’s Flawless label thru Geffen so one wonders where all the money went. I think the current band isn’t the same except for dude -- the Industry didn’t need those other guys. Dude plus hirelings recorded a fairly successful record with Bill Stevenson at the Blasting Room, but radio and Fuse video play no longer sells albums. After I heard and liked the single I asked Bill about it and he said, “You remember how we used to make fun of how much money they wasted at major labels? We had no idea!” There’d been so much re-tracking and re-mixing and mastering between Fort Collins, L.A., and back in Colo, that he couldn’t even be sure they’d done any particular final mix. This was the third single off their breakthrough album and though it has a nice breakdown they use a keyboard wash in place of a guitar solo. It’s not really the lyric but the video that seems to comment on how a garage band from Missouri is spun to cheese.

• Filter - “Where Do We Go From Here”

Totally a B-grade band, but you know in movies, Bs are better than As since sound came in. Not true in music exactly, but this one is quite nice. They probably had a chord progression and lyric, and the producer set their chromatic effect into an arrangement that amplifies the ideas such as they are into a fine pressed cheese curd.

• Ashes Divide - “The Stone”

This is like one of those 1970s solo projects by some dude in a band you’ve heard of but don’t know the names of the members. Andy Fraser wasn’t exactly Paul McCartney, and this dude has some networking connection to Tool at a remove of several option agreements. Some guys only look insane while they can efficiently parlay the weakest link into a one-off that goes places, or at least to WalMart. I pointed this tune out to Lightbourne when it came on the radio in the car once and he said, “I have no idea where this comes from.” I told him Pink Floyd and goth. Dave didn’t use the term “cheese” but he believed such music was the product of people who were scrubbed of all folk culture traces.

• Good Charlotte - “I Don’t Wanna Be In Love”

At this far end of punk there are no longer traces of The Stooges or The Ramones or even Black Flag. Musicians influenced by those bands tend to play a kind of abstract folk-oriented psychedelic -- generally they don’t step into the rockband heavyweight ring. The old kind of punk expression was denatured by Nirvana, et. al., yielding the cheese we know as it passes through the formats but rarely love. Today in Hollywood session-musicians all look like scum-of-the-earth with tatts, piercing, interesting facial hair…, but they live like businessmen, hit their marks and don’t actually smell bad. They are well scrubbed. Still, I always turn the volume up in the car when this one comes on.

Drawing by James Fotopoulos

From the Wyoming Desk of Joe Carducci…

Iain Marlow in Globe and Mail, "Welcome to Chicago, America’s capital of volatility".

“The Volatility Index, as it's formally known, launched in 1993 at the Chicago Board Options Exchange. It quickly established itself as the global barometer of just how frightened investors are – of the uncertainty rippling across the Earth's financial and social surface. When people get scared, the index rises; when they feel safe, it drops. It peaked after Lehman Brothers collapsed during the financial devastation of 2008. And it is seeing a lot of action again because what was supposed to be a gradual recovery has turned into a remarkably unpredictable future…. The VIX reflects what America is now coming to grips with: That this – the modern era's most punishing downturn – isn't over yet; that turbulence has entered a state of permanence. ‘A lot of large institutional investors, like banks, use [VIX] as insurance when the markets start going crazy,’ a Chicago Board Options Exchange employee says. Referring to the day the U.S. debt was downgraded, he adds: ‘[Last] Friday was our busiest day – ever.’”


Gregory Karp in CT, "The rise of Standard & Poor’s".

“Standard & Poor's traces its roots to 1860, when Henry Varnum Poor published his ‘History of Railroads and Canals of the United States,’ a compilation of financial details for investors about the booming railroad industry. That was important at the time because investors were accustomed to putting money into local investments they could check on, not shipping their cash into the western wilderness where railroads were being built. They needed more information on these railroads that were asking for their investment money. Moody's and Fitch were also born covering railroads and rating their ability to pay. ‘What these guys were doing is helping investors figure out the answer to what I consider the fundamental question of finance which is, am I going to get paid back?’ said Lawrence White, a professor at New York University's Stern School of Business. In 1941, Poor's Publishing Co. merged with Standard Statistics to create Standard & Poor's. Today, it has headquarters in New York and offices in 23 countries. Last year it had revenues of about $3 billion. In the credit rating business, it is a top dog. ‘In practice, when one is rated by S&P and Moody's, that is the gold standard, and people pay a premium for that,’ Manns said, adding that Fitch is also important but not quite in the same prestige category.”


Holman Jenkins in WSJ, "S&P Introduces the Edsel".

“Three players — the House, Senate and White House — were required to give their consent to a debt-ceiling hike. All three, by definition, were holding the hike ‘hostage’ to their concerns. The House tea party contingent ‘won’ not because it was more ruthless — but because, with Venn diagram simplicity, it confined itself to a position that overlapped with the positions of the other players, who all agreed that, whatever else needs to be done, spending cuts must be part of the long-term solution. And look at the settlement that materialized: The parties agreed to agree on spending cuts at a later date — a remarkably consensual solution that imposed immediate pain on no one in our struggling economy. Even the White House achieved its non-negotiable: The debt-limit issue will now remain buried past next year's election. The debt-ceiling battle was the tiniest step on a long road, but it laid down a useful milestone: We're overspending. Not a bad day's work in our democracy. Alas, committees are often wisdom-impaired, and the S&P credit committee showed as much when it based its downgrade on the discovery of conflict, brinksmanship and hyperbole in the debt-ceiling fight, as if these aren't a standard accompaniment to political progress. This was to take the angry-idiot shouting of TV, which is epiphenomenon, and make it phenomenon. It was the opposite of insight. It was also instantly refuted by the markets, which understand all the reasons U.S. debt is virtually default-proof.”


Terry Savage in CST, "As debt crisis looms at state level, Illinois identified as a ‘sinkhole’".

“Since states don’t have the option of ‘printing money’ — an option that gives some breathing room to the United States and the European community — state budgets are coming to grips with huge shortfalls. This, despite the fact that 49 of the 50 states have balanced budget amendments. According to a new report just released at TruthinAccounting.org, the states have used accounting trickery to conceal a total of $1 trillion of outstanding bills. The report identifies five ‘Sinkhole’ states and five ‘Sunshine’ states. Truth in Accounting is a national, non-profit advocacy group dedicated to ‘promoting honest, accurate and transparent accounting.’ This new report charges: ‘State officials permit themselves the use of antiquated accounting principles — and almost no rules with regard to budgets. The institute’s study found balanced state budgets are largely a myth. This fantasy accounting, along with the political math necessary to claim state budgets have been balanced, is why states with balanced budget requirements are accumulating very large debts and deferred liabilities.’ The report explains that Illinois has $55 billion worth of assets (defined as both financial assets, and also including state parks, for example), but less than $19.6 billion is available to pay $130.2 billion of bills as they come due. Each taxpayer’s financial burden is $26,800. How do they get away with it? In addition to not including pension obligations tied to current compensation in the annual budget, the report condemns Illinois because, according to the report: ‘Illinois habitually delays issuing its year-end financial report until after the next fiscal year’s budget process has been completed. That prevents citizens and public officials from having important information, leading to less-than-optimal public policy decisions.’”


