a new low in topical enlightenment

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Issue #137 (Sept. 5, 2012)

South of Sheep Mountain, Wyoming

Photo by Joe Carducci

The Inceville Outlet and the Western Actuality
by Joe Carducci

Thomas Ince has finally got his biography. It’s a good one too, part of the University Press of Kentucky’s Screen Classics series; I wrote about their Warren Oates biography in NV 7. Thomas Ince – Hollywood’s Independent Pioneer
is good at making clear aspects of the earliest years of Southern California filmmaking which are hard to keep straight and so are usually bypassed or got wrong. But they are so fundamental to what Hollywood became that skipping them is the same as being wrong. Brian Taves, an archivist at the Library of Congress, writes well and pauses in his biographical narrative to consider key surviving Ince productions just to keep things grounded in the art form just then realized as movies moved from one-reel films (approx. 10-14 minutes) to two-reelers and then five-plus-reel features. (Taves promises to catalog every surviving Ince film on the web). Thomas Ince’s story is difficult to tell and as he died suddenly at age 44 in 1924, it is anti-climactic, especially as Taves takes the trouble to debunk the fanciful rumors regarding how he died and who done it. Taves is convincing when he concludes Ince died of natural causes. Ince’s life then, had no “Ince punch,” as he called his film “specials” climactic scenes, usually occurring as his characters reached their moments of truth against major second-unit backdrops of floods, volcanoes or earthquakes.

Ince was the son of actors and his brothers Ralph and John also acted, wrote and directed, but Thomas, whose wife acted for D.W. Griffith at Biograph, gravitated to the producer role which was then somewhat undefined. All roles were undefined then, and there were often no credits at all. At first nickelodeon actors were slumming and hoping for a quick return to the stage so they sought to hide their involvement with film. Producers also neglected credits to forestall the development of a star system that might cost them money. And as the best nickelodeon players filled out their personae they often became their own writers and directors and producers. Griffith, the first true film dramatist, in addition to working out the film director’s language in his own two-reelers was soon depended on to “supervise” slates of Biograph productions that would be directed by others. Ince did this as well but unlike Griffith he stopped directing. He often took credit for directing in the early teens but generally touted his “personal supervision” of slates of films, this to help brand of the studio itself. All this accounts for the rather hazy sense of who Ince was and what he was responsible for in these years of director-worship. Gradually every surviving film from the silent era is coming available via DVD, TCM, or the web and someday a somewhat better sense of his accomplishment as a film producer if not as a filmmaker will be available.

The evolutions of the first major film studios proceeded from dozens of smaller, often fly-by-night producers, distributors and exhibitors. And the producers spread from Edison’s West Orange, New Jersey studio, to New York to Philadelphia, Florida, Chicago, Colorado, Texas, Northern and finally Southern California.
Which partly explains how so many early movies were lost. Film negatives were neglected, sold at auction, lost in fires... Unstable nitrate prints were not returned from overseas, ripped to shreds or ignited in projectors, or worn out and dumped into the ocean off the Santa Monica pier. Even when stored properly film prints and negatives were chemically unstable and required regular maintenance and transfers. The film business has never been regular. Even recent films have become discolored and otherwise corrupted. Photographic film was problematic right up until its replacement by digital processes. But photographic film was also a miracle of chemistry, engineering, light and eye.

Ince in New York was an actor between plays in 1910 when a friend got him work with IMP (The Independent Motion Picture Co.) which was run by Carl Laemmle and was pointedly not a member of the Motion Picture Trust (Edison, Vitagraph, Selig, Lubin, Kalem, Star-Melies, American Pathé, Eastman Kodak, and the major film distributor). The Edison Trust sought to keep motion picture production to a closed group of well-capitalized companies that agreed to pay Edison patent royalties. The most aesthetically advanced early producer of film, American Mutoscope and Biograph, resisted the Trust but then cut a deal and joined. Ralph Ince was already an actor at Vitagraph and soon to be a director, and Thomas’ wife Elinor (Kershaw) was appearing before Biograph’s cameras, but Ince seems to have had his own cinematic epiphany at IMP. Soon he was directing Mary Pickford whom Laemmle had just signed away from D.W. Griffith and Biograph. According to Taves IMP, under pressure from the Trust was already planning to leave New York and sent Ben Turpin to scope out the west coast.

George Spoor and G.M. Anderson formed Essanay in Chicago in 1907 and by fall 1909 Anderson’s “Bronco Billy” company was making one-reel westerns in Colorado until 1911 when it moved to California, bouncing between southern and northern California until finally settling in Niles Canyon near San Jose in 1914. (Essanay merged with Vitagraph, Lubin and Selig which were ultimately absorbed into Warners.) Also at Essanay, first as a lighting tech and then also script editor, was Alan Dwan. He moved to the American Film Company and went out to their westerns company in Tucson and then followed it to San Juan Capistrano, California where he was pressed into service as director in May 1911 making over 200 one-reelers as well as supervising films directed by Marshall Neilan and Wallace Reid until he signed with Universal in mid-1913. The next year he signed with Famous Players, Adolph Zukor’s pre-Paramount attempt to bring legit plays and players to the screen. Dwan told Peter Bogdanovitch he was excited at the prospect, having acted in school, “But the theatre actors were terrible. They couldn’t work our way.” (Allan Dwan – The Last Pioneer)

The New York Motion Picture Co. was founded in 1908 by a film distribution exchange when the Edison Trust cut off their supply of films. NYMPCo established a company to make westerns in Los Angeles in 1909 under the Bison brand. Ince left IMP for the NYMPCo and arrived in Edendale, now Echo Park, in October 1911. Under pressure from the Edison lawsuits NYMPCo, IMP, Nestor and other producers merged to form Universal in June 1912, and according to Taves despite being the largest shareholder NYMPCo lost out to Laemmle who took control of Universal and the Bison brand. The former owners of NYMPCo formed Kay Bee and renamed their western company Broncho. Apparently much of Bison’s personnel were saved for Broncho for being largely made up of Oklahoma hardcase cowboys and Indians who ran Universal off the Inceville property.

Taves writes, “Westerns then comprised nearly a quarter of the films made in the United States. The West was not distant history, but a part of contemporary life, still evident in many states.” Ince made some westerns at Edendale and then in the Santa Monica mountains with various actors who specialized in playing Indians or westerners, but cast primarily by the lights of eastern dudes’ best guesses.

However, the Miller Brothers 101 Ranch Wild West Show ended the 1911 touring season in Pomona and settled into Venice, California for the winter. The Hundred and One, a touring band of Oklahomans, included several hundred working cowboys and Cherokee Outlet Indians with the performing skills, as well as horses, buffaloes, cattle, tipis, arrows, ropes and guns enough to put on a show. There’s no overestimating the effect the Miller Brothers Oklahoma empire had on Hollywood. Beginning in 1870 the Millers were pushing longhorns up the Chisholm Trail to leased Indian lands in the north section of Oklahoma territory. Old man Miller was a Kentucky slaveholder who fought for the South. Disgusted with Reconstruction he named his first son Wilkes Booth Miller and moved west where he found the last open rangeland in Oklahoma Territory; he and his sons had to work with the tribes of the Cherokee Outlet. This they managed to do well enough to have their family weddings and burials honored by Indian ceremonies. The story of the Miller Brothers 101 Ranch is well told by Michael Wallis in his book, The Real Wild West – The 101 Ranch and the Creation of the American West, though there are periodic eruptions of p.c. critique bemoaning the racism and rough justice of the Millers. That’s like complaining that it’s hot in the summer. The only Americans back then who weren’t racist by contemporary standards were New England WASPs who needn’t cross paths with anyone darker than a Dutchman.

Wallis writes that the 1893 Columbian Exposition in Chicago featured two Wild West authorities of note:

“One of those was thirty-two-year-old Frederick Jackson Turner, a history professor from the University of Wisconsin. The other was William F. ‘Buffalo Bill’ Cody, the flamboyant showman and quintessential westerner. The buckskinned Cody and his Indians and daredevil entertainers... were not official exposition participants. That did not bother the old buffalo hunter, whose troupe performed twice daily just outside the walls of the exposition, in front of a covered grandstand that could hold eighteen thousand spectators. Turner, however, was an invited participant. On the muggy evening of July 12, 1893, he read his academic essay ‘The Significance of the Frontier in American History’ to an audience of bored historians at the annual meeting of the American Historical Association. Neither man knew the other.” (Michael Wallis, The Real Wild West)

Over the decades the Millers, racist blood-brothers of the Ponca, found their off-season roundups evolving into touring Wild West shows showcasing such early 20th century talent as Tom Mix, Will Rogers, Bill Pickett, Hoot Gibson, Lucille Mulhall, Jack Hoxie, Yak Canutt, and Ben Johnson Sr, as well as Native American talent such as Princess Wenona, Chief White Eagle, Chief Iron Tail, and even Geronimo on loan from prison. Before the Wild West show hit the road the 101 Ranch was already renowned via visiting notables such as Theodore Roosevelt.

Movies... motion pictures... the living picture... began in the 1890s with “actualities” brought before the stationary camera in the Black Maria studio which spun to follow the sun for Edison’s Kinetoscope. In 1894 “Buffalo Bill” Cody and Annie Oakley were filmed there. Soon the camera was moved around the city and environs to show “actualities” in their place: Railway Station Scene (1897) ran 28 seconds, What Happened on Twenty-Third Street, New York City (1901) ran a full minute to show a staged “actuality” of a young woman whose dress is blown up as she steps on a subway grate. Things got fictional fast, and outright theatrical overnight as early studios used painted backdrops for their actors in staged presentations as in a theater. Taves quotes from Ince’s memoirs where he describes arriving at the NYMPCo studio in Edendale:

“The furniture was bad enough, but when I thought of stationary birds poised in mid-air as the backdrop for a moving picture, I gave way to a moment of discouragement.” (Thomas Ince)

Art Acord was a Wild West show veteran and rodeo champ. He was raised in Utah other than a few years in Oklahoma. Buck Rainey writes in the Acord entry in his handbook of silent western stars:

“Art was in New York in 1909 appearing with the Dick Stanley/Bud Atkinson Wild West Show as a trick roper, bulldogger, and bronc buster. Here he met Adam Kessel, who was in the process of organizing the Bison Film Company. Kessel talked Art into accepting a job as stuntman, double, and rider.... In his book One Reel at a Time Fred Balshofer stated that he set up movie making at Edendale, California, in 1909. The company had Acord, Hoot Gibson, George Gebhart, and others. In addition to acting, Acord and the other players spent Sundays writing stories to be turned into movies. For each one accepted the film company would pay $10. Art was the leading moneymaker.”
(The Strong, Silent Type)

Acord hired out to Biograph’s D.W. Griffith on his first California winter production trip in early 1910 and Robert Henderson’s book, D.W. Griffith – The Years at Biograph, describes Griffith warding off angry San Juan Capistrano Mexican-Americans who took the actors recreation of their annual religious procession as ridicule by having Acord ride their orneriest bronco. Gebhart had discovered the Santa Monica mountains location and NYMPCo’s westerns improved. The area that became Inceville was 28 square miles leased after Ince’s first two-reel film, now made featuring the services of Hundred and One personnel, War on the Plains (1912) became a big hit. The now “101 Bison” brand focused on 2-reel productions and made it the new movie drama standard. The Edendale studio was turned over to Mack Sennett for NYMPCo’s new “Keystone” division.

