a new low in topical enlightenment

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Issue #131 (April 11, 2012)

Above Closure, Wyoming

Photo by Joe Carducci

From the Desk of Joe Carducci…

World Finance: "Master then servant".

“For centuries, Europeans were the masters of countries in Africa, Asia and the Americas. Countries including Great Britain, Spain, Portugal and France all played their part in colonialism. They split the continent at their whim and exploited copious resources for domestic needs. After years of suppression many colonies have gained independence. When the European sovereign debt crisis hit some of the EU members were compelled to take actions previously inconceivable -- namely, to seek help from their former vassals.”


Neal Ascherson in London Review of Books, "Memories of Amikejo".

“It was in the late 18th and early 20th century that this game of denying European identity to neighbours began, as an aspect of modern nationalism. It was to end in the almost comic phenomenon of ‘bulwarkism’. It started at the ocean with the French, who imagined themselves as the defenders of Christian civilisation against the barbarous denizens of the forests across the Rhine. But then it turns out that the Germans also saw themselves as the front-line defenders of Europe against primitive uncultured Slavs, in particular the untidy, untrustworthy Poles. Poland in turn erected a perfect cult of its national mission as the outermost bastion -- przedmurze -- of Catholic Christianity and civilized values against the brutal Asian hordes of schismatic tsars or Bolshevik atheists. And why stop there? One of the most powerful nerves in Russian nationalism has been the notion of standing as a bulwark protecting Europe against the Asian onrush -- Mongol or Chinese.”


Megan McArdle in Atlantic, "Europe’s Real Crisis".

“It is somewhat ironic that the first serious strains caused by Europe’s changing demographics are showing up in the Continent’s welfare budgets, because the pension systems themselves may well have shaped, and limited, Europe’s growth. The 20th century saw international adoption of social-security systems that promised defined benefits paid out of future tax revenue -- known to pension experts as ‘paygo’ systems, and to critics as Ponzi schemes. These systems have greatly eased fears of a destitute old age, but multiple studies show that as social-security systems become more generous (and old age more secure), people have fewer children. By one estimate, 50 to 60 percent of the difference between America’s (above-replacement) birthrate and Europe’s can be explained by the latter’s more generous systems. In other words, Europe’s pension system may have set in motion the very demographic decline that helped make that system -- and some European governments -- insolvent. Pension and other welfare benefits, promised long ago when the workforce was expanding quickly, are at the heart of Europe’s current fiscal convulsions, which are perhaps a harbinger of worse to come. In David Canning’s view, the 2008 crash and its aftermath have merely moved up a long-inevitable implosion by 10 to 15 years. European nations ‘had unrealistic systems that were eventually going to cause a crisis,’ he told me.”


Mark Helprin in WSJ, "Obama’s Europa Complex".

“More to the point, giant social welfare systems cannot but strangle economies the progressive failure of which they are intended to relieve. Differences within Europe itself illustrate the route out of its troubles that it may yet take just as American progressives jump into the hole it is trying to exit. France now has in proportion to its working population 44% more public employees than Germany, and devotes 52.3% rather than Germany's 43.7% of gross domestic product to public expenditure. Do the French, not to mention the Greeks, wonder by what magic Germany achieves its solvency?”


Philippe Maniere in FT, "France is the source of its problems".

“Overwhelmingly, they attribute their ills to globalisation: two-thirds consider it ‘disastrous’. This is despite the fact that the economies of Germany, Switzerland and the Netherlands are all more ‘globalised’ (taking the sum of imports and exports as a proportion of gross domestic product), while enjoying lower unemployment. Yet globalisation is at the heart of the French malaise. French people find this spontaneous phenomenon, which no authority steers, deeply unsettling. French political culture, the legacy of absolute monarchy, Catholicism and the Jacobins – with a hint of Marxism – finds it hard to admit that something can be good if it has not been conceived to be so. Globalisation fits the Anglo-Saxon outlook – heir to Mandeville and Adam Smith – but is directly opposed to the traditional French view. For a people in love with concepts and theories, this matters.”


Ghania Khelifi at Qantara.de, "A Pact against Memory".

“On the 5th of July, the legislative elections will have already taken place in Algeria as well as the presidential elections in France. Knowing this, we can better understand the strange involvement of the former coloniser in the commemoration of the liberation of its former colony! Cinema, literature, theatre, exhibitions, conferences, all forms of artistic expression are mobilised in France for the occasion. Entertainment to calm the atmosphere as no one wants the memorial disputes to be added to their own political demons. From Algiers to Paris, officials try to give a good impression, sending all forms of messages to confirm this kind of non-aggression pact with the approach of this deadline. Trying to remove nationalists from the map of historical legitimacy: Algeria's Prime Minister Ouyahia The Algerian government has made a first move by ‘kindly’ telling the Turks to not interfere in French-Algerian relations. Protesting against the adoption of a law criminalising the Armenian genocide by the French Parliament in the beginning of January, the Turkish Prime minister Erdogan questioned Nicolas Sarkozy on the what he called ‘Algerian genocide’, pointing to the cruelties France committed during Algeria's War of Independence. The Algerian Prime Minister reminded Ankara that ‘as a NATO member, Turkey had voted against Algeria at the UN between 1954 and 1962’, thus in veiled terms accusing Turkey of joint guilt.”


Timothy Snyder in New Republic on Paul Preston’s book, The Spanish Holocaust: Inquisition and Extermination in Twentieth-Century Spain.

“That Franco, Hitler, and Stalin all undertook quite similar policies designed to destroy physically an entire political elite in 1939 suggests not only the cruelty of the late 1930s, but also a broader trend in twentieth-century European history. All three regimes, for all their significant ideological differences, were examples of the arrival of neocolonial practices to Europe itself. The Soviets self-colonized (Stalin’s expression) by collectivizing agriculture in order to build industry; the Germans wanted to colonize eastern Europe to build an agrarian paradise for the Aryan masters; Franco brought colonial troops from Africa in order to restore a traditional agrarian order and oppress an orientalized peasantry. All three of these approaches were ideological alternatives to land reform under democratic conditions, which by and large had failed; all three were economic responses to the Great Depression, which seemed to signal the end of capitalism as such; and all three were political schemes of agrarian domination in a Europe where maritime expansion and thus traditional colonialism no longer seemed possible. In other words, if one brings the history of self-colonizing violence in western Europe (Spain) together with that of central Europe (Germany) and eastern Europe (the USSR), a new model for the twentieth century presents itself. The major theme of European history shifts from colonization to self-colonization by the 1930s. Then, after the disaster of World War II (western Europe) or the demise of communism (eastern Europe), it shifts again from self-colonization to integration -- where integration means, precisely, the abandonment of colonial practices both within and without Europe.”


