Photo by Joe Carducci
David Stern! From Downtown!
by Joe Carducci
There’s a couple interesting things going on in sports above the day-to-day drama of the games. One is the big story of the NBA finally filling the size of the league with league-worthy talent. The college game augmented with high schoolers and the European, Latam and Asian leagues are moving enough players into the rosters of the 30-team NBA to yield more than the usual two or three contenders for the championship. One refuses to credit David Stern for any of this because the main achievement of his 28-year reign as NBA Commissioner (after his 28 years as league counsel) was the “Superstar” chimera which has competed with the leagues’ coaches for players’ attention and generally won, unraveling team after team, or maybe preventing any initial conceivable raveling to begin with. Team-play in the NBA has been apparent in usually just two teams in any given year, with a third team’s coach struggling mightily against shoe-endorsements, stadium issues, and Stern’s Manhattan headquarter’s interests in the television demographic-geographical issues of the Finals. Stern once said the ideal match-up at the end of the season is “the Lakers and anybody else.” The Sacramento Kings know the first part of that is true. (see ex-NBA referee Tim Donaghy defending himself unsuccessfully over gambling spilled many beans about Lakers-Kings Game 6, 2002 and general NBA referee gamesmanship.) Had their victory over the Lakers been allowed back in 2002 the franchise in Sacramento might not have been all but packing to leave town this year. But there are plenty of Eastern Division teams who doubt that the second part of Stern’s formulation is true. It seems like an open question to Stern only because he can’t with straight face pretend that the Knicks would be good for the ratings.
It’s productive now for the league to be so unsettled and so full of talent. It’s clear that the Chicago Bulls are underdogs to the Miami Heat even should they finish above them in the standing again. There is residual superstar Sternism about in the sports media. It’s correct to say “media” because there isn’t much journalism in sports; sports writing is perhaps the perfect analogue of George Orwell’s 1984 character Winston Smith’s task of writing history anew each day. Perhaps there is sports journalism to be found in the day-to-day coverage of the uncontending also-rans. In the contending or merely superstar-led teams its all mere media-play no matter how hostile or adoring. Last season the Bulls were newbies with scoring problems. The league and its media and shoe companies were doing their best to distract its MVP Derrick Rose with expectations that he would be taking over games at the end, just as Michael Jordan was supposed to have done. They have been telling Lebron James the same thing. Both have been suckers for that come-on and both give indications they are wising up.
The Jordan-era Bulls lost the first game of their first finals to the Lakers in Chicago in 1991 when Jordan unraveled the Bulls team-game by trying to be that David Stern-ESPN-Nike superstar, single-handedly battling double-teams and then triple-teams, refusing to find the open Bull(s). The Bulls won the next three games but were losing game 5 in the 4th when coach Phil Jackson trying to win his first ring called a time-out to ask Michael who was open. He had to ask several times before Jordan who was determined to personally win the game-and-championship answered the question. John Paxson thereafter hit open jumpers and trophy was won. Jordan contributed not only his personal skill and tenacity, but his part in the team’s greater ability to unravel the superstar narrative honey-trap quite productively over the next years even though the league office was still propping up the Knicks who were deluded into thinking they could replace the Celtics or the Pistons in the East.
The Celtics are on the down-slope again since their 2008 Championship wherein their Big Three (Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce, Ray Allen) were credited with bringing the trophy back where it belonged. The Big Three underperformed by Celtics standards and have been fooling themselves courtesy Rajon Rondo as he grew into his talent as his Celtic elders aged. (Charles Barkley on Celtics: “Ernie, they old.”) Miami had won a championship in 2006 against Dallas in another engineered outcome -- Pat Riley’s Heat vs. Mark Cuban’s Mavericks. Last year Riley with Dwayne Wade as player-GM swung an instant free-agent Big Three and the Stern mojo seemed in effect as the Heat could not score against the Bulls defense until the second quarter of the second game of the Eastern semi-final series. Suddenly all those Bulls’ deflections, blocks, traps and slaps were fouls and the Miami Big Three were ushered into the Finals. However, Cuban and his Sternian-superstar, Dirk Nowitzki, were deigned to be due some charity stripe action of their own and their Championship earned the NBA a bonus in German television and merchandise revenues. David Stern! From Würzburg!
This year the Finals seem likely to be decided in the Eastern semi-final battle between Miami and Chicago. It’ll be Miami’s Big Three brinksmanship vs. Chicago’s impatience. The season so far is a lock-out shortened but intensified free-for-all that has reshuffled the expectations of any one game as starters are rested or injured and bench minutes expand. MVP Rose has missed two stretches of games during which the Bulls win anyway. Only Carlos Boozer has played every game, not that he’s exactly a factor very often. But this airing out the bench all season long should really serve the team well if they get healthy going into the playoffs and Rose has learned that trying to beat the double team is a sucker’s bet and what one gets away with during the season changes in playoff series. And depending on the whistling of a foul at the end of a tight game in the playoffs is giving David Stern’s henchmen the axe with which to decapitate you -- if you are not The Favored.
In Miami its as if the TNT panel is coaching the team. Charles Barkley is uniquely qualified to see through the Stern m.o., as he won no championships during his career as a Superstar. Now as analyst he is brutal on superstars who take all they can grab during the season and come playoffs wind up as early-outs as opponents focus and adjust and stamp out the formerly on-fire princes of the court. Barkley saw what the Bulls were putting together last year and earlier this year saw that LeBron was not the one to take over a close game at the end and soon it was Bark’s T-mobile pal Dwayne Wade shooting or finding someone open at the end of tight games. The panel’s new addition, Shaquille O’Neal, who claimed there was no Big Three in Miami as Chris Bosh wasn’t pulling his free-agent salary-cap weight. O’Neal had won that Miami Championship with Wade in his wanderings after Kobe blew up the Lakers championship team that won three in a row so that he could be first option on an also-ran. It was easy to hate Shaq as he left a great Orlando Magic team to go to the Lakers (he recently mused to ex-teammate Dennis Scott who is an NBATV analyst that they would’ve gotten a trophy or two had he stayed). But Kobe has made him look better. And I liked how Shaq went out finally, scrambling to his feet to run back on defense for Boston with the energy of a rookie, only to have his old man’s Achilles heel give out. Shaq isn’t as bad as feared on the TNT panel, but anything that takes time away from Charles is a net loss. To promote his hosting gig on “Saturday Night Live” as well as his website, Weight Watchers, and the return of NBA games to ABC after the football season Barkley dropped in to help call a game on TNT that Reggie Miller was doing. Reggie said he was glad Charles was showing himself at a game since he was normally safe in the studio and unconfrontable about things he says about players and teams. Before long Charles was getting a rise out of Reggie for the things he said there about Ernie, Kenny and Shaq back in the studio! Charles is a great color man, and Reggie is good at it too but he’s more forgiving of middling play. (On “SNL” Barkley played Shaq as an inert lump; Kenan Thompson played Charles.) But anyway, the TNT panel of experts seems to have called the tune in Miami as LeBron now steps back in the fourth quarter and Bosh steps up as Wade’s second or third option, in direct contradiction of the ESPN panel of idiots’ best advice. (Though in their recent loss to OKC Wade was pulling a Kobe-style strike and scored nothing in the 4th.)
The Heat’s Big Two have also made amends in their superstar way for their “The Decision” debacle whereby the naïve James was led down the primrose path of free-agent brand value destruction by Dwayne Wade, Pat Riley, David Stern, ESPN, Gatorade, and the Boys and Girls Clubs of America. There’s still no next Michael Jordan, and their won’t be one until people forget the mythic Jordan of the NBA’s marketing department, and forget the statue outside the United Center, and remember the true non-Stern Jordan who was on the championship teams. During Michael’s baseball sabbatical he wasn’t merely indulging a child’s dream, he was leaving Stern’s dream to dissolve his superstarness into an even teamier game with an even longer bench which he rode often. At the height of his NBA success he dropped out into the minor league baseball world of team-buses and down-market hotel and restaurant chains. He glimpsed the NBA’s pre-Stern gym-rat basketball past and then he came back to help the team win another three. (Stern had engineered a Knicks final by typical semi-final shenanigans against a Bulls team that even without Jordan had a good chance to win one.
