a new low in topical enlightenment

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Issue #140 (Oct. 31, 2012)

Snowy Range, WY

Photo by Joe Carducci

















Cali Punk 101:  Five Lessons

Joe Carducci


Lesson 1, Ricky Williams: The Sleepers, Toiling Midgets, Flipper

San Francisco music mix featuring rare live recordings, with comments at John Allen’s
 "WFMU program".


°

Lesson 2, The Sleepers – Against the Day


The Sleepers 1981 album, "Painless Nights",
will be reissued on vinyl by
"Superior Viaduct" on November 13; these are the liner notes:

Michael Belfer and Tim Mooney started the band and got Paul Draper and Ricky Williams together in 1977. They were recording their first record in January 1978. There was a strange lull that year when it came to bands putting out their debut 7” records. There had already been a glut of bad 45s after Patti Smith, Pere Ubu, Television, and others got signed to major labels off of theirs. The earliest independent record distributors like Jem and Bomp! didn’t really differentiate the junk from what mattered; thus the glut reached the shops and made them leery of taking new records by unknowns. In late 1977 I started working at a record shop in Portland and we began turning it into a new kind of distributor that didn’t worry about German pressings of “Dark Side of the Moon” or French Bowie singles or UK major label punk, and would make a judgment on the records before we asked shops to buy them unheard C.O.D.

We were solicited on The Sleepers 5-song 7” e.p. by Jem Records by fall of ’78 and I ordered a few for the shop; I hadn’t heard of them. When the record came its picture sleeve went up on the display wall and I played it with the rest of the new stuff so I could describe it in our mail order catalog and figure out if I’d play it on KBOO or try to track it down for distribution purposes. I liked it but hadn’t really gotten into it before Rozz Rezabek came into the shop and flipped out when he saw it. He had me play it for him and bought a copy – the only time I ever saw him buy anything. Rozz was one of the Portland kids who practically commuted to San Francisco to participate in its much bigger music scene. He sang for Negative Trend awhile. Rozz came back into the shop a couple days later and I heard him tell somebody that he’d stayed home with his girlfriend and played The Sleepers record all day. That made me listen to it more closely and then I was hooked.

Even though the 7" e.p. is 33rpm the opening guitar on “She’s Fun” cuts and all five songs are great and different. “Linda” is the long slow one and takes awhile to appreciate. But once you’ve acclimated to Ricky’s way with vocals that song is where he really has room and time to walk his crazy high-wire approach. We tried to order the record from the label but as I remember they’d shipped them all to Jem. Most San Francisco bands didn’t respond to letters requesting purchasing info. They were really living the music life in one of the best early punk era scenes. Bands sold their singles locally thru Aquarius, Tower, and Leopold’s. Systematic Record Distribution, the company we built in Portland and moved to Berkeley hoped to change that. Still in Portland though in 1979 Jem Records remaindered a bunch of small label stuff they couldn’t sell. The 7" records were a dime each. So we bought 75 copies of The Sleepers e.p. and were able to sell them easily deeply discounted via our mail order catalog and to the new kind of shop around the country that Jem didn’t sell to. I think we bought another hundred for ten bucks and moved those too. Later if I remember the same e.p. was re-issued as a 12” e.p. Maybe that got around a little better, I don’t recall.

We saw mostly L.A. bands in Portland. No Sleepers anyway. In Berkeley, Vale of Search & Destroy magazine was helping Rough Trade and Systematic set up in the bay area, plus he was part of Adolescent Records and they were following up a Sleepers 45 ("Mirror"/"Theory") with the “Painless Nights” album. I liked the album but when I saw the new lineup Oct. 24, 1980 at the 10th St. Hall I was really impressed. I thought they were going to be big; their live sound was massive! If the board tape is out there for sale buy it.

The Sleepers didn’t become big; they broke up in New York at the start of a tour. Not many of us knew what we were up against back then. We knew the rock press had disowned punk rock and radio wasn’t even worth talking about. The San Francisco scene seemed satisfied with the four college stations that were pretty good, but to make the jump to a major label and commercial radio, or to sell enough records on a small label for a band to buy a van or eat? Not likely for those early bands. Radio and press had stopped educating the music audience and gotten down to platinum business.

Rolling Stone left San Francisco for New York in 1978 – perfect timing for anyone who wanted to preserve their ignorance: New York was over and San Francisco was happening. If the mag had stayed they’d have had to review or mention what was going on in their town. As it was they never wrote about The Sleepers until suddenly in 1992 Ricky’s career debuted in Rolling Stone as an obituary. He was a rock star if anybody was a rock star! He’d listened to a lot of Iggy and a lot of Bowie but wherever he started, he improvised from and ended up… wherever all over again – you just had to follow him. He had lyrics written down somewhere, I suppose, but he used phrases like he sang them, changing the words and sounds depending on the moment. Ricky was a handful no doubt, but Belfer and later, Craig Gray in the Toiling Midgets made allowances for genius.

Belfer’s guitar had the power to calm one new wave spaz after another: Tuxedo Moon, BPeople, DNA… I think those guys were maybe especially susceptible to Belfer’s warm, heavy, careening psychedelia. I saw Michael play a duo set with Arto Lindsay if you can imagine that. And I remember being confused by a sudden change in the sound of The BPeople, a Pasadena art band, and Laurie O’Connell of the best art band of that day, Monitor, explained and complained that their guitarist Alex Gibson had fallen under the spell of The Sleepers and turned bassist Fred Nilsen’s concept into another “macho rock band.”

I think about this now because west coast punk is being repackaged and misinterpreted sans “macho” at this late date in post-Death-of-Rock London. Back then this living music was actively kept out of the UK shops for any number of bogus reasons. Even in their hometown The Sleepers big re-debut in 1980 on the release of their first album found them having to play a truncated set opening for post-rock sub-stars Cabaret Voltaire. Though some early SF scene fans were out to see The Sleepers, there were more of the new-style Anglophiles yelling for them to get off the stage. Before their last tune that night (“She’s Fun”), after the best 35 minutes of music those deaf children had ever been exposed to, Ricky says, “I’m really sorry, I know you can’t take this any longer but….”

Imagine sophisto stupidity so dense it’s not penetrable by such as The Sleepers? Well, that was the truth of it back in the day.

(Ricky Williams, 1976; photograph by James Stark)


°

Lesson 3: “Black & Red,” “Shine,” “Preludes”

First version at issue 5 of "The New Vulgate"; Revised version can be found in Carducci’s new book, Life Against Dementia.
“Negative Trend was formed out of the ashes of one ground-zero nexus of early San Francisco punk, Grand Mal, which in 1977 split into Trend plus The Offs.  I never saw Negative Trend though I did know their first singer, Rozz, as he bounced between SF and Portland, where I was doing punk radio on KBOO and turning an import record store called Renaissance into what we thought of as the first modern independent record distributor, Systematic Record Distribution.  Negative Trend released one four song seven inch which was quickly out of print with nary a copy leaving the west coast.  They played the bay area, toured the Northwest once, went to LA to play and record with a new singer, Rik L. Rik (formerly vocalist for LA band, F-Word).  He replaced Mikal Waters as singer.  F-Word had been on the Posh-Boy label, which probably owned Rik from his head to his anus.  They recorded for Posh and then Robbie goes and has the Simpletones re-record the music and releases it under the Rik L. Rik name.  They just didn’t know about that kind of shit in SF.  Robbie must have thought this was pop music and was going to sell.  It actually did in Los Angeles where media wasn’t in full hippie lockdown.

Flipper was formed by Trend’s rhythm section, Will Shatter and Steve DePace, guitarist Ted Falconi, formerly of a band called SST and Ricky Williams who had floated away from The Sleepers for a moment (Rozz filled in for him).  While in Portland I met a kid from SF named Bruce Calderwood who showed up with his girlfriend, Diane, who was one of the early Portland punks and moved back and forth between the cities.  Bruce put the locals on edge slightly as he was a big city punk and Portland was definitely a backwater.  He talked about this band he had back in SF called Flipper.  He lolled around Portland for a month or more so I didn’t figure the band was much of a full time career move for him.  He had replaced Ricky who then floated back to The Sleepers.  I don’t think he ran into Rozz while in town. Systematic moved to Berkeley at the end of 1979 and I caught up with Bruce quickly as he worked at the folk label, Kicking Mule, just up the street….”


°

Lesson 4, Radio History of L.A. Punk, 1975-1985

Totaling five-plus hours, these 2008 programs are the only comprehensive, sequential survey of the most important, least understood Punk-era music scene, with comments at John Allen’s WFMU radio show.

”Part I”
lesson begins at 49 minute mark

”Part II”


°

Lesson 5, Naomi Petersen & SST Records

70 minute in-store talk-reading-Q&A, Other Music, New York, Apr. 2008
”Other Music”



____



I-80 Radio Report

Joe Carducci

I put six good CDs into my dashboard plus a few extras for when radio let me down on my four thousand mile roundtrip to New York. And I didn’t play any of them. I just used the scan button on the FM most of the way to find something listenable. It doesn’t really make sense to me to be driving through cattle country or past cornfields or around Chicago and be listening to canned music. Most radio programming has been centralized and streams from some coastal data center, but not all of it. In any case I’d rather hear the best of what the peoples are listening to, though I reserve the right to hit the scan button the second I’m offended by any local programmer or The Programmer and His Algorithm, wherever they is.

I started the drives listening to the hard rock stations in southeastern Wyoming and central Nebraska, though their offenses got me to the country stations thereabouts about as often. The worst of the hard-rock tunes seem to center on bar-fight belligerence, someone stepping up, someone going down, etc. I prefer a less existential macho so one push usually found me a no-sweat practical rural one. Then, here, the offense might be the Taylor Swift android-in-overdrive or her now first-wave of fans now stepping up with their own Nashville roll-outs. Who knew ninnies could be so bold? Miranda Lambert has passed up Gretchen Wilson for wild girl of the CMA's, oddly her current hit, linked below, was censored everywhere east of Omaha ("haul some ass" is the offense to midwestern and easterner ears). Currently at Grand Newsstand you see Swift dolled up on the cover of Glamour or playing at Lohanoid crash-and-burn on the cover of Rolling Stone, cleared with her management firm and perhaps John Mayer’s as well, and carefully shot in faux-American Apparel-like grain by Theo Wenner no less – the prince for the princess, plus Jan won’t afford Annie Leibovitz anymore. Such offenses of C&W sent me scanning the dial again but never pushing play on the player.