Philip Mansel in Le Monde diplomatique, "We are all Levantines now".

“The Levant means ‘where the sun rises’: the eastern Mediterranean. Levant is a geographical word, free of associations with race or religion, defined not by nationality but by the sea. The great Levantine cities of Smyrna, Alexandria and Beirut were windows on the world, ports more open and cosmopolitan than inland cities like Ankara, Damascus and Cairo. From the beginning Levantine cities were international. They shared defining characteristics: geography, diplomacy, language, hybridity, trade, pleasure, modernity and vulnerability. All are present in today’s global cities. Take diplomacy: the Levant is a dialogue — at the heart of what Gibbon called ‘the world’s debate’ between Christianity and Islam. In the Levant dialogue trumped conflict, deals came before ideals. The modern Levant was a product of one of the most successful alliances in history, for three and a half centuries after 1535, between France and the Ottoman empire, between the Caliph of the Muslims and the Most Christian King. It was based on the shared hostility of the two monarchies to Spain and the House of Austria, but soon acquired commercial and cultural momentum.”


Anatol Lieven in FT, "An end to illusion".

“Much of western political science is hopelessly wedded to general theories based on schematic versions of western societies and institutions, and is remarkably impervious to even the strongest evidence of local experience. Western journalists on the ground rarely have the time or the background to challenge these paradigms. There is an interesting comparison to be made here with the western anthropology of the colonial period. Since Edward Said’s famous book Orientalism (1978), it has been fashionable to denounce these works because they shared the assumptions of empire and often aimed explicitly to serve its cause. This is quite true, but at least intelligent colonial administrators understood that knowledge is power and worked hard, often with genuine intellectual curiosity, to acquire that knowledge. Most of their latter-day descendants, by contrast, entered Afghanistan with little more than a faith in Blairite nostrums about ‘people everywhere wanting freedom’, and leave it with little more than embittered clichés about ‘tribalism’ and ‘fanaticism’.”


Ajit Kumar Singh at Satp.org, "Gilgit-Baltistan: Orchestrated Strife".

“Significantly, Islamabad has turned Pakistan occupied Kashmir (PoK) including both Azad Kashmir and GB into a hub of Islamist extremism and terrorism since the 1990s. Militant groups like Lashkar-e-Taiba, Hizb-ul-Mujahideen, Jaish-e-Mohammed, and many others have been facilitated in creating bases and training camps in the region. These terror camps are global in nature including terrorist formations that have an international agenda. India maintains that 42 terror training camps were very much alive and kicking in PoK. On April 6, 2012, China indirectly alleged that insurgents of the East Turkistan Islamic Movement were trained at camps in PoK. Significantly, a British court, on February 9, 2012, sentenced nine persons, including one of Pakistani origin, for plotting to bomb the London Stock Exchange and build a terrorist training camp in PoK. Three of these men, Mohammed Shahjahan, Usman Khan and Nazam Hussain, had planned to raise funds for a terrorist camp in PoK and recruit Britons to attend. Crucially, while naturally maintaining a studied silence on the role of state agencies, Federal Minister of Interior Rehman Malik, on April 4, 2012, stated that the conflict in GB was not sectarian in nature, and that some hidden forces are involved. Sub-nationalist groupings in GB have alleged, further, that there were no sectarian tensions among the natives in the region, and that local Shia and Sunni groups had united in their demand for the reinstatement of the State Subjects Rule, which offers particular protection to natives, on the issue of travel and trade towards Ladakh (in India), and on the issue of no taxation without representation. The current violence, they allege, has been orchestrated by outsiders acting at the best of hidden agencies who seek to disrupt this local unity, in order to perpetuate the inequitable conditions that prevail in the region. Gilgit-Baltistan remains the poorest and most backward area in Pakistan, and is acutely lacking basic development and infrastructure.”


Ed Husain in FT on Tariq Ramadan’s book, The Arab Awakening.

“I owe Ramadan a debt of gratitude. His books helped me, and thousands of others, to reconcile our Islamic and western heritages. But The Arab Awakening left a bitter taste.

First, Ramadan seems to feel sympathy for Osama bin Laden in death – ‘cast into the sea in total disregard for his person and for Islamic ritual’. What more should the world afford a self-confessed mass murderer? Second, Ramadan insults and dismisses the sacrifices, blood and tears of young Arabs by suggesting that western governments had trained the dissidents to be active in social media, and, therefore, prepared the way for the revolutions. The Arab uprisings were the culmination of decades of oppression and humiliation of Arab populations at the hands of ruthless dictators. They were not products of the west. Mohamed Bouazizi in Tunisia immolated himself because every door in life had closed on him. He lit a flame that continues to burn across the region. Ramadan repeatedly writes about western governments being behind the social media activists who helped mobilise the masses, pointing to training meetings held by Google, the US State Department and others before the uprisings as evidence that these were not as homegrown as believed. The notion that western think-tanks and companies could bring millions on to Arab streets is facile and grossly exaggerates the power of the west. Third, Ramadan’s book would have been more informative if he shared with us interactions in Arab capitals with revolutionaries. Has he visited Egypt, Libya or Tunisia of late? The reader is not told.”


Raymond Ibrahim in meforum.org, "Courtroom Terror".

“In other words, terrorism is not just limited to 9/11-type strikes, but involves intimidating, bullying, threatening, etc. -- precisely what happened at this courthouse trial.

Some more key points to keep in mind:

Those making the death threats, physically assaulting others with clubs, and otherwise engaging in terrorist behavior were ‘more than 300 Muslim lawyers’; not jihadis or fugitives hiding out in caves, but lawyers.

The entire issue revolves around something that, by Western standards of freedom, would be a non-issue to start with: insulting a ‘holy’ figure, Islam's Prophet Muhammad. In a Western court of law, the Christian ‘blasphemer’ would not even be tried, but rather the terrorist ‘lawyers.’

