Photo by Joe Carducci
This is Brainwash and This is a Clue
Punk: An Aesthetic by Johan Kugelberg and Jon Savage (Rizzoli)
Someday All the Adults Will Die (Hayward Gallery)
For a movement that was so obsessed about being oppressed by the media, it's ironic that punk has proceeded to be the most anthologised, commemorated and plain over-documented post-war cultural period of them all. It's impossible not to feel sometimes that saturation point was reached a long time ago - and what initially felt like a delayed sense of vindication has now become distinctly tiresome. Sick of being sick of being sick.
But perhaps that's me being jaded. Even as I type this I'm conscious of the fact that the very word "punk" resists straightforward definition, as Stewart Home has pointed out and paradoxically “Never Mind the Bollocks” and “The Clash” bear only a passing resemblance now to what history has enshrined as punk orthodoxy. So I should nail my colours to the mast and side on the whole with Richard Meltzer that anything post-1983 isn't punk: "Doesn't matter if it's ostensibly punk - up the yingyang - 'cause by then the moment had passed, the world which gave it rise had expired, the market was no longer resisted, and whatever it then was was no longer anything remotely else. It was part of the same damn, same old rock "thing".
Despite the fact that the original prime movers of punk were essentially elitist while publicly claiming the opposite (in classic vanguardist style), it represented the last time that all right-thinking hipsters were instinctively on the same side, no matter how fleetingly, and more importantly engaged on some level, no matter how significant/trivial . But no musical axis which could encompass reborn traditionalists like Nick Lowe as well as anti-rock provocateurs like Throbbing Gristle could sustain such extremes for long. (The self-negating trajectory of Mark Perry's career first time round embodies these polarities).
Of course it’s punk’s creative eruption and inspirational sense of possibility which explain why people are still avidly writing and arguing about it decades later, even though 1976 is more distant now than the end of WW2 was from the 100 Club Punk Festival.
Underlining this, Jon Savage and Johan Kugelberg recently curated Some Day All the Adults Will Die, a dazzling exhibition of punk graphics at the Hayward Gallery, and have also published an even more daunting book collection, Punk: An Aesthetic.
The exhibition, which was spread over two rooms (plus a third where you could sit and listen to a loop of obscure punk classics), acted as a taster for the book, which oddly doesn’t feature every exhibit. Entire walls and cabinets were devoted to banks of rare 7" sleeves, flyers, fanzines, posters, Seditionaries T-shirts and magazine covers, adding up to a sort of Valhalla for ebay KBD-sellers.
The first room kicked off with some Ed Sanders and Tuli Kupferberg broadsides, as a reminder that the classic fanzine look long pre-dated Mark Perry. Although we're thankfully spared any grandiose parallels with Dada, the Situationists somewhat inevitably creep in, via a copy of the first issue of Potlatch, published by Guy Debord when he was still a member of the Lettrist International. Although its inclusion feels slightly fanciful, I love the fact that it was captioned as a fanzine, considering that Guy Debord is the last person in the world to have ever regarded himself as anything so ignominious as a fan.
Apart from the Pistols and the Ramones (as the respective UK and US fountainheads) the exhibition concentrated mainly on the margins so I'd imagine people more interested in mainstream punk (if that's not an oxymoron) would have been left rather bemused. In other words, The Horrible Nurds figured more extensively than The Clash, but then I know a Horrible Nurd so that was fine by me. The overt focus on the DIY and raw side of things meant that the exhibition leaned closely to the Ugly Things perspective on punk, which is logical, I guess.
Considering how hapless the music industry's attempt to cash-in seemed at the time, it's an eye-opener to discover how hard the promotional push actually was in some quarters. Who would have imagined that copies of the first Ramones LP were sent out to American radio stations with plain white back covers signed by all four members in a doomed attempt to win them over? Prior the LP’s release, a Sire Records news sheet declared rather poignantly in retrospect that their sales "could surpass Kiss, Aerosmith and Black Sabbath", which shows that settling for cult credibility was the last thing on anybody’s mind.
And bearing in mind how slowly record companies move nowadays, it seems incredible that despite the Sex Pistols only being signed to A&M for a grand total of 7 days, that was still enough time for the label to gear up to press 25,000 copies of “God Save the Queen” and produce promotional T-shirts and "profoundly clueless" posters. The aesthetic and ideological gulf between A&M's in-house designers and Jamie Reid speaks volumes, because while Reid's artwork revelled in garish hyper-commercialism, A&M's earnest tackiness misses by a mile Reid’s gaudy irony.
An unseen rehearsal-list for the pre-Pistols band The Strand, written by Wally Nightingale in 1975 (or maybe early 1976), provided a glimpse into their formative state before Lydon's arrival transformed things. “Pretty Vacant”, “Did You No Wrong”, “Seventeen” and Submission already existed in one form or another, while they also had the good taste to cover “Shake Appeal”, which is unlikely to have been a staple of many bands' set-lists in the mid-70s. On the face of it, a song called “Younger Generation” seems as if it would have been far too literalist for what was to follow, while the discovery that a song called "Rabbit (Lonely Boy)" was also part of their repertoire back then probably explains why “Lonely Boy” sounded so desperately old-fashioned when it appeared on the Great Rock'n'Roll Swindle soundtrack.
Meanwhile a 1974 CBGBs flyer showed Angel and the Snakes (a nascent Blondie) headlining over the Ramones and Slaves of Rhythm, who featured Screamer-to-be Tomata Du Plenty. (Wait until you see a shot of him voguing in the book!)
The West Coast gets its due too: as Dangerhouse was merely the greatest label of all time, it's only right and proper that handsome Black Randy and Randoms flyers were featured, as well as Gary Panter's original gouache of the Screamers logo and four off-set Pettibon prints.
It’s ironic that the collection of Crass stencils are superficially the least arty part of the collection, yet they were largely created by Gee Vaucher whose pre-Crass illustrations had regularly featured in the New York Times in the mid-70s. Like Jamie Reid, her practical design experience had instilled a powerful instinct for what worked. Rather than flaunting her sophistication, Vaucher’s work was often far more elaborate than it appeared. "Bloody Revolutions" may look like an ingeniously-executed collage but seen in close-up it’s actually a stunning painting.
Great as it is to see the originals of all this stuff, exhibitions are by definition ephemeral, and it’s the book which will be the lasting monument. And “monumental” is the word. My shelves are bulging with punk books, but this is a delirious treasure trove.
Its 336 pages are divided into three sections: "Pre-Punk", Punk and Post-Punk, but these terms are used historically, rather than as aesthetic shorthand. The Pre-Punk section is probably the most revelatory, jammed full of images which either presage what would be picked up again later (blackmail lettering used on gig flyers in 1967, Martin Sharp’s Oz montages, the cover for “Voices Green and Purple” by The Bees (looking as if it should be gracing a 7” recorded at Street Level) or simply get their first: a copy of Fusion with the strap-line “No More Heroes”, an early 70s Danish underground magazine called Rotten.
One of the most head-scratching inclusions is a striking self-photograph of Malcolm McLaren taken in 1971, with only one side of his face in the left of the frame, his blank stare and unruly hair making him look uncannily like………….. John Lydon (!). And a remarkably scrappy-looking ICA flyer for a Fashion Forum they hosted in early 1976 reveals McLaren and Westwood being interviewed by the Guardian’s Fashion Editor – showing that the pair were clearly getting primed to make their move, one way or another.
Although the book contains short essays by Savage, Kugelberg, Linder Sterling and William Gibson, it’s relatively light on commentary, leaving the vivid urgency of the images to speak for themselves. It culminates in a transcribed conversation between Savage, Kugelberg and Gibson packed full of apothegms which make you want to go back to the beginning and devour it all over again. Punk as eternal recurrence……… which is where we came in.
(Photographs by Nick Zak)
Earlier punk art coverage,
New Vulgate No. 110
"Blue Nebula" by Michael J. Safran
From the Wyoming Desk of Joe Carducci…
Jim Slater in FT, "Dollar dangers and eurozone woes add to gold’s polish".
“A number of problems are close to tipping point. The most worrying is the risk that the Israelis may make a pre-emptive strike to delay Iran’s nuclear programme. It was thought this might happen before the US presidential election but seems to be more likely in 2013. This could be catastrophic, leading to war spreading in the Middle East and the possibility that Iran will block the Strait of Hormuz, resulting in the price of oil rising astronomically. Second is the US annual deficit, which has come in at more than $1tn in each of the past four years. There is more than $16tn in outstanding Treasury debt, of which about half is owned by foreign creditors. Unfunded liabilities for social security, Medicaid and Medicare add a further $60tn. The tipping point will be when overseas creditors realise the best they can hope for is to be repaid in much-depreciated US dollars.”
James Mackintosh in FT, "The Short View".
“The language was different in 1787 but restrictions imposed on the earliest insurance against government failure to pay almost perfectly matches today’s European ban on uncovered sovereign credit default swaps. The attacks now are on ‘speculators’ intent on hurting government finances. Back in 1787, insurance on government-issued lottery tickets was ‘the spirit of gambling in its most alarming extent’. In both cases, the aim was to stop side-bets and ease the flow of funding to government.”