The tunes below were my favorites from that first five hundred miles – mostly I drive in thousand-mile legs whether heading east or west, and all in the car voted worst-on-the-road: The Pontiac Aztek – got no complaints. I heard this first song once again coming to me from Cleveland, but aside from bits of NPR and Limbaugh, baseball or gospel, I was usually on C&W the rest of the way, until I could pick up the Hudson Valley’s relay of WFMU’s signal, where some girl was playing what I took to be hipster metal. Luckily I was almost to my Uncle’s house by then. The first two songs are trying with some faint success to draw from 70s hard rock, back before metal when blues, and R&B influences, even if laundered by Brit neo-colonialism, were audible. Modern metal and hard rock needs as much black in its playing as it can get, only there’s not much of the old limber whipsnap can escape the hip-hop software to inspire them along these years:

Beware of Darkness “Howl”

Tracer “Too Much”


The next three tunes are my favorite products of the contemporary studio processes. I like them when they come on and turn up the volume to appreciate the sonic design more fully, but I wouldn’t call this rock or rock and roll, but, rather, well-written and -arranged musique concrete. And I like what the Janus dude does with his lockjaw mealy-mouthed phrasing; he don’t spill a note:

Kopek “Love Is Dead”

Janus “Promise to No  One”

Deuce “America”



This is the one notable pop masterpiece I heard since Adele’s last single. I assumed it was Sting, but I guess it isn’t – scary in a way:

Gotye “Somebody That I Used to Know”


I left the scan button alone longest while on country stations while driving from Laramie to Eastchester and back. There’re always a couple great songs in Nashville’s mix, but lately it’s doing better at backing those up with a slate of high-mediocre: nice arrangements, good voices, clever lyrics, and outlandish accents. Musical trends feature quite a bit of Tom Petty; in fact, Eric Church’s tune, “Springsteen,” by the sound of it ought to be called, “Petty.” Through late Tom you hear earlier Byrds. Other post-Buffett country influences include AC/DC, rap, the afore-mentioned 70s rock, R&B…:

Luke Bryan “Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye”

Miranda Lambert “Fastest Girl in Town”

Thomas Rhett “Something to Do with My Hands”

Jason Aldean “Fly Over States”

Lee Brice “Hard to Love”

Eli Young Band “Even If It Breaks Your Heart”


In totality I’m guessing this gathering “monogenre” as the country blogger quoted just below terms it, might even have the makings of a decent non-public radio reglar-type ‘mericana format. He considers it a threat to just-passed once-contemporary country songcraft but overall it sounds like it might yield a better deal all around. Back in Wyoming, assembling these links I noticed Lana Del Rey has a new song-video-film posted. It’s good too. Not first-person art really, but it pays heed to good true lost American things. It’s called “Ride”. But you can’t call it rock and roll either.


***


James McKinley in NYT, "Changes to Charts by Billboard Draw Fire".
“Billboard made one other change to its methodology that rewards crossover hits. Previously, the magazine only counted airplay on country stations for the country chart, and spins on R&B stations for the R&B chart, and so on. Now it is counting all the plays a song receives on 1,200 stations across genres. Kyle Coroneos, who writes a blog for the Saving Country Music site, said Billboard’s decision to count the airplay a country song gets on other formats is important. This means that traditional country artists, whose songs are played only on country stations, will be pushed down deeper into the charts, while pop-oriented stars, like Ms. Swift or Lady Antebellum, crowd the Top 10. Labels in turn are likely to encourage artists to make country records with a pop flavor, he said. ‘It erodes the autonomy of the country charts in general,’ he said. ‘I have a theory all the genres of music are coagulating into one big monogenre and this emphasizes that.’”


***


Upcoming Carducci readings / signings / answerings…

Thurs. Dec. 6, 7pm, free
"Wolverine Farm Bookstore", 144 N. College Ave., Fort Collins

Sat. Dec. 8, 7pm, free
"Night Heron Books", 107 Ivinson St., Laramie

The book event at Book Thug Nation in Brooklyn went good, though I may have sped through the selections from the new book, Life Against Dementia, but I found a theme about cultural damage which culminated in the piece, “Bring Me the Head of Lee Abrams.”


***


Tony Powell at " “Imus in the Morning” " has added a Little Richard to his Lightnin’ Hopkins bits; it’s on radio here and there and Fox Business channel. Not any video clips I can find of them though there are clips of his Bill Cosby, Jesse Jackson, and Herman Cain; they’re not as good. The white comic, Rob Bartlett, does funny bits as Ringo Starr, Brian Wilson, Elvis and others.


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The BBf’nC

Joe Carducci


It was probably a bad sign right off that the new CEO of the New York Times was coming in from the BBC. Back when the NYT was borrowing money from Carlos Slim to get past a tight spot that is known in journalism as the new normal, the absolute worst idea floated was to turn the Times into a non-profit. I don’t know what the BBC is exactly and neither does Britain, which if it is in the process of losing the Scots, Welsh, and Irish means Great Britain will cease to exist but we’ll always have the British Broadcasting Corp whether we live in a yurt in Mongolia, a mud-hut in Congo, or a cabin in the Rockies. Can you imagine where the editorial board of the Times would get off if they weren’t employed by strike breakers like any other ruthless capitalists? They’d cover music like NPR and politics like Xinhua. However disappointing the NYT can be, they aren’t that bad yet.

Given that a hard-hitting expose on the lifelong BBC paedophile presenter Jimmy Savile was stopped and a holiday tribute to the just-escaped-to-the-grave bastard broadcast instead, the NYT has stood by its own BBC-escapee while in Parliament his luckless replacement takes the heat. Meanwhile the tabloids have dug up another three hundred rape-and-molestation victims what got fixed by Jimmy, sprung chickens, some claiming to’ve had their lives ruined by BBC programming department heads.

I believe the BBC, as well as the NYT, might profitably seek counsel in this matter from the Vatican. The Church Universal has learned a lot in recent years about the myopia of pretentious institutions and how to deal with the massed plaintiffs and media scandal-mongers it can be counted on to attract.


***


Rod Liddle in SPECTATOR, "Bullets over the Beeb".
“Ring, ring, goes the telephone, every hour that God sends. And it’s always some producer from the BBC, ringing me up to ask me on to some programme to stick the boot in to the BBC. Newsnight, The World at One, This Week, BBC Good Morning Biddulph, BBC Top o’The Mornin’ Paddy. It is not enough that they should, like nematode worms which stab themselves to death with their own penises, -simply attack the BBC themselves; they want multitudes of other people to do it, too. ‘Tell me, just how useless is the BBC, and in particular its senior executives? Could they be more useless if they tried?’ This is evidence, if the BBC’s senior managers are to be believed, of the corporation’s honest and open approach to its own affairs. Yes, up to a point, so it is. That’s in there somewhere, along with schadenfreude at the plight of other bits of the BBC and internecine rivalry, and perhaps also a weird self-flagellating tendency that often grips the corporation, unsure as it is of why it still exists. But also, this openness, this candour, is a measure of the contempt in which the boss class of the BBC are held by the thousands of minions below. Rightly, in many cases, I should add. And so, as this ghastly Savile business unfolds, the little BBC programmes — the fiefdoms, the satrapies of the corporation — have gone for it with an excitation, hyperbole and overkill which almost matches the excitation, hyperbole and overkill of their phone-hacking coverage.”


***


Dan Hind at opendemocracy.net, "The BBC: above reproach, or beyond reach? ".
“On the Trust’s website is a page on 'Sustaining citizenship and civil society’ - one of the core public purposes of the BBC as set out in the organisation’s Charter. Here you will learn that the Trust ‘after public consultation’ divided its remit for delivering this public purpose into ‘five specific priorities’. You might think that the Trust would want to show their working, so that the public could quickly find the evidence on which they base their decisions. But there’s no link to the results of this public consultation, although it is presumably on the site somewhere, in light of what’s quoted above. A search doesn’t help. Put the words consultation and citizenship together in the search box and you end up with zero results… according to Trust’s website, since 13 September the BBC has been ‘consulting publicly on some planned changes to what are called Purpose Remits – documents that explain what the BBC needs to do to fulfil each of its public purposes’. Among other things, the Trust wants to change the wording of some of the ‘five specific priorities’ regarding ‘citizenship and civil society’ mentioned above.”


***


Andrew O'Hagan at LONDON REVIEW OF BOOKS, "Light Entertainment".
“In the issue of Lilliput magazine for May 1943 Gamlin wrote an essay called ‘Why I Hate Boys’, which is signed ‘A School-Master’. It was a developing theme, boys, children, whatever, and in 1946 Methuen published a book written by Gamlin and Anthony Gilbert called Don’t Be Afreud! A Short Guide to Youth Control (The Book of the Weak). The book is just about as funny as it wants to be, with author photographs (‘aged 7 and 8 approx’) and a caption: ‘The authors on their way to the Psychoanalyst’. Gamlin, in common with later youthquakers such as Jimmy Savile, never liked children, never had any, never wanted any, and on the whole couldn’t bear them, except on occasion to fuck. And, again like Savile, Gamlin managed all this quite brilliantly, hiding in plain sight as a youth presenter full of good sport but who didn’t really care for youth and all its pieties. This was in the days before ‘victims’ – days that our present media and their audiences find unimaginable – but it gives context and background to the idea of an eccentric presenter as a teasing anti-hero within the Corporation. Auntie was essentially being joshed by a child abuser posing as a child abuser.”





















"October" by Michael J. Safran




















From the Desk of Joe Carducci…

ONO news from Chicago:

Leor Galil at chicagoreader.com, "ONO release their first album in 26 years".
“Ono got started in 1980, and the current seven-­piece lineup includes two founding members: bassist-percussionist P. Michael and front man Travis, who's also a performance artist and LGBTQ activist. According to Michael, some of the songs on Albino date from 1981. In 2007 the group was dormant—it never really broke up—when Plastic Crimewave Sound front man and Reader contributor Steve Krakow interviewed Michael and Travis for his Secret History of Chicago Music strip. Krakow invited Ono to play at that year's 4 Million Tongues Festival, their first show after a long hiatus. They soon appeared on Chic-a-Go-Go, and the gigs started piling up.”


Luca Cimarusti at chicagoreader.com, "More Ono! Releases, reissues, and shows from the art-rock locals".


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Scam #9, "The Story of Black Flag’s “Damaged” ".

Erick Lyle: “Here at last is the long awaited new issue of SCAM, the story of the making of my favorite record ever, Black Flag’s classic first LP, Damaged. Based on an expanded version of a story I wrote for the LA Weekly last winter to celebrate the record’s 30th anniversary, the zine includes primary interviews with Black Flag members, Henry Rollins, Greg Ginn, Chuck Dukowski, Dez Cadena, Kira Roessler and others around the band, including Mike Watt, Joe Carducci, Raymond Pettibon, Ed Colver, and Dave Markey.”


***


“Gallucci punches out the first ever episode of the diepunkdeath radio show, and it's a big one! A documentary on 'The Man In The Van with The Bass in His Hand' Mr Mike Watt! We've mostly focused on his recorded efforts - You're gonna hear the cream from our 3+hr conversation with Watt and music from his awesome solo albums, Minutemen, Stooges, Banyan, Firehouse, Dos, Unknown Instructors and the million other projects you've never got around to listening to...... Here lies the ultimate dig deep into the mind of the thunderbroom sailor....... Get it!"