"Straight Up Conversation: Former NY Commissioner David Steiner" at FrederickHess.org.

“RH: One thing recently noted in our SEA report was the tension created by federal funding streams, and some of the challenges that created in trying to forge a coherent SEA culture. Any thoughts as to whether that rings true or not in your experience?

DS: I think there were some issues that were not so much anyone's fault but just became striking. Because of federal largess, we had at some points in the agency over 40 experts in nutrition around the issue of school lunches. At the same time, we had one person who was an expert on science education because the federal funding was there for the nutrition experts, but we had to rely on state funding for the science curriculum expert. That wasn't an intended consequence, but sitting where I did with the staff I had, you can imagine that may feel a little odd.”


Christopher Caldwell in Spectator, "America’s overdue financial crisis".

“Republicans believe the country faces a fiscal crisis, and the country, in turn, believes Republicans. The party asks a simple question: under what assumptions can the US, with its crap education system, its increasingly work-shy labour force, its corrupt and sybaritic elites and its unshakable sense of entitlement, conceivably pay down a debt that already stands at $40,000 for every man, woman and child in the country? If you consider this a valid question — and last year’s election results show that the public does — then every conceivable answer favours the Republicans’ plan of cutting programmes before raising taxes. There is long recent history of negotiated political settlements in which tax hikes pass immediately but programme cuts never happen…. Democrats are in a desperately weak position. But Mr Obama’s party will not forgive him for being realistic enough to see this. Democrats do not think the US is in a fiscal crisis. They think it is in a political crisis, and that the political crisis consists of the Republican party’s unwillingness to raise taxes. Usually, they do not put it so politely. Republicans, they say, are engaged in ‘extortion’ or ‘hostage-taking’ or ‘economic terrorism’. The blogger Steve Benen wrote in the Washington Monthly, which has traditionally had a reputation as one of the more analytical organs on the left: ‘Indeed, it’s a reminder that of all the qualities Republicans lack — wisdom, humility, shame, integrity — it’s their nonexistent appreciation for limits that’s arguably the scariest.’ The New York Times has bemoaned ‘a political environment laced with lunacy’. ‘Historians,’ wrote the former New Republic editor Peter Beinart last week, ‘will long debate why the financial collapse of 2008 produced a right-wing populist movement and not a left-wing one.’ But that debate hardly requires a historian, or much more than five minutes, to settle. The populus out of which populism springs is a class, not an ideology. The Republicans may be right or wrong, but they are the party of ‘the people’, to the extent that that word describes the working and middle classes. Democrats — who, again, may be right or wrong — are the party of Ivy League elites who occupy the commanding heights of the economy, along with a coalition of minorities.”


John Kass in CT, "Tea party will survive only if it challenges GOP dogma".

“The tea party — and by this I mean that spontaneous gathering of independents, Republican fiscal conservatives, libertarians and deficit hawk Democrats — has performed a fantastic service for this country. It changed the debate in Washington by focusing the nation on the debt and on the deficit and profligate spending. If I were speaking gravitas, I'd say that such out-of-control spending dangerously increases the size of government at the expense of individual liberty. But we don't speak gravitas in Chicago. So I'll put it this way. Think of City Hall running the country. You don't like what's on the menu? Too bad, keep complaining and you might get some teeth knocked out. Or your business will get inspected until they break you. And what is the unofficial slogan of the city of Obama's political birth? Only suckers beef. Voters can measure the effectiveness of the tea party movement by the irrational hatred the name invokes in Obama's liberal Democratic operatives. But Americans can also measure the tea party's effectiveness by the cloying Eddie Haskell-istic flattery coming from establishment Republicans wanting to shore up defense budgets. They've withstood attacks from liberal Democrats calling them crazy and racists and worse. But can the tea party withstand the charms of the Republican establishment?”


Michael Barone in WSJ, "The Fall of the Midwest Economic Model".

“To understand the political economy of the Midwest, it helps to put it in historic perspective. Originally the Midwest's economy was built on its farms, then later on its factories. The long farm-to-factory migration lasted from roughly 1890 to 1970. At the end of that period, when I was working on the first edition of ‘The Almanac of American Politics,’ it seemed there were two models for the U.S. future. One was the Michigan model, which prevailed in the industrial Midwest and the factory towns of the Great Plains. The other was the Texas model, which prevailed in most of the South and Southwest. The Michigan model was based on the Progressive/New Deal assumption that, after the transition from farm to factory, the best way to secure growth was through big companies and big labor unions. The Big Three auto companies, economist John Kenneth Galbraith wrote, could create endless demand for their products through manipulative advertising and planned obsolescence. The United Auto Workers would ensure that productivity gains would be shared by workers and the assembly line would never be speeded up. In those days, 40% of Michigan voters lived in union (mostly UAW) households, the base vote of a liberal Democratic Party that pushed for ever larger governments at the local, state and federal levels. You found similar alignments in most Midwestern states. Liberals assumed the Michigan model was the wave of the future, and that in time — once someone built big factories and unions organized them — backward states like Texas would catch up. Texas liberal writers Ronnie Dugger and Molly Ivins kept looking for the liberal coalition of blacks, poor whites and Latinos that political scientist V.O. Key predicted in his 1940s classic ‘Southern Politics.’ History hasn't worked out that way. In 1970, Michigan had nine million people. In 2010, it had 10 million. In 1970, Texas had 11 million people. In 2010, it had 25 million.”


Grover Norquist in WSJ, "Happy Cost of Government Day! You Worked for It".

“Americans will work for 103 days to pay for federal spending, 44 days for state and local spending and 77 days to cover the cost of the regulatory burden. This is the third year in a row that Americans will work into August to pay for the cost of government. Before 2009, the day never fell later than July 21. Looking back, we see that the Reagan years held the Cost of Government Day steady at July 4. Under the first President Bush, it moved forward 15 days. But Americans gained 15 days when the day moved back in the last six years of divided government with a Republican Congress against President Bill Clinton. During the presidency of George W. Bush, however, Cost of Government Day moved forward to July 16 in 2008, from June 28 in 2000, costing taxpayers 18 days of extra labor. Since he took office, President Barack Obama has pushed the day all the way forward to Aug. 12.”