Kenneth Minogue in WSJ on Angus Bugin’s book, The Great Persuasion, and Daniel Stedman Jones’ book, "Masters of the Universe".
“Both of these books talk of ‘faith’ in the free market, but such a faith in fact rests on sophisticated economic and philosophical arguments. Freedom certainly creates problems (inequalities most notably), but it also solves them. The Muslim world is currently in turmoil as people try to change their brutal and incompetent rulers. Free Western states solve the problem and save lives by a cunning device called an election. Friedman adopted Karl Popper's famous criterion of scientific theory—that it is in principle falsifiable by evidence. He thought that argument was better than breaking heads over who was right. But the central aspect of freedom advanced by these thinkers was the market, or what Adam Smith had described as the propensity to truck, barter and exchange. In this area, freedom allowed dispersed individuals—disposing of their own resources and choosing for themselves what they want to buy—to generate a level of prosperity that has had no precedent in human history. And the pricing system that emerges from the market—that is, from the push and pull of supply and demand—provides the indispensable knowledge needed to guide the economy. As Friedman argued, state experts implementing abstract ideals about satisfying human needs are merely blundering about in the dark. Price changes are an indispensable discovery procedure. Nothing here, of course, denigrates the essential role of the state in providing the infrastructure of law and justice (not to mention defense) on which freedom in all its forms rests. The Mont Pelerin Society's members were usually careful to distinguish their convictions from advocacy of a hyper-minimalist state. But their greatest worry was the authority of the state being used despotically to achieve some higher form of justice in which the needs of all would be satisfied by redistributing the national product.”
Alan Beattie in FT, "Tricks of the trade law".
“Since the global financial crisis struck in 2008, worldwide increases in import tariffs of the type seen during the Depression have been largely absent. But governments, richer with cash and regulatory power than in the 1930s, have found other ways to back their struggling producers at a time of deficient global demand. Disputes over state subsidies are spreading, the trade law to constrain them is not easy to use, and few governments can throw stones without worrying about the glass in their own houses. Some interventions have been crisis-related, like the many bailouts of car and financial services industries – France continues to proffer aid to the troubled carmaker PSA Peugeot Citroën – but others predate the global recession. China, in particular, has for more than a decade raised hackles with an aggressive state-led growth model, supporting export industries with measures including direct subsidies, tax breaks, export credits, cheap land and electricity, and subsidised loans from state banks. An EU official says: ‘The subsidies issue is nothing less than a question of how to address state capitalism within a liberal global trading order.’ Litigation has escalated along with official rhetoric.”
William Borucki interview in DISCOVER, "Planet Hunter".
“How do you set up an experiment like that, testing conditions nobody has experienced before?
We needed a gun that was almost beyond belief in terms of performance. You can’t shoot that much air that fast out of an ordinary rifle. But Ames had a procurer – a person who got things – and we gave him tough tasks, one of which was to get the guns off a Navy battleship. And so he did. Then we figured out how to screw one gun into another, so one battleship gun fired into the next battleship gun, until we created a giant gun that could fire all that air through a supersonic nozzle. See, at that time we needed to beat the Russians to the moon, before they got there and planted their communist flag. So at NASA there weren’t a lot of impediments. The philosophy was, let’s go and do it, and do it quickly. Today, most the things you want to get have to go through the whole form system, and it costs more to process something than it does to go out and buy it. Back then we were extremely efficient in many ways. We’re not that efficient today.”
Shaila Dewan in NYT, "An Innovator vs. a Follower".
“Last Christmas, Sears had a brisk seller in the Bionic Wrench, an award-winning, patented tool with spiffy lime green accents. This holiday season, though, Sears has a special display for its own wrench, in the red and black colors of its house brand, Craftsman. One customer who recently spotted the new Craftsman tool, called the Max Axess wrench, thought it was an obvious knockoff, right down to the try-me packaging. ‘I saw it and I said, This is a Bionic Wrench,’ recalled Dana Craig, a retiree and tool enthusiast in Massachusetts who alerted the maker of the Bionic Wrench. ‘It’s a very distinctive tool,’ he added. The tools have one significant difference, Mr. Craig noted. The Bionic Wrench is made in the United States. The Max Axess wrench is made in China. The shift at Sears from a tool invented and manufactured in the United States to a very similar one made offshore has already led to a loss of American jobs and a brewing patent battle. The story of the Bionic Wrench versus Craftsman, which bills itself as ‘America’s most trusted tool brand,’ also raises questions about how much entrepreneurs and innovators, who rely on the country’s intellectual property laws, can protect themselves.”
Christopher Caldwell in FT, "Charity: America’s alternative to tax".
“Americans are right to be suspicious of charitable giving in general. The country’s philanthropy is unique. Its two key institutions are the tax deduction for charitable gifts and the tax-exempt foundation. Noting the role of the Ford Foundation in Lyndon Johnson’s ‘war on poverty’ in the 1960s, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, the late senator, called foundations a ‘new level of American government’. Americans pat themselves on the back for their generosity, not always with good reason. Olivier Zunz, a historian of philanthropy at the University of Virginia, calls American charity a ‘capitalist venture in social betterment, not an act of kindness as understood in Christianity’. Giving to a foundation can be self-interested – a way for a rich person to launder economic power that he does not need into political power that he does. Foundations inevitably get politicised, not because donors are corrupt or insincere but because they are rational. Lobbying for a piece of a government budget is a more efficient way of serving most causes than simply spending donations.”
WSJ: "California’s Liberal Supermajority".
“Then there's the more than $200 billion in unfunded liabilities the state has accrued for worker retirement benefits, which this year cost taxpayers $6.5 billion. The California State Teachers' Retirement System says it needs an additional $3.5 billion and $10 billion annually for the next 30 years to amortize its debt. The state has $73 billion in outstanding bonds for capital projects and $33 billion in voter-authorized bonds that the state hasn't sold in part because it can't afford higher debt payments. Unissued bonds include $9.5 billion for a bullet train, which will require $50 billion to $90 billion more to complete. Sacramento will also need more money to support an $11 billion bond to retrofit the state's water system, which is planned for the 2014 ballot. With no GOP restraint, liberals can now raise taxes to pay for all this. They'll probably start by repealing Proposition 13's tax cap for commercial property. Democrats in the Assembly held hearings on the idea this spring. Then they'll try to make it easier for cities to raise taxes. The greens want an oil severance tax. Other Democrats want to extend the sales tax to services, supposedly in return for a lower rate, but don't expect any ‘reform’ to be revenue neutral. Look for huge union pay raises and higher pension benefits. The silver lining here is that Americans will be able to see the modern liberal-union state in all its raw ambition. The Sacramento political class thinks it can tax and regulate the private economy endlessly without consequence. As a political experiment it all should be instructive, and at least Californians can still escape to Nevada or Idaho.”
futureofcapitalism.com: "Obama: No Red Tape".
“Why does it take a disaster to make government run the way it should ordinarily run? Here was President Obama speaking on October 30: And so my instructions to the federal agency has been, do not figure out why we can't do something; I want you to figure out how we do something. I want you to cut through red tape. I want you to cut through bureaucracy. There's no excuse for inaction at this point. I want every agency to lean forward and to make sure that we are getting the resources where they need -- where they're needed as quickly as possible. So I want to repeat -- my message to the federal government: No bureaucracy, no red tape. What if President Obama had issued the instruction "No bureaucracy, no red tape" in his inaugural address, or to Congress as they were writing the ObamaCare law or the Dodd-Frank financial "reform" law? He didn't, of course. But in the aftermath of a natural disaster, all of a sudden the need to avoid bureaucracy and red tape becomes admirably obvious to the president. Is the need for a smoothly functioning government any less urgent the rest of the time?”
Robert Bryce in WSJ, "After Sandy, No One Lined Up for Wind Turbines".
“A single kilogram of diesel fuel contains about 13,000 watt-hours of energy. That is about twice the energy density of coal, six times that of wood, and about 300 times that of lead-acid batteries. (And those batteries are useful only if they have been charged by some other energy source.)
Combine diesel fuel's miraculous energy density with the power density and durability of a modern diesel engine—which can run for weeks at a time with little or no maintenance—and the size, speed, and cost advantages become apparent. The Sierra Club, Greenpeace and other groups claim that we can run our economies solely on renewable-energy sources such as wind. But if you are trying to pump water out of your rapidly molding basement, would you prefer a wind turbine that operates at full power about one-third of the time, or a greasy, diesel-fueled V-8?
Let's consider what a wind-powered hospital in New York might look like. NYU's Langone Medical Center lost power shortly after Sandy hit. The hospital had diesel-fired emergency generators, but basement flooding caused them to fail. That required the evacuation of hundreds of patients. Assume the hospital needs one megawatt of emergency electricity-generation capacity. Lives are at stake. It needs power immediately. That capability could easily be provided by a single, trailer-mounted diesel generator, which would occupy a small corner of the hospital's garage (and be safely removed from any flooding threat). By contrast, providing that much wind-generation capacity would require about 5.6 million square feet of land—an area of nearly 100 football fields. And all of that assumes that the land is available, the wind is blowing, and there are enough transmission lines to carry those wind-generated electrons from the countryside into Lower Manhattan.”
