a new low in topical enlightenment

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Issue #124 (November 16, 2011)

East of the Peaks, Snowy Range, Wyoming

Photo by Joe Carducci

From the London desk of Steve Beeho…

John Gray in the New Statesman on Sylvia Nasar’s book, "Grand Pursuit: the Story of Economic Genius".

“The contrast between the shambles at Versailles and the reconstruction of the world economy that came out of Bretton Woods in 1944 is at the heart of Grand Pursuit. The story Nasar tells of the passage from disaster to new world order is gripping and, at times -- as when she details the pivotal role played in the negotiations by Harry Dexter White, later accused of being a Soviet agent -- disturbing. It is also a story that undermines the inflated claims she makes in the epilogue for economics as a discipline that provides intellectual ‘instruments of mastery’, ideas that ‘could be used to foster societies characterised by individual freedom and abundance instead of moral and material collapse’. After the crisis of 2008-2009, she writes, the ‘world financial system did not collapse. There was no second great depression . . . Returning to the nightmare of the past seems increasingly impossible.’ Strikingly triumphal in tone, this assertion is sharply at odds with the rest of the book.”


Peter Hitchens in the Mail on Sunday on Max Hastings’ book, All Hell Let Loose.

“It is our duty to imagine this event not as the buried past but as the blazing present, and to question all decisions which might take us back towards it, with all the intelligence and scepticism at our command. Yes, war is sometimes necessary. But the calculation of whether it is a fit price to pay should be made in the knowledge of what that price really is.”


Brad Cohen in the Village Voice interviews three former SST alumni about how, in Curt Kirkwood's words, “that circle [SST] is still really vibrant in a strange way”:

"Bob Mould".

“Throughout much of Hüsker Dü's lifeline, your bandmates [singer/drummer] Grant Hart and [bassist] Greg Norton took a back seat while you handled the bulk of the managerial side of things, basically acting as tour manager and you talk about that at length in the book. Had you not taken an active role of booking tours and such, would Hüsker Dü had endured?

It could have gone in a number of different ways. I never really thought about it, but the first thing that comes to mind is that SST [Records] probably would have run us into the ground. The second scenario is a big-time management company comes on and the band would have imploded instantly because I like to control things and Grant was pretty uncontrollable. That actually worked to our benefit that I could control it from within. Those were the first two outcomes I could see if I did a ‘what if?’ I'm sure there are other iterations but those are the two that come to mind right away. SST would have killed us -- or we would have killed ourselves quicker with a big manager trying to direct traffic.”

"Lou Barlow".

“So when you guys signed with Black Flag's label SST, needless to say, that must have been huge.

It was monumental, man. It was like the end. That was it [laughs]. When you think about it now, you think about like American Idol [laughs]... ‘If I only can reach the top five of American Idol.’ And that's their dream. Like our dream, that was if you could take that dream, with all of its intensity and everything you know and to then be on SST was like Where the fuck do you go from there? Nowhere else.”

"Curt Kirkwood".

“What about SST stuff?

I still keep up with those people. I played with [Chuck] Dukowski fairly recently. I played plenty of shows with Watt in the last number of years. Did a tour with Bob Mould a few years ago. I met Bob a long time ago. He's one of the people I met really early on my first tour in '82. He was at the show. It was the first time we played Minneapolis. I befriended Bob and Grant [Hart] the first time around. First show we ever did in New York City was at Folk City was with Sonic Youth and Rick Rubin's band Hose opened the show. It's pretty amazing that way, it still continues and the same people are still around [laughs]. We all had the fire to begin with. It was cultural and it seemed like a microcosmic way that like this is cultural change and we are involved in something here. Really what I thought it was was good music, it's good garage music and it could get a little attention. I actually thought in the early '80s, it'd get really big -- I was that enthusiastic about the whole thing. I thought Black Flag was great -- I figured they'd be what Nirvana was ten years later, ya know?”


Mark E Smith/The Fall profiled in the FT
(!) and the New Yorker (!!), although for entertainment value Robert Chalmers' Independent interview tops them both:

“‘How about you?’ Smith asks. ‘Any regrets?’ ‘I regret turning down an invitation to contribute to Perverted by Language, that [2007] book of fiction where they asked various writers to compose a short story based on a Fall title.’ ‘That book,’ says Smith, ‘was shite.’”


Jay Hinman recalls the vanished record shops of 80s LA at his Hedonist Jive blog.


Jon Savage's great playlist of garage/psych/punk from 1966/67, put together for Domino Radio.


Byron Coley's 1987-90 "Underground” Spin columns.


James Dean vs Ronald Reagan in The Dark, Dark Hours originally broadcast in 1954. Ironically Reagan is far more convincing than Dean's overwrought performance. Better hair, too.

Drawing by James Fotopoulos

From the DuPage desk of Joe Carducci…

Frederik Stjernfelt at Signandsight.com, "Nausea in Paris".

“Satire famously played an important role in the long process through which European societies emancipated themselves from religious dominance over centuries and finally forced Christianity to give in to enlightened principles and liberties. There is no reason to assume Islamists are not aware of this -- all the sweet-talking about ‘defamation’ and ‘offense’ by Islamists and their intellectual fellow travellers is but a thinly veiled demand for exemption from criticism. This combination of whimpering, death threats and arson has been employed by fundamentalists for years, and not without effect.”


Tom Nairn at Opendemocracy.net on Jeremy Paxman’s book, Empire: What ruling the world did to the British.

“Successful imperialism required an extensive elite, built up by an educational system distinct from (though allied to) the state — the 'public' school and 'Oxbridge' hierarchy. Hence the 'illogical' salience of social class in the land of the industrial revolution.

This led in turn to the over-theorization of social class. A stratification actually generated by empire was confused with one due to capitalist development itself, and then given philosophical shape by Marxism and other ideologies. Such was Anglo-Britain's principal 'legacy in the modern world' in Kwarteng's sense, now also described by Paxman. The greater part of Empire is taken up with how the legacy was acquired, through plunder, slaughter and theft, much of it 'made by Scots' (p.50). At the heart of the inheritance is an instinctive conspiracy to resist the return of England: that is, 'little England' as simply one nation amongst others: Greenfeld's 'First Born' reduced at last to identikit nationality.”


FT: "Brutalised protesters turn to subtler means".

“Strange things are happening on the streets of Damascus. In September, as Bashar al-Assad’s security forces continued their slaying of anti-regime protesters, fountains in the Syrian capital’s main squares began gushing blood. Then last month the green litterbins on the city’s streets suddenly blared out revolutionary songs, startling passers-by and panicking the armed guards of local government buildings.”


Peter Wonacott in WSJ, "Madagascar Tries -- Again -- for Democracy".

“African leaders who have bristled at recent Western involvement in the continent's troubles have dived into this island nation's two-year-old political crisis with the intent of showing how democracy can be restored without Western military firepower.
South African diplomats have been shuttling to and from the island that sits off the continent's southeast coast, meeting with Andry Rajoelina, a former nightclub disc jockey who now runs Madagascar, as well as with politicians that oppose him.”


John Kay in FT, "What Bob Diamond really tells us about the City".

“The changes implemented in and around 1986 involved a mixture of deregulation and reregulation. The conventions that had governed behaviour, largely tacit, were embedded in the English class system that governed recruitment. But now the informal, value-driven culture, whose ultimate sanction was famously described as the raised eyebrow of the governor of the Bank of England, was replaced by an extensive rulebook. The gates of the City were opened to comprehensive school boys, and girls, and to foreigners who might not even recognise the governor, far less appreciate the significance of his raised eyebrow.”


Economist: "Addio, Silvio".

“If, for example, Italians cannot find a dry cleaner’s open on a Saturday; if they have to pay thousands of euros to a dispensable public notary to buy a house; if they are forced to accept the service laid on by a single, erratic (and doubtless strike-prone) local bus company, then it is because Mr Berlusconi -- and the others who have led Italy over the past couple of decades -- have left in place a web of entrenched monopolies, vested interests and cartels that stifle competition and diminish competitiveness. Brave attempts have been made to reform pensions and education. The outgoing government has had considerable success in tackling organised crime. But Italy still suffers from deep-seated ills. Social convention keeps too many married women at home, limiting the size of its workforce. Its capitalism is opaque, typified by cronyism, government interference and shareholder pacts. The trade unions are skewed towards the public sector and the protection of mostly older workers in permanent employment. Italy’s cumbersome justice system, in which the average length of a civil suit is nine years, desperately needs an overhaul to reassure investors that contracts will be enforced and dodgy accounting punished.”


Rachel Donadio & Elisabetta Povoledo in NYT, "Magnetic and Divisive, A Man Whose Politics Were Always Personal".

“Mr. Berlusconi entered politics in the wake of a bribery scandal that had brought down Italy’s postwar political order, where for decades a centrist Catholic party was pitted against Westernized Communists. In a 1994 televised address, unprecedented in Italy’s staid political culture, he promised a new world, and invited Italians to join him. ‘I have decided to enter the playing field and to take up politics because I don’t want to live in country that is not free, governed by immature political forces and by men who are bound hand and foot to a past that was both a political and economic failure,’ he said. Alexander Stille, the author of a book on Mr. Berlusconi called ‘The Sack of Rome,’ said he represented something new. ‘The old political parties, the Christian Democratic Party and the Communist Party, represented broad ideologies and their leaders were comparatively unimportant,’ he said. ‘Berlusconi, already a celebrity, offered himself: no real ideology other than his own personal wealth.’ It was a brilliant strategy, and it catapulted him into power. But his first term lasted only eight months, crashing when he lost a coalition ally. Mr. Berlusconi led the opposition for the rest of the 1990s, when a series of technocratic and center-left governments brought Italy into the single European currency. He was elected again in 2001, after delivering a magazine-sized volume, ‘An Italian Story,’ to every doorstep in Italy. A masterpiece of self-branding, it depicted him as a self-made businessman, a family man and a ladies’ man.”


Stacy Meichtry & Deborah Ball in WSJ, "Culture Built on Family Firms Tests Italy’s Plan for Growth".

“Dell'Orco & Villani is the sort of small company that dominates the Italian economy and is essential to rejuvenating this crucial part of the euro zone. There's just one problem. ‘Our policy has always been not to grow,’ says Sergio Dell'Orco, the 64-year-old head of the recycling-machine maker from Tuscany. Among other issues holding the company back are strict labor laws and an inefficient legal system ‘that become difficult to work under if you're big,’ he says. The lack of growth at family businesses such as Dell'Orco is a huge obstacle to making the country more dynamic -- especially at a time when Italy urgently needs higher growth to pay down its €1.9 trillion ($2.6 trillion) national debt. On Sunday, Italy named a new leader, Italian economist Mario Monti, to tackle the country's economic woes. In his first speech as premier-designate, Mr. Monti said Italy needed to make a huge effort to reignite growth. ‘We owe it to our children. We need to give them a future of dignity and hope,’ Mr. Monti said.”


