Photo by Joe Carducci
The Reckless Don’t Mind
Last week Columbia professor Mark Lilla reviewed two books, one for The New Republic and one for the New York Times Book Review. The TNR review was of the Brad Gregory book, The Unintended Reformation, (we linked to Ephraim Radner’s review in First Things back in NV 134, and both of these reviews are linked below). The NYTBR last week lead with Lilla’s review of Charles Kesler’s book, I Am the Change – Barack Obama and the Crisis of Liberalism. I haven’t read either book but I have read other essays by Lilla, as well as his book, The Reckless Mind – Intellectuals in Politics, written while he was at Univ of Chicago. What stands out is how useless his deep understandings of medieval and modern philosophy are when he tries to think usefully about mere contemporary politics.
The Gregory book is a Catholic analysis conceding the cause of the Reformation but regretting as well the results. Luther had his regrets when his carefully tendered objections were forgotten in the resulting riots; all God’s children have their regrets. Still the Church needed the Reformation so that American Catholics could live as an ensouled minority within the best national realization of early Protestant idealism. Protestant governance in America was far preferable to Catholic governance anywhere – new world or old. Lilla seems fine with our contemporary drift away from the old Constitutional order even as we begin to circle, unconsciously yet with pretentions drawn, the drain introduced by his rogues gallery of greatest 20th century right-left reckless minds: Heidegger, Schmitt, Benjamin, Kojeve, Foucault, Derrida…
Lilla doesn’t respect Gregory’s “project.” At least he considers it part of a useless nostalgic Church Universal syndrome. He doesn’t seem to understand academia’s interest in interpreting-critiquing-salvaging even blood-soaked bad boys as anything other than the search for knowledge. Even less reckless minds might laugh their asses off at that idea. Such Euros consider Americans, one and all, to be simple spoiled children-gone-native, even those who’ve studied the requisite dead languages and run down gothic hallways looking for old world approval, and after all, The Reckless Mind is essentially a checking up on our betters in Europe as they detourne their own failures: the ends of history, philosophy, man… and the comings of communism – ever immaculate in expectant conception – and the now formerly human automata, no longer capable of objecting to it.
Lilla refers to himself as a lapsed Catholic in the TNR and a centrist Democrat in the NYTBR,but once he steps into the force field of contemporary politics and its many ramifications on the Columbia campus if not across Manhattan itself he seems to be positing himself as a prelapsarian who hears neither echo nor rhyme of medieval or modern tempests in Presidents Obama, Bush, Clinton, Nixon, Wilson, Reagan, never mind such sunny reformers as Bill Ayers, Angela Davis, Saul Alinsky, or any of Glen Beck’s dartboard bête noirs he rolls eyes over in his review of Charles Kesler’s book, I Am The Change. Professor Lilla does admit to cringing at the name McGovern but I guess that’s the centrist Democrat in him. He writes approvingly of the old “modest narrative” that “used to convince conservatives” as a critique of Kesler who is editor of The Claremont Review of Books and teaches at Claremont McKenna College. Centrist Democrats have their own nostalgic proclivities: Nixon, Reagan, Aquinas….
To quote Mike Brinson, the second greatest stagehand-roadie of the punk era, who described for The Rise and The Fall fanzine how it looked from the stage as Black Flag played on while their audience destroyed the club, “What bigger boner can a band have?” Luther wrote his objections down and all hell broke loose.Marx wrote a coupla books and two hundred million extra people were killed. Not bad for mere writers, and so they remain heroes to impotent scribblers everywhere in lingos living or dead, plus French. I especially liked Lilla’s chapter in The Reckless Mind on Alexandre Kojeve, tracing his lifelong attempt to merge into the state, annihilating his self in his moment so as to have a world-historical impact-effect on his fellow citizens without the distracting mess of mass upheaval, not that he minded any necessary violence coolly applied by the state. (He was a high-born Russian communist émigré to France, Alexander Kojevnikov, who barely survived the revolution; thankfully he was unable to flee France for America during WWII.) None of Kojeve’s manuscripts were published in his lifetime as they would have ended his ability to rise in the French bureaucracy and as confidant of French Presidents become the very voice of the expanding state of the totalizing EEC/EU project, merging what, national socialism, international socialism and the prerogative of Kings? Sadly, perhaps the biggest boner a Hegelian master/servant can imagine.
"Rumination" by Michael J. Safran
From the Desk of Joe Carducci...
Frank Close in PROSPECT, "In the first moments of the universe, matter overpowered antimatter".
“Antimatter is real. Scientists have made a few thousand atoms of anti-hydrogen, although none of them lasted very long before being annihilated by their surroundings. If you were to see a lump of antimatter, you wouldn’t know it; to all outward appearances it looks no different to ordinary stuff. However, touching some would be lethal, as atoms in our hands would be destroyed completely, and anything of us that remained would be irradiated with the resulting gamma rays. Were there large clumps of antimatter in the cosmos, any interstellar material that hit them would lead to mutual destruction, leaving behind these tell-tale gamma rays. No such signals have been seen, which suggests that antimatter galaxies do not exist. The vanishing of antimatter is the greatest disappearing act in history. The material universe that survives today contains the remnants of a great annihilation between antimatter and matter, which was one of the first events after the Big Bang. The intense radiation that ensued—a feebler replay of the original Big Bang—has cooled for billions of years, and today forms the ubiquitous microwave background radiation, at a temperature just three degrees above absolute zero, or minus 270 degrees Celsius. Astronomers have measured its temperature, and, by knowing how fast the universe is expanding, can play back history on their computers. This confirms that around 13.6bn years ago the universe was indeed so hot that matter and antimatter would have formed from the radiant energy. Our observations and experiments are all consistent with this theory, but we remain unsure on one thing: how did some matter survive the great annihilation?
Everything that we can see, from the world around us to the galaxies, appears to be the debris of an even grander creation.”
Evgeny Morozov in WSJ on Christopher Steiner’s book, "Automate This – How Algorithms Came to Rule Our World".
“Algorithms don't build their judgments on anything—their creators do. One can easily imagine a very different music industry that would still profit from algorithms but favor very different kinds of artists. The inherent risk associated with Mr. Steiner's technology-centric approach is that the institutional logic inscribed in the algorithms suddenly becomes invisible, as we direct our fury at the technology instead. On the whole, though, Mr. Steiner believes that we need to accept our algorithmic overlords. Accept them we might—but first we should vigorously, and transparently, debate the rules they are imposing.”
Jerome Groopman in NEW YORKER, "Sex and the Superbug".
“In the nineteen-thirties, antibiotics changed the clinical picture of gonorrhea and other sexually transmitted diseases, and, with it, social attitudes. Once feared for its devastating complications, gonorrhea was now viewed as a bothersome but temporary price to pay for sexual freedom. The sexual revolution of the ninetten-sixties ushered in rising rates of gonorrhea, as condoms, which effectively prevent transmission, were abandoned in favor of oral contraceptives. Only after the risk of death from AIDS began to increase, in the nineteen-eighties, did condom use again become a norm. A federally funded gonorrhea-control program, started in 1972, perhaps made a difference; by 1997, the number of yearly cases of gonorrhea reported to the C.D.C. had fallen by nearly three-quarters compared with its peak, in 1975. In 2009, the number of gonorrhea cases in the U.S. was at an all-time low. ‘Ten or fifteen years ago, we thought it was going to be eradicated in some Western countries,’ Unemo told me. But as modern medicine has adapted so has the microbe.”
Michael Steen in FT, "Caught between the devil and the ECB".
“After weeks of macro-economic sniping following his isolation at the European Central Bank over its new bond-buying policy, Jens Weidmann, on Tuesday resorted to Goethe’s Faust to make his point. The classic play highlighted, he argued, ‘the core problem of today’s paper money-based monetary policy’ and the ‘potentially dangerous correlation of paper money creation, state financing and inflation’. In early scenes from Goethe’s tragedy, Mephistopheles persuades the heavily indebted Holy Roman Emperor to print paper money – notionally backed by gold that had not yet been mined – to solve an economic crisis, with initially happy results until more and more money is printed and rampant inflation ensues.”
Serge Halimi at Le Monde Diplomatique, "Time to stop and read".