The attacks on fellow Muslim lawyers who merely sought to represent the condemned Christian is in keeping with Islam's doctrines of loyalty and disloyalty, which command Muslims always to side with fellow Muslims, while having enmity for non-Muslim infidels -- certainly those perceived to have insulted their prophet.

The ultimate lesson emerging from this shameful fiasco is one of sheer predictability. Anyone familiar with the doings of the Islamic world -- its history, its doctrines -- cannot be surprised at any of the above: rage and violence in response to a non-Muslim insulting the prophet; rage and violence toward Muslim members of a legal system for trying to represent an ‘infidel’ -- these are quite standard, with ample precedent, regardless of whether the enraged Muslims are suit-and-tie wearing lawyers, or kalashnikov-toting jihadis.”


David Samuels in WSJ, "The New Mastermind of Jihad".

“In a meeting of the leadership of al Qaeda held in northern Iran in 2002, as reported by Brynjar Lia of the Norwegian Defense Research Establishment, Mr. al-Suri issued a strong call for the movement to abandon its hierarchical structure or face annihilation by the West -- a call that other senior jihadists ignored. He repeated his message in his magnum opus, warning that ‘If we insist on using these methods under the current circumstances, it is -- in my opinion -- like committing suicide.’ Now that al Qaeda has been crippled and its leadership killed or jailed, Mr. al-Suri appears to have won both the ideological and the practical battle. Born in Aleppo, Syria, Mr. al-Suri is hardly a friend of the Assad family or the Syrian regime. He joined the Muslim Brotherhood while a student and then rose to become a member of the Brotherhood's military command in 1982 during the ill-fated uprising in the city of Hama, which was brutally crushed by Hafez al-Assad, the current president's father. Mr. al-Suri fled to France and then to Madrid, where he met and married a Spanish woman named Elena Moreno Cruz, who converted to Islam and accompanied him on his subsequent journeys. Ms. Cruz furnished him with an EU passport, and he has remained, by several accounts, deeply in love with her.”


Eric Trager in New Republic, "The Muslim Brotherhood’s Mendacious Charm Campaign in Washington".

“It was a noble attempt at promoting intercultural political dialogue—an engagement for which many in the American policy community, as well as academia, have long advocated. Yet the Brotherhood came to Washington with an agenda of its own: selling itself as a “moderate” organization to a highly skeptical American public. And it did so using one of the oldest sales tricks: It completely misrepresented itself. In a certain sense, the Muslim Brotherhood’s representatives had no other choice. If they admitted, for example, that they intend to repeal the law that criminalizes sexual harassment -- as one of their female parliamentarians declared earlier last week -- they would have killed their chances at winning over an American public that embraces gender equality. Similarly, if the Brotherhood’s representatives used their time in Washington to reiterate their leaders’ calls for banning beach tourism, it would have destroyed any hopes of an American taxpayer-aided bailout for the nearly bankrupt Egyptian economy. And if they’d repeated their leaders’ 9/11 conspiracy theories, they would have been on the first plane back to Cairo, rather than invited for meetings at the White House and State Department.”


Sabine Ripperger at Qantara.de, "Homophobia among Muslim Students in Germany".

“Between 2007 and 2011, several studies were conducted regarding youth and homosexuality. In a 2007 comparative study, financed by the Ministry for Families and conducted under a project of the Lesbian and Gay Association of Germany, Kiel sociologist Bernd Simon questioned 922 Berlin youths aged 14 to 21 about their attitudes toward homosexuality. Jörg Steinert, director of the Lesbian and Gay Association of Berlin-Brandenburg, described the results. ‘Homophobic attitudes are widespread, although at different intensities,’ Steinert said. Among male youths who are descended from immigrants, 47.7 percent agreed to the statement ‘I find it offensive if two gay men kiss on the street.’ Among those with a Russian background, that figure was 75.8 percent, while youth with parents of Turkish origin agreed at a rate of 78.9 percent. In terms of the connection between religion and homophobia, homophobia is strongest among religious youth with Turkish roots, says Jörg Steinert. ‘But this connection can also be seen among youths with Russian and Polish roots,’ he adds Female students expressed less homophobia, although it was still relatively high among young women of Russian or Turkish heritage.”


Michael Peel in FT, "How to compete with a generous public sector".

“As the western world is gripped by ever-louder protests over the contrast between bankers’ pay rises and flatlining or falling public sector salaries, the argument in the Gulf is close to the reverse. In the petrostates that dominate the Middle East’s financial sector, it is the expatriate financiers who – while not exactly poor relations – look on enviously at ballooning wage increases for government workers. The sharp rises, widely seen as linked to the Arab uprisings of the past 15 months, are seen in some quarters as a threat to the health of the emerging financial sectors of Gulf countries. The question is whether the government largesse towards its own workers is making it more difficult for banks to hire talented nationals – and driving up their costs by forcing them to raise salaries to compete with public sector wage increases.”


Steven Malanga in WSJ, "How Stockton, California Went Broke in Plain Sight".

“Stockton safety employees with 30 years of service receive 90% of their highest working salary as a pension, with cost-of-living adjustments up to 2% annually for the rest of their lives. And while the state requires workers to contribute between 7% and 9% of their salary toward pensions, Stockton agreed in a series of agreements with various municipal unions going back to the 1990s to pay the worker portion of the contribution along with its 20% employer share. Stockton couldn't afford this rich program even in boom times, so officials played risky investment games. In 2007, the city borrowed $125 million and put the money into Calpers, the giant California pension fund, betting that investment managers could earn more than the interest Stockton owed on the debt. When the market tanked, Calpers lost 24%-30% of the loan's principal, according to city budget documents.”


Wendell Cox in WSJ, "California Declares War on Suburbia".

“Over the past 40 years, median house prices have doubled relative to household incomes in the Golden State. Why? In 1998, Dartmouth economist William Fischel found that California's housing had been nearly as affordable as the rest of the nation until the more restrictive regulations, such as development moratoria, urban growth boundaries, and overly expensive impact fees came into effect starting in the 1970s. Other economic studies, such as by Stephen Malpezzi at the University of Wisconsin, also have documented the strong relationship between more intense land-use regulations and exorbitant house prices. The love affair urban planners have for a future ruled by mass transit will be obscenely expensive and would not reduce traffic congestion. In San Diego, for example, an expanded bus and rail transit system is planned to receive more than half of the $48.4 billion in total highway and transit spending through 2050. Yet transit would increase its share of travel to a measly 4% from its current tiny 2%, according to data in the San Diego Association of Governments regional transportation plan.”