Paul Betts in FT, "Ill-judged smirks about Italy miss the deeper truth".

“There is a naïve tendency among foreigners to dismiss Italians as incompetents who are simply in need of a little outside discipline. Nothing could be further from the truth. The system, or myriad systems that govern Italian life at every level, are in fact highly organized and impervious to change. They are almost impossible for outsiders to comprehend.”


Victor Mallet in FT, "Spain’s party leaders indulge in navel-gazing as crisis rages".

“‘After seeing the debate, who do you think will run Spanish policy for the next few years?’ asks a Spaniard, turning off the television at the end of the pre-election confrontation between the two main candidates for prime minister. ‘Angela Merkel,’ replies his wife cheerfully. The humorous reference to the German chancellor in a cartoon in Tuesday’s El Mundo newspaper made an important point about Spain’s future that was largely absent from the actual debate between Mariano Rajoy, leader of the opposition Popular party, and Alfredo Perez Rubalcaba, his Socialist rival.”


Economist: "The road to self-deception".

“Thankfully, the EU has not decided to censor The Economist. But a European Commission draft paper on credit-rating agencies does propose that, in some circumstances, they should be barred from changing their sovereign ratings. Let us be clear what that means. A credit rating is an opinion about the likelihood that a borrower will repay its debts. The issuers of these opinions are largely based in America, a land where free speech is constitutionally guaranteed. (Fitch has dual headquarters in New York and London, although its majority-owner is a French investor.) Even if the EU could get away with this censorship, what purpose would it really serve? At a crucial moment the agencies would have to declare that they were unable to provide a rating of the country, as clear a signal to the markets as a downgrade itself.”


Economist: "Beyond the fringe".

“What the EU lacks is not democracy but popular engagement. It always has and it always will. There is a small industry churning out suggestions for how to remedy this. How about directly electing the commission’s president? Or sending national MPs to sit part-time in the European Parliament? Or staging Europe-wide referendums, so that a single country cannot hold the other 26 to ransom? None of them would change the fact that the EU is remote, impenetrable and elitist. However hard it tries, the EU will not be loved by European citizens -- even those who are broadly pro-European. In the words of Anand Menon, a British academic, it is ‘structurally condemned to inspire apathy’.

‘Public opinion is a new actor in the EU,’ says Charles Grant, director of the Centre for European Reform. ‘It limits what technocrats can do.’”


Hernando de Soto in FT, "The free-market secret of the Arab revolutions".

“A few weeks ago I met Salem, the younger brother of the brave Tunisian fruit and vegetable vendor whose self-immolation triggered the Arab uprising. When I asked him what his brother in heaven would say if we asked him what his sacrifice would bring to the Arab World, Salem did not hesitate: ‘That the poor also have the right to buy and sell.’ It is worth remembering these words as experts debate the future of the Arab revolution, focusing on the crucial issues of democracy, fidelity to Islam, secularism and tribal power. What they may have missed is that a mighty consensus behind the uprising is the desire of a vast underclass to work in a legal market economy.”


Mario Vargas Llosa in WSJ, "Literature and the Search for Liberty".

“What is lost on the collectivists, on the other hand, is the prime importance of individual freedom for societies to flourish and economies to thrive. This is the core insight of true liberalism: All individual freedoms are part of an inseparable whole. Political and economic liberties cannot be bifurcated. Mankind has inherited this wisdom from millennia of experience, and our understanding has been enriched further by the great liberal thinkers, some of my favorities being Isaiah Berlin, Karl Popper, F.A. Hayek and Ludwig von Mises.”


Peter Aspden in FT, "Enriched by poor art".

“Arte Povera, or ‘poor art’, was the name given to an artistic movement of the 1960s in Italy that disdained that country’s postwar economic ‘miracle’ and called for a more pragmatic and modest cultural response to its excesses. In sharp contrast to Pop Art, its ostentatious contemporary, Arte Povera sought to restore poetry and simplicity to art. There was nostalgia and humility in its ambitions. ‘In Italy,’ wrote designer Ettore Sottsass in 1964, ‘there is none of the hard sell that comes with Coca-Cola, no post-cowboy violence, little birth control, little use of deodorants and boules is still played.’ Notwithstanding their ironic tone, the distrust of affluent modernity is palpable in those words, as is the feeling that the poor life is also the purer life.”


James Mackintosh in FT on Jim Rickards’ book, Currency Wars: The Making of the Next Global Crisis.

“Rickards examines the ongoing financial crisis through the same currency lens. On his view, quantitative easing -- the Federal Reserve’s creation of money to buy bonds -- was a ‘secret weapon’ to weaken the dollar, aimed mainly at China. The Arab spring was collateral damage, as the Fed’s flood of dollars drove food price inflation and so provided the spark for revolution.”


Jamie Bartlett & Jeff Howard in Prospect, "Talking right".

“Because several of these parties have historic roots in extreme right politics, many progressive politicians and thinkers view such rights-talk as a disingenuous veneer, a cover for bigots who couldn’t care less about liberalism. This is a mistake. To see just how dangerous the populist threat is, we should recognise the sincerity -- and the grain of hard truth -- in their words. The latest study from Demos, ‘The New Face of Digital Populism,’ which was released this week, shows why. Based on a survey of over 10,000 supporters of these parties across Europe, it dispels some myths about the current crop of European populists. They are disillusioned with out-of-touch political elites, but not with democracy, which they cite as a top personal value, along with the rule of law and human rights. They overwhelmingly reject violence. One of the most significant drivers of support is a perceived threat to national identity and culture posed by immigrants, other minorities, and increasingly the European Union. These findings undercut the myth that the populist right is no more than a petulant manifestation of economic angst, an attempt to pin the blame for hard times on immigrants. Only four per cent of respondents cited economic issues as reasons to join their organisation.”


Michael Spence interview in Hoover Digest, "The Next Convergence".

“Spence: The colonial empires fell apart, and they arguably had built-in asymmetries in them. One would have guessed, I think incorrectly, that there were cultural differences holding these countries back -- some inherent defect. I don’t think that has turned out to be true. Colonialism fell apart. We had a bunch of new countries that were finding their identity, finding a government structure that worked. It was chaotic and a mess, and then came two other key ingredients. One, very wise people, led by Americans, decided not to repeat the aftermath of World War I, not to crush the vanquished and create a situation that led to another war. Instead, we built up the vanquished. We worked through the Marshall Plan on rebuilding Europe. We worked on restoring Japan. We opened the global economies so that these economies became permanently interconnected. And when we did that, Peter, we probably didn’t know that the long-run beneficiaries were going to be these poor countries whose future we didn’t really know…. But once they figure out a way to connect to the global economy, they are not held down. You have an opening into the global economy through a set of policies that turn out through the benefit of hindsight to be A, generous, and B, really farsighted. And the third ingredient is technology. The costs of transportation went down, communication costs went down, and the tools that you use to integrate a global economy were being built and then used.

Robinson: So there is a distinctively American piece of that story, which is to say that after the Second World War, the United States, measured as a proportion of world domestic output, has a position of dominance that constantly recedes, but the United States lets it happen and seems to welcome the growth of other countries. Americans ought to be proud of that, right?

Spence: Absolutely.”


Ian Bremmer & Nouriel Roubini in WSJ, "Whose Economy Has It Worst?".

“The campaign season will only exacerbate petty partisanship and political gridlock, which means that the structural problems of the U.S. economy are likely to persist.

But the longer-term future appears much brighter for the U.S. than for either Europe or China. America is still the leader in the kind of cutting-edge technology that expands a nation's long-term economic potential, from renewable energy and medical devices to nanotechnology and cloud computing. Over time, these advantages will yield more robust economic growth. The U.S. also has a demographic advantage. In Europe, declining birthrates and rising sentiment against immigration point toward a population that will shrink by as much as 100 million people by 2050. In China, thanks in part to its one-child policy, the working population has already begun to contract. By 2030, nearly 250 million Chinese will have passed the age of 65, and providing them with pensions and health care will be very costly. Despite debate over illegal immigration, the U.S. population will likely rise from 310 million to about 420 million by midcentury. Between 2000 and 2050, according to Mark Schill of Praxis Strategy Group, the U.S. workforce is expected to grow by 37%. China's will shrink by 10%. Europe's will contract by 21%. Finally, despite the rising exasperation of the American public, the U.S. is significantly more likely than Europe or China to quit kicking the can down the road.”


Rahul Jacob in FT, "Chinese look overseas in move to cut costs".

“The pressure to move is clear and growing. Labour costs in China have risen 15-20 per cent annually over the past couple of years, squeezing margins and creating increasingly testing times for Guangdong, the engine room of Chinese manufacturing. The rising costs – along with the rise in the renminbi – have forced Mr Leung to reduce headcount in Dongguan from 8,000 three years ago to 3,000 today. The wages in Bangladesh, he reports, are about 20 to 30 per cent of those in China. Workers also work 48 hour weeks against the legislated norm of 40 hours in China. The government is offering a 10 year tax holiday. But instead of sounding ebullient, Mr Leung is shell-shocked. ‘They have crazy traffic congestion and everyone uses a generator in factories (because the power supply is erratic),’ he says. ‘The logistics make it very hard to work efficiently’. A couple of weeks after his trip to Dhaka, Mr Leung flew to Addis Ababa. Wages were even lower than those in Bangladesh but he could not find the supporting industries, such as manufacturers of shoe soles and cardboard. ‘Ethiopia has less congestion but it is in the middle of nowhere,’ he says. India’s oppressive poverty put him off altogether after a visit to Chennai. Now Mr Leung is uncertain whether he will move production from China after all.”


Andrew Jacobs & Adam Century in NYT, "In China, Buick’s for the Chic".

“Take, for example, Mercedes-Benz, a brand that in much of the world suggests moneyed respectability. In China, many people think Mercedes-Benz is the domain of the retiree. The Buick, long associated in the United States with drivers who have a soft spot for the early-bird special, is by contrast one of the hottest luxury cars in China. But no vehicle in China has developed as ironclad a reputation as the Audi A6, the semiofficial choice of Chinese bureaucrats. From the country’s southern reaches to its northern capital, the A6’s slick frame and invariably tinted windows exude an aura of state privilege, authority and, to many ordinary citizens, a whiff of corruption. ‘Audi is still the de facto car for government officials,’ said Wang Zhi, a Beijing taxi driver who has been plying the capital’s gridlocked streets for 18 years. ‘It’s always best to yield to an Audi — you never know who you’re messing with, but chances are it’s someone self-important.’”