Download the MP3 here!

***


"Trust fanzine # 156" (Oct./Nov. 2012) has an interview with Grant Hart. 


“Hallo,
die Trust-Ausgabe 1 (eins) von 1986 gibt es jetzt als gratis "pdf-download".

Trust # 1 free download at our webpage, spread the word.
Trust book II, # 11-20 is in the works.”


***


Brooke Allen in NEW CRITERION, "Strindberg’s Inferno".
“Under the tutelage of Edvard Munch, another denizen of Zum Schwarzen Ferkel, Strindberg refined his painting skills. He had already exhibited his paintings in Sweden, where one critic had complained that they looked like dirty bed-sheets hung up to dry, but in Berlin he achieved a renommé as a painter that he retains to this day. (Pri-deaux has included several fine reproductions of his work in this volume.) Another new friend of the 1890s was Paul Gauguin, whom Strindberg met in Paris when the painter was between Tahitian voyages. “Gauguin played his mandolin and Strindberg played his guitar and they planned a South Seas musical entertainment which sadly came to naught,” Prideaux tells us. In May 1893 Strindberg married Frieda Uhl, a twenty-year-old Austrian girl he had known for three months and who was already widely renowned, Prideaux says, as “a man-eater who never passed up a meal.” Things began badly and got worse. On their wedding night Strindberg tried to strangle Frieda in his sleep; later that night she heard him say, also in his sleep, “She would not believe I could get such a young girl!” After a few weeks of marriage they went to England for a visit; there they began to quarrel violently. “As they walked along the banks of the Thames he harbored violent fantasies of pushing her into the river or of the rough dockers ravishing her.” By October Frieda was pregnant, and wanted an abortion and a divorce. He pleaded for reconciliation. The child was born (a girl), but each partner wanted out of the marriage, which was dissolved in 1895. Frieda, who specialized in the pursuit of famous men (Augustus John described her as “the walking hell-bitch of the western world”), eventually settled in London, opening a nightclub off Piccadilly. After his split from Frieda, Strindberg moved to Paris to devote himself to alchemy.”


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Harry Eyres in FT, "Pussy Riot, punk and holy fools".
“Anyone who bothers to read the women’s closing statements to the court – and they are well worth reading – will find that they are peppered with references to the New Testament. Their argument is rather that the official version of religion headed up by the current Orthodox hierarchy, in league with Putin, is a pseudo-religion, just as Putin’s regime is a pseudo-democracy. The members of Pussy Riot are appealing to a democratic, anarchic strain within Orthodoxy exemplified by the figure of the holy fool (yurodivy in Russian). The connection between punk antics and holy foolery is made explicitly by the youngest of the women, Nadezhda Tolokonnikova, but doesn’t seem to have been picked up by many commentators. The holy fool, or fool for Christ, is a key figure not just in Orthodox religion but in Russian culture. Holy fools are disruptive; they go around half-naked, act as Robin Hoods, taking from the rich and giving to the poor; and, as Sergey Ivanov writes in Holy Fools in Byzantium and Beyond (2006), they “provoke outrage by [their] deliberate unruliness”. Perhaps the most famous and remarkable was Basil the Blessed (after whom Moscow’s most anarchic cathedral is named), who was born a serf and gained renown as a holy fool in the time of Ivan the Terrible. He rebuked the tyrant for not paying attention in church and for his cruel persecution of the innocent; Ivan rewarded him not by decapitating him or roasting him on a spit but by acting as pall-bearer at his funeral.”


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Andy Morgan in GUARDIAN, "Mali: no rhythm or reason as militants declare war on music".
“The pickup halted in Kidal, the far-flung Malian desert town that is home to members of the Grammy award-winning band Tinariwen. Seven AK47-toting militiamen got out and marched to the family home of a local musician. He wasn't home, but the message delivered to his sister was chilling: ‘If you speak to him, tell him that if he ever shows his face in this town again, we'll cut off all the fingers he uses to play his guitar with.’ The gang then removed guitars, amplifiers, speakers, microphones and a drum kit from the house, doused them with petrol, and set them ablaze. In northern Mali, religious war has been declared on music. When a rabble of different Islamist groups took control of the region in April there were fears that its rich culture would suffer. But no one imagined that music would almost cease to exist – not in Mali, a country that has become internationally renowned for its sound.”


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Peter Thonemann in TLS on Thomas Heffernan's book,"The Passion of Perpetua and Felicity, and Jan Bremmer & Marco Formisano’s book, Perpetua’s Passions".
“A few days earlier, in the forum at Carthage, Perpetua and her friends had been put on trial before the Roman governor Hilarianus. All had refused to offer sacrifice to the reigning emperor, Septimius Severus; choosing to profess and call themselves Christians, they sentenced themselves to death. The Passion of Perpetua and Felicity is a short Latin account of their arrest, trial, imprisonment and eventual martyrdom. The anonymous author of the Passion – apparently a North African clergyman, with a rather unChristian taste for the Grand Guignol – predicted that these novel ‘examples of faith’  (exempla fidel) ‘will themselves one day be ancient, and will prove indispensable (necessaria) for future generations’, He has been proved right. In recent years, the Passion has probably excited more critical attention than any other single piece of early Christian writing.”


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Anthony O’Mahony in TLS on David Wilmshurst’s book, "The Martyred Church: A History of the Church of the East".
“The Church of the East – sometimes also known as the Assyrian Church – is one of the most distinctive bodies in the Christian world. Long described inaccurately as ‘Nestorian’ – a reflection of its distinctively expressed teaching on the incarnation – the Church developed in isolation from most others, both Eastern and Western, for many centuries. Though originating in the Middle East, the Church displayed extraordinary energy, expanding well into the heartlands of Asia. Tellingly, it never became a state religion. At some point between the third and the thirteenth centuries, it was found between the Mediterranean and the Pacific, in Palestine and Cyprus, in Armenia, but also on the Malabar coast of India, modern-day Sri Lanka, the islands of Borneo, Sumatra and Java, the Moluccas, and Malaysia. Marked very early on by a distinct capacity to adapt to the different cultural environments, civilizations and peoples it encountered – Persian, Uighur, Turkish, Mongol, Chinese and Sogdian – it is often perceived by historians today as a model for interfaith relations.”


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Theo Hobson in TLS on Francis Spufford’s book, "Unapologetic: Why, Despite Everything, Christianity Can Still Make Surprising Emotional Sense."
“Effective defenders of Christianity must sound like ordinary citizens. They must be fluent in the skeptical, irreverent vernacular of mainstream liberal culture. Is this so hard? Yes. For they must also convey the awkward seriousness and strangeness of faith, its otherness. They must also show that belief has changed the way their minds work. The vast majority of Christian writers fall at the first step of this high-wire act. Within two pages they sound petulant at being misunderstood, or defiantly pious, or philosophically expert, or excessively concerned with some obscure turf war, or just plain bland. It is therefore surprising to see someone striding straight out on the high wire, as if it’s easy.”


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Wayne Curtis in WSJ on Timothy Egan’s book, "Short Nights of the Shadow Catcher".
“Curtis needed a benefactor. And for that he turned to one of the wealthiest men on the planet, J.P. Morgan, because, well, why not? By calling in favors with his well-connected friends, he obtained a rare personal audience with the banker in 1906. It was an encounter perhaps more alarming and fraught than with any of the other tribal chiefs he met, and it makes for one of the most vivid scenes in Mr. Egan's account. ‘Curtis had barely spoken his first words when Morgan interrupted him with a dismissive wave of his hand. 'Mr. Curtis, there are many demands on me for financial assistance.'’ Many suitors would have folded under Morgan's withering gaze and headed for the door, but as Mr. Egan writes, ‘instead of turning to leave, Curtis sat in place and went on the offensive,’ opening his portfolio and showing what he had amassed so far. In the end, Morgan—a passionate bibliophile who was then building the neoclassical Morgan Library and filling it with treasures—signed on, agreeing to pony up $75,000. Curtis assured him that the project would be complete within five years. In the end, it took 24, and the final cost to Morgan was $2.5 million. Curtis was an almost heroically bad businessman. He never thought to factor in a salary for himself when budgeting and threw himself so wholeheartedly into his documentary work that he neglected his thriving portrait business. In 1910, he tried to reduce his debts by staging a touring ‘picture opera.’ This was a sort of early precursor to a TED talk, with hand-colored magic-lantern photos in lieu of a PowerPoint. Curtis, accompanied by an orchestra, narrated the unfolding scenes. The reviews were ecstatic. He played sold-out shows in Boston, New York, Washington and other cities. After paying the musicians and covering his other expenses, Curtis lost between $300 and $500 per performance.”


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John McDermott in FT, "Bloody history and bleak future weigh heavily on the Sioux".
“Alcoholism is the primary cause of early death. Liquor sales are illegal on the reservation. However, Whiteclay, a Nebraska town of 40 people two miles south of Pine Ridge, sells 5m beer cans a year, the vast majority drunk by the Oglala Sioux. ‘Every day I pray for an end to the drinking,’ says Catherine Looking Elk, a 75-year-old grandmother of 24 and an English teacher. ‘Soon there won't be any more elders.’”


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Gary Rosen in WSJ on Camille Paglia’s book, "Glittering Images".
“In the book's introduction, Ms. Paglia observes that the challenge for anyone wanting to revive the fortunes of the visual arts in America is not just our lack of education; it is also our lack of focus and attention. The videogames and wide-screen spectacles that occupy so much of our leisure time don't exactly train us for the steady gaze of art appreciation. As she writes, ‘the eye is assaulted, coerced, densensitized.’ It is a surprise, then, to reach the final chapter of ‘Glittering Images’ to find Ms. Paglia asking, ‘Who is the greatest artist of our time?’ and answering: George Lucas. The particular object of her admiration is the climactic scene of ‘Revenge of the Sith’ (2005), in which the Jedi master Obi-Wan Kenobi and the young Anakin Skywalker (soon to be transformed into Darth Vader) fight an extended duel with lightsabers as they negotiate a menacing landscape of lava flows and falls. ‘Fire provides a sublime elemental poetry here,’ Ms. Paglia writes. The scene, for her, is a high-tech reimagining of Dante's ‘Inferno.’ You don't have to be a snooty killjoy to wonder at the hyperbole in this comparison. Ms. Paglia has always extolled the movies—they are, for her, the defining medium of modern paganism—but she has usually favored classic Hollywood fare. In the work of Mr. Lucas and his team, there is no denying the occasional striking image, but what dominates the eye is kinetic chaos. That much should be obvious to a critic determined to teach the redemptive possibilities of patient, informed observation.”