The late 1911 arrival of the Miller Bros.’ ranch-hands and Indians to Ince’s aborning studio model at Inceville above Sunset at Pacific Coast Highway changed everything and sent Hollywood onto its trajectory away from the early east coast, French and Italian cinema styles. The Hundred and One crew were in Hollywood for only three years but in those years the American cinema’s concern for realism in acting and action was worked out by Francis Ford and others, notably the wrangler/stuntmen/actors who mapped out the “gags” and quickly evolved a distinct second-unit culture in which the reality of the setting’s physical space was as carefully portrayed as the action played out against it. When the 101 left Hollywood this model was sustained by Ford who left for Universal where he directed and starred in westerns, civil war films and serials. In Tag Gallagher’s essay, "Brother Feeney – Francis Ford, " he writes:

“Reviews of Ford’s pictures generally made the same points: ‘vigorous action picturesque... convincing fighting... highly commendable.’ Yet judging from two surviving titles, Blazing the Rail (2-reel Bison, November 22, 1912) and The Burning Brand (2-reel Broncho, January 1, 1913), there was something more: empathy for human beings, expressed with a direct simplicity that, however histrionic the acting, always respects the privacy of the individual tragedy. It was a quality brother John’s pictures would also possess.” (Senses of Cinema)

In Scott Simmon’s lengthy discussion of Ford and Ince’s The Invaders (1912) in his book, The Invention of the Western Film, he notes the film’s unusual mix of simplicity and sophistication right down to the question of who its title is describing and then summarizes:

“The argument The Invaders makes about history is the argument that Ince was making about film production itself: Individual heroics are less important than group action. No single individual is essential to the process of filmmaking. Ultimately, of course, the Hollywood industry would buy neither side of this argument. In filmmaking it soon settled on the star system, which regarded certain individuals as unique and irreplaceable. In its view of history, it would promote individual heroes. You couldn’t have one without the other. There’s quite a lot to be said for Ince’s attempt to do without both.”
(The Invention of the Western Film)

In 1914 as William S. Hart tells it in his memoir, My Life East and West, Ince met with him as a stage actor looking to make a more realistic western referencing his own pre-theater background and inspired by Inceville, and explained to him that the run of westerns he was finishing with the 101 staff had triggered a glut and burned out the market. Hart was disheartened:

“I didn’t have any more to say. We walked all around the camp. When we were leaving, I talked in Sioux to some of the Indians, and Tom was so astonished. He walked back and said to a young Indian: ‘What did he say?’ The Indian just smiled and would not answer, until I told him in Sioux to do so, and then he replied, truthfully, that I had said that I was going away from here, but that I wanted to stay here.” (My Life East and West)

Ince reluctantly agreed to try Hart out in some two-reelers. They made two before producing the five-reel feature, The Bargain (1914), which was directed by Reginald Barker. What followed was a ten-year string of modern “specials” often directed by Hart himself, working with Ince and Gardner Sullivan or Lambert Hillyer scripts. The Hart films were released thru NYMPCo, Triangle, Paramount, and his final bow, Tumbleweeds (1925), was United Artists first release.

The other early Western realist star was Harry Carey. He’d been part of Biograph since 1910 in New York. At the end of 1915 he moved to Universal and by 1917 Francis Ford’s brother John, now 24, began directing some of Harry Carey’s two-reelers and features. Carey was the best of the new naturalistic untheatrical acting style. He was not raised in the West as Hart had been but in many ways he turned himself into one once he’d moved to Southern California. Francis Ford and Harry Carey were the patriarchs of what came to be called the John Ford company (Dudley Nichols, George O’Brien, Victor McLaglen, Frank Nugent, John Wayne, Yakima Canutt, Ben Johnson, Ward Bond, et. al.) which probably lasted into the sixties TV work of Andrew McLaglen, Victor’s son. The second unit culture survived its own studio system decadence of the 1960s (all those comic western fistfight melees), and it is surviving CGI fx, though chastened.

But Ince himself alienated talent like Ford and Hart and then seemed unable to make the jump to major studio status when he’d been ahead of the titans Carl Laemmle, who hired away Ford, Carey and the Bison brand to turn Universal into the next westerns powerhouse, and Adolph Zukor at Paramount.
Ince signed on for distribution with Paramount after the failure of Triangle, formed when Mutual Film and NYMPCo set up Ince, D.W. Griffith, and Mack Sennett to produce high end product for $2 tickets at their own theaters. Ince left Paramount to form Associated Producers, similar to United Artists, also formed in 1919, with notable filmmakers like Alan Dwan, Mack Sennett, Marshall Neilan, Maurice Tourneur, and others. Taves writes:

“Ince found that the interruptions necessary to manage distribution made his own task as a producer almost impossible, and desirability of a more steady income also argued in favor of aligning with a distributor.” (Thomas Ince)

Ince, like many early producers obscured the credits due those who wrote and directed his productions so as to turn his name into a brand that might cut through the clutter in the market; this made the producer-supervisor the supernova that dominated the early star system. But Ince died young having built the modern film studio from the production side beginning at NYMPCo’s Bison company in 1912. (Remember that Henry Ford himself only introduced the assembly-line to that other new motion-based product manufacturing sector in 1913.) But it was the distribution-side that killed him, and the story foretells most Hollywood business narratives. Ince then resembles Francis Ford except that Ford never claimed to be an organization man. The movies themselves have happier endings than their authors, whether those be heroic individuals or humming factories of apparats.

Now that Thomas Ince has his biography, the one we’re waiting for is the Francis Ford story. That Ford’s tale is the great lost creation story of American film.

--This review uses material from Carducci's next book, Stone Male - Requiem for the Living Picture.

(Illustrations: Thomas Ince, Thomas Ince biography; Art Acord; 101 Ranch Wild West poster; Inceville; Thomas Ince and William Eagle Shirt; Big Rock’s Last Stand promotional slide; Anna Little, William Eagle Shirt, Francis Ford)


Westerns timeline:

1894 – Buffalo Bill & Annie Oakley filmed for Edison
1903 – The Great Train Robbery
1908 – first “Broncho Billy” one-reeler produced
1909 – Francis Ford, Tom Mix debut
1910 – Harry Carey, Art Acord, Hoot Gibson debut
1912 – Ford either directs or appears in over 70 films
1914 – William S. Hart debuts with Ince; John Ford becomes Francis’ propman
1917 – Straight Shooting, Harry Carey’s first feature directed by John Ford
1927 – John Wayne is John Ford’s propman


Brian Taves interview at

In your view, what were Ince’s best surviving films? And which of his lost films would you most wish to locate?
Previous writing about Ince has tended to emphasize the early Westerns, both at Inceville (and) after Ince brought William S. Hart to the screen. However, their realism was also reflected in Ince’s ethnic stories, such as the urban immigrant tale “The Italian” (1915), and bringing the first Asian performers to Hollywood stardom, Tsuru Aoki and Sessue Hayakawa – even as “yellowface” dominated American filmmaking…. “The Empty Water Keg” (1912) and “The Invaders” (1912) are examples of his best westerns, and “The Drummer of the 8th” (1913), “Granddad” (1913), and “The Coward” (1915) of the Civil War films that were also popular with the 50th anniversary of the conflict; he would film “Barbara Frietchie” (1924) near the end of his career. “The Wrath of the Gods” (1914), set in Japan, was the first of the Aoki-Hayakawa films, and the recently restored “The Bargain” (1914) was the first of the Hart westerns. Best remembered of the Hart films is “Hell’s Hinges” (1916), and its critical perspective on religious faith was placed in the context of women’s rights in “Keys of the Righteous” (1918) and “Hail the Woman” (1921). While Ince’s “Civilization” (1916) linked Christianity to pacifism, once America entered the war, Ince made distinctive wartime films. Among these is the espionage thriller “False Faces” (1919), with Lon Chaney, and also emphasizing submarine warfare was “Behind the Door” (1919), which astonishingly brutal even by today’s standards: the villain, guilty of rape and mass murder, dies as he is skinned alive by the vengeful hero. Some pictures looked to the future: “Dangerous Hours” (1920) examined domestic terrorism, while “The Dark Mirror” (1920) forecast film noir, but was entirely the product of American, not European talent.”


“Francis Ford and John Ford: The Brothers” at Homages, Ripoffs and Coincidences


Tom Nolan in WSJ, Learning to Love Baby Peggy Again.

"Just as remarkable is the fact that that performer is still with us—and scheduled to discuss her career, with director Iwerebor, after MoMA's Sept. 5 screening. 'I was probably one of the 20 top stars [of that era],' says Southern California resident Diana Serra Cary, 93, who, as 'Baby Peggy' Montgomery, made some 50 two-reeler comedies and six feature-length movies before her 7th birthday. 'I started out at $75 a week when I was 20 months old. At the end of six months... the studio upped me to $150 a week.... At 5 years old, I was making a million dollars a picture.' ...
[T]hrough the first years of sound movies, the Hollywood establishment, she saw, was doing all it could to disparage and bury the achievements of its silent past. 'The industry people were in a state of panic.... They didn't want to sink in a [new] world they didn't know anything about.... Every opportunity they had, in the press and every other way, they relegated silent films to the Stone Age; they said they were no good, and everybody in them was no good.... You were made to feel that you'd appeared in something dreadful. And I just put the lid down on it, completely... for the next 30 years.' The grown-up Mrs. Cary penned 'The Hollywood Posse' (1975), a well-received history of Hollywood's cowboy stunt-riders (her father had been Tom Mix's double); then an account of movie child-performers ('Hollywood's Children,' 1979), and at last her own memoir ('What Ever Happened to Baby Peggy?,' 1996)."

"Symbiosis" by Michael J. Safran

From the Desk of Joe Carducci...

Jonathan Chait in New York, "The Vast Left-wing Conspiracy is on Your Screen".

