Photo by Joe Carducci
Metal Box in Dub
by Steve Beeho
The oxidised state of the orginal copies of "Metal Box" is a fitting metaphor for the post-punk dream and PiL's doomed anti-rockist crusade. The record's bleak, chilling beauty went on to cast a shadow over all concerned, its darkness leading inexorably to the notorious Ritz riot show a year later and then years in the wilderness. Lydon shamelessly cashed in his credibility chips to maintain a sub-PiL well into the 90s, Wobble temporarily jacked in music altogether but then worked up his way up again to produce an imposing body of work while Levene has spent the subsequent decades recording fitfully under the radar, the closest equivalent to a post-punk Syd Barrett in the "what if?" stakes.
So it was a major thrill to get the opportunity to witness Wobble and Levene reinterpreting those songs a mere 34 years after they'd last played together in London (before "Metal Box" had even been recorded). Even spookier, three days later the first PIL album in 20 years was released. Now what are the chances of that?! (Ahem).
There have been various spluttering attempts at post-punk revivals over the years, which have floundered on the stumbling block that the stylistic reappropriations lacked the earlier social context. Post-punk was spawned in a time of economic austerity and no amount of melodramatic stylised posturing can paper over that. Well, economic austerity has now returned with a vengeance and just as it seemed fitting that the Pop Group re-emerged last year, the time finally seems right for "Metal Box" to weave its spell again.
Reunions are a bit of a lottery at the best of times (as we all know to our cost by now) but I was lucky enough to catch the Pop Group's first London show at the Garage and they were incendiary. Wobble and Levene relegated them to a mere footnote.
When we arrived at the Village Underground in London's trendy, happening, nauseating Shoreditch we were just heading for the separate bar (it was the hottest day of the year and I was gasping) when I spotted out of the corner of my eye at that precise moment the band ambling on stage with zero fanfare so that idea went out of the window because I didn't want to miss a single second. Little did I know that I'd still be dying of thirst nearly 2 hours (!) later.
They kicked off with "Graveyard" which set the template for the set, the song's foundations expanded into a relentless groove monster that could happily have gone on into infinity. Wobble's bone-shaking bass and Marc Layton-Bennett on drums acted as the anchor, while Levene's abstract/oblique approach to melody turned the songs inside out while always seeming completely right.
With Lydon otherwise engaged, Nathan Maverick was enlisted from a Sex Pistols/PiL tribute band which Levene had been previously guesting with for fun. (I swear I'm not making this up. Although this was potentially cringe-worthy, its sheer perversity was a masterstroke in puncturing any lingering sense of preciousness and his sonic resemblance to Lydon's wail was uncanny. In one interview Wobble likened his presence to the way that dead characters in Solaris reappear as they once were (!).
Wobble left PiL soon after their 1980 US tour and the various live recordings in circulation reveal a band already itching to stretch out, so there was a definite sense of unfinished busines. Sean Corby's trumpet interjections further rammed home the point that Wobble and Levene weren't going to settle for tip-toeing through past glories, adding a quasi-Agharta/Pangaea tangent when he got to blow.
If memory serves, the full set was "Graveyard", "Memories", "Poptones", "No Birds Do Sing", "Albatross", "Death Disco", "Careering", "Bad Baby", "Public Image".
Fashion police please note: Levene was resplendent in a Beatles T-shirt. Now THAT'S punk etc etc. The show ended with Wobble paying lavish tribute to him (totally deserved - he was definitely the man of the match) and wrapping his arm around Levene's shoulder. I don't think many 1980 PIL gigs finished that way...
Simon Reynolds interviews Greil Marcus in four parts at the LA Review of Books.
• Part 1
• Part 2
• Part 3
• Part 4
“SR: Didn't you once declare that you never found New York's version of punk the least bit interesting? For you, punk was what happened in the UK, and then a few of the bands in San Francisco, like the Avengers. But what about the Los Angeles scene? Did you rate the Germs and The Weirdos and the rest?
GM: I liked X. There were all kinds of people who made records I liked, such as the Descendents. But in some ways I was too much of a snob to appreciate how great the Avengers were right at that moment, in '77 and '78. What appealed to me, what was shocking, what was overwhelming, was the way in which punk, as it was enacted in the UK, was a social revolution in the form of this tiny little medium that boiled down to a seven-inch piece of plastic. All the demands on society, on life, on ontology, on epistemology — all the critique of being — all that was boiled down into that little piece of plastic. All those demands are present in that noise, and in that vocal sound. I knew this was not just a new kind of music; this was not just a new sense of humor, or a new sense of irony. What I disliked about New York punk was irony.”
Even in death Christopher Hitchens continues to provoke. A recent Observer profile of Martin Amis centring on his recent relocation to New York, recalls Amis previously describing "the two of them touring London pubs as young men, when Hitchens would invariably want to argue with the biggest, meanest-looking bloke at the bar while Amis tried to inch them towards the exit."
Marcus positively flays Hitchens as a dishonest self-promoter in part 4 above while James Kirchock at World Affairs has a rather different take in "Misremembering Christopher Hitchens":
"Christopher perplexed, if not irrevocably enraged, many of his liberal acquaintances when he came out in support of the Iraq War and the Bush administration’s foreign policy more generally. Some stopped talking to him. Others, honorable to the essential nature of friendship, loved him in spite of it. For those who disagreed with Christopher (and that’s everyone; it was impossible to agree with him on all things), the proper way to memorialize him is captured by his childhood friend Patrick Cockburn: continue arguing. While disagreeing vehemently with Christopher about the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Cockburn, writing in the Independent, nevertheless concedes that, “it would be a pity if Christopher’s words and writing on Anglo-American military interventions should be ignored,” because he was “the most intelligent and eloquent defender of these interventions as a means of removing dictators or preventing massacres.”
James Bloodworth weighs in on "What Christopher Hitchens left behind":
"To have any relevance to the struggles against tyrannical authority today, the left must get over its obsession with imperialism, an idea based on the antiquated doctrines of long-dead and somewhat unendearing revolutionaries. The alternative is to risk being left behind by history and viewed by the millions who continue to languish under dictatorship as a fringe and irrelevant movement with parochial and remote concerns. It is a fitting time for the left to put the purely abstract away and look real people and their suffering in the face. That is an idea worth keeping, and it is one that was left behind in no small part by Christopher Hitchens."
His brother Peter considers "the Sad Fate of France in a German Europe":
“For France (whose dreams of independent power perished, as did ours, at Suez in 1956), the EU has been a clever arrangement to provide grandeur and soothe feelings in a time of decline. I have discussed elsewhere the Elysee Treaty of 1963, under which France long ago agreed to share domination of Europe with Germany. The bargain has been very fruitful for France because of the Common Agricultural Policy, because of France’s unchallenged seat on the United Nations Security Council, because of France’s continued maintenance of a nuclear strike force and of some of the most significant conventional armed forces in the world, not to mention maintaining its equivalent of the British Commonwealth, the ‘Francophonie’.
Germany, meanwhile, has been able to get on quietly with becoming the industrial and economic superpower of Europe, the chief power in the European Central Bank, using the Euro as a means to devalue the Deutschemark and so aid its exports to non-EU countries. It has also been able to resume, peacefully, the diplomatic directions which it has been seeking since 1871 – domination of the Balkans and the Baltic states, also of Poland, Austria, Hungary, Bohemia, Moravia, Slovakia, Carpathia and the Western Ukraine (look at the 1917 Treaty of Brest-Litovsk for a map of pre-Hitler German aims in the east, plainly stated, and see how many of them have now been achieved under the banner of the EU).
I do not think a new president in France will really be able to challenge this arrangement, or much want to, whatever the election rhetoric may have been. The whole EU seems to me to be an admission that it simply is not worth anyone trying to question German pre-eminence any more. That is what pro-EU apologists mean when they say that the EU has ‘prevented war in Europe since 1945’. It has prevented it by bringing about longstanding German foreign policy aims, by consent and peacefully, and without the national humiliation and bankruptcy attendant on war and subjugation.”
David Stubbs grapples with the first 100 records of John Peel's collection, as it systematically goes online.
"Had he lived to be 265, rather than, sadly, 65, he could not possibly hope to have given these albums the solid, several times over hearing their makers naively hoped he would. Possessing them, conscientiously filing and noting them was the thing. This has been reflected in the widespread slew of praise for the undertaking of putting up the collection. What an archive. What a national treasure. What a man. What volume and diversity, obscurity and eccentricity. You do sense, however, an undeclared, silent follow-up. "Of course, none of it's the sort of thing you could ever listen to."
An extract from Richard King's How Soon is Now, detailing the early years of Blast First.
To mark their 30th anniversary, Flying Nun have digitised all 6 issues of Garage fanzine, which documented in close-up their formative years.
A cavalcade of LA figures queue up to read extracts from Jack Brewer's work at the launch of No Lunch.
Lurking among the horrors at Wolfgang's Vault, amazing quality footage of the Avengers supporting the Sex Pistols' last stand at Winterland on January 14 1978.