"More people need to know we exist as the paper is less often seen on French newsstands, as the distribution network crumbles, and newsstands and newsagents go out of business (918 in France in 2011 alone). The friendly promotion Le Monde diplomatique enjoyed from other French media outlets has suddenly hit a wall of silence. Between 19 March and 20 April, press reviews on Europe 1, RTL and France Inter quoted 133 publications, including even France Football, but not Le Monde diplomatique. This is poor support for the most widely read French newspaper in the world, with 51 editions in 30 languages."
Hugh Carnegy in FT on Nicolas Baverez’s book, "Reveillez-vous!".
“In his book Réveillez-vous! (Wake up!) – the title is intended to be a counter-echo to Indignez-vous! (Get Angry!), the anti-capitalist pamphlet by Stéphane Hessel – he seeks to blow away any complacency. In his portrayal, France is a country on the verge of debacle – and not just a French debacle. ‘There is no doubt that France, which last had a budget surplus in 1973, is on the same trajectory that today threatens to carry off Spain and Italy,’ he writes. ‘If it hits the debt wall after Spain and Italy, the probability of the single currency surviving is minimal because Germany could no longer, even if it still wanted to, prop up the eurozone alone.’ The book is far from being a party political assault on Mr Hollande, who is scarcely mentioned. Baverez’s thesis is that France has for decades been led by both left and right down a path of debt-financed welfare and declining productivity, and into a dangerous state of denial over the true state of its economy.”
Jack Ewing in NYT, "For the ‘Irreversible’ Euro, an Enormously Costly Shelter From the Storm".
“In effect, the new building sets in concrete — and lots of steel and glass — the declaration this month by Mario Draghi, the bank’s president, that ‘the euro is irreversible.’ But in an embarrassing disclosure for an institution that has preached austerity to countries like Greece and Spain, the central bank said it had encountered a little spending problem. Increases in the cost of materials and unexpected construction problems will add as much as 350 million euros ($450 million) to the original estimated price tag of 850 million euros. That would make it a 1.2 billion euro building.”
Valentina Pop at euobserver.com, "Berlusconi: euro is a ‘swindle’ and Germany wants ‘hegemony’".
“Speaking at a book presentation event in Rome on Thursday, he called the euro a ‘big swindle’ and said that it would be no ‘tragedy’ if Germany - which has displayed ‘hegemony, not solidarity’ in the crisis - left the common currency. He also criticised the eurozone bailout fund, the ESM, which was ratified by Berlin the same day. Belrusconi said that it only contributes to the vicious circle of recession and debt: ‘To receive aid you have to sign a memorandum with austerity measures, which bring the economy to collapse and into a recessionary spiral.’”
Matthew Kaminski in WSJ, "The Accidental Architect of a New Europe".
“There was no hint of such a future during her first 35 years. She was an academic physicist in Communist East Germany, married to Joachim Sauer, a respected chemist. She still vacations at her modest holiday dacha from those days. With her dry wit, Ms. Merkel likes to perform impersonations for friends in private, according to biographer Margaret Heckel. To the public, the chancellor—befitting the daughter of a Protestant pastor raised in northern Germany—is all business, which is how Germans prefer their leaders. After the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, Ms. Merkel got involved with a start-up democratic party. Her management skills stood out in those chaotic days, and she caught the eye of the chancellor at the time, Helmut Kohl. Ms. Merkel's early years in his center-right Christian Democratic Union were ‘horrible,’ says Ms. Heckel. Being known as ‘the girl’ in the Kohl cabinet ‘kindled her fighting spirit . . . She wanted to show that someone from the East, a woman, an outsider could do it.’ Ms. Merkel is said to have learned from Mr. Kohl most of what she knows about getting and keeping power. A decade ago, when her mentor was embroiled in a party-financing scandal, the men in the CDU kept quiet. Ms. Merkel called for Mr. Kohl to step aside, in a front-page letter to Germany's main conservative paper. The audacity of this patricide, never forgiven by Mr. Kohl, secured her leadership of the CDU.”
Valentina Pop at euobserver.com, "Merkel surprisingly popular in Spain".
“Asked who is showing the best leadership during the euro-crisis, 50 percent of respondents said Merkel - the queen of EU-demanded austerity programmes in troubled countries, French President Francois Hollande came in second, at 11 percent, while Spain's own Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy received only three percent support. EU commission chief Jose Manuel Barroso is seen as a competent leader by two percent of the Spaniards, while EU council chief Herman Van Rompuy and British PM David Cameron came in last, at one percent. Merkel's high popularity rate is consistent with what Spaniards believe has caused the severe economic crisis they are in: 84 percent blame their own politicians for it, while 70 percent say it was the Spanish banks' fault. Only 18 percent blamed the EU or being a member of the eurozone.”
Jack Ewing in NYT, "Some Religious Leaders See a Threat as Europe Grows More Secular".
“The more serious threat, in the eyes of Rabbi Goldberg and many Jews, Muslims and Christians in Europe, comes from what they see as an attack by secular society on religious ritual, on faith itself. A seemingly insignificant decision by a lower court in Cologne, against a doctor who circumcised a Muslim boy, has fed a rapidly spreading drive to criminalize a practice that is core to Jewish and Muslim belief. In contrast to the United States, baby boys in Germany and other European countries are not routinely circumcised for health reasons. The World Health Organization recommends circumcision as a way to reduce the spread of AIDS, but many doctors in European countries regard the practice as harmful and even barbaric.”
Mary O’Grady in WSJ, "How Canada Saved Its Bacon".
“It wasn't Greece, but by 1994 Canada's federal debt-to-GDP ratio was getting close to 80%, and the cost of servicing the debt had begun to eat up an incredible one-third of government revenue.
The central lesson from that crisis, Mr. Martin told an American Enterprise Institute audience in Washington last week, is that delay only ensures that the inevitable adjustment will be more painful. Truer words were never spoken. Nor has it ever been more likely that they will fall on deaf ears, at least as long as Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke keeps financing the partying in our nation's capital. When the Liberal Party government of Prime Minister Jean Chrétien took power in October 1993, Mr. Martin was charged with pulling his nation out of the fiscal death spiral. He did it with deep cuts in federal spending over two years that amounted to 10% of the budget, excluding interest costs. Nothing was spared. Even federal transfers to the provinces to fund Canada's sacred national health-care system got hit. The federal government also cut and block-granted money for welfare programs to the provinces, giving them almost full control over how the money would be spent. In the 1997 election, the Liberals won reelection. The Chrétien government followed with tax cuts starting in 1998 and one of the largest tax cuts—both corporate and personal—in the history of the country in 2000. The Liberals not only won again in 2000 but also increased their majority. What drove the left-of-center Liberals to shoulder the burden of downsizing government in the 1994 and 1995 budgets—Mr. Martin takes great pains to point out—was not ideology but ‘arithmetic.’”
WSJ: "An Illinois Pension Bailout? ".
“Illinois now has some $8 billion in current debts outstanding and taxpayers are on the hook for more than $200 billion in unfunded retirement costs for government workers. By some estimates, the system could be the first in the nation to go broke, as early as 2018. Liabilities are also spiralling nationwide, with some $2.5 trillion in unfunded state pension costs. According to a paper released Thursday by the Illinois Policy Institute, the crisis will end up pitting states against each other as taxpayers in places like Tennessee, Texas, Virginia and Utah will be asked to subsidize the undisciplined likes of Illinois and California. For years, states have engaged in elaborate accounting tricks to improve appearances, including using an unrealistically high 8% ‘discount’ rate to account for future liabilities. To make that fairy tale come true, state pension funds would have to average returns of 8% a year, which even the toothless Government Accounting Standards Board and Moody's have said are unrealistic. It's no surprise that many of the states deepest in the red are public union strongholds. For decades, Democrats have bought union support in elections by using surplus revenue during good times to pad pension and retiree health-care benefits.”
John Kass in CT, "Have mercy, your honor, for the people of Illinois".