“Several years ago, a trio of researchers working for the Inter-American Development Bank set out to help solve a sociological mystery. Brazil had, over the course of four decades, experienced one of the largest drops in average family size in the world, from 6.3 children per woman in 1960 to 2.3 children in 2000. What made the drop so curious is that, unlike the Draconian one-child policy in China, the Brazilian government had in place no policy to limit family size. (It was actually illegal at some point to advertise contraceptives in the overwhelmingly Catholic country.) What could explain such a steep drop? The researchers zeroed in on one factor: television. Television spread through Brazil in the mid-sixties. But it didn’t arrive everywhere at once in the sprawling country. Brazil’s main station, Globo, expanded slowly and unevenly. The researchers found that areas that gained access to Globo saw larger drops in fertility than those that didn’t (controlling, of course, for other factors that could affect fertility). It was not any kind of news or educational programming that caused this fertility drop but exposure to the massively popular soap operas, or novelas, that most Brazilians watch every night. The paper also found that areas with exposure to television were dramatically more likely to give their children names shared by novela characters. Novelas almost always center around four or five families, each of which is usually small, so as to limit the number of characters the audience must track. Nearly three quarters of the main female characters of childbearing age in the prime-time novelas had no children, and a fifth had one child.”


Marc Cooper in Pacific Standard, "The Governor’s Last Stand".

“MC: There’s a trace of trashing the electorate here.
Brown: I’m not trashing the electorate.

MC: But you are saying that there is contradiction or confusion among the electorate, that people want things but don’t want to pay the bill.
Brown: People wanted houses they couldn’t afford. Or take credit-card debt. The people who went into World War I didn’t understand the cost of what they wanted either, marching away into trenches. They had bands [greeting soldiers] as they disembarked in England. They were marching away to be in these trenches for the next several years, blood running, disease. And they didn’t know, did they? And they were all good Christians, by the way—the czar was a good Christian, the kaiser was a good Christian. The Italians. Not good. Then they were in the trenches gaining a few feet here or there. We often don’t know what we’re doing—that’s called being human. Oedipus didn’t know he was sleeping with his mother and that he killed his father. He didn’t know that. That’s why he had to pull his eyes out. It was a bad experience.”


Michael Mishak in LAT, "California Teachers Assn. a powerful force in Sacramento".

“It may seem unorthodox for an unelected citizen to sit with Sacramento's elite as they pick winners and losers in the annual spending sweepstakes. But few major financial decisions in California are made without Nuñez, who represents what is arguably the most potent force in state politics. The union views itself as ‘the co-equal fourth branch of government,’ said Oakland Democrat Don Perata, a former teacher who crossed swords with the group when he was state Senate leader. Backed by an army of 325,000 teachers and a war chest as sizable as those of the major political parties, CTA can make or break all sorts of deals. It holds sway over Democrats, labor's traditional ally, and Republicans alike. Jim Brulte, a former leader of the state Senate's GOP caucus, recalled once attending a CTA reception with a Republican colleague who told the union's leaders that he had come to ‘check with the owners.’ CTA is one of the biggest political spenders in California. It outpaced all other special interests, including corporate players such as telecommunications giant AT&T and the Chevron oil company, from 2000 through 2009, according to a state study. In that decade, the labor group shelled out more than $211 million in political contributions and lobbying expenses — roughly twice that of the next largest spender, the Service Employees International Union.”


Rob Portman in WSJ, "The Regulatory Cliff Is Nearly as Steep as the Fiscal One".

“After three years of bureaucratic excess, the Obama administration has been quietly postponing several multibillion-dollar regulations until after the November election. Those delayed rules, together with more than 130 unfinished mandates under the 2010 Dodd-Frank financial law, could significantly increase the regulatory drag on our economy in 2013. The Labor Department, for example, is working on a regulation that would increase the cost of retirement planning for middle-class workers, to ‘protect’ them from investment help. This regulation, known as the Fiduciary Rule, would tighten restrictions and increase litigation risks for businesses that offer investment guidance on a commission basis, rather than the more expensive fee-for-service model. A study last year by the Oliver Wyman Group found that the Fiduciary Rule could result in higher retirement account minimums and cause 7.2 million individual retirement account (IRA) holders to lose access to investment advice. Even the Labor Department was unable to show that the rule's illusory benefits outweigh its substantial costs. After other lawmakers and I urged the White House to step in, this rule-making was delayed temporarily. But the Labor Department has told interested parties to stay tuned for another iteration of this rule. Then there is the mega-rule on the shelf at the Environment Protection Agency (EPA) that could block business expansion in many areas of the country. Proposed in 2010, the Ozone Rule would impose a limit on ozone (which creates haze from emissions from cars, power plants and factories) so strict that up to 85% of U.S. counties monitored by the EPA would be in violation.”


Lawrence Summers in FT, "The US state will expand no matter the election result".

There will be disagreement over what constituted ‘normal’ levels of spending in the past and indeed over what constitutes ‘spending’. But there is a widespread view in both parties that it is feasible and desirable that in the future the federal government will be no larger as a share of the overall economy than it has been historically. Unfortunately, this aspiration is unlikely to be achieved. Even preserving the amount of government functions the US had before the financial crisis will require substantial increases in the share of the economy devoted to the public sector.”


Harvey Silvergate in WSJ, "Gibson Is Off the Fed’s Hook. Who’s Next? ".

“Did Gibson acquiesce in this settlement solely to end the expense, distraction, danger and agony of a federal criminal prosecution—the usual reasons for shouting ‘uncle’ to Uncle Sam? We will never know. Why? Because federal prosecutors required, as part of the ‘criminal enforcement agreement,’ that Gibson not only ‘accept[s] and acknowledge[s] responsibility for the conduct’ alleged, but also that the company's ‘public statements regarding this Agreement will not contradict the statement of facts’ set forth in an appendix to the settlement agreement. Put another way, Gibson is now forbidden to tell the world the whole truth about its conduct and its reasons for settling a case it previously claimed publicly, including in an opinion piece in this newspaper, involved no criminal conduct on its part. In exchange for agreeing to read the government's script, Gibson regained its ability to conduct business without a federal sword of Damocles dangling over its corporate head. This naked effort by federal prosecutors to control both news and outcomes, not to mention their own reputations, does not surprise those familiar with the modern federal criminal justice system.”


John Kass in CT, "Taxing bikers: The wheels begin to spin".

“Good news, beleaguered taxpayers! A consensus is building in support of our plan to collect revenue from the One Percenters of the Commuter Class — the bicyclists who pay nothing, not even fines when they zoom past stop signs, as politicians smooch their sweaty behinds. On Wednesday, I responsibly proposed a series of bike fees to help City Hall find much-needed revenue: The Rahm-PASS, the bike boot, bike parking, bike tolls and a bicyclist license. And now it's time for readers — even those who wear tight-fitting spandex shorts and those little bike cleats — to get their writes. Before cyclists get taxed, they should start taxing (expletive deleted) writers. … How on earth did you get hired at the Trib? I've seen photos of you, and it probably wouldn't kill you to hop on a bike every now and then. Keep up the awful work. Joshua M. Dear Josh — I'll make you a deal. I'll get on a bike the moment you pay your bike toll and get a Rahm-PASS. No more free riding for you my friend. It's fee riding from now on, the Chicago Way.”


WSJ: "Cheesecake Factory Medicine".

“No one did more to sell the Affordable Care Act than Peter Orszag, the former White House budget director who claimed during 2009-2010 that as much as a third of health spending is ‘waste’ that doesn't improve outcomes. But now that he's repaired to Wall Street and writes an online column, he's deriding the idea that better incentives can reduce costs and sneering at the ‘health-care competition tooth fairy.’ So get a load of Mr. Orszag's Tinker Bell alternative, which he called the ‘most important institutional change’ after ObamaCare passed in 2010: the Independent Payment Advisory Board composed of 15 philosopher kings who will rule over U.S. health care. Who are these Orszag 15? Well, nobody knows. The board was supposed to be up and running by the end of September, but the White House is avoiding naming names for Senate confirmation until after the election. No one knows, either, what this group of geniuses will propose, but that too is part of the grand Orszag plan. ObamaCare included dozens of speculative pilot programs that are supposed to make health-care delivery and business models less wasteful. Mr. Orszag's payment board is then supposed to apply the programs that ‘work’ to all of U.S. medicine through regulation, without Congressional consent or legal appeal. Seriously. It doesn't take a mythical childhood metaphor to mock this theory. Mr. Orszag's style of central planning—in what was already the heaviest regulated U.S. industry before ObamaCare—has failed over and over again in Medicare since the creation of the fiat pricing fee schedule in the 1980s.”


Matt Ridley in Wired, "Apocalypse Not".

“Predictions of global famine and the end of oil in the 1970s proved just as wrong as end-of-the-world forecasts from millennialist priests. Yet there is no sign that experts are becoming more cautious about apocalyptic promises. If anything, the rhetoric has ramped up in recent years. Echoing the Mayan calendar folk, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists moved its Doomsday Clock one minute closer to midnight at the start of 2012, commenting: ‘The global community may be near a point of no return in efforts to prevent catastrophe from changes in Earth’s atmosphere.’ Over the five decades since the success of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring in 1962 and the four decades since the success of the Club of Rome’s The Limits to Growth in 1972, prophecies of doom on a colossal scale have become routine. Indeed, we seem to crave ever-more-frightening predictions—we are now, in writer Gary Alexander’s word, apocaholic. The past half century has brought us warnings of population explosions, global famines, plagues, water wars, oil exhaustion, mineral shortages, falling sperm counts, thinning ozone, acidifying rain, nuclear winters, Y2K bugs, mad cow epidemics, killer bees, sex-change fish, cell-phone-induced brain-cancer epidemics, and climate catastrophes.”


Yuval Levin in National Review, "The Hollow Republic".

“This difference of opinion about mediating institutions is no trifling matter. It gets at a profound and fundamental difference between the Left and the Right. The Left tends to believe that the great advantage of our liberal society is that it enables the application of technical knowledge that can make our lives better, and that this knowledge can overcome our biggest problems. This is the technocratic promise of progressivism. The Right tends to believe that the great advantage of our liberal society is that it has evolved to channel deep social knowledge through free institutions — knowledge that often cannot be articulated in technical terms but is the most important knowledge we have. For the Left, therefore, the mediating institutions (and at times even our constitutional forms) are obstacles to the application of liberal knowledge. For the Right, the mediating institutions (and our constitutional forms) are the embodiment of liberal knowledge. The Left’s disdain for civil society is thus driven above all not by a desire to empower the state without limit, but by a deeply held concern that the mediating institutions in society — emphatically including the family, the church, and private enterprise — are instruments of prejudice, selfishness, backwardness, and resistance to change, and that in order to establish our national life on more rational grounds, the government needs to weaken and counteract them. The Right’s high regard for civil society, meanwhile, is driven above all not by a disdain for government but by a deeply held belief in the importance of our diverse and evolved societal forms, without which we could not hope to secure our liberty. Conservatives seek mechanisms and institutions to bring implicit social knowledge to bear on our troubles, while progressives seek the authority and power to bring explicit technical knowledge to bear on them.”