Does this mean that there's also film somewhere of Richard Meltzer abusing the audience before the Pistols came on?!
Jon Savage, Tony Parsons, Allan Jones and Peter York recall the Sex Pistols' legendary Jubilee boat trip.
A grainy version of the director's cut, some of which appeared in The Great Rock'n'Roll Swindle.
Richard Meltzer interview by Andrew Hamlin in San Diego Reader:
"Q. How did you get into listening to the Minutemen?
A. I had this punk-rock show on KPFK in L.A. from ’79 to ’81, and somewhere in the course of that the Minutemen put out some singles, some EPs. I thought they were great, and then I got a package from Watt containing some of the stuff… I still have it... wait a second. [Pause while Meltzer goes to look.] I saved the letter that he sent me. It’s October 5, 1981, and it’s written in runny blue ink... it’s a little hard to read [he laughs]. It says, 'Sorry for the fuckup with the ink, Mr. Meltzer. We’re a tiny label from San Pedro, close to Marineland, that has sent you promos of our first four releases. What we would like to know is this: Did you get them? Did you write anything about them? Do you think we’re assholes and should leave you alone? Please reply to the above and add any other questions, comments, if you want. Thanks, Mike Watt.' So we slowly but surely became friends. By ’81 the whole L.A. punk scene, the first generation, had basically waned, and as far as I was concerned the whole scene just fell apart. The Minutemen were the next generation."
Drawing by James Fotopoulos
From the Wyoming desk of Joe Carducci...
Fred Andrews in NYT on Arthur Herman's book, Freedom's Forge - How American Business Produced Victory in World War II.
"In that way, and well before Pearl Harbor, Mr. Knudsen enlisted the entire auto industry, even persuading it to free capacity by giving up its annual model changeover. He believed that only big business had the expertise and sheer size to get the job done — and that business needed to make money. As Dr. Herman notes, Adam Smith would have been pleased. But Mr. Knudsen was politically indifferent, if not naïve. Roosevelt gave him little authority beyond the power to exhort and orchestrate. In a year and a half, he did yeoman’s work to begin mobilization, but was ground down by Washington politics. After Pearl Harbor, when Roosevelt was free to reorganize for outright war, Mr. Knudsen, with his volunteer philosophy, was out, his office replaced by a War Production Board with greater authority. He was faulted in the press as having done too little, but, in fact, the armaments makers were on their way. Dr. Herman seems to believe that zealous New Dealers and fractious labor unions were the enemy here. He writes that after Mr. Knudsen was gone as mobilization chief: 'The New Dealers thought they had won. They were too late. America was indeed in production now, with 25,000 prime contractors and 120,000 subcontractors making products they had never dreamed of making, and thousands more to come. And nothing the people in Washington or the Axis could do now would stem the tide.'"
Barry Newman in WSJ, "New York's Last Cross-Harbor Railway Chugs On as Alternative to Trucks".
"The city, meantime, was building a new float bridge — 'the latest in 19th-century technology,' as one official says. The new bridge was on the Brooklyn waterfront a few blocks from Cross Harbor's yard. It connected directly to existing tracks that ran through Brooklyn and out to Long Island. The bridge cost $20 million and was finished in 2000. It has stood idle ever since. Hoping to find another operator, the city wouldn't let the railroad near it. 'Let's just say they didn't have a very good opinion of the Cross Harbor,' says Ron Bridges, who later became its chief executive. In 1999, Mr. Crawford sold out to investors, who sold to a waste hauler, who changed the name to NYNJR — and finally sold to an outfit with money: the Port Authority. On the water, it took 40 truck-free minutes for the train to reach Brooklyn's shore. Its old float bridge there is pre-electric: a pontoon with tracks on it. A locomotive, creeping seaward along the pontoon, pressed it into the water until it was level with the barge. Deck hands threw the bolts and locked the rails in place. The train creaked onto dry land. It shunted the potato car into the freight yard. Then, to transfer the rest of the cars to a train for Long Island, it grumbled along tracks laid long ago down the middle of Brooklyn's First Avenue, stopping for lights, waiting for double parkers to move."
John Schwartz in NYT, "Freight Train Late in Charlotte? Blame Chicago.".
"Shippers complain that a load of freight can make its way from Los Angeles to Chicago in 48 hours, then take 30 hours to travel across the city. A recent trainload of sulfur took some 27 hours to pass through Chicago — an average speed of 1.13 miles per hour, or about a quarter the pace of many electric wheelchairs. With freight volume in the United States expected to grow by more than 80 percent in the next 20 years, delays are projected to only get worse. The underlying reasons for this sprawling traffic jam are complex, involving history, economics and a nation’s disinclination to improve its roads, bridges and rails. Six of the nation’s seven biggest railroads pass through the city, a testament to Chicago’s economic might when the rail lines were laid from the 1800s on. Today, a quarter of all rail traffic in the nation touches Chicago."
Conor Dougherty in WSJ, "Falling Costs Put Midwest Back in Play".
"A gauge of Midwestern business costs — a mix of labor, energy, taxes and real estate — stood at 96% of the U.S. average in 2010, according to an index compiled by Moody's Analytics, an economic-analysis firm. That is barely higher than the South's 95% of the average — and the distance between the regions has narrowed sharply over the past decade. Costs have edged down in most regions of the U.S. over the past several years, according to Moody's. The West has seen the steepest drop by far, to 101% of the national average from 107% in 2004, leaving it more comparable to the Midwest and South than to the Northeast. Still, the West remains relatively more expensive and hasn't traditionally been as aggressive in trying to lure industry with tax incentives. The Moody's index tracks the cost of various business inputs and uses a model to weigh them in each state. These measures show that lower Midwestern energy costs have been one of the factors helping to make the region more competitive. The change in the West, too, is largely attributable to a marked fall in energy costs after an sharp jump in 2002-03. More recently, high unemployment brought on by the housing bust and recession — which hit states such as California and Nevada harder than most others — has helped hold down labor costs. But only the Midwest has seen its costs fall enough to challenge the South, which has long lured businesses — especially manufacturers — with cheaper labor and lower taxes."
Niala Boodhoo at WBEZ.ORG, "Small businesses fuel Chicago exports abroad".
"Julie Carducci works for the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Chicago office. She said today, there are many companies that from the outside, appear to be the same as they were 20 years ago but, like Schulman, they have added entirely new lines of business. Last year, statistics showed export growth from Illinois up 29 percent, an 'astounding' figure, said Carducci, especially since that was almost twice the average rate of national growth. Carducci considers many companies 'reactive,' meaning they are simply responding to the demand for their products overseas. But Carducci said her agency's also worked with American startups that hope to develop their entire customer base abroad. 'We see a lot of interest and there is a lot of demand for the up and coming markets of Turkey, Brazil, India and China,' Carducci said. 'But really in one breath you say that, but then you say, 'I have a lot of clients going to Africa,' they have a lot of interest in the African markets.' Soy is one of Illinois’s biggest exports. Next in line are services like architectural and design work and products such as machinery, electrical equipment and chemicals.”
David Rauf & Jonathan Allen in Politico, "Apple Stands Above the Fray, But May Be Making Mistake".
"Apple is taking a bruising in Washington, and insiders say there’s a reason: It’s the one place in the world where the company hasn’t built its brand. In the first three months of this year, Google and Microsoft spent a little more than $7 million on lobbying and related federal activities combined. Apple spent $500,000 — even less than it spent the year before. The company’s attitude toward D.C. — described by critics as 'don’t bother us' — has left it without many inside-the-Beltway friends. And that means Apple is mostly on its own when the Justice Department goes after it on e-books, when members of Congress attack it over its overseas tax avoidance or when an alphabet soup of regulators examine its business practices. 'I never once had a meeting with anybody representing Apple,' said Jeff Miller, who served as a senior aide on the Senate Judiciary Committee’s Antitrust Subcommittee for eight years. 'There have been other tech companies who chose not to engage in Washington, and for the most part that strategy did not benefit them.' Apple could have learned a lesson from Wal-Mart and Microsoft, corporate giants who established major Washington operations only after the government came gunning for them. And with a target now on its back, Google is on pace to pump $20 million into lobbying this year."
CT: "Seven ways to shrink government".
"Behold the animal known as township government, one of the most enduring species on the planet. Illinois has 1,432 tax-supported townships — more townships than any other state in the country. Quick, what does your township do for you? (Think ... think ...) That's what we suspected. If your township supervisor skipped work and frolicked in the sand in Maui for the next six months, would your life be changed? No? That's what we suspected. And yet the township perseveres, a relic that collects your money. In March, Evanston held an advisory referendum on eliminating Evanston Township. People loved the idea: 67 percent voted 'yes.' Nice try, Evanston! But state law won't let you do that. If you want to eliminate Evanston Township, you have to eliminate all the townships in Cook County. State law says a majority of voters in 75 percent of the townships have to agree by referendum to dissolve them all. The near-impossible hurdle of 75 percent doesn't protect taxpayers. It protects wasteful township bureaucracies."