The pr debacle of “The Decision” seems to have had an effect on the superstar conception of the game. How else to explain the NBA -- David Stern! -- overruling the Chris Paul trade to the Lakers and approving his trade rather to the Clippers? They also landed the Chauncey Billups to build a team around superstar dunk-meister Blake Griffin. “The Decision” also seemed to give Dwight Howard second thoughts about leaving Orlando. He was called gone by the sports media; instead he blamed bad advice from his agent, Nike, Gatorade, and David Stern and signed away his option for next year. This is good for Orlando and good for the NBA since the team possessed the fourth best record at that moment and as mentioned Shaq had blown up Orlando’s last best chance within living memory, for an expansion franchise anyway. The fans got excited earlier when Hedo Turkoglu came back to the team and now perhaps Howard will hit some free throws and they might surprise themselves.
Dallas beat Miami. Orlando has been a problem for Chicago. And who knows what David Stern’s sphincter tells him when he walks through Orlando’s airport. David Stern, your moves are just gay. (At the buzzer!)
Elsewhere around the league there’s buzz in Oklahoma City for the Thunder, in L.A. for the Clippers, in New York for the Knicks and people know they are watching good young teams in Denver, Memphis, Utah, Philadelphia, Indianapolis, Atlanta, and Milwaukee. And there’s something worth watching in Houston, Phoenix, Portland, Cleveland, and Minnesota too. One of the ex-player-analysts on NBATV responded to some pre-game attempt to pump up interest in the Washington Bullets by noting they possess one of the best young point guards in the league (John Wall) by exclaiming, “Who doesn’t?!” That’s great for the game unless they’re going to crash and burn as mere superstars. There’s actually too much talent around the league for all those teams to simply serve as farm teams for the Lakers and Celtics.
Another bonus for the NBA is Jeremy Lin. A Nuggets fan I know laughed heartily when the Knicks resumed losing after Carmello Anthony returned to the lineup. It’s a patchy free-agent lineup but sometimes the pressure around the game in New York can work for the team-play concept. Its one thing for a superstar to shoo away his teammates and call for an isolation play; it’s another thing to try to beat a whole city telling you to pass the ball and rebound you fuckin’ fuck. If I was Coach D’Antoni, I mean Coach Woodson, I’d post a photograph of Allen Iverson in his new Dominican Republic uniform somewhere Carmello can see it often.
I particularly enjoyed how Lin-mania outed the New York Times. They’d flooded the zone in their sports pages and editorial pages doing their secular best to deflate national Tebow-mania during the Denver Broncos run of improbable victories, and tag the goody-two-shoes Tebow as “controversial.” That serious concern went down the memory-hole when the most menacing Christian-at-large was suddenly a Chinese Knickerbocker. The Times thought it sweet that all these Chinese Christians were crowding bars to watch a team and sport they’d hardly paid attention to. Reports from Colorado Springs last fall read like reports from the other side of the world. God knows the Knicks have been known mostly for the hell-bound James Dolan-Isaiah Thomas flagrant fouls against all human decency. When you think about it Dolan must’ve been working the phones ’round the clock to dump this Harvard killjoy. Howard Beck noted in the New York Times recently in "The Disappearance of Dolan" that “On March 12, 2007, Dolan conducted a 30-minute interview with reporters who cover the team. He has not been interviewed since — a streak of silence worthy of a Benedictine monk. Dozens of players have passed through Madison Square Garden in that time, from Earl Barron to Chris Wilcox. Isiah Thomas was fired and (briefly) rehired. The Garden lost a sexual harassment lawsuit and waged war with Time Warner. Donnie Walsh came and left. Amar’e Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony arrived. Linsanity happened. It all unfolded without a single public word from Dolan, the media-shy owner of a media empire.” (HB, NYT)
The Times may or may not consider Dolan controversial, but they didn’t come out against Lin’s visible metaphysical disability, and then last week they got their reward: Tim Tebow traded to the New York Jets! Of course real New York sports-fans read either the Post or the Daily News. The Times often debases its own talented sports writers by having them go all Ahab on white whales like getting women into the Masters, or outlawing boxing, blah, blah, blah, yeah-yeah-yeah.
So far the editorial board has left it to the football beat writers to wonder at the Jets wildcat dreams of Tarkentonian backfield chaos (Fran Tarkenton is a recent WSJ byline, btw). They can be subtler than their colleagues in the Chinese media. The Financial Times reported that in a CCTV report on Lin a man-on-the-street in New York was heard telling their reporter: “I love the fact that he gave praise to his team and to God,” which was translated in Chinese subtitles as “I love him for praising his team.” (Financial Times, Feb. 16, 2012) But the Times does have to edit and read and disperse their conservative columnist "Ross Douthat on Tebow":
“O ye of little faith. Did you think that the Lord God of Hosts, having raised Tebow up as a Gideon of the gridiron, would pass up the opportunity to put his faithful servant to the test? …Did you think that the archons and demiurges who preside over American’s culture war would be content to let Tebow fade into obscurity? …No, this was where the Tebow story was always destined to end up. Denver was his Galilee; New York will be the Roman Colosseum.” (RD, NYT)
Douthat is kind to his editors by barely bringing up the Jeremy Lin exception. I’m not so up on the NFL these years but it sounds doubtful that the Jets will win a Superbowl before the Knicks win a championship, so the Times needn’t worry that someone so controversial might become a role model for incipient mobs of virgin gangbangers. Lin, on the other hand, remains now the most prominent Chinese baller in this putative Asian Century, and his visibility reprises the NBA’s Yao Ming revenue bonanza in the east. David Stern! From the Far East!
Connoisseurs of the foreign film don’t realize that it is foreign audiences that have largely destroyed their own country’s films. Sports’ advantage is that the contest itself keeps the evolution trending upward, though the size and skill of the players has changed the sports in ways old-timers often regret. Basketball, baseball and hockey are small-town sports in origin. The racial integration in basketball then was unique because, though there still are rural black kids coming through college or directly from high school into the league, the urban street game brought an alien culture into the sport and oddly enough dovetailed with Stern’s Superstar marketing and for a good while kept weaker franchises from imposing any kind of coaching philosophy on their increasingly rich and powerful cagers. For a couple decades old-school coaches risked having their unruly street/ABA-style players sit down on them if they stressed defense or team offense or simply insisted on traditional coaching prerogatives as they had known them. These tensions got racialized in new ways come the seventies and that too is another area of progress in the NBA. Young coaches are still quite vulnerable to superstar complaint, witness Eric Spoelstra in Miami last year, and Vinny Del Negro at the Clippers now, but there aren’t the strangely censored stories when coaches get fired these days.
It’s interesting that the post-Big Three Miami Heat are playing great defense too, and when they get a defensive rebound they morph into street ballers almost as intimidating as the old Runnin’ Rebels at that fine institution of higher learning and misdemeanors, UNLV. Back in 1984 when I was fortunate to see some Lakers games with noted sports authority Raymond Pettibon we witnessed the Lakers showtime in its prime. But their fast break was about dribbing down court three on two. As a drop-out I don’t follow the college game but Pettibon made me look at UNLV at their unstudious best and he was right, nobody played the game like they did. Their bigs would grab a defensive rebound in their paint and throw it to one of their guards already downcourt in the offensive paint for a jam. They invented the no-dribble offense. The dunk had only recently (1977) been legalized for the college game and wouldn’t you know a bunch of street criminals took advantage in a program that gave extra credit to the receivers of academic scholarships if they took the tests for the winners of sports scholarships. Raymond had a drawing from back then of an Artis Gilmore-type with a ball in one hand and gun in the other; the caption read: “Do you mind if I dunk?”