WSJ: "Japan’s Third Opening".

“Last year, then Prime Minister Naoto Kan proposed Japan pursue trade liberalization with a ‘third opening’ to the world -- the first two being the arrival of Commodore Perry in the 19th century and the post-World War II American occupation. The difference is that this time Japan has to make the decision on its own. But opponents are portraying joining the talks as a favor to the U.S., rather than a move that will benefit Japanese. That doesn't stand up to scrutiny. Take the two industries that would be affected -- agriculture and medicine. Japanese economists have long argued that deregulation would make them more efficient, but regulators favor the existing players. Opening to international competition can help to break the political logjam and force reforms. Imported rice faces a 778% tariff, which has shielded farmers from market pressure to consolidate their small plots. The average farm is less than two hectares worked by a 66-year-old farmer.”


Michael Auslin in WSJ, "Is South Korea Headed for Trouble?".

“‘Korea has another decade of growth, and then we'll start down Japan's path.’ So declares a prominent Korean economist to an American visitor. President Lee Myung-bak, who is in the last months of his administration, may be President Barack Obama's favorite Asian leader. But his 30% approval rating at home reflects frustration with rising inflation, his cozy ties to business groups, and public fears of a growing wealth gap. The likelihood that a left-wing candidate will capture the presidency next year portends a turbulent future for U.S.-Korea relations as well as the Korean economy.”


Paul Kane in NYT, "To Save Our Economy, Ditch Taiwan".

“There are dozens of initiatives President Obama could undertake to strengthen our economic security. Here is one: He should enter into closed-door negotiations with Chinese leaders to write off the $1.14 trillion of American debt currently held by China in exchange for a deal to end American military assistance and arms sales to Taiwan and terminate the current United States-Taiwan defense arrangement by 2015. This would be a most precious prize to the cautious men in Beijing, one they would give dearly to achieve. After all, our relationship with Taiwan, as revised in 1979, is a vestige of the cold war. Today, America has little strategic interest in Taiwan, which is gradually integrating with China economically by investing in and forming joint ventures with mainland Chinese firms. The island’s absorption into mainland China is inevitable.”


Bradley Gardner in Reason, "China’s Black Market City".

“Wenzhou was one of the first cities to develop methods to work around the financial sector’s aversion to private enterprise. According to local entrepreneurs, it was this secondary banking system that made the biggest contribution to Wenzhou’s early development. ‘While northern people kept the money they made, Wenzhou people immediately lent it to their friends to help get ventures off the ground,’ says Weng Yuwen, a Wenzhou native now running a clothing design company out of nearby Hangzhou. Dozens of financing options are available, and although most of them intrude on the jurisdiction of the state-controlled banking system, they are not all illegal. Or at least not completely illegal. The different levels of legality that Wenzhounese perceive are a bit of a puzzle to an outside observer. Weng quickly disavows any knowledge of ‘underground banking’; like every other Wenzhou entrepreneur I speak to, he has ‘friends’ who have dealt with gray-market lenders but declares he would never do so himself. A more standard form of getting a loan, he explains, is borrowing from a contact…who also happens to be lending to a large number of other entrepreneurs at interest. Weng contemplates this arrangement, then admits that the whole thing might be ‘somewhat illegal.’”


Laura Meckler in WSJ, "U.S. to Build Up Military in Australia".

“The agreement will lead to an increase in U.S. naval operations off the coast of Australia and give American troops and ships ‘permanent and constant’ access to Australian facilities, the people said. While no new American bases will be built under the plan, the arrangement will allow U.S. forces to place equipment in Australia and set up more joint exercises, they said. The move could help the U.S. military, now concentrated in Japan and South Korea in Northeast Asia, to spread its influence west and south across the region, including the strategically and economically important South China Sea, which China considers as its sovereign territory.”


Matt Welch in Reason, "The Simpletons: David Brooks, Thomas L. Friedman, and the banal authoritarianism of do-something punditry".

“Do something. Is there a two-word phrase in politics more loaded with disguised ideological content? Embedded within is both an urgent call for powerful government action and an up-front declaration that the policy details don’t matter. The bigger the crisis, the more the urgency, the sparser the detail.”


Lawrence Lessig interview in Boston Review, "Reclaiming the Republic".

“DJ: You’ve really tried to make this a bipartisan effort. One thing I’ve noticed with regard to the Tea Party protests and Occupy Wall Street is that each tends to dismiss the other, even though both sides might find a lot of agreement in their anger.

LL: There is this bizarre blindness. I think we all need to carry around two hats. One of those hats should say, ‘I’m working for our side.’ The other hat should say, ‘I’m working for the U.S.’ And what that means is not ‘I have to give up my commitment to leftist values or to right-wing values,’ but it means that I need to try to figure out if there’s a way, despite our differences, for us to find a unity. If we can’t get beyond the architecture of polarization, we are doomed.”


WSJ: "About That ‘Christmas Tree Tax’".

“But rather than another zany liberal's plan to tax a few of his favorite things -- which sometimes seems to include everything -- the real story here is about collusion between business and government. Under the plan, the USDA would have required Christmas tree growers to pay 15 cents per fresh-cut tree to fund an advertising board to ‘enhance the image of Christmas trees and the Christmas tree industry in the United States.’ But the idea didn't belong to the USDA—it was the Christmas tree lobby's. (Yes, Virginia, there is such a thing.) The National Christmas Tree Association, a trade group, requested this ‘check off’ tax in 2009, much like the 18 other generic agricultural programs that the government backs under the Commodity Promotion, Research and Information Act of 1996. Think ‘Got Milk?’ or ‘Beef: It's What's for Dinner.’ Usually on the menu in these cases are the smaller producers that don't want to chip in for marketing and would rather promote their products themselves. The bigger companies then gang up and appeal to the government.”


William McGurn in WSJ, "Crony Capitalism, Chicago-Style".

“Soon the Illinois state legislature will meet in special session to consider the Chicago machine's latest favor: legislation designed to deliver tax relief to three of the state's largest companies. These tax breaks for the lucky few come just 10 months after the Illinois legislature approved what has been described as the largest tax increase in the state's history. It's no coincidence that both have been supported by Gov. Pat Quinn and other top leaders of the state’s Democratic Party. In so doing, Chicago is giving America a window into the logic of crony capitalism: Raise taxes on everyone -- and then cut side deals with those big enough to lobby for special relief.”


Tyler Cowen in NYT, "Whatever Happened To Discipline and Hard Work?".

“The United States has always had a culture with a high regard for those able to rise from poverty to riches. It has had a strong work ethic and entrepreneurial spirit and has attracted ambitious immigrants, many of whom were drawn here by the possibility of acquiring wealth. Furthermore, the best approach for fighting poverty is often precisely not to make fighting poverty the highest priority. Instead, it’s better to stress achievement and the pursuit of excellence, like a hero from an Ayn Rand novel. These are still at least the ideals of many conservatives and libertarians. The egalitarian ideals of the left, which were manifest in a wide variety of 20th-century movements, have been wonderful for driving social and civil rights advances, and in these areas liberals have often made much greater contributions than conservatives have. Still, the left-wing vision does not sufficiently appreciate the power — both as reality and useful mythology — of the meritocratic, virtuous production of wealth through business. Rather, academics on the left, like the Columbia University economists Joseph E. Stiglitz and Jeffrey D. Sachs among many others, seem more comfortable focusing on the very real offenses of plutocrats and selfish elites.”


Philip Howard in WSJ, "The Public-Union Albatross".

“The indictment of seven Long Island Rail Road workers for disability fraud last week cast a spotlight on a troubled government agency. Until recently, over 90% of LIRR workers retired with a disability -- even those who worked desk jobs -- adding about $36,000 to their annual pensions. The cost to New York taxpayers over the past decade was $300 million. As one investigator put it, fraud of this kind ‘became a culture of sorts among the LIRR workers, who took to gathering in doctor's waiting rooms bragging to each [other] about their disabilities while simultaneously talking about their golf game.’ How could almost every employee think fraud was the right thing to do? The LIRR disability epidemic is hardly unique -- 82% of senior California state troopers are ‘disabled’ in their last year before retirement. Pension abuses are so common -- for example, ‘spiking’ pensions with excess overtime in the last year of employment -- that they’re taken for granted.”


WSJ: "The EPA’s Reliability Cover-Up".

“Congressional and industry investigators have combed the EPA's rule-making docket that contains hundreds of thousands pages of electronic documents. Many of these files are for some reason not ‘smart’ PDFs (i.e., they're unsearchable). But lo and behold, they uncovered one 934-page EPA draft that was circulated within the Administration sometime before the utility rule was formally proposed. In a ‘What are the energy impacts?’ section, the EPA concedes that it ‘is aware that concerns have been expressed by some, even in advance of this proposed rule, that this regulation may detrimentally impact the reliability of the electric grid.’ The agency admits that what it calls ‘sources integral to reliable operation’ may be forced to shut down -- those would be the coal-fired plants the EPA is targeting -- and that these retirements ‘could result in localized reliability problems.’ The EPA insists that it knows how to balance ‘both clean air and electric reliability,’ but all along in public it has denied that reliability is in any way at risk.”


WSJ: "Student Body Left".

“It gets even more expensive for taxpayers when student borrowers take a ‘public service’ job after graduation, thanks to a program that began in 2007. ‘Public servants’ can get all of their remaining federal student-loan debt forgiven after only 10 years. This applies to government employees such as teachers and to workers at nonprofits. It’s too early to know for sure how this will affect student-borrower behavior, but you can guess. Here we have the federal government offering significant financial incentives to encourage young people to choose what the late Irving Kristol called the politically active ‘helping professions’ over wealth-creating businesses. Go to Georgetown, borrow $100,000 from Uncle Sam, join the Sierra Club, wait a decade and the loan becomes a free lunch.”


James Taranto at WSJ.com, "Be Certain With Cert".

“Because the question they raise is novel, the ObamaCare cases will not turn back the tide of New Deal jurisprudence. But if the court strikes down the forced insurance provision, it will finally, after more than 70 years, stop its advance. On the other hand, if the court upholds ObamaCare, it will mark yet another expansion of federal power. Although the justices will not acknowledge it in their opinions, today's court operates in a very different political environment than did their New Deal-era predecessors. Back then, the country was in crisis and an expanded federal government seemed to be the solution. New Deal programs were popular and enjoyed bipartisan support in Congress (not that they needed it, so dominant were the Democrats in those days). Today America is also in crisis, but this time an enormous, sclerotic government is a cause rather than a solution.”