Ben Austen in Harper's, "The Life and Death of 1230 N. Burling".
"In 1981, a group of teens who had formed a band convened a practice in 1230 Burling’s downstairs rec room. Maybe the kid with the .357 Magnum mistook the drummer, Larry Potts, for someone else; pointing the gun into an open window, he shot Potts in the head. Not long after, Cora Moore and nine other residents, almost all of them women, started a tenant patrol, hoping to push out gang members who had been charging residents to ride the elevators. They sat up nights in the lobby, replaced hallway lights, and repaired fire doors. Eventually, the Department of Housing and Urban Development trained them as professional security guards. They were even paid for their efforts. Then, under a Reagan initiative, they signed a contract with the Chicago Housing Authority to manage the building themselves, handling 1230 Burling’s security, maintenance, tenant screening, and leasing. Their mission statement proclaimed, ‘We, the residents of the 1230 North Burling Resident Management Corporation, will provide management programs and services, social, educational, cultural, and spiritual, to better the lives and conditions of the 1230 North Burling residents.' Urine still sometimes pooled in the stairwells and elevators could go unfixed, but the building was relatively functional, generally considered cleaner and better operated than the other Cabrini towers, standing in opposition to the argument that high-rise public housing could never succeed."
Ben Wattenberg in WSJ, "America's 21st-Century Population Edge".
"According to one U.N. projection, the world population will fall to three billion or four billion by 2300 from seven billion today. That steep drop in birth rates includes rapidly developing countries such as India, China and Brazil, plus many Arab and Muslim countries. In these countries, birth rates will soon be, or already are, below 'replacement levels' — meaning fewer than 2.1 children per woman, the number sufficient to 'replace' both parents and account for those children who don't make it to reproductive age. Of developing countries, 33 of 155 have below-replacement rates today, and more are on the way."
Andrew Roberts in FT, "Another tragic case of hubristic imperial overstretch".
"So when was it that the Brussels empire over-reached, and became more concerned about its own expansion and glory, its own ambitions for hegemony, than about the daily economic wellbeing of its citizens? Was it when Greece was admitted in 1981, a country whose basic economic make-up had nothing in common with the original six as conjoined by the Treaty of Rome in March 1957? Those countries – West Germany, France, Belgium, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and Italy – at least had a natural synergy since they had formed the European Coal and Steel Community six years earlier, whose 'higher authority' had supranational powers. Or was in when Spain and Portugal joined in 1986, cementing their admission into the rank of democratic nations only five years after Antonio Tejero’s attempted fascist coup, but again adding little in terms of genuine economic synergy to a project that still represented itself as a primarily economic one? A much better candidate for the imperial over-reach moment, however, would be the European Economic Community’s Edinburgh Conference of December 11 and 12, 1992. It was then, after the Danes had rejected the Maastricht treaty the previous June, that the EU decided not to take their no for an answer."
WSJ: "Europe's Phony Growth Debate".
"Growth or austerity? That's the choice facing Europe these days — or so the Keynesian consensus keeps saying. According to this view, which has dominated world economic councils since the 2008 crisis began, 'growth' is mainly a function of government spending. Spend more and you're for growth, even if a country raises taxes to pay for the spending. But dare to cut spending as the Germans suggest, and you're for austerity and thus opposed to growth. This is a nonsense debate that misconstrues the real sources of economic prosperity and helps explain Europe's current mess. The real debate ought to be over which policies best produce growth. In the 1980s, the world learned (or so we thought) that the way out of the malaise of the 1970s were reforms that encourage private investment and risk-taking, labor mobility and flexibility, an end to price controls, tax rates that encouraged capital formation, and what the World Bank now broadly calls 'the ease of doing business.' Amid this crisis, Europe has tried everything except these policies."
Tony Barber in FT on Olaf Cramme & Patrick Diamond's book, After the Third Way - The Future of Social Democracy in Europe.
"Starting in 2008, the financial and debt crises cruelly exposed the illusion that social democratic parties had mastered the art of harnessing markets in the service of the welfare state. The 'third way' – the marriage of economic efficiency with social justice, presided over by a benign and self-limiting state – had reached a dead end. However well-intentioned, its simultaneous embrace of freewheeling financial markets and extensive social provision did not, in a real crisis, amount to an economic policy. Kay’s critique is devastating: 'The centre-left offered no diagnosis, no new ideas and gained no electoral advantage. The political parties, which had waited a century for capitalism to collapse under its own contradictions, congratulated themselves that the collapse had been staved off by the injection of simply incredible amounts – trillions of dollars – of taxpayer funds into the banking system.'"
Bret Stephens in WSJ, "Europe's Brain-Dead Right".
"The resurgence of the Social Democrats in Germany is of a piece with the strong showing of Labour last month in Britain's local council elections. It's of a piece with the pathetic showing this month of Greece's center-right New Democracy, and of the resurgence there of the hard left. It's especially of a piece with Francois Hollande's improbable rise to the French presidency, on the strength of economic ideas whose intellectual sell-by date was sometime in the mid-1970s. Have the gods gone crazy? No. But maybe there's a message here for Europe's joy-fearing conservatives, who seem to have convinced themselves that managing an economy should be like running a 19th-century nunnery — an exercise in the stern suppression of animal spirits."
Nicholas Kulish in NYT, "Germany Looks to Its Own Costly Reunification in Resisting Stimulus for Greece".
"When Germany wants to understand Greece and the crisis afflicting Europe it not only looks south to the Continent’s periphery but also turns inward, to the former East Germany, still struggling more than two decades after German reunification. To an extent not often appreciated by outsiders, the lessons provided by that experience — with the nation pouring $2 trillion or more into the east, by some estimates, to little immediate benefit — color the outlook and decisions of policy makers and the attitudes of voters, a majority of whom would like to see Greece leave the euro zone, polls show. Most economists agree that Germany could do more to help revive growth throughout the euro zone, and there are reports that Chancellor Angela Merkel is preparing to propose a major European Union plan to accomplish that. But the German reluctance to underwrite the economies of Greece and other struggling countries is not just a matter of the parsimonious Germans hoarding their funds, as it is so often portrayed, but a sense that subsidies do not breed successful economies."
Neal Ascherson in London Review of Books on Max Egremont's book, Forgotten Land - Journeys among the Ghosts of East Prussia.
"The East Prussians were unmistakeably an 'outpost people', one of the martial societies on the fringes of a nation who regard themselves as the last upholders of its ancient virtues -- all too aware that those virtues are being abandoned by those they are defending. Humanity has suffered alot from the delusions of outpost people, whether Russian Cossacks, Ulster Unionists, Algerie francaise extremists or white settlers in Rhodesia. The myth that the Grenzdeutscher, the outpost Germans, incarnated true Germanity as no degenerate Berliner or Rhinelander could, still grips the imagination of elderly East Prussian exiles."
Landon Thomas & Eleni Varvitsioti in NYT, "Insecurity Touches The Tycoons of Greece".
"While money pours out of Greek banks and Europe debates whether or not Greece deserves its next handout, the people potentially in the best position to help shore up the nation’s finances are mainly keeping their heads down. They are among the wealthiest Greeks — whether shipping magnates, whose tax-free status is enshrined in the constitution, or the so-called oligarchs who have accumulated vast wealth via their dominance in core areas of the economy like oil, gas, media, banking and even cement. Astute investors, they have been reluctant to lend a hand to the Greek treasury through the risky proposition of buying government bonds."
Liz Alderman & Jack Ewing in NYT, "Most Aid To Greece Circles Back".
"But almost none of the money is going to the Greek government to pay for vital public services. Instead, it is flowing directly back into the troika’s pockets. The European bailout of 130 billion euros ($163.4 billion) that was supposed to buy time for Greece is mainly servicing only the interest on the country’s debt — while the Greek economy continues to struggle. If that seems to make little sense economically, it has a certain logic in the politics of euro-finance. After all, the money dispensed by the troika — the European Central Bank, the International Monetary Fund and the European Commission — comes from European taxpayers, many of whom are increasingly wary of the political disarray that has afflicted Athens and clouded the future of the euro zone. As they pay themselves, though, the troika members are also withholding other funds intended to keep the Greek government in operation."
Robert Ellis at europenews.dk, "Russia and the Cyprus Gambit".
"The Greek Cypriot struggle for self-determination began with the EOKA revolt against Britain in 1955 and the constitution that was imposed on Cyprus was seen by both the Greek Cypriots and the Turkish Cypriots as an interim measure before they could achieve their ultimate aims – enosis (union with Greece) and taksim (partition). As Christopher Hitchens put it, 'both sides circled around each other like scorpions in a bottle.' It was in the name of self-determination that Makarios enlisted the support of the Non-Aligned Movement and the Soviet bloc, which ultimately led to the Greek junta’s coup against Makarios and Turkey’s intervention in 1974. As the Greek prime minister George Papandreou wrote to President Johnson in June 1964, 'If Natification [NATO membership] of Cyprus does not occur, the island will inevitably be transformed into another Cuba'. In fact, it was the threat of Soviet intervention in the event of a Turkish invasion in 1964 that brought East and West to the brink of a new Cuba crisis. Cyprus also imported Soviet arms from Egypt and Czechslovakia, and Russian support has continued to the present day."