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Camille Paglia in WSJ, "How Capitalism Can Save Art".
“It's high time for the art world to admit that the avant-garde is dead. It was killed by my hero, Andy Warhol, who incorporated into his art all the gaudy commercial imagery of capitalism (like Campbell's soup cans) that most artists had stubbornly scorned. The vulnerability of students and faculty alike to factitious theory about the arts is in large part due to the bourgeois drift of the last half century. Our woefully shrunken industrial base means that today's college-bound young people rarely have direct contact any longer with the manual trades, which share skills, methods and materials with artistic workmanship. Warhol, for example, grew up in industrial Pittsburgh and borrowed the commercial process of silk-screening for his art-making at the Factory, as he called his New York studio. With the shift of manufacturing overseas, an overwhelming number of America's old factory cities and towns have lost businesses and population and are struggling to stave off disrepair. That is certainly true of my birthplace, the once-bustling upstate town of Endicott, N.Y., to which my family immigrated to work in the now-vanished shoe factories. Manual labor was both a norm and an ideal in that era, when tools, machinery and industrial supplies dominated daily life. For the arts to revive in the U.S., young artists must be rescued from their sanitized middle-class backgrounds. We need a revalorization of the trades that would allow students to enter those fields without social prejudice (which often emanates from parents eager for the false cachet of an Ivy League sticker on the car). Among my students at art schools, for example, have been virtuoso woodworkers who were already earning income as craft furniture-makers. Artists should learn to see themselves as entrepreneurs. Creativity is in fact flourishing untrammeled in the applied arts, above all industrial design.”


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Amy Wallace in NYT on William Baumol’s book, "The Cost Disease: Why Computers Get Cheaper and Health Care Doesn’t".
“Mr. Baumol and a Princeton colleague coined the term ‘cost disease’ in the early 1960s. Put simply, it refers to the concept that the costs of health care, education, the live performing arts and several other ‘personal services’ depend largely on human evaluative skills — a ‘handicraft element’ that is not easily replaced by machines. These costs consistently rise at a rate much greater than that of inflation because the quantity of labor required to produce these services is hard to reduce, while costs in other areas of the economy can be brought down via technology or other factors What that means, writes Mr. Baumol, a professor at the Stern School of Business at New York University and a professor emeritus at Princeton, sounds pretty frightening: ‘If health care costs continue to increase by the rate they have averaged in the recent past, they will rise from 15 percent of the average person’s total income in 2005 to 62 percent by 2105.’ In other words, our great-grandchildren will have less than 40 cents of every dollar to spend on everything besides their health.”


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Katherine Hobson in WSJ, "Treat Cheerleaders as Athletes, Pediatrics Academy Advises".
“In a report published online Monday, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that cheerleading should be designated a sport at the high school and collegiate levels ‘so that it is subject to rules and regulations set forth by sports governing bodies,’ such as the NCAA. Sports must petition to be recognized by the NCAA, and the criteria for inclusion, among other things, state that there must be an element of competition. Two groups emphasizing tumbling and stunts have asked for cheerleading recognized as an emerging sport. An NCAA spokeswoman says the petitions will be reviewed for three years. Sideline cheerleaders wouldn't be included. Cheerleading has a lower overall injury rate than women's sports like gymnastics, soccer and basketball. But the rate of catastrophic injury, causing death or permanent disability, is comparatively high, according to previously published data cited in the pediatrics academy report.”


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Alan Schwarz in NYT, "Attention Disorder or Not, Pills to Help in School".
“Although A.D.H.D is the diagnosis Dr. Anderson makes, he calls the disorder “made up” and “an excuse” to prescribe the pills to treat what he considers the children’s true ill — poor academic performance in inadequate schools. “I don’t have a whole lot of choice,” said Dr. Anderson, a pediatrician for many poor families in Cherokee County, north of Atlanta. “We’ve decided as a society that it’s too expensive to modify the kid’s environment. So we have to modify the kid.” Dr. Anderson is one of the more outspoken proponents of an idea that is gaining interest among some physicians. They are prescribing stimulants to struggling students in schools starved of extra money — not to treat A.D.H.D., necessarily, but to boost their academic performance. It is not yet clear whether Dr. Anderson is representative of a widening trend. But some experts note that as wealthy students abuse stimulants to raise already-good grades in colleges and high schools, the medications are being used on low-income elementary school children with faltering grades and parents eager to see them succeed.”


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Freeman Dyson in NY REVIEW OF BOOKS on Jim Holt’s book, "Why Does the World Exist?: An Existential Detective Story".
“Wittgenstein’s intellectual asceticism had a great influence on the philosophers of the English-speaking world. It narrowed the scope of philosophy by excluding ethics and aesthetics. At the same time, his personal asceticism enhanced his credibility. During World War II, he wanted to serve his adopted country in a practical way. Being too old for military service, he took a leave of absence from his academic position in Cambridge and served in a menial job, as a hospital orderly taking care of patients. When I arrived at Cambridge University in 1946, Wittgenstein had just returned from his six years of duty at the hospital. I held him in the highest respect and was delighted to find him living in a room above mine on the same staircase. I frequently met him walking up or down the stairs, but I was too shy to start a conversation. Several times I heard him muttering to himself: ‘I get stupider and stupider every day.’ Finally, toward the end of my time in Cambridge, I ventured to speak to him. I told him I had enjoyed reading the Tractatus, and I asked him whether he still held the same views that he had expressed twenty-eight years earlier. He remained silent for a long time and then said, ‘Which newspaper do you represent?’ I told him I was a student and not a journalist, but he never answered my question. Wittgenstein’s response to me was humiliating, and his response to female students who tried to attend his lectures was even worse. If a woman appeared in the audience, he would remain standing silent until she left the room.”


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Robert Ito in PACIFIC STANDARD "The Love Bot"
“Robots are used extensively in Japan to help take care of older people, which concerns Sherry Turkle, director of the MIT Initiative on Technology and Self. ‘The elderly, at the end of their lives, deserve to work out the meaning of their lives with someone who understands what it means to be born, to have parents, to consider the question of children, to fear death, ‘says Turkle. ‘That someone has to be a person. That doesn’t mean that robots can’t help with household chores. But as companions, I think it is the wrong choice.’ Then again, assistive robots for the elderly are a hot topic precisely because, as populations age, there are fewer human caregivers to go around.”


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Lewis Wolpert in LITERARY REVIEW on Frances Ashcroft's book, "The Spark of Life: Electricity in the Human Body".
“One of her major achievements came as a breakthrough late at night some twenty-four years ago, when she discovered a channel in the membrane of a beta cell of the pancreas that regulates its electrical activity and causes insulin secretion. Her surprising discovery led to a treatment with pills for those rare cases of babies born with diabetes. It also inspired in her a fascination with the electrical activity of cells. Channels in the membranes of our cells, through which tiny ions move, dominate our lives. About one-third of all our energy from the food we eat is used by our cells to pump out sodium. This is necessary to prevent water from entering cells by osmosis and making them swell and burst. This feature must have been present in the first cells that evolved, though plants do not need a sodium pump as their thick cell walls resist osmotic pressure. The pump, a protein in the membrane, regularly transports three sodium ions to the outside of the cell and two potassium ions to the inside. The difference in the concentration of sodium within and without the cell results in an electrical difference across the membrane.”


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Scott Gottlieb in WSJ on George Church & Ed Regis’ book, "Regenesis: How Synthetic Biology Will Reinvent Nature and Ourselves".
“It once seemed that the most profound feats stemming from DNA-based science would spring from our ability to read and detect genes, which we call the science of genomics. But the real opportunities lie in our ability to write DNA, to synthesize new gene sequences and insert them into organisms, resulting in brand-new biological functions. Printing novel DNA might open the way to achievements once only conceivable in science fiction: designer bacteria that can produce new chemicals, such as more efficient fuels, or synthetic versions of our cells that make us resistant to the effects of radiation. The first such genome was made in 2000 in an experiment where scientists synthesized their own version of the hepatitis C virus so that they could alter it and discover a way to disable the infection. Today it is possible to read gene sequences into computers, where we can alter them and then print a modified gene into living cells. In ‘Regenesis,’ a book exploring the science of synthetic biology, George Church and Ed Regis imagine a world where micro-organisms are capable of producing clean petroleum or detecting arsenic in drinking water, where people sport genetic modifications that render their bodies impervious to the flu, or where a synthetic organism can be programmed to invade and destroy cancer cells.”


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Pierre Manent in FIRST THINGS, "Human Unity Real and Imagined".
“Every epoch has its secular religion, a perverse imitation of Christianity that takes part of the Christian proposition and diverts it toward this world. It was not so long ago that communism transformed charity for the poor into hatred for capitalist society and ultimately for every society that recognizes the rights of the human person. Today, something like a ‘religion of humanity’ has taken hold of supposedly enlightened opinion and increasingly guides the judgments and actions, private or public, of people in the West, especially in Europe. This is not simply a passing fashion; it is a large-scale project for governing the world through international rules and institutions, and especially the organization of commerce, so that nations, losing their character as sovereign political bodies, are henceforth only regions of a world en route to globalization, that is, unification.”


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Pierre Manent in CITY JOURNAL, "City, Empire, Church, Nation".
“The political landscape has been leveled. The webs of feelings, opinions, and language that once made up political convictions have unraveled. It is no longer possible to gain political ground by taking a position. This is why all political actors tend to use all political languages indiscriminately. Political speech has become increasingly removed from any essential relation to a possible action. The notion of a political program, reduced to that of “promises,” has been discredited. The explicit or implicit conviction that one has no choice has become widespread: what will be done will be determined by circumstances beyond our control. Political speech no longer aims to prepare a possible action but tries simply to cover conscientiously the range of political speech. Everyone, or almost everyone, admits that the final meeting between action and speech will be no more than a meeting of independent causal chains. The divorce between action and speech helps explain the new role of political correctness. Because speech is no longer tied to a possible and plausible action against which we might measure it, many take speech as seriously as if it were itself an action and consider speech they do not like equivalent to the worst possible action.”


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Gertrude Himmelfarb in WSJ, "The Once-Born and the Twice-Born".
“Alain de Botton does not attempt to refute religion; he simply stipulates that it is not true. It is, however, ‘sporadically useful, interesting, and consoling’ and can, therefore, be enlisted in the service of atheists. For people trying to cope with the pains and difficulties of life, religions are ‘repositories’ of goods that can assuage their ills. By appropriating those goods—‘music, buildings, prayers, rituals, feasts’ and the like—and introducing them into secular society, Mr. de Botton proposes to rescue that which is ‘beautiful, touching and wise’ from religions that are no longer true and put it to use by an atheism that is indubitably true but sadly deficient in such consolations. 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. And so with religious faith….”