Doug Donaldson in Saturday Evening Post, "The New American Super-family".

“The driving force behind this trend is financial pressure, particularly rising housing costs, health insurance premiums, and college debt. About 8.7 million young adults ages 25 to 34 became part of multigenerational households in 2009, an increase of 13 million over 2007. Now, more than one in five young adults lives in multigenerational households. But it’s not just the young who are coming home to roost. Many elderly parents of boomers are moving in with their children as well. All told, the number of multi-gen households grew about 30 percent during the past decade, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. And a Pew Research Center report found that 51 million Americans lived in homes of two or more adult generations in 2009, compared with 42 million in 2000. That’s a 21 percent increase in less than a decade, but more importantly it reflects a turning back to what used to be, well, normal.”


George Will in Washington Post, "Why government needs a diet".

“Because nothing is as immortal as a temporary government program, Communities Putting Prevention to Work (CPPW), a creature of the stimulus, was folded into the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act of 2010, a.k.a. Obamacare. And the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), working through the CPPW, disbursed money to 25 states to fight, among other things, the scourge of soda pop. In Cook County, Ill., according to an official report, recipients using some of a $16 million CDC grant ‘educated policymakers on link between SSBs [sugar-sweetened beverages] and obesity, economic impact of an SSB tax, and importance of investing revenue into prevention.’ According to a Philadelphia city Web site, a $15 million CDC grant funded efforts to ‘campaign’ for a ‘two-cent per ounce excise tax’ on SSBs. In California, an official report says that a $2.2 million CDC grant for obesity prevention funded ‘training for grantees on media advocacy’ against SSBs. A New York report says that a $3 million grant was used to ‘educate leaders and decision-makers about, and promote the effective implementation of... a tax to substantially increase the price of beverages containing caloric sweetener.’ The Rhode Island Department of Health used a $3 million grant for ‘educating key decision-makers to serve as champions of specific . . . pricing and procurement strategies to reduce consumption of’ SSBs. In government-speak, ‘educating’ is synonymous with ‘lobbying.’ Clearly some of the $230 million in CDC/CPPW anti-obesity grants was spent in violation of the law, which prohibits the use of federal funds ‘to influence in any manner... an official of any government, to favor, adopt, or oppose, by vote or otherwise, any legislation, law, ratification, policy, or appropriation.’”


Ben Kesling in WSJ, "Tootsie’s Secret Empire".

“The 116-year-old company, run by one of America's oldest CEOs, has become increasingly secretive over the years, severing nearly all of its connections to the outside world. Tootsie Roll shuns journalists, refuses to hold quarterly earnings calls, and issues crookedly-scanned PDFs for its earnings releases. The last securities industry analyst to maintain coverage of the company stopped last year because it was too hard to get information. ‘I think the only way you can get a tour is by jumping over the fence and sneaking in,’ said the last analyst to attempt the task, Elliott Schlang of Cleveland firm Great Lakes Review. The chairman and chief executive of Tootsie Roll is Melvin Gordon, a bespectacled man in his 90s who has headed the company for 50 years. He runs it with his 80-year-old wife, Ellen. Decades of acquisitions have given Tootsie Roll a product gallery of mostly antique—though profitable—candy brands, including Charleston Chew, Sugar Babies, Junior Mints, and Blow Pops, in addition to the company's chewy, brown namesake.”


Futureofcapitalism.com: "Health Care Costs Sinking".

“The Wall Street Journal has an article about a cardiology patient who had three echocardiograms. Cardiogram A cost his insurer $373. Cardiogram B, six months later, ‘cost his insurer $1605,’ but the patient, who had a high-deductible plan, ‘had to pay about $1,000 of the larger bill out of his own pocket.’ Cardiogram C, earlier this year, and the most recent of the three, cost $265.31. The Journal makes from this a headline and news article about how health care costs are rising because of the transition to B from A, attributing the higher costs in B to the fact that independent medical practices are being bought up by hospitals. But the transition to C from B, which the Journal buries toward the end of the article, may be the more newsworthy one: the news that because patients are increasingly paying for their own health care through these high deductible plans, prices are actually being driven down as consumers shop around. It all depends on how the story is framed.”


Zach Dorfman in Dissent, "What We Talk About When We Talk About Isolationism".

“While recently driving through an agricultural region of rural Colorado, I saw a giant roadside billboard calling for American withdrawal from the UN. Yet in the last decade, the Republican Party, with the partial exception of its Ron Paul/libertarian faction, has veered into such a belligerent unilateralism that its graybeards—one of whom, Senator Richard Lugar of Indiana, just lost a primary to a far-right challenger partly because of his reasonableness on foreign affairs—were barely able to ensure Senate ratification of a key nuclear arms reduction treaty with Russia. Many of these same people desire a unilateral war with Iran. And it isn’t just Republicans. Drone attacks have intensified in Yemen, Pakistan, and elsewhere under the Obama administration. Massive troop deployments continue unabated. We spend over $600 billion dollars a year on our military budget; the next largest is China’s, at ‘only’ around $100 billion. Administrations come and go, but the national security state appears here to stay.”


Lee Sandlin in WSJ on Ann Keating’s book, "Rising Up From Indian Country".

“By the time the main line of Ms. Keating's story begins, the Country had achieved a certain fragile balance, where the people of several ordinarily hostile tribes, together with a large number of white traders who had married Indian women, all mingled. But by the early 19th century, this peace had started to unravel. Large numbers of white settlers were pushing into the frontier, with the backing of the American government. Their presence prompted the first major nativist political movement among the Indians, led by a mysterious figure known as the ‘Shawnee prophet.’ The prophet believed that settlers wanted the Country for themselves and that the treaties offered by the white government were nothing more than empty exercises in chicanery. It would be hard to argue that he was wrong there. But he went further and called for Indians of all nations to cleanse themselves of white influence altogether: no intermarriage, no trading for white goods, no alcohol. Even some of his most militant followers thought this was excessive. Fort Dearborn, which was both a garrison and a trading post, became the center of growing unrest. Ms. Keating takes us through the inner workings of the fort from a unique vantage: a white trader named John Kinzie who had spent most of his life in the Country. Kinzie understood the anger of the local population, because he shared it: He wanted the newcomers to stay out and leave the Country the way it had been. On the other hand, he didn't have any use for the Shawnee prophet and his followers either—after all, if they succeeded, he would be out of business. Much of the entertainment of ‘Rising Up From Indian Country’ comes from watching Kinzie dealing and double-dealing with both sides in an increasingly desperate attempt to keep afloat as the situation deteriorated.”


T.H. Breen in "Times Literary Supplement" on P.J. Marshall’s book, Remaking the British Atlantic, and Kariann Yokota’s book, Unbecoming British.

“From strikingly different interpretative perspectives, the two historians argue persuasively that for at least three decades following the end of the war, Americans found it harder to sever ties with Great Britain than they had imagined at the start of the conflict. Americans had obtained national independence, but however fervently they may have hoped to begin the world over again, they quickly discovered that Britain’s defeat in America had not seriously compromised the Empire’s military might. It still dominated Atlantic commerce.”


Christopher Caldwell in FT, "Ivory towers will be toppled by an online ‘tsunami’".

“A great consolidation of personnel must be the result of this technological shift. Once courses are online, best practices will emerge. The US will no longer need hundreds or thousands of organic chemistry professors. Network effects will bring a stampede of students to the courses of the best universities. Students will abandon even excellent professors at excellent universities to learn code-writing the “MIT way” or the ‘Stanford way’, if they believe that is the idiom their future bosses are most likely to speak in. Certain drawbacks of online courses are obvious. They lack human contact. They are still ill-suited to teaching humanities. Even as an argument rages over whether standardised tests play too big a role in forming the US meritocracy, online learning turns such tests into the end of education itself. The world’s gilded youth will continue to be educated at Oxbridge-style, or Ivy-style, universities. But the new online system will work perfectly well for most of those who cannot afford such an option – and in some cases better. We are not all Renaissance men. There are teenagers in Chinese villages who belong in MIT’s code-writing classes but might be three years of learning English away from drawing the slightest benefit from a Shakespeare course. There are mute, inglorious Miltons around the world who are never going to get the hang of writing code. Much praise of the traditional university is meant to disguise the system’s shortcomings. When administrators talk about the capacity of classmates to inspire, they often mean that there is more sex, hashish and beer on campus than there used to be.”


James Morris in Wilson Quarterly on Andrew Delbanco’s book, "College: What It Was, Is, and Should Be".

“Even at colleges embedded within elite universities, the number of humanities majors in graduating classes is shrinking. Between 1990 and 2009, for instance, the proportion of such majors dropped at Stanford from 20 percent to 15 percent, at Brown from 37 percent to 24 percent, and at Yale from 50 percent to 33 percent. Education in the humanities is not antithetical to the sciences, which are to be embraced for their separate understanding of the natural world. But the humanities will never be the sciences, despite attempts to impose on them a scientific rigor. The humanities don’t generate new knowledge, as the sciences repeatedly do. They maintain and burnish the old knowledge, the truths about humanity that carry no date and every date, and they display that knowledge for discovery and contemplation and challenge by new generations.”


David Hawkes in Times Literary Supplement on Susan Hegeman’s book, "The Cultural Return".

“The ‘cultural turn’ to which Susan Hegeman’s title alludes was originally a Communist political tactic, developed in the 1920s by the Italian Party leader, Antonio Gramsci. During periods when the political route to power seemed blocked, Gramsci argued that revolutionaries should turn their attention to the cultural sphere: the arts, the academies and the press. By working to undermine the hegemony of bourgeios culture while simultaneously developing a proletarian alternative, they would engage in a ‘war of position’ designed to prepare the ideological ground for the total expropriation of capital once political circumstances permitted. The post-war Left took up this project with enthusiasm. Even as leftist parties failed at the polls, their cultural surrogates came to dominate, particularly in the most sophisticated and avant-garde movements.... Yet the Left’s rise to cultural power was accompanied by its descent into economic and political impotence. This was not what Gramsci had intended.”


Gautam Naik in WSJ, "Journals’ Ranking System Roils Research".

“The impact factor, or IF, is routinely used by researchers in deciding where to publish and what to read. It guides promotions, tenure decisions and funding committees around the world, who assume someone publishing in a high-impact journal must be doing superior work. Thomson Reuters calculates the IF by dividing the number of citations of research papers in a journal in one year by the total number of papers published in the same journal in the two previous years. So while the IF captures the citation rate of a journal as a whole, it says nothing about the quality or veracity of any individual paper. Nonetheless, more and more countries today use the IF system to grade scientists. A few years ago, Qatar University began offering cash bonuses to its academics linked to the IF of the journal in which they publish. Critics say that pushes academics to seek trendy fields of research and to try to publish in journals with the highest IF, instead of those that offer the best audience for their work. ‘It distorts the entire scientific enterprise,’ says Fiona Godlee, editor of the British Medical Journal.”


