Photo by Joe Carducci
United States of Nigger – Beasts, Lincoln, and Django
by Joe Carducci
There was a blip in the recent election over American exceptionalism, whether there is any and if so who denies it. That there is any question begged on that tells us how resilient the European standard is for American behavior. That old world standard survived its own twentieth century cataclysms to create an ongoing vicarious ex-pat perspective within the American culturati. Our exceptionalism is a simple matter really; it’s the result of centuries of free, indentured, and enslaved immigrants to the United States “going native.” It was a term of British Imperialism mostly associated with India, where the early officers of British Raj (née the British East India Co., 1600) arrived without family and could find in India an attractive new way of life. The mutiny on the Bounty in 1789, where Lt. Bligh lost his crew to the lure of Tahiti, was a similar moment of temptation as Imperial Europe and its business and high cultures’ rises began to slow and turn toward decadence and death wish. The English culture in particular was quite strong but not impervious to the temptations of other ways. Whatever its crimes, it actually speaks well of the Anglos that such temptations were a continuity; the French and Spanish Imperial cultures seemed more horrified at temptations to leave their European hierarchical frame of reference and dissolve into another’s, though they left plenty of métis and meztisos behind. That a Francophone or Hispanophone United States cannot quite be imagined should tell us something about the maniacs who bought one-way passage from the British Isles.
What the English, Scots and all first contended with was the land and the stone-age tribes who jostled around in it. Joined by French, Dutch, Germans, Spaniards and more, the ideas of the explorers and adventurers and the fortune-hunters who intended to return to their home hierarchies with status earned and baronies awarded evolved to staying and building something new in an unsettled land. Mere hard-won steps up in old world status suddenly seemed less ambitious to them. This wasn’t simply going native though, as the North American Indian tribes hadn’t yet developed the hierarchies of India or Mesoamerica. The tribes and confederations of bands were protean and their presence and influence shadowed the less obvious drama of how subjects of the various European Kingdoms came to understand they might come together and govern themselves against all crowns. Much later came tides of Catholics from Ireland, Italy and Poland, the Orthodox Slavs, Jews, Chinese and Mexicans, but the cultural bastardy was well underway in the port towns of the eastern seaboard and the Caribbean.
Against the native backdrop, from the early “savage years” of the sixteenth century to the 19th century Indian wars out west, the de-Europeanizing mass of whites found the imported African slaves to be another influence and one somehow all the more culturally potent for its utter lack of civic standing. The slaves unloaded in Charleston, New Orleans and other ports were overwhelmingly male and mostly paired up with Indian women. Centuries later our cultural shorthand moves from Philip Rahv’s categorization of American writers as either Palefaces (James, Melville…) or Redskins (Whitman, Twain…), to Norman Mailer going on about the white negro in the twentieth century. It’s all that and more and “going native,” “special providence,” and “American exceptionalism” are terms that get at what it’s adding up to. There are too many variables for it to be so simple. Even our President had to convince black Chicago that his lack of specifically American black heritage, meaning his Kenyan father and white mother and Indonesian stepfather, put him outside of slavery’s fallout, if not outside racism as it lingers in his lifetime. This is a distinction to be made, and American blacks have always made and/or resisted such distinctions of color and style. And slaves in the American south were on the whole far better off than those shipped to Caribbean and South American destinies, but that’s just irrelevant to black Americans today who can only consider that their own due special providence. Still quite frightening to contemplate. Further, the south has come of age finally and as the limits of the north become apparent there is a reverse migration, from a north that respected the rights of blacks but doesn’t much want to live with them to a south that never really minded living with blacks. Slavery itself in mother Africa was an ongoing African-on-African crime when the Portuguese first explored the west African coast. It was also and remains an Arab-on-African crime which makes the Muslim affectations of American blacks a kind of blowback as vexed as any other attempt to simplify things American. Lingering black nationalists and white supremacists surely know them horses are out the barn. It’s more like Back to Alabama, than Back to Africa.