“‘The 364 letters attest to the fact that Mr. Cellini went far beyond making a positive difference in certain individuals' lives,’ Cellini's lawyers argued in a court document, adding that ‘simply put, through thousands of individual instances over the course of a lifetime of quiet beneficence and charity, Mr. Cellini transformed lives. …’ When I think of Illinois political corruption and the bipartisan Combine that runs things, the first thing I think of is ‘quiet beneficence.’ Don't you? The document lists his countless selfless acts, how Cellini cleaned chickens on a poultry farm, how he showed kindness to strangers, including the Indonesian orphan, and how he sponsored youth baseball teams. Edgar, in his letter, insisted that Cellini never asked him to break even one little rule. Not one. So I've decided to write my own letter. Please put this one in the docket too. Like the other 364, this one asks you to search your heart for mercy and compassion. But not for Big Bill Cellini, shadow Republican boss of the Combine.”
Tim Novak in CST, "Jackson son sought city tax subsidy last year for beer distributorship".
“Jackson won’t comment, first asking that questions be submitted in writing, then declining to answer them. But he’d still like the city’s financial backing, according to Ald. Walter Burnett (27th), who says, ‘He’s trying.’ Jackson — whose sister-in-law, as a member of the Chicago City Council, would be asked to vote on any request for a city tax subsidy — has begun construction work on the new home for his beer-delivery business. But the job site has been hit with pickets protesting his use of non-union labor, according to Burnett, whose ward includes the property on Ogden. City Hall is rebuilding the street, curbs and sidewalks on the south side of the property — a $2.8 million project that city officials say was in the works before Jackson bought the building. Jackson, then 28, bought the Budweiser distributorship with an older brother, Jonathan Jackson, in 1998. That was 16 years after their father led a national boycott of the nation’s largest brewery over its lack of minority-owned beer distributorships. Their purchase price was never made public, but the Jacksons got a $6.7 million loan to pay Anheuser-Busch Co. — Budweiser’s corporate parent — for a warehouse and equipment on Goose Island. Anheuser-Busch had spent $10.5 million to build the North Side warehouse and got a $2.6 million tax subsidy toward that from City Hall.”
Kelly Nolan in WSJ, "California Muni Sale Sizzles".
“Individual investors placed orders for roughly $1 billion of the deal Friday and Monday, and interest from institutional investors was also ‘heavy,’ the spokesman, Tom Dresslar, said.
Since California is a high-tax state, its tax-free bonds typically are in high demand from individuals and the state usually offers its bonds to these smaller buyers first before it opens it up its deals to institutional buyers such as mutual funds. Given its chronic budget issues and boom-and-bust economy, California is one of the lowest-rated U.S. states, alongside Illinois. But the Golden State has made some fiscal strides, passing an on-time budget in the past two years and shrinking the size of its deficits, making investors more comfortable buying California bonds as they look for higher returns in the ultralow interest-rate environment. California also recently passed pension overhaul.”
Ross Douthat in NYT, "Washington Versus America".
“Fairfax, Loudoun and Arlington Counties, all in Northern Virginia, have higher median incomes than every other county in the United States. Whence comes this wealth? Mostly from Washington’s one major industry: the federal government. Not from direct federal employment, which has risen only modestly of late, but from the growing armies of lobbyists and lawyers, contractors and consultants, who make their living advising and influencing and facilitating the public sector’s work. This growth is a bipartisan affair. It’s been driven by the contracting-out of government services under both Bill Clinton and George W. Bush; by the Bush-era security buildup, whose ripples are spreading to this day (witness the new Department of Homeland Security facility intended for still-impoverished Anacostia); and by the bright young college graduates who flooded the city at the dawn of Barack Obama’s presidency and the lobbyists who followed to claim a piece of his attempt at a new New Deal. If you don’t mind congested roads and insanely competitive child rearing, all this growth is good news for those of us inside the Beltway bubble. But is it good for America?”
Gene Epstein in BARRON’S on Oonagh McDonald’s book, "Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac – Turning the American Dream into a Nightmare".
“A ‘large slice of the blame,’ she writes, must go to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the government-sponsored enterprises in the book's title. ‘But above all,’ McDonald declares, ‘it was the distortion of the banking sector to achieve political ends that ultimately caused the crisis.’
She elaborates: ‘Politicians, with their unthinking political stances, must…take the lion's share of the responsibility. The vast subprime market…was the child of the affordable-housing ideology.’
As the book recounts, the politics and ideology were clearly articulated, and aggressively implemented, by Obama's two predecessors. When President Clinton announced his National Homeownership Strategy in June 1995, he spoke of the need to ‘make it easy for people to own their own homes.’ And, when President Bush introduced his American Dream Down Payment Initiative in 2002, he deplored the ‘home-ownership gap’ and spoke of ‘dismantling the barriers that prevent minorities from owning a piece of the American dream.’”
Nicholas Eberstadt in WSJ, "Are Entitlements Corrupting Us? ".
“A half-century of unfettered expansion of entitlement outlays has completely inverted the priorities, structure and functions of federal administration as these were understood by all previous generations. Until 1960 the accepted task of the federal government, in keeping with its constitutional charge, was governing. The overwhelming share of federal expenditures was allocated to some limited public services and infrastructure investments and to defending the republic against enemies foreign and domestic. In 1960, entitlement payments accounted for well under a third of the federal government's total outlays—about the same fraction as in 1940, when the Great Depression was still shaping American life. But over subsequent decades, entitlements as a percentage of total federal spending soared. By 2010 they accounted for just about two-thirds of all federal spending, with all other responsibilities of the federal government making up barely one-third. In a very real sense, entitlements have turned American governance upside-down.”
James Bovard in USA TODAY, "Why expand school free food programs? ".
“A 2010 University of Michigan study found that students who regularly eat school lunches are 29% more likely to be overweight, and that consumption of school lunches was the single strongest predictor of childhood obesity. Unfortunately, at the same time brakes are being tapped on caloric intake at lunch, the Obama administration is championing a vast expansion of the school breakfast program. At the same time some kids are getting smaller lunches, others are having multiple breakfasts. Twelve million kids currently eat school breakfasts, but that number will soar. Under the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, all schools with 40% low-income students will be allowed to offer free breakfasts and lunch to all students. That will lead to expanding waistlines. New York City recently suspended expansion of its Breakfast in the Classrooms after discovering that 20% of pupils were eating two breakfasts -- one at home and another at school.”
WSJ: "Handmaid to the Plutocrats".
“‘People feel like the system is rigged against them. And here's the painful part: They're right. The system is rigged,’ declared Elizabeth Warren in prime time at the Democratic convention—and she should know. By her own logic, she was one of the riggers. One pleasure of the Massachusetts Senate race is that we are all learning about the remunerative outside legal work on behalf of corporate defendants done by Harvard Law School's resident bankruptcy law expert. Let's just say she doesn't do this work pro bono. Everyone has to make a living, but Ms. Warren's legal moonlighting does raise a question or two about her posture as the tribune of the powerless little guy. One of her first important cases turns on Johns-Manville Corporation, which used to be America's major asbestos manufacturer and distributor, and its primary insurance company, Travelers. Tens of thousands of personal injury lawsuits drove Manville into Chapter 11, where its Travelers policies were the estate's most valuable and basically only asset.”
Thomas Frank in HARPER’S, "The Maintenance Crew".
“I myself was never really convinced that Obama was a heartfelt liberal, but I did believe that the financial crisis was going to force the man’s hand. However much he may have wanted to be another Bill Clinton, cleverly triangulating between enemy camps, economic necessity would compel him to take bolder action. If he wanted to reverse the rising tide of unemployment, he would have to consider something like a modern-day WPA, I reasoned. If he wanted to make sure the banks didn’t steer us into another iceberg, he would have to break them up or install some more serious kind of oversight regime. If he wanted to build a government that worked, he would have to look forthrightly at what had gone wrong in the first place. He would have no other choice. But I was wrong. We were the ones who would have no choice.”
Frank Rich in NEW YORK, "My Embed in Red".
“What did I learn in my week imbibing the current installment of the Reagan revolution? I came away with empathy for those in the right’s base, who are often sold out by the GOP Establishment, and admiration for a number of writers, particularly the youngish conservative commentators at sites like the American Conservative and National Review Online whose writing is as sharp as any on the left (and sometimes as unforgiving of Republican follies) but who are mostly unknown beyond their own ideological circles. What many of the right’s foot soldiers and pundits have in common is their keen awareness that they got a bum deal in Tampa, a convention that didn’t much represent either their fiercely held ideology or their contempt for the incumbent. They know, too, that their presidential candidate is the Republican counterpart to Al Gore—not only in robotic personality but in his cautious hesitance to give full voice to the message of his troops. Even Paul Ryan, the right’s No. 1 living hero, let many of his fans down with his convention speech—not because he fudged facts but because he soft-pedaled his “big ideas” about small government once in the national spotlight.”