Ed Gogek in NYT, "A Bad Trip for Democrats".
“I’m a lifelong partisan Democrat, but I’ve also spent 25 years as a doctor treating drug abusers, and I know their games. They’re excellent con artists. Take, for example, medical marijuana laws. They were sold to more than a dozen states with promises that they’re only for serious illnesses like cancer. But that’s not how they work in practice. Almost all marijuana cardholders claim they need it for various kinds of pain, but pain is easy to fake and almost impossible to disprove. In Oregon and Colorado, 94 percent of cardholders get their pot for pain. In Arizona, it’s 90 percent. Serious illnesses barely register. It’s possible that they all really do need pot to help them. But consider this: pain patients are mostly female, whereas a recent National Survey on Drug Use and Health found that adult cannabis abusers were 74 percent male. So which one do marijuana patients resemble? Though only two states release data on gender, a vast majority of medical-marijuana cardholders are male. In Arizona, it’s 73 percent, and in Colorado, it’s 68 percent.”
Andrew Klavan at city-journal.org, "The Long Game".
“Recently, a number of books by secular intellectuals have noted the disaster that is postmodern relativism—the nihilist philosophy that has corrupted and gutted Western liberal education. Education’s End, by Anthony T. Kronman, Why We Should Call Ourselves Christians, by Marcello Pera, and What Ever Happened to Modernism?, by Gabriel Josipovici, come to mind. All lament the abandonment of our commitment to the Great Conversation—the intellectual’s belief that the creative tension of the uniquely brilliant Western literary and philosophical canon can lead us in the direction of moral truth. But the authors cannot fully grasp the nettle of the solution. Many assume that the Great Conversation depended on the sort of open mind only secularism can provide. As Kronman puts it: ‘Every religion insists, at the end of the day, that there is only one right answer to the question of life’s meaning,’ thus rendering the pluralism of the Great Conversation impossible. I would contend the opposite: only the existence of a God in whose image we are created can support the notion of moral truth at all. It was always Judeo-Christianity, and that alone, that made the Great Conversation possible. Pera understands this intellectually, but cannot really plunk for faith. And therein lies the problem. The triumph of science, the comfort of Western life, and a sophisticated elite virulently hostile to religion have all contributed to an intellectual atmosphere of unbelief—a sense that atheism should be the default mode of reasonable, thinking people. That is a mere prejudice and needs to be answered in the culture, not with Bible-thumping literalism and small-minded judgmentalism—nor with banal happy-talk optimism—but by sound argument made publicly, unabashedly, and without fear. John Adams and the other Founders were right about this: an irreligious people cannot be free.”
Aaron O’Connell in NYT, "The Permanent Militarization of America".
“Eisenhower understood the trade-offs between guns and butter. ‘Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired, signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed,’ he warned in 1953, early in his presidency. ‘The cost of one modern heavy bomber is this: a modern brick school in more than 30 cities. It is two electric power plants, each serving a town of 60,000 population. It is two fine, fully equipped hospitals. It is some 50 miles of concrete highway. We pay for a single fighter plane with a half million bushels of wheat. We pay for a single destroyer with new homes that could have housed more than 8,000 people.’ He also knew that Congress was a big part of the problem. (In earlier drafts, he referred to the ‘military-industrial-Congressional’ complex, but decided against alienating the legislature in his last days in office.) Today, there are just a select few in public life who are willing to question the military or its spending, and those who do — from the libertarian Ron Paul to the leftist Dennis J. Kucinich — are dismissed as unrealistic.
The fact that both President Obama and Mitt Romney are calling for increases to the defense budget (in the latter case, above what the military has asked for) is further proof that the military is the true ‘third rail’ of American politics. In this strange universe where those without military credentials can’t endorse defense cuts, it took a former chairman of the Joint Chiefs, Adm. Mike Mullen, to make the obvious point that the nation’s ballooning debt was the biggest threat to national security.”
Elisabeth Bumiller in NYT, "Words and Deeds Show Focus of the American Military on Asia".
“Pentagon officials acknowledge that they are in the early stages of the policy and that much of the hardware — the new ships, F-35 Joint Strike Fighter jets and P-8 Poseidon maritime reconnaissance planes, to name a few — will not arrive in the region for years. They also say that if Congress does not agree to a fiscal deal this fall, the Pentagon will not be able to pay for much of the Asia strategy. For now, the Pentagon is shifting weapons like the B-1 and B-52 long-range bombers and Global Hawk drones to the Pacific from the Middle East and Southwest Asia as the war in Afghanistan winds down.”
John Plender in FT, "Japan counts ‘zombie’ cost of ultra loose monetary move".
“In effect, low funding costs in Japan have impeded the process that Joseph Schumpeter dubbed creative destruction because ‘zombie’ companies have been kept afloat at high cost to the competitiveness of others. Worse, the public credit guarantees introduced to help the banking system lend to industry and commerce have had unintended consequences. The Bank of Japan fears the banks’ capacity for credit assessment is being diminished, while the restructuring of non-viable small and medium sized businesses is discouraged. This is extraordinary because it suggests Japan is reverting to some of the worst habits of the 1980s bubble period. Back then, Japanese banks had no understanding of credit risk and the cost of capital was so low that a grotesque misallocation of capital across the economy resulted. Also extraordinary is that with declining investment, Japan has achieved the same kind of distortion China has brought about through the excessive investment that followed fiscal pump priming after the Lehman collapse.”
Christian Oliver in FT, "Gangnam Style exposes Seoul’s folly".
“South Koreans are rightfully indignant that they have been overshadowed by China and Japan despite everything their rags-to-riches nation has achieved. They certainly do deserve a better global image. However, interference from a state body should belong to a bygone era of central planning and output targets. You cannot forge soft power in the same way as you pick industrial champions. Absurdly, Korean officials insisted the G20 summit in Seoul in 2010 – a technical meeting about global economic policy – would raise the popularity of the national brand. My argument ran that Korea’s breakthrough would arrive as a big cultural accident, unaided by bureaucrats. Seoul’s government is notorious for its lack of faith in its own people, who are even forbidden to read North Korean websites, but I argued it should just leave its people to their own devices and accept that Korean panache would shine through unexpectedly. I guessed the turning point would be a film. Maybe a sportsperson. (For me, Shin A-lam, the tearful Olympic fencer who spent a lonely, hour-long vigil of protest on the piste believing she had been robbed of a medal epitomised the pride and burn-yourself-to-ashes passion of the real Korean brand.)”
Philip Bowring at yaleglobal.yale.edu, "What’s the Bigger Challenge – Baby Boom or Bust?".
“In opposing the bill Catholics have not merely resorted to papal doctrine, but suggest that easy availability of contraception would lead to a sharp fall in the birth rate similar to countries where the problem now is over-rapid aging. This is an opportunistic argument against enabling all members of society to have access to contraception. But it does have a grain of truth, indicated by the feast to famine changes in fertility elsewhere in East Asia. All the countries in East Asia with rapid declines in fertility have benefited by enjoying high savings rates and falling dependency ratios. But that is now changing so future growth will be much harder to achieve and several countries face future aging shocks more severe even than Japan’s.”
Josh Chin & Lilian Lin in WSJ, "Chinese Web Users See Contrast in Style".
“Many Weibo users took to the site to express their support for Mr. Obama—long the preferred candidate in China, according to unscientific online polls. But at least as many used the occasion to comment on the lack of input Chinese have in choosing their own head of state. ‘They call it 'election,' we call it 'having a meeting,'’ wrote one Weibo user from Hunan province. ‘We are perfectly clear about how the U.S. presidential election works but are utterly ignorant about China's,’ wrote another in a post that was later deleted. After the nationalistic tabloid Global Times noted waiting times of up to seven hours at some U.S. polling stations, many Sina Weibo users said they would be happy to wait even longer to vote. ‘We've waited 63 years and we don't even know what a ballot looks like,’ wrote one anonymous user. One of the most memorable comments on Chinese interest in the U.S. presidential contest came from a popular Internet commentator writing under the name Yimaobuba. ‘It's the same reason porn films are popular,’ he wrote. ‘You want to do it but you can't so you content yourself with watching others.’”
Ian Johnson in NYT, "Wary of Future, Professionals Leave China in Record Numbers".
“‘It’s very stressful in China — sometimes I was working 128 hours a week for my auditing company,’ Ms. Chen said in her Beijing apartment a few hours before leaving. ‘And it will be easier raising my children as Christians abroad. It is more free in Australia.’ As China’s Communist Party prepares a momentous leadership change in early November, it is losing skilled professionals like Ms. Chen in record numbers. In 2010, the last year for which complete statistics are available, 508,000 Chinese left for the 34 developed countries that make up the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. That is a 45 percent increase over 2000. Individual countries report the trend continuing. In 2011, the United States received 87,000 permanent residents from China, up from 70,000 the year before.”
Andrew Jacobs in NYT, "Many Chinese Intellectuals Are Silent Amid a Wave of Tibetan Self-Immolations".