Motoko Rich in NYT, "Future Farmers Look Ahead".

“Although the nation has shifted ever further from its agrarian roots, the organization is thriving. Begun 83 years ago and now known simply as the F.F.A., it is the largest vocational student group in the country, with more than half a million members and still growing. Although farm employment accounts for less than 1 percent of all jobs in the United States, the Agriculture Department says that one in 12 jobs is agriculture-related. And during the deep downturn and rocky recovery, these workers have actually fared better than most. That gives the F.F.A. a calling card as an organization that actually prepares students for viable careers. About 70 percent of its members live in rural areas, and 19 percent live in small towns. The fastest growing segment, however, is in urban and suburban areas, now making up 10 percent of the membership.”


CT: "Sink the Badger (proposal)".

“Every day from May to October, the SS Badger, the last coal-powered steamship on the Great Lakes, ferries cars and tourists across Lake Michigan on a picturesque four-hour journey from Manitowoc, Wis. to Ludington, Mich. Along the way, it leaves a souvenir in the lake: a total of about 509 tons of toxic coal ash, laced with arsenic, lead and mercury over a 134-day operating schedule. That's far more pollution than all the other 125 freighters plying the Great Lakes collectively leave in a full year, according to Coast Guard records. In 2008, the U.S. EPA set a four-year deadline for the Badger's owners to sharply limit its pollution, the Tribune's Michael Hawthorne recently reported. Didn't happen. Instead, the Badger now is one step away from being protected — in all its polluting glory — as a National Historic Landmark.”


Eliot Cohen in WSJ, "America’s Distinctive Way of War".

“America has participated in every global conflict since the end of the 17th century. What European colonists in North America called King William’s War, Queen Anne’s War, King George’s War, and the French and Indian War went by other names in Europe (the War of the Spanish Succession, for example), but they were parts of the same conflict. America’s War for Independence turned into a global war, and France’s revolution and imperial wars also came to these shores in 1812. The American way of war originated not in the 20th century, and not even in our own Civil War, but rather in a protracted contest with our most enduring and effective enemy of all: Canada.”


Sharon LaFraniere in NYT, "Chinese Flock to U.S. Envoy, but Leaders Are Ruffled".

“Some news organizations have even suggested in commentaries that his man-of-the-people style is an act, an American plot to stir citizens’ resentment of their own leaders.

Two Chinese journalists covering Mr. Locke’s visit last week to Guangzhou and his ancestral village said propaganda officials had issued a directive not to ‘hype’ the trip. That meant that they would write straightforward articles of about 1,000 Chinese characters and that their work would be kept off newspaper front pages. ‘They don’t like him,’ one reporter, who insisted on anonymity, said of the propaganda authorities. ‘They think he is too high-profile and he is embarrassing Chinese leaders.’ But somehow, the word has not gotten to ordinary Chinese. As Mr. Locke traveled on Nov. 4 to his ancestral village, Jilong, a cluster of gray-brick homes two and a half hours from this provincial capital, hundreds of people gathered on the streets of the city of Taishan, to watch as he stopped at a local kindergarten and — if they were lucky — to have their picture taken with him. Mr. Locke was typically obliging about posing for snapshots. ‘He likes to be with common people,’ said Wu Qiang, a 35-year-old factory worker, as he waited patiently for the ambassador’s motorcade. ‘He has Chinese blood, but American characteristics.’”


Ben Austen in Bloomberg Businessweek, "The End of Borders and the Future of Books".

“Edwards says that by the time he became CEO in 2010, Borders had already lost ‘the founders’ DNA, why the company was successful in the first place.’ He blames the 1992 acquisition by Kmart -- which he feels ran Borders like a general merchandising company -- and a three-year stock buyback that began in 2005 and cost the company $600 million. (Kmart spun off the bookseller in 1995, when Borders went public.) No contacted analysts thought there was anything improper in the stock buyback -- online sales had seemed to plateau at the time, and the company had generated more money than it did in each of the preceding five years. But the book industry runs on an ancient credit system, with booksellers at any moment indebted to publishers for more than the value of the books on their shelves. (At the time of its bankruptcy, Borders owed Hachette $36.9 million, Simon & Schuster $33.8 million, Random House $33.5 million, and HarperCollins $25.8 million, to name just a few of its publishing creditors.) In arrears and undercapitalized even in good times, Borders lost with the stock buyback the slim buffer it had. Edwards says the company was too saddled with debt to navigate properly. It had no capital to invest in online retailing or to separate its good stores from its bad ones.

Maybe most stunning is how Borders proved incapable of upgrading the systems and processes it had pioneered.”


Laura Winer at L.A. Review of Books, "Zell to L.A. Times: Drop Dead".

“Even in the negotiation stage, the Tribune deal enabled Zell to measure himself by a flattering new yardstick: He was no longer simply the ‘grave dancer,’ an investor who took risks on troubled companies; he was now in competition with Rupert Murdoch who was in the process of buying the Wall Street Journal from the Bancroft family (which had controlled that paper since 1902.) In November 2007, Zell told Connie Bruck of The New Yorker: ‘Rupert is paying a huge price [$5 billion]. In our case, we’re paying what we think is a very attractive price — so our point of entry in this transaction is such that we have a lot of optionality.’ If ‘optionality’ means having options, the opposite was true. Zell’s deal was freighted with debt; Murdoch’s was not. More crucially, Murdoch had a vision for his media empire.”


“KUSF in Exile weekly "Archie Patterson Radio Show".

Listen LIVE Friday's 7PM

After producing several radio specials this past year I was asked by KUSF in
Exile in San Francisco to host a weekly program every Friday night at 7PM
Pacific time. The first show aired on OCT 28. The programs focus will be
highly eclectic with music played ranging the spectrum of sound and styles.
I began Eurock as an FM radio program in California in 1971. Now after 40
years I have come full circle to begin again a new musical adventure.

Archived programs:

Program 3 featuring 60 minutes of music taken from the 4 albums by legendary French rock band Lard Free!

Program 1 UK Psychedelic Rock & Acid Folk 1968-1970 featuring The Nice, Tomorrow, Deviants, Pretty Things, Twink, Kaleidoscope, Tyrannosaurus Rex & the Incredible String Band.

Program 2 German Transcendental Music featuring Embryo, Between, Peter Michael Hamel & Camera Obscura.


Nathaniel Friedman in WSJ on Scott Raab’s book, The Whore of Akron.

“At the time, Mr. Raab was working on a book he hoped would be a chronicle of Cleveland's first title in more than four decades. Stung and confounded by Mr. James's perfidy, he wrote ‘The Whore of Akron’ instead. While Mr. Raab repeatedly brands Mr. James a coward and a fraud, LeBron's cardinal sin is walking out on Cleveland when, more than anyone else, Mr. James should have understood what that meant. Mr. Raab can't shake the city, nor does he want to; Mr. James has no such qualms or demons. The two-time MVP doesn't get it: In Mr. Raab's mind, since Cleveland made LeBron, just as it made him, he owes this crumbling city loyalty. Over lunch, Chris Rock, one of the several celebrities whose cameos remind us of Mr. Raab's day job as a glossy-magazine feature writer, tries to convince him that any sane person would choose Miami over Cleveland. Mr. Raab doesn't buy it.”


Obituaries of the Week

• Robert Scalapino (1919 - 2011)

“The author of 39 books on Vietnam, China, Korea, Japan and Taiwan, Professor Scalapino was also editor of Asian Survey, a scholarly publication, from 1962 to 1996 and advised the State Department and other government agencies. In 1965, he wound up arguing the Johnson administration’s case for escalating the war at what was billed as a national teach-in on Vietnam policy. The event was a debate by a panel before an audience of 5,000 in Washington and more than 100,000 people at more than 100 campuses who had gathered to hear the debate by radio hookups. McGeorge Bundy, the national security adviser to President Lyndon B. Johnson, had been scheduled to attend, and many participants had hoped to hear his pro-war views and confront him. When he canceled at the last minute, it fell to Professor Scalapino, who had also been invited to join the panel, to take the lead in defending the White House’s policy.”

Rex Benson (1925 - 2011)

“Rex Benson, who appeared in more than 300 productions, including films and television, died Friday at the Aleda E. Lutz VA Medical Center in Saginaw. He was 86.
Benson, a native of Chicago, moved in 2002 to Frankenmuth to live near his son, John, a certified public accountant. He lived in Reese as well. It wasn’t long before he stopped by Fischer Hall to join the Cass River Players. ‘He stepped right in and we had a good time. He sure knew his stuff, and he was always willing to do anything that needed to be done,’ said John Matuzak, who worked with the group. Long before he played the community theater circuit in the Great Lakes Bay Region, often taking his one-man-shows to wherever he found an audience that appreciated his corny jokes, Benson was writing for ‘Sanford and Son,’ doing skits with Johnny Carson on ‘The Tonight Show,’ and playing roles in shows and films such as, ‘CHiPS,’ ‘All in the Family,’ ‘My Best Friend’s Wedding’ and ‘Shades of Red.’ He also was a professional photographer, and his son said that’s what paid the bills while he was waiting for another acting role. But among all his pursuits, John Benson said, Rex Benson called the years he served in World War II his favorite days. As a decorated U.S. Navy aviation radioman, he flew from the carrier USS Ticonderoga as a rear seat aerial gunner, running the first bombing raid on Tokyo and sinking a Japanese cruiser, his son said.”


Thanks to Jay Babcock, Andy Schwartz.

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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

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Issue #123 (November 9, 2011)

Snowy Range Peaks, Wyoming

Photo by Joe Carducci

Kennedy Erotomania
by Joe Carducci

It hadn’t yet occurred to me back when the networks turned on Gary Hart in 1988. Reporters hadn’t actually wanted to out him because back then they too were still on the Kennedy q.t., caught halfway between their own nerd selves and their insider surmisal of the ribald habits of the stars of politics and showbiz. And a certain type of male style leveraged the still middle American reserve to live like Bluebeard in that strange period after the Pill was available but before it was handed out like candy by the school nurse. Since the sixties Gary Hart was living a dry-look dream, nominally married but carrying the JFK, RFK, MLK torch, posing for his money shot, enabled by his earnest, ex-seminarian nobility. But the greasy-look news directors decided Hart was dead meat after one of Gary’s girlfriend Donna Rice’s girlfriend called the Miami Herald on him, and they all piled on like the resentful nerds they were. What you saw then was a dissection of Gary Hart’s political persona. One of the networks went through footage of Hart getting off of planes, shaking hands, giving speeches. They would freeze frame and underline by comparison to old footage of John F. Kennedy. It was like a Zapruder film as Rosetta stone. There it was, the hand in the pocket, the crimped shoulder, the wince-smile and wrenched back… all on display as imitation in tribute to a man in pain and on drugs who never should have offered himself as a candidate by a guy who could no longer tell who he was.