Terrence McNamee in FT, "The real frontline of the Chinese in Africa".
"'Every day, we carry our hearts in our hands'. You hear this Chinese idiom across Africa; it means to live in fear. As one young man said recently: 'Every week the police and immigration come and extort money from us, but the Chinese embassy does nothing, they just look down on us. Why do we have to live as if we are thieves?' The speaker had lost his job in a factory in Fujian province and had travelled thousands of miles to work at a relative’s shop in Angola’s capital, Luanda. He is one of hundreds of thousands of Chinese migrants making a living as traders in Africa, selling everything from food to clothes to household gadgets. Their stories belie two myths about China in Africa: that it’s all about commodities, and that China moves as one. They also illustrate why Beijing cannot afford to ignore the immigrants any longer."
David Pilling in FT, "The nine dragons stirring up the South China Sea".
"In his book about what he sees as a Sino-American clash for mastery in Asia, Aaron L. Friedberg, of Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, says China has three foreign policy axioms: 'avoid confrontation', 'build comprehensive national power' and 'advance incrementally'. Beijing’s stepping up the ante looks very much like 'advance incrementally' That may be Beijing’s long-term goal. For now, according to an excellent report by International Crisis Group, a Brussels-based conflict resolution body, the reality may be messier – and more dangerous. That is because a proliferation of agencies – not the Chinese government itself – may be pushing the boundaries of China’s policy. These are the dragons that are 'stirring up the sea'. They include Customs Law Enforcement, China Fisheries Law Enforcement Command, the Maritime Safety Administration, China Marine Surveillance, and so on. 'There’s a multi-level game going on,' says Michael Wesley, executive director of the Lowy Institute for International Policy, a Sydney-based think-tank, who says competing agencies have an incentive to keep tensions high in order to attract bigger budgets. 'The name of the game has been to use law enforcement as a proxy for the grander sovereignty dispute,' says Stephanie Kleine-Ahlbrandt, one of the authors of the ICG report."
Robert Kaplan in Atlantic, "The Vietnam Solution".
"This pre-chain store capitalism, with cafes everywhere, each different in mood and design, offering some of the best coffee in the world, and no sign of Starbucks. Despite all the history, Hanoi is no outdoor museum like the great cities of Europe. It is still in the ungainly process of becoming -- closer to the disheveled chaos of India than to the alienating sterility of Singapore. Vietnamese are now prying their way into the developed world -- for the sake of themselves and their families, obviously, but also to preserve their independence against an equally dynamic China. And as it has been since antiquity, Hanoi remains a city of nervous political calculations, the price of being a potential middle-level power -- the 13th-most-populous nation in the world -- with a long coastline at the crossroads of major maritime roes and close to immense offshore energy deposits. On my visit there last year, I found a country seized not only with the imperative of economic development but also with the challenge of finding modus vivendi with its age-old neighbor and hegemon -- a challenge that it increasingly looks to the United States, its onetime adversary, to help meet."
Frank Ching at Yaleglobal.yale.edu, "Scandal Erodes China's Soft Power".
"Buoyed by its massive foreign-exchange reserve, China has spent billions of dollars to boost its soft power. Direct Chinese television broadcasts and Confucius Institutes around the world are aimed at winning the world’s respect. But a series of political scandals showing a total lack of regard for China’s rule of law have punctured claims about the Chinese system’s superiority. Chinese netizens’ claims that dissident Chen Guangcheng, who had escaped house arrest, was in 'the 100 percent safe place' in China – the US embassy – sum up China’s challenge. In fact, the Chen incident represents a loss of face, reflecting a lack of trust by Chinese citizens in their own government. As the old saying goes, actions speak louder than words, and actions in China of late have been deafening. A quick survey of world newspaper opinion pages shows the damage to China’s soft power."
Xingfu Wang in Socialism and Democracy, "Rethinking Universalism in the Context of China".
"In the contemporary world, the issue of universal value is a new battlefield of ideas. Alain Badiou thinks that contemporary political philosophy is tossing between communitarian particularism and the pseudo-universalism of liberalism. True politics always has its universal dimension; anyone who denies it would reduce politics to administration and fall into cynicism."
Mary Kissel in WSJ, "Bob Fu: The Pastor of China's Underground Railroad".
"The news out of China these days is gripping, and there's no one more qualified to read the tea leaves than Bob Fu — who from a town in West Texas coordinates the most influential network of human-rights activists, underground Christians and freedom fighters in China. Since 2004, Midland (pop. 111,147) has been home to the spunky 44-year-old pastor and his nonprofit, ChinaAid. It's here that Mr. Fu and his staff of five use the Internet, telephone, letters — any means possible, though he's reticent to give specifics — to communicate with thousands of volunteers who promote religious freedom and the rule of law in China. Why Midland? 'It's much safer here,' Mr. Fu chuckles. After immigrating to the U.S. in 1997, he and his family settled in Philadelphia, where they were soon tailed by Chinese agents. Other agents "confronted" him in Washington, D.C., and invited him for tea. 'The invitation for tea in China to dissidents means soft interrogation,' Mr. Fu explains. When a Midland-based minister invited Mr. Fu and his wife to visit, they liked the place so much that they stayed."
David Martin in TLS on Robert Bellah's book, Religion in Human Evolution - From the Paleolithic to the Axial Age.
"Bellah's model rests on the notion of an accumulated richness of capacities, rather than on supersession and replacement. He has a text: 'Nothing is ever lost'. Bellah constantly retuns to th text and it has major implications. In principle, 'superstition' is not superseded, because narrative is a permanent presence in culture right up to today, and it remains the prime way we understand our individual and collective selfhood. There is no raticination without storytelling: no logos without mythos. In the course of this sequence, Bellah draws out the key role of language, the creation of grammar of past, present and future, of volition, of might be and cannot be, of possibility and frustration, in the emergence of religion."
Christopher Kelly in TLS on Alan Cameron's book, The Last Pagans of Rome.
"For Cameron, pagan religion in Rome was first and foremost about family pride and social prestige, 'more like a sort of upper-class freemasonry than cults with a genuine following'. Paganism was not for fanatics. At root this is an old argument. Over two centuries ago, Edward Gibbon suggested that the strength of the Church as an institution and the exclusive spiritual commitment it demanded were central to Christianity's success. Faced with this new, imperially favoured faith, paganism rolled over and (in Cameron's phrase) 'died a natural death'. By the end of the fourth century, paganism was a second-rate religion for a snobbish and sentimental ancien regime. After all, there were no pagan martyrs."
Timothy Snyder in WSJ on Antony Polonsky's book, The Jews in Poland and Russia Vols. 1-3.
"The most important country in early modern Jewish history is one that few Jews can name: the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. As Jews were expelled from western and central Europe between 1300 and 1500, they were welcomed in Polish lands. In 1569, the Polish kingdom joined the Grand Duchy of Lithuania to form this new constitutional union. As a result of this change, the Polish part of the new entity took from its Lithuanian partner the lands known as Ukraine. The Polish colonization of Ukraine in the 16th and 17th centuries permitted the emergence of a certain synthesis between Polish landowners and their Jewish clients, who helped them turn their property into profitable estates. It was in these conditions that the 'shtetl' emerged: a private town owned by a Polish nobleman, distant from royal authority, with a Jewish-majority population generally permitted to manage its own affairs. In history, as opposed to memory, these were usually stable sites of Jewish communal life, places where the major trends in Jewish religious thought and practice emerged in the centuries to come. Under the commonwealth, Jews experienced what Mr. Polonsky calls a 'sense of security.' The political system of the commonwealth was a kind of aristocratic republic, in which nobles formed the legislature and elected their king. This marginalized the two estates that had the most obvious interest in discriminating against Jews: the Christian burghers of the cities and the Roman Catholic Church. For the landed nobles the suppression of the cities and the humiliation of the church were often points of pride."
Christopher Caldwell in New Republic on Robert Leiken's book, "Europe's Angry Muslims, and Walter Laqueur's book, After the Fall".
'The grim fact is that no Western European country — not one — has managed even a marginally successful integration of its Muslim immigrants, despite half a century of vast treasury outlays, wholesale constitutional re-workings, and indefatigable excuse-making. One is drawn to the conclusion that no successful integration was ever to be expected. Larger historical currents were at play. Islam was on the rise. Europe had lost its élan vital, or its mojo, or whatever you choose to call it. The idea that Europe could handle a mass immigration of Muslims may have been a momentous historical mistake. As Roy Jenkins, the leader of the Liberal Democrats in Britain, remarked in 1989, 'We might have been more cautious about allowing the creation in the 1950s of substantial Muslim communities.' It ought to go without saying that Jenkins was assailing neither individual migrants seeking to improve their position nor the 1,400-year-old religion they practice. But those who speak this way have been accused of Islamophobia, of racial prejudice, and of ill will. They have even — especially in France — been taken to court. This has had a powerful disciplining effect on public discussion, and it has walled off most European countries’ immigration policies from the faintest breeze of common sense."