Ira Stoll at Futureofcapitalism.com, "Nixon’s Error".

“Forty years ago today President Nixon closed the gold window and announced wage and price controls. The New York Sun, Lewis Lehrman in the Wall Street Journal, Amity Shlaes and Ilan Kolet at the Bloomberg Echoes blog, the Cato Institute, and the Web site Nixon's Wage and Price Freeze all have coverage. Mr. Lerhman mentions the tariff increases that were part of the move, but for the most part the focus in the press coverage is on monetary policy, gold, and inflation. I'd add two points. First, part of Nixon's move was to raise taxes. From his speech announcing the whole thing:

As a temporary measure, I am today imposing an additional tax of 10 percent on goods imported into the United States...It is an action to make certain that American products will not be at a disadvantage because of unfair exchange rates. When the unfair treatment is ended, the import tax will end as well. As a result of these actions, the product of American labor will be more competitive, and the unfair edge that some of our foreign competition has will be removed. This is a major reason why our trade balance has eroded over the past 15 years.

In other words, Nixon wasn't just wrong about the dollar; he was wrong about tax and trade, as well. And if the whole business about ‘unfair exchange rates’ sounds familiar, well, it should. Second, Nixon announced the 90-day freeze with the words, ‘Let me emphasize two characteristics of this action: First, it is temporary....And second, while the wage-price freeze will be backed by Government sanctions, if necessary, it will not be accompanied by the establishment of a huge price control bureaucracy.’ In the event, the wage and price controls lasted long past 90 days. Most of them weren't finally removed until April 1974, nearly three years after they were first imposed. And, whether the price control bureaucracy was ‘huge’ or not, it did turn out to be large enough to employ both Richard Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld.


WSJ: "Ruby Red Tape".

“El Paso, a Texas-based gas pipeline firm, began the ‘pre-filing’ process in January 2008, which is essentially applying for a permit to apply for the permit known as an ‘environmental impact statement.’ Created by the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969, these are required for every major U.S. project and need the approval of the alphabet soup of federal agencies — stretching, in the case of the Ruby, from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to the Bureau of Land Management and dozens of other U.S., state and local agencies. In this case the environmental impact statement was a binding agreement between the government and El Paso about how the Ruby project would proceed. It contained detailed instructions for everything from rights-of-way; to ‘critical habitat’ for the blackfooted ferret and Ute ladies' tresses (a type of orchid); to housing regulations about when the project's 5,290 workers would stay in campers or area motels; to paleontology rules. After two and half years, and more than 125 ‘stakeholder’ meetings and agency ‘scoping’ hearings, El Paso received the final sign-off in July 2010.

Did we say paleontology rules? Yes, at the height of construction, El Paso had 215 archeologists in the field ‘to mitigate affects to cultural resources,’ as required by the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966. Some of those cultural resources included rock stacks, which are, well, what they sound like. Rock stacks were used as navigational markers for routes and trails prior to maps, and the Ruby's route was designed to avoid more than 2,000 of them. El Paso also organized 10 rock stack ceremonies to celebrate the significance of these structures to local Native American tribes, though the project did not cross reservation land.”


Eric Pfanner in NYT, "Some French Suggest Fiction Helped Set Off Market Panic".

“The series, ‘End of the Line for the Euro,’ looked at how a collapse of the single currency might play out, against the backdrop of French presidential elections next year. While the 12-part story was clearly labeled as fiction, it named real banks, like Société Générale, whose shares plunged 15 percent last Wednesday, prompting the bank to deny speculation that it was in financial trouble. As market participants and journalists searched for possible reasons, the trail seemed to lead to London. There, The Mail on Sunday, a tabloid newspaper, had published an article in which it said Société Générale was ‘on the brink of disaster.’ Société Générale and an Italian bank, UniCredit, were in a ‘perilous’ state, the paper added, citing ‘a senior government source.’ Last Tuesday, two days after the report appeared, The Mail retracted it, writing, ‘We now accept that this was not true and we unreservedly apologize to Société Générale for any embarrassment caused.’ Readers of the fictional ‘End of the Line for the Euro’ noticed that Société Générale and UniCredit were both named in the same passage in the series, in an imaginary conversation involving the hedge fund manager John Paulson, where he says that U.S. regulators have been raising concerns about the liquidity of the two banks.

On Wednesday, a journalist at the Reuters news agency, Natalie Huet, speculated about a possibility of a link between the tale in Le Monde and the story in The Mail on Sunday.”


Edwin Heathcote in FT on McKenzie Wark’s book, The Beach Beneath the Street: The Everyday Life and Glorious Times of the Situationist International.

“‘The beach beneath the street’ (or, in my preferred translation, ‘Beneath the pavement, the beach‘), was a slogan sprayed on Paris walls amidst the barricades of 1968. As well as a terrific title for heavyweight seaside reading, it embodies a deliciously dual meaning.

Literally, it was taken as a reference to sand found beneath the cobblestones lifted by students to hurl at the police. Its real roots lie in the ideas of an obscure, fluid, hugely influential movement called the situationists and their conviction that the city streets, the expression of capital and consumption, could be rediscovered and subverted through a new praxis of aimlessness, of drifting through them discovering new connections and revealing unexpected histories. This was the continuation of a wobbly line, a drunkard’s walk, derived from the tradition of the flâneur, from Baudelaire through to Walter Benjamin’s Parisian musings (though, surprisingly, a French tradition heavily indebted to English literature, notably Thomas De Quincey’s stoned ramblings).”


Brendan O’Neill at Spiked-online.com, "Never mind the looters, what about the ‘fascists’?".

“And so it has been this week, which kicked off with reckless rioting by multi-ethnic yoof in inner-city patches, yet which ended, bizarrely but at the same time predictably, with an orgy of elite handwringing about those non-rioting white working classes who haunt London’s suburbs. That some of ‘these people’ dared to patrol their streets, to set up miniature citizen armies to see off the chancers and tricksters of the looting lobby, has been treated as the No.1 threat now facing Britain. They are a ‘white mob’, we are told, who could precipitate a ‘race war’. According to the deputy mayor of London, Kit Malthouse, their community-protection antics are ‘deeply undesirable’. Come on Kit, you can say it: you think these people are ‘undesirables’. This riotous week has confirmed that the great and the good of Great Britain don’t have much in the way of a shared morality anymore. At the start of the week, the political class, cops and Fourth Estate all proffered various explanations for the youthful violence, often pointing the finger of blame at each other in a moral stand-off not dissimilar to the final scene in Reservoir Dogs. Yet by Friday they were tentatively re-linking arms around the one thing they agree on: that there is nothing scarier - nothing - than the sight of 100+ white blokes on the streets, shouting things in those gruff voices they have. You may have looked at the groups of men in Enfield and Eltham and seen working people keen to protect their homes and shops, but the upper echelons of society, through their snob-goggles, saw the emergence of an English version of the Third Reich – they saw ‘race hate’ and ‘fascists patrolling the streets’.”