“Since the self-immolations began in earnest last year, few Chinese scholars have attempted to grapple with the subject. ‘The apathy is appalling,’ said Zhang Boshu, a political philosopher who lost his job at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences three years ago for criticizing the government’s human rights record. With a mounting toll of 69 self-immolations, at least 56 of them fatal, many Tibetans are asking themselves why their Han Chinese brethren seem unmoved by the suffering — or are at least uninterested in exploring why so many people have embraced such a horrifying means of protest. The silence, some say, is exposing an uncomfortable gulf between Tibetans and China’s Han majority, despite decades of propaganda that seeks to portray the nation as a harmonious family comprising 56 contented minorities.”
Ian Johnson in NYT, "China, at Party Congress, Lauds Its Cultural Advances".
“The participants in the news conference, one of a series over the last few days intended to highlight Mr. Hu’s accomplishments, said that China had made great strides toward achieving its cultural goals. The officials made their case with a blizzard of statistics: China produced 558 feature films in 2011 compared with 140 in 2003; it now has 9,200 movie screens versus 1,953 in 2003; it has listed 43 cultural sites with the United Nations, the third-highest number in the world; it has set up 600,000 rural reading rooms and offers a free movie each month in villages; and it has 2,115 museums that do not charge for admission. Last year, it published 370,000 books, which officials said was more than any other country in the world. China Central Television has 249 million viewers in 171 countries. And the government has spent $30.4 million over the last decade to support 55 minority ethnic groups in China. Another theme was privatization. More than 2,000 cultural troupes have been privatized, although the government continues to sponsor worthy productions from a public fund that now has a treasury of $1.2 billion. None of this means that the government has relaxed control, officials said. ‘Guidance is the soul’ of these moves, said Tian Jin, party secretary of the State Administration of Radio, Film and Television. ‘We always insist on political responsibility, social responsibility and cultural responsibility.’”
Simon Rabinovitch in FT, "Young feel hungrier for ‘golden rice bowl’ jobs".
“In the 1980s and 1990s, as China’s market reforms sped up, the trend was for bureaucrats and the employees of state-owned companies to leave their government cocoon for the potential riches of the private sector. This career switch became known as ‘plunging into the sea’. But over the past decade, the government’s grip on the economy has strengthened, luring people back into the civil service. Jobs in the bureaucracy are perceived as cushy, with light workloads and plenty of benefits from subsidised housing to free meals – hence the term golden rice bowl.
With corruption rampant, many also believe that the government offers opportunities for self-enrichment. This year’s downfall of Bo Xilai, the disgraced politician, has highlighted the extraordinary wealth available to high-level officials. State media have lamented the surge in job applicants over the past week. The Global Times, a popular government-run tabloid, described civil service careers as an ‘irresistible temptation’.”
Fred Zilian in WSJ, "Seeds of Chinese Liberalization, Made in America".
“I asked some of our Chinese students after graduation what they believe they had obtained at our boarding school that their friends in China had not. More practical knowledge, said one. ‘Here we have a lot of chances to apply the knowledge we have learned to see if we really understand them, such as essays and labs. These are very good ways to develop independent thinking as well.’ Another emphasized the confidence in herself that she developed. If she had not come to our school, she ‘wouldn't have become this strong person.’ These students have tasted freedom of thought and have been educated to think independently and critically. As adults they will not easily be made to kowtow to anyone or to any political system that suppresses their freedoms. Not Mycenaean warriors hiding in a wooden horse but Han students speaking native Mandarin—and excellent English—will return to China after their sojourns in America, carrying not weapons but liberal political ideas and critical-thinking skills.”
Andrew Jacobs in NYT, "As China Awaits New Leadership, Liberals Look to a Provincial Chief".
“Known for his cherubic smile and a refusal to follow the pack of party elders who dye their graying hair jet black, Mr. Wang, the son of a laborer, is fond of folksy sound bites that sometimes take aim at the party elite. Since his appointment as Guangdong’s party chief in 2007, he has called on provincial officials to publicly reveal their assets and ordered government departments to communicate with the public via Sina Weibo, China’s wildly popular microblog platform. In June, after one of several recent visits to Singapore, he returned home to extol the city-state’s soft-glove approach to authoritarian rule. ‘If China doesn’t reform,’ he said, ‘we will be slow boiled like frogs.’ When he was faced with an insurrection last year in the fishing village of Wukan, Mr. Wang displayed a knack for coolheaded crisis management: he called off the riot police, tossed out Wukan’s corrupt party officials and allowed villagers to elect a new slate of leaders. Mr. Wang is often mentioned in the same breath as Mr. Bo, who also managed — at least for a while — to navigate the narrow space between party establishment and political maverick. Their jousting took the form of a debate over economic policy, expressed most notably in cryptic talk about cake — as a metaphor for China’s wealth. Mr. Bo argued for cutting up the cake and distributing it more equally; Mr. Wang insisted on first making the cake bigger.”
Kathrin Hille in FT, "Wen has little to fear despite furore over family wealth".
“The publication of an exposé by the New York Times on Friday detailing the riches amassed by his closest family members in the 10 years since Mr Wen rose to top office has brought him under attack. It has sparked anxiety that the discrediting of the premier could also deal a blow to the prospects for political reform, which Mr Wen has long advocated. Sina Weibo, China's Twitter equivalent, has been ablaze with allegations that the Times had been used by Mr Bo's faction to attack Mr Wen, and the family of the premier has tried to hit back with a highly unusual statement through two lawyers and anonymous rebuttals carried in Hong Kong media. But none of this means China's leadership transition will be impacted. The drama is the effect, not the cause, of changes in Chinese elite politics.”
Ian Johnson in NEW YORK REVIEW OF BOOKS, "China: Worse Than You Ever Imagined".
“I met a pastor, a former political prisoner, and together we made a day trip to Rooster Mountain, a onetime summer retreat for Western missionaries and later for Communist officials. From its peak we looked down on China’s Central Plains, which stretch six hundred miles up toward Beijing. Over the past few decades, the region below us had become one of the centers of Christianity in China, and I asked him why. He said it was a reaction to the lawlessness and rootlessness in local society. ‘Henan is chaotic,’ he said, ‘and we offer something moral amid so much immorality.’ I thought of the many scandals that have hit Henan province in recent years—the ‘AIDS villages’ populated by locals who sold their blood to companies that reused infected needles, or the charismatic millennial movements that had sprung up. Crime is high and local officials notoriously brutal, running their districts like fiefdoms. But didn’t many other parts of China have such troubles? ‘It’s different here,’ he said slowly, looking at me carefully, trying to explain something very complex and painful that he wasn’t sure would be comprehensible. ‘Traditional life was wiped out around the time I was born, fifty years ago. Since then it has been a difficult area, with no foundation to society. Most people in China haven’t heard of this but here in Xinyang, people all know.’”
Guy Chazan in FT, "Balance of power shifts in changing world of oil".
“‘A new trade axis is being formed between Baghdad and Beijing,’ says Fatih Birol, the IEA’s chief economist. This relationship is part of a shift that is tipping the balance of power in the energy world. As its oil demand grows and its own reserves deplete, China is becoming increasingly dependent on crude imports from the Middle East. That is coinciding with an equally historic process in the western hemisphere – North America’s gradual transition towards self-sufficiency in energy and its waning reliance on imported oil. For decades, one of the US’s key strategic imperatives has been to protect the vital sea lanes linking oil suppliers in the Middle East to the rest of the world. The policy found expression in the Carter Doctrine of 1980, which stated that the US would use military force if necessary to defend its national interests in the Gulf. But the US is changing. Its exhausting wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the 2008 financial crash and the resulting recession, and alarm about fiscal deficits, have engendered a mood of introspection. The reduced public appetite for an aggressive foreign policy is prompting some to even speak of a new isolationism. This has coincided with the shale revolution, a development which, in the view of some observers, is only reinforcing the disengagement of the US from the outside world.”
Alexander Etkind in TIMES LITERARY SUPPLEMENT on David Satter’s book, "It Was a Long Time Ago, and It Never Happened Anyway".
“Timothy Mitchell’s recent book, Carbon Democracy (2011), helps explain the consequences of the oil curse for contemporary Russia. In a subtle analysis, Mitchell describes the contrasting political significance of the two kinds of fossil fuels, coal and oil. Coal has traditionally been mined near its consumer, and was rarely transported for long distances by land or sea. In the era of coal, Mitchell shows, miners held serious power; their strikes could paralyse regional economies, and their organized labour provided the model for the Marxist idea of the proletariat. Coal-mining paved the way for ‘carbon democracy’, essentially a balance between labour and capital. Oil, in contrast, has been found mostly in distant and exotic locations. It is liquid and therefore easy to transport, but long pipelines present an immense security risk. Very few people are needed to serve the drills and pumps. Working in distant enclaves and having special sills, these people, often foreigners, are not connected to the centres of population. If in the coal economy the key figure was the miner and the major threat was the strike, in the oil economy the central figure is the security guard and the main threat is terrorism. This is why security personnel occupy the top positions of Russia’s hyper-extractive state. For its purposes, the population is superfluous…. Since the people do not create the state’s wealth, they cannot control its government. This mechanism of the emancipation of the state from its people is the essential truth of Putinism.”
Louis Menand in NEW YORKER on Anne Applebaum’s book, "Iron Curtain – The Crushing of Eastern Europe".