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Laurie Goodstein in NYT, "Study Finds That the Number of Protestant Americans Is in Steep Decline".
“A new study released on Tuesday by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life found that it was not just liberal mainline Protestants, like Methodists or Episcopalians, who abandoned their faith, but also more conservative evangelical and ‘born again’ Protestants. The losses were among white Protestants, but not among black or minority Protestants, the study found, based on surveys conducted during the summer. When they leave, instead of switching churches, they join the growing ranks who do not identify with any religion. Nearly one in five Americans say they are atheist, agnostic or ‘nothing in particular.’ This is a significant jump from only five years ago, when adults who claimed ‘no religion’ made up about 15 percent of the population. It is a seismic shift from 40 years ago, when about 7 percent of American adults said they had no religious affiliation. Now, more than one-third of those ages 18 to 22 are religiously unaffiliated. These ‘younger millennials’ are replacing older generations who remained far more involved with religion throughout their lives. ‘We really haven’t seen anything like this before,’ said Gregory A. Smith, a senior researcher with the Pew Forum. ‘Even when the baby boomers came of age in the early ’70s, they were half as likely to be unaffiliated as compared with young people today.’ The ‘Nones,’ as they are called, now make up the nation’s second-largest religious grouping. The largest single faith group is Catholics, who make up about 22 percent of the population. Their numbers have held steady, mostly because an influx of immigrants has replaced the many Catholics who were raised in the church and left in the last five years, Mr. Smith said.”


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Kay Hymowitz in WSJ on Robert Self’s book, "All in the Family: The Realignment of American Democracy Since the 1960s".
“For many lower-middle-class women serving coffee to bosses and stocking grocery shelves, full-time motherhood wasn't the concentration camp described by feminists. They found a voice in antifeminists like Phyllis Schlafly, who almost single-handedly stopped the Equal Rights Amendment in the late 1970s. Catholic women and men organized groups to oppose abortion and were soon joined by evangelicals. Other grass-root groups emerged, some in support of Vietnam veterans and others celebrating what came to be known as family values. What was taking shape was the profound class and cultural divide that vexes our politics to this day. In a vivid chapter, Mr. Self describes the 1972 Democratic National Convention, a pivotal moment in the reshaping of political alignments. AFL-CIO President George Meany railed that, in the party platform, ‘there were no steelworkers, no pipe fitters, and worst of all, no plumbers.’ Instead there were feminists, radical blacks, Chicanos and gays—co-conspirators in a left-wing attack on breadwinner liberalism. In reaction, a constellation of religious, white, ‘ethnic’ and anti-feminist objectors joined forces to create ‘breadwinner conservatism.’ By 1980, with the help of a vigorous evangelical revival, these one-time Democrats helped elect Ronald Reagan president. Mr. Self's history delves into the crosscurrents roiling this realignment. Black activists didn't like white, middle-class feminists hitching their cause to the Civil Rights Act. Black nationalists and Catholic Mexican liberationists eyed abortion as an attempt to curtail black and brown fertility. Anti-porn feminists echoed pro-decency conservatives. Eventually the anti-breadwinner groups made an uneasy truce within the Democratic Party.”


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Jacob Soll in NEW REPUBLIC on Jane Gleeson-White’s book, "Double Entry: How the Merchants of Venice Created Modern Finance".
“In his Oration on the Dignity of Man, in 1486, Pico della Mirandola noted that Plato admonished ‘not to confuse this divine arithmetic with the arithmetic of the merchants.’ And for at least three hundred years, Europe listened to Pico, not Pacioli. Mathematics, Gleeson-White explains, became a pillar of university learning, but she omits to mention that accounting was excluded from of the official curriculum of universities and the Jesuit and Erasmian traditions of learning. Well-educated elites widely stigmatized accounting as a ‘merchant art,’ and this stigma arguably continues to this day. It was not until the eighteenth century that accounting became central to English merchant life—and thus widely accepted as the means to conduct business. In the three hundred years separating the merchant Renaissance of the Italian republics and the early English industrial revolution, double-entry failed to establish itself as a systematic tool for financial management.”


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Charles Duhigg & Steve Lohr in NYT, "The Patent, Used as a Sword".
“In the smartphone industry alone, according to a Stanford University analysis, as much as $20 billion was spent on patent litigation and patent purchases in the last two years — an amount equal to eight Mars rover missions. Last year, for the first time, spending by Apple and Google on patent lawsuits and unusually big-dollar patent purchases exceeded spending on research and development of new products, according to public filings. Patents are vitally important to protecting intellectual property. Plenty of creativity occurs within the technology industry, and without patents, executives say they could never justify spending fortunes on new products. And academics say that some aspects of the patent system, like protections for pharmaceuticals, often function smoothly. However, many people argue that the nation’s patent rules, intended for a mechanical world, are inadequate in today’s digital marketplace. Unlike patents for new drug formulas, patents on software often effectively grant ownership of concepts, rather than tangible creations.”


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Alan Feuer in NYT, "Prison May Be the Next Stop on a Gold Currency Journey".
“Described by some as ‘the Rosa Parks of the constitutional currency movement,’ Mr. von NotHaus managed over the last decade to get more than 60 million real dollars’ worth of his precious metal-backed currency into circulation across the country — so much, and with such deep penetration, that the prosecutor overseeing his case accused him of ‘domestic terrorism’ for using them to undermine the government. Of course, if you ask him what caused him to be living here in exile, waiting with the rabbits for his sentence to be rendered, he will give a different account of what occurred. ‘This is the United States government,’ he said in an interview last week. ‘It’s got all the guns, all the surveillance, all the tanks, it has nuclear weapons, and it’s worried about some ex-surfer guy making his own money? Give me a break!’ The story of Mr. von NotHaus, from his beginnings as a hippie, can sound at times as if Ken Kesey had been paid in marijuana to write a script on spec for Representative Ron Paul. At 68, Mr. von NotHaus faces more than 20 years in prison for his crimes, and this decisive chapter of his tale has come, coincidentally, at a moment when his obsessions of 40 years — monetary policy, dollar depreciation and the Federal Reserve Bank — have finally found their place in the national discourse.”


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Dan McCrum in FT, "Muni bond issuers facing end to their smooth ride".
“Changes are due in the autumn, but the main effect will be to remove the rose tint of official estimates: under Moody's new approach, the funding hole as of 2010 would treble, from $766bn to $2.2tn. The reason is that the rating agency proposes to assess liabilities for public sector schemes in a similar way to those in the private sector, rather than relying on reporting by public sector pension funds governed by a different set of standards to those for corporate pension plans. Public pensions have huge freedom to choose their own assumptions and approach, and the two most important concepts, when it comes to working out the gap between the size of assets in a fund and the future cost of its promises, are the discount rate used and an approach known as ‘smoothing’.”


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Peter Culp & Robert Glennon in WSJ, "Parched in the West but Shipping Water to China, Bale by Bale".
“For example, if a California farmer sought to sell excess water to water-starved Las Vegas, he or she would encounter a Byzantine array of laws that make interstate transfers on the Colorado River all but impossible. Yet U.S. trade policy fosters the international export of those same water resources embedded in high-water-use crops such as alfalfa. The export of alfalfa to China reflects a larger trend in U.S. international trade. America increasingly exports raw materials that China converts into valuable products: cotton into shirts, hides into shoes, logs into furniture. It doesn't have to be this way.”


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David Brooks in NYT, "A Sad Green Story".
“Al Gore released his movie ‘An Inconvenient Truth’ in 2006. The global warming issue became associated with the highly partisan former vice president. Gore mobilized liberals, but, once he became the global warming spokesman, no Republican could stand shoulder to shoulder with him and survive. Any slim chance of building a bipartisan national consensus was gone.
Then, in 2008, Barack Obama seized upon green technology and decided to make it the centerpiece of his jobs program. During his presidential campaign he promised to create five million green tech jobs. Renewable energy has many virtues, but it is not a jobs program. Obama’s stimulus package set aside $90 billion for renewable energy loans and grants, but the number of actual jobs created has been small. Articles began to appear in the press of green technology grants that were costing $2 million per job created. The program began to look like a wasteful disappointment.”


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Carol Leonnig in WASHINGTON POST, "Al Gore has thrived as green-tech investor".
“Just before leaving public office in 2001, Gore reported assets of less than $2 million; today, his wealth is estimated at $100 million. Gore charted this path by returning to his longtime passion — clean energy. He benefited from a powerful resume and a constellation of friends in the investment world and in Washington. And four years ago, his portfolio aligned smoothly with the agenda of an incoming administration and its plan to spend billions in stimulus funds on alternative energy. The recovering politician was pushing the right cause at the perfect time. Fourteen green-tech firms in which Gore invested received or directly benefited from more than $2.5 billion in loans, grants and tax breaks, part of President Obama’s historic push to seed a U.S. renewable-energy industry with public money.”


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James Taranto at wsj.com, "The Envious Affluent".
“You hear a lot about ‘income inequality,’ but most people don't particularly care. Last year's effort to begin a mass movement around the question was a whimpering failure, yet it got hyped to the sky at first because it played into powerful class resentments--on the part not of poor or low-income working people but of academics and journalists, which is to say intellectuals.
Now, academics and journalists are not exactly downtrodden. Although life as an adjunct or a freelancer can be a challenge, a professor with tenure or a journalist at a major media outlet makes a good enough living to make him affluent. Affluent people with elitist pretensions often have a strong distaste for the wealthy, especially those, like Romney, who earned their riches by being successful in business. If you want to find bitterness against ‘the 1%,’ don't look at ‘the 99%.’ Instead, focus in on the 98th percentile.”


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Scott Winship at brookings.edu, "Has Rising Inequality Actually Hurt Anyone? ".
“The poor and middle class are doing far better today than their counterparts in Pittsburgh during the Gilded Age, evoked by Freeland, and far better than their counterparts in most of the rest of the world. That may seem like an irrelevant comparison, but it is not. The reason that offshoring, for example, is profitable for companies despite all the costs incurred in employing workers thousands of miles away is that those workers are so much more productive relative to the pay they demand. This is not an indictment of the work ethic of the American worker — our standards have quite reasonably risen as we have become wealthier. We are unwilling to sleep in company barracks, work on dangerous assembly lines unceasingly for 14-hour days, labor for Third World wages, accept environmental degradation, forgo weekends and holidays, or send our children into the workforce. We don’t have to — we can not only maintain but continue to improve our nearly peerless living standards with the high pay and benefits, strong worker and environmental protections, generous tax-payer-funded safety nets, tame work hours, and long retirements that we have.”