Matt Ridley in WSJ, "Inside the Cold, Calculating Libertarian Mind".
“Studies show that conservatives are more conscientious and sensitive to disgust but less tolerant of change; liberals are more empathic and open to new experiences. But ideology does not have to be bipolar. It need not fall on a line from conservative to liberal. In a recently published paper, Ravi Iyer from the University of Southern California, together with Dr. Haidt and other researchers at the data-collection platform YourMorals.org, dissect the personalities of those who describe themselves as libertarian. These are people who often call themselves economically conservative but socially liberal. They like free societies as well as free markets, and they want the government to get out of the bedroom as well as the boardroom. They don't see why, in order to get a small-government president, they have to vote for somebody who is keen on military spending and religion; or to get a tolerant and compassionate society they have to vote for a large and intrusive state.”
Paul Kengor in AMERICAN SPECTATOR, "Dreams from Frank Marshall Davis".
“In April 1948, Jarrett and Davis put their minds together for the Packing-House Committee and their pens to joint service defending Chicago’s oppressed proletariat. ‘The duty of this Committee,’ declared their statement ‘is to give publicity to… the plight of the workers.’ Today their political heirs put their minds to joint service at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. In 1983, Jarrett’s son, Dr. William Robert Jarrett, married a young woman named Valerie Bowman. Valerie Bowman became Valerie Jarrett, who today is Barack Obama’s top adviser. If that’s not eerie enough, there is another connection between Valerie Jarrett’s and Obama’s political ancestors. His name was Robert R. Taylor, and Davis worked with him at a CPUSA/Comintern ‘antiwar’ rally in Chicago in November 1940. The group behind the rally was the hideous American Peace Mobilization, later described by Congress as ‘one of the most seditious organizations which ever operated in the United States.’ This ‘instrument of the Communist Party line’ was ‘one of the most notorious and blatantly Communist fronts ever organized in this country.’ The goal of the American Peach Mobilization was to keep the U.S. out of World War II, because, at the time, Hitler was allied with Stalin via the Hitler-Stalin pact. And so, the good comrades at CPUSA saluted the red flag. Davis and Taylor worked together on an event billed as ‘Negroes and National Defense.’ Robert Taylor was the first African American head of the Chicago Housing Authority. He also appears in the major 1944 congressional report ‘Investigation of Un-American Propaganda Activities in the United States.’ Taylor was the maternal grandfather of Valerie Jarrett.”
William Cohan at BLOOMBERGBUSINESS, "Rethinking Robert Rubin".
“It’s a mystery why Rubin vanished at such a crucial moment in the nation’s financial history, but there were distractions. In October 2007, as Citigroup was imploding, Rubin went to South Beach to visit his father, who died a year later at 101. In line at an upscale grocery, he met Iris Mack. One of the first African American women to get a Harvard Ph.D. in applied mathematics, Mack also worked at Enron and the Harvard Management Co. Over the next 14 months, Rubin pursued her romantically. They would meet, according to Mack, in his Ritz-Carlton Hotel suite, where he would stay after flying in on the Citigroup corporate jet. ‘It’s one of the perks,’ Mack says Rubin told her. This is not news, but it does call into question how hard Rubin was working for his $15 million annual salary. Mack, who is single and 46, wrote about her relationship with Rubin in an April 2010 Huffington Post article. She decided to go public after watching Rubin testify before the FCIC. ‘I really think he was in a vacuum, a little bubble,’ Mack says now. ‘I don’t think all these people start out as evil creatures, but you get in this environment, like we were in Wall Street and Enron, and it’s so much stuff thrown at you. … If you don’t have your head on straight, you can get totally screwed.’ Mack enjoyed Rubin’s company. ‘But the more I talked to him, I realized he was a good liar,’ she says. ‘I point-blank asked the guy if he was married. He never did answer a simple damn question. He would say stuff like, ‘Well, are you married? Have you ever been married?’ So it got to the point where I would still talk to him, but eventually I started ignoring him, or he would come down [and] I would lie and tell him I was out of town. I just felt like the guy had a double personality.’”
Adam Liptak in NYT, "From Justice Thomas, a Little Talk About Race, Faith and the Court".
“Even as Justice Thomas spoke passionately about the stain that slavery and segregation left on the nation’s history, he seemed wary about giving the courts too large a role in addressing their legacy. On Oct. 10, the court will hear a major case about affirmative action in higher education, Fisher v. University of Texas, and Justice Thomas will almost certainly vote against allowing the university to take account of race in admissions decisions. In reflecting on his youth, Justice Thomas rejected one of the rationales the Supreme Court offered in 1954 in Brown v. Board of Education for forbidding segregation in public schools. ‘I hear people say, it affected your self-esteem to be segregated,’ he said. ‘It never affected mine.’ He also shared a memory about Justice Thurgood Marshall, who argued the Brown case and whom Justice Thomas succeeded on the Supreme Court. ‘I sat with him in a meeting when I first got to the court, a courtesy visit that was supposed to last 10 minutes,’ Justice Thomas said. ‘It lasted two-and-a-half hours, and he regaled me with stories.’ The meeting included a bit of advice, Justice Thomas said. ‘He looked at me very quiet and said, ‘I had to do in my time what I had to do, and you have to do in your time what you have to do.’”
Mona Naggar at qantara.de, "Caught between the Frontlines".
“Prospects of an impending collapse of the Assad regime in Syria present Lebanon with its greatest challenge in recent history. Lebanese Christians, who make up around 25 per cent of the population, were for a long time politically marginalised under Syrian occupation, which lasted until 2005. Christian politicians have shown renewed confidence in recent years. Now, as Syria and pro-Syrian forces in Lebanon show signs of weakening, they could garner even more strength. But just like the rest of the country, Lebanese Christians are deeply divided over events in Syria. ‘Christian political leaders on both sides are prisoners of their own history and the bloody conflicts of the past.’ – Pictured: Memorial service for the victims of Lebanon's civil war (1975–1990) The political representatives of Christians in Lebanon are distributed between the two enemy camps – The March 8 Alliance and The March 14 Alliance. The Free Patriotic Movement sides with the Shiite Hezbollah, which is allied with the regime in Damascus. The Forces Libanaises and the Phalangists form an alliance with the Sunni ‘Future Movement’. They side with the rebels. The designations ‘Shiite Christian’ and ‘Sunni Christian’ have long been incorporated into Lebanese parlance. Those who do not want to take sides in this abominable conflict, often experience deep frustration.”
Alan Beattie in FT, "A new world of royalties".
“Intellectual property has been an established if controversial part of trade deals since the early 1990s, when Washington succeeded in writing the Trips (trade-related aspects of intellectual property rights) agreement into WTO law. Trips, to the anger of some developing countries dependent on generic pharmaceutical production, forced WTO members to enact a minimum level of patent, copyright and trademark protection. Many nations argued this was onerous and the move also disturbed some orthodox free-trade economists, who noted that granting a monopoly right like a patent is a very different principle to lowering import tariffs to liberalise commerce. As the software, technology and entertainment industries have grown, and the digitisation of media and the internet have integrated global markets, the US – continually lobbied by the likes of Disney, Universal and Microsoft – has pushed for ever tougher rules. For them, it is about rule of law: for some developing countries, and campaigners already sceptical of trade pacts, it is another power-grab by rich-world companies.”
Hari Kunzru in NYT on Pankaj Mishra’s book, "From the Ruins of Empire – The Intellectuals Who Remade Asia".