Malise Ruthven in WSJ on Tom Holland's book, In the Shadow of the Sword - The Birth of Islam and the Rise of the Global Arab Empire.
"In a view that Mr. Holland takes forward from Wansbrough and his disciples, Islam was born not in the deserts of Arabia but in the borders of Syria-Palestine, a region that had long been devastated by plagues and wars—the usual precursors of apocalyptic scenarios and millennial hopes. The Qurayshites may not have been Meccans but Arab tribes that had grown rich on Roman-Byzantine patronage. Far from being illiterate (as the biographies claim, with a view to emphasizing the Quran's miraculous character), Muhammad was a sophisticated man who 'laid claim to traditions of divine inspiration that were immeasurably venerable,' knowing full well what he was about. The religion he founded began as a classic millennial cult comprising Jews, Christians and Arabs driven by an apocalyptic belief in the end of the world, with Jerusalem as its original focus. The early caliphs of Islam, who saw themselves as God's vice-regents, were both heirs and beneficiaries of the same millennial expectations — long entrenched in the region's culture — that surface in the biblical books of Daniel and Revelation, as well as in the Dead Sea Scrolls. The purely Arabian provenance attributed to Islam and its prophet were later inventions by pious scholars who tried to curb the power of the caliphs by using the memory of Muhammad, with its iconic moral authority. The empires of the caliphs are long gone, but the sunna of the prophet — his custom and example — endures."
Chase Robinson in Times Literary Supplement on James Howard-Johnston's book, Witnesses to a World Crisis - Historians and histories of the Middle East in the Seventh Century.
"The field has taken a sceptical turn, working hard to catch up with biblical scholarship and early Christian history. Arabic accounts of Muhammad's life in Medina and Mecca, for example, can be shown to derive from a reservoir of biblical stereotypes, themes and tropes, which function to integrate Arabian prophecy into the deeper (and better-attested) monotheist teleology of the Jews. Conquest narratives, often hopelessly confused in chronology and contradictory in detail, can be shown to reflect the political, legal and administrative concerns of the post-conquest state, particularly its frequently anxious elites, both Muslim and non-Muslim. To the tradition's sharpest critics, what we have in this material is not history in the modern sense of the word, but narrativized theology (and law) -- that is, nothing more, or less, than Islamic analogues to Jewish and Christian iterations of Near Eastern sacred history. To think otherwise, exempting the development of Islamic religious thought from the highly creative and adaptive hermeneutics that helped forge Jewish and Christian identities, is to misunderstand late antique religious history."
Aymenn Al-Tamimi in American Spectator on Robert Spencer's book, Did Muhammad Exist? - An Inquiry into Islam's Obscure Origins.
"From all these findings, the most plausible conclusion to draw is that Islam as we know it emerged over a protracted period between the 7th and 8th centuries, developed in such a way as to (i) unify the vast empire created by the Arab conquests that conquered a vast amount of territory (stretching from Spain to Sindh by 750 CE) and (ii) justify the expansionism. This 'imperial theology' (to borrow Spencer's term; p. 208) was based on a monotheism that perhaps was more tolerant towards Judaism and Christianity in its very early days (hence Qur'anic verses such as 2:62 that include Jews, Christians and Sabaeans in the fold of salvation; p. 209). Yet from the end of the 7th century onwards, Islam takes on a much more distinct identity, with a separate prophet and holy book, supplanting Judaism and Christianity. Spencer's explanation for the origins and development of early Islam is significantly corroborated by analogy with the rise of the Roman imperial cult after Augustus' creation of the Principate. Needing to hold the Roman state together with concentration of power in his hands, he made much of the reputed divine descent of his family line (the Julian line), and commissioned Virgil to write an epic celebrating the founding of the Roman race by his supposed ancestor Aeneas."
Raymond Ibrahim at Gatestoneinstitute.org, "Muslims Slaughter "Apostate" in Tunisia".
"Liberal talk show host Tawfiq Okasha recently appeared on 'Egypt Today,' airing a video of Muslims slicing off a young man's head off for the crime of apostasy -- in this instance, the crime of converting to Christianity and refusing to renounce it.... Visibly distraught, Tawfiq Okasha, the host, asks: 'Is this Islam? Does Islam call for this? How is Islam related to this matter? ...These are the images that are disseminated throughout the electronic media in Europe and America…. Can you imagine?' Then, in reference to Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood and Salafis, whose political influence has grown tremendously, he asks, 'How are such people supposed to govern?' Only the other day, a prominent Egyptian Salafi leader -- referring to the canonical hadiths, including Muhammad's command, 'Whoever leaves his religion, kill him' -- openly stated that no Muslim has the right to apostatize, or leave Islam."
Caroline Moorehead in WSJ on Marie-Odile Delacour & Jean-Rene Huleu's book, Writings From the Sand - Collected Works of Isabelle Eberhardt.
"Exactly when Eberhardt began to write is not clear, but in 1899 she was keeping an intermittent diary and taking detailed notes, and by 1901 she was a regular contributor to El Akhbar, an Algiers-based newspaper. By that year, she was also at work on her novel, about a young Russian medical student who was buffeted by longings to be a 'master of things, not dominated by them, and master above all of the infinite horizons.' Like his creator, he craved 'an elsewhere, the thrill of leaving.' In 1901, while in Behima near the Tunisian border, Eberhardt was attacked by a crazed religious fanatic and badly injured, and though she recovered quickly, the scandal and ensuing trial of her attacker rebounded against her, and she fled North Africa for Marseilles. But she was soon back, having married an Arab sergeant in the French army, Slimène Ehnni — though she continued to sleep with whoever took her fancy. She was strict about her prayers but never ceased drinking a considerable amount of absinthe. The writer and colonial administrator Robert Randau, who met her at this time, described her as dressed in high red boots and a white burnoose, with reddish hair under a turban. She swore vigorously, he noted, and had dignity but no sex appeal."
Katrina Forreste in London Review of Books on Karl Popper's collection, After 'The Open Society': Selected Social and Political Writings.
"The Open Society was one of a number of contemporary works of political theory (others included Arendt's Origins of Totalitarianism and Hayek's The Road to Serfdom) that saw both fascism and communism as forms of totalitarianism. Popper attacked what he saw as the logic underpinning totalitarianism: the collectivist, anti-rationalist and historicist ideas of Plato, Hegel and Marx. He claimed that they put tradition before reason and the collective before the individual, and that they believed in laws of history which could explain the past and predict the future. Popper saw this as dangerous nonsense. Grand theories of history allowed political actors to get away with murder. Worse still, they could deny the realities of unintended consequences and justify wicked actions as necessary steps on the path to utopia."
Alan Johnson at Worldaffairsjournal.org, "The New Communism: Resurrecting the Utopian Delusion".
"If the financial crisis has cast doubt on an entire economic system, it is the crisis of the left that has created a political space for the new communism. Social democratic reformism is exhausted; across Europe and the Anglosphere, national versions of 'Blairism' have everywhere turned the old people’s parties into ideological rationalizers of a system that now mostly works only as a wrecking ball. These parties no longer take care of their own, argue the new communists. The only other form of leftism that has flourished after 1989 has also been revealed to be politically ineffectual: postmodern, theoreticist, and obsessed with oppression in culture, language, identity, and representation; uninterested in exploitation and political economy, in thrall to Foucauldian (often tenured) forms of 'resistance,' this literary and cultural 'speculative leftism,' it turns out, is no threat to capitalism. Indeed, much of the attraction to new communism comes from a yearning for a politics that is genuinely oppositional, positioned wholly outside the capitalist market and liberal democracy."
Wilfred McClay in First Things, "Liberalism After Liberalism".
“Statist liberalism has thrived by encouraging the comparison of real-world apples with idealized oranges. A more balanced and honest assessment would acknowledge that the alternative to private-sector inequality generally is not the vaunted achievement of ‘democracy’ but the gray reign of public bureaucracies, whose ‘equality’ is administered and enforced by unaccountable officials, with exemptions paid out to the politically connected and the ideologically favored. But even this bleak formulation understates the pathologies of present-day liberalism, because in many respects it is a hybrid of the two understandings, combining many of the worst features of each. The earlier liberalism, far from being entirely vanquished, has survived in the form not only of a highly competitive, restlessly aspirant, insecure, and jealously emulative culture but in a more fundamental commitment to the ideal of the autonomous self, boundless in its desires, and the self-legitimating creator of its own values. Or in the immortal words of Justice Anthony Kennedy, ‘the heart of liberty’ is now understood as ‘the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life.’ Such an inward commitment to emotivism has grown more extreme and entrenched, even as the ‘outer’ economic and social worlds have become ever more organized, interconnected, and interdependent and therefore more likely to be submitted to bureaucratic management and regulation. This seeming paradox has become more and more central to the way we live. As I once expressed it in these pages, we live increasingly in a world populated by hipsters and organization men, and in many ways they are the same people.”