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Gary MacDougal in NYT, "The Wrong Way to Help the Poor".
“But for now, let’s use that $1 trillion figure to ask a broader question: Are we spending this money in truly the best way to help the poor? Consider a thought experiment: Divide $1 trillion by 46 million and you get around $21,700 for each American in poverty, or nearly $87,000 for a family of four. That’s almost four times the $23,050 per year federal poverty line for that family. It’s intriguing to think about converting all of this to a cash payment that would instantly lift everyone in poverty up to the middle class. For a variety of reasons, of course, that’s not possible, either logistically or politically. But a middle path might resemble what Mr. Ryan has proposed for Medicaid — converting the behemoth program to block grants for each state, an idea that in some ways parallels the successful welfare reform plan of the Clinton era.”


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Yoram Hazony in FIRST THINGS, "The Biblical Case for Limited Government".
“In universities, professors of philosophy, political theory, and intellectual history consistently pass over the ideas of Scripture as a subject worth researching and teaching to their students, since they see their work as a study of reason, not revelation. Yet the central literary structure of the Hebrew Bible – the great historical narrative extending from the creation of the world in Genesis to the destruction of the kingdom of Judah at the close of the Book of Kings – can be read not only as a work of reason but as a masterpiece in the history of political philosophy.”


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Victor Hanson in CITY JOURNAL, "Life with the Vandals".
“As I write, my local community is confronting a peculiar epidemic. Bronze dedicatory plaques are being stolen from our ancestral institutions—churches, halls, clubs, parks—many of which my grandparents and great-grandparents helped establish. No records exist for most of the ancient dedicatory names, so all prior benefaction has been erased from our collective memory—and all for the recycled meltdown that supplies only a day or two’s drugs for the thieves. For central California’s parasitic criminal class, melting down what the departed bequeathed us is a growth industry. It reminds me of the fifteenth-century Turkish occupation of Greece, when scavengers pried the lead seals off the building clamps of classical temples, destroying in decades what nature had not damaged in centuries. The world outside my window reminds me a lot of what my grandfather told me about the wilderness that his pioneer grandmother discovered on arriving here in the 1870s. We’ve come full circle, tearing up what was handed down.”


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Joshua Hawley in NATIONAL AFFAIRS, "The Most Dangerous Branch".
“In other words, the American people should be the Constitution's chief interpreters, filling out its principles and clearing up its ambiguities by their choices at the ballot box. This form of popular constitutionalism depends on a distinction between constitutional politics on one hand and constitutional law on the other. But here we confront a historical irony: The Supreme Court the framers designed holds the unique capacity to collapse that difference by treating questions of constitutional politics as law instead. When it does, it places political questions beyond the reach of the people and closes the public off from constitutional interpretation. Through the repeated exercise of this authority over the past 50 years, the Court has steadily drained political power away from the people and toward itself. And even as it has done so, more and more Americans seem eager to resolve questions of constitutional politics through legal channels. They either do not understand, or do not care, that this practice diminishes citizens as agents of self-rule and badly undermines our system of government.”


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Ben Downing in NEW CRITERION on Peter Pagnamenta’s book, "Prairie Fever: British Aristocrats in the American West, 1830-1890".
“For the typical toff, however, getting to see ‘noble savages’ in their element was of secondary appeal. First and foremost, the frontier was a sportsman’s paradise. Bears and elk made tempting targets, but the real draw was the buffalo herds, which ‘were reputed to offer the supreme hunting experience,’ even though picking them off as they charged past was like shooting whales in a very large barrel. Certain ‘international Nimrods,’ as the Americans termed them, became positively crazed in their butchery, such as the aptly named Sir St. George Gore, who in 1857 brought down at least five thousand animals, from buffalo to mountain sheep to timber wolves; he even imported eighteen of his prize bloodhounds to go after antelope. According to Pagnamenta, Gore’s depredations ‘took such a toll on wildlife that protests were made on behalf of the Indians.’ It wasn’t just the immoderate bloodthirstiness of Gore and his kind that rubbed Americans the wrong way. Even more galling was their haughtiness. The West was, in Pagnamenta’s words, ‘a place where no one cared who your father was,’ and the assumed superiority of many aristocrats did not go over well.”


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Phil Gramm & Michael Solon in WSJ, "Can Government Benefits Turn an Election".
“Voter behavior in the past has been based on the performance of the private economy. Markedly different today is the dramatic growth of public-sector benefits. In 1980 and 1992, only 3% of the American labor force drew disability benefits from the government. Today it is 6%. The number of workers qualifying for disability since the recession ended in 2009 has grown twice as fast as private employment. How would Presidents Jimmy Carter or George H.W. Bush have fared on their Election Day if 40% of the Americans who were unemployed had instead qualified for disability benefits? How would voters have reacted in 1980 or 1992 if food-stamp benefits had grown by 65% instead of an average of less than 25% during the first four years of their administrations? During the past four years, the Obama administration's aggressive promotion of the food-stamp program has increased the number of recipients by 18.5 million. Do these people feel the same level of discontent about economic conditions as the rest of the voting population?”


***


Kaili Gray at dailykos.com, "Here’s that story CNN doesn’t want you to see about how ladies vote with their periods".
“Oops! Sorry. We shouldn't have run this pseudo-science story, so we'll just delete and pretend we didn't. Now stop making fun of us, Internets! Too bad CNN couldn't delete the whole Internet. Because it's still out there. So, below the fold, is the full article CNN doesn't want you to see. Sorry, CNN.

‘While the campaigns eagerly pursue female voters, there’s something that may raise the chances for both presidential candidates that’s totally out of their control: women’s ovulation cycles. You read that right. New research suggests that hormones may influence female voting choices differently, depending on whether a woman is single or in a committed relationship. Please continue reading with caution. Although the study will be published in the peer-reviewed journal Psychological Science, several political scientists who read the study have expressed skepticism about its conclusions.’”


***


Mary Mitchell in CST, "Unacceptable".
“Jackson, who hasn’t represented his district since he disappeared from the public spotlight in June, is now poised to win re-election without even bothering to campaign. His wife, Ald. Sandi Jackson (7th), recently told reporters that he might not resurface until after the November election. That’s unacceptable. The congressman got a lot of sympathy when it was revealed he was suffering from a mental illness — and rightfully so. But now the Jackson camp is treating the public like a bunch of fools. There are plenty of people living with bipolar disorder. They see their doctors, take their meds and get up and go to work most days because they have to provide for themselves and their families. The tolerance for Jackson’s dereliction of duty exposes a glaring fault within the African-American community. Black voters can be loyal to a fault. That partly explains why a lot of black areas are worse off than they were 50 years ago. Major thoroughfares on the Southeast Side in Jackson’s district are overrun with vacant storefronts and boarded up properties. I drove through the old Roseland shopping district the other morning and it looked like a ghost town.”


***


CT: "Mr. 16 Percent".
“Michael Madigan has spent 42 of his 70 years in the Illinois House, two-thirds of them as speaker. That alone attests to his ability to mastermind the election of fellow Democrats who in turn elect him leader of their chamber. But in this twilight of Madigan's career, the image he has built risks collapse. The Capitol he entered in 1971, like the state it governed, was muscular and robust. On his watch, and under his controlling management, state government and this state bear little resemblance to that relative grandeur. By measure after measure, Michael Madigan's Illinois has become one of the deadbeat states its residents once could mock. Those residents are catching on: A Tribune/WGN-TV poll finds only 16 percent of voters surveyed expressing a favorable opinion of Madigan; 35 percent have unfavorable views. The cold comfort for Madigan: 40 percent have no opinion of him. Asked about his job performance, 22 percent say they approve, 40 percent disapprove, and 38 percent have no opinion. As we begin our legislative endorsements for the election, we confront the cliche that introduces his five-word moniker — ‘powerful House Speaker Michael Madigan.’ He earned the cliche by massing clout: He crowns loyalists, crushes opponents. Publicly he focuses on preserving the Democratic majority in his chamber, yet when he shows keen interest in some agency or budget item, bureaucrats cower and administrators sweat. So singular is his devotion to dominion that we wonder if he thinks of much else. No doubt he's a proud father, a doting grandfather. But in the public space he monopolizes, he punishes this broke and broken state.”


***


Simon Denyer in WASHINGTON POST, "In India, power corrupts".
“At its worst, India’s power sector is the perfect example of populism and patronage trumping sound economics, analysts say. Power symbolizes the way Indian democracy often fails to meet the most basic aspirations of voters for transparent government, jobs, empowerment and opportunity. ‘Power is often an important source of the struggle between the politics of patronage and the politics of aspiration,’ said Ashish Khanna, senior energy specialist at the World Bank in India. ‘The question is whether a credible promise of improved power delivery can be turned into a new narrative that meets those aspirations and reaps political dividends. India’s state electricity companies have run up losses of $46 billion, or 2 percent of national income, largely financed by lending from public-sector banks, straining the country’s financial system. As a result, the companies have little money to invest in equipment or pay salaries, or even to pay for the electricity they are receiving from newly built private-sector power plants.”


***


Maitreya Samantaray at opendemocracy.net, "Pakistan’s disappearing Hindus".
“Over 50 Hindu families migrate to India every month. According to Ramesh Kumar Vankwani, the founder of the Karachi-based Pakistan Hindu Council, this is due to the failure of the Pakistani government to find a solution to the acute sense of discontentment among Hindus arising, in part, from increasing incidence of forced conversion, particularly in Sindh province in southern Pakistan. Recently, Pakistani parliamentarians blamed the Taliban for the plight of Hindus and attributed the development to an international conspiracy to defame Pakistan. In fact, many in the Pakistani political establishment consider the problem of Hindu migration as nothing more than individual cases of disgruntlement, rather than a worrying trend. There are over seven million Hindus in Pakistan and approximately 94 per cent of them are in Sindh province (especially in Hyderabad, Karachi, Tharparkat, Mithi, Mirpur Khas, Shikarpur and Sukkur). Soon after partition, Hindus constituted over 15 per cent of Pakistan's population but now make up less than two per cent.”


***


Brahma Chellaney at japantimes.co.jp, "Lessons of the Sino-Indian war".
“It was only after China's annexation of Tibet in 1950-1951 that Han Chinese troops appeared for the first time on India's Himalayan frontiers. Just over a decade later, China surprised India's ill-prepared army by launching a multi-pronged attack across the Himalayas on Oct. 20, 1962. Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai publicly said that the war was intended ‘to teach India a lesson.’ Taking an enemy by surprise confers a significant tactical advantage in war, and the invasion inflicted an immense psychological and political shock on India that greatly magnified the initial military advances that China achieved. China's blitzkrieg created a defeatist mind-set in India, forcing its army to retreat to defensive positions. India, fearing unknown consequences, even shied away from employing its air power, although the Chinese military lacked effective air cover for its advancing forces. After more than a month of fighting, China declared a unilateral cease-fire from a position of strength, having seized Indian territory. The Chinese simultaneously announced that they would begin withdrawing their forces on Dec. 1, 1962, vacating their territorial gains in the eastern sector (where the borders of India, Myanmar, Tibet and Bhutan converge) but retaining the areas seized in the western sector (in the original princely state of Jammu and Kashmir). These withdrawal parameters meshed with China's prewar aims.”