“The term originated in Italy. According to Abbott Gleason, in his standard history of the concept, ‘Totalitarianism: The Inner History of the Cold War’ (1995), it was first used, in 1923, by an opponent of Benito Mussolini, who referred critically to the Fascist government as a ‘sistema totalitaria.’ Mussolini didn’t mind at all. By 1925, he was referring proudly to ‘la nostra feroce volontà totalitaria’—‘our fierce totalitarian will.’ By ‘totalitarian,’ he meant a politics that aimed at the total transformation of society. In Nazi Germany and in the Soviet Union, the agent of this transformation was not the state. It was the party. The state, especially the judiciary, was simply the party’s bureaucratic dummy. This was because the purpose of totalitarian transformation was not mere efficiency—‘making the trains run on time,’ as people used to say of Fascist Italy. Nor was it the enjoyment of power for power’s sake, as many representations of totalitarian regimes, such as George Orwell’s ‘Nineteen Eighty-four,’ suggested. The purpose was the realization of a law of historical development, the correct understanding of which was a monopoly of the party. In Hitler’s Germany, life was transformed in the name of a single goal: racial purity. (‘The state is only a vessel,’ Hitler wrote, in ‘Mein Kampf,’ ‘and the race is what it contains.’) In the Soviet Union, it was done in the name of the classless society and the workers’ state. The authority of these chiliastic ideologies is what made totalitarian regimes like Nazi Germany and Stalinist Russia different from traditional dictatorships, and what made them terrifying. They were not just static systems of hyper-control. They were dynamic and dangerously unstable. They regarded the present as a temporary stage in history’s unfolding, and the fantastic unrealizability of what was to be—pure Germanness, or the classless society—made what merely was something only to be destroyed or overcome. Everything was expendable.”
Anne Applebaum in NEW YORK REVIEW OF BOOKS, "How the Communists Inexorably Changed Life".
“Everywhere the Red Army went – even in Czechoslovakia, from which Soviet troops eventually withdrew – these newly minted secret policemen immediately began to use selective violence, carefully targeting their political enemies according to previously composed lists and criteria. Secondly, in every occupied nation, the Soviet authorities, while briefly allowing non-Communist newspapers and magazines to appear, placed trusted local Communists in charge of the era’s most powerful form of mass media: the radio…. Thirdly, wherever it was possible, Soviet authorities, again in conjunction with local Communist parties, carried out policies of mass ethnic cleansing, displacing millions of Germans, Poles, Ukrainians, Hungarians, and others from towns and villages where they had lived for centuries. Trucks and trains moved people and a few scant possessions into refugee camps and new homes hundreds of miles away from where they had been born. Disoriented and displaced, the refugees were easier to manipulate and control than they might have been otherwise.”
Anne Applebaum in NYT, "After Tyrants, the People Must Act".
“In their drive for power, the Bolsheviks and their East European acolytes eliminated or undermined churches, charities, newspapers, guilds, literary and educational societies, companies and retail shops, stock markets, unions, banks, sports clubs and centuries-old universities. If nothing else, Eastern Europe’s postwar history proves just how fragile human organizations are. If enough people are sufficiently determined, they can utterly destroy ancient and seemingly permanent legal, political, educational and religious institutions of all kinds.”
Tony Barber in FT on Donald Rayfield’s book, "Edge of Empire – A History of Georgia".
“The book devotes several fascinating chapters to Georgia’s glorious medieval era, which began with the 1089-1125 reign of Davit the Builder. The nation’s greatest monarch, Davit ‘reunited the kingdom and expelled all invaders, created a flourishing civil administration, army, legal system, church, feudal hierarchy and secular culture, and made Georgia for the next century the regional power’. Yet Georgia, which converted to Christianity in the early fourth century, could do little to overcome its geopolitical weakness. From its origins, Georgia has existed in a peculiarly dangerous and much-contested part of the world. One after another, the ancient Greeks, Arabs, Mongols, Ottoman Turks, Persians and Russians – latterly, fitted in Soviet clothes – have occupied or sought to control the country. This often involved setting Georgia’s rival ethnic groups and political clans against each other, a practice visible in the post-communist era, too, when Russia has backed Abkhaz and South Ossetian separatists against the central government in Tbilisi. Georgia’s historical experience differs from that of other small nations such as the Baltic states and Finland, which fell under Russian or Soviet rule but eventually made a more complete escape. Georgia was absorbed into the tsarist empire in 1801, its royal family deported to Russia and its language replaced with Russian in public life. An opportunity for freedom arose after the February 1917 revolution, which overthrew the tsar, but after declaring independence in May 1918, the Georgians proved unable to sustain their state for more than three years.”
Amy Knight in NEW YORK REVIEW OF BOOKS on John Dunlop’s book, "The Moscow Bombings of September 1999 – Examinations of Russian Terrorist Attacks at the Onset of Vladimir Putin’s Rule".
“In June 1999, two Western journalists, Jan Blomgren of the Swedish newspaper Svenska Dagbladet and Giulietto Chiesa, the respected, longtime Moscow correspondent for the Italian newspaper La Stampa, reported that there was going to be an act of ‘state terrorism’ in Russia. The goal would be to instill fear and panic in the population…. These reports were followed in July by an article by the Russian journalist Aleksandr Zhilin in the national paper Moskovskaya Pravda warning that there would be terrorist attacks in Moscow. Citing a leaked Kremlin document, Zhilin wrote that the purpose would be to derail Yeltsin’s political opponents, in particular Yury Luzhkov, the mayor of Moscow, and the former prime minister Yevgeny Primakov. Zhilin’s information was ignored. What he claimed appeared to be unthinkable.”
Ellen Barry in NYT, "Double Agent, Turning 90, Says, ‘I Am a Happy Person’".
“His story contrasts sharply with those of other Russian moles in British intelligence from around the same time, most notably Kim Philby, who defected to the Soviet Union in 1963. Mr. Philby was said to suffer from depression and alcoholism afterward, which some said stemmed from disappointment and disillusionment with the Communist state he found there. He died in 1988. Mr. Blake, on the other hand, has lived well and apparently happily on his Russian pension, and over the years has rebuilt his contacts with his children in England, who traveled to Moscow for Sunday’s festivities. ‘I am a happy person, a very lucky person, exceptionally lucky,’ Mr. Blake told an interviewer from Rossisskaya Gazeta, the official government newspaper. Though condemned as a traitor in Britain, where he is believed to have caused the deaths of scores of British agents, he made it clear that he is not agonizing over the past. ‘I do not believe in life after death,’ he said. ‘In my childhood, I wanted to become a priest, but that passed. As soon as our brain stops receiving blood, we go, and after that there will be nothing. No punishment for the bad things you did, nor rewards for the utterly wonderful.’”
Ellen Barry in NYT, "In Big New Museum, Russia Has a Message for Jews: We Like You".
“Mr. Putin has extended his personal support to the lavish project, donating a month’s salary for its construction, which cost around $50 million. In part because of its scale — organizers say it is the largest Jewish history museum in the world — the project is meant to convey a powerful message to Jews whose ancestors fled or emigrated: Russia wants you back. President Shimon Peres of Israel, who attended the opening, said it affected him deeply. ‘My mother sang to me in Russian, and at the entrance to this museum, memories of my childhood flooded through my mind, and my mother’s voice played in my heart,’ said Mr. Peres, 89, who was born in what is now Belarus. ‘I came here to say thank you. Thank you for a thousand years of hospitality.’ There are practical reasons for Mr. Putin to rehabilitate Russia’s image among diaspora Jews who, as descendants of refugees or refuseniks, may have been raised on dark stories about Russia. The country’s Jews were confined to densely populated settlements, or shtetls, for long stretches under the czars. Then 70 years of Communism all but extinguished Jewish life and religious instruction, leaving in its wake an ingrained anti-Semitism. One donor, the billionaire Viktor Vekselberg, said on Thursday that he hoped the museum would convey to outsiders the good health of Jewish society in Putin-era Russia, and perhaps ease recent tensions between Moscow and the United States.”
Colin Shindler in NYT, "The European Left and Its Trouble With Jews".
“Beginning in the 1990s, many on the European left began to view the growing Muslim minorities in their countries as a new proletariat and the Palestinian cause as a recruiting mechanism. The issue of Palestine was particularly seductive for the children of immigrants, marooned between identities. Capitalism was depicted as undermining a perfect Islamic society while cultural imperialism corrupted Islam. The tactic has a distinguished revolutionary pedigree. Indeed, the cry, ‘Long live Soviet power, long live the Shariah,’ was heard in Central Asia during the 1920s after Lenin tried to cultivate Muslim nationalists in the Soviet East once his attempt to spread revolution to Europe had failed. But the question remains: why do today’s European socialists identify with Islamists whose worldview is light-years removed from their own? In recent years, there has been an increased blurring of the distinction between Jew, Zionist and Israeli.”
Vibhuti Agarwal & Cassell Bryan-Low in WSJ, "Britain to Stop Providing Direct Funding to India".