Ben Kafka at West86th.bgc.bard.edu, "The Administration of Things: A Genealogy".
"The task of philosophy was not to settle disputes, but to unsettle them, to encourage them, to keep them going. For it was only through disputation that we could resist the rule of experts and machines, the bureaucratic-technocratic society foretold by Saint-Simon and championed by Marx and Engels, a society in which we replace the 'government of persons by the administration of things.' Berlin was hardly alone in his concern about the implications of Saint-Simon’s formula. In Natural Right and History, Leo Strauss argued that 'in order to reach his highest stature, man must live in the best kind of society, in the kind of society that is most conducive to human excellence. The classics called the best society the best politeia. By this expression they indicated, first of all, that, in order to be good, society must be civil or political society, a society in which there exists government of men and not merely administration of things.'"
Malcolm Bull in London Review of Books on Stephen Gardiner's book, A Perfect Moral Storm - The Ethical Tragedy of Climate Change.
"And yet, with its emphasis on the 'future of mankind' and its deployment of backcastings (working backwards from a desired future state to determine what measures are necessary to achieve it), climate change politics has, for all its apocalyptic rhetoric, a distinctively utopian form. Is this because the emergence of concern about global warming coincided with the failure of Communism? As some climate change sceptics have noted, there was something suspicious about the way that Communism departed stage right moments before climate change entered stage left as the new nemesis of consumer capitalism. Perhaps we should think of climate change as an updated version of the chess-playing Turkish puppet that Walter Benjamin likened to historical materialism operated by the hidden hand of theology, save that historical materialism has now become the wizened hunchback that controls the puppet and has to keep it out of sight."
Jeffrey Young at Chronicle.com, "The Unabomber's Pen Pal".
"In his scholarly work, too, Skrbina explores the margins, trying to revive a notion in philosophy called 'panpsychism.' It's an antimaterialist view that posits that everything has a sort of consciousness — including animals, plants, and even inorganic things. 'The idea is that mind is in everything,' Skrbina explains to me. 'It's a philosophically rigorous version of animism.' In Panpsychism in the West (MIT Press, 2005), he acknowledges that the notion can appear ridiculous in the current cultural environment, which puts "reason and rational thinking into a position of pre-eminence." But he argues that shifts in the collective psyche have happened before, and that we are due for one in light of current environmental degradation and other problems caused by technological society. 'We as a civilization need only summon our collective wisdom and courage; learn the lessons of history; and transcend the crude, destructive, and ultimately dehumanizing materialist worldview,' Skrbina writes in the book's conclusion. The argument is similar in spirit to the Unabomber's manifesto, though argued in a more abstract realm. Skrbina guesses that his pen pal would not be interested in that work. 'He's such a practical thinker that things like this he probably considers a waste of time.'"
Carlin Romano at Chronicle.com, "Is America Philosophical?".
"Even Tocqueville, however, nodded. For all his general insight into the fledgling United States, he, like many French intellectuals, saw American thought through the prism of European assumptions. The conclusion he drew from that putative intellectual state of affairs — that 'in most of the operations of the mind each American appeals only to the individual effort of his own understanding' — was false then and is even more false now. His misstep came in using the word 'only.' He should have written that each American 'also' appeals 'to the individual effort of his own understanding.' For the surprising little secret of our ardently capitalist, famously materialist, heavily iPodded, iPadded, and iPhoned society is that America in the early 21st century towers as the most philosophical culture in the history of the world, an unprecedented marketplace of truth and argument that far surpasses ancient Greece, Cartesian France, 19th-century Germany, or any other place one can name over the past three millennia. The openness of its dialogue, the quantity of its arguments, the diversity of its viewpoints, the cockiness with which its citizens express their opinions, the vastness of its First Amendment freedoms, the intensity of its hunt for evidence and information, the widespread rejection of truths imposed by authority or tradition alone, the resistance to false claims of justification and legitimacy, the embrace of Net communication with an alacrity that intimidates the world: All corroborate that fact. Mistaking American ribbing of philosophy for what the British call rubbishing, as evidence of a nonphilosophical culture, is only one of the errors traditionally committed by intellectuals in understanding the United States."
Angus Kennedy at Spiked-online.com on Andrew Delbanco's book, College - What It Was, Is, and Should Be.
"As founded by Puritan settlers, the college and its professors taught small communities of students in lectures modelled on sermons to the congregation. Like the sermon, then, the lecture relied on the concept of grace: that unpredictable moment when the congregant really hears the word of God in his heart; that unpredictable and magical moment when a student really gets it. This is what Emerson called the ‘miraculous in the common’. This is what Socrates hoped to elicit and stir up in his questioning back and forth, the act of provoking a soul, not instructing it. That spiritual authority has now gone and so too has the faith in the ability of education to draw out the one from the many, e pluribus unum, to form character from the messiness of subjective experience. College was not, however, just another word for church and nor was it a seminary. It was a place where the humanities took first place. The liberal education that American colleges offered was rooted in the classical tradition of the artes liberals – stretching back to ancient Greece and Rome. But as Delbanco rightly argues, America’s contribution was to democratise it, bringing what Matthew Arnold termed ‘the best which has been thought and said in the world’ to all, regardless of origin. He notes the hostility to the idea of the ‘best’ in today’s relativist anti-elitist elites but reminds them how Arnold finishes his point: ‘and through this knowledge, turning a stream of fresh and free thought upon our stock notions and habits’."
Daniel Akst in Wilson Quarterly, "A Manifesto at 50".
"The Sharon conference was almost a mirror image of the one that would come later at Port Huron. At both events, excitement was in the air. Idealistic young Americans gathered to reshape the future and reveled in being among like-minded people. While the SDS folks would retreat to a United Auto Workers camp to formulate their manifesto, the conservatives in Sharon brought forth not just a statement, but an organization -- Young Americans for Freedom (YAF) -- at Great Elm, the Buckley family's 47-acre country seat, where parts of the vast main house dated back to 1763. The Sharon Statement, at least at first glance, seems to be everything its counterpart on the left was not. Drafted by M. Stanton Evans, a young Indianapolis newspaperman, the one-page document is a model of brevity and coherence, especially compared with the rambling 64-page Port Huron Statement. That length wasn't just a matter of leftist logorrhea; Hayden, who reportedly had read the Sharon Statement, was himself a newspaperman of sorts, serving as editor of the University of Michigan's student daily. The great economy of the Sharon Statement simply reflected its much clearer message: the less government, the better."
Sam Anderson in NYT Magazine on Roland Barthes' book, Mythologies.
"Barthes was writing at the dawn of what we think of as mass culture: a time when the average citizen’s relationship to images was changing rapidly, when the texts people shared were suddenly not just religious or civic or local but global: a common set of images drawn from commercial entertainment. The dawn of that kind of culture has obviously long since passed. We now live at least in its late afternoon, possibly even its twilight. The Internet, notoriously, came along and broke the old model’s kneecaps. Instead of just passively absorbing a series of broadcasts from Planet Media, consumers today participate directly in the creation of culture. To my mind, the thing that’s exploding into relevance in our era is not mass culture but the critique of mass culture — the Barthesian dissection of everything, no matter how trivial. This happens everywhere now, often in real time. And this critical analysis is often as vital and interesting and consumable as the culture it discusses. Consider, for instance, the way the TV recap has evolved into a nearly independent creative form. So the critical analysis of pop culture has itself become a kind of pop culture. We seem to be approaching some kind of singularity — a collapse of creativity and criticism into one."
The New Criterion - "Hilton Kramer, 1928-2012 Special memorial issue".
"Exactly how this conversion was accomplished tells us much about the inner dynamics of modernist sensibility, especially its tendency to empty art of its 'content' and establish style as its true subject matter. For the purposes of this conversion, no instrument has proved to be more powerful or more pervasive than the attitude of irony we call Camp, which has the effect of neutralizing the substance and aggrandizing the style of whatever it embraces. Irony ridicules, of course, and ridicule normally wounds and discredits. But the ridicule of Camp is a mock ridicule that contains a large element of praise, accommodation, and affection. Irony of this special sort places us in a relation of comic intimacy with the objects of its attention. It encloses them in an atmosphere of flirtation and familiarity. The antagonism normally associated with the ironic attitude is merely feigned. By focusing on what is truly outrageous in these objects, and then lavishing a fulsome solicitude upon precisely that aspect of them, Camp makes a joke of the offending attributes while at the same time suggesting that here is something endearing -- even, perhaps, something necessary and redeeming -- in their very absurdity. Camp, in short, confers legitimacy on what it pretends to ridicule."