The announcers at the various arenas usually announce Derrick Rose as coming from the University of Memphis, and he did play there for a year and they did great but he too had someone else taking his tests and so went pro when caught. You can tell the way Rose locks the ball against his gut when he takes his lay-up steps that he learned to play on cement without a referee present. It’s a game evolved to beat the foul. At the United Center they announce him as “From Chicago” as if he didn’t even attend high school. Personally I hope Derrick learned last year that the superstar move against the triple-team in the paint at the end of a close game in the playoffs is not the way to the finals. Officiating aside regarding the favored Heat, the Bulls had more trouble with Atlanta and Indiana in the early rounds than warranted.
The game overall has reached a new equilibrium. For decades though, expansion had outpaced the talent pool. But over those decades the league has filled with talent to the extent that even the big franchise advantages in the free agent market are now tempered. (We will see whether Kevin Durant winds up a Laker soon enough.) The old disciplined white rural game was rudely supplanted by the black street game but that facial has been swallowed and digested and much of that old team-play discipline has returned, emerging within the improvisational urban game and the game’s hybrid vigor is something to see on the smallest field of play in sport. The players are bigger and quicker and so the intensity can really build. This season the game was further compressed by the lockout and so teams are not practicing on rare off days. This might favor the looser, improvisational play of an Oklahoma City come the finals, or it could have them run into the defensive clampdown of all time, whether by Chicago or Miami.
Either way, any way… Lakers or not, Knicks or not, David Stern can’t lose. I hope he knows that and instructs his henchmen so.
From the London Desk of Steve Beeho…
Private Eye questions Robert Fisk's relationship with objective reality.
Tony Herrington's anti-tribute to Mike Kelley at thewire.co.uk accuses Kelley of neutering rock music via his influence on what Herrington views as Sonic Youth's curatorial conceptualism:
"Mike Kelley’s sudden death is a tragedy for his colleagues and friends. His body of work is formidable, but his influence on the rock ‘n’ roll of the last 25 years via his impact on one of its most influential groups remains a pernicious one. Effectively, it helped to kill off rock ‘n’ roll as a vital force, compounding its cultural institutionalisation and social isolation."
Jed Perl at TNR, "The Irredeemably Boring Egotism of Cindy Sherman".
"Don't talk to me about 1974" - Byron Coley reviews the Imperial Dogs DVD.
From the same rancid year, mind-blowing footage of Red-era King Crimson on French TV.
David Stubbs reassesses the transgressive glory of "Locust Abortion Technician".
"The routes to the rehabilitation of old school metal, decried for so long by post-punk were many and varied but Locust Abortion Technician was undoubtedly one of the gateways for this, and many other things. You could say also it helped pave the way for grunge, a more codified, earnest and less waywardly colourful take on the ideas belched out here but then, way-paving isn't always the point, nor the ways yet clear. Locust Abortion Technician was released 25 years ago. Yet in many ways, it feels as yet unborn."
John Robb witnesses Jah Wobble and Keith Levene reanimating the spirit of "Metal Box", with some added seasoning.
"Another fascinating curveball was a the trumpet that screed across the sound giving it a real Miles Davies Bitches Brew/Dark Magus flavour. Speaking to Wobble about this after he explained that this was how he wanted the original PIL to sound- the way the Miles had made those munuanental albums in the seventies when he captured the voodoo and went of on an endless trip and took the people with him. This was what Wobble had aimed to do with PIL at the time but it had never happened and fell apart into rancour.
You can feel a touch of this Miles magik in Metal Box- the way the grooves take off and the way that they are pushing somewhere else. What’s great about the album is that it is still framed in a punk consciuiouness, not the punk of 1234 Rmaones but the punk attitude, the way that it may be jammed but it cuts out the loose flannel of hippiedom, there is a discipline in here, a sneer at what you don’t play."
Jon Savage's great post-punk complilation, "Fame" is out at last.
Sean Albiez punctures some of the myths surrounding the Sex Pistols' seminal show at the Lesser Free Trade Hall on June 4th 1976. Additional audio commentary is also available.
Robert Christgau on The One, RJ Smith's biography of James Brown.
"[Smith] demonstrates that for all Brown's talk of black capitalism he was a terrible businessman--"analytic" to his bones, he couldn't delegate because he couldn't trust. But though he treated most of his musicians even worse than he treated Jimmy Nolen, his bandleading was beyond genius. "If you were with Brown for any length of time," Smith writes, "you understood what you would get out of it, and what would never be yours. If you wanted to be a star, this was not the place to be. If you wanted to get rich, or record your own music, or see your name on an album, that was not likely to happen. But if you wanted to see the world and play some amazing music for crowds huge and small, you could not do much better."
And this piece by Richard King to tie-in with his book on British independent labels:
"What differentiated Mute, Factory, Rough Trade and their contemporaries from other indies that came before and after was their ability to sustain a position in the mainstream – to populate it with a catalogue of releases that reflected whatever had captivated their imagination. These labels flourished in the aftershock of punk, embracing the incipient DIY ethos and building their own space alongside the established corporate music business. Independence meant self-financing the recording and distribution of music, operating on hand-to–mouth budgets and trading with like-minded partners in independent record shops and the scratchy network of fanzine editors and concert promoters that, along with the paternal figure of John Peel, represented an alternative media. Since then the word "indie" has been appropriated for other uses, and often employed pejoratively. Whether to describe a film, a coffee house or, as I once overheard in Brooklyn, a property, it covers a patchwork of tropes and influences. At its most self-absorbed, which is often, indie suggests a carefully curated daydream life, the kind that might be enacted, with just the right degree of ennui, on the set of a Wes Anderson film."
Crux, painting by Mike Safran
From the Wyoming Desk of Joe Carducci…
David Goldman in First Things, "Math and Music".
“Augustine’s assertion is arresting in all three of its parts: first, that neither our sense perception nor even our memory explains how we hear music; second, that the faculty by which we judge the numbers (rhythms or harmonies) of music is also a kind of number; and third, that this higher-order number comes from God. Championed by St. Bonaventure in the thirteenth century and embraced by Nicholas of Cusa in the fifteenth, Augustine’s ‘numbers of judgment’ point to the mathematical revolution of Newton and Leibniz in the seventeenth century. The concept of higher-order number separates the mathematics of classical antiquity from modern mathematics beginning with the calculus. Archimedes encountered solutions to individual problems in the calculus, but the idea that the integral and the differential were a new order of number that could be manipulated like any other number lay outside the boundaries of the Hellenic imagination. Unlike the fifth-century Roman theorist Boethius, the great classical source for medieval theory, Augustine never directly discussed harmonics. His concern in De Musica was the mathematics of poetic rhythm rather than the divisions of vibrating strings. Yet the problem of higher-order numbers forced itself upon the fifteenth century through musical practice, when musicians began to alter the natural harmonic intervals to suit the requirements of the emerging tonal system.”
Harold Bloom in NYT on Marina Warner’s book, Stranger Magic - Charmed States and the Arabian Nights.
“Warner’s ‘Stranger Magic’ harbors many richnesses, of which I find the most beguiling what she names, in her subtitle, ‘charmed states.’ In her introduction she meditates on the use of such enchantments:‘It did not seem enough to invoke escapism as the reason for the popularity of ‘The Arabian Nights’ in the age of reason. Something more seemed to be at stake. Magic is not simply a matter of the occult or the esoteric, of astrology, Wicca and Satanism; it follows processes inherent to human consciousness and connected to constructive and imaginative thought. The faculties of imagination — dream, projection, fantasy — are bound up with the faculties of reasoning and essential to making the leap beyond the known into the unknown. At one pole (myth), magic is associated with poetic truth, at another (the history of science) with inquiry and speculation. It was bound up with understanding physical forces in nature and led to technical ingenuity and discoveries. Magical thinking structures the processes of imagination, and imagining something can and sometimes must precede the fact or the act; it has shaped many features of Western civilization. But its influence has been constantly disavowed since the Enlightenment and its action and effects consequently misunderstood.’