After the up-and-up Carter, Reagan, and Bush terms it was the get-down Bill Clinton era that pulled it all together in my mind. Everything was different by then except Gary Hart’s hair. All you had to do was pick your news and you could find charitable or critical coverage of anybody. Especially in those first two years the Bill and Hillary show was really out of hand, just ask the notional then vice-president Al Gore. Bill was wearing European-cut suits fit for the globalizing technocratic elite and vacationing at Martha’s Vineyard, where the Kennedys would finally have to put up with that damn wannabe who gottobe. But it was that Bill got caught and the news media, reluctant as ever after twelve years of Republican White House etiquette, got caught out by DNA and the Drudge Report that forced me to contemplate the politico-erotic implications of his and Gary’s dog-pile of Kennedy-love and satyriasis.

There was more than enough out-of-hand coverage of it all, especially as the New York Times, Time magazine, and the network news divisions could no longer determine the manner of coverage, though they did manage to save the Clinton presidency. But there was very little Kennedy-context in any of the coverage, even though Kennedy could only make any of these pikers look better. JFK’s secrets had come out very slowly over the decades. Only a couple years ago was it confirmed that he was locked in a metal back-brace that held him bolt upright in the back seat of that convertible. He’d wrenched his back reaching for some bimbo and so he could only sit and wait for the third bullet. Decades of conspiracy theories to explain that his body stayed upright because he was hit from the front by a second gunmen in the grassy knoll -- all so we’d be spared the knowledge that our young dead president had had one foot in the grave before he ever set foot in Dallas.

Kennedy was getting shot up with speed, steroids, testosterone and God-knows-what-else in those brave days of better living through chemistry. He wasn’t interacting with the women he was fucking. He wasn’t even fucking them in any normal sense; he wasn’t alone with them. He was blowing his nose in some kind of chemo-compulsive reaction to the drugs and the illness and being in over his head. He’d gotten what his father wanted. Given the early sixties, most of the women were professionals anyway. That Kennedy mystique actually had a greater homoerotic half-life. Women generally were more interested in Jacqueline, as an American princess. All of that cold rutting by Bill, Gary and a whole generation of wannabes was homoerotic communion with Jack; the women were mediums.

Chris Matthews has a new ridiculous mediation on his own never-ending teen-crush on John F. Kennedy. This from a guy who actually was sick to his stomach over Bill Clinton’s much more trivial and limited foibles. Today at least the Kennedy industry doesn’t have such an easy time of it. Even its prime architect, Ted Sorensen, just before he died wrote an overdue graceless memoir finally take his bows for all the words he put in President Kennedy’s mouth. His book tour killed him.

Jeff Bercovici talked to Matthews and wrote up his book, Jack Kennedy: Elusive Hero, at Forbes.com, “The One Question You Should Never Ask Chris Matthews”:

“We’re talking about his new book… when the subject turn to ‘Profiles in Courage.’ Kennedy won a Pulitzer for the book even though he farmed out most of the actual writing to an uncredited co-author, his aide Ted Sorensen. Did Matthews have a Sorensen of his own, I wonder? Matthews’ genial, boyish face darkens. ‘Forget you,’ he says.

(Only he doesn’t say ‘forget you.’ Both Matthews and my editor asked me not to print what he actually said….) ‘Forget you,’ he repeats. ‘Where’d you get that? Is that what you think? You think I don’t write my books?’ I try to explain that I hadn’t meant the question to be insulting.” (Forbes.com)

As if the question wasn’t relevant. Call Kennedy your hero and be prepared to defend what he did, and entertain queries as to whether you’ve done same. Matthews was treated much better by Charlie Rose; in fact it was a double-gush of that kind of homo-mimetic submission to the idea that they’d been mentored as young boys into “public service” by JFK; manhandled by the Man. Those damned Catholics!

Christopher Hitchens wrote one of the harsher appraisals of the Clintons, No One Left to Lie To, which was perhaps somewhat optimistic in its titling since Bill’s Global Initiative and Hillary’s Secretary of State gig have given them billions more folks to lie to. In the current Vanity Fair he goes after “The Myth of Jackie Kennedy” almost casually, as the Kennedy myths dissolve before him as he simply follows the trail of public record. It’s taken fifty years for most of it to be available to assemble. Hitchens writes:

“Recent years have seen the departure of Schlesinger and Sorensen from the scene, and a continued slow erosion of the old bodyguard of liars, prepared at least to prick themselves with their swords as they contested any additional unwelcome disclosures about what had sometimes gone on down Camelot way. The John F. Kennedy Presidential Library is now renowned among presidential and other scholars as the most obstructive and politicized of the lot.” (Vanity Fair)

Given what we know, there must really be some enquiring minds-type stuff hidden yet. However Vanity Fair itself will soon enough purchase some glorious-looking previously unseen photographs of the Kennedys at work or play and reconstitute the mystique as if they’d never run Hitchens on Camelot. (His principal point is that Jackie actually lowered the tone of the Kennedy White House and its Camelot legend beginning with her naming of it.)

Gary Hart still pops up on occasion to remind us all what might have been; he must hear such charitable blather from everyone who recognizes him on the street. He must strike the eye as a ghost from the old, strange sixties, when at first the older fifties-formed Hefner-types had fed at the trough of the sexual revolution. Ghostly, as if our minds at first confuse him with one of the assassinated. As if not electing him amounted to the same thing. Hart had expected his busy social life to be contrasted with old-fashioned Republican marriages; he lived in a Kennedy bubble. After Bill Clinton one might be any sort of sex criminal short of a serial killer and get and keep the gig. And this too makes Gary a sadder case haunting “public service.” The last time Hart set up as if to run was in 2004, likely a feint to impress John F. Kerry of Massachusetts. Hart decided to become a Soviet specialist as a way of redeeming himself and keeping an oar in on policy if not politics. He saw himself as a Secretary of Defense who could really understand the Soviets. And given there is zero need for super-empathetic Soviet specialists he’s left to have his mock summits with Strobe Talbott.

I’ve written before about James Piereson’s book, Camelot and the Cultural Revolution. It’s a key text in the necessary recalibration of the Kennedy mystique at this late date, and a clear re-reading of what was wrought by the dissembling that Jackie, Sorensen, the news media, and the publishing industry performed over the assassination of the last cold warrior Kennedy by a communist. They required that JFK be seen as rather a martyr to civil rights (to which he’d contributed nothing). Piereson writes:

“The idea of national guilt, which surfaced in more innocent form following Kennedy’s assassination, had now spread through the institutions of politics, academe, and journalism that shaped liberal culture. The reformist emphasis of American liberalism, which had been pragmatic and forward-looking, was overtaken by a spirit of national self-condemnation.” (Camelot and the Cultural Revolution)

That got us to the point where the otherwise dominant Democratic Party seemed unable to win the White House when the party’s first order of business seemed to be to bring the war home. That sour constituency is routinely disappointed that their infrequent winners are sell-outs once in office. But in their way they enjoy this. Meanwhile the straights in the party cling to dreams of Jack. They are wet ones.

From the Wyoming Desk of Joe Carducci…

Immanuel Wallerstein at YaleGlobal, "The 19th-Century World-System: Yesterday and Tomorrow".

“Centrist liberalism won out on three crucial fronts. First, it installed the liberal state in the two key countries – the new hegemonic power, Great Britain, and its junior partner, France. The liberal state was not the night watchman state it claimed to be. Quite the contrary! Not only centrist liberalism but its two avatars, enlightened conservatism and pragmatic radicalism, all talked an anti-state language, but they all were in practice devoted to expanding state powers. The second crucial front was that of ‘citizenship.’ The geoculture proclaimed the legitimacy of popular sovereignty. But, in fact, all the powers that be were terrified by the prospect of the exercise of real popular sovereignty. To limit its impact, the powers-that-be divided ‘equal’ citizens into two categories – ‘active’ and ‘passive’ citizens. The former could participate in decision-making. The latter – those without property, women, ‘minorities’ – had natural and civil rights, but were said to be incapable of exercising political rights. Throughout the 19th and 20th centuries ‘passive’ citizens fought to be given political rights. It was a difficult, never fully-completed process, in which centrist liberals did their best to slow it down. The third pillar was the creation of the social sciences as ways of understanding the real world – the better to control it in the interests of centrist liberals. The restructuring of the universities, the separation of knowledge into the ‘two cultures,’ and inventing a limited number of ‘disciplines’ were all part of this process.”


Andrew Rettman at EUobserver.com, "Chinese fund manager lambasts EU ‘sloth, indolence’".

“Using language recalling German tabloid depictions of ‘lazy Greeks’, the chairman of China’s sovereign wealth fund… Jin Liquin made the comments during a TV interview with Al Jazeera on Sunday. ‘If you look at the troubles which have happened in European countries, this is purely because of the troubles of a worn-out welfare society. I think welfare laws are outdated. The labour laws induce sloth, indolence. The incentive system is totally out of sync,’ he said. He referred to ‘some countries happily retire at 55 to languish on the beach.’”


Lawrence Rosenthal at Opendemocracy.net, "Occupy Wall Street and the Tea Party: bedfellows?".

“Yet the Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street (OWS) are expressions of pain from differing points of view of the same social process. This process has been the dismantling of American middle class life. This is sometimes called the American Dream. Sometimes the American Deal. Or the Fordist Deal. It was the essential quality of the working lives of the so-called ‘greatest generation’: the expansive home-owning world that generation stepped into after returning from World War II. It is a deal that has been undergoing a slow-motion erosion since the first oil shock of 1973. One example of this unfolding erosion: over these years, even conservatives most closely tied to a notion of the ‘traditional family’ have come to accept the two-earner family. It’s now an economic given. Not so for the middle class of the 50s, 60s and early 70s.”


David Pilling in FT, "Megacities".