I wouldn’t have thought to write about two recent films about these issues, Lincoln (2012), or Django Unchained (2013), if I hadn’t first thought to write about Beasts of the Southern Wild (2012). Beasts is a rare film and it’s hard to believe it’s a product of the Sundance lab with its “indie film” template. The young girl’s performance is great, up there with young Ana Torrent’s work (Spirit of the Beehive, Cria Cuervos), but it’s the conception of the father’s character and the Louisiana setting that determines the film. It’s as if novelist Richard Wright’s Native Son character, Bigger Thomas, had been born into a natural state rather than southside Chicago. There were free or freeish black communities in peripheral southern wilds, and some unknown numbers escaped into Indian tribes and shared their fates westward. Beasts of the Southern Wild portrays a vibrant mixed race life along the Louisiana bayou out beyond the levee which protects the city and its industry but destroys the people according to Wink, a rough living black man raising his six-year-old daughter in this bounteous wild. There’s little exposition but he’s older than his years due to drink but he loves his daughter and sternly prepares her for the hard life ahead in between leaving her to her own devices wandering this nether land.
The film’s been criticized for lacking a political consciousness but though the literalist types might feel better had filmmaker Benh Zeitlin had Wink railing to Hushpuppy about rich white people, its truer and more resonant to the generic natural harshness that life will offer his daughter that he does as he does. I suspect the politics of the film is of the neo-anarchist style, which would account for Wink’s blanket dismissal of the world beyond the levee, dominated by a refinery, as ugly and to be avoided. Artistically this is justified as the kind of rural eccentricity Flannery O’Connor specialized in (the film is adapted from a one-act play by Lucy Alibar called “Juicy and Delicious”). The kids learn at a makeshift dock-side school about the world and its likely end in flood as if its folklore rather than science or religion. They flee the government’s relief center when captured and placed there, but it’s no critique of George Bush or Ray Nagin. The lack of religion and any gospel service may be a white imposition on the material as well. Day to day Hushpuppy’s father teaches her to fish and prepares her to send him off like a Viking when he dies. He insists to her, “The brave man must watch it happen; they don’t run!” and she accepts everything he says though she is afraid and wants to go with him when he dies. During the hurricane that floods the world of “the bathtub” Wink begins cursing the storm as the rains pour through their patchwork roof, then he grabs his shotgun, runs out into the dark and fires up at it. There may be no religion in the film but her father is her god.
Beasts of the Southern Wild is a very good performers movie. Not exactly a great movie by my out-of-date timeless standard, but the nonprofessionals who carry the film are both excellent (Quvenzhané Wallis and Dwight Henry). And in research for my film book I’ve seen a ton of older cinematic marginalia that one watches for such nonprofessional performers magic rather than for the writing or direction. The film seems structurally similar to many contemporary digital dramas as if edited together from a ton of footage. It has a number of striking bayou images but overall seems to have been shot quickly without the luxury of waiting for light, weather, etc. The theme of the film is important and rare too as the culture produced by American blacks now speaks almost entirely in urban cadences. Hushpuppy holds birds up to her ear and explains to us in narration what it is they say to each other.