“Britain said it would stop providing direct financial aid to India because of the rapid economic growth of its former colony, symbolizing the changing nature of the centuries-old relationship between the two countries. India, which has received aid from the British for more than 50 years, has been one of the biggest recipients of U.K. financial assistance, with annual payments of about £280 million ($448 million). Spending has included child-malnutrition, education and health programs, such as providing bed nets to curb the spread of malaria. But the U.K. government Friday said it would phase out such direct financial aid between now and 2015. Beyond 2015, Britain will provide India technical assistance focused on areas such as trade, skills and private-sector investment intended to help the poor while generating a return—a program the U.K. says it expects to cost about £30 million annually.”
James Crabtree in FT on Frances Harrison’s book, "Still Counting the Dead – Survivors of Sri Lanka’s Hidden War".
“Ultimately, it is hard to read this book and not agree with the need for a fuller reckoning. But the conflict raises other issues too, not least over the best way to end a civil war. The island is now relatively peaceful. Some look at this unflinchingly and say that the costs were worth it. There are even academics who support the conclusion that civil wars are more likely to end for good after a crushing military finale than through a negotiated solution that leaves both sides in place but fails to fix underlying problems. Even so, the appalling scenes recounted here provide the sharpest possible rebuke to those who might feel comfortable with the idea of a peace won in this way.”
James Crabtree in FT, "A tight grip on the controls".
“‘This government is leaving behind the kind of boisterous, pluralist politics typical of countries in south Asia,’ says Paikiasothy Saravanamuttu, head of the Centre for Policy Alternatives, a Colombo-based research group. ‘Instead it wants a more east Asian model, where nothing gets in the way of development.’ Sri Lanka's new era started on May 19 2009, when Mr Rajapaksa delivered a speech many in his country feared they would not live to hear. Hailing a decisive victory over the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam rebels, he marked the end of a war that had long divided the mostly Buddhist Sinhalese southern majority from the minority Hindu Tamils in the north. The ensuing celebrations propelled the charismatic Mr Rajapaksa to a resounding second election victory the following year, while swift postwar economic expansion raised hopes of a sustained ‘peace dividend’. Sri Lanka's economy grew by 8 per cent in each of the two years following the war, boosted by investments in highways and ports, along with expanding traditional industries such as garments and tea. Tourism recovered quickly, a fact visible in construction projects along the seafront of the capital Colombo.”
Raymond Ibrahim at meforum.org, "Humanitarian Hypocrisy".
“First, a report exposed, in the words of the Turkish Coalition of America, ‘Turkey's continued interest in expanding business and cultural ties with the American Indian community’ and ‘Turkey's interest in building bridges to Native American communities across the U.S.’ Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla., even introduced a bill that would give Turks special rights and privileges in Native American tribal areas, arguing that ‘[t]his bill is about helping American Indians,’ and about ‘helping the original inhabitants of the new world, which is exactly what this legislation would do.’ The very idea that Turkey's Islamist government is interested in ‘helping American Indians’ is preposterous, both from a historical and contemporary point of view. In the 15th century, when Christian Europeans were discovering the Americas, Muslim Turks were conquering and killing Christians in Europe (which, of course, is why Europeans starting sailing west in the first place). If early European settlers fought and killed natives, only recently, Turkey committed a mass genocide against Armenian Christians. And while the U.S. has made many reparations to its indigenous natives, Turkey not only denies the Armenian holocaust, but still abuses and persecutes its indigenous Christians. In short, if Turkey is looking to help the marginalized and oppressed, it should start at home.”
Daniel Pipes at meforum.org, "Islamism’s Unity".
“Broadly speaking, Islamists divide into three types: (1) Salafis, who revere the era of the salaf (the first three generations of Muslims) and aim to revive it by wearing Arabian clothing, adopting antique customs, and assuming a medieval mindset that leads to religious-based violence. (2) Muslim Brothers and like types who aspire to an Islamic version of modernity; depending on circumstances, they might act violently or not. (3) Lawful Islamists who work within the system, engaging in political, media, legal, and educational activities; by definition, they do not engage in violence. Their differences are real. But they are also secondary, for all Islamists pull in the same direction, toward the full and severe application of Islamic law (the Shari'a), and they often cooperate toward this end, sometimes covertly. For example, a recently leaked video from Tunisia spectacularly links Ennahda to the embassy violence. Initially broadcast in April 2012, the video resurfaced on October 9. In it, Ghannouchi talks tactics with young Salafis to achieve their common goals and boasts, ‘We've met with … the Salafis, including Sheikh Abou Iyadh.’ Oh really? Abou Iyadh, whose real name is Seifallah Ben Hassine, heads Ansar al-Sharia, a.k.a. Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula. Tunisian police established a dragnet to question him about his role leading to the Sept. 14 attack. With the revelation of this meeting, the video undercuts Ennahda's condemnation of the Sept. 14 attack.”
Dan Bilefsky in NYT, "As if the Ottoman Period Never Ended".
“The Ottoman period, particularly during the 16th and 17th centuries, was marked by geopolitical dominance and cultural prowess, during which the sultans claimed the spiritual leadership of the Muslim world, before the empire’s slow decline culminated in World War I. For years the period was underplayed in the history taught to schoolchildren, as the new Turkish Republic created by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk in 1923 sought to break with a decadent past. Now, as Turkey is emerging as a leader in the Middle East, buoyed by strong economic growth, a new fascination with history is being reflected in everything from foreign policy to facial hair. In the arts, framed examples of Ottoman-era designs, known as Ebru and associated with the geometric Islamic motifs adorning mosques, have gained in popularity among the country’s growing Islamic bourgeoisie, adorning walls of homes and offices, jewelry and even business cards. The three-year-old Panorama Museum, which showcases an imposing 360-degree, 45-foot-tall painting of the siege of Constantinople, complete with deafening cannon fire blasts and museum security guards dressed as Janissary soldiers, is drawing huge crowds.”
Timothy Ash in NEW YORK REVIEW OF BOOKS, "Freedom & Diversity: A Liberal Pentagram for Living Together".
“The multiculturalist literature, with its tendency to pigeonhole people by culture, often fails to acknowledge the sheer diversity of this increasingly mixed-up world. More than ever, that must include the diversity to be found inside a single human skin, mind, and heart. ‘Multiculturalism’ has become a term of wholly uncertain meaning. Does it refer to a social reality? A set of policies? A normative theory? An ideology? Last year, I served on a Council of Europe working group with members from eight other European countries. We found that the word meant something different, and usually confused, in every country. Some, though not all, of the policies described as ‘multiculturalism’ over the last thirty years have had deeply illiberal consequences. They have allowed the development of ‘parallel societies’ or ‘subsidized isolation.’ Self-appointed community leaders have used public funds to reinforce cultural norms that would be unacceptable in the wider society, especially in relation to women. This has come close to official endorsement of cultural and moral relativism. A perverse effect has been to disempower the voices of the more liberal, secular, and critical minority within such ethnically or culturally defined minorities. If, therefore, you want to elaborate a version of multiculturalism that is genuinely compatible with liberalism, as some distinguished political theorists do, you have to spend pages hedging the term about with clarifications and qualifications. By the time you have finished doing that, the justification for a separate new ‘ism’ has evaporated.”
Leon Wieseltier at tnr.com, "Why the Taliban Shot the Schoolgirl".
“About the necessity and the nobility of her cause there can be no doubt. After all, she scared the Taliban. And it is not too much of an exaggeration to say, as Nicholas Kristof did in The New York Times, that ‘the global struggle for gender equality is the paramount moral struggle of this century, equivalent to the campaigns against slavery in the 19th century and against totalitarianism in the 20th century.’ Except that, in places such as Pakistan, and Afghanistan, and Mali, and Yemen, and elsewhere, the struggle for gender equality is the campaign against totalitarianism. Pardon the heresy, but the twentieth century is not dead. This is not an academic point. The goodbyeto-all-that fantasy about the horrors of the last century—the merry conference-building certainty that we have transcended ideological conflict for a meliorating world of best practices— impedes a proper understanding of what many good people in many bad places now confront. They are not yet post-historical. The attempt on Malala Yousafzai’s life was not the expression of a problem, it was the expression of an evil. There are circumstances in which the term ‘evil’ is not moralistic, but analytical. Too much of the discussion of the world’s ills is conducted in the upbeat problem-solving vocabulary of the Philanthropy International, which, like the unaccountably cheerful Kristof, is forever edified by tales of local braveries and by the magnitude of its own compassion. In his column on Malala Yousafzai, for example, Kristof writes: ‘For those wanting to honor Malala’s courage, there are excellent organizations building schools in Pakistan, such as Developments in Literacy (dil.org) and The Citizens Foundation (tcfusa.org).’ I am sure that those enterprises are fully as worthy of support as Kristof says they are. A call to charity is never wrong. But there is something facile, emotionally and strategically, about the trend in good works. A few months ago, the Pakistani newspaper Dawn reported that 710 schools have been destroyed or damaged by Islamic militants in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and 401 schools have been destroyed or damaged in Swat. Such violence, and its wildly misogynistic dimension, is precisely what Malala Yousafzai was defying; but it will not be defeated by charity. The war against schools is not just a war against schools.”
Roula Khalaf in FT, "The Muslim sisterhood".