“The idea of a megacity derives from ‘megalopolis’, a pejorative term coined in 1918 by Oswald Spengler, the German historian. He was describing cities that had grown too large and were edging toward decline. Jean Gottmann, a French geographer, used the term more positively in the 1950s to refer to the metropolitan corridor along America’s eastern seaboard. Now, the concept has changed again to mean massive agglomerations, mostly in the developing world. In truth, more of the world’s population is moving to second-tier cities than to the mega cities. But huge, conurbations have a symbolic potency. For some, they represent a brave new world in which Chinese, Indians, Brazilians and others in the developing world are clambering from poverty. For others, the megacity is nothing less than a nightmare. The urban shift of humanity, whose number topped 7bn in October, is inexorable. In 2008, for the first time in human history, more people were living in cities than in the countryside. By this measure, Asia, where only 40 per cent of people are urban, is behind. Much of Asia’s city-building lies ahead.”


Monica Davey in NYT, "Detroit’s Mayor Says Budget Gap May Require Emergency Manager".

“Nationally, the idea of an emergency manager is hardly unique. States have tried all sorts of measures, with mixed results, to prevent cities from falling into default. But in Michigan, the role of emergency managers has drawn particular scrutiny since early this year when the state’s Republican leadership granted them far-reaching powers, especially over union contracts. At the time, union supporters objected vehemently in Lansing, the capital, saying that the move amounted to another effort — similar to moves in Wisconsin and Ohio — to weaken unions and labor contracts. The Michigan Supreme Court has yet to say whether it will consider a lawsuit challenging the new powers for managers. Currently, only four Michigan governmental bodies — including the Detroit public school system — are under the control of an outside manager, but some fear those numbers could grow with local budgets, like that of Detroit, under significant strain.”


Hal Weitzman in FT, "Illinois juggler keeps state creditors at bay".

“Illinois has a chronic inability to pay bills. It’s a condition that affects thousands of small companies that do work for the state, non-profit organisations providing critical social services as well as hospitals and schools that complain they do not know when bills might get paid -- or if they will get paid at all. In many cases, when payments eventually arrive, they are incomplete. Like most US states, Illinois is required to balance its budget, an obligation Ms. Topinka says in practice is a sham. ‘It isn’t balanced. It’s never balanced,’ she says. ‘There’s always ways to have things off budget -- one of them is all of these bills.’”


Bryan Burrough in NYT on Joseph McCartin’s book, Collision Course: Ronald Reagan, the Air Traffic Controllers, and the Strike That Changed America.

“‘Collision Course’ charts the rise of Patco and other public-sector unions over the course of 20 years, from the moment that President John F. Kennedy allowed government workers to bargain collectively. This power, however, came with strict limitations; unions like Patco were not allowed to strike or bargain for higher wages. Their negotiations with the government typically revolved around working conditions. Mr. McCartin is especially good at showing why air traffic controllers quickly emerged as perhaps the most militant group of government workers. As air travel surged in the 1960s and ’70s, conditions in American control towers didn’t keep pace. Controllers were working longer hours than ever, often with equipment dismally out of date. Many controllers had come from blue-collar backgrounds — many were sons of union members, in fact — and came to believe that the responsibility they carried for the safety of millions of travelers entitled them to white-collar wages, a contention that few in government agreed with. Supervisors at the Federal Aviation Administration tended to treat the controllers as drones.”


Guy Dinmore in FT, "‘Baby pensioners’ face a beating".

“Gianfranco Fini, speaker of the Italian lower house who defected from the government majority last year, fired the latest salvo in the national furor over ‘baby pensioners’, wryly noting on a television talk show that the wife of Umberto Bossi, minister for ‘reforms’ and stalwart opponent of pension reform, had retired as a teacher in 1992 at the age of 39. The next morning -- coincidentally when a decorous German parliament was overwhelmingly lending its support to Angela Merkel on her way to the Brussels summit -- Italy’s lower house erupted in turmoil with cries for Mr Fini’s resignation and fisticuffs between one of his members of parliament and a rival from Mr Bossi’s Northern League.”


Guy Dinmore in FT, "Italy’s survivor determined to endure".

“And as his loyal courtiers point out, would any successor do better in reforming Italy’s powerful vested interests -- be that Mario Monti, technocrat in waiting, or as the Berlusconi family newspaper Il Giornale wrote, ‘the Madonna of Lourdes’? Many despondent Italians ask the same question, among them a senior opposition politician who privately conceded he hoped his party would not be called on to fill the gap. ‘It would be a disaster. We are not ready to govern,’ he said.”


Jean-Claude Piris in FT, "An EU architect writes: time for a two-speed union".

“This is a painful admission. I laboured long and hard to produce a treaty fit for a union of 27 members. The EU is ponderous and unable to make rapid decisions. It finds it hard to finalise and enforce rules to govern the internal market, the Schengen agreement, or co-operating on defence. The commission is weak. The one-size-must-fit-all decision-making system does not suit a heterogenous union. Rather than responding swiftly and decisively to events, the EU is more likely to produce a mouse. Irrelevance looms. It is time to admit that the enlargement of the EU from 15 to 27 members was too rapid. Europe’s citizens no longer understand the purpose of the EU, its political aims and what its geographical borders will be. They are lost.”


Scott Peterson in CSM, "Turkey’s rising clout leaves Iran fuming on sidelines of Arab Spring".

“On many fronts, Turkey's rhetoric – including its increasingly strident anti-Israeli views – had prompted Western analysts to question whether the NATO ally was forsaking its pro-West outlook to join the Iranian-led axis of resistance. But the Arab Spring has changed Turkey's calculation. That may have factored in to Turkey's decision in September to end years of foot-dragging and accept US anti-missile radar units on Turkish soil – part of a NATO missile shield aimed at thwarting Iranian ballistic missiles. Turkey's adjusted approach is not a ‘coordinated number of steps, following each other, complementing each other,’ adds Kalaycioglu. ‘Rather there are lots of disparities, trials and errors, some erratic moves, and it looks as if the Turkish government currently is testing the waters.... The former policy is completely down the drain, of 'zero problems with neighbors.' Now we have mounting problems with neighbors.’ Iranian officials have sharply criticized Turkey as a sellout to the West, but recent polling of Arab views indicate that they don't buy it, and Iran's popularity has dropped.”


Nicola Clark in NYT, "As Trial Nears, ‘Carlos the Jackal’ Retains His Bluster".

“In 1992, France convicted Mr. Ramírez in absentia for the 1975 Paris killings. He spent a decade on the run across Eastern Europe and the Middle East, but in 1994, French secret service agents, acting on a tip from the C.I.A., seized him from a hospital bed in Sudan. He was wrapped in a burlap bag and spirited away to France, where he was re-tried in 1997 and given a life sentence. In 2007, a French investigating judge ordered Mr. Ramírez and three others to stand trial for complicity in four bombings in 1982 and 1983 that left 11 people dead and wounded 195 others, but it was not until this year that a trial date was set. The charges against Mr. Ramírez stem from a bombing in March 1982 of a Paris-Toulouse train in southwestern France; an attack in April 1982 on the Paris offices of an Arabic-language newspaper, Al Watan; and the bombing in December 1983 of a high-speed train and the main rail station in Marseille. Prosecutors allege that those attacks were part of a personal war that Mr. Ramírez waged against the French authorities in an effort to secure the liberation of his girlfriend at the time, Magdalena Kopp, a German former revolutionary who had been imprisoned for an attempted bombing in 1982.”


Aymenn Al-Tamimi in American Spectator, "Charlie Hebdo, Free Speech, and Islam".

“A report by the center-right Le Figaro provides a useful overview of reactions to the firebombing. For example, the center-right Union for a Popular Movement's secretary general -- Jean-François Copé -- rightly pointed out that ‘there can be no impunity [for this]. It's an act which must give rise to legal proceedings.’ The Communist party was unequivocal in describing the vandalism as an ‘appalling act,’ adding that ‘political and media debate cannot be controlled at the hands of Molotov cocktails.’ In fact, the firm support for free speech across the French political spectrum was also apparent in 2007, when the Grand Mosque, World Islamic League, and Union of French Islamic Organizations sued the magazine for incitement to racism for reprinting the Danish cartoons. The case resulted in an acquittal by a court in Paris as leading figures of the left and right came to testify on Charlie Hebdo's behalf. So too calls to support Charlie Hebdo unreservedly in the wake of the firebombing have come from the major French media outlets like Le Monde and Le Figaro. The contrast with the debate in English-speaking circles is quite telling. Already the Guardian has put up an article by one Pierre Haski -- a ‘co-founder and CEO of the French independent news website Rue89’ -- who does not explicitly condemn the attack and effectively urges readers to understand the firebombing in light of the fact that ‘for many French Muslims, religion has become a cultural identity, a refuge in a troubled society where they don't feel accepted.’ …So back in 2006 and 2007 the Guardian went out of its way to publish articles by the likes of Karen Armstrong, a leading non-Muslim apologist for Islam. Her words speak for themselves: ‘But equally the cartoonists and their publishers, who seemed impervious to Muslim sensibilities, failed to live up to their own liberal values, since the principle of free speech implies respect for the opinions of others.’ The result is that in Britain, this subject has often become a partisan left-right issue, even though it should transgress political boundaries.”


Qantara.de: Ziad Majed on "Islamism and the Arab Spring".

“Ziad Majed: The demographic boom that we had in the past was over a few years ago, but the product of this boom is there, and it was young people taking to the streets now. However, the birth rate of this generation is much lower than that of its parents. That means at the age of 25 or 26, when their parents had two or three or four children, they don't have any kids. That makes them more capable of being mobilized. In addition, the fact that the age of marriage, whether for economic reasons or changing values, is becoming higher allowed them to take to the streets. This explains why the revolutions happened now and not five or 10 years ago. But youth still plays a role. You have to realize that people were simply extremely tired of seeing the same old faces in power who ruled when their parents were young. What I could also add is urbanization. That means territorial and social continuity. Young people are no longer isolated in small villages or small towns.”


Tim Arango in NYT, "A Long-Awaited Apology for Shiites, but the Wounds Run Deep".

“Particularly galling for the Iraqis was that President George Bush publicly encouraged the revolt and then allowed American forces to stand by while it was suppressed by Saddam Hussein’s helicopter gunships and execution squads in a bloodbath that claimed tens of thousands of lives. The perception of American betrayal still resonates deeply in the Iraqi psyche, and explains one of this war‘s enduring contradictions: that even though the Shiites benefited most from the war that overturned a long reign of tyrannical Sunni rule, they never completely trusted the Americans. Meanwhile, the Middle East revolts this year have reopened the wound of 1991, with Iraqis left to wonder what might have happened if their own revolution had received the same support as Libya’s did this year…. Amid the Arab Spring, policy makers and academics, if they consider Iraq at all, largely regard the Iraq war as a cautionary tale, a model of democracy-building to avoid. But Iraqis have tried to bill themselves as leaders of the regional revolution. Local television has shown an image of Mr. Hussein as the first dictatorial domino to fall, and journalists have claimed that the image of Mr. Hussein’s hanging was the original inspiration for the young people in Egypt and Tunisia.”