David Goodhart in Prospect, "The riots at the end of history".

“The nihilistic grievance culture of the black inner city, fanned by parts of the hip-hop/rap scene and copied by many white people, has created a hardcore sub-culture of post-political disaffection. The disaffection is mainly unjustified. It’s as if the routine brutalities and racist humiliations of 30 to 40 years ago have been lovingly preserved to provide a motor of real anger for what is really just a kind of adolescent pose. But this disaffection is lionised in popular culture and feared and admired — and mainly simply ignored — by white Britain. It’s time the rest of the country took more notice.

The shooting of Mark Duggan does give the original rioting a link to the more political disturbances of the 1980s. There clearly was a problem with the handling of the Duggan case, and there is still a problem between young black people and the police with stop and search. But by all accounts relations with police are vastly improved on the 1980s, and Operation Trident, the police operation to combat the hugely disproportionate gun crime in the black community, was requested by the black community itself and is generally regarded as a success.”


Christopher Caldwell in FT, "The death knell for the era of the British bobby".

“Light-touch policing was never as light as it looked. The bobby always had behind him as firepower the authority of society’s prejudices. A consensus across classes that certain behaviours will not be tolerated is a powerful deterrent. But Britain’s police have had no such authority at their disposal for a long time now. British culture — at least its urban culture — has grown too diverse for common agreement on what is unacceptable public behaviour, short of violence. Even where such agreement exists, the authorities have been reluctant to enforce it. British culture has always been individualist, but in the last 50 years it has become radically anti-authoritarian. This disposition has to do with the project of dismantling the class system. Reformers have thrown out the baby of authority with the bath water of privilege. And this is a tragedy. Britain has chosen a different kind of liberty, one that does not rest on shared values. That is, it has chosen an American-style liberty, and this will have to be safeguarded in an American way. If violence is the only kind of behaviour police are permitted to counter, then they will be outfitted for countering violence, not for talking to children about keeping the sidewalks tidy. The alternative to maintaining order through consensus is through fear. While Britons are fond of their police, Americans are generally scared of theirs, and go to great lengths to avoid coming to their attention.”


Steven Erlanger in NYT, "Amid Rise of Multiculturalism, Dutch Confront Their Questions of Identity".

“Taboos about discussing ethnicity and race — founded in shame about delivering Dutch Jews to the Nazis — are long gone. Ms. Kuhlman has lived in the Slotervaart neighborhood for 36 years but says, ‘I no longer feel at home.’ Built in the 1950s, Slotervaart is now about 60 percent immigrants or their children, most from Morocco or Turkey. Crime rates are high, especially among the second generation. She remembered sunbathing topless on her balcony in the 1980s. ‘It’s inconceivable now,’ she said. ‘Now my next-door neighbor doesn’t even greet me in the hallway, he can’t look at me, and it’s been 28 years,’ Ms. Kuhlman said. Then she laughed bitterly. ‘He doesn’t work; I work. I work all shifts. I pay taxes. I work for them!’ Willem Stuyter, nursing a beer, broke in. ‘It’s already too late,’ he said. ‘In 10 years this will be a Muslim state.’”


Rachel Donadio in NYT, "Italy’s Government Grapples With Deficit, Its Will Still Uncertain".

“Mr. Berlusconi first came to power in 1994, after a huge bribery scandal that brought down the established political order, in which the Christian Democrats, Socialists and Communists for decades presided over a jobs-for-votes system that helped build up the public sector. Since returning to power in 2001, Mr. Berlusconi has largely kept that time-honored system intact, analysts say, but replaced the old political order with the parties in his coalition. For every concession to the Northern League, which backs Mr. Tremonti and is intent on keeping tax revenue local, Mr. Berlusconi also had to throw a bone to the poorer south. Even after a wave of privatizations in the 1990s, Italy’s economy is still largely connected to the public sector, especially in lucrative areas like infrastructure and health care, and such contracts depend on good connections with the government.

‘This system used public spending as compensation, as a tool in the mediation of conflicts between interests,’ Mr. Micossi said. ‘It also crushes market stimulus,’ he added. ‘These state subsidies are the kiss of death, and nothing moves.’ They also helped drive up Italy’s public debt, which rose from 109 percent of gross domestic product in 2001 to 120 percent today. (The center-left was in power from 2006 to 2008.)”


James Pressley at Bloomberg.com on Jason Manolopoulos’ book, Greece’s ‘Odious’ Debt.

“Much of the money was squandered, swallowed up by what he calls Hellenic Peronism, or the practice of distributing subsidies and favors to interest groups instead of creating wealth. Gorging on easy credit, the Greeks bought second homes, holiday homes and Porsche Cayennes to reach them. The newfound wealth hardly transformed them into model citizens overnight. Manolopoulos rattles off telling numbers, beginning with 321 people aged more than 100 who had died yet were still being paid pensions. And 324 householders in northern Athens who declared their ownership of swimming pools for tax purposes -- compared with 16,974 residential pools in the neighborhood captured on satellite photos. As if all this weren’t bad enough, Greece had plenty of accomplices. Ambitious EU leaders, bent on building the widest euro empire possible, created a loophole that permitted the Greeks to fiddle their public-deficit figures. Northern European banks, for their part, were only too happy to loan billions of euros to the Greek government, which spent much of it on arms purchases from French and German companies, Manolopoulos says. German readers who rail against the Greek rescue will find plenty of ammunition in these pages. They’ll be less pleased with Manolopoulos’s analysis of how the euro they now bemoan pulled their own country out of a balance-sheet recession and boosted its exports. Germany, he concludes, has been the biggest benefactor from the single currency. All of which raises the question of whom, exactly, the EU is bailing out: The Greeks themselves? Banks holding Greek government bonds? German exporters?”


Leigh Phillips at EUobserver.com, "Hurling democracy into the volcano to appease the market gods".