“Kang and Liang were instrumental in the formulation of a decisive new category in Chinese political discourse: ‘the people.’ Traditionally, popular opinion was considered irrelevant. Now they proposed that the state needed the consent of an educated citizenry to govern. Kang even believed that such reforms as mass education and free elections could realize the Confucian notion of ren (benevolence), a ‘utopian vision of an inevitable universal moral community, where egoism and the habit of making hierarchies would vanish.’ After the failed 1898 reforms, Liang went into exile in Japan, which in the Meiji period was as much a hotbed of international revolutionary plotting as London or Paris. It was a cosmopolitan milieu in which radicals from across Asia met, studied and argued in an atmosphere whose prevailing sentiments were ‘cultural pride, political resentment and self-pity.’ Herbert Spencer, John Stuart Mill, Adam Smith and T. H. Huxley had been newly translated into Chinese, and social Darwinism became especially influential.”
Khaled Hroub at qantara.de, "A Culture of Religious Fanaticism".
“The problem is that such scenarios are repeated every year, and no one learns anything from it. The fanning of base instincts began with the fatwa against Salman Rushdie's ‘Satanic Verses’ in the 1980s. Khomeini tried to be imam for all the faithful, casting himself as a defender of Islam – thereby shooting an average writer to fame and ensuring his book became a global bestseller.
We experienced the ‘world war of instincts’ yet again with the Danish cartoon row several years ago. By drawing a few racist caricatures, a single illustrator drove millions of Muslims onto the streets, resulting in death and destruction in many cities across the Muslim world. Again, an unknown illustrator became a world-famous hero, and his cartoons were disseminated across the world. The list of examples goes on and on. They are all sad and repellent. The most worrying and dangerous thing about them though is how the advancing radicalisation is threatening our own societies. Election results since the beginning of the Arab Spring appear to be accelerating this tendency, and it is incumbent upon the more intelligent opinion formers of these nations to regard religious extremism as an enemy much more dangerous than all foreign enemies. The mob currently rampaging through the streets is ready to destroy anything in its path, and possibly ready to kill. The thought structure of these masses rests on the exclusion of others, on the non-recognition of others and the desire to be rid of these others – and this in nations that are themselves multi-religious and multi-ethnic.”
Alan Johnson in JACOBIN, "The Power of Nonsense".
“By treating these maladies as indicators of ‘what is wrong in the very structure’ of the system Žižek has put back on the agenda of the Left the question of a global alternative to capitalism, warning that we are living through ‘the self-annihilation of humanity itself.’ And as a cultural critic he can be brilliant in forcing us to adopt strange angles of vision on a vast array of familiar objects and mind-sets, high and low, so that we see them afresh as forms of meaning in the service of this system-in-crisis. Žižek’s remedy however – his call for Terror and Dictatorship set out in the extract from the paperback edition of Living in the End Times reproduced in this issue of Jacobin – is another matter entirely. Mark Lilla in his book The Reckless Mind predicted that the ‘extraordinary displays of intellectual philotyranny’ that disfigured the twentieth century left would not simply disappear just because the wall had fallen. So it has proved. Since 2000, Žižek has established his ‘New Communism’ on two foundations. First, a system of concepts – Egalitarian Terror, the Absolute Act, Absolute Negativity, Divine Violence, the Messianic Moment, the Revolutionary Truth-Event, the Future Anterieur, and so on. Second, a human type and an associated sensibility – that ideologized and cruel fanatic, contemptuous of morality and trained to enormity that Žižek calls the ‘freedom fighter with an inhuman face.’ In his passive-aggressive way, Zikek has even admitted what this so-called New Communism amounts to: ‘[Peter] Sloterdijk even mentions the ‘re-emerging Left-Fascist whispering at the borders of academia,’ where, I guess, I belong.’”
Gertrude Himmelfarb in WSJ, "The Once-Born and the Twice-Born".
“To anyone even casually familiar with the perennial debate between religion and science, both the New Atheism of the four horsemen and the ‘Neo-Atheism,’ as it might be dubbed, of Mr. de Botton seem peculiarly old-fashioned—retro, as we now say. And it is old-fashioned enough to recall a participant in that debate more than a century ago. The Harvard philosopher William James did not identify himself as an atheist. On the contrary, it was as a believer that he defended religion—but a believer of a special sort and a religion that the orthodox, then and now, would not recognize as such. If Mr. de Botton is a Neo-Atheist, James qualifies as a Neo-Believer.
His 1896 lecture ‘The Will to Believe’ was prompted, James said, by the ‘freethinking and indifference’ he encountered at Harvard. He warned his audience that he would not offer either logical or theological arguments supporting the existence of God or any particular religion, ritual or dogma. His ‘justification of faith’ derived instead entirely from the ‘will’ or the ‘right’ to believe, to ‘adopt a believing attitude in religious matters, despite the fact that our merely logical intellect may not have been coerced.’ James knew this would not go down well with the students and philosophers in the eminent universities. To the obvious objection that the denial of the ‘logical intellect’ is to give up any claim to truth, he replied that it is in defense of truth that faith is justified—the truth provided not by logic or science but by experience and reflection. Moral questions, he pointed out, cannot be resolved with the certitude that comes from objective logic or science.”
Mark Lilla in NEW REPUBLIC on Brad Gregory’s book, "The Unintended Reformation – How a Religious Revolution Secularized Society".
“It is a revealing psychological fact that the most common historical myths that early civilizations comforted themselves with were stories of fated decline, which give temporal reasons why life is so hard. We suffer because we live in an Age of Iron, far removed from our origins in the Age of Gold. It’s not our fault, and perhaps one day the gods will smile down and return us to the world we have lost. Pazienza. Christianity turned its back on these ancient stories of fated decline. But it has never been able to escape historical mythmaking, despite the best efforts of theologians from Augustine to Karl Barth. The reason, as Hegel formulated it so well, is that Christian revelation is based on a unique divine incursion into the flow of historical time that altered but did not delegitimize an earlier divine-human relationship. Christianity therefore begs for a story that connects the historical periods created by this event: the age before the Incarnation, the age of the present saeculum, and the age to be inaugurated by Christ’s redemptive return. Eusebius of Caesarea, in the early fourth century C.E., was the first Christian thinker to have a serious go at this, and his progressive narrative shaped much subsequent Western thinking about history. In his account, God used one providential hand to ‘prepare the Gospel’ by guiding Hebrew history from Abraham to Jesus; and with the other hand, He built Rome up from a small republic to a vast and powerful empire. With the conversion of Constantine to Christianity these two trajectories met, fusing divine truth with mundane power and inaugurating a new epoch of God’s kingdom on Earth. Against the pessimistic pagan myth of the World We Have Lost, Eusebius offered his optimistic Goodbye to All That.”
Molly Worthen in NYTBR on David Swartz’s book, "Moral Minority – The Evangelical Left in an Age of Conservatism".
“Many of Swartz’s subjects, with their formidable facial hair and self-published protest literature, fit right in with the radicals of the secular New Left. Yet they were also typical evangelicals. For the most part they attended conservative Christian colleges and seminaries; they fielded speaking invitations from national missions conferences; evangelical bookstores stocked their treatises defending gender equality and their cookbooks advocating ‘simple living.’ When George McGovern accepted an invitation to speak at Wheaton in 1972, he received a standing ovation. So why did the evangelical left seem to dissolve into irrelevance? Swartz argues that evangelicals’ mass enlistment in the conservative Republicanism of the ‘culture wars’ was not the inevitable consequence of doctrine or history: Jesus did not leave behind a clear party platform. But while members of the Christian right set aside doctrinal differences to rally around a shared cultural agenda, the left fell victim to internal identity politics and theological disputes. Black and female evangelicals argued that the left’s leadership was too white and too male. Anabaptists who emphasized nonviolence clashed with Reformed evangelicals who had ambitious plans to transform American culture. Meanwhile, secular liberals, eager to make abortion rights a nonnegotiable plank of the Democratic platform, drove anti-abortion Christians into the arms of savvy Republicans.”
Mark Lilla in NYTBR on Charles Kesler’s book, "I Am the Change – Barack Obama and the Crisis of Liberalism".