Friederike Ott at Qantara.de, "Fostering Democracy through Commercial Advertising".

“‘The system that is so familiar to us is completely new there,’ says Koch at the start of his trip. ‘There are very few companies that are placing advertisements, but lots of media.’ It is estimated that there are 200 newspapers and magazines, 60 radio stations, and 30 television channels in Iraq. Most of them are funded by parties or other interest groups, who then exert a massive influence on the way that medium reports. In order to support the independent media, Koch and Klaas Glenewinkel of the non-profit-making organisation Media in Cooperation and Transition (MICT) set up the media agency Plural Media Services. MICT specialises in media development in crisis regions. The organisation has been active in Iraq since 2003, for example training local journalists.”


Tom Wright in WSJ, "Pakistan to Boost Trade With India".

“Pakistan's Information Minister Firdous Ashiq Awan told a news conference Wednesday that Pakistan's cabinet decided to grant India ‘Most Favored Nation’ status, a decision that will likely boost bilateral trade. ‘This was a decision taken in the national interest and all stakeholders, including our military and defense institutions, were on board,’ Ms. Awan said. Under World Trade Organization agreements, the MFN principle is supposed to ensure that WTO members don't discriminate against one another, allowing all countries in the organization to benefit equally from the lowest possible tariffs. India granted Pakistan MFN status in the mid-1990s, but Pakistan declined to reciprocate despite its WTO obligations. Both countries are members of the WTO.”


Bernard Porter in London Review of Books on Julia Lovell’s book, The Opium War: Drugs, Dreams and the Making of China.

“The irony -- in view of the wars’ importance to the Chinese now -- is that at the time they didn’t take them very seriously. On the emperor’s part this was largely due to ignorance, both of the world outside China -- ‘Where is this England?’ he asked, quite late on in the war -- and of the progress of events. His officials constantly lied to him…. It was only much later, in the 1920s, that Western capitalist imperialism came to seem the real villain of the piece, ‘discovered’ by Lenin and then scapegoated by Sun Yat-sen in order, Lovell suggests, to get desperately needed Soviet funding for the Nationalist revolution he was leading.”


Andrew Jacobs in NYT, "Another Tibetan Nun Dies by Self-Immolation in China".

“Exile groups say that scores of monks and nuns have been detained, among them three women who were said to have been given three-year prison terms for their role in a June demonstration. The ruling Communist Party has sought to portray the self-immolations as a form of terrorism inspired by the Dalai Lama, who has lived in India since fleeing Tibet during a failed uprising against Chinese rule in 1959. Beijing consistently accuses the Dalai Lama of agitating for an independent state despite his insistence on greater autonomy for the region’s five million ethnic Tibetans.”


Jeremy Page in WSJ, "Many Rich Chinese Consider Leaving".

“Many Chinese who have profited most from the country's growth also express increasing concerns in private about social issues such as China's one-child policy, food safety, pollution, corruption, poor schooling, and a weak legal system. Rupert Hoogewerf, the founder and publisher of Hurun Report, said the most common reason cited by respondents who were emigrating was their children's education, followed by a desire for better medical treatment, and the fear of pollution in China. ‘There's also an element of insurance being taken out here,’ he said, citing concerns about the economic and political environment.”


Kathrin Hille & Jamil Anderlini in FT, "Netizens chip in to help Ai Weiwei pay tax demand".

“This week Chinese authorities ordered Fake Cultural Development, the company Mr Ai runs with his wife, to pay more than Rmb15m in back taxes, interest and penalties within 15 days. Chinese web users responded to news of the fine, which Mr Ai revealed on Twitter, by requesting the artist’s bank account details so they could send him donations…. The use of Alipay by Mr Ai’s supporters has put the Chinese company in a difficult position, possibly forcing it to choose between offending the government and helping a dissident raise money and annoying netizens if it blocks their transfers.”


Ellen Barry in NYT, "Russia Declares Deal to Join Trade Group".

“Because accession to the trade group is a consensus process, Russia had to gain the consent of Georgia, a member, overcoming the hostility that has divided the two countries since they went to war in 2008. Russia has built military bases in Abkhazia and South Ossetia, two separatist enclaves that make up a large portion of Georgia’s territory, and Moscow has recognized them as sovereign nations. In exchange for its consent, Georgia sought transparency of trade on its border with Russia, a delicate issue because two sections of that border abut Abkhazia and South Ossetia. Russian leaders said Georgia’s demands were political, and urged Western governments — in particular, the United States — to pressure Georgia into giving its consent. The trade monitoring proposal put forward by Switzerland would station observers in three places: at the main crossing from Russia into Abkhazia; at the Roki Tunnel, which cuts through the Caucasian Ridge into South Ossetia; and at a mountainous crossing into central Georgia, Mr. Kapanadze said.”


Andrey Kurkov in NYT, "Drinking on the People’s Tab".

“All I know is that the Ukrainians will continue amazing the world by the very fact of their existence, by their flexibility, shrewdness and their ability to adapt to any circumstance. Given the current situation, I find the latter quality encouraging, because as soon as real democracy comes to Ukraine, Ukrainians will quickly grow accustomed to it, life will become civilized, and Ukrainians will turn into law-abiding citizens. Obviously, that is not something that comes naturally to them, but should life require respect for law, they will do it, even if that should run counter to their interests. The authorities must simply create the appropriate conditions.”


Simon Romero in NYT, "Brazil’s Long Shadow Vexes Some Neighbors".

“Brazilian endeavors are being met with wariness in several countries. A proposal to build a road through Guyana’s jungles to its coast has stalled because of fears that Brazil could overwhelm its small neighbor with migration and trade. In Argentina, officials suspended a large project by a Brazilian mining company, accusing it of failing to hire enough locals. Tension in Ecuador over a hydroelectric plant led to bitter legal battle, and protests by Asháninka Indians in Peru’s Amazon have put in doubt a Brazilian dam project. But perhaps no Brazilian project in the region has stirred as much ire as the one here. Financed by Brazil’s national development bank — a financial behemoth that dwarfs the lending of the World Bank and has become a principal means for Brazil to project its power across Latin America and beyond — the plan was to build a road through a remote Bolivian indigenous territory. But it provoked a slow-burning revolt; hundreds of indigenous protesters arrived here in October after a grueling two-month march that took them up the spine of the Andes, denouncing their onetime champion, President Evo Morales, for supporting it.”


Ross Douthat in NYT, "Our Reckless Meritocracy".

“But this sudden fall from grace doesn’t make Corzine’s life story any less emblematic of our meritocratic era. Indeed, his rise, recklessness and ruin are all of a piece. For decades, the United States has been opening paths to privilege for its brightest and most determined young people, culling the best and the brightest from Illinois and Mississippi and Montana and placing them in positions of power in Manhattan and Washington. By elevating the children of farmers and janitors as well as lawyers and stockbrokers, we’ve created what seems like the most capable, hardworking, high-I.Q. elite in all of human history. And for the last 10 years, we’ve watched this same elite lead us off a cliff — mostly by being too smart for its own good. In hereditary aristocracies, debacles tend to flow from stupidity and pigheadedness: think of the Charge of the Light Brigade or the Battle of the Somme. In one-party states, they tend to flow from ideological mania: think of China’s Great Leap Forward, or Stalin’s experiment with ‘Lysenkoist’ agriculture. In meritocracies, though, it’s the very intelligence of our leaders that creates the worst disasters. Convinced that their own skills are equal to any task or challenge, meritocrats take risks than lower-wattage elites would never even contemplate, embark on more hubristic projects, and become infatuated with statistical models that hold out the promise of a perfectly rational and frictionless world.”


Anthony Grafton in New York Review of Books, "Our Universities: Why Are They Failing?".

“The Collegiate Learning Assessment reveals that some 45 percent of students in the sample had made effectively no progress in critical thinking, complex reasoning, and writing in their first two years. And a look at their academic experience helps to explain why. Students reported spending twelve hours a week, on average, studying -- down from twenty-five hours per week in 1961 and twenty in 1981. Half the students in the sample had not taken a course that required more than twenty pages of writing in the previous semester, while a third had not even taken a course that required as much as forty pages a week of reading. Results varied to some extent. At every institution studied, from research universities to small colleges, some students performed at high levels, and some programs fostered more learning than others. In general, though, two points come through with striking clarity. First, traditional subjects and methods seem to retain their educational value. Nowadays the liberal arts attract a far smaller proportion of students than they did two generations ago. Still, those majoring in liberal arts fields -- humanities and social sciences, natural sciences and mathematics -- outperformed those studying business, communications, and other new, practical majors on the CLA. And at a time when libraries and classrooms across the country are being reconfigured to promote trendy forms of collaborative learning, students who spent the most time studying on their own outperformed those who worked mostly with others.”


Steve Sailer at Vdare.com, "Steve Jobs: Nature, Nurture, And Apricot Orchards In Silicon Valley".

“How do you get to be the top businessman in America? The first element is will, which Jobs had in abundance. The second is luck. For example, getting to know the older brother of a high school classmate, who turned out to be the hardware genius Steve Wozniak. Jobs was lucky to have been raised in Santa Clara County, the R&D capital of the military-industrial complex, where every other dad on the block was an engineer. That the San Francisco Bay area was also the center of hippiedom interacted in unforeseeable ways with the slide rule set. The third and fourth factors are nature and nurture. One fascinating aspect of Steve Jobs is that Isaacson provides enough detail to allow the reader assess the impact of Jobs's being adopted. He was a one-man adoption case study, whose life embodied much of what social scientists have learned about the impact of nature and nurture. Adoption was not uncommon during the middle of the 20th Century. But after the legalization of abortion in the 1970s, the supply of middle class white babies started to dry up. Sentiment turned against adoption as people (at least those who had already been born) seized upon the notion that adoptees would inevitably grow up damaged, thus making abortion seem more humane than adoption. (Isaacson has caused a bit of a scandal by quoting Jobs saying, ‘I'm glad I didn't end up as an abortion.’) Since there's never a shortage of unhappy individuals, there was an ample supply during the 1980s and 1990s of stories in the press about unhappy adoptees. Normally, there's no market for happy tales about adoptees.”


Adam Shatz in London Review of Books on Patrick Wilcken’s book, Claude Levi-Strauss: The Poet in the Laboratory.