***


Simon Rabinovitch in FT, "Huawei hullabaloo hides arrival of Chinese minnows".
“It is perfectly understandable that the fireworks over Huawei should attract more public attention. But they also serve to distract from the bigger trend, the one that was occurring in Wisconsin and off the international media’s radar: through a patchwork of smaller deals, Chinese outbound investment in the US and Europe is soaring, and is often being welcomed with open arms. The boom seems to be only beginning. Chinese direct investment in the US before 2009 totalled about 30 deals a year, worth less than $500m overall. Over the past two years that has mushroomed to an annual average of 100 deals, worth about $5bn, according to Rhodium Group, an economic consultancy. In Europe, it calculates that Chinese direct investment rose from less than $1bn a year for most of the past decade to about $10bn last year. The biggest deals are coming from the whales of Chinese industry, which are typically state-owned. But the vast majority of the deals – about two out of every three – are from the minnows.”


***


Keith Bradsher in NYT, "Strategy of Solar Dominance Now a Threat to China".
“In the solar panel sector, ‘If one-third of them survive, that’s good, and two-thirds of them die, but we don’t know how that happens,’ said Li Junfeng, a longtime director general for energy and climate policy at the National Development and Reform Commission, the country’s top economic planning agency. Mr. Li said in an interview that he wanted banks to cut off loans to all but the strongest solar panel companies and let the rest go bankrupt. But banks — which were encouraged by Beijing to make the loans — are not eager to acknowledge that the loans are bad and take large write-offs, preferring to lend more money to allow the repayment of previous loans. Many local and provincial governments also are determined to keep their hometown favorites afloat to avoid job losses and to avoid making payments on loan guarantees, he said. Mr. Li’s worries appear to be broadly shared in Beijing. ‘For the leading companies in the sector, if they’re not careful, the whole sector will disappear,’ said Chen Huiqing, the deputy director for solar products at the China Chamber of Commerce for Import and Export of Machinery and Electronic Products.”


***


Evan Osnos in NEW YORKER, "Boss Rail".
“There are two basic views of how corruption will affect China’s future. The optimistic scenario is that it is part of the ambitious transition from Socialism to a free market, with highways and trains that inspire envy even in the developed world. In July, the U.S. Transportation Secretary, Ray LaHood, told a reporter, ‘The Chinese are more successful because in their country only three people make the decision. In our country, three thousand people do.’ The other view holds that the compact between the people and their leaders is fraying, that the ruling class is scrambling to get what it can in the final years of frenzied growth, and that the Party will be no more capable of reforming itself from within than the Soviets were. Last year, the central bank accidentally posted an internal report estimating that, since 1990, eighteen thousand corrupt officials have fled the country, having stolen a hundred and twenty billion dollars—a sum large enough to buy Disney or Amazon. The government has vowed that officials will forgo luxury cigarettes and shark’s-fin soup, but vigilant Chinese bloggers continue to post photographs of cadres wearing luxury watches and police departments with Maseratis and Porsches painted blue and white. Even Wen Jiabao, the Prime Minister, who will leave the Politburo next month, declared that corruption was ‘the biggest danger facing the ruling party’—a threat that, left unchecked, could ‘terminate the political regime.’”

***


Patti Waldmeir in FT, "Medics at the sharp edge of patient rage".
“Ms Li says trust between patient and doctor has hit such a low level that both sides start assembling material for litigation even before they know there is a problem: patients video record doctor visits and doctors cover their backs by ordering extra tests that cost patients more money, all to defend themselves in a potential lawsuit. She dates the sharp rise in attacks to new rules of evidence issued in 2002, which require hospitals and doctors to bear the burden of proving their innocence. A People’s Daily Online poll, taken soon after the attack on Dr Wang, found that a chilling two-thirds of respondents had been ‘delighted’ to hear of the attack because the victim was a medical professional.”


***


WSJ Weekend Interview: "Zhang Weiying".
“Letting people know that truth, he says, ‘is what an economist or scholar should do.’ Leaders should do this too, and he talks excitedly about the late 1990s, when the Asian economic crisis spurred the party to privatize state companies, even if it left 20 million unemployed. The crisis had brought Indonesia and others to their knees, says Mr. Zhang, and China's leaders understood at the time that ‘the lesson was not to have crony capitalism’ and a bloated public sector. Back then, the intellectual tide was going in Mr. Zhang's direction. State-controlled CCTV proclaimed him ‘Economist of the Year’ in 2002, and he remembers that at Peking University ‘the whole culture was reform-oriented too.’ He was appointed assistant president of the university that year and later dean of the Guanghua School of Management, where he pushed reform. The reforms proved successful, but the reformer was crucified. The old guard in the faculty lounges revolted, while accusations impugning Mr. Zhang's loyalty and questioning his credentials swirled over the Internet. He was forced out of his Guanghua post in 2010. Much of the trouble stemmed from internal campus politics, but he also says that the broader ‘environment changed.’ China's universities are a product of a planned economy, so ‘if the whole country [was] in the good process of reform, people like me won't be treated like that.’ What happened? China's leadership team of Hu Jintao and Wen Jiabao, in place since 2002, reversed reforms. Rising inequality was the original excuse for favoring the public sector and, one suspects, high growth soon convinced policy makers to continue on that path. The new mantra in Beijing was ‘guo jin, min tui’—the state advances, the private sector retreats.”


***


Yan Lianke in IHT, "Words to soothe Asian passions".
Again and again, I ask myself: What turns an interminable island dispute into a fireball? Who can put out the flames? Who can make politicians sit down to sip iced tea together and engage in calm and courteous dialogue? Where are the voices of reason? I long for more rational voices, I long to hear from my fellow writers. I was deeply touched after reading translations of the Nobel laureate Kenzaburo Oe’s views on the territorial issues and Haruki Murakami’s recent commentary warning of the damage caused by the outbursts of nationalism. My long admiration for these Japanese writers now extends well beyond their literary achievements…. Compared with their humanity and courage, I am ashamed of myself as a Chinese writer for my slow response.”


***


Jane Perlez in NYT, "China-Korea Tensions Rise After Failed Venture".
“Lured by cheap iron ore and low wages, the Xiyang Group, one of China’s biggest mining conglomerates, took a significant risk, building a mine in economically backward North Korea that was designed to feed China’s steel mills and provide much-needed investment to China’s impoverished ally. Now that deal is in tatters. Xiyang says that the North Korean government sabotaged its $40 million investment, allowing the company to stay just long enough to steal its knowledge, then seizing the iron ore mine and sending armed guards to evict Chinese workers. And recent sniping over the failed venture has exposed the often testy relationship between China and North Korea that, in public, remains hidden beneath vows of friendship. The business spat came into the open last month when Xiyang posted a gritty, salacious blog item describing what the company called its ‘nightmare’ in running the mine. It included details of high living by the North Korean managers when they visited China, where they were said to have demanded female escorts, expensive alcohol and cars.”


***


In-Soo Nam in WSJ, "New Attitudes on Age Rattle Korean Hierarchies".
“Park Jin-su, a ministry official who handles corporate equal opportunities, said the nation is gradually moving away from adherence to age hierarchy. ‘There's been a change in corporate mind about who's the right person for the company since the age-discrimination law took effect. Many companies know it's simply not right to block young people from leapfrogging old ones for higher posts,’ he said. South Korea has already tasted success in the sporting arena by prioritizing merit over age. When Dutch soccer coach Guus Hiddink took the reins of the South Korean men's national soccer team ahead of the 2002 World Cup, he confronted an internal hierarchy so stifling that younger players felt obliged to pass the ball to older players. Mr. Hiddink promoted junior players to the first team and tossed out the deference to elders as part of a wholesale revamp of the side. The South Korean team became the first from Asia to reach the semifinal stage of the tournament. Mr. Hiddink became a national hero and management courses briefly sprang up preaching the ‘Hiddink Way’ of running organizations.”


***


Daniel Pipes at nationalreview.com, "Ankara at War".
“It is now clear that initially seemed like a masterstroke was in fact Erdogan’s first major misstep. His jailing of much of the Turkish military leadership on the basis of outlandish conspiracy theories has left him with a less-than-effective fighting force. Unwelcome Syrian refugees have crowded into Turkish border towns and beyond. Turks overwhelmingly oppose the war policy vis-à-vis Syria, with especially powerful opposition coming from the Alevis, a religious community making up 15 to 20 percent of Turkey’s population, distinct from Syria’s Alawis but sharing a Shiite heritage with them. Assad took revenge by reviving support for the PKK, whose escalating violence creates a major domestic problem for Erdogan. Indeed, Kurds — who missed their chance when the Middle East was carved up after World War I — may be the major winners from the current hostilities; for the first time, the outlines of a Kurdish state with Turkish, Syrian, Iraqi, and even Iranian components can be imagined. Damascus still has a great patron in Moscow, where the government of Vladimir Putin offers its assistance via armaments and United Nations vetoes. Plus, Assad benefits from unstinting, brutal Iranian aid, which continues despite the mullah regime’s deep economic problems. In contrast, Ankara may still belong, formally, to NATO and enjoy the theoretical privilege of its famous Article 5, which promises that a military attack on one member country will lead to ‘such action as . . . necessary, including the use of armed force,’ but NATO heavyweights show no intention of intervening in Syria.”


***

Howard French in WSJ on Noo Saro-Wiwa’s book, "Looking for Transwonderland: Travels in Nigeria".
“In 1995, Saro-Wiwa was hanged at the hands of Gen. Sani Abacha, one of the harshest and most venal African dictators of recent decades. Her father's death turned Ms. Saro-Wiwa's feelings about Nigeria from aversion to a mixture of disgust and dread. She avoided the country for years, even though she made a living in part as a contributor to travel guidebooks about other countries in the region. Her need to finally come to terms with her homeland gives this book its special touches. Ms. Saro-Wiwa writes perceptively about Africa's most populous country, home to 150 million people. By some estimates, Nigeria has over 400 ethnic groups, down to tiny ones, like the Bini. Historically, though, the country's politics have been dominated by a competition between Hausa and Fulani Muslims concentrated in the north, the Yoruba in the southwest and the Igbo in the southeast. Ms. Saro-Wiwa travels to nearly every region of the country, seeking to understand what holds them all together. The Nigeria she depicts is a place of loud, pushy and argumentative people. This attitude, a kind of massive chip on the national shoulder, is reflected in the standoffish airport welcome sign that greets people upon arrival in the country's largest city, which simply announces: ‘This is Lagos.’”