“For some years now the Claremont Institute has been promoting the idea that Wilson was a kind of double agent, whipping the Huns in World War I while surreptitiously introducing the Hegelian bacillus into the American water supply and turning us into zombie-slaves of an elite-run progressivist State. Glenn Beck popularized the notion among grass-roots conservatives by placing Wilson at the center of his Jackson Pollock blackboards, with spokes running out to Bill Ayers, Angela Davis, Saul Alinsky, Acorn, George Soros, Cass Sunstein and now I’m forgetting who else. Kesler gives us a more sober account of what Wilson wrought. The history books tell us that the Progressive Era began in the 1890s, when all sorts of little reform and good-government groups began popping up to fight corruption, clean up the slums and rein in the banks and trusts. Kesler, though, sees two opposing tendencies at work back then. One was populist, like the Tea Party; it distrusted business and government equally and wanted to return power to the people by adhering to strict constitutional principles. The other was an elite, paternalistic movement led by self-appointed reformers who ran roughshod over the Constitution in order to ‘modernize’ the state as they saw fit. The Populists loved America, the Progressives not so much. ‘Before the left’s avant-garde became captivated by the Soviet Union,’ Kesler informs us, ‘it fell in love with Germany.’”
Paul Berman in NEW REPUBLIC, "Baath Time".
“German nationalism in the ’30s mooned over an imaginary long-ago when Teutonic Aryans roamed the ancient pan-Germanic forests. The German nationalists dreamed of reuniting the scattered Germanic tribes, and dreamed of reviving, through purification of the blood, the heroic Teutonic virtues. They inebriated themselves with mystic hoodoo about their own spiritual loftiness. They knew how to loathe. And all of these impulses proved to be transplantable to the Arab East. The post-communist Aflaq took to mooning over the Arab seventh century. He imagined a return to yore through a revived appreciation of blood ties. He attached to those ideas the modern-sounding concept of socialism, thus arriving at a national-socialism. He identified the spiritual loftiness of the Arabs. He located ethnic enemies, some of whom, by odd coincidence, turned out to be the very enemies that German nationalism likewise loathed. And he began to picture the pan-Arab resurrection.”
David Pilling in FT, "Manmohan gets his mojo back – better late than never".
“Since he was re-elected in 2009, Mr Singh has wasted a lot of time. Only a couple of years ago, Indians were talking breezily about growth edging up to double digits without the need for any further legislative shove. That proved a fantasy. Instead, growth has sunk back to around 5.5 per cent, not nearly enough for a country with a rapidly expanding population where poverty is still rife. The fiscal deficit, at national level alone, has widened to 6 per cent and rating agencies have threatened to downgrade India's sovereign debt to junk just when countries such as the Philippines and Indonesia are going the other way. Domestic investors, let alone foreign ones, had all but given up on the Indian story. The government was drowning in corruption scandals, a bitter pill for Mr Singh, who is considered impeccably clean. Today's malaise has a faint echo of the 1991 balance of payments crisis, which persuaded the government of Narasimha Rao to dismantle the Licence Raj. As finance minister Mr Singh drafted much of the legislation and has taken most of the credit - some say too much - for enacting the reforms that allowed India to escape its plodding Hindu rate of growth. Mr Singh's uninspiring second term was putting his very legacy at risk.”
John Cornwell in FT on Peter Ackroyd’s book, "Tudors – The History of England, Volume II".
“Under Edward, who succeeded Henry VIII in 1547 aged nine, the religious reforms of the Church in England were impelled by the protectorate of Edward Seymour, first duke of Somerset. Migrant Protestants from Europe were welcomed in London. It was the period when England was denuded of its rich Catholic iconographic and liturgical heritage. Statues, stained glass, crucifixes were smashed, wall paintings whitewashed, relics burnt. Corpus Christi processions, liturgical kisses of peace, genuflecting, the playing of organs, were all banned. Ackroyd evokes the purging of Catholic popular piety with a controlled, rueful passion, revealing, or perhaps betraying, his own Catholic upbringing. ‘The theatre of piety,’ he writes, ‘was being deconstructed ... There were to be no more intimations of sacrifice and the minister, no longer called priest, was ordered simply to place the bread and wine upon the altar. The Mass was therefore stripped of its mystery.’ After Edward's early death and Queen Jane's nine-day reign, Mary Tudor acceded to the throne in 1553 by what she judged a ‘sacred dispensation’.
The old faith, and the Mass, were back, and in Latin. The statues of the Virgin and saints that had survived the iconoclasts' hammers were restored to their niches. A thousand Protestant divines fled the country. Of the 22 bishops of the former reign, only seven retained their dioceses. The ardent reforming prelates - Cranmer, Ridley and Latimer - were subjected to show trials before their deaths. All in vain.”
Andrew Martin in FT on John Major’s book, "My Old Man – A Personal History of Music Hall".
“The book begins and ends with accounts of Major's father Tom, who was 64 when John was born, and entering a long hangover of poor health and poverty after his glory years (1900-30) as a peripatetic music hall artist. As Tom lay dying in the family's two rented rooms in Brixton, the 19-year-old John answered the door to a succession of shabby eccentrics. They were other Micawber-ish relics of music hall, coming to say goodbye to Tom and drinking whisky at his bedside, singing and yarning. In between these rather stilted evocations (‘tears of mirth rolled down their and my father's cheeks’), we have a well-organised history of an entertainment that started as ‘tavernbased’. As disposable income and leisure time increased, it progressed to larger venues that were partly pubs, and ended up in the plush custom-built halls of the 1890s, whose bars were entirely separate from the auditoriums, and whose proprietors demonstrated their modernity by showing short films between the turns, thus unwittingly launching the medium that would kill their main business. That John Major is thoroughly at home with this story is shown by the density of well-chosen detail.”
Joseph Harriss in AMERICAN SPECTATOR, "Franglais as She Is Spoke".
“Helas, the sad truth for Francophonies is that Moliere’s tongue is being coated by a bad case of Franglais. Some nations, like the practical Dutch and Scandinavians, easily adopt American expressions while retaining their cultural identity. The Spanish wield Spanglish and the Germans Denglish with relatively little travail. In culture-proud France, however, this pidgin version of American English is fraught with painful self-consciousness. As the commentator Eric Zemmour put it dolefully to Michael Kimmelman of the New York Times, ‘The end of French political power has brought the end of French. Now even the French elite have given up. They don’t care anymore. They all speak English.’”
WSJ: "No Fracking, We’re French".
“For a man who's staked his presidency on restarting France's economy, François Hollande seems oddly averse to the stuff that fuels growth. Last week, he announced his government will levy €20 billion in new taxes. Now he says he will not permit hydraulic fracturing for natural gas. France imports 98% of the natural gas it uses each year. Yet according to U.S. Department of Energy data, the country's technically recoverable shale gas is second only to Poland's in Europe, and equal to more than a century's worth of French gas consumption.”
Bernhard Schmid at qantara.de, "Charlie Hebdo: Provocation as a Marketing Strategy".
“In France, the editorial offices of Charlie Hebdo were set on fire in reaction to the announced publication of the controversial edition. The newspaper's web site was temporarily blocked by Internet pirates. It has since emerged that the Internet activists and their attacks were based in Turkey. This is now the third time that Charlie Hebdo is drawing attention to itself with Islam and its Prophet on the front page. Among many on the Left, whose appreciation of the satirical newspaper has had its ups and downs, the recent action has tended to evoke a disparaging response. Some even accuse the newspaper of simply trying to increase sales figures in these times of economic crises. The editors have tersely responded that they merely want to react to current events and issues. The fact is, however, that Charlie Hebdo is looking forward to its largest sales success by far, similar to the year of the caricature controversy. The usual number of papers on sale at kiosks, a run of 75,000 copies, was already sold out on the first day of print.”
Dan Bilefsky in NYT, "Turkey Demands Return of Art, Alarming the World’s Museums".
“Turkey is not alone in demanding the return of artifacts removed from its borders; Egypt and Greece have made similar demands of museums, and Italy persuaded the Met to return an ancient bowl known as the Euphronios krater in 2006. But Turkey’s aggressive tactics, which come as the country has been asserting itself politically in the Middle East in the wake of the Arab Spring, have particularly alarmed museums. Officials here are refusing to lend treasures, delaying the licensing of archaeological excavations and publicly shaming museums. ‘The Turks are engaging in polemics and nasty politics,’ said Hermann Parzinger, president of the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation, which oversees the Pergamon. ‘They should be careful about making moral claims when their museums are full of looted treasures’ acquired, he said, by the Ottomans in their centuries ruling parts of the Middle East and southeast Europe. One example is a prized sarcophagus named for Alexander the Great, discovered in Sidon, Lebanon, in 1887, and now in Istanbul’s Archaeological Museum.”