“It was the mind, and what he considered to be its formal patterns -- particularly as revealed in art and storytelling -- that fascinated Levi-Strauss. Reading this biography one sometimes wonders whether he might in the future be thought of as a theorist of cognition and aesthetics who only happened, because of disciplinary prejudice, to take tribal cultures as his material. Like Freud, he believed that the deeper truths of culture are hidden from consciousness, lodged in a subterranean stratum of the brain the interpreter can never fully excavate. He came to believe that anthropologists would have to team up with neuroscientists to explain the mysterious patterns of behaviour: a view, Wilcken suggests, that ‘presaged the cognitive revolution in the social sciences’.”


Theodore Dalrymple in New English Review, "Knowledge Without Knowledge".

“Be that as it may, there is a single reference to Dostoyevsky in the fragment that illustrates perfectly Deutscher’s learned obtuseness. Writing of Lenin’s father, an inspector of schools who was loyal to the Tsar and the Orthodox church, Deutscher says:

‘In his young years memories of the suppression of the Decembrist rising were still fresh and forbidding. Then came the terror that crushed the Petrashevsky circle and broke a man of Dostoyevsky’s stature.’

Admittedly I do not read Russian, unlike Deutscher, but still I do not think it would be possible to write a single sentence that could misunderstand Dostoyevsky more fundamentally, completely and deeply that the second which I have just quoted. Far from breaking Dostoyevsky, his imprisonment, death sentence, reprieve and exile were the making of him, in the sense that they were the experiences upon which his subsequent philosophy, for good or evil, was based. The reason for Deutscher’s most elementary error is obvious. Lenin was the very embodiment of precisely the kind of ruthless, murderous revolutionary to whom Dostoyevsky was drawing attention: he was the very fulfilment of Dostoyevsky’s prophecy. Dostoyevsky foresaw not by ‘scientific’ deduction, a la Marx, of course, but rather by intuition and imaginative insight into the souls of men, and he was vastly more accurate as a guide to the future than Marx ever was. But to have admitted this would have been to blow apart Deutscher’s whole world-view, the world-view that made his very considerable literary labours meaningful for him, and for which he had, when in Poland, risked his life. So he preferred to see Dostoyevsky not as a man who, as a result of his experiences (in conjunction with native talent, of course) had penetrated to what others had not penetrated, but as a broken reed, a man successfully terrorised by the powers that were.”


Michael Kimmage in NYTBR on Adam Kirsch’s book, Why Trilling Matters.

“For Kirsch, Trilling’s liberalism affirms a timeless notion of human diversity more than any New Deal tradition. In his essays on literature, Trilling upheld the pluralism Isaiah Berlin promulgated in his philosophical essays. He learned from Henry James that ‘not all human goods’ can be attained simultaneously. Trilling believed, as Kirsch puts it, that ‘the preservation of human difference, the ability to imagine opposing characters with equal sympathy, is the greatest expression of love,’ and he practiced the pluralism he preached. He welcomed T. S. Eliot’s reactionary Anglicanism as a provocation to liberal complacencies. At the same time, he corresponded at length with Allen Ginsberg, a precocious student who asked his professor to tutor Neal Cassady, patron saint of the Beats. (The tutorial never took place.) Trilling found Ginsberg’s incendiary poem ‘Howl’ the opposite of shocking — he labeled it ‘dull’ — but he also lent Ginsberg support and encouragement.”


David Kelly in NYTBR on James Wolcott’s book, Lucking Out: My Life Getting Down and Semi-Dirty in Seventies New York.

“[Patti] Smith is a welcome presence in Lucking Out, whether she’s performing or offering consolation to a young woman whose boyfriend vomited on her: ‘A guy’s not really your boyfriend until he’s thrown up on you.’ There are also guest appearances by John Cale, Lester Bangs, Tom Verlaine — who, on a night Television was playing, demanded that Lou Reed, sitting in the audience, turn over his tape recorder — and Tina Weymouth of Talking Heads, on whom Wolcott had a ‘crush.’ He seems to have had various unrequited crushes, lamenting ‘those 3 a.m.’s of the soul when you know there’s a lot going on in the untamed night and you’re not doing any of it.’ The woman he was most attentive to, however, was Pauline Kael, to whom he devotes 50 genuflecting pages and who lurks around every corner here. Wolcott was one of the more talented of the Paulettes, but that word doesn’t do him justice: maybe the less popular Paulinista, or just cinephant.”


Dave Kehr in NYT, "Another Nice Set We’re In, Stanley".

“The set also contains several foreign-language versions of the shorts, which were made in the days before dubbing was perfected and feature Stan and Ollie speaking phonetic Spanish and French. (There were a few German versions as well, though none are included here.) The alternate versions often include different gags and interpolated variety numbers to bring them up to feature length for foreign release. (For example, ‘Politiquerías,’ the Spanish version of the 1931 ‘Chickens Come Home,’ contains a complete performance by the Egyptian vaudeville star Hadji Ali, whose specialty — swallowing water, gasoline and small objects and regurgitating them in spectacular fashion — has sadly gone out of style.) Most important, these are new transfers, scanned from restored copies of the original release versions — no small thing for these films, which were so often sliced, diced, rescored and retitled over the years, as they were reissued by various companies for various markets. If anything, these were movies that were loved too much, copied so frequently that the original negatives for many of the early shorts were worn out and either lost or junked.”


Ludovic Hunter-Tilney in FT, "The Fall guy".

“After leaving school in 1974, he worked as a clerk on the Manchester docks, at a time when there were still merchant ships from around the world trading there. This cosmopolitan aspect of Manchester, one of the industrial age’s first modern cities, finds an echo in the Fall’s music, with its openness to avant-garde traditions alongside a grittier attachment to rockabilly and punk. ‘You got it in one, cock,’ he agrees. But then he changes his mind. ‘I don’t want to push it too far. I can’t stand Manchester.’ He has tried living elsewhere, in Edinburgh and Chicago but was always drawn home. ‘They were too nice.’ Smith’s contrariness is deep-rooted, automatic. It is the psychic balancing act of the clever working class boy from north Manchester unwilling to betray his class by moving away from it, but who also didn’t want to be constrained by the low expectations of remaining within it. When he passed the exam to get into grammar school, ‘My dad used to complain about buying a bleeding blazer. That was the worst news in my house when I passed the 11 plus.’ There was more grumbling when he began the Fall. ‘When I said to my dad, I’m going into a group, he said, You’re bleeding mentally ill. But not in a nasty way.’”


"“We Were Feared”" The Cuckoo’s Nest, Costa Mesa punk doc.


Disaster Amnesiac begins on the post-Black Flag "Greg Ginn releases".

“Next week Greg Ginn will be releasing a new recording, that of his Greg Ginn and the Royal We project. It seems as if our man at SST has started yet another new chapter in his going on four decade career of music making. This turn of events has had Disaster Amnesiac thinking about, and listening to, as much of Ginn's work from the 2000's as I can scour up.”


Dave Hoekstra in CST, "Two sidemen play at Chess Records once again".

“When artists had time they would swing around the corner from Chess to lunch at Mama Batt’s restaurant at 22nd and South Michigan. The restaurant was a favorite of Mayor Richard J. Daley, and owners would send a bowl of chicken soup to City Hall when Hizzoner had a cold. Batt’s was part of the Lexington Hotel, where Al Capone lived between 1928 and 1931. Batt’s closed in the late 1970s. The hotel was demolished in 1996. ‘They had a ‘Redemptive Beef’ [sliced, freshly cut on rye] sandwich, and the Lemons brothers were cooks who eventually opened their own barbecue joint,’ Barge said. ‘They cooked Jewish food like blintzes [and fried kreplach] at Batt’s. They had a very good corned beef sandwich. Most of our sessions were done in the daytime. When I was there it was Little Milton. Fontella Bass. [Vocalist] Billy Stewart was a character. He had two dispositions, either really jolly or hostile. I met Billy in the 1950s when he was a young kid and Bo Diddley’s keyboardist. Bo was a Chess artist and I was a Chess artist in ’55 and ’56.’ Stewart was an amazingly powerful singer. One of the first Chess hits for the rotund singer was the 1960 self-penned Latin-tinged ‘Fat Boy.’ He probably ate at Mama Batt’s, too.”


LAT Mag: Excerpt from Laurel Saville’s book, Unraveling Anne: A Memoir of My Mother’s Wreckless Life and Tragic Death.

“I thought, The most striking thing about my mother is not that she was murdered but that she survived her own life for as long as she did. It is also striking that my older brothers and I survived our childhoods with her. My mother positioned herself in the epicenter of 1960s Los Angeles, and like most parents of that milieu, she thought nothing of bringing her three young children along for the ride. I thought, The most striking thing about my mother is not that she was murdered but that she survived her own life for as long as she did. My earliest memories are of the gatherings that so defined that era. Sometimes we would set out to join a horde collecting for a ‘love-in.’ Twisting my body like a cat that didn’t want to be held, I would squirm as my mother’s boyfriend, Henry, carried me to the car, begging to be left behind, while my mother exhorted me to stop being such a ‘drag.’ I didn’t want to get flowers and rainbows painted on my face or beads and ribbons plaited into my hair. I didn’t want to watch glassy-eyed people twirling in tie-dye skirts and peasant blouses -- or without shirts at all, their thin, bare chests and small, drooping breasts open to the air and sunshine as they tangled together on a blanket or in the mud, their mouths and limbs slack against one another.”


Obituary of the Week

Joe Frazier (1944 - 2011)

“‘A kind of motorized Marciano’ is how Time magazine described his style in a 1971 cover story before Mr. Frazier’s $5 million fight with Muhammad Ali, the first of their three epic battles and the most lucrative boxing match ever at the time. Fans could watch Mr. Frazier fight for minutes at a time and not see him take one step back. ‘There were fights when he didn’t step backward. He took very few backward steps in his career,’ recalled Larry Merchant, the HBO boxing analyst, who was a Philadelphia newspaperman during Frazier’s early years. ‘What made him good was not so much his punching power as his willingness to keep coming and walking through the fire, his toughness and grit — and willingness to train so he could take the kind of punishment a fighter take in order to get to his opponent.’ Mr. Frazier’s signature weapon was a destructive left hook, which he used to win his first title in 1968 and floor Ali in their first meeting in 1971. He developed his powerful left as a young child, growing up without electricity or plumbing in rural Beaufort, S.C. His father had lost his left arm in a shooting over a mistress, and young Joe became his father’s left arm.”


Thanks to Jay Babcock, Chris Collins.

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