“Last week, the ECB came to the rescue of Italy and Spain by buying up bonds after the rates investors were demanding hit record levels. But Frankfurt’s quid pro quo was Rome’s aforementioned fresh austerity measures and market liberalisation, including making it easier to fire people and slashing wages. In a secret letter from ECB chief Jean-Claude Trichet and his incoming successor, Mario Draghi, to Berlusconi, the central bank told the Italian government exactly which measures must be instituted, by what schedule and using which legislative mechanisms. The ECB, unelected and unaccountable to any voters, is now directing Italian fiscal and labour policy. In secret. The only reason we know about any of this is that the letter was leaked to Italian daily Il Corriere della Sera. The letter also ordered Berlusconi to enact the radical measures through emergency decree, in order to speed the process up. Going through parliament with the necessary checks, scrutiny and amendments is simply too down-tempo, too slow-groove. Italy needs to up the BPM. The prime minister has agreed and the emergency decree is set to be enacted during a special cabinet session on 18 August. Read that last para again. Yes, that’s right: the Italian prime minister is in this one instance ruling by decree at the command of the European Central Bank.”


Fred Weir in CSM, "Russia’s Arctic ‘sea grab’".

“Within the next year, the Kremlin is expected to make its claim to the United Nations in a bold move to annex about 380,000 square miles of the internationally owned Arctic to Russian control. At stake is an estimated one-quarter of all the world's untapped hydrocarbon reserves, abundant fisheries, and a freshly opened route that will cut nearly a third off the shipping time from Asia to Europe. The global Arctic scramble kicked off in 2007 when Russian explorer Artur Chilingarov planted his country's flag beneath the North Pole. ‘The Arctic is Russian,’ he said. ‘Now we must prove the North Pole is an extension of the Russian landmass.’”


John Lloyd in FT on Dmitri Trenin’s book, Post Imperium: A Eurasian Story.

“‘Russia has mounted “one of the most stunning demilitarisations in history’, he argues, and has come to ‘a basic realisation of all neighbouring states as geopolitical realities’. It lauded, but ignored, the late Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s call for a ‘reorganised Russia’, taking back Belarus, Northern Kazakhstan and Ukraine to Mother Russia. Compared with such imperial hangovers as the messy and murderous withdrawing roars of France, Portugal and the UK, Russia got out of empire ‘unbelievably well’. Still, this is no glad endorsement of the new Russia. Trenin presents himself as unillusioned about his country and his fellow citizens, arguing that ‘the state is too corrupt to inspire national consciousness’ and that it presents ‘an atomised society beholden to personalised power’. The surrounding former Soviet republics are held to it by ties, not of affection, but need – for energy. Yet they are pulled in various directions – towards Europe, China, Turkey and the Muslim world. The largest charge Trenin makes is that the state has balked at modernisation of almost every kind.”


Andrew Jacobs in NYT, "As Chinese Visit Taiwan, the Cultural Influence Is Subdued".

“He warned them about littering, spitting, flooding hotel bathroom floors — and the local cuisine. ‘Our Taiwanese brothers do not like salt, oil and MSG the way we do,’ the guide, Guo Xin, said with a sigh. Then his voice grew serious, the way a coach might caution his team about the impending face-off with a deceptively courteous opponent. Do not talk about politics with the locals, he warned, say only positive things about Taiwan and China, and by all means avoid practitioners of Falun Gong, the spiritual group whose adherents roam freely on Taiwan but are regularly jailed on the mainland. ‘They will definitely try to talk to you,’ he said. ‘When that happens, get away as fast as you can.’

And thus began the heavily chaperoned visit to Taiwan, the disputed island territory where Chiang Kai-shek and his Nationalist army fled in 1949 after losing the Chinese civil war to Mao’s Communist rebels. The Republic of China and the People’s Republic of China, as they are formally known, may have never formally concluded hostilities, but relations have warmed rapidly since Taiwan’s 2008 election of President Ma Ying-jeou, who promptly broadened economic ties and signed accords on direct postal, shipping and air links. More momentous for citizens on both sides of the strait was the agreement that opened the door to group tours from the mainland. Initially capped at 300 visitors a day, the numbers quickly soared. Last year 1.6 million mainlanders arrived here, up nearly 70 percent from 2009.”


Kathrin Hille in FT, "Chinese media relish new sense of power".

“Many Chinese reporters and editors are in a state of exhilaration, as their collective disobedience of Communist party censors and powerful reporting following last month’s deadly high-speed rail crash fills them with a new-found sense of power. ‘The party’s ability to bring us to heel is growing weaker and weaker,’ says one section editor at a state paper.”


Matt Siegel in NYT, "Plan to Deal With Seekers Of Asylum Roils Australia".

“The plan, pursued by the government of Prime Minister Julia Gillard, would send up to 800 newly arrived migrants from Australia to Malaysia over the next four years to be handled by immigration authorities there, lengthening their arduous progress toward some kind of legal home. Videotapes of the deportations would be widely disseminated. The government says the intent is to deter human traffickers as much as future asylum seekers.

In exchange, Australia would accept five times that number of foreign refugees over the same period from Malaysia, where they have been fully vetted by international organizations. The rationale that the plan would discourage traffickers initially appeared to sit well with a country that was horrified late last year when a vessel packed with refugees smashed against the rocky shores off Christmas Island, killing at least 27 people in front of terrified onlookers. Since the outlines of the plan were announced in May, officials said, the number of asylum seekers has dropped compared with the same period last year. Malaysia, however, is not a party to the United Nations refugee convention and has a poor record in its treatment of refugees.”


Andrei Lankov at Atimes.com, "How Pyonyang’s propaganda backfired".

“The Kwangju uprising of May 1980 understandably attracted much attention in North Korean propaganda, which presented it as proof of the great revolutionary zeal of the downtrodden South Korean masses. Footage of ‘Revolutionary Kwangju’ was widely shown on North Korean TV - and this led to completely unintended consequences. The North Korean public suddenly discovered that students engaged in revolutionary struggle were dressed well and showed no signs of severe malnourishment. They certainly didn't look like people who had spent their youth in slums. The backdrop also attracted much attention: in Kwangju, a provincial South Korean city, there were a great number of high-rise buildings, which looked superior to the structures found in Pyongyang, the revolutionary capital. It began to dawn on many North Koreans that South Korea was not a victim of US imperialism. And then Im Su-gyong came. We would probably describe what happened as ‘Im Su-gyong mania’. The girl was known in official propaganda as ‘the flower of unification’ - the epithet is still remembered by virtually all North Koreans. North Koreans noticed that the girl looked healthy and optimistic and was very well dressed. For a while, she became a trend-setter in the world of North Korean fashion - North Korean women wanted to wear ‘Im Su-gyong style trousers’ (even though North Korean women at the time were discouraged from wearing trousers outside the workplace), and imitate her short, straight hair-cut. People were also surprised by her willingness to deliver unscripted speeches - something which was quite unusual for North Koreans who took it for granted that all political statements had to be carefully prepared.”