“Within the Brotherhood itself many leaders, including president Morsi, believe that the presidency, as well as the highest authority in the organisation, the position of murshid or supreme guide is off limits for women. This is an interpretation that many sisters I have met do not like but say they accept. But the Muslim sisters are something of a paradox, and one that defies the Islamist stereotype. There is no denying that they are skilful political activists and are now increasingly relied upon to further the goals of the FJP. What they are not, however, are feminists looking for the type of freedom that liberals and secular women cherish. Hard-working and determined, the Muslim sisters believe in economic and political advancement but are more docile when it comes to their role within the family. They see feminism at best as the path to the destruction of the family. ‘Most sisters are professionals, very active, very energetic, very strong, but they don’t have feminist consciousness,’ says Oumayma Abu Bakr, an Egyptian expert on Islam and gender. It is only now, moreover, as they join the FJP, that they are being offered an opportunity for influence. The sisters have never had any significant say within the Brotherhood, even though they make up 50 per cent of the movement (out of a total membership estimated at one million when the group was still banned). They have never paid monthly dues, never voted for the leadership and never been rewarded for their contribution with any official position.”
Jean Elshtain in VIRGINIA QUARTERLY, "Is There Such a Thing as the Female Conscience? ".
“So it was that the Greek philosophers consigned women to a world of lesser virtue, for the oikos, or household, can never rise to universal moral truths. The home is too mired in the realm of biology and reproduction—an indispensable realm, surely, but limited. Women, slaves, and laborers are ‘necessary conditions’ of the state. Men, by contrast, are integral. In such ways was the class or category ‘woman’ deemed inferior to the class or category ‘man.’ From that premise the rest was straightforward: Women are to be barred from citizenship and an active participation in the polis. They cannot be judged in the same way as a free male. And so, despite disagreements on the moral life, Plato and Aristotle held hands on the gender question—with exceptions here and there. That Plato was willing to admit a few women into his guardian class does little to remedy his overall view of the morally limited family and the private life that the overwhelming majority of women serve. This dispute about female conscience was repeated again and again in Western philosophy over the centuries, even as Christianity triumphed and Scripture declared that men and women were moral equals, that God loved all His creatures alike. It’s worth noting that Christianity also held that women were not deficient in the most vital of Christian virtues: love and charity. But that did not mean women were deemed capable of serving universal truths in the way of men. The spirit of the age was too firmly oriented otherwise. Feminism itself fell victim to gendered categories laid down many centuries before. Indeed, when it came to virtue, even thinkers whose overriding concerns differed dramatically from the Greeks’ were unable to shake the stranglehold of their forefathers’ assumptions about gender.”
Vauhini Vara in WSJ, "Men’s College Faces New Era".
“In 1967, nearly 150 of the nation's campuses were men-only, not including seminaries, says the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities. Now, Deep Springs and just three others remain men-only among secular liberal-arts institutions: Morehouse College in Atlanta, Wabash College in Indiana and Hampden-Sydney College in Virginia. A Morehouse spokeswoman didn't respond to a request for comment. Wabash and Hampden-Sydney spokesmen say their colleges considered going coed in the 1990s but trustees decided against it. The number of women's-only liberals arts colleges has dwindled, too, but about 50 remain. The trustees of Deep Springs had periodically considered making it coed but voted the proposal down because they thought it would hurt the college's ability to provide a good education or put off donors who objected to going coed. But last year the trustees decided to modify the college's deed of trust to adapt it to a world that Mr. Nunn couldn't have anticipated, says Prof. Neidorf.”
Verlyn Klinkenborg in NYT, "Did Farmers of the Past Know More Than We Do? ".
“Oats used to be a common sight all over the Midwest. They were often sown with alfalfa as a ‘nurse crop’ to provide some cover for alfalfa seedlings back when alfalfa was also a common sight. Until about 30 years ago, you could find all sorts of crops growing on Iowa farms, and livestock. Since then two things have happened. All the animals have moved indoors, into crowded confinement operations. And the number of crops has dwindled to exactly two: corn and soybeans. My uncle Everon, who died last summer, farmed the home place when I was growing up. He would have been surprised to learn that he was following the principles of an early 18th-century agricultural experimenter named Charles Townshend, who, apart from his fascination with turnips, was every inch a viscount. Townshend’s discovery — borrowed from Dutch and Flemish farmers — was that crops grow better, with fewer weeds and pest problems, if they are rotated in a careful sequence. Townshend’s rotation — like the ones George Washington and Thomas Jefferson used — included clover, wheat, other small grains and turnips, which made good winter food for sheep and cattle. My uncle grew no turnips, but he, like all his neighbors, was using his own version of the four-crop system, at the heart of which was alfalfa.”
Matt Ridley in WSJ, "Can Medieval Heat Cool Warming Worries?".
“Until the late 1990s, researchers generally agreed that the MWP was warmer than today and that the ‘Little Ice Age’ of 1500-1800 was colder. Then in 2001 the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change adopted the ‘hockey stick’ graph devised by Michael Mann at the University of Virginia and colleagues. Using temperature indicators such as tree rings and lake sediments, the graph rewrote history by showing little warmth in the 11th century and little cold in the 17th, but a sharp spike in late-20th-century temperatures. That graph helped to persuade many people (such as me) that recent temperature rises were unprecedented in scale and speed in at least 1,400 years. But critics of the graph pointed out that it used a statistical technique that overemphasized hockey-stick shaped data from unreliable indicators, such as tree rings in bristlecone pine trees and Scandinavian lake sediments influenced by 20th-century land-use changes. Four recent studies have now rehabilitated the MWP as a period of unusual warmth, though they disagree on whether it was as warm or warmer than today. Jan Esper of the University of Mainz and his colleagues looked at pine wood densities from Sweden and Finland and found ‘evidence for substantial warmth during Roman and medieval times, larger in extent and longer in duration than 20th-century warmth.’ Bo Christiansen of the Danish Meteorological Institute and Fredrik Ljungqvist of Stockholm University looked at 32 indicators across the Northern Hemisphere and found the level of warmth during the peak of the MWP ‘in the second half of the 10th century equaling or slightly exceeding the mid-20th century warming.’”
Steven Johnson in STRATEGY & TACTICS, "Mongol Military Disasters".
“Into Burma: In 1273 Kublai Khan sent emissaries to demand Burma’s submission. King Narathihapate treated them well, but sent them back without a reply; he later had a follow-on group of emissaries executed. Further, the Burmese invaded the Thai state of Kaungai, which was a protectorate of the Mongols. In retaliation, in 1277 some 12,000 Mongols advanced into Burma. The Burmese in turn moved against them with a force of 200 elephants before that day. The huge beasts terrified their horses, which refused to charge the pachyderms. Hundreds of horses bolted, throwing their riders to the ground. The Burmese elephants then charged and crashed into the already disorganized Mongol line, causing total havoc. Many Mongols were picked off by Burmese archers firing from platforms on the backs of the elephants. The Mongols regrouped and dismounted to form a firing line. Their archers concentrated hundreds of arrows against the elephants that, in pain and rage, turned on the nearby Burmese infantry, trampling many while smashing their platforms and running off. The Mongols gathered their horses and rode down and killed many of the fleeing Burmese infantry. The Mongols resumed their advance through the jungle, but heat and disease increasingly decimated their ranks and their horses…. They returned to China and presented Kublai Khan with 12 captured elephants. They were the only reward for the entire operation.”
William Nester in STRATEGY & TACTICS, "Ticonderoga: Battles for Lake George".
“Beneath those superficial Anglo-French military similarities was a difference that proved crucial during the war’s first years: the French were far more adept at the diplomatic and tactical arts of wilderness war than were the British. Simply put, that involved inspiring Indian braves onto the warpath and then fighting alongside them. In practice both those stages of Indian involvement demanded Herculean diplomatic labors in which protocol, patience and gifting were essential. The popular view of Indians organized into hierarchic tribes led monolithically by a chief is historically inaccurate. Politics was centered in the villages rather than in the looser linguistic, cultural and military agglomerations called tribes. Each village in turn was splintered into often rival clans, societies and sub-cultures. Presiding over each village was a council of headmen who struggled to forge a consensus among contending factions as to how to overcome common problems, of which the most crucial was always whether to stay at peace or go to war. Even when consensus was reached, each villager was free to follow or ignore it as he pleased.”
Elliott West in AMERICAN HISTORY, "Tecumseh’s Last Stand".
“For all the Indians gained, however, Tecumseh realized that the cultural swapping left them increasingly vulnerable. They became more reliant on goods that only whites could provide. They were enmeshed in an international market beyond their influence. As the pace of trade quickened, they began overhunting the very creatures they had to have to keep up their side of the exchange. The most vicious consequences were from the illegal trade in alcohol. Addicted Indian men bartered for whiskey rather than needful goods and, once drunk, gave up their pelts for a pittance…. The only answer, Tecumseh came to believe, was to disengage from whites and to turn away entirely from their ways. Reject the temptations, he urged the Shawnees and other Indians, whether whiskey or wool blankets or linen shirts. Revive traditional means of living, cultivate the old skills and return to ancient virtues.”
Evan Kindley at tnr.com on Gilbert Seldes’ book, "The Stammering Century".