Mary Grabar in Weekly Standard, "Who Was George Schuyler?".
"George Schuyler's views were based on his beginnings, as the son of a chef and the stepson of a deliveryman and dining-car cook. Schuyler left Syracuse to join the Army at 17, worked on the docks, in a factory, and in a restaurant as a dishwasher, while living with the down-and-out in the Bowery. His views arose from his experiences, as well as from some dangerous writing assignments, such as investigating the exploitation of black levee workers in the South in 1932, and packing a gun to travel to Liberia in 1930-31 to report on the practice of slavery by descendants of blacks who had emigrated from the United States. His world travels, especially to Central and South America, gave Schuyler a broad perspective: He noted the regional prejudices among blacks in the United States as well as between the tribesmen who transported him by boat in Africa. And in spite of the prejudice that still afflicted America in his time, Schuyler maintained that very few places offered better living conditions and freedoms for African Americans."
Carl Gershman in WSJ on Peter Collier's book, Political Woman - The Big Little Life of Jeane Kirkpatrick.
"Kirkpatrick's scholarly polemic was built upon three core ideas. The first, developed from her study of 20th-century totalitarianism and of the authoritarian Perón system in Argentina (the latter was the subject of her first book, in 1971, 'Leader and Vanguard in Mass Society'), was that authoritarianism was far less controlling and repressive than totalitarianism. Authoritarians, unlike totalitarians, did not seek to impose a revolutionary ideology on society, and they were more likely to evolve in a liberal direction. The second core idea in her essay: It is dangerous to try to force the pace of authoritarianism's evolution, since democracy is a system that can only 'come into being slowly, after extended prior experience with more limited forms of participation.' To make the establishment of democracy an immediate policy objective in a developing country facing a revolutionary insurgency was in Kirkpatrick's view reckless and irresponsible. Intellectuals and modern progressives more generally were prone to such recklessness, her essay's third core idea asserted, because they were susceptible to the rhetoric of totalitarian revolutionaries 'who speak the language of a hopeful future while traditional autocrats speak the language of an autocratic past.'"
Stuart Jeffries at Guardian.co.uk, "Alain Badiou: a life in writing".
"I think about the distinction Badiou describes in In Praise of Love. 'While desire focuses on the other, always in a somewhat fetishist[ic] manner, on particular objects, like breasts, buttocks and cock,' writes Badiou, 'love focuses on the very being of the other, on the other as it has erupted, fully armed with its being, into my life that is consequently disrupted and re-fashioned.' In other words love is, in many respects, the opposite of sex. Love, for Badiou, is what follows a deranging chance eruption in one's life. He puts it philosophically: 'The absolute contingency of the encounter takes on the appearance of destiny. The declaration of love marks the transition from chance to destiny and that's why it is so perilous and so burdened with a kind of horrifying stage fright.' Love's work consists in conquering that fright. Badiou cites Mallarmé, who saw poetry as 'chance defeated word by word'. A loving relationship is similar. 'In love, fidelity signifies this extended victory: the randomness of an encounter defeated day after day through the invention of what will endure,' writes Badiou."
Jennie Smith in WSJ on Florence Williams' book, Breasts - A Natural and Unnatural History.
"If a pregnancy happens early, before age 20, a woman's breast cells will have differentiated in a way that partially armors them against later exposure to radiation, carcinogens and estrogens natural and synthetic. But most American women now give birth past 25, and pregnancy beyond 30 actually increases the risk of cancer. Breasts seem to be at their most vulnerable at times of cellular instability, when they are changing or developing. Ms. Williams is particularly concerned about the effects of endocrine disruptors on young girls, who experience puberty much sooner than they did a generation ago. Half of American girls now sport breasts by age 10, and chemicals are increasingly suspected. Early puberty is known to raise the lifelong risk of breast cancer, partly because breasts are exposed to more estrogen the more menstrual cycles a woman has."
Peter Ling at Historytoday.com, "Sex and the Automobile in the Jazz Age".
"The different conventions governing invitations under the two patterns of courtship indicate this shift of power. Under the calling system, the woman asked the man and could refuse to receive him, even when he called. Under the dating system, however, it was left to the man to issue invitations since he would bear the expense. Moreover, whatever the disadvantages of courtship conducted within the parental home, it did provide a comparatively safe environment in which to meet a man about whom a woman might know relatively little. To those who argue that this is a defence of the kind of double standard that imprisoned women for years (men can go out; women cannot), my response must be that since the social hygienists did not break the belief in an overpowering male sexual need, women in the twentieth century continued to face men largely conditioned to the idea that they must not readily take 'no' for an answer. Getting out into a sexist public world was not automatically liberating. Moreover, the practicalities of dating made courtship manifestly a process governed by cash and thereby accentuated the treatment of women as a commodity. The low wages of female workers ensured that many working women had to scrimp on essentials to have money for leisure. The willingness of a man to bear the cost of an evening-out became vitally important under such circumstances. Economic inequality thus ratified male power. Dating became an exercise in the machismo of capitalism; the man with money could afford to ask girls out; he had a car to take them out in; he drove, he paid, and she had to be 'good company' in return. In this sense, prostitution became a paradigm of sexual relations in general and the automobile truly became a brothel on wheels."
"Silent series" w/ live music accompaniment, Chautauqua, Boulder.
•June 13, The Gaucho (1927) F. Richard Jones/Douglas Fairbanks
•20, Safety Last (1923) Fred Newmeyer, Sam Taylor/Harold Lloyd
•27, Lorna Doone (1922) Maurice Tourneur/Madge Bellamy
•July 11, Seven Chances (1925) Buster Keaton/BK
•18, Pandora's Box (1929) G.W. Pabst/Louise Brooks
•25, Sally of the Sawdust (1925) D.W. Griffith/Carol Dempster, W.C. Fields
•August 1, Phantom of the Opera (1925) Rupert Julian/Lon Chaney
•8, Sunrise (1927) F.W. Murnau/George O'Brien, Janet Gaynor
Richard Brody at Newyorker.com, on Sunrise.
"Yet, with Sunrise, the temptation is simply to watch with awe -- and, as for the trolley-car sequence seen here, it’s one of the handful of cinematic phenomena of which Jean-Luc Godard wrote, in 1965, 'Who needs to talk for hours' about them? And yet, the greatness of Murnau’s work -- maybe even the essence of beauty -- is that it offers much to talk about, because it is neither emptily decorative nor devoid of ideas, but, rather, embodies ideas even as it surpasses them, and conveys, by the very fact of its being, emotions far beyond those arising from story, character, or situation. Perhaps the definition of beauty is this essential excess -- the inseparability from an inkling of luxury, whether in actual sumptuousness or in the tastes of its creators -- and this would explain something of the politics of criticism."
David Rosen in Brooklyn Rail on Marni Davis' book, Jews and Booze - Becoming American in the Age of Prohibition .
"The first Jews arrived in what became the U.S. in the mid-16th century, settling in what is now Texas but was then part of the Spanish New World empire. A century later, Sephardic Jews began to settle in the major port cities along the Atlantic coast, especially New York. They came, not as slaves like Africans, but as merchants and traders; they came, not stripped of their culture and history, but exporting a rich tradition going back centuries. Jewish immigration to the U.S. went through two major waves during the 19th century. The first occurred during the pre-Civil War era and brought German Jews and saw them spread from the larger east coast cities to smaller cities and towns in the Midwest, West, and South. According to Davis, the second wave, from 1880 – 1920, brought two million Jews from Eastern Europe and, in particular Russia, to the U.S. This mass migration transformed not only the class and social character of American Jewry, but the character of the cities where they settled. Davis’s book offers a unique keyhole into the Jewish immigration experience in two important respects. First, by focusing on the alcohol trade, it discusses a topic often overlooked in conventional discussions of Jews in America. Second, in addition to passing discussions of New York and other major cities, her book offers an invaluable consideration of Jewish settlements in smaller cities, most notably Atlanta, Newark, and Cincinnati."
Barry Bearak in NYT, "Caballo Blanco's Last Run: The Micah True Story".
"Injuries began to slow him as he closed in on 40, but he eventually viewed these annoyances as a liberation. He started to care less about piling on the megamileage and more about finding challenging trails. Running was an exploration, inside and out, endorphins feeding his cerebral bliss. He did still run the occasional race. In 1993, he entered one of his favorites, the Leadville Trail 100, a punishing 100-mile push through the icy streams and boulder-clogged slopes of the Rockies. The very up-and-down of it was a killer, the altitude as high as 12,600 feet. Runners generally needed 18 to 30 hours to finish. That year, a promoter brought along a handful of peasants from Chihuahua, Mexico. They were short. Some looked like grandfathers. They wore blousy shirts and loincloths to the starting line, and on their feet were sandals they themselves had just made from old tires fished from the Leadville dump. When the race began, these odd interlopers immediately fell to the rear and stayed there for 40 miles. Then they started steadily moving up, passing others, barely winded by the arduous climbs. The first two of them finished about an hour ahead of anyone else. The winner was 55 years old. These were the Tarahumara."