Lydia Polgreen in NYT, "Unusual Summer of Political Calm Is Enjoyed by a Disputed Region".

“When young Muslims across North Africa and the Arabian Peninsula rose up this winter and spring against dictatorial governments, it seemed inevitable that their example would find voice here, in a mostly Muslim region that is claimed by both India and Pakistan, and where Indian soldiers are seen as an occupying force. Instead, the Kashmir Valley is enjoying an unexpected season of tranquility. Tourists from across India have descended on the valley, filling just about every airplane seat, hotel room and houseboat. Business in Lal Chowk, the city’s bustling central market, is booming again. Wooden shikara boats ferry vacationers across the shimmering surface of Dal Lake, trying to dodge the latest attraction, zooming Jet Skis. No grand bargain has been struck between India and Pakistan that would explain the new calm, and no major concessions have been made within the Indian portion of the region either. Draconian laws that shield security forces from prosecution still allow the police to arrest anyone suspected of disturbing the peace.”


Matthew Kaminski in WSJ on Mustafa Akyol’s book, Islam Without Extremes.

“Mr. Akyol offers a historical narrative that shows how, within Islam, an idea of freedom was lost over time. Islam was once the world's ‘supercivilization,’ a leader in science and the arts as well as a great military and economic power. Arguments over what brought it low have raged for centuries. Mr. Akyol blames the triumph of ‘the culture of the desert’ in the Middle Ages. In the language of our day, the Muslim world lost its competitive edge. In its early phases, Mr. Akyol says, Islam was a religion ‘driven by merchants and their rational, vibrant and cosmopolitan mindset.’ But ultimately ‘the more powerful classes of the Orient — the landlords, the soldiers and the peasants — became dominant, and a less rational and more static mindset began to shape the religion. The more trade declined, the more the Muslim mind stagnated.’ Applying this historical lesson today, Mr. Akyol claims that ‘socioeconomic progress in Muslim societies’ may change Islam itself — leading to progress in ‘religious attitudes, ideas, and even doctrines.’”


Amir Mir in Atimes.com, "Balochistan caught in spiral of violence".

“Since June 2011, the bodies of over 170 Baloch men aged between 20 and 40 have been recovered from various areas of Balochistan. They are believed to be victims of the ‘kill and dump’ operations being carried out by the Pakistani security forces, hence prompting the Baloch rebels to target Punjabis and Shi'ites in turn. The killings have helped perpetuate a climate of fear, anger and uncertainty in the provincial capital Quetta, as well as the Baloch-dominated areas of the province.”


Ari Goldman in Jewish Week, "Telling It Like It Wasn’t".

“Over those three days I also saw journalism go terribly wrong. The city’s newspapers, so dedicated to telling both sides of the story in the name of objectivity and balance, often missed what was really going on. Journalists initially framed the story as a “racial” conflict and failed to see the anti-Semitism inherent in the riots. As the 20th anniversary of the riots approaches, I find myself re-examining my own role in the coverage and trying to extract some lessons for myself and my profession. At the time, I was a religion writer at The New York Times and was well connected in the Lubavitch community, the predominant Jewish group in Crown Heights. I was one of probably a dozen Times reporters and photographers on the streets over the course of the riots. We were a diverse group, representing many religions and racial backgrounds. My job was to file memos to the main ‘rewrite’ reporters back in the Times office in Manhattan about what I saw and heard. We had no laptops or cellphones in those days so the other reporters and I went to payphones and dictated our memos to a waiting band of stenographers in the home office. The photographers handed their film off to couriers on motorcycles who took the film to the Times. Yet, when I picked up the paper, the article I read was not the story I had reported.”


Steve Myers at Poynter.org, "Time-lapse videos show differences in how New York Times, BBC cover major news.".


Colin Woodard in MHQ, "The History of Torture - Why We Can’t Give It Up".

“Torture by military forces was thought a thing of the past. Indeed, the American historian John Fiske in 1889 declared it almost ‘as extinct as cannibalism.’ Then it came roaring back. The 20th century saw military forces around the world torturing prisoners as a matter of operational policy, some at a scale that might have shocked Genghis Khan or Vlad the Impaler. Americans tortured and slaughtered prisoners in the Philippines. Japanese raped, tortured, and murdered captives by the tens of thousands in China and dissected Allied prisoners on Pacific islands. German military units were ordered to treat Soviet POWs as subhuman slaves, transferring some to be experimented upon by state-employed medical doctors. In more modern conflicts of every size and type — Korea and Vietnam, the Belgian Congo and Liberia, the Algerian civil war and the bitter Yugoslav split, Soviet-occupied Afghanistan and American-occupied Iraq — soldiers tortured soldiers on the orders of their superiors. ‘It has reached a scale that dwarfs even the darkest Middle Ages,’ wrote British foreign affairs columnist Jonathan Power in his 1981 history of Amnesty International. Why did torture, after nearly vanishing as acceptable military practice in the 19th century, return with such a vengeance? It's a question that has challenged 21st-century scholars, particularly since President George W. Bush condoned the use of certain torture techniques on prisoners held by U.S. military forces in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Cuba — techniques that allegedly played a role in the hunt for Osama bin Laden. Their conclusion: The nature of war has come full circle since the early 17th century, from total war to gentlemanly clashes and, beginning around 1900, back again. Counterinsurgency and civil wars have become the norm, making it far more likely that combatants will be regarded as treasonous criminals rather than defeated soldiers.”


Charles Choi in CSM, "Pitch black: The mystery of the darkest planet ever seen".

“The researchers found this gas giant reflects less than 1 percent of the sunlight falling on it, making it darker than any planet or moon seen up to now. ‘It's just ridiculous how dark this planet is, how alien it is compared to anything we have in our solar system,’ study lead-author David Kipping, an astronomer at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, told SPACE.com. ‘It's darker than the blackest lump of coal, than dark acrylic paint you might paint with. It's bizarre how this huge planet became so absorbent of all the light that hits it.’ Whereas Jupiter has clouds streaking it white and red, reflecting more than a third of the sunlight reaching it, TrES-2b apparently lacks reflective clouds, super-heated as its atmosphere is to more than 1,800 degrees Fahrenheit (980 degrees Celsius) by a star just 3.1 million miles (5 million kilometers) away from it.