Warner takes an honored place in the sequence of those who have studied what Isaiah Berlin and others have called the Counter-Enlightenment, the speculations that renewed Neoplatonic and Gnostic heterodox versions of ancient wisdom.”
Reinhard Hutter in First Things, "Pornography and Acedia".
“This vice’s post-Christian secular offshoot, an anathematic despair posing as boredom, covers -- like a fungus -- the spiritual, intellectual, and emotional life of many, if not most, who inhabit the affluent segments of the Western secular world. The old vice of acedia, of spiritual apathy, is the root cause of the typically bourgeios ennui, boredom. Eventually the collective ideological, cultural, social, and political aversion to the divine good previously received and embraced will issue in a collective spiritual state of acedia, which eventually turns against any remnant of or witness to the transcendent dignity of human persons and to their calling to friendship with God. This is the very story of modern secularism. The flight from sadness that begins with avoiding and resisting spiritual goods and ends with attacking them describes with uncanny accuracy the specific ressentiment and aggression typical of a secular age.”
James Bowman in American Spectator, "Pseuds and Artists".
“In both pictures [Hugo, Midnight in Paris] the famous dead faces lend tone, so that we may know the film itself is supposed to be art, having been made by someone familiar with the artists’ hall of fame. A poseur in Midnight in Paris is said to be a ‘pseudo-intellectual’ -- a term that apparently carries with it no memory of its invention by Governor George Wallace -- because Mr. Allen and his hero, played by Owen Wilson, aspire to be non-pseudo-intellectuals the way people used to aspire to be knights or lords. As our culture keepers and guides, these members of the cognitive aristocracy reassure us about what of the past we may rightly reverence. And rightly execrate as well, since the nostalgic impulse is always helped along by the feeling that the past is past because somebody put a stop to it and still keeps us from it.”
Larry Rohter in NYT, "In Europe, Where Art Is Life, Ax Falls on Public Financing".
“For artists and administrators in Europe, such changes are deeply disquieting, even revolutionary. In contrast to the United States, Europe has embraced a model that views culture not as a commodity, in which market forces determine which products survive, but as a common legacy to be nurtured and protected, including art forms that may lack mass appeal. ‘Culture is a basic need,’ said Andreas Stadler, director of the Austrian Cultural Forum in New York and president of the New York branch of the European Union National Institutes for Culture. ‘People should have the right to go to the opera.’ Over all, he added, ‘Culture is much higher on our political agenda than it is here, because it is so linked to our identities.’ Germany and France, the largest and most stable economies in Europe, are suffering the least and can even point to increases in financing for some officially favored programs, genres and ensembles that are seen as promoting the countries’ images abroad, like film.”
James Heartfield at Spiked-online.com on Roman Gubern & Paul Hammond’s book, Luis Buñuel - The Red Years 1929-1939.
“The decade that Gubern and Hammond have lit up for us is one in which Buñuel worked hard for Estudia-Proa Filmofóno, the distribution and later production company. The company, which was probably set up with the help of the Comintern agent Willi Munzenberg, distributed Soviet films – and Disney shorts – in Spain. For its director, Ricardo Urgoiti, Buñuel dubbed foreign films and made many melodramas, often from the popular plays of Carlos Arniches. They included the weepie Juan Simon’s Daughter. These films were workmanlike, but hardly the arthouse cinema that Buñuel’s early shorts promised – and they were not credited to him, either. One early collaborator explains that Buñuel ‘agreed to work in Filmofóno out of friendship for Ricardo Urgoiti but didn’t want to sign the films, since it would have put an end to his fame as an enrage avant-gardist’. These works, on closer examination, have lots of the unsettling juxtapositions and sadistic and predatory themes that mark Buñuel’s better-known work, though they are for the most part unremarkable. ‘I produced various Arniches films to amuse myself and to earn money’, Buñuel explained. He also used his time to become a master of the economy of time, planning out his filming in meticulous detail so that he used less film stock, fewer days and less money than other directors. One project that Buñuel did put his name to was Land without Bread, a striking protest against the poverty of the mountainous northern region of Spain. The film fits many of the canons of social realist cinema, though Gubern and Hammond argue that there are many touches that are so melodramatic that they are more surreal than realist. The film’s social protest message is in keeping with the Spanish Communist Party’s marked hostility to the Spanish Republic before 1936, when its favoured slogans were ‘Down with the Bourgeois Republic!’ and ‘For a Workers’ and Peasants’ Government!’. The Communists praised Buñuel for Land without Bread, and for leaving behind the ‘complicated intellectualism’ of his earlier work.”
Paul Kengor in American Spectator, "David Axelrod, Lefty Lumberjack".
“David M. Axelrod was born February 22, 1955, to Myril Bennett Axelrod and Joseph Axelrod. Both were liberals, ‘your classic New York leftist Democrats,’ says Axelrod. Politics was a family interest. Though Jewish, they seemed animated more by politics than synagogue. They loved politics. The father, a baseball aficionado and reportedly a decent player, became a psychologist. The mother had worked for an extremely political newspaper-the liberal New York daily, PM. The story of PM is fascinating and revealing of the nuances and internecine warfare of the 1940s left. The founder of PM was Ralph McAllister Ingersoll. The newspaper ran from 1940 until 1948, funded by Chicago-based millionaire Marshall Field, pioneer of the department store chain. Field was a progressive dupe. The communist left could often count on Field as a sucker to fund their fronts and causes. PM's problem was the penetration by communists seeking to use the newspaper to advance the Stalinist line. Communists on the staff (most of them in the closet) pushed for a U.S. alliance with Uncle Joe; the liberals resisted.”
David Goodhart in Prospect on Jonathan Haidt’s book, The Righteous Mind, and Richard Sennett’s book, Together.
“Like Steven Pinker, Haidt is a liberal who wants his political tribe to understand humans better. His main insight is simple but powerful: liberals understand only two main moral dimensions, whereas conservatives understand all five. (Over the course of the book he decides to add a sixth, liberty/oppression, but for simplicity’s sake I am sticking to his original five.) Liberals care about harm and suffering (appealing to our capacities for sympathy and nurturing) and fairness and injustice. All human cultures care about these two things but they also care about three other things: loyalty to the in-group, authority and the sacred. As Haidt puts it: ‘It’s as though conservatives can hear five octaves of music, but liberals respond to just two, within which they have become particularly discerning.’ This does not mean that liberals are necessarily wrong but it does mean that they have more trouble understanding conservatives than vice versa. The sacred is especially difficult for liberals to understand. This isn’t necessarily about religion but about the idea that humans have a nobler, more spiritual side and that life has a higher purpose than pleasure or profit. If your only moral concepts are suffering and injustice then it is hard to understand reservations about everything from swearing in public to gay marriage -- after all, who is harmed? Haidt and his colleagues have not just plucked these moral senses from the air. He explains the evolutionary roots of the different senses from a close reading of the literature but has also then tested them in internet surveys and face to face interviews in many different places around the world.”
Kenneth Minogue in WSJ on Pascal Bruckner’s book, The Paradox of Love, and Jean-Claude Kaufmann’s book, The Curious History of Love.
“Paradox piles on paradox, but soon Mr. Bruckner gets down to realities. Adultery is a symptom, he says, of an individualist society torn between the ideal of fidelity and a thirst for freedom. But not everything fits into this tension between desire and restraint. ‘The vertiginous increase of divorce rates in Europe,’ he tells us, ‘is not the result, as is often said, of our selfishness, but rather of our idealism: the impossibility of living together combined with the difficulty of remaining alone.’ In short, our sense of the ‘impossibility of living together’ is directly related to the freedom we pursue so heedlessly -- at the expense, too often, of happiness (‘the difficulty of remaining alone’). Mr. Bruckner points to ‘a new conformism that waves the flag of transgression in order to sing the praises of the status quo.’ In the end, he wants to synthesize the stability of the past with some of the liberations of our own time, and he ends with wise if familiar words: ‘Don't allow yourself to be intimidated! There is more than one road to joy.’”
Blaine Harden in WSJ, "Escape From a North Korean Prison".