MercoPress: "Guess why Argentina restricts book imports?".

“‘Argentina does not ban the import of books, the latest measures have been implemented to safeguard human health since handling books could entail dangers originated in the lead content of the inks with which they are published.’ The remarks regarding the latest restrictions on books and graphic materials imports belong to Juan Carlos Sacco, member of the Argentine Industrial Union, UIA, board who said handling overseas books with inks containing lead in quantities above 0.05% and 0.06% are threatening. Following on the latest ruling each book purchaser will have to check at the Ezeiza airport Customs office that ink for printing the books must not contain more than 0.05/0.06% in its chemical composition. ‘Resolution 453 is environmental’ said Sacco because handling books with lead contents above the limits established can be dangerous: ‘you handle the book and possibly wet your finger with your tongue to turn a page: that can be very serious for human health’, underlined the entrepreneur.”


Gordon Crovitz in WSJ, "Could Morse Have Patented the Web?".

“Morse's descendants should demand a rehearing. The standards for patents are so low that simply having an idea often justifies a patent. Morse wanted a patent to cover ‘electro-magnetism, however developed, for marking or printing intelligible characters, signs, letters, at any distance, being a new application of that power of which I claim to be the first inventor or discoverer.’ This would have been a patent for all uses of the telegraph -- and would also have included the Internet. The 19th-century justices refused to block progress through an overbroad patent: ‘For aught that we now know some future inventor, in the onward march of science may discover a mode of writing or printing at a distance by means of the electric or galvanic current, without using any part of the process or combination set forth in the plaintiff's specification.’ Under today's looser standards, Morse should own the Web. Companies now seek patents for the slimmest of ideas.”


Patti Waldmeir in FT, "Villagers fight over ‘patents’ in rural China".

“Designed by Ikea, copied by the neighbours, patented by Mr Xu: this may not be the kind of creative progression Beijing has in mind, when Chinese leaders talk about building an economy based on innovation. But in a strange kind of way, the fact that Mr Xu and his neighbours – former migrant workers and pig farmers in a rural Chinese village – are fighting over patents is a sign of the growing sophistication of the Chinese economy, legal experts say. Until Mr Xu launched the current patent war over the village knock-offs – copies not just of Ikea furniture, but also of Korean and Japanese designs – most villagers had no idea what a patent was. Now they know there is money to be made from owning intellectual property, and not just from stealing it.”


Jamil Anderlini & Sally Gainsbury in FT, "A chilling end in Chongqing".

“Many overseas businesspeople in China now fear Heywood’s death, and subsequent revelations about his activities, will have a serious negative impact on the way long-term foreign residents are perceived and dealt with by the authorities. It also raises concern about the danger of getting caught up in increasingly violent political battles as the country’s elite fights for influence in the run-up to a once-in-a-decade leadership transition scheduled for this year. According to the British embassy in Beijing, Heywood’s family did not raise any concerns about his death at the time and nothing further was done about the case. That is until Wang Lijun, the powerful police chief of Chongqing, with its 32m inhabitants, arrived on February 6 at the US consulate in the megacity of Chengdu, 300km from Chongqing, and requested political asylum, claiming he feared for his life. The British government told the Financial Times on Friday that Mr Wang had also made an appointment with the British consulate in Chongqing but never arrived.”


Jane Perlez in NYT, "Chinese Insider Offers Rare Glimpse of U.S.-China Frictions".

“The candid writing by Mr. Wang is striking because of his influence and access, in Washington as well as in Beijing. Mr. Wang, who is dean of Peking University’s School of International Studies and a guest professor at the National Defense University of the People’s Liberation Army, has wide access to senior American policy makers, making him an unusual repository of information about the thinking in both countries. Mr. Wang said he did not seek approval from the Chinese government to write the study, nor did he consult the government about it. It is fairly rare for a Chinese analyst who is not part of the strident nationalistic drumbeat to strip away the official talk by both the United States and China about mutual cooperation. Both Mr. Wang and Mr. Lieberthal argue that beneath the surface, both countries see deep dangers and threatening motivations in the policies of the other. Mr. Wang writes that the Chinese leadership, backed by the domestic news media and the education system, believes that China’s turn in the world has arrived, and that it is the United States that is ‘on the wrong side of history.’”


James Taranto at WSJ.com, "Leonid Brezhnev Lives".

“We got to thinking about the Brezhnev Doctrine in connection with our two favorite subjects: sex and constitutional law. Start with the latter. During the 20th century, the American left undertook two revolutions in constitutional jurisprudence: the New Deal revolution, which expanded the power of Congress to control economic life beyond anything the Constitution's authors had envisaged, and the rights revolution, which expanded individual liberties, sometimes by interpreting the Bill of Rights more generously, sometimes by just making new rights up. The New Deal revolution occurred mostly during the 1930s and '40s, the rights revolution in the 1950s through '70s. The legal effects of both revolutions have largely endured (with the partial exception of criminal procedure, as constitutional scholar John Yoo argues in today's Wall Street Journal). But the pace of legal change has been fairly slow since the 1970s, and the left is now primarily in the Brezhnev-like position of vigilantly defending their past gains. This they do by an insistent but selective invocation of stare decisis, the legal doctrine of adherence to precedent.”


Christopher Caldwell in FT, "Groupthink is no match for individual genius".

“If you lock a bunch of high-IQ people in a room and tell them to get on with a simple task, what will they emerge with? Lower IQs, for one thing. A study done by Virginia Tech and a few other institutions, written up over the winter in a publication of the Royal Society, tried to replicate how people think under social pressure. Subjects with an average IQ of 126 were clustered into problem-solving groups and exposed to judgments about their work. A pecking order formed. The low performers showed high responses in the part of the brain that regulates fear. Most of the men became ‘high performers’, most of the women ‘low performers’, but no one blossomed. The scientists concluded that ‘individuals express diminished cognitive capacity in small groups, an effect that is exacerbated by perceived lower status’. In other words, they get dumber.”


Lucy Kellaway in FT, "The female of the species is more scary than the male".