‘However, it's not completely pitch black,’ co-author David Spiegel of Princeton University said in a statement. ‘It's so hot that it emits a faint red glow, much like a burning ember or the coils on an electric stove.’”


J.R. McNeill in WSJ on Matthew Parker’s book, The Sugar Barons.

“The most important events in the history of the world, according to Adam Smith, were the voyages of Columbus to the Americas and Vasco da Gama to Asia in the 1490s. One consequence of these voyages was sugar becoming an item of mass consumption, first in Europe and America and eventually almost everywhere. Sugar, which in botanical terms is a grass native to the island of New Guinea, was a luxury product until mariners carried it to Brazil and the Caribbean in the 1500s. But the Americas offered a wide scope for its cultivation, and by the 17th century sugar had begun to figure in the diets of even the penniless in Britain. Sugar made tea and coffee (from East Asia and East Africa respectively) more palatable, and the habit of drinking them quickly became widespread, altering the fabric of social behavior and the substance of breakfast. In 1700, the average English man, woman or child consumed five pounds of sugar per year. In 1850, the figure was 35 pounds. By value, sugar had become Britain's No. 2 import, after cotton. Poor people in England spent about 5% of their wages on sugar. Between 1650 and 1850 Britain's diet grew vastly sweeter, and the men who organized the production, processing, transport and sale of sugar grew unimaginably rich.”


Jeremy Bernstein in WSJ on Gino Segre’s book, Ordinary Geniuses.

“Some sciences are more unruly than others. Here's a parable to illustrate what I mean. Imagine that when the first life form appeared there was a superintelligent freak. If this freak had had a complete knowledge of the laws of physics, what could it have predicted? Quite a lot. All atomic nuclei consist of neutrons and protons, and the number of protons determines each element's chemical nature. Knowing this, the freak could have predicted all the elements that could possibly exist, along with their respective characteristics. Suppose that it also knew all the laws of biology, including the ‘central dogma,’ which explains how genes are expressed as proteins. Even so, it could not have predicted the existence of giraffes, nor even the fact that my brother and I share only half our genes. Both of these are evolutionary accidents. If it had not been for random mutation there would be no giraffes, and my brother and I might have shared all our genes, as male bumblebees do. Biology is not like physics. I thought of this distinction constantly while reading Gino Segrè's fascinating dual biography of George Gamow and Max Delbrück, ‘Ordinary Geniuses.’ Gamow was a theoretical physicist who made an interesting foray into the biology of protein synthesis, while Delbrück was a theoretical physicist who became a biologist and then won the Nobel Prize for his work in genetics. Gamow's foray failed because he did not consider evolution — he thought like a physicist — while Delbrück's succeeded because he was able to adapt his training to biological problems.”


Michael Marshall interviews Martin Nowack in New Scientist, "The mathematics of being nice".

“Over the years you've applied mathematics to a lot of different areas of biology. Is it your aim to put the whole field on a mathematical footing?

Yes. It has happened in many disciplines of science. It's a kind of maturation process. Without a mathematical description, we can get a rough handle on a phenomenon but we can't fully understand it. In physics, that's completely clear. You don't just talk about gravity, you quantify your description of it. The beautiful thing about mathematics is that it can decide an argument. Some things are fiercely debated for years, but with mathematics the issues become clear.

Unlike most evolutionary biologists, you are religious. Do you think it is a problem for the public perception of evolution that it is seen as supporting atheism?

In my opinion, a purely scientific interpretation of evolution does not generate an argument in favour of atheism. Science does not disprove God or replace religion. Evolution is not an argument against God, any more than gravity is….

So how do you see religion?

I see the teachings of world religions as an analysis of human life and an attempt to help. They intend to promote unselfish behaviour, love and forgiveness. When you look at mathematical models for the evolution of cooperation you also find that winning strategies must be generous, hopeful and forgiving. In a sense, the world's religions hit on these ideas first, thousands of years ago.”


Mises Economics blog at CSM: "The higher education bubble has popped".

“A college degree once looked to be the path to prosperity. In an article for TechCrunch, Sarah Lacy writes, ‘Like the housing bubble, the education bubble is about security and insurance against the future. Both whisper a seductive promise into the ears of worried Americans: Do this and you will be safe.’ But the jobs that made higher education pay off during the inflationary boom, kicked into high gear by Nixon waving goodbye to the last shreds of a gold standard, came primarily from government and finance. In 1990, 6.4 million people worked for federal, state, and local governments. By 2010, that number had grown almost 6 times — to 38.3 million — with many of these jobs being white-collar. In 1990, the financial sector was less than 7.5 percent of the S&P 500. By 2006, this sector had grown to 22.3 percent of the S&P, and that year the financial sector constituted 45 percent of the index's earnings. ‘Prices and wage rates boom,’ writes Mises.

Everybody feels happy and is convinced that now finally mankind has overcome forever the gloomy state of scarcity and reached everlasting prosperity.

In fact, all this amazing wealth is fragile, a castle built on sands of illusion. It cannot last. There is no means to substitute banknotes and deposits for nonexistent capital goods.

Times have changed.”


Daniel Michaels in WSJ, "A Harbor’s Ugly Ducklings Can’t Resist the Tug of Speed".

“Capt. Perricone's racing boat is a tug, proving that in a world where people compete in lawn mowers, school buses and semi-trucks, if something has a motor in it, people will race it. New York Harbor showcases the celerity of the dowdy workboats each Labor Day weekend at the Great North River Tugboat Race and Competition. The event, scheduled this year for Sept. 4, lets crews from the harbor's shrinking tug fleet show their speed, muscle and skill. It also features a spinach-eating contest, in the spirit of Popeye, and a prize for best attire. ‘It's like the Marine Ball of tugboats,’ says Dorothy Julian, owner of Henry Marine, a small operator based in Staten Island, referring to the U.S. Marine Corps' annual gala. Ms. Julian says she and her crew plan to dress as pirates for this year's race. Another company's crew has sported Hawaiian outfits, with grass skirts for male deckhands and two coconuts strung to their tug's prow, like a bikini top. The event celebrates an industry that once fired imaginations. From the picture book Scuffy the Tugboat to the movie Tugboat Annie, the stubby ships were part of American culture for years. But today, their stature has shrunk as their numbers have dwindled.”