“In the garment factory, the superintendent wanted Shin to inform on an important new prisoner. Park Yong Chul, short and stout, with a shock of white hair, had lived abroad. He knew senior people in the North Korean government. The superintendent ordered Shin to teach Park how to fix sewing machines and to become his friend. Shin was to report back on everything that Park said about his past, his politics and his family. ‘Park needs to confess,’ the superintendent said. ‘He's holding out on us.’ In October 2004, Shin and Park began spending 14 hours a day together. Park paid polite attention to Shin's instructions on sewing machine maintenance. Just as politely, he avoided questions about his past. But after a few weeks, Park began to open up. He said he was raised in a large apartment in Pyongyang and had followed the privileged educational trajectory of North Korea's elites, studying in East Germany and the Soviet Union. He patiently attempted to explain what life was like outside Camp 14. As they walked the factory floor, Park told Shin that the giant country next door was called China. Its people were rapidly getting rich. He said that in the south there was another Korea. In South Korea, he said, everyone was already rich. Park explained the concept of money. He told Shin about the existence of television and computers and mobile phones. He explained that the world was round.”
WSJ: "The Fall of Bo Xilai".
“Premier Wen Jiabao implicitly criticized Mr. Bo on Wednesday when he warned, ‘There is also the possibility that we might repeat such historical tragedies as the Cultural Revolution.’ In that 1966-76 upheaval, Mao used his personality cult to encourage youth to ‘bombard the headquarters’ of the party and remove his rivals. Mao's successors vowed never again to let leaders use public popularity to muscle their way into top spots, and Premier Wen twice referred to the 1981 document that summed up that decision, ‘Resolution on Certain Questions in the History of Our Party Since the Founding of the Republic.’ The result has been rule by consensus, an opaque leadership election run by the party apparatus and a series of bland front men: Jiang Zemin, Hu Jintao and soon Xi Jinping. As strange as it might seem to outsiders, to the party leadership the Cultural Revolution is synonymous with democracy, both posing threats to their power.”
Jamil Anderlini in FT, "Privileged son of ‘immortal’ sees political ambitions die".
“When Mao Zedong launched the cultural revolution in 1966, Mr Bo and many of his contemporaries joined a radical Red Guard group called Liandong, or ‘United Action’, according to people who knew him well. This group of teenage children of high-ranking cadres believed in the ‘bloodline theory’ that said their destiny was to rule China. The methods they used were particularly brutal as they attacked government officials and other Red Guard groups, even as many of their parents, including Mr Bo’s father, were purged and sent to jail or labour camps. The group was eventually outlawed for its excesses and Mr Bo was sent as a prisoner to do hard labour, while his mother died in mysterious circumstances. His official government biography says he laboured in a cultural revolution ‘study class’ – euphemism for prison camp – from 1968 to 1972 and then worked in a machine repair factory until 1978. ‘Our classmates talked about his time in prison but he didn’t speak about it much,’ says someone who studied history with Mr Bo at Peking University in 1978. ‘I remember him as charismatic and energetic and he was particularly keen to study and practise English, which was not very common at that time.’ Mr Bo went on to earn a master’s degree in journalism which makes him unique among all China’s senior leaders, most of whom are engineers.”
Lifen Zhang in FT, "Memo from Beijing: the China model has lost all its luster".
“China’s model does have certain advantages: creating national champions, building infrastructure, responding fast to natural disasters and economic downturns. But it fails in accountability, transparency, democratic representation and the rule of law. Many observers believe that China has recently become, if anything, more authoritarian. Because of this, it now confronts rampant corruption, rent-seeking, cronyism, nepotism, injustice, inequalities and social instability. I once asked a senior adviser of China’s leaders if there was nothing Beijing could learn from western-style democracy. He uttered, after an excruciating pause, one word: ‘Voting.’ Within China’s political establishment, a consensus seems to be quietly emerging that, sooner or later, China will have to undertake a long and painful process of democratisation to address, once and for all, the party’s legitimacy.”
Rahul Jacob & Zhou Ping in FT, "Wukan authorities rattled as polls keep legacy of dead activist alive".
“Ms Xue, 22, has a greater reason than most for wanting to influence the changes under way in the village - seen by some as an example of how democratic change could happen in China. She is the eldest child of Xue Jinbo, the popular village activist whose death in police custody in December prompted thousands of villagers to take to the streets.
Wukan, which has also elected an election committee and ombudsman's authority to monitor its leaders in the past four weeks, has become a sliver of hope for democracy in China. Guangdong province's top official, Wang Yang, hopes it will be a successful experiment of using free elections to reduce the anger felt by farmers faced with land-grabbing by party officials. But at the meeting with the school principal and officials, Ms Xue was told that she should either not run or resign from her job because public servants were prohibited from serving on village committees. ‘They told me: 'As a woman, you need a stable life,'’ Ms Xue recalls. The government's threats and inducements - officials offered to make her principal of a kindergarten - had the opposite effect and made her more determined to run. ‘I thought that if they don't want me to, I must join the race,’ Ms Xue says, seated in her family's small living room. ‘If the local government is so much against it, it must be good for the village.’”
Sheila Fitzpatrick in London Review of Books, "Outfox them!".
“When Lenin’s Bolshevik Party took power in Russia in October 1917, it had an abundance of sophisticated, polyglot members, whose years in European exile had made them conversant in several European languages. These former émigrés -- including Lenin, Trotsky, Zinoviev, Kamenev and Bukharin (in short, all Stalin’s major competitors in the power struggle that followed Lenin’s death) -- were much more strongly represented in the Party leadership under Lenin than the Party’s ‘committee men’, people like Stalin and Molotov who had remained in the Russian Empire as underground revolutionary conspirators pursued, in an endless cat and mouse struggle, by the tsarist political police. Former émigrés were the elite of the Bolshevik Party, offspring for the most part of the nobility and intelligentsia, whose parents could help subsidise their life abroad…. Used to operating within the cosmopolitan world of the Second International, the Bolshevik leaders under Lenin had the advantage not only of personally knowing their enemies (of whom, being notoriously recalcitrant, they had many), but also of having old friends and acquaintances scattered throughout the world of European socialism.”
Alberto Mingardi in WSJ, "The European Union According to Hayek".
“Centralized welfare systems are necessarily run by a bureaucratic leadership. The supposed technical superiority of such an organization is simply not enough to master the nuances of a complex society. Centralized government allocates resources badly -- regardless of its intentions. The very nature of centralization makes it impossible to collect and compute all the information that is needed. This is as true for any grand scheme of industrial planning as it is for the government-led welfare systems that characterize Europe's ‘social model.’ Hayek was not deaf to the needs of the poor or the sick, and he even advocated some form of safety net. But he was well aware that Western democracies were at risk of developing, as he wrote in 1960, a ‘household state in which a paternalistic power controls most of the income of the community and allocates it to individuals in the forms and quantities which it thinks they need or deserve.’ Regardless of the intentions of its makers, such a system was bound to produce inefficiency and waste. These inefficiencies and this waste, of course, become rents for those that live off them and return the favor with their political support.”
WSJ: "Facebook to the Non-Rescue".
“California is again in fiscal trouble -- when isn't it? -- and this time it's betting on a new savior -- the Facebook IPO. The state Legislative Analyst's Office reports that the $5 billion stock offering expected this year could yield $2.5 billion over the next five years in extra revenue due to ‘extraordinary one-time’ events. One way to think about this is that God protects fools and California politicians, pardon the redundancy. No state has done more to punish business, but suddenly a single business success could cover a multitude of spending sins. Isn't capitalism grand? On the other hand, we've seen this windfall before. Recall the ‘Google surplus.’ In 2004 Google's IPO contributed to a one-time $7 billion revenue gusher that included a 49% leap in capital-gains receipts. The state was instantly flush with cash and Arnold Schwarzenegger and Democrats blew through the cash like they were Google partners -- which, in a sense, they were. It didn't last. When the temporary revenue bonanza ended, the state couldn't sustain what had become a new higher plateau of spending.”