“Gilbert Seldes came by his interest in wild ideas honestly: he was raised in an anarchist utopian community in Alliance, New Jersey, and though he subsequently tacked toward the Establishment—attending Harvard and serving as drama critic for the nonpareil high modernist little magazine The Dial—he maintained a ready sympathy for the lunatic fringe. His first (and most famous) book, The Seven Lively Arts, published in 1924, initiated the serious criticism of pop culture in the United States, declaring the greatness of Krazy Kat and Charlie Chaplin to a skeptical highbrow crowd. For his second book, he elected to inquire into the excitements of the past, and see whether or not they had extended beyond small circles of initiates. Insofar as The Stammering Century has a master narrative, it is ‘the decline of the Calvinist theology brought over in the Mayflower’ and the effects of that decline on the cultures of American belief. For Seldes, ‘nearly everything … of importance in the American mind of the nineteenth century … has its source in Jonathan Edwards,’ the galvanic New England minister whose terrifying sermons (such as ‘Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God’) established a tone of extremity that generations of successors would attempt to match. As Seldes sees it, it was not Edwards’s ideas that mattered, but the way he expressed them: ‘The theology of Jonathan Edwards suffered the most spectacular defeat in the history of American religious life,’ he writes, but ‘his methods gained the greatest victory.’”
Alma Guillermoprieto in NEW YORK REVIEW OF BOOKS, "Mexico: Risking Life for Truth".
“Riddled with bullet wounds, Rodriquez was slumped over his daughter’s body, who he died protecting. Armando Rodriguez – known everywhere as El Choco (for ‘chocolate’) because of his skin color – started out in journalism as the cameraman for Blanca Martinez, who was then a TV reporter. They married, and while Blanca became the editor of the local Catholic church weekly, Rodriguez persuaded a Juarez newspaper to hire him, and he transferred to El Diario as a reporter. He worked the police beat hard, particularly at the time of a series of unspeakable feminicidios, or serial killings, of young Juarez women, and then again when the wave of drug violence started in 2008. An elder statesman on the police beat, Choco was respected by his editors and by his colleagues for his aggressive reporting…. In the weeks leading up to his murder, Choco Rodriguez had published articles linking relatives of the Chihuahua state attorney general, Patricia Gonzalez Rodriguez (no relation), to the drug trade.”
Steven Connor in TIMES LITERARY SUPPLEMENT on Slavoj Zizek’s book, Less Than Nothing – Hegel and the shadow of dialectical materialism, and Sean Sheehan’s book, "Zizek – A Guide for the Perplexed".
“Although Zizek gives us plenty of pseudo-reasons for revolutionary change, it is plain that he can only keep up for short sprints his alleged outrage at the exploitation, brutality and misery that are all he will associate with capitalism. The real impulse to revolution is not to put any of this right, but to effect the joyous, violent emergence of the radically new, beyond any kind of prediction, likelihood or drearily utilitarian weighing of consequences. In this, Zizek may be said to adhere to a wholly formalist theory of revolution, which must be kept vigilantly void of any content save its own vehemence. What revolution is for, is not to usher in utopia, but to keep the dialectic alive.”
Carlin Romano at chronicle.com, "Slippery Sloterdijk: the Edgy European Philosopher, Circa 2012".
“The most recent translated Sloterdijk—The Art of Philosophy: Wisdom as a Practice (Columbia University Press)—appears chosen to be the Ur-text (95 pages) meant to ease new readers into Sloterdijk's spherical universe. A spirited brief for Aristotelian-moderated philosophy it is, urging "the life of practice" that doesn't veer too sharply to the ivory tower or the barricades. ‘My aim,’ Sloterdijk writes, ‘is to show why the idea that the thinking person has to be a kind of dead person on holiday is inseparable from the ancient European culture of rationality, particularly classical, Platonic-inspired philosophy.’”
Janet Reitman in RS, "Enemy of the State".
"Hammond's attorneys tell me they are in possession of nearly a terabyte of discovery material - some 20,000 bankers boxes, the equivalent of half a research library of reading material - with potentially more to come. But Hammond has been effectively locked out of his own defense. He can only view the material in the presence of his lawyers and cannot use prison computers to do legal research, even though they are not connected to the Internet ('It's like they think he's some kind of wizard who can magically get online no matter what,' says one person associated with the case). It could take years for him to review all of the discovery material. So far, all of the alleged Lulzsec hackers, who have been arrested have pleaded guilty or are soon expected to. Hammond has not, but even if he were to accept a plea, it is likely he will spend many years in prison."
Eric Bulson in TIMES LITERARY SUPPLEMENT on Claudia Salaris & Pablo Echaurren’s book, "Riviste Futuriste".
“Though Marinetti was the self-proclaimed ‘caffeine of Europe’, even he needed others to make this Futurist conflagration of print possible. He was especially supportive of the young, encouraging them to produce riviste as part of an informal initiation rite. And what these student productions may lack in sophistication they make up for in spirit. One of them was edited in 1915 by Giorgio Balabani, a self-proclaimed young Futurist from Bassano del Grappa, who brought out five issues under five different titles, including La Torpedine (The Torpedo) and Lo Schrapnel. And there were still others such as Azione Imperiale from 1936, which was produced by the Fascist party (and co-edited by Marinetti) to garner the support of Italy’s youth for the conquest of Abyssinia. Futurism persisted while Italy underwent major political and social changes. But it did so only by modifying its stance on the relationship between art and politics again and again; and the rivista was one of the places where this happened….”
"Arthur magazine returns next month".
“The comeback issue — Arthur No. 33 — will be out the day after the end of the world — Dec. 22, 2012.
The magazine will retail for $5 and publish as a broadsheet format on newsprint. There will be two eight-page sections, one in color; one in black and white. Maybe more. Ads will be on the back cover of each section and nowhere else. Arthur 33 will be distributed via direct mail order, via at least two distributors, and straight to some retailers. Total print-run has yet to be determined. Digital distribution of this issue has also yet to be determined.”
Gene Wagendorf at windycityrock.net, "ONO at Hecks".
“ONO wasted no time getting into material from Albino, the album for which this ghastly bash was thrown. The group's singer, known simply as Travis, allowed a deep, stammering bass drum to build a brooding atmosphere before he began the deep croon of ‘I Been Changed.’ The traditional gospel tune was, like most ONO covers, deconstructed and rebuilt into something new. In this case the usual inspirational embellishments had been stripped, leaving Travis free to spit the lyrics with a haunting bitterness. As the percussive plod was joined by pulses, twinkles and backup vocals, the singer grew increasingly wild and direct, offering up the chorus as a challenge. The result felt almost like a confirmation of damnation; an ominous declaration that played as much with the audience as it did with the song's own history. The piece was given a surprisingly appropriate companion in the following number, a patient and malicious take on The Velvet Underground's ‘Venus in Furs.’”
Dave Markey "interview" at vh1.com.
“Karthala 72” at "Electric Cowbell Records".
“‘…one of the heavier pieces of African psych that we’ve ever heard. Drums bounce over deep bass. Distorted guitars burn over chopping grooves, slowly decaying into echo. Melodies melt into free-jazz, then miraculously return.’ Afropop Worldwide
We’ve been waiting for this moment! At long last Electric Cowbell presents the mysterious dark and funky ‘Diable Du Feu’ from the elusive Karthala 72. It’s been a little over a year since we released the psych-burner 7″ Dans Le Coeur Du Feu/Delores and now we are finally ready to release the monster full-length in limited-edition 140-gram vinyl with a bevy of remixes!”
Brad Cohan at villagevoice.com, "Rat At Rat R oral history".
“In 1982, Poison-Tete and Anderson moved to the LES, guitarist John Myers followed suit (Anderson ultimately relocated to NYC but left the band to pursue other projects) and thus -- with its monumental move -- Rat At Rat R's singular vision bore the glorious dregs of downtown. Nearly three decades after its original release on Glenn Branca's Neutral imprint, Amer$ide, Rock and Roll is Dead, Long Live Rat At Rat R, its 1985 debut, finally receives the reissue/remastered treatment, courtesy of Finnish label Ektro and spearheaded by music scribe (and erstwhile Voice contributor) Jordan Mamone.”
William Lustig books Warner Bros at "Anthology Film Archives".
Carducci reading in Fort Collins, Thurs. Dec. 6, 7pm at
"Wolverine Farm Books".
Obituary of the fortnight.
"Marin Naidenov Minkov" (1914-2012)
“Born Marin Naidenov Minkov on Oct. 29, 1914, he graduated from the Sofia Seminary in 1935 and entered Sofia University’s theology department in 1938, before rising through the church ranks to be named patriarch on July 4, 1971. After the collapse of Communism in 1989, Bulgaria’s new democratic government sought to replace Communist-appointed figureheads, including the patriarch. The church split between supporters of Patriarch Maxim and breakaway clergymen, who tried to oust him and then formed their own synod. The division plunged the church into turmoil, with church buildings being occupied, priests breaking into fistfights on church steps, and water cannons and tear gas being turned on rebel bishops to clear the main St. Alexander Nevsky cathedral in Sofia. For more than a decade the two synods existed side by side. The schism ended in 2010, when the head of the alternative synod called for healing and the synod was dissolved.”
Thanks to Andy Schwartz, Steve Beeho, Jay Babcock, Mark Carducci, aldaily.com.
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