Byron Coley at LAreviewofbooks.org on Ed Sanders' book, Fug You.
"In many ways, Fug You delivers everything it promises. It dishes dense details on early-sixties bohemian scenes we can scarcely imagine in the twenty-first century. There's all sorts of literary frolicking, debauched sex scenes, and vividly sordid drug scenes. Some of the most jaw-dropping sections of the book are those detailing Ed's ill-fated career as an underground filmmaker. Prodded and advised by Harry Smith (shaman/folk music anthologist/hand-painted filmmaker supreme), Sanders bought a battlefield-ready 16 mm camera and carried it everywhere for a while. He had a whole secret apartment he set up mostly as a stage for crazy movie shoots."
Schmidtt's 500 Worst Rolling Stone reviews of All Time, work in progress.
"Ugly Things: Bill Plummer Q&A".
"UT: Was the Cosmic Brotherhood a live act?'
BP: We played at venues like the Golden Bull in Santa Monica Canyon, park events around LA, the Lighthouse in Hermosa Beach, and we did a few nights at the Pilgrimage Theater (now the John Anson Ford Theater in Cahuenga Pass, across the freeway from the Hollywood Bowl).... We also played a series of lectures with Tim Leary around LA. He would give Master Class Lectures on philosophical themes at different colleges. We did one at Synanon in Santa Monica. We never really hung out with Timothy, but he was there and he would come over and say, 'This is really wild music,' or something."
It took thirty years for Spot to develop his old rolls of film but he's starting to post some at his site Spotinator.com.
Ben Ratliff in NYT, "Metalheads of All Alloys, Swirling into the Night".
“Doom metal ages really well, and some of the best music came from men with graying hair and expanding bellies. A moment of respect, please, for Saint Vitus’s ‘Waste of Time,’ a new song on which the guitarist Dave Chandler played one of the great single-note solos I’ve ever heard — unbroken, and a minute long, shaped and altered crazily through ministrations of feedback and whammy bar. And Sleep can be too much of a single thing, but on Saturday it made refined, shapely, totally mesmerizing music. In both bands the bass sound was enormous, gut stirring. Mr. Anselmo of Down stood behind the bass amp for half of Saint Vitus’s show, with one hand on the cabinet, conducting the vibrations through his body.”
"Too High To Die - Meet the Meat Puppets", by Greg Prato.
Bob Mould on Sugar – “Copper Blue” at Thequietus.com.
“Copper Blue arrived after Pixies last album, Trompe Le Monde, and Nirvana were straddling the world with Nevermind. Both bands owed a huge debt to Hüsker Dü so did it feel like coming round full circle for you?
BM: Yeah. The stage was set for Copper Blue to be a successful record. It’s a really great record. I sort of got lucky with the song writing and the timing because there are so many great records that don’t get noticed for years. It was funny because back in 1989 there was a stretch of shows where I opened up for the Pixies on the West Coast of America and then there were the festivals with Nirvana in ’91 and in between I’d also been considered as producer for what became Nevermind. So it really wasn’t a case of, ‘Oh my God! Who’s this cashing in on these guys!’ We all had this common history. But I’ll tell you what – when I heard Loveless in late ’91 I was simply blown away. I thought I had a great bunch of songs to go into the studio with but when I heard that record I was like, ‘Uh, oh! I’ve really got to step it up here!’ It really was a kick in the pants.”
Recent blog posts regarding the book, Enter Naomi - SST, L.A. and All That...
"She Was Once a Runner".
"Believe it or not, I was inspired to write She Was Once a Runner after reading a book that had absolutely nothing to do with running. The book was called Enter Naomi and it is a memoir of west coast punk rock from the years 1976- to 1986, with special attention paid to Los Angeles, SST Records and the late music photographer Naomi Petersen. What does running have to do with punk rock, you ask? A lot, in fact!"
"We read about them in fanzines and through second-hand information. They seemed larger than life, but works like Enter Naomi show us how it all was part of an incredible moment of d.i.y. ethos and a tremendous amount of hard work, one that did not produce its rewards for at least another decade. And by then, everyone just seemed too exhausted to fight anymore, Naomi Petersen included. I remember. I’m sure a lot more people do, too. That’s why Enter Naomi ultimately becomes some kind of blessing to have. Because there was really very little beyond her artistic fulfillment that benefited her and rewarded us. There was very little in terms of financial compensation, and after a while, it’s easy to understand why someone would finally just cash out and try to lead a normal life. Even today-as of this writing-there isn’t even a Wikipedia page devoted to Naomi Petersen."
"Cerebral Decanting – Our Photos Could Be Your Life".
Joe Carducci Q&A by Richie Charles at Philadelphiaweekly.com.
"Rock & the Pop Narcotic puts a lot of emphasis on pushing music into the mainstream. Do you feel a certain satisfaction from the success of ex-SST acts like Soundgarden, Sonic Youth, Meat Puppets, & Henry Rollins?
I do think that the Rollins Band’s performance at the Grammy’s back in mid-nineties was a signal moment–he was up there dealing 'Liar' to the rock royalty in the best seats. But in the punk era pretty much everyone’s career was backwards. That is, you only had a chance at a career if you managed to last longer than 10 years. By then most bands’ fires have gone out and they are at best seasoned professionals. In particular in LvD I mention the five songs recorded by the Meat Puppets that managed to catch their early lightning in a bottle, and those were all recorded by late 1981, years before what are considered their classic albums. Those are great, but I’m talking the primo shit."
Dave Rat at Prosoundweb.com, "The 'Wall of Sound' to Now - A PA Evolution Odyssey".
"Even with its awkwardness, the concept of the Wall of Sound was so intriguing that I had to try it and understand it. I finally got that opportunity in 1986 while touring with Black Flag when, after some persuading, we talked the band into letting us set up the Rat PA in a mini Wall of Sound configuration. Since I had designed and Rat Sound had built Black Flag’s guitar and bass cabinets exactly the same dimensions as the Rat PA, the system fit together really well. (That system is pictured directly below.) On the upside the system was incredibly clear sounding while on the downside, it sounded a bit distant and the sound bleeding into the mics was cumbersome enough not to continue with that setup."
Obituaries of the Month
• Chuck Brown (1936-2012)
"He never knew his father. As a teenager in Washington he drifted into crime and served eight years in prison for shooting a man in what he said was self-defense. While there, he traded another inmate five cartons of cigarettes for a guitar. On his release, in 1962, he began to play music around Washington, first at backyard barbecues and churches — his parole officer would not let him play anyplace that served liquor — and eventually in clubs. He scored a few minor hits in the early 1970s, including 'We the People' and 'Blow Your Whistle,' before developing his go-go sound. Led by Mr. Brown and his band, the Soul Searchers, the sound spread throughout Washington with groups like Trouble Funk and Rare Essence. But despite a blip in the we poste-1980s, when it drew the interest of major record companies and could be heard in a Hollywood movie (Good to Go in 1986), go-go’s extended jams never fit into pop radio formats, and it remained a regional phenomenon."
• Eddie Blazonczyk (1941-2012)
"He was born July 12, 1941, the son of immigrants from the rural Tatras Mountains region of southern Poland. His parents owned and operated the Pulaski Ballroom, 18th and Ashland, which booked legends including Li’l Wally Jagiello and Eddie Zima. Mr. Blazonczyk’s mother, Antonina, directed a Southwest Side music and dance ensemble, and his father Fred, played cello in a band. While attending high school in Crandon, Wis., Mr. Blazonczyk formed his first band, a rockabilly outfit called Eddie Bell & His Hillboppers. Mr. Blazonczyk returned to Chicago in 1957 and struck gold with a rock ’n’ roll band he named Eddy Bell and the Bel-Aires. They had a hit single on Mercury Records with the swing-tinged 'The Masked Man (Hi Yo Silver).' On the strength of that tune, Mr. Blazonczyk and the Bel-Aires appeared on 'American Bandstand.' On Mr. Blazonczyk’s plaque in the Polka Music Hall of Fame, 4608 S. Archer, he looks just like Buddy Holly, his eyes twinkling behind a pair of thick black glasses. 'I was a great Buddy Holly fan,' Mr. Blazonczyk told me in 1994. 'I’ve liked country music all my life. When I went into polka in 1963, I had a lot of country in my blood. I listened to a lot of tunes that were out then, like Don Gibson’s ‘Oh Lonesome Me.’ I knew those songs would make great polkas. At that time the polka bands were playing just the old Polish standards. But I have to hear the polka in the music. A lot of country music is very sad. You can’t put that stuff in polka.'"
Thanks to Jay Babcock, Archie Patterson, Jake Austen, Anonymous, Chris Pierce, Ira Stoll, DX, ALDaily.com.
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• The New Vulgate
• Joe Carducci, Chris Collins, James Fotopoulos, Mike Vann Gray, David Lightbourne (1942 - 2010)
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