“First, the scariness could be Darwinian. It is harder for women to advance, so those who make it have to be more impressive and more fierce. Second, it could be women act scary to drown out the voice of their inner imposter. Or third, women may be inherently frightening as they are harder to read. Unpredictability leads to anxiety. Or it could be nothing to do with successful women and everything to do with how we perceive them. If we still expect women to be motherly, we are alarmed when they show the tiniest sign of not being so. Or it may simply be a product of scarcity. If you are rare, it’s easier to scare. A final possibility is that it might have something to do with the women of our childhood. I remember going to a dinner attended by two men who played a senior role in UK foreign policy. At first the discussion was about Afghanistan, but over coffee it shifted to prep school, and it became clear that matron and her stool inspections inspired more fear than did the Taliban.”


Kate Carraway at Vice.com, "Girls and Giving Up".

“Since every aspect of American life except porno salaries is a stacked deck against girls there is an absolute imperative for non-dummies to be enraged every moment. It is exhausting, though. There are after-effects of toiling in the psychic and emotional fuckzone of stupid boys and Hunger Games-ing with every other girl and worrying about how much value lives in your titty geography, and so after a while of that, just… stopping, just giving up -- not accepting, but not caring -- is a Jacuzzi for your feelings. I stopped reading the news because my eyes started just being red and sour all the time from crying. I think of it, like, as a ‘soft coma.’ You have to come out of it sometimes but giving up and giving in to just being regular is like finding a new continent made of fleece.”


James Bowman in New Criterion, "What nice girls aren’t".

“Equating a woman’s virtue with her honor was once a way of protecting her privacy. It made virtue the default position and questioning it unthinkable apart from so gross and careless an indiscretion on her part in making public what was expected to be private that the honor group of which she was a part could not continue to turn a blind eye. Out-of-wedlock pregnancy was one such breach of the expected discretion that the advent of easily obtainable and inexpensive ‘birth-control’ -- an increasingly hilarious euphemism itself -- once promised to put an end to. Now, however, perhaps in response to the gay movement’s imperative that private sexual behavior must be advertised in public, Miss Fluke is thought to be an admirable figure for making her need to take pharmacological steps to avoid becoming pregnant a matter for public comment. As I noticed in my book Honor, A History, nearly a century after the Western honor culture embarked on its long, slow decline from cultural hegemony to irrelevance, “slut” remained a “fighting word” when applied to a woman as, at least in some social contexts, its equivalent ‘coward’ did when applied to a man. In fact, one of the most common tropes among Rush Limbaugh’s many detractors in the public forum was that those conservatives who might otherwise have been supposed to be on his side were cowards for not denouncing him and demanding that he be removed from the airwaves along with everyone else, a venerable inversion of the obvious truth that it is the mob, virtual or otherwise, seeking safety in numbers, who are the cowards….”


George Walden in Standpoint, "Beware the Fausts of Neuroscience".

“As a diplomatic specialist in Communism, in China and the Soviet Union I had witnessed at first hand the biggest live experiment in history, as more than a billion human beings, caged in their own countries like laboratory mice, were subjected to the parascientific creed of dialectical materialism and Marxism-Leninism. Of the outcome — some hundred million dead, three million in China during 1966-69 the years I was there — there is little more to be said, except to recall how many Western scientists, some eminent, went along with the experiment in the face of the scepticism of Johnson's common reader. One example. Professor J.D. Bernal, a first-rank scientist, helped lay the foundations of molecular biology. Inspired by Nikolai Bukharin's lecture on the Marxist roots of Newton, he had earlier endorsed the ‘proletarian science’ of Trofim Lysenko, whose theory of plant genetics Stalin backed because it suggested that the acquired characteristics of the communist New Man could be transmitted in perpetuity. Bukharin was later shot in the show trials of 1938 after torture extracted a confession; Bernal survived till 1971, when he died peacefully, proud of his Stalin Prize, and with no confession. As we contemplate the utopian claims of some branches of scientific inquiry today, the damage he and a generation of sympathisers and fellow travellers (including Joseph Needham, and to a lesser extent C.P. Snow) did to the reputation of science itself should not be forgotten. All this comes to mind as I try to keep abreast of neuroscience. I am not saying this is the new Marxism, merely that experiments and theories that claim to revolutionise our understanding of ourselves deserve the common reader's vigilance. Remarkable research is under way, but some in the neuroscience fraternity are not content with reinterpreting the world: they want to change it. ‘The return of political scientism, particularly of a biological variety,’ Raymond Tallis has written, ‘should strike a chill to the heart.’ It does to mine. Today Orwell's Animal Farm would feature a cold-eyed, white-coated meerkat loading troublesome creatures into a brain scanner, before prescribing the necessary treatment.”


Kevin Clarke & David Primo in NYT, "Overcoming ‘Physics Envy’".

“Many social scientists contend that science has a method, and if you want to be scientific, you should adopt it. The method requires you to devise a theoretical model, deduce a testable hypothesis from the model and then test the hypothesis against the world. If the hypothesis is confirmed, the theoretical model holds; if the hypothesis is not confirmed, the theoretical model does not hold. If your discipline does not operate by this method — known as hypothetico-deductivism — then in the minds of many, it’s not scientific. Such reasoning dominates the social sciences today. Over the last decade, the National Science Foundation has spent many millions of dollars supporting an initiative called Empirical Implications of Theoretical Models, which espouses the importance of hypothetico-deductivism in political science research. For a time, The American Journal of Political Science explicitly refused to review theoretical models that weren’t tested. In some of our own published work, we have invoked the language of model testing, yielding to the pressure of this way of thinking. But we believe that this way of thinking is badly mistaken and detrimental to social research. For the sake of everyone who stands to gain from a better knowledge of politics, economics and society, the social sciences need to overcome their inferiority complex, reject hypothetico-deductivism and embrace the fact that they are mature disciplines with no need to emulate other sciences. The ideal of hypothetico-deductivism is flawed for many reasons. For one thing, it’s not even a good description of how the “hard” sciences work. It’s a high school textbook version of science, with everything messy and chaotic about scientific inquiry safely ignored.”


Andrew Ferguson in Weekly Standard, "Allan Bloom’s ‘Closing of the American Mind’ 25 years later".