Nicholas Wade in NYT, "Family Tree of Languages Has Roots in Anatolia, Biologists Say".

“Linguists believe that the first speakers of the mother tongue, known as proto-Indo-European, were chariot-driving pastoralists who burst out of their homeland on the steppes above the Black Sea about 4,000 years ago and conquered Europe and Asia. A rival theory holds that, to the contrary, the first Indo-European speakers were peaceable farmers in Anatolia, now Turkey, about 9,000 years ago, who disseminated their language by the hoe, not the sword. The new entrant to the debate is an evolutionary biologist, Quentin Atkinson of the University of Auckland in New Zealand. He and colleagues have taken the existing vocabulary and geographical range of 103 Indo-European languages and computationally walked them back in time and place to their statistically most likely origin. The result, they announced in Thursday’s issue of the journal Science, is that ‘we found decisive support for an Anatolian origin over a steppe origin.’ Both the timing and the root of the tree of Indo-European languages ‘fit with an agricultural expansion from Anatolia beginning 8,000 to 9,500 years ago,’ they report.”


Philip Ball in Prospect, "Riddled with irregularity".

“Language has a logical job to do—to convey information—and yet it is riddled with irrationality: irregular verbs, random genders, silent vowels, ambiguous homophones. You’d think languages would evolve towards an optimal state of concision, but instead they accumulate quirks that hinder learning, not only for foreigners but also for native speakers. These peculiarities have been explained by linguists by reference to the history of the people who speak it. That’s often fascinating, but it does not yield general principles about how languages have developed—or how they will change in future. As they evolve, what guides their form? Linguists have long suspected that language is like a game, in which individuals in a group vie to impose their way of speaking. We adopt words and phrases that we hear, and help them propagate. Through face-to-face encounters, language evolves to reconcile our conflicting needs as speakers or listeners: when speaking, we want to say our bit with minimal effort—we want language to be structurally simple. As listeners, we want the meaning to be clear—we want language to be informative. In other words, speakers try to shift the effort onto listeners, and vice versa.”


Yoram Hazony in WSJ, "The God of Independent Minds".

“This dichotomy between reason and revelation has a great deal of history behind it, but I have never accepted it. In fact, as an Orthodox Jew, I often find the whole discussion quite frustrating. I will let Christians speak for their own sacred texts, but in the Hebrew Bible (or "Old Testament") and the classical rabbinical sources that are the basis for my religion, one of the abiding themes is precisely the ever-urgent need for human beings, if they are to find what is true and just, to maintain their capacity for independent thought and action. Almost every major hero and heroine of the Hebrew Bible is depicted as independent-minded, disobedient, even contentious. Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, Joseph's brothers, Moses and Aaron, Gideon and Samuel, prophets such as Elijah and Elisha, and exilic biblical figures such as Daniel, Mordechai and Esther—all are portrayed as confronting authority and breaking the laws and commands of kings. And for this they are praised. But aren't these biblical figures just disobeying human institutions in response to commands from on high? Not at all. Very often the disobedience we see in Hebrew Scripture is initiated by human beings with no word from God at all.”


Tom Bartlett at Chronicle.com, "Dusting Off God".

“A heavenly reminder seemed to make subjects significantly more magnanimous. In another study, researchers found that prompting subjects with the same vocabulary made some more likely to volunteer for community projects. Intriguingly, not all of them: Only those who had a specific dopamine receptor variant volunteered more, raising the possibility that religion doesn't work for everybody. A similar experiment was conducted on two Israeli kibbutzes. The scenario was more complicated: Subjects were shown an envelope containing 100 shekels (currently about $25). They were told that they could choose to keep as much of the money as they wished, but that another member of the kibbutz was being given the identical option. If the total requested by the participants (who were kept separated) exceeded 100 shekels, they walked away with nothing. If the total was less than or equal to 100, they were given the money plus a bonus based on what was left over. The kicker is that one of the kibbutzes was secular and one was religious. Turns out, the more-devout members of the religious kibbutz, as measured by synagogue attendance, requested significantly fewer shekels and expected others to do the same. The researchers, Richard Sosis and Bradley Ruffle, ventured that ‘collective ritual has a significant impact on cooperative decisions.’”


Tim Black at Spiked-online.com, "An ugly rerun of the Satanic panic".

“The state trusts parents to look after their kids even less today than it did 20 years ago. So it perhaps comes as little surprise that this week the Department of Education, backed by the Metropolitan Police and assorted charities, including the NSPCC, issued a report just as viciously suspicion-sowing as the Satanic ritual abuse theory proved to be all those years ago. Its title is carefully phrased, but the implications are clear: National Action Plan for Tackling Child Abuse Linked to Faith or Belief. It defines so-called ‘child abuse linked to faith or belief’ as follows: ‘This includes belief in witchcraft, spirit possession, demons or the devil, the evil eye or djinns, dakini, kindoki, ritual or muti murders and use of fear of the supernatural to make children comply with being trafficked for domestic slavery or sexual exploitation.’ And how does the government plan to address this supernatural version of child abuse? Principally by doing two things. First, it wants to make sure we all think that there is a problem. This is to be done by ‘raising awareness’ of the phenomenon of witchcraft-inspired child abuse within a community, something it intends to do through ‘faith leader champions’ and ‘training’ parents. And second, having fomented suspicion in a community’s midst, the state wants to encourage social workers and teachers to look out for ‘indicators’ of faith-linked abuse, such as children talking of ‘deliverance’ or of being in a ‘cave’. (This is eerily familiar to anyone who remembers that the NSPCC dished out its own list of Satanic ritual abuse indicators to Rochdale social workers in the early 1990s.)”


Fernando Cervantes in Times Literary Supplement on John Lynch’s book, "New Worlds – A religious history of Latin America".

“The evangelization of Latin America began well before the implementation of the decrees of the Council of Trent (1545-63). The aim of the ‘missionaries’ (a term the early mendicant friars never actually used) was not so much conversion, as incorporation. To those who received them, the enthusiasm with which the majority of natives flocked to receive baptism was clear evidence that they already belonged to Christ. The friars, accordingly, opted to instruct their converts not so much by the imposition of a given set of doctrines, as by the enactment of ritual practices that the natives soon came to claim as their own. In tune with the bulk of European immigrants, the majority of Franciscan, Dominican and Augustinian friars, like the Jesuits who arrived some decades later, had no qualms about deferring to what they perceived as the superior knowledge of native leaders – not only about the physical environment, but also about the local spiritual forces. As they embraced and gradually sifted a large number of conflicting systems of explanation, the newcomers often took over roles previously played by indigenous leaders. In the process, they instilled in the minds of their neophytes an image of Christianity as endowed with a power that seemed stronger than the local spiritual traditions, but not incompatible with them. This was essentially a liturgical culture, one where enacted worship had a much more lasting impact than any show of force. The performative qualities of indigenous religions found strong parallels in European liturgical traditions. The indigenous Christian cultures that emerged from the interaction between the ‘old’ and ‘new’ worlds were spontaneous developments, fed by the imagination of Europeans who found it perfectly natural to appropriate the symbols and values of their converts.”


MercoPress: "Argentina wants to cut Falklands’ squid catches".

“Argentina is planning the incorporation of Chinese jiggers to catch Illex squid next season, a decision rejected by the local fishing chambers but which according to the Buenos Aires financial media is linked to the sovereignty dispute over the Falkland Islands and surrounding waters. The Argentine Federal Fisheries Council approved resolution 7 opening a registry for 20 additional jiggers, 10 of them from China, apparently part of the June deal between Premier Wen Jiabao and Cristina Fernandez that also contemplates the possibility of supplying, servicing and unloading catches in Patagonian ports.”


Kathrin Hille in FT, "China sees benefit in making friends".

“Cambodia, which this year chairs the 10-nation Asean group, blocked an attempt by the Philippines and Vietnam to include a reference in the summit communiqué to a recent stand-off with China in the South China Sea. ‘We co-ordinated very well with Cambodia in that case and ... prevented an incident which would have been detrimental to China,’ says Chen Xiangyang, a foreign policy expert at the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations. Analysts say Cambodia's move to do China's bidding is a glimpse of things to come as Beijing seeks to build foreign policy alliances it long eschewed. Deterred from such alliances by the collapse of its pact with the Soviet Union in 1961, China decided in 1982, when it started opening up after more than a decade of self-imposed isolation, it should follow a policy of non-alignment. But following the 2008 financial crisis, the Arab spring and the growing US push to reassert its presence in Asia, this strategy is being challenged at home. ‘The situation in China's backyard has become more complicated, and there is a feeling that things are running out of control,’ says Mr Chen. ‘Following the increase in Chinese power, we will need more friends. Otherwise we run the risk of isolation.’ Some Chinese scholars believe Beijing has already started watering down its non-alignment dogma.”


Tyler Cowen in NYT, "Two Prisms for Looking at China’s Problems".

“The Austrian approach raises the possibility that there is no way for China to make good on enough of its oversubsidized investments. At first, they create lots of jobs and revenue, but as the business cycle proceeds, new marginal investments become less valuable and more prone to allocation by corruption. The giddy booms of earlier times wear off, and suddenly not every decision seems wise. The combination can lead to an economic crackup — not because aggregate demand is too low, but because the economy has been producing the wrong mix of goods and services. To keep its investments in business, the Chinese government will almost certainly continue to use political means, like propping up ailing companies with credit from state-owned banks. But whether or not those companies survive, the investments themselves have been wasteful, and that will eventually damage the economy. In the Austrian perspective, the government has less ability to set things right than in Keynesian theories. Furthermore, it is becoming harder to stimulate the Chinese economy effectively. The flow of funds out of China has accelerated recently, and the trend may continue as the government liberalizes capital markets and as Chinese businesses become more international and learn how to game the system. Again, reflecting a core theme of Austrian economics, market forces are overturning or refusing to validate the state-preferred pattern of investments.”


Choe Sang-Hun in NYT, "One Man’s Tale of Two Koreas, Changed Allegiances, Torture and Fear".

“Tortured by his own government in the 1980s for supporting its archenemy, North Korea, Mr. Kim now lives under the protection of the South, which assigned him a full-time government bodyguard. The reason: North Korea, which once considered Mr. Kim such an asset that it smuggled him out of South Korea for a meeting with the North’s founder, now wants him dead. The threat to his life is apparent retribution for a change of heart. He renounced the Communist police state in the 1990s and has worked tirelessly ever since to help North Koreans build an underground pro-democracy movement, using the border between the North and its ally China as his base of operations.”


Rufus Phillips in WSJ on Fredrik Logevall’s book, "Embers of War".