Mary Walsh in NYT, "Untouchable Pensions May Be Tested in California".
“When the city manager of troubled Stockton, Calif., had to tell city council members why it was on track to become the biggest American city yet to go bankrupt, it took hours to get through the list. The city manager, Bob Dies, in foreground, is focusing on cutting retiree health benefits. There was the free health care for retirees, the unpaid parking tickets, the revenue bonds without enough revenue to pay them. On it went, a grim drumbeat of practically every fiscal malady imaginable, except an obvious one: municipal pensions. Stockton is spending some $30 million a year to pay for them, but it has less than 70 cents set aside for every dollar of benefits its workers expect. Some public pension experts think they know why pensions were not on the city manager’s list. They see the hidden hand of California’s giant state pension system, known as Calpers, which administers hundreds of billions of dollars in retirement obligations for municipalities across the state.”
Alex Pollock in WSJ, "Default and the Nature of Government".
“As European banks and other investors today gaze sadly on government promises to pay, it is essential to ask: Who promotes loans to governments? The answer is that governments promote loans to governments. They have an obvious self-interest in promoting loans to themselves and to other governments they wish to help or influence. Banks are extremely vulnerable to pressure from governments -- the more regulated they are, the more vulnerable. Employees of government bureaucracies have an incentive to encourage loans to their political employers -- an inherent conflict of interest. In addition to promoting their own debt to all possible buyers at all times, governments promoted the World War I loans to the Allies; loans to Germany in the 1920s; loans to developing countries in the 1970s, which defaulted in the 1980s; loans to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac until they failed; and loans to fellow governments in the European Union up to today.”
William Hay in WSJ on Eliga Gould’s book, Among the Powers of the Earth.
“Mr. Gould rightly emphasizes the importance of law -- both national and international -- to sovereignty. He argues that "the drive to be accepted as a treaty-worthy nation in Europe" shaped the early Republic at least as much as republican ideals. The United States accepted the norms of international treaties and diplomatic custom -- the obligation to respect the persons and property of foreign subjects, for instance, or to exercise military force within the emerging laws of war. Just as important, the new nation worked to bring the territories it claimed for itself under legal authority. Sovereignty had to be exercised as well as recognized. Americans pacified and took control of borderlands that had operated according to their own rules -- the frontier of the Mississippi Valley, for example. Indians in the lower South and trans-Appalachia lost the autonomy they had long exercised and became dependent nations under the supervision of the new federal government. Slavery gained a legal definition and status that it lacked when British authorities merely tolerated it as a colonial practice, something borrowed from Africa but unknown to common law. The act of defining citizenship excluded Americans who remained loyal to the British crown.”
William Easterly in WSJ on Daron Aeolus & James Robinson’s book, Why Nations Fail.
“It is common among those who work in development to wish for a technocratic rule of experts unencumbered by politics. Messrs. Acemoglu and Robinson insist that getting the economics right requires getting the politics right. They support their thesis with evidence so comprehensive that it includes the rise and fall of medieval Venice, the colonization of the Americas, and the tribal politics of Botswana at its independence in 1966. Inclusive political institutions mean both a broad distribution of political power and limits to that power, such as democratic elections and written constitutions. Inclusive economic institutions encompass property rights, contract enforcement, ease of starting new companies, competitive markets, and freedom for citizens to enter the occupation and the industry of their choice. The billionaire telecommunications mogul Carlos Slim, we're told, does not fall into this category. He is extractive, ‘a master at obtaining exclusive contracts,’ winning economic monopolies through political connections, but he enriches primarily himself, not Mexico. Bill Gates, by contrast, enriches both himself and the U.S. because he can make money only by creating products that are better or more popular than those produced by rivals. Just as inclusive institutions feed on each other, so do their opposites: Extractive political institutions support the economic institutions that protect the interests of the elite against new entry from competitors. The wealth of the elite so created can make the hierarchical, authoritarian state even larger and more repressive, increasing elite wealth even more.”
Roderick Parkes at EUobserver.com, "Will emigration replace immigration as Europe’s populist flashpoint?".
“Ten years ago, European immigration policy was run almost exclusively by interior ministers – shy nocturnal creatures who viewed mobility as something deeply threatening. If immigrants weren’t bogus asylum-seekers, they were almost certainly welfare-shoppers or, at the very least, irregular. In the last few years, however, the EU’s economic, foreign and development ministries have encouraged their colleagues to think again: the immigrant masses may be huddled, it seems, but many of them are distinctly white-collared too. This realisation that the skilled and wealthy also migrate has allowed the EU to begin recalibrating its relations with third countries, particularly in eastern Europe – Armenia, Georgia, Moldova, Ukraine – and now in North Africa too – Tunisia and Morocco. Travel and migration between the EU and its neighbourhood is increasingly seen as a common good, leading to mutual exchange and prosperity. There’s been a similar change of thinking regarding the migration of European citizens within the EU. Even at the last round of enlargement, northern member states waited with dread for the influx of poor immigrants from peripheral new members. But despite their lack of language skills and their distinctly foreign-looking qualifications, many of the immigrants who came turned out to be top notch.”
Todd Buchholz & Victoria Buchholz in NYT, "The Go-Nowhere Generation".
“The likelihood of 20-somethings moving to another state has dropped well over 40 percent since the 1980s, according to calculations based on Census Bureau data. The stuck-at-home mentality hits college-educated Americans as well as those without high school degrees. According to the Pew Research Center, the proportion of young adults living at home nearly doubled between 1980 and 2008, before the Great Recession hit. Even bicycle sales are lower now than they were in 2000. Today’s generation is literally going nowhere. This is the Occupy movement we should really be worried about.
For about $200, young Nevadans who face a statewide 13 percent jobless rate can hop a Greyhound bus to North Dakota, where they’ll find a welcome sign and a 3.3 percent rate. Why are young people not crossing borders? ‘This generation is going through an economic reset,’ said John Della Volpe, who directs polling at Harvard’s Institute of Politics, which surveys thousands of young people each year. He reports that young people want to stay more connected with their hometowns: ‘I spoke with a kid from Columbus, Ohio, who dreamed of being a high school teacher. When he found out he’d have to move to Arizona or the Sunbelt, he took a job in a Columbus tire factory.’ In the most startling behavioral change among young people since James Dean and Marlon Brando started mumbling, an increasing number of teenagers are not even bothering to get their driver’s licenses.”
Amy Chozick in NYT, "As Young Lose Interest in Cars, G.M. Turns to MTV for Help".
“But G.M. was determined to be moved. ‘It was the early days after bankruptcy, and we said, ‘What are we really going to do differently in the next five or 10 years?’’ said Mark L. Reuss, president of General Motors North America. He lined up meetings with Viacom. He asked executives how the company could apply MTV’s research and programming strategy to Chevrolet, which makes up 70 percent of G.M.’s sales in the United States and was, in the halcyon days of the car, a youth brand. The companies homed in on several of Chevy’s small and more fuel-efficient models like the Sonic, Cruze and Spark. Founded in 2010 as part of MTV, Scratch now taps into audiences that watch other Viacom cable channels like Comedy Central, Spike and VH1. It is a new source of revenue for the media company outside traditional advertising. ‘We used to use research in a very proprietary way, but it became clear advertisers were hungry for our insights,’ said Philippe Dauman, Viacom’s president and chief executive. G.M. hired John McFarland, a 31-year-old marketing executive who previously worked at Procter & Gamble, to oversee the company’s MTV-ification.”
Richard Katz in WSJ, "How Japan Blew Its Lead in Electronics".
“Japanese firms and the government failed to heed two big lessons taught by Harvard Prof. Michael Porter. First, as countries mature, their sources of competitive advantage change. At one point, abundant skilled labor, cheap capital and price are keys to competitiveness. Later on, innovation in products and processes becomes pivotal. Secondly, strategy is not just about what products to offer, it's also about what products not to offer. Rejecting these lessons, Japanese firms tried to compete with newcomers like Samsung on cheap capital and manufacturing prowess instead of product innovation. They kept producing formerly world-beating products that now lose money year after year. Forty percent of Japan's electronics output still consists of consumer audio-video products and semiconductors. Moreover, when firms or products failed, Japan's answer was mergers, sometimes aided by government money. The theory was that putting three losers together would turn them into one winner due to economies of scale.”