“The crisis was -- is -- a crisis of confidence in the principle that serves as the premise of liberal education: that reason, informed by learning and experience, can arrive at truth, and that one truth may be truer than another. This loss of faith had consequences and causes far beyond higher ed. Bloom was a believer in intellectual trickle-down theory, and it is the comprehensiveness of his thesis that may have attracted readers to him and his book. The coarsening of public manners, the decline in academic achievement, the general dumbing down of America -- even Jerry Springer -- had a long pedigree that Bloom was at pains to describe for a general reader. ‘The crisis of liberal education,’ he wrote, ‘is a reflection of a crisis at the peaks of learning, an incoherence and incompatibility among the first principles with which we interpret the world, an intellectual crisis of the greatest magnitude, which constitutes the crisis of our civilization.’ He asked readers to consider contemporary students as he encountered them. They arrived ill-equipped to explore the large questions the humanities pose, and few saw the need to bother with them in any case. Instead, he said, they were cheerful, unconcerned, dutiful, and prosaic, their eyes on the prize of that cushy job. They were ‘nice.’ You can almost see him shudder as he writes the word. ‘They are united only in their relativism,’ he wrote. ‘The relativity of truth is not a theoretical insight but a moral postulate.’ Relativism, in fact, was the only moral postulate that went unchallenged in academic life.”


Fred Siegel in Commentary, "How Highbrows Killed Culture".

“The ‘brave new world’ is America, to some extent, or rather, Huxley‘s bleak view of America, which he once described as ‘a land where there is probably less personal freedom than in any other country in the world with the possible exception of Bolshevik Russia.’ In the Americanized Brave New World, workers are mass-produced, Henry Ford-style. Those workers live in a mindless drug-induced state of happiness little different from the drug-like effects of the Americanized popular culture Huxley so loathed. In the ‘brave new world,’ as in America, Huxley argues, the lack of freedom isn‘t externally imposed -- it is, rather, an expression of a culture and polity organized around the wishes of the masses. America‘s failing was its ‘lack of an intellectual aristocracy… secure in its position and authority’ so that it could constrain people from ‘thinking and acting… like the characters in a novel by Sinclair Lewis,’ a man whose novels offered a stinging portrait of the stifling conformity of middle-class bourgeois life. This potent critique of mass culture was suddenly muted in the 1930s by the rise of the Communist party in the united States, which required of the intellectuals who flocked ot it a sentimental attachment to the masses.”


Michael Gazzaniga in WSJ on Edward O. Wilson’s book, The Social Conquest of Earth.

“The controversy is due to the fact that he is challenging one of the central pillars of modern evolutionary biology -- that natural selection acts far more strongly on individuals and genetic relatives than on broader social groups. In addition, ‘The Social Conquest of Earth’ is a reversal of Mr. Wilson's own earlier view that the evolution of altruism was driven by kin selection rather than group selection. This issue is brought to the fore by social insects like bees and ants, which exhibit the Darwinian paradox of evolved sterility. How can sterility evolve by a process that favors the best-reproducing? On the kin-selection theory, sterile workers that serve the hive were selected for because they were spreading their genes through helping their mothers, sisters and brothers reproduce. Now Mr. Wilson promotes the highly contested idea that group selection -- the competition of one group against others -- is the driving force, favoring self-sacrificial behaviors in individuals that benefit all group members, even those that aren't related.”


J. Hoberman in Bookforum on Katerina Clark’s book, Moscow, The Fourth Rome: Stalinism, Cosmopolitanism, and the Evolution of Soviet Culture, 1931-1941.

“In official portraits, Clark notes, Stalin was typically associated with writing -- the author of authors. With this meta-intellectual in charge, culture became a value (‘married,’ rather than subjugated to Marxism); the aesthetic assumptions of the Soviet ’30s, Clark suggests, were, in some ways, even more utopian than those of the ’20s. Western intellectuals, led by Georg Lukacs, who left Berlin for Moscow in 1933, unabashedly advanced their own cultural traditions as the forerunners of the new Soviet literature. Lukacs reintroduced Hegel and championed Sir Walter Scott, down-playing economic or class considerations to emphasize the aesthetic. Although this cultural neo-conservatism was ascendant, the avant-garde was not yet dead. Tretiakov got ten chapters of Ulysses translated in Interantional Literature, despite Central Committee member Karl Radek’s 1934 speech ‘James Joyce or Socialist Realism?’ Moscow includes a wonderful subchapter on the visit of the Beijing opera artist Mei Lanfang and the various aesthetic lessons drawn from his performances by the surviving radicals Brecht, Eisenstein, and Tretiakov.”


Carl Rollyson in WSJ on A.N. Wilson’s book, Hitler.

“Hitler was an early champion of many ideas typical of our own degraded modern age -- vegetarianism, the opposition to hunting, the endorsement of abortion and euthanasia, and the rejection of the past, including old-time religion. Are the Nuremberg rallies really so different, Mr. Wilson asks, from ‘our love of spectacularly large football stadia, pop festivals, and open-air religious celebrations’? The Olympic torch, he reminds us, is a Nazi invention.”


Nick Cohen in Standpoint, "How the Left Turned Against the Jews".

“But in a strange manner few discuss, the death of Communism has freed far-Left ideas from the cage of the Cold War. When the far Left was a global force, the mainstream liberal Left had to draw dividing lines and defend itself from its attacks. Now that the far Left threatens no one, the borders have gone. The media would hound from public life any conservative who shared platforms with members of a neo-Nazi group. But respectable leftists can now associate with those who would once have been regarded as poisonous extremists — and no one notices. What applies to personal alliances applies equally to ideology. Foul ideas flood past the unmanned border posts, with disastrous consequences for Jews and Arabs. The influence of far-Left ideas on attitudes towards the Israeli/Palestinian conflict is too obvious to spend much time on. You will have noticed how rarely discussion of a workable solution appears.”


Jed Perl in New Republic, "Avant-Garde Persuasions".

“Some shocked, some charmed, some threatened, some cajoled, some instructed. Some managed to do a number of these things at more or less the same time. Always they insisted that forms, feelings, and attitudes which the public initially found at best alien were in fact inevitable. What still astonishes is the scale of their success. Everybody would like to know how it was done. With support for the arts in decline and the public increasingly convinced that culture can be had for free or close to free on the iPad, we find ourselves wondering exactly how, in 1913, our forebears pulled off events as unforgettable as the first night of Stravinsky’s ‘Sacre du printemps’ in Paris and the Armory Show in New York. We wonder how van Gogh’s paintings, which were impossible to sell at his death in 1890, could have been the subjects of such a great many forgeries little more than a generation later.”