James Bowman in AMERICAN SPECTATOR, "The State of Our Nature".
“In more recent years, the work of both Mr. Lynch and Mr. Tarantino has grown ever more bizarre and remote from any recognizable reality, but their pessimistic or absurdist vision of the evil at the heart of everyday life has been adopted, so most people seem to think, by such marquee television series as The Sopranos, The Wire, and Breaking Bad, all of them the inspiration for endless analysis and philosophizing among intellectuals and critics who come out of the same stable as Martin Amis. Let me propose that they are all missing something. It is this: Anthony Burgess had to stick Alex and his droogs in a ‘dystopian’ future and give them their own hipster argot to make their evil even somewhat believable. Mart Amis in Lionel Asbo feels confident enough of his shared vision of the world to dispense with believability altogether.”
Selina O’Grady at opendemocracy.net, "The Gun and the Cross – The religion of America in John Ford, Mitt Romney and Clint Eastwood".
“Mormonism sacralised America - that is why Harold Bloom, the famously high-brow Eng Lit professor, considers its visionary founder, Joseph Smith, to equal in imaginative power to Melville or Whitman. The broader sacred mission, however, was embodied in the cowboy. He is the pioneering independent spirit who brings justice, law and order, just as Aeneas did in the Roman Empire’s great founding myth the Aeneid. Mormon and cowboy myths are married in the film Wagonmaster by John Ford (who is mystifyingly revered by the French Nouvelle Vague and their successors). The film is about the Mormon leader Elder Wiggs, who leads a small group of followers through the Wild West to set up his own version of ‘a city upon a hill’ in Utah. ‘God has reserved for us a promised land’ he tells a horse trader on the wagon trail. As the film ends, that tinny triumphalist music of Westerns blares out, and Ford’s large expressionist shots of couples smiling and embracing as they ride their wagons into the new settlement are intercut with shots of the folk dancing. A new community, a vision realized. It is genuinely moving. I caught a friend of mine – the quintessence of anti-patriotism – smiling as he watched.”
David Denby in NEW REPUBLIC, "Has Hollywood Murdered the Movies? ".
“Nostalgia is history altered through sentiment. What’s necessary for survival is not nostalgia, but defiance. I’m made crazy by the way the business structure of movies is now constricting the art of movies. I don’t understand why more people are not made crazy by the same thing. Perhaps their best hopes have been defeated; perhaps, if they are journalists, they do not want to argue themselves out of a job; perhaps they are too frightened of sounding like cranks to point out what is obvious and have merely, with a suppressed sigh, accommodated themselves to the strange thing that American movies have become. A successful marketplace has a vast bullying force to enforce acquiescence.”
David Thomson in NEW REPUBLIC, "Not Dead, Just Dying".
“I am inclined to see the funny and positive sides in all this dying, but before we go any further, let us remember the fallen. Where do you begin? The cinema threatened daylight and the out-of-doors as primary pleasures. Nature itself took a body blow, and reality would never be the same again. We were so stricken by dignity and respectability that we let full-length feature films quash shorts—one- and two-reelers, maybe the natural length for film entertainment. We erased silence; we betrayed black-and-white; and when we had color we decided that Technicolor was too gaudy and too expensive. We grew too high-minded for B pictures, Westerns, and musicals. We wiped out the audience. No, not for real, but crowds of close to 100 million a week (in 1946, say) have been cut by three-quarters, though the population has doubled in the meantime.”
"Sunday Sessions" hosted by Lia Gangitano with the premiere of James Fotopoulos and Laura Parnes’ video Ten Ways of Doing Time and performances by CANDIDATE and BEAUT
Sunday, October 14, 2012 2:00 PM to 6:00 PM
“MoMA PS1 hosts the global premiere of James Fotopoulos and Laura Parnes’ Ten Ways of Doing Time. The feature length video, starring Jim Fletcher and Stephanie Vella, fuses prison drama with science fiction genre, creating an experimental narrative that follows the disintegration of a science project to transform the inmates into super-soldiers. Both outrageous and irreverent, the sprawling scope of this chapter-based video mirrors its content through its structure, allowing the tight formality initially employed to explode into controlled states of anarchy.”
I return to John Allen’s WFMU show on Wednesday. Last time we did a five-hour history of L.A. punk; this time we’ll do a three-hour San Francisco special focusing on The Sleepers, Negative Trend, Toiling Midgets, and Flipper. The show streams live on Wednesday Oct. 10 6am eastern, at "WFMU.org". Then on Friday Oct. 12 7:30pm I'll be at "Book Thug Nation" 100 N. Third Ave, Brooklyn to read from my new book, Life Against Dementia, and answer questions about my old books and older record labels.
I moved to Berkeley from Portland with Systematic Record Distribution after Christmas 1979 and the first band I checked out was Flipper; they were playing small bars like Dew Drop Inn in Berkeley, and Sound of Music in SF. It was hard to recall the effect of their early messed-up rock minimalism so I bought a small recorder and began taping their shows. I caught some crazed gigs as they moved on to bigger clubs and halls. I also collected some tapes of The Sleepers, Toiling Midgets, and others. Turns out Aaron at Book Thug and I met in Berkeley at Krishna Copy where I printed Systematic mail order catalogs and he was doing a little micro-fanzine that I understood to be mostly about Flipper. This grew into Cometbus.
When John asked for some Sleepers I started going through my old tapes. Amazing to hear those musicians and their audiences again. SF had one of the deeper music scenes coming out of the 1970s but The City's urban provincialism, plus drugs, politics, and Rolling Stone leaving town shrunk its profile fast. Flipper had been a name rejected by The Sleepers back in 1977; Sleepers vocalist Ricky Williams was in Flipper at the beginning and he went on to sing for Toiling Midgets, formed by Craig Gray who had been in Negative Trend with Will Shatter who explained Flipper's loose noisy sound on Tim Yohannon's KPFA show: "We want to experiment with the music without becoming an art band." On the evidence of today's "indie rock" stasis, you'd have to judge those art bands won out.
So we will toast the vanquished. About a third of the show will feature unreleased versions, live rants, audience participation, crimes in progress, etc., from a San Francisco on fire, 1980-1982.
The WFMU blog will post my liner notes, "The Sleepers - Against the Day," for the November 13 vinyl re-release of The Sleepers "Painless Nights" album by "Superior Viaduct".
Don Snowden at rocksbackpagesblogs.com, "Avengers Summer".
“God, the Avengers were a great little band. And I say little band only because time and geography conspired against any possibility of them being recognized as a great band for the music in their time. But those things happen when a band’s lifespan lasts all of two years (from mid-’77 to mid-’79), home base is San Francisco and the farthest they ever apparently played from the Pacific Ocean was 75 miles inland at Riverside (where a small punk and very early college radio scene flourished down in Orange County). That gig looks to be the farthest east they got by a good 50 miles, too, so you can imagine it was well nigh the impossible dream for a band that pegged to the left coast to escape the ranks of minor players when the idea of cred (street or otherwise) for any West Coast punk band then would be one of the more laughable propositions imaginable in faraway New York or UK punk circles.”
Saint Vitus interview by Linda Leseman in "VILLAGE VOICE".
“You're touring with Scott Weinrich on vocals -- the Born Too Late lineup. But your earliest albums had Scott Reagers singing. Where is he these days?
We keep in touch with him. Mark [Adams] does more than me because they both live in California. . . . [Scott Reagers] works at a company, and he repairs their machines. I guess that's the best way to say it. And when he needs extra money, he does a bartending job. He's not with his wife anymore, and his kids are all grown, but he has a new little kid with a new girl.
Why does he seem reclusive? There's hardly anything about him online.
If he's still the same way he was, he doesn't like stuff like that. So he would never, ever be on a Facebook or a Myspace. There's like no way. When he was raising his kids with his wife, they weren't even allowed to watch TV. They homeschooled. So there's no way he's going to get into the, quote, social network, unquote.
The first Saint Vitus album, from 1984, is considered a classic now. It's our favorite of yours.