There is no such charm to be found in Django Uchained though amid the mayhem there is a horse that takes a headshot which is at least novel (when the end-credits come the first declaims that no horses were harmed in the making of the film as if the ASPCA is the top concern). As it’s a Quentin Tarantino film it’s a pastiche of other films. I had heard he was remaking Skin Game (1971) which is a very sharp feature made by television talent starring James Garner and Louis Gossett Jr. Now it’s other lesser films that are referenced. Django is not well written as Tarantino’s penchant for jabbering dialogue conflicts fundamentally with the western, even the spaghetti western. Also, our hero Django is tutored all through the film by a fussy German ex-dentist. The best gag is when the freed Django is allowed to pick out his own set of clothes and chooses a blue silk Little Lord Fauntleroy number which leads later to doubts expressed by plantation slaves that he is a free man: “You mean you a free man and you wearin’ that?!” This calls to mind the late David Lightbourne’s fashion axiom: “Black people can wear anything.” Another of his insights regarded Italian-Americans utility, once they’d joined blacks in the cities, with translating radical black couture gestures into something white folks could countenance adapting for themselves. There isn’t a straight parallel from fashion to film with regard to what it is Tarantino is doing but then my point is that the free self-directed ambition of Americans, which often strikes foreigners as selfish or spoiled, is really the freed subject of various old world Crowns. The freed slave in America is that in extremis. And that further boiled down to pure concentrate of America is nigger off the hook! The nigger may not be hero material unalloyed but there’s shared DNA with the American hero who since the sixties has wound like a double helix where Fred Williamson, Jim Brown and others twin Clint Eastwood, Charles Bronson and more. Box office equality doesn’t exist either but films got made and today the old Irish-American everyman hero of the thirties has been in some large part supplanted by a black American everyman hero (Will Smith, Denzel Washington, Ice Cube, Jamie Foxx…)
The films made back in the seventies that fired Tarantino’s VCR-like imagination were made for Americans about America, but as Hollywood began to make action films for the world we got Europeans as actions stars which signaled a decadent decline. Django Unchained suffers from Tarantino’s interest in the pop junk of world cinema. American popular culture was once our high folk culture worked out by artists who might have been painters or playwrights in classical civilizations, but they were born bastards in a democratic land without a high art voice. In his pr tour for this film Tarantino has made a number of silly statements but referring to John Ford as a racist is kind of a pointless point, especially as another point he’s been making about old age not serving filmmakers well seems to refer to Ford’s later films, especially the failed “pro-Indian” film Cheyenne Autumn (1964). The Irish were translators for blacks and others as well, political translators as the rabble demos of the growing cities needed English-speaking interlocutors with the WASP elites, and it hardly matters if Ford really was under one of those sheets in Birth of a Nation (1915) when one watches The Searchers (1956) or Judge Priest (1934) or any of many other great films he made. What’s often called racism and deemed an American original sin is really the rough world historical accommodation between peoples who had no experience with each other when they found themselves suddenly here. Might’ve been nice to get through it all more quickly and coolly, but then our ancestors were benighted foreigners once up on a time. It’s only recently that foreigners in their godforsaken nations are finding out just how racist they might be and one reads constantly of the Chinese versus the Africans, the French and the Moroccans, the Japanese and the Koreans, the Swedes and the Arabs. The New York Times usually calls this ethnic tension reserving the word racism for us with our half black Europhile president with game.
John Ford’s early mentor and older brother Francis Ford (who ranks with Griffith and Dwan as architects of the Hollywood drama) in his long sound-era dotage created an often silent character in his brother’s films sometimes referred to as Feeney (their actual family name) about whom film scholar Tag Gallagher writes regarding one of Francis’ last film appearances in John’s The Sun Shines Bright (1953): “…only ‘Brother Feeney’ can kill and retain his innocence, and Priest’s decision to accept it for the best adds to the suggestion that Finney acts for God and Brother John. Indeed, Finney and Mink are the only whites who, like the blacks, resist Fairfield’s white society.” [John Ford – The Man And His Films] In Judge Priest Will Rogers sits in judgment over his fishing pal and accused chicken thief Jeff Poindexter played by Lincoln Perry, a.k.a. Stepin Fetchit. Rogers and Perry were always great together – high schtick in black and white. Ford trusted them and in Steamboat Round the Bend (1935) Ford lets the movie stop while the two of them go for whole pages of dialogue they seem to be making up as they go. I suppose Tarantino is one of those black power rangers who consider Lincoln Perry an Uncle Tom, but given that even Uncle Tom of the novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin may not have been an Uncle Tom, Tarantino and Samuel L. Jackson’s creation of the house Negro character Stephen is the best conception in the film and something new, though he’s no Uncle Tom neither.