“In a different vein, ‘Embers of War’ provides an unbalanced account of the rise of South Vietnam with Ngo Dinh Diem as its leader. In 1955, there was a contest for power in South Vietnam, which I saw firsthand as a U.S. intelligence officer between Diem and various sectarian forces led by a gangster group called the Binh Xuyen. The Binh Xuyen controlled the national police and the streets of Saigon with 7,000 well-armed men. They also controlled all gambling, the opium dens and prostitution. Diem attempted to replace the police chief, which brought on armed conflict between the Vietnamese army, which supported Diem, and the Binh Xuyen, whom the French secretly supported as a way of maintaining influence. When the contest appeared in doubt, U.S. Ambassador J. Lawton Collins, very much influenced by the French hatred of Diem as a die-hard nationalist, recommended to President Eisenhower that we replace Diem with a ‘coalition’ government in which undoubtedly the Binh Xuyen would have continued to play a role. While Collins was in Washington pleading his case, war broke out in Saigon between the Binh Xuyen and the army, who quickly drove the former into the swamps surrounding Saigon. Collins was overruled and U.S. support for Diem continued.”


Lien-Hang Nguyen in NYT, "Exploding the Myths About Vietnam".

“If we are to learn from the past, then, it’s worth parting the bamboo curtain that has long concealed decision making in North Vietnam to dispel some ingrained myths of that oft-invoked war. It is commonly believed that North Vietnam decided to go to war in 1959-60 to save the southern insurgency from eradication and that the Communist Party enjoyed the unflagging support of the Vietnamese people until the war’s end in 1975. But recent evidence reveals that the party’s resolution to go to war in South Vietnam was intimately connected to problems at home. Revolutionary war was an effective way to deflect attention from domestic problems, including a devastating land reform campaign, a dissident intellectual movement and an unsuccessful state plan for socialist transformation of the economy. One of the greatest misconceptions of the Vietnam War is that Ho Chi Minh was the uncontested leader of North Vietnam. In reality, Ho was a figurehead while Le Duan, a man who resides in the marginalia of history, was the architect, main strategist and commander in chief of North Vietnam’s war effort. The quiet, stern Mr. Duan shunned the spotlight but he possessed the iron will, focus and administrative skill necessary to dominate the Communist Party.”


James Hookway in WSJ, "Wealthy Vietnamese Face Backlash as Economy Worsens".

“Some of Vietnam's Communist leaders have never been entirely comfortable with their country's pro-market reforms. Waves of liberalization have often been followed by periods of inaction. Analysts now worry that combating politicians and a hostile public might thwart the reforms needed to recapture the stellar growth rates that once made the country one of world's most sought-after emerging markets. Plans for privatizations have stalled as bad debts have rippled through the banking system. Meanwhile, top executives at some state-owned enterprises have been arrested and charged with mismanaging state resources after the global financial crisis sent many businesses into a financial tailspin, exposing the shortcomings of Vietnam's bid to catch up with its neighbors after decades of war and Marxist economic planning.”


Floyd Whaley in NYT, "A Youthful Populace Helps Make the Philippines an Economic Bright Spot in Asia".

“With $70 billion in reserves and lower interest payments on its debt after recent credit rating upgrades, the Philippines pledged $1 billion to the International Monetary Fund to help shore up the struggling economies of Europe. “This is the same rescue fund that saved the Philippines when our country was in deep financial trouble in the early ’80s,” said Representative Mel Senen Sarmiento, a congressman from Western Samar. The Philippines has certainly had a steady flow of positive economic news recently. On July 4, Standard & Poor’s raised the country’s debt rating to just below investment grade, the highest rating for the country since 2003 and equivalent to that of Indonesia. The Philippines is the 44th-largest economy in the world today, according to HSBC estimates. But if current trends hold, it can leap to the No. 16 spot by 2050. The Philippine stock market, one of the best performers in the region, closed at a record high after the recent S.& P. rating upgrade, and the country’s currency, the peso, reached a four-year high against the dollar at about the same time. The gross domestic product of the Philippines grew 6.4 percent in the first quarter, according to the country’s central bank, outperforming all other growth rates in the region except China’s.”


James Hookway in WSJ, "In Thailand Today, Teen Monks Express the Spirit to a Rock Beat".

“Each year as monsoon rains sweep their way over Thailand, tens of thousands of teenage boys shave their heads and are ordained as Buddhist monks in a traditional rite of passage. Some find their life's vocation during the few weeks they spend in the monastery, and they become full-time monks. Others post videos of themselves on YouTube, as they play air guitar to hard-rock tracks like Yngwie Malmsteen's ‘Iron Clad,’ or recite religious chants to thumping hip-hop beats. The Buddhist faith practiced by more than 90% of Thailand's population is going through something like culture shock as the country quickly modernizes alongside East Asia's other booming economies. With more Thais going online, often through mobile phones, some of the country's novice monks are becoming online media stars, jarring an older generation that doesn't quite know what to make of it all.”


Evan Osnos in New Yorker, "The Burmese Spring".

“The Burmese people have been subjected to the whims of despotic leaders for so long that ‘government’ has been included in a traditional lament about the ‘five evils’ in life, along with fire, water, thieves, and enemies. Their history has not been without glory: the first major Burmese kingdom, which flourished at Pagan, in the eleventh century, created spectacular Buddhist temples and pagodas more than a century before comparable cathedrals appeared in Europe. The Burmese went on to conquer present-day Laos and Thailand. But in 1885 a British general arrived with enough pith-helmeted troops to force the final king out of his palace on an oxcart, and declared Burma a minor province of India.”


Economist: "Indian banks – Hold your nose".

“One of India’s strengths is its companies. In general they are profitable, well-run and have healthy balance-sheets. But the country has long had pockets of indebtedness, too. A tradition of ‘promoters’—as individuals or families with controlling stakes are known—can lead firms to borrow rather than dilute down their masters’ stakes by issuing shares. A rabble of public-sector walking dead, from Air India to local electricity boards, bleed cash yet still get access to state-owned banks. And a boom in infrastructure projects, from roads to power stations and airports, is being paid for with debt. Some of these projects are now in trouble because of red tape and a slowing economy. All of this fuels concern that India has a bigger bad-debt problem than the rather stable level of banks’ official ‘non-performing’ loans suggests. Just how big is unclear because many loans have been labelled as ‘restructured’. This means their terms have been softened but that they are not formally recognised as bad debts.”


Victor Mallet in FT, "India pursues Mars ‘fantasy’".

“India and China have raced to launch moon shots and other space projects over the past decade, but China has moved ahead of its Asian rival and in June this year put its first woman astronaut into space as part of a mission to test docking procedures for a proposed manned space station by 2020. Mr Singh once justified India’s investment in space by saying that ‘a base of scientific and technical knowledge has emerged as a critical determinant of the wealth and status of nations and it is that which drives us to programmes of this type’. But India suffered a setback in December 2010 when a rocket carrying a communications satellite veered off course and exploded in the second launch failure in less than a year. News of the Mars plan sparked contrasting reactions on newspaper websites. Some Indians mocked ambitions they regard as a waste of resources amid so much hunger and poverty, while others expressed pride that their country was competing with space powers such as the US, Russia and China.”


Biman Mukherji & Tom Wright in WSJ, "India Bets on Rare-Earth Minerals".

“Beijing, they say, wants to force electronics and green-energy companies to set up production in China in return for access to the minerals. In March, the U.S., Japan and the European Union asked the World Trade Organization to facilitate formal consultations with China over the matter. The standoff has left India, currently the world's second-largest producer and home to large deposits of rare-earth minerals, with a window of opportunity to boost production to fill the dropoff in China's exports. State-owned Indian Rare Earths Ltd., which suspended mining in 2004 due to its inability to compete with China on price, is building a rare-earth processing plant in the eastern state of Orissa. A company official said the plant should begin operations in September. The government also has two ships prospecting off the southern coast of India for reserves on the seabed. Rare-earth deposits are abundant on the ocean floor but have never been mined on an industrial scale.”


Vikas Bajaj in NYT, "A Developer Versus the Gods".

“To John Sims, the Himalayas, with some of the finest mountain slopes in the world, seemed like the perfect place to build India’s first Western-style ski resort. But he got his first clue about the uphill challenge he faced when the local gods — or at least the holy men who claimed to speak for them — came out against his project here. In the seven years since, Mr. Sims, an American hotel developer with years of experience working in India, has encountered seemingly endless setbacks. Some opponents claimed falsely that the 115-acre project would take over the entire valley. Others complained that the developers had underpaid landowners for their property. The state of Himachal Pradesh, which had once championed the $500 million proposal, moved to scrap it after a different political party took over. Now, a court has allowed it to go forward but has given the developers just six months to secure environmental permits from a government that has repeatedly stalled the project. ‘My fundamental complaint is only this: Why did you invite us?’ Mr. Sims said. ‘Why did you take our deposit? Why did you encourage us to spend money and then make a 180-degree turn?’”


Natasha Doff in Moscow News, "Russia’s Far East dilemma".

“The region that spans an area twice the size of India on Russia’s Pacific coast has long caused management issues for the Moscow-based federal government, some 6,000 kilometers away. After vague attempts to develop it during the Soviet Union, the area fell into disrepair during the economically turbulent 1990s and has since seen its population drop by some 14 percent. A decade ago, the federal authorities might have gotten away with leaving the region to stagnate, as it has with many other areas in the country’s vast hinterlands, but now pressure is building up from across the region’s southern border: resource-hungry China with its 1.3 billion-strong population. The Chinese have already begun to make their presence felt in the region, with many cities home to large Chinese districts and streets adorned with bilingual signs. Russia has responded by stepping up its political and military presence in the region, but the necessity of developing it is taking on greater and greater precedence.”


Maryna Rakhlei at EUobserver.com, "Vladimir Vladimirovich Lukashenka".

“The Belarusian and Russian leadership are acting as if there were no moral laws, no neighbouring countries, no international agreements and – no tomorrow. For this reason, domestic policy can lie solely in the hands of the elected heads of state and their clique. The majority, minority, the dissidents and well-wishing international organisations can be disregarded. The Pussy Riot case showed it very clearly. For Putin not just a handful of opposition leaders, but any citizen with a critical and active political stand is a thorn, even if not an immediate threat to his power. And yes, he himself is not a pussy. That’s exactly what happened in Belarus in the last decade. First the opposition politicians were silenced, now everyone should go into ostrich mode. Here let’s not forget that a triplet twin is on the way. Kyiv gets less media attention but cultivates the same tendencies.”


Frederic Raphael in Times Literary Supplement on Bernard Wasserstein’s book, "On the Eve – The Jews of Europe before the Second World War".