David Krajicek in NYT, "Where Death Shaped the Beats".

“An archive of letters and postcards to Carr at Columbia’s Butler Library shows that Kerouac and Ginsberg continued to solicit his approval long after they became famous writers — Ginsberg in intimate, lyrical letters and Kerouac in wisecracking postcards.
Yet in his journal (published in his ‘Book of Martyrdom and Artifice’) Ginsberg wrote of Carr: ‘He must prove that he is a genius. He cannot do so in creative labor — for he has not the patience, says he, nor the time, says he, nor the occasion, says he. None of these reasons is correct. He seems not to have the talent.’ Carr certainly was a talented editor. A 2003 history of United Press International called him “the soul of the news service.” He did not talk about his life among the Beats or his crime, and former colleagues say Carr would have been livid about ‘Kill Your Darlings.’ Joseph A. Gambardello, a longtime newspaper editor, was a protégé of Carr’s at U.P.I. in the mid-1970s, when the news service was based in the Daily News Building on East 42nd Street. ‘When I met him he was a hard-drinking, hardworking journalist,’ Mr. Gambardello said. ‘He did not come across as a pretentious jackass at all.’ He added, ‘The person I had read about with Kerouac and Ginsberg didn’t exist anymore.’”


John Strausbaugh at The Chiseler, "3000 Beatniks Riot".

“In his posthumously-published memoir, Dave Van Ronk recalls that there were various cliques in the park: a Zionist group singing and dancing ‘Hava Nagila,’ Stalinists, bluegrass fans, folk traditionalists. Black journalist John A. Williams reported that the locals’ complaints were not really musical but social: ‘In the ensuing meetings with city officials, it became apparent that what was opposed was not so much folk singing as the increasing presence of mixed couples in the area, mostly Negro men and white women.’ In the late 1950s the parks commission began issuing permits to limit the number of musicians, allowing them to ‘sing and play from two until five as long as they had no drums,’ Van Ronk writes. This ‘kept out the bongo players. The Village had bongo players up the wazoo… and we hated them. So that was some consolation.’ He doesn’t mention that those bongo-players were very often black. This racial aspect had an old historical precedent in Greenwich Village. In 1819, white residents of the area complained ‘of being much annoyed by certain persons of color practising as Musician with Drums and other instruments through the Village.’”


Barry Mazor in WSJ, "A Life Lived as the Other Seeger".

“‘I think to really understand Mike, to really explain him,’ the author noted in an interview, ‘you have to know that, unconsciously, he was long rebelling against the Seeger family, and especially Pete. He loved and admired his big brother, but he was always aware that Pete was this icon of American culture and that he was going to have to come up with something different. I think that long before he ever explicitly recognized it, he was building his own niche.’ The most overtly political decision of Mike Seeger's life -- to register as a conscientious objector in 1952 and perform alternative service as an orderly at the Mount Wilson Tuberculosis Hospital in the Baltimore area -- led not to a life as a political activist, but to his pivotal encounter with the miner family of down-home West Virginia singer-songwriter Hazel Dickens, to work with Dickens, and to deeper immersion into bluegrass and older Appalachian music. ‘There were people who resented his not taking a more active part in politics,’ Mr. Malone continued. ‘Other times, as when, right after those Baltimore years, because he couldn't yet work in music full time, he tried to get a job to work with the Social Security agency, the Seeger name was enough for him to be asked questions about his political affiliations.’”


"Becoming Johnny Ramone", book excerpt in New York.

“I've always been a Republican, since the 1960 election with Nixon against Kennedy. At that point, I was basically just sick of people sitting there going, ‘Oh, I like this guy. He’s so good-looking.’ I’m thinking, ‘This is sick. They all like Kennedy because he’s good-looking?’ And I started rooting for Nixon just because people thought he wasn’t good-looking. And then by the time Goldwater ran and he starts talking about bombing Vietnam, I said, ‘This sounds right to me.’ I was in favor of bombing the enemy into oblivion. Same as any war: If you want to be in it, win it. I didn’t understand why we didn’t just bomb the place out of existence. At the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, when I made my acceptance speech I said: ‘God bless President Bush, and God bless America.’ That sure set them off. This wasn’t long after September 11 -- I was always so gung ho American, I felt that was a real attack on me. One of the things I am most proud of that we did was a benefit at CBGB for the New York Police Department so they could get bulletproof vests. This was when New York wasn’t safe at all, before Giuliani fixed it up. We even had protesters outside the club, those commies. The most unlikely place I was ever recognized was on the trading floor of the Stock Exchange. I walked down there and everybody knew who I was. They were handing me phones and asking me to say hello to their friends. I talked to everybody. That was in the nineties. I thought, ‘All these Ramones fans work on Wall Street?’”


Jimmy Alvarado in Razorcake, "The Stains, An Oral History of East Los Angeles’s First Punk Band, Pt. 1".

“Ceasar: I grew up listening to my brother’s albums. He was listening to Pink Floyd, David Bowie, Black Sabbath, Captain Beyond, Yes, and all the Beatles, as was everyone in his generation of music. So there was all this music in our house. My dad and my mom were older -- my mom was forty when I was born -- and they grew up in the swing era, so there was jazz and swing and oldies in my house. If you listen to the music back in those days, the radio stations played everything. If there was top ten, you could have Humble Pie, the Beatles, and then Frankie Valli.

Jesse: When I was in the eighth grade, my parents bought me a guitar. I wasn’t that good, so I started picking up on the bass. Back then I was into Black Sabbath and I started getting into jazz, Uriah Heep, and old Deep Purple. I saw this clip on TV of David Bowie and I just changed -- that‘s what I want to do. My parents thought I was gay. Most of the bands at that time looked like fucking bums, and Bowie was sharp. I mean, he’s dressed up… But see, I’m an ugly motherfucker, so I couldn’t imitate Bowie, but I could imitate Mick Ronson ’cause Mick Ronson’s like a tough dude, right? You know, the leather and the boots and the Levis, the scarves. And, I sling my guitar low so I could imitate Mick Ronson. I used to walk around East L.A. looking like a Mexican Mick Ronson, which got me in a hell of a lot of trouble with the cholos. [laughs]”


Grant Hart Q&A with Brad Cohan in Village Voice.