Mure Dickie in FT, "Japanese way of doing business has much to be admired".
“Although the brewer is located inland and so was spared the tsunami’s fury, disruption caused by the quake meant months of lost business and hefty bills for building repair. For a while Sekinoichi teetered on the edge of bankruptcy. But it was not such problems that brought the tears to Mr Sato’s eyes when I interviewed him before the anniversary of the disaster. It was the memory of customers’ reaction when the brewer apologetically informed them it did not know when it might be able to ship the sake and beer they had ordered. ‘They sent the payment anyway,’ he told me, struggling to contain his emotions. ‘It saved us.’ I have heard many such stories in the year since the March 11 disaster. In towns turned to wasteland by the tsunami, construction companies did not wait for contracts from local authorities before pouring resources into debris clearance. Along the devastated coast, there is now a sprinkling of prefab shops, some stocked entirely with merchandise supplied on credit by loyal suppliers. Small factories are restarting, using production equipment donated by peers around the country.”
Bob Davis in WSJ, "China’s Not-So-Super Computers".
“The result is that China's supercomputing projects aren't producing the kinds of breakthroughs that can create new industries. It is instead being deployed to help the country simply catch up with the U.S. and Europe, in areas ranging from health care to automotive design to aviation. That is important economically, but it is also a reminder that China remains a developing country whose main goal is to close the economic and technology gaps with richer nations. ‘The strategy has been never to lead, but to follow’ technologically, said Qian Depei, a Beihang University researcher, who has worked for decades on China's advanced computing programs. ‘That was the most economically efficient way to develop.’”
Matt Ridley in Spectator, "The winds of change".
“Though they may not admit it for a while, most ministers have realised that the sums for wind power just don’t add up and never will. The discovery of shale gas near Blackpool has profound implications for the future of British energy supply, which the government has seemed sheepishly reluctant to explore. It has a massive subsidy programme in place for wind farms, which now seem obsolete both as a means of energy production and decarbonisation. It is almost impossible to see what function they serve, other than making a fortune from those who profit from the subsidy scam. Even in a boom, wind farms would have been unaffordable — with their economic and ecological rationale blown away. In an era of austerity, the policy is doomed, though so many contracts have been signed that the expansion of wind farms may continue, for a while. But the scam has ended. And as we survey the economic and environmental damage, the obvious question is how the delusion was maintained for so long.”
Valentina Pop at EUobserver.com, "EU to restrict foreign firms’ access to public tenders".
“Chinese, Russian or Brazilian companies bidding for public contracts in Europe may face restrictions if their governments do not open up their own state-run projects to European firms, the EU commission said Wednesday (21 March). Under the new bill, local and state authorities in the EU overseeing tenders for public transport, railways, medical equipment or IT services amounting to more than €5 million can ask the EU commission to impose restrictions for a certain company coming from a country where EU firms have no access to public tenders. ‘The EU opened up more than 80 percent of its public procurement sector through multilateral and bilateral agreements. But our partners apply a lot of protectionist measures - the US, Japan and emerging countries where we have no secure access to tenders for highways, urban buses, construction projects - all is closed,’ internal market commissioner Michel Barnier said during a press conference. He noted that some 32 percent of US public tenders are open to EU-based companies, 28 percent in Japan and 16 percent in Canada.”
Andrew England in FT, "Portuguese join brain drain to former colony".
“The couple are among growing numbers of Portuguese who have fled the economic woes in their home country and headed to one of the world’s poorest but fastest growing nations in search of new opportunities. The phenomenon is in many ways a reverse brain drain – instead of qualified Africans leaving for developed nations, many of those beginning new lives in Mozambique are professionals, including dentists, lawyers, architects and engineers. ‘Every time you see the news or talk to someone, they paint such a grim picture (of Portugal) . . . That’s what I have heard, one of the worries is all the trained people are leaving so who is going to be left to work?’ Ms Marques says. ‘My husband says there’s so much to do here, whereas in Europe it’s the opposite – everything is done.’ It is estimated that there are about 20,000 Portuguese people in Maputo.”
Rachel Donadio in NYT, "Stuck in Recession, Italy Takes On Labor Laws That Divide the Generations".
“The Linza family is emblematic of a yawning generational divide that experts say is crippling the Italian labor market. While older workers came of age with guaranteed jobs and ironclad contracts granting generous pensions and full benefits, younger Italians — the best-educated in the country’s history — are now paying the price. They are lucky to find temporary work, which offers few benefits or stability. It is precisely that two-tier labor market that Prime Minister Mario Monti is proposing to correct with changes to Italian law that are the subject of intense, politically delicate negotiations. The government is proposing measures to make it easier for companies to hire and fire, and to create shorter-term contracts with greater pension and unemployment benefits, a middle ground in a divided market. Labor unions are resisting some changes, but Mr. Monti has said he expects an accord as soon as this week on measures that would then require parliamentary approval. Labor reform has long been a third rail in Italy, where unions, business groups and countless governments have invested in the status quo to protect their constituents, at the expense of economic growth.”
Suzanne Daley in NYT, "A Tale of Greek Enterprise and Olive Oil, Smothered in Red Tape".
“E-commerce is still relatively new in Greece, though growing. But Internet businesses with international sales are so rare that when Mr. Antonopoulos sought help with processing payments, three different Greek banks seemed incapable of grasping the concept. Before the banks would agree to act as clearinghouses for credit cards, they insisted that portions of the Olive Shop Web site — including the company’s marketing and privacy policies — be written exclusively in Greek, even though Mr. Antonopoulos tried to explain that his customers would not understand Greek. ‘We kept trying to tell them that the idea was to export — that customers might be Chinese, and they wouldn’t understand,’ he said, throwing up his hands. ‘It was useless.’ In the end, he turned to PayPal and had what he needed to get started in less than 10 minutes, he said.”
Dexter Filkins in New Yorker, "Letter from Turkey: The Deep State".
“Erdoğan carried on, mixing his paeans with bitter allusions to enemies and slights. The starting point of his speech was the state of affairs he inherited nine years ago, when Turkey was in an acute economic crisis and under the rule of an entrenched secular élite. There was also a deeply personal subtext. As every Turk knows, Erdoğan was imprisoned, in 1999, for his Islamist leanings. Now, with Turkey’s economy booming, and the opposition in disarray, the need for the Old Guard had receded, he suggested -- and so had the need for dissent. ‘Dear friends, to be one, to be together, to walk together toward the same future is the biggest strength of our people,’ he said. ‘For this reason, the first priority should be to eliminate those who do not want Turkey to grow, develop, and advance. Everyone should be at ease—we will not let anyone disturb this harmony.’ When Erdoğan and his comrades in the A.K. Party came to power, there were widespread concerns that, as ardent Islamists, they were intent on foisting a religious regime on secular Turkey. Erdoğan, for his part, feared the resistance of what is commonly referred to as derin devlet, the ‘deep state.’ The deep state is a presumed clandestine network of military officers and their civilian allies who, for decades, suppressed and sometimes murdered dissidents, Communists, reporters, Islamists, Christian missionaries, and members of minority groups -- anyone thought to pose a threat to the secular order, established in 1923 by Mustafa Kemal, or Atatürk.”
Charles Glass in London Review of Books on Philip Mansel’s book, Levant, and Samir Kassir’s book, Beirut.