“Zionism, with its socialist and secular overtones, was a marginal ‘solution’ for most Jews, especially in Eastern Europe, until soon before the outbreak of war in 1939. The great alternative seemed to be Communism. In the light of the revelation of the extent and brutality of the Terror, it has become difficult to imagine why so many signed up to Lincoln Steffen’s view that the Soviet Union represented ‘the future that works’. Wasserstein makes Jewish enthusiasm for Communism entirely understandable. In 1920 all religious activity, including that of the Orthodox Church, was being dismantled in the USSR. At last, it seemed, Jews were to be no different from anyone else.”


Philip Ebels at EUobserver.com, "For the United Statelets of Europe".

“Alfred Heineken did more than just brew beer. He also thought about things, like the future of Europe and how best to proceed. ‘I propose a United Europe of 75 states,’ he wrote in a pamphlet published in the summer of 1992, ‘each with a population of five to 10 million inhabitants.’ Heineken, a creative old man with a lot of time and money on his hands, was famous for having wacky ideas. And the one about Europe was quickly forgotten. Alas. Because 20 years later, it is more relevant than ever. It has been said before, but never was it truer than today: European states are too small for international affairs and too big for everyday life. The time is long gone when Germany or France was able to fend for itself on the global stage, let alone Luxembourg or the Netherlands. That is why today, there is Nato, the EU, and - for the time being - a single currency.”


Angus Kennedy at Spiked-online.com, "Why the elite wants to obliterate borders".

“A controversial Dutch columnist for NRC Handelsblad, a lawyer and historian at the University of Leiden, Baudet argues that representative government and the rule of law is impossible without the nation state. But today, he argues, the nation is under attack from two directions.
First it is under attack from supranationalism, that is, from institutions like the European Court of Human Rights, the UN Security Council, and, most dramatically, the European Union. So while nations retain sovereignty at a formal level, increasing degrees of ‘material sovereignty’ have been acquired by supranational organisations. Baudet argues, for instance, that the official aim of the EU ‘is the negation of the concept of statehood’, because the nation state is held responsible, most notably by German theorists, for war. The EU’s immanent federalist logic leads to the necessary extension of its bureaucratic power (taking more and more countries into its orbit). Or – as an illustration of the attack on the democratic basis of national sovereignty – take the contempt in which the ECHR holds Britain for denying convicted prisoners the right to vote: this despite the fact that parliament voted 234 votes to 22 against the proposal. It seems the ECHR is happy to demand Britain change laws upheld by its own democracy. Second, self-government is also under attack from below. Firstly, in the form of multiculturalism and its official support, legal pluralism (where the law is applied with cultural ‘sensitivity’ rather than justly). Secondly, from cultural diversity, which rejects the idea of a British or a Dutch identity in favour of overlapping multiple, provisional and lightly held, identities.”


WSJ Interview: "Guy Sorman".

“Three years ago, on a television talk show, the future French president suggested that Mr. Sorman take his liberal economic ideas and himself out of France. ‘This was a kind of anti-Semitic, bourgeois attack,’ says Mr. Sorman, who is Jewish. He says Mr. Hollande afterward told him he went too far and apologized, ‘and I said, 'I don't know if you went too far, but it does express your deep conviction.'’ ‘For me,’ he adds, ‘Mr. Hollande is quite the conservative bourgeois type of provincial France—the people who hate money, who hate capitalism, who hate business. They think all these ideas are quite foreign to French culture and French genius.’ Much of the French right has also stayed faithful to what's called ‘a certain idea of France.’ From Charles de Gaulle on, presidents have glorified the small shopkeeper and kept their distance from more cosmopolitan CEOs of multinationals. As with Europe, Mr. Sorman takes a longer view. Upon coming to power in 1981, France's first and last Socialist president, François Mitterrand, nationalized industry and banking, thrice devalued the franc and threatened to pull France out of the European common market. Two years later, he reversed course. The current crop of Socialists ‘are not extremists anymore,’ says Mr. Sorman. ‘The big difference today with the 1980s is that nobody believes in socialist solutions. This alternative has disappeared. The only alternative is status quo—or a return to traditions of French entrepreneurship.’”


Joseph Harriss in American Spectator, "When France Lost Its Crown Jewel".

“But the rebellion unexpectedly accelerated in 1942. Oddly enough, it was thanks to the Allied landing in North Africa. Algerians liked the cut of American uniforms, the zip of their jeeps, the taste of their chewing gum. They saw how easily GIs brushed aside the Vichy troops who briefly opposed them, making the French look like losers. They noticed the easy, democratic relations between officers and men. And they read American leaflets dropped over Algeria: ‘We come to your country to free you from the grip of conquerors who seek to deprive you of your sovereign rights, your religious freedom, and the right to lead your way of life in peace.’ (Just who those ‘conquerors’ were wasn’t explicit, but the Algerians had their own ideas about that.) Nor was the French cause helped by the Atlantic Charter’s call for all peoples to choose their own form of government.”


Lauro Martines in Times Literary Supplement on Michael Mallett & Christine Shaw’s book, "The Italian Wars, 1494-1559".

“The international character of the Italian Wars made them a school for armed conflict. They tested for the first time the panoply of resources that would go into modern warfare: handguns and the sustained use of the new gunpowder artillery, more disciplined infantry units, novel forms of fortification, underground explosives, and daring approaches to deficit financing for war. The French, Spanish and German noblemen who fought as officers in the Italian Wars carried the lessons of their experience directly into the French Wars of Religion (1562-98), Spain’s Eighty Years War in the Low Countries (1567-1648), and indirectly into the Thirty Years War (1618-48).”


Steven Ozment in NYT, "German Austerity’s Lutheran Core".

“On the one hand, we’re told, the 1920s legacy of destabilizing inflation explains Germany’s staunch aversion to expansionary monetary and fiscal policies today; on the other hand, the Nazi taint on the interwar years seems to prove for some that, even in 2012, the intentions of democratic Germany can’t be trusted when it comes to Europe’s well-being. But rather than scour tarnished Weimar, we should read much deeper into Germany’s incomparably rich history, and in particular the indelible mark left by Martin Luther and the ‘mighty fortress’ he built with his strain of Protestantism. Even today Germany, though religiously diverse and politically secular, defines itself and its mission through the writings and actions of the 16th century reformer, who left a succinct definition of Lutheran society in his treatise ‘The Freedom of a Christian,’ which he summarized in two sentences: ‘A Christian is a perfectly free Lord of all, subject to none, and a Christian is a perfectly dutiful servant of all.’ Consider Luther’s view on charity and the poor. He made the care of the poor an organized, civic obligation by proposing that a common chest be put in every German town; rather than skimp along with the traditional practice of almsgiving to the needy and deserving native poor, Luther proposed that they receive grants, or loans, from the chest. Each recipient would pledge to repay the borrowed amount after a timely recovery and return to self-sufficiency, thereby taking responsibility for both his neighbors and himself.”


David Goodhart at Demos.co.uk, "The British are the new Irish".

“Jonathan Freedland's claim that the Olympic success marks the end of British decline, seems almost the opposite of the truth. North sea oil is running out, the financial services sector is in crisis, the armed forces can no longer project power; on most of the conventional indicators decline looks set to accelerate. But we have found a story about ourselves that suits our reduced circumstances. An inventive people, comfortable in their own skins, who can throw a good party. The British are the new Irish. England is the only country in Olympics history to host the games without the name of the host country ever being said in the media. This would never happen if the Olympics were held in Scotland or Wales (at English expense). ‘Scotland’ or ‘Wales’ would be emblazoned across the front pages on repeated ad nauseum on broadcast media. Similarly no English Olympian was actually called ‘English’. The words ‘English’ and ‘England’ were studiously avoided by every single British media outlet. This may be seen where gold medals were won by a team comprising both English and Scottish competitors.”


Gabe Fisher at TimesofIsrael.com, "BBC spent almost £333,000 concealing Mideast ‘Balen Report’".

“The British Broadcasting Corporation has spent almost £333,000 in legal costs associated with its efforts to conceal the Balen Report, a 2004 internal inquiry into the BBC’s coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict whose contents were never released to the public. The BBC was recently forced to reveal the legal fees as a result of a Freedom of Information request from conservative news site The Commentator, which reported on Sunday that the total amount was £332,780.47, more than $500,000. The real figure is likely higher, because in-house hours and Value-Added Tax were not calculated into the released figures, the website said. The Balen Report, written by veteran journalist Malcolm Balen, was originally commissioned in response to allegations that the BBC had an anti-Israel bias in its reporting. It was never released, leading to a series of legal battles to divulge its contents.”


Hilal Khashan at meforum.org, "Lebanon’s Shiite-Maronite Alliance of Hypocrisy".

“Neither Lebanon's Shiites nor Maronites felt at home under Ottoman domination, and Sunnis relegated both communities to inferior social status. Both communities found relative freedom in their mountain enclaves although they occasionally suffered from both the excesses of regional governors who burdened them with taxes and their local feudal leaders who impoverished them and denied them education, especially in the case of the Shiites. The strong Maronite church moderated some of the adverse effects of feudal leadership, mainly because it took it upon itself to contribute to the education of the community, building numerous schools as early as the eighteenth century, especially the famous La Sagesse school in 1875. The church also played a crucial role in maintaining the cohesion of the community and preparing it for statehood. For example, Patriarch Elias Huwayik was instrumental in promoting the creation of Greater Lebanon, and in 1919, he travelled to the Versailles Peace Conference to pursue his objective. The Shiites were less fortunate since they did not have their own religious establishment to take care of basic communal needs. The Sunni Ottoman state did not even recognize a separate communal status for the Shiites. Many Shiite clerics had modest education, and they generally had little impact on the affairs of the community. Shiites had to wait until 1926 to have their own religious court, thanks to the efforts of the French High Commissioner in Lebanon, Auguste Henri Ponsot, who wanted to empower them as a countervailing force to the Sunni community's growing pan-Syrian orientation. The Shiites only won their separate clerical institution in 1969 when Imam Musa Sadr established the Shiite Higher Islamic Council, despite Sunni protests. Under the French Mandate, Lebanon's Sunnis opposed the country's creation in 1920 and continued to demand reunion with Syria until after the Coastal Conference of 1936. During this period, the Maronites came to believe that they needed to foster good relations with the Shiites in order to provide ‘an ideological alternative to the Sunni-pan-Arab conception of Lebanon.’”


Damien Cave in NYT, "Syria Seen as Trying to Roil Lebanon".