J. Hoberman in L.A. Weekly on R.W. Fassbinder's World on a Wire

Bing Theater, LACMA
• Fri. & Sat. Aug. 19-20

"Adapted from Daniel F. Galouye's 1964 sci-fi novel Simulacron-3 and predicated on the notion of a computer-generated reality populated by 'identity units' who believe themselves human, the movie looks back at The Creation of the Humanoids, forward to The Matrix and directly at Fassbinder's notoriously cultlike power over his acting ensemble. One scientist jokingly characterizes the identity units as performers: 'They're like the people dancing on TV for us.' Fassbinder made World on a Wire immediately after his art-film breakthrough, Effi Briest; abetted by many of his regular actors, the 27-year-old filmmaker seemed eager to re-establish his punk bona fides. As wildly ambitious as it is cinephilic, World on a Wire mixes the pop-art effrontery of Godard's Alphaville with the cyber-phobic metaphysics of Kubrick's 2001 (to name the two movies most bluntly referenced) while remaining wholly Fassbinderian in its insolently lugubrious ironies."


Dave Kehr in NYT, "How Crimes Have Changed".

“At the time he directed Legs Diamond Boetticher was coming to the end of his series of westerns with Randolph Scott, and the film reflects his preoccupation with radical individualism, in finding the limits of how far a man can go on his own. Boetticher’s Diamond has the brilliant idea of stealing from thieves, setting himself up as an outsider among outsiders. But that’s not enough: eventually, he cuts off contact with anyone who might be able to compromise his independence, including his mistress (Karen Steele) and his brother (Warren Oates). Diamond only becomes sympathetic when he encounters an outfit with more apparent power than the police and no inhibiting scruples to inhibit it: the Mafia, which Boetticher presents as the boardroom embodiment of the banality of evil, rows of little gray men sitting in prim judgment. ‘Who are you guys?’ Diamond asks, confounded by the idea of crime without personality, stripped of style and panache. The time of the independent operator is over, absorbed by a world of employees.”


Jared Diamond in WSJ, "Baseball’s Masked Men Show Their Inner Hams on Strike Three".

“An analysis of all 68 full-time Major League umpires' strike-three calls reveals 68 unique styles, running the gamut from Gary Darling's subtle fist pump to Tom Hallion's violent, Mike Tyson-esque punchout. Though nothing in the guidebook requires umpires to devise elaborate gestures, the called strike three injects a splash of color into the sport. ‘It's kind of like a pitcher's signature pitch,’ said New York Mets pitcher R.A. Dickey. ‘The strike-three call has always been the one thing the umpire can make his own.’ As time goes by, umpires refine their strike-three calls, adapting and tweaking their signals even after they reach the majors. Wally Bell, a big-league ump since 1993, seems to change his strike-three call from game to game, and sometimes from inning to inning. Larry Barnett, who umped in the American League for three decades, said he went through ‘10 or 15 different ones’ before settling on ‘a mechanic,’ as they call the move, that he felt comfortable with toward the end of his career. Among the 68 current umpires, 59 (86.8%) typically employ one of two straightforward approaches for calling strike three, punching either straight ahead toward the pitcher or out toward the side. But within that framework, each ump adds his own touches. As a result, perceptive fans can identify the umpire working the plate by his strike-three call. (Umpires usually let swinging strikeouts speak for themselves.)”


Chuck Dukowski guests on Diane’s Kamikaze Fun Machine WFMU last week with news of NYC dates for his band, plus a new second band, and Dukowski-thought on Deep Purple, Black Sabbath, and Led Zeppelin.


Eurock / Archie Patterson media blitz:

Beware of the Blog Interview

WFMU Radio Program

KBOO "La Ruleta" Interview

“In the past year Eurock has begun a new era reincarnated as a Webzine and media portal. Recently long time supporter Tony Coulter moved from NYC to PDX. After decades we finally met face to face and had a great time reminiscing. Tony has had a program on WFMU NYC radio for 25 years and did many interviews with Euro and other musical luminaries. He also now also has a blog for the station and in DEC 2009 interviewed me. What resulted was a quite nice history of Eurock. In AUG 2011, he also had me guest host his radio show and I featured 3 hours of music, by 6 artists, from 6 different countries, featuring some of the best progressive, experimental and electronic music from around the globe today. In addition, another local artist and radio programmer Alejandro Ceballos invited me on his ‘La Ruleta’ program on KBOO FM Portland. We had a wide ranging talk about the history of Mexican progressive music and Eurock. At the links above you can experience all three of these Eurock adventures. Enjoy!”


Metal Mike Saunders from 1968 at Rocksbackpages.com.


Jeff Nelson:

“Of course the most obvious place to sell the shirts would be from Dischord, but as you may know, my partner Ian is not a fan of merchandising (very different from me – ever since I was a kid I’ve loved companies and packaging and logos and advertising and promotion). So, I’m selling the shirts through my company Pedestrian Press, which I founded in 1988 to handle the avalanche of orders I was getting for the ‘Meese is a Pig’ t-shirt (an interesting side note – I have started working with a filmmaker from Washington, DC who is putting together a documentary about the whole ‘Meese is a Pig’ poster campaign. Being interviewed for hours on end awakened memories of how fun it was, trying to elude the authorities in slapping up huge posters needling attorney general Edwin Meese, and also of just how horrible the Reagan administration was). After choosing some storefront software that even a luddite such as myself can use, I spent several weeks spent updating the Pedestrian Press website, and now I can properly proffer all the shirts (and 1 book) I have for sale.”


Obituary of the Week

Albert Brown (1905 - 2011)

“The Japanese had invaded the Philippines two weeks after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. American and Filipino forces were overmatched and retreated into the mountainous jungles of Bataan. After four months of intense fighting — their ranks reduced by hunger and disease and with no reinforcements in sight — they surrendered. With many already close to death, they were forced to trudge toward a prisoner-of-war camp during a torrid time of year with little food or water. Those who stopped were killed…. The nightmare was hardly over when the survivors arrived at the camp, or at the other camps in Japan to which many, including Captain Brown, were later taken. In three years in captivity Captain Brown was regularly beaten; thrown down stairs, seriously injuring his back; and struck in the neck by a rifle butt, causing a fracture. Though nearly 6 feet, he weighed 90 pounds when he was freed after the Japanese surrender. Albert Neir Brown was born in North Platte, Neb., on Oct. 26, 1905, to Albert and Ida Fonda Brown. His father was a railroad engineer; his mother was an aunt of the actor Henry Fonda. Young Albert was in the R.O.T.C. in high school and at Creighton University, from which he graduated in 1927 with a dentistry degree. A decade later, at 32, he was called into the Army.”


Thanks to Jay Babcock, Mike Watt, Andy Schwartz, Peter Davis.

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