“In the major trading ports of the eastern Mediterranean -- primarily Smyrna, Alexandria and Beirut, but also Constantinople, Chios, Alexandretta and Salonika -- the noble enterprise of making money had always served to connect peoples in spite of political divisions. But the cohabitation that allowed cultures and languages to flourish beside the quays did not survive the onslaught of nation, race and sect. Diversity and simple self-interest were replaced by demagoguery, tribalism and nationalism and islands of diversity and mutual tolerance began to disappear. Philip Mansel documents the rise and inexorable crash of the great Levantine entrepots as four centuries of relative stability under the Ottomans gave way to a century of ethnic expulsion, tyranny and war. ‘The Levant is an area, a dialogue and a quest,’ Mansel writes, trying to explain the seductive hold these tawdry, vibrant and bewildering places have on the memories of those who fled them and on those who wish they had been born early enough to have known them.”
Mark Durie at meforum.org, "Islam’s Tradition of Breaking the Cross".
“This was no ‘furious mob’ on a ‘rampage,’ as a Daily Mail report put it. Nor was there any evidence in what they were saying that they were angry or reacting to Koran burning by the US military. The men are methodically, deliberately, and in an organized fashion, going about destroying crosses and objects marked with crosses. Their mood seems happy. Every now and again the cry Allahu Akbar rings out, or a chuckle of joy. They pass comments on the graves as they kick them over: ‘Break the cross that belongs to those,’ ‘This is the grave of a Christian,’ and, ‘This tomb has a cross on it: a kaffir [disbeliever].’ An Australian government minister, Craig Emerson, whose father served in Libya in World War II, commented, ‘There is nothing in Islam that would warrant this sort of behavior.’ But is this true? Or just wishful thinking? Certainly many Libyans and Muslims of other nationalities have expressed their abhorrence of these acts. It would be completely wrong to attribute sympathy for such an attack to Muslims as whole. But all the same, was this attack on war graves truly senseless and without foundation or precedent in Islam?”
Adam Thomson in FT, "Presidential candidates dare to challenge Mexicans’ pride in oil".
“Such nationalist pride in Mexico over the state-controlled industry has tended to trump arguments in favour of private investment and competition. But this year, Mexico’s leading presidential candidates have shown surprising candour on what is one of the nation’s most delicate political issues. Enrique Pena Nieto, candidate for the opposition Institutional Revolutionary party (PRI) and favourite to win the July 1 election, told the Financial Times recently that Mexico had been a ‘hostage’ to ideology. This had slowed development and dynamism in the energy sector. He says Pemex, the state-owned monopoly and the world’s fourth-largest oil company by production, ‘can achieve more, grow more and do more through alliances with the private sector.’ Josefina Vazquez Mota, quickly followed his lead. The 51-year-old candidate for the ruling conservative National Action party (PAN), and currently between seven and 18 points adrift of the frontrunner, said she was in favour of overturning a constitutional ban on private investment in the sector.”
Simon Romero in NYT, "An Indigenous Language With Unique Staying Power".
“‘Only 54 of nearly 12,000 schools teach Portuguese,’ said Nancy Benítez, director of curriculum at the Ministry of Education, of the language of Brazil, the giant neighbor that dominates trade with Paraguay. ‘But every one of our schools teaches Guaraní.’ Paraguay differs significantly even from other multilingual Latin American nations like neighboring Bolivia, where a majority of the population is indigenous. Languages like Quechua and Aymara are spoken by different groups there, but rarely by people of mixed ancestry or the traditional elite. In Paraguay, indigenous peoples account for less than 5 percent of the population. Yet Guaraní is spoken by an estimated 90 percent of Paraguayans, including many in the middle class, upper-crust presidential candidates, and even newer arrivals.”
Simon Romero in NYT, "Vast Tracts in Paraguay Forest Being Replaced by Ranches".
“The rush is already transforming small Mennonite settlements on the Chaco frontier into boomtowns. The Mennonites, whose Protestant Anabaptist faith coalesced in Europe in the 16th century, founded settlements here in the 1920s. Towns with names like Neuland, Friedensfeld and Neu-Halbstadt dot the map. Buoyed by their newfound prosperity, the Mennonite communities here differ from those in other parts of Latin America, like the settlements in eastern Bolivia where many Mennonites still drive horse-drawn buggies and wear traditional clothing. In Filadelfia, Mennonite teenagers barrel down roads outside town in new Nissan pickup trucks. Banks advertise loans for cattle traders. Gas stations sell chewing tobacco and beers like Coors Light. An annual rodeo lures visitors from across Paraguay. Patrick Friesen, communications manager for a Mennonite cooperative in Filadelfia, said property prices had surged fivefold in recent years. ‘A plot of land in town costs more than in downtown Asunción,’ said Mr. Friesen, attributing the boom partly to surging global demand for beef.”
Francisco Goldman in New Yorker, "Children of the Dirty War".
“Approximately thirty per cent of the disappeared were women. Some were abducted with their small children, and some, perhaps three per cent, were pregnant, or became so while in detention, usually through rape by guards and torturers. Pregnant prisoners were routinely kept alive until they’d given birth. ‘The regime’s depravity reached its outer limit with pregnant detainees,’ Marguerite Feitlowitz, then a Harvard professor, wrote in her groundbreaking study of the Argentine nightmare, ‘Lexicon of Terror.’ One former detainee told Feitlowitz, ‘Our bodies were a source of special fascination. They said my swollen nipples invited the ‘prod’’ -- the electric cattle prod, which was used in torture. ‘They presented a truly sickening combination -- the curiosity of little boys, the intense arousal of twisted men.’”
Ben Marks at Collectors Weekly, "Blueprint for the Occupy Movement?".
“When I was invited into collector Rick Synchef’s home several months ago, I was drawn by the promise of signed rock posters from the San Francisco music scene, as well as first-edition copies of Beat poetry by such luminaries as Allen Ginsberg and Lawrence Ferlinghetti. But it was Synchef’s collection of flyers, pamphlets, and other ephemera, distributed by groups such as the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) and the Yippies, that made the greatest impression on me.”
"Stuck Up Sticker Exhibition" by DB 323 East Gallery, Detroit - Mar. 24 - Apr. 15, 2012
Bart Bull on the BBC on "The Neon Cowboy Liberation Front":
Mar. 31 12:05gmt; Apr. 1 9:05/22:05gmt; Apr. 2 2:05gmt
Bart: "Basically, this is the story of how I was sleeping on my ex-girlfriend's couch, in a sort of ideal suburban family home of loving knuckleheads, and her ancient mom came home and said, Hey, let's go get the head (and hat) of the Round Up Drive-In's neon cowboy, a local monument that had just been torn down for sake of condo-ization/development. Since it was the moment of the Iran Hostage Crisis, we created the NCLF, and soon enough, based on my goofy communiques, the FBI was after us, in their own ultra-efficient fashion..."
Obituary of the Week
Lacy J. Banks (1944-2012)
“To many players in the NBA, Banks was more than a reporter. ‘He was a great friend, and we spent a lot of time calling my mom on Sundays and praying with her and just doing some great deeds for her and my family,’ former Bulls star Scottie Pippen said. ‘He’s one of those reporters who I had a lot of respect for. We definitely had a great relationship throughout my career and to this day.’ Chicago native and Basketball Hall of Famer Isiah Thomas knew Banks even before his NBA career began. ‘We knew him from the church and the community,’ said Thomas, now the coach at Florida International. ‘He and my mom got to be real close. When things would be rough for us at times, he’d pick up the phone and call, say a prayer with us. Our conversations weren’t always even about the NBA or basketball. We were young men coming into tremendous wealth and fame, and not only was he a reporter, but he was a mentor. He was a leader in the journalism profession but also a leader in the community.’ Pat Williams, the senior vice president of the Orlando Magic, first met Banks when Williams was the young general manager of the Bulls in the early 1970s. ‘Lacy took over the beat when we had four very vibrant newspapers in Chicago,’ Williams said. ‘He would crawl and scrape under every rock to get information. He was very competitive. ‘And then there was his life as a preacher — Rev. Lacy. That was a whole other world.’”
Thanks to Tim Broun.
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• Joe Carducci, Chris Collins, James Fotopoulos, Mike Vann Gray, David Lightbourne (1942 - 2010)
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