“But for many in Lebanon, the arrest of Michel Samaha, a former minister of information, revealed the hand that Syria aims to play. The arrest on Aug. 9 of Mr. Samaha, a Christian with close ties to Mr. Assad, suggested that Syria saw chaos and bloodshed in Lebanon as beneficial, part of a strategy apparently intended to distract the international community’s attention from Syria and to raise the stakes if the Assad government collapses. ‘Assad is trying to say to the world, when Syria is destabilized, the region will be, too,’ said Boutros Harb, a member of Parliament with the pro-Western March 14 coalition, who was the target of an assassination attempt last month. ‘It’s him asking: Are you capable of handling this regional chaos? And if you’re not, protect my regime.’ The evidence presented against Mr. Samaha has been considerable. Security officials told reporters that he had been caught with explosives that he had driven in from Syria after making plans to target ‘big crowds’ and Sunni leaders who support the Free Syrian Army. (Mr. Samaha initially confessed, then recanted.) A senior security official said in an interview that the evidence included about 90 minutes of video footage showing Mr. Samaha meeting with an informer whom he had hired to carry out the attacks. In two videos, Mr. Samaha described his plan in general terms, the official said, and in a third he can be seen in a Beirut parking garage, transferring more than 200 pounds of explosives from his car to the car of the informer. The Lebanese official, who asked not to be identified because the courts have not made the evidence public yet, added that the final recording shows Mr. Samaha paying the informer $170,000. That was how much the Syrians had promised, he said. While the Shiite response has been relatively muted, Hezbollah defended Mr. Samaha until investigators described the evidence.”


AlBawaba.com: "The Gangs of Amman: where tribes are more powerful than the state".

“The souq was quiet when we saw it but residents tell of a very different story. They have witnessed the gang battles between the two major tribes in the area, the Harahsheh and the Abu Rmeileh. These are not just families with a grudge: they are hundreds of members strong and they are heavily armed with Uzis and AK47s. Jebal al Nasr is not some anomaly either, last month a 22 year old police officer was gunned down when one of the tribes in Muwaqqar, North West of the capital, attacked the police station. 500 heavily armed members of the Khreisha clan launched an assault after one of the family members was arrested. So far no one has been charged and many in Jordan believe the government is too weak to take on the tribe head-to-head. Back in Jebal al Nasr we talk to Rafat, owner of a clothes store just off the main street. He speaks to us on the condition of leaving off his last name as he is too afraid of revenge attacks on his business. He tells us that small arguments about the price of a t-shirt can turn into all-out warfare if the tribes get involved.”


Brendan Harrison in CSM, "Arms, drugs, and human trafficking: What does the future hold for northern Mali".

“The degeneration began with a January 2012 rebellion by ethnic Tuareg separatists. Although their grievances can be traced back at least to the French colonial period, the immediate catalyst for the present uprising seems to have been the return of battle-hardened Tuareg fighters from Libya, where they had fought for the ousted government of Muammar Qaddafi in 2011. As the new conflict wore on in February and March, there was frustration within the Malian military over the government’s perceived inability to aid its own troops and stop the uprising in the north. Mutiny and a coup ensued, leading to disarray in the country’s leadership. President Amadou Toumani Touré was forced into hiding. Amid this chaos on the government side, the rebel National Movement for an Independent Azawad (MNLA) was able to make unprecedented gains in the northern region. On April 6, the MNLA proclaimed the creation of an independent Tuareg state, declaring, ‘Mali is an anarchic state. Therefore we have gathered a national liberation movement to put in an army capable of securing our land and an executive office capable of forming democratic institutions.’ Armed conflict makes for strange bedfellows. As the MNLA captured more territory, it formed a partnership with the enigmatic Salafist militant group Ansar Dine. Frequently, Ansar Dine would enter cities that had already been captured by the MNLA, tear down the Azawad flag, and raise a black Salafist flag in its place. Eventually the MNLA realized that Ansar Dine had made off with its revolution.”


Andrew Jacobs in NYT, "Live From Nairobi, China Puts Its Stamp on News in Africa".

“The overseas newscasts of CCTV have shed the shrill ideological bombast of the Maoist years, adopting the professionalism and slick production values of their Western counterparts. But ideology often still trumps impartiality. During the protests that wracked the Arab world, for example, China’s coverage strenuously avoided the word ‘democracy’ and emphasized the chaos that accompanied the demise of authoritarian governments, news media analysts say. In a widely circulated blog post during the early days of the uprising in Libya, Ezzat Shahrour, the Beijing bureau chief for Al Jazeera Arabic, complained that Chinese coverage was faithfully relaying the propagandistic outbursts of Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi. ‘Every time I see Chinese media reports on the Arab revolution I feel like my blood pressure is starting to rise,’ he wrote. CCTV and Xinhua coverage of the unrest has since become more evenhanded. But they still find plenty of occasions to echo Beijing’s view of the advantages of single-party rule. When pitching their services in Africa, Chinese officials stress what they see as Western bias. ‘Although they are geographically far apart, China and Africa have long learned about each other through Western media,’ Li Changchun, the propaganda chief, said during a seminar with African news media executives. ‘However, Western reports did not always reflect the truth.’ Chinese news media officials chose to set up shop in Nairobi because of its role as a news hub for the English-speaking countries in East Africa.”


David Sirota in Harper’s, "The Only Game in Town".

“As an investment, then, monopoly broadsheets and tabloids remain a jackpot for a particular kind of buyer: the industrialist or polico who wants to control the core commodity on which most other news products rely. If any metropolis perfectly embodies all these contradictions, it is Denver. In rapid succession, the Mile High City has enjoyed both the benefits of vigorous competition and the profound drawbacks of becoming a one-newspaper town. Recall that Denver played host to one of the last great newspaper wars of the modern era. On one side was the Rocky Mountain News, founded in 1859, and on the other was the Denver Post, founded in 1892. As local folklore has it the real battle started in 1926, when the older paper was purchased by one of the era’s Citizen Kanes, E.W. Scripps. His war of attrition against the Post went on for decades, and by the late 1990s, his successors were offering customers penny-a-day subscriptions simply to bleed their old rival.”


Archie Patterson at Rocksbackpagesblogs.com, "euroRock in Opposition".

“The next step in the US during the late ‘50s, early ‘60s was a regionalized, independent scene consisting of indie labels and artists, followed by contract songwriters (the Brill Building bunch in NYC), musicians (the Wrecking Crew in LA) and promoters, aka, ‘hit men’, paying DJ’s to play the latest ‘Picks to Click’ on AM radio and make them ‘Hits’. It was not a corporate, commercial enterprise until the ‘do-your-own-thing, man’ psychedelic 60’s, when in November 1965; Jefferson Airplane ‘sold out’ and signed a recording contract with RCA Victor for a previously unheard-of advance of $25,000. That ushered in the era of sex, drugs and the rock for profit and big business.... When the band Henry Cow left Virgin Records and began ‘Rock in Opposition’ (RIO), I was in touch with Chris Cutler and helped distribute most all of the original founding bands in that collective. Eurock promoted and distributed all of their records, and the magazine printed the original RIO documents. Rock In Opposition was not conceived to be a social or political organization, but more a musical collective that served as an intervention into ‘rock’ culture encouraging free expression, experimentation and distribution. Chris Cutler and the band Henry Cow were the primary instigators of the original RIO collective. They had a political consciousness, sometimes present in their music. However, if RIO was political, it was only in the sense that it actively opposed the ‘business of music as usual’, which served primarily as a market mechanism to generate profit, producing and marketing music for mass consumption. The original RIO collective staged their first concert on March 12, 1978 at the New London Theatre. It featured Henry Cow (England), Stormy Six (Italy), Samla Mammas Manna (Sweden), Univers Zero (Belgium) & Etron Fou Leloublan (France). The Concert was promoted as – ‘Five Rock Groups The Record Companies Don’t Want You To Hear’.”
After that first concert, Henry Cow disbanded. The collective subtracted one, and added 3 new groups to their ranks – Art Zoyd (France), Art Bears (England, featuring former Henry Cow members) & Aksak Maboul (Belgium).”


Ed Huerta interviews "Joe Baiza" at Jackaboutguitars.com.

“EH: What got you interested in music?
JB: I went through different periods…when I first got into music, I was about 4 years old. I used to get up early in the morning and watch t.v. I grew up in the 50’s and 60’s and we had this big t.v., like a big box, like it was a piece of furniture. So I’d get up in the morning – I wasn’t in school yet and my mother was asleep still, and I’d watch like cartoon shows and ‘Captain Kangaroo’ was on back then. Things like ‘I love Lucy’, then ‘Password’ would come on and that was boring to me. I didn’t understand it (laughs). So one day my mother wasn’t awake yet and I was looking at the t.v. and there was like a drawer of some sort, a panel under the screen and I pulled it open and somehow I figured out it was a record player. ‘WOW! What’s this thing?’ So there were 45’s in there and I figured out how to work it and I put the 45’s on and listened to them. They had those little yellow plastic inserts and there were only like three inserts and I could play three records. We had about 15 singles. Elvis Presley, I forget which song. Johnny Cash, Prez Prado, stuff like that, from that time and I remember struggling with that little plastic insert, trying to get it in and I remember listening to that Elvis Presley record and I felt weird. It got me all excited, like jumping on the couch and stuff. It made me want to jump all around the living room.”


Mike Stax at Ugly-things.com, "The Early Years of Lester Bangs".

“Lester devoured all the offbeat literature and music he could lay his hands on. ‘My most memorable childhood fantasy,’ he later wrote, ‘was to have a mansion with catacombs underneath containing, alphabetized in endless winding dimly-lit musty rows, every album ever released.’ He fed his vinyl addiction with regular bus trips to Ratner’s Records in downtown San Diego where they carried a wider selection of obscurities than was available anywhere in El Cajon. At Ratner’s, Lester would paw through the bins looking for the wildest and most out-there looking jazz and rock’n'roll albums and then ask the lady behind the counter if she’d play them for him. ‘I’d listen to about 16 seconds of clamor and say ‘I’ll take it’ while everybody in the place snickered,’ he wrote. More vinyl came in from mail order record clubs which Lester would sign up for indiscriminately, taking advantage of the cheap and free records they offered but refusing to fulfill his obligations to buy the designated number of records per year. ‘He had record clubs all over the country coming down on him,’ remembers Roger Anderson. ‘They finally took him to court. I forget what happened. It might have got dropped because everyone lost interest at the last minute, or he might have had his wrist slapped.’”


Obituary of the fortnight.

Charles Ball (1951-2012)

"My big brother Charles died last night. He was just 61, but an interval of drug abuse in New York in the seventies took its toll on his formidable mind while Hepatitis C ravaged his body. Charles graduated from Mercersburg Academy and Sarah Lawrence College. He also studied at Dartmouth College and Columbia University, a paper short of his Masters. I will forever think of Charles as a college student; and as he cared little for gainful employment, Charles always lived like a college student. It was what he did best. Charles was never without a book, and always the sort of book that only scholars read. When it wasn’t a book, it was music. No one loved music more. In a stint as a record producer for Lust/Unlust Music, Charles was elated when his punk single was named 'Best New Record Below 14th Street.'"


Thanks to Steve Beeho.

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• Joe Carducci, Chris Collins, James Fotopoulos, Mike Vann Gray, David Lightbourne (1942 - 2010), Michael J. Safran
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