***


William Wallis in FT on Chinua Achebe’s book, "There Was a Country: A Personal History of Biafra".
“Coming as it does when fault lines in Africa’s most populous nation are painfully evident, There Was a Country ought to be essential reading. A new, dynamic generation is bursting from the shackles of the past in what looks like the start of a renaissance for business, politics and the arts. Yet some of the same religious, ethnic and regional tensions that combined to create the conditions for the Biafran war are tearing again at the fabric of the Nigerian federation. Back then, Achebe’s prophetic fourth novel, A Man of the People, published weeks before the first coup in 1966, foresaw the disastrous intervention of the military in the nation’s political affairs. It was this bungled effort, led by junior officers, that eventually triggered pogroms against Igbos who were scattered around Nigeria – in part because they had proved the ethnic group most adept at seizing the opportunity provided by western education and jobs in the colonial administration. Thousands were killed and as many as a million fled back to their eastern homeland, where, after a string of failed negotiations, Colonel Chukwuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu, then military governor of the east, declared the secession of Biafra, triggering what has remained to this day one of Africa’s most devastating civil wars.”


***


Adam Curtis at bbc.co.uk, "How Colonel Gaddafi and the Western Establishment Together Created a Pantomime World".
“What remains is all the footage recording Gaddafi's forty year career as a global weirdo. But the closer you look at the footage and what lies behind it - you begin to discover an odd story that casts a rather unflattering light on many of the elites in both the British and American establishments. Because over those forty years all sorts of people from the west got mixed up with Gaddafi. Some were simply after his money and they flattered and crept to him because they wanted to be his friend. But for many others he was more useful as an enemy and they helped to turn Gaddafi into a two-dimensional cartoon-like global villain. Those involved were not just politicians, but journalists, spies from the CIA and MI6, members of Washington think tanks, academics, PR firms, philosophers of humanitarian intervention, posh left wing revolutionaries and the leaders of the IRA.”


***


Alvaro Llosa in WSJ on Alvaro Uribe Velez’s book, "No Lost Causes".
“Mr. Uribe's feat was punctuated by daring moments, including the rescue of former presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt, three American contractors and several hostages in 2008, when an intelligence mission broke the enemy's code of communications and duped FARC into believing that the rescuers were humanitarian workers. What is most interesting about ‘No Lost Causes,’ Mr. Uribe's engaging memoir, isn't so much the narrative of his achievements but the insight he offers into his own character and the life experiences that created it. (Mr. Uribe has recently been nominated to be a director of News Corp., the owner of The Wall Street Journal.) The simplistic interpretation is that Mr. Uribe sought to avenge the murder of his father, killed by FARC in 1983. But his suffering wasn't so strikingly dissimilar to that of tens of thousands of other Colombians whose lives had been altered by two decades of civil war (in the 1940s and 1950s) and decades of drug-related violence and Marxist terrorism. Just after his father's murder Mr. Uribe served on a peace commission charged with exploring an end to the horror through dialogue. In fact, Colombian democracy had tried Chamberlain-like appeasement several times; it was desperate for Churchillian mettle.”


***


FT interview: "Dilma Rousseff".
“While the president does not promise a ‘big bang’ package of reforms, as seen recently in India, which deregulated the retail and airline sectors, Ms Rousseff says Brazil is cutting the cost of labour by reducing payroll taxes. So far 40 industrial sectors have benefited. Other tax measures are to come. ‘This is important because we don’t want to penalise those who employ people,’ she says. The government is also stepping up the sale of infrastructure concessions, having already sold airports in São Paulo, nearby Campinas and Brasília, the country’s biggest. It is also preparing to offload R$133bn of road and rail concessions. Ports are next.”


***


Simon Kuper in FT, "Why the French went off wine".
“In Parisian cafés at breakfast, you seldom now see people fortifying themselves for the day ahead with a ballon de rouge. This is a story about globalisation, about France becoming more like the world. But it’s a happier story than you might think. The French once practically lived off wine. To borrow P.G. Wodehouse’s phrase, they discovered that alcohol was a food years before the doctors did. The medieval custom of drinking wine because it was cleaner than water persisted into the age of sanitation. In 1939 the average French person still consumed more than half a bottle of wine per day, or well above today’s recommended healthy maximum. No wonder that many commentators blamed the country’s collapse to Hitler on “the fact that France had a bar for every 80 persons, as compared with 270 in Germany, 430 in Britain, and 3,000 in Sweden”, writes Robert Paxton in Vichy France. Even postwar, wine remained integral to life. Gérard Faesch, a restaurateur in Paris, recalls that in the 1960s builders or sailors might down several litres during a working day. Peasants working the fields would subsist on trouspinette (wine mixed with blackthorn and sugar). Small children were given watered-down wine. The French seldom got visibly drunk, because that might induce the thing they fear above all else: an etiquette breach. However, many of them walked around almost permanently sozzled. From 1950 through 1965, Frenchmen were about 70 times more likely than British men to die of alcohol-related causes, says the UK’s Institute of Alcohol Studies.”


***


Gideon Rachman in FT, "Blame the great men’s vision for Europe’s crisis".
“‘This is what you have to do, if you want the people to build statues of you on horseback.’ Valéry Giscard d’Estaing was doubtless being whimsical when he urged his colleagues to make bold decisions about the future of Europe. But the former French president’s remark offers a telling insight into the mentality that created the great euro-mess of today. The EU is now having to deal with the consequences of the hubris of the ‘great Europeans’ of a previous generation. The people who created the euro – men such as Helmut Kohl, the former German chancellor, and Jacques Delors, the one-time head of the European Commission – shared Giscard d’Estaing’s eye for the history books. But their dream of leaving a legacy of a United Europe, with a single currency at its core, has turned into a nightmare. In the middle of a full-blown economic and political crisis it might seem pointless – or even vindictive – to criticise the statesmen of yesterday. But answering the question ‘who is to blame?’ will be important in resolving the euro crisis.”


***


Max Hastings at DAILY MAIL, "Giving the Nobel Peace Prize to the EU is beyond satire".
“Relations between EU members are at their worst for decades and likely to deteriorate further — this week, protesters dressed as Nazis to greet German Chancellor Angela Merkel on her visit to Greece. Europe’s economies are stagnant, with little early prospect of improvement. The future of the European project is in the melting pot, and every decision-maker on the continent knows it. Only the other day I happened to visit Oslo, where the Nobel committee holds its deliberations. A local acquaintance said to me: ‘We Norwegians find ourselves in a strange situation. We have all this oil and gas making us hugely rich, so we watch all the horrors going on in the EU rather as spectators on the balcony of a luxury hotel might look down upon a train wreck in the valley below.’ I do not think of Norwegians as sadistic people, but the Nobel judges have inflicted upon us all a huge, cruel practical joke awarding their Prize to the European Union at its lowest point since its inception — the moment at which almost every citizen of its 27 nations is asking: Where did the story go so horribly wrong?”


***

Yascha Mounk in WSJ on Mark Mazower’s book, "Governing the World: The History of an Idea".
“In his telling, the era of international government started after the Napoleonic wars. Prince Metternich, Austria's foreign minister, realized that the victorious forces of the old order needed to band together to contain revolutionary fervor. So he designed the ‘Concert of Europe,’ a kind of mutual-aid society for morose monarchies. Radicals of all stripes loathed the Concert's aims yet were inspired by its internationalism. A nascent peace movement hoped that a better set of institutions might do away with war. In England, Richard Cobden, a Radical member of parliament, argued that free trade would enrich every corner of the globe. Meanwhile, Giuseppe Mazzini, the Italian unifier, dreamed of a ‘brotherhood’ of democratic, independent nations. These were partially competing visions. Even so, they were all important influences on the two most ambitious international institutions mankind has known: the League of Nations and the United Nations. Mr. Mazower's intellectual history of world government is highly compelling. But his book's greatest merit is the author's treatment of the practical realities of the U.N. He gives clear-minded attention to a crucial, oft-neglected question: What real impact have international organizations had on the world? His answer implicitly challenges both the realist and liberal camps in international relations.”


***


Obituaries of the Fortnight


"Nguyen Chi Thien" (1939-2012)
“He was sentenced, without trial, to three and a half years’ hard labor. It was then that he began composing poems in his head. Released in 1964, Mr. Thien worked as a bricklayer, reciting his poems covertly to close friends. In 1966, he was arrested again on suspicion of having written those poems, which were by then circulating orally in Hanoi and elsewhere. He spent nearly a dozen years in North Vietnamese re-education camps, again without trial. ‘All he had to do at any time was sign a paper saying he was wrong and Communism was right, and he could have walked away,’ Ms. Libby said. ‘They offered him all this if he would say Ho Chi Minh is the hero and Communism is paradise.’ Mr. Thien would not sign. In 1977, two years after Saigon fell to the Communists, Mr. Thien was released along with many other political prisoners: Hanoi wanted to make room in its jails for the thousands of South Vietnamese officials it was then imprisoning.”


"Jacques Barzun" (1907-2012)
“Against that Romantic vitality, Mr. Barzun pitted anything ‘systematic’ or ‘absolute,’ particularly the ‘scientism’ that he saw as modernity’s unjust revenge against Romanticism. In another seminal book, ‘Darwin, Marx, Wagner: Critique of a Heritage’ (1941),” he argued that 20th-century thought had been skewed by the influence of those three major figures — harmful influence, he concluded. Darwin, Marx and Wagner, he wrote, had each created a variety of ‘mechanical materialism,’ in which all that is human and variable is subjected to domineering systems. Mr. Barzun associated those systems with the scientific worldview, extending its power over religion, society and art. This was to become a recurring theme; Mr. Barzun even considered science to have had a deleterious effect on university education. While he maintained that modern science was ‘one of the most stupendous and unexpected triumphs of the human mind,’ he attacked, again and again, any hint of ‘mechanical scientism,’ which he said had baleful consequences. In 1964, in his book ‘Science: The Glorious Entertainment,’ Mr. Barzun offered ironic praise for science’s ‘all-pervasive energy.’ ‘It is,’ he wrote, ‘at once a mode of thought, a source of strong emotion and faith as fanatical as any in history.’”


"Howard Scott" (1920-2012)
“In the days before magnetic tape came into wide use, the process of transferring music to the new discs (soon to be known as LPs) was complex. Long pieces of music, split among multiple records, needed to be stitched together on the new discs without interruption. To do that, Mr. Scott and his colleagues turned to Columbia’s original recordings on large lacquer discs, which were recorded at 33 1/3 and sometimes had multiple or incomplete takes, said Marc C. Kirkeby, a music archivist who has worked closely with the lacquers. They lined up overlapping segments of music, and — with Mr. Scott snapping his finger in coordination — switched the audio signal from one lacquer to another, seamlessly joining the segments on the resulting LP. As the industry began to use magnetic tape, beginning in the late 1940s, such work was no longer necessary.”



***


Thanks to Steve Beeho, Jay Babcock, Futureofcapitalism.com, Poynter.org.












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