The first one is actually a live album. We played it live in the studio, no overdubs, no nothing. Just like practice. We had no time. We had, like 24 hours. We just went into this weird, giant warehouse and put blockades between the amps and just played it exactly like rehearsal.
How many takes did you do of each song?
One. . . . At that time, we were practicing like five days a week.”
Ben Ratliff in NYT, "Right Place And Sound For a ‘70s Time Warp".
“Saint Vitus, the excellent metal bar in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, that opened in the spring of last year, was named after the band. Its proprietors have wanted to bring the father to the son from the start, and on Tuesday their wish came true. Historically, it might seem weird that this is happening: the ritual christening, the reformation, this music’s third wave, Saint Vitus’s lasting appeal — all of it. Metal had become virtuosic by the time the band made its first records; this is not virtuosic music. A lot of its fan base, such as it was, came on loan from the punk scene — since Saint Vitus operated out of the South Bay region of Los Angeles, as did Black Flag and Minutemen; and because it recorded for SST, Black Flag’s label; and because Mr. Chandler’s guitar solos were pretty punk, full of practiced rawness. The band was out of place in most respects, but seemingly calm about it. Anyway, its songs are about living backward or too late for one’s own time, in a dark world where nothing ever changes (to paraphrase and conflate four of its songs — ‘Living Backwards,’ ‘Born Too Late,’ “’ Bleed Black,’ ‘The Troll’). It’s a band entirely about a weird view of history.”
Archie Patterson at eurock.com, "Once Upon a Time in Germany...".
"This article tells a very particular story, presenting the words of The Cosmic Couriers translated from various original documents given to a friend of Eurock was studying at the Goethe Institute in the Summer of 1973 visited the couple at their home in Germany and brought back gifts and a wealth of information from Rolf & Gille. Following that, we kept in touch via written personal correspondence over a couple of years until they vanished. While combing through the entire Eurock Archives the last couple years I have unearthed a treasure trove of original documents, photos and personal correspondences from not only Rolf & Gille, but also many other artists, labels and producers from around the globe. Much of this material was not included in the previous Eurock productions - The Golden Age (CD-ROM) and Eurock: European Rock & the Second Culture (Book + eBook) that featured real-time, written while the scene unfolded over the years articles, interviews & reviews covering the original German, European and International scene."
Andy Anderson’s Timeline in MOUNTAIN GAZETTE 40th Anniversary Issue.
Richard Brody at newyorker.com on "Rio Bravo" (1959).
“The Western is an essentially philosophical genre, in its conversion of society’s abstract or bureaucratic functions to direct and physical action. For John Ford, its implications are political; for Hawks, they’re moral and aesthetic (and, for Hawks, the moral and the aesthetic are inseparable). The pressure to take action that has immediate, ineluctible, and irreparable consequences makes the Wild West an exposed grid of existential crises. And the way that Hawks measures the response to crises is with style, which is why it’s apt that two members of his trio of principled lawmen— Dean Martin and Ricky Nelson—are suave singers. Their gunmanship and their wiles are tied to their laid-back elegance—which rubs off on John Wayne, who, in turn, lends them the solidity of his own ineffable command.”
ONO “Albino” LP.
“To non-locals, ONO's stunning Albino might have fallen from the sky, but to an enlightened and ever-growing bunch of Chicago heads the band is already full-on legend, and the release of their first recorded music since 1986 is a majorly epic landmark that needs no introduction. For the rest of y'all: ONO is a unit of transcendent noise-making now in its fourth decade. Both notorious and neglected in their early years, ONO's unholy bitches' brew of noisy snarl, avant-garde R&B, gospel-heavy blackness, queer sensibility and extravagant, performance-art theatrics (they once played a concert at Navy Pier in which singer travis was dragged through the audience in a steel cage, naked but for a jockstrap) was in a whole 'nuther galaxy from the macho Chicago punk scene that spawned them.”
Randy Holden interview at "pychedelicbaby".
“Dick was a Great Player, lot of energy, and a far different sound for that era, especially on the east coast. I was into instrumentals with a big sound in those days. The audience wasn't quite sure what I was doing, since all the bands in Baltimore did nothing but Ray Charles, James Brown R&B. They were starting to relate to instrumentals though. Dwayne Eddy did a couple of big live performance shows and was top bill over guys like Bo Diddley, and the Coasters, who were doing something besides Ray Charles, and James Brown. When Dick Dale came on at the gig we were doing, it was really interesting. I really dug what he was doing, but then I understood it, but the audience was completely clueless. Dick Dale had such a special gig going for himself, he should have never gone on tour. His dad I guess leased an old wood ballroom, and it was a great venue, and it was exclusively Dick Dale, and he always filled the house with surfer kids. The rest of the country had no Surf, so they couldn't participate in the specialized identity at that time. Then Capitol Records, I recall that was the label that had Dick Dale, decided to Change the concept from Surf Music, to Hotrod Music, in the effort to identify what every American kid could identify with, but the concept bombed. In California where Dick had his audience, the Hotrod Music image was thought of as Greasers, and was not what Surfers identified with at all, and he lost his audience at home. Corp nonsense to make bucks. I always felt id he'd never gone on tour, but kept doing his ballroom gig, he would have continued to gain audience, even in spite of the British Rock invasion.”
John Owens in CT, "Move under way to get Bill Veeck’s father in Hall of Fame".
“For this storied career, Veeck was inducted into baseball's Hall of Fame in 1991, five years after his death at age 71. Now historians are ramping up a campaign to add Veeck's father to the hall because of his accomplishments as a Cubs executive, including his pioneering role in banning gambling, promoting Ladies Day, proposing interleague play and instituting sweeping reforms in how the major leagues are run. The campaign for the senior Veeck will be launched Thursday in Chicago by Dr. David Fletcher, president and founder of the Chicago Baseball Museum, at a symposium on the Veecks at the Chicago History Museum. Conference participants will be Fletcher, baseball historian Paul Dickson, Chicago historian Timuel Black, sports journalist Ron Rapoport, filmmaker and former Veeck Jr. colleague Tom Weinberg and others. Veeck Sr., who built the last great Cubs dynasty of pennant-winning teams, died of leukemia in 1933 at age 56. ‘Sadly, his career wasn't as long as it could have been, but what he did in a short time is phenomenal,’ said Fletcher, whose museum is in the organizational stages. ‘He basically saved baseball after the Black Sox scandal (in which White Sox players threw the 1919 World Series). He was able to reorganize basically a cottage industry into a major entertainment industry by having consolidated leadership through one commissioner.’ ‘William Veeck was at the forefront of a new movement to make the baseball park a place where women and families would feel comfortable,’ added Dickson, whose biography of Bill Veeck, ‘Baseball's Greatest Maverick,’ was released this year.”
Obituary of the Fortnight
"Maurice Keen" (1933-2012)
“Mr. Keen wrote or edited almost a dozen books on the Middle Ages. But ‘Chivalry,’ published in 1984, was his most influential because it so sharply redefined medieval court life, challenging a view that had been dominant for hundreds of years. In that view, chivalry was a code of behavior that emerged in the 12th century as a kind of self-improvement guide for men — who spent a lot of time killing — seeking to familiarize themselves with Christian values and humane principles and become gentlemen. It promoted fair fighting, for example, and the protection of women and children. ‘Keen said that that was true enough, but only part of the picture,’ said Clifford Rogers, a professor of history at West Point. ‘His great insight was that chivalry was synonymous with the law of war — an international body of law agreed upon by the aristocratic classes across just about all of Europe, from the 12th to the 15th centuries.’ Mr. Keen’s book was among the first to ‘cut through all the stuff about courtly love and show that chivalry was an important part of the social history of warfare,’ said C. Stephen Jaeger, a medieval historian and professor emeritus at the University of Illinois. The code was enforced in chivalric courts. To illustrate how they worked, Mr. Keen cited the trial of a 14th-century knight charged with rape, arson, murder and kidnapping. The knight was convicted and executed — but not for those barbarous acts.”
Thanks to Jay Babcock, Archie Patterson, Steve Beeho, Futureofcapitalism.com.
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• Joe Carducci, Chris Collins, James Fotopoulos, Mike Vann Gray, David Lightbourne (1942 - 2010), Michael J. Safran
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