New videos by old sst artists:

• Saint Vitus - "Let Them Fall"

• Greg Ginn & the Royal We - "We Are One"

• Off! - "Wiped Out"


Sam Leighty at Perfect Sound Forever, "The Pleasure Seekers".

“The group went into the studio to record an album for Mercury but they considered that they were being marketed as a Las Vegas styled act when they wanted to do more original and heavier material. And so in 1969, the Pleasure Seekers turned into The Cradle. The Cradle was a different band from The Pleasure Seekers. Nancy Quatro had joined on lead vocals and Arlene Quatro was now the manager. The Cradle was writing and playing much heavier songs than The Pleasure Seekers and they were now traveling all over the country as an opening act for heavy bands and at rock festivals. The Pleasure Seekers were a very cool band but The Cradle were much more blues-rock heavy and more modern for what was going on at the time. Jerry Nolan was brought back from NYC as the new drummer for the Cradle upon Nancy Rogers leaving the group in 1971. He was the only male member to ever play with the Quatro sisters’ bands. It was a short alliance. A couple of months later, Suzi Quatro was signed to RAK records in England and Cradle continued on with a sister duo joining up. Jerry Nolan went on to play drums for the New York Dolls and the girls remember him fondly. That sister duo was Lynn and Leigh Serridge. Lynn and Leigh joined forces with Nancy and Patti Quatro after Suzi got signed to a solo contract in 1971.”


Mike Watt’s email observance of D. Boon’s Apr. 1 birthday:

Minutemen, Mar. 5, 1983, Philadelphia, “Joe McCarthy’s Ghost”.


Obituaries of the Week

Hilton Kramer (1928-2012)

“First of all, it was just plain beautiful – the design, the typeface, the layout, the feel of the paper, everything. Second, once I opened it and began reading, I realized that I’d stumbled across a community of people with whom I strongly identified. The articles were about literature, art, classical music, and culture generally, but they weren’t written in the pretentious academic prose to which I’d become accustomed, and the writers didn’t approach their subjects with the usual political presuppositions and prejudices. No – these were men and women who were plainly saying what they actually thought, and were doing so in language that was consistently intelligent and engaging. Nor did they mind tipping over sacred cows, including the sacred cows of the left, although they did so in the most elegant possible way. In short: real writing by real people about real stuff. The magazine was called The New Criterion. The issues I perused at the Gotham Book Mart were its very first. It was edited by Hilton Kramer, the former chief art critic of the New York Times and one of the most imposing names on the New York intellectual scene of the day. Audaciously, I wrote to Kramer, including some clips of my published work – which at that time didn’t amount to very much – and asking if I might write for his magazine. I didn’t hold out much hope, but thought it was worth a try. To my surprise, I received a reply almost at once from Kramer himself (this was back when letters were typed on pieces of paper and stuffed in envelopes, which were then stamped and placed in something called a mailbox), asking me for more information about my critical approach and tastes. I answered his questions as best I could, and the next thing I knew I was reviewing three books by and about the novelist Thomas Wolfe for The New Criterion.”

Fang Lizhi (1936-2012)

“He joined China’s Institute of Modern Physics after graduating in 1956, only to be expelled from the Communist Party a year later during Mao Zedong’s Anti-Rightist Campaign, a movement against intellectuals and others who were seen to have strayed from Communist principles. His offense was writing an essay criticizing political interference in scientific research. Mr. Fang was considered too valuable to allow party censure to affect his work, and he continued to rise in academia. But when the Cultural Revolution began in 1966, he was again persecuted, first imprisoned and then sent to rural Anhui Province to work with peasants. He carried with him but one book, on astrophysics, and his repeated readings of it led him to change his research focus from fundamental physics to cosmology. Still an outcast, he continued to flout convention. In 1972, Mr. Fang and colleagues at Anhui’s branch of the University of Science and Technology of China published a paper titled ‘A Solution of the Cosmological Equations in Scalar-Tensor Theory, with Mass and Blackbody Radiation.’ ‘This innocuous-sounding article met with a furious response from leading theoretical circles of the party,’ The China Quarterly recounted in a 1990 article. ‘Fang et al. had broken a longstanding taboo by introducing the Big Bang theory to the Chinese physics world. Insofar as the Big Bang contradicted Engels’s declaration that the universe must be infinite in space and time, Fang’s paper was tantamount to heresy.’”


Thanks to Steve Beeho, Jay Babcock, Chris Woods.

Above Flowage, Wyoming

Photo by Joe Carducci

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• The New Vulgate
• Joe Carducci, Chris Collins, James Fotopoulos, Mike Vann Gray, David Lightbourne (1942 - 2010)
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1 comment:

  1. Mr. Carducci,

    Somebody on the discography site "Rate Your Music" put together 500 of Rolling Stone's Greatest Hitjobs and responded to each in a hilarious manner I thought you might appreciate.
    I'm sure the creator is in protective custody somewhere.

    Note: the world's worst prose poem in the shape of an Incredible String Band review, the staggeringly out-of-touch "Dub Housing" and "Germfree Adolescents", the "nice kitty" belittlement of the female punk bands (if Greil Marcus had published "Lipstick Traces" in '79, it would've been subtitled "On My Dick, Bitch!"), and the disappearance of the Meat Puppets down the RS memory hole (they should've renamed themselves "Raging Sphincter"...no wonder they strapped on that colostomy bag in the mid-'90s.)


    NO SLEEP UNTIL STONE MALE. Can't wait to see your take on "The Beguiled". One of my favorite Clint-Siegel movies. When my ex-wife had a show on KBOO we did an hour-long revision of the script (with additional dialogue from "Kings Row" and "Straw Dogs", "Citizen Tanya" (sorry), and covers of "Slip It In" (sung by our Clint/Reagan impersonator), "I Love A Man In Uniform", "Sexual Healing", and a twenty-minute version of "N.W.R.A." by the Fall that had a mash-up thing that sampled Clint's line "I'm A Quaker...I don't carry guns into battle, I carry bandages" along with Wilford Brimley saying "a good breakfast" and "diabeetus" and Art Linkletter going on about "mushrooms". It a pretty funny show I would love for you to be able to hear so if I can get the CD out of my wife I'll send you a copy. (I also did a review of every Thermidor, Subterranean, Adolescent, New Alliance, and SST release a few years ago that needs to be re-written but when that's done I'll let you know.)