Lincoln (2012) is no Uncle Tom but Steven Spielberg might have a drop or two of Tom in him. The film is an impressive portrayal of the political battle in the Congress and White House to pass the Emancipation Proclamation, the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, during the Civil War. Not something easy to portray well. The countervailing risks and cross-purposed rewards don’t add up for Abe quite realistically, judging by what we see with our contemporary issues or non-issues. The film’s history comes from the Doris Kearns Goodwin book, Team of Rivals, but when the film leaves the political machinations only Daniel Day-Lewis and Sally Field’s scenes together work at all. The rest is Spielberg and screenwriter Tony Kushner bleating for our empathy or respect; they don’t seem to believe Americans can relate to the best aspects of their work so they stoop low and lower yet.
At one point in Lincoln some border state congressman maybe the one played by Jackie Earle Haley rails at the attempt to “niggerize” the country with this 13th Amendment. I see the “nigger” count in Django Unchained stands at 109. The word isn’t used in Beasts of the Southern Wild, in fact, I can’t recall much real cursing in it. The acting and writing is so good that a drunk railing country nigger works in a PG-13 film that kid’s should see. Whatever Wink’s hostility to the city, that city, New Orleans, is the great capitol of Creole America. It’s where the Indian in the African in the American is remembered and observed in the French Catholic pre-Lenten fast Mardi Gras carnival. How… (I’ll say!) Back in the recent election Barack Obama, President of the United States, hazarded as how he was sure there were other exceptionalisms in the rest of the world like American exceptionalism. He must have misunderstood the question.
Within Our Gates (1920)
Music Box Theatre, 3733 N. Southport Ave., Chicago
Christopher Borrelli in CT, "Oscar Micheaux: Two Stars of Director's Final Film Recall the Man".
"In 1900, he followed his oldest brother, William, to Chicago, where he lived near the Union Stock Yards and worked in the steel mills around Joliet; he then worked as a porter for the Pullman Palace Car Company; he left Chicago to become a farmer in South Dakota, where he found great success (and failure); in 1913, he wrote a self-published novel, The Conquest, which, like his next six novels, was semi-autobiographical; the success of those first books led him back to Chicago, where in 1918 he opened a film office in the South Loop; his first film, The Homesteader (1919) led him to become a mini-mogul, a contemporary of the Chicago silent film scene that was dominated by Essanay studios, home of Charlie Chaplin; he had hits and bombs but remained a leading source of 'race movies' — films produced specifically for black audiences. 'I think of tenacity when I think of Micheaux,' Stewart said. 'A didactic filmmaker who saw himself speaking to a race, instructing them about how they were on the wrong track, pushing ideas about business ownership, land ownership, the problems with black clergy. And you could argue with his politics, or the quality of the films, which were criticized for not looking as good as Hollywood films. But he was a pioneer, and he carved out a meaningful space.' But by 1940, he had spent two decades on the road, hand-delivering to theaters the few prints of his films that he had. So he left the movies to write books — and seven years later, when those literary prospects dimmed, he returned. The Betrayal was meant to be his comeback."
Hillary Weston at blackbookmag.com, "Lucy Alibar on Adapting Her Stage Play Into Beasts of the Southern Wild".
“How did you find her? What did she do for the audition?
Behn tells it better than I do, but for the auditions they did a lot of structured improvisations to see what the kids could do. She had to have a fight with Michael, our producer, because they had to see about that scene where they’re trashing the house and they turn over the table. So she and Michael are fighting and Ben gives Nazzy an empty plastic bottle and is like, Throw this bottle at Michael. She would start to and then she wouldn’t, then she’d start to and she wouldn’t. So Ben was like, Throw the bottle at him! And she turns to him and says, ‘No I can’t, it would be wrong to do that.’ Ben was really struck by that strong sense of ethics and morality that even when there’s a grown-up telling you to do something, she didn’t do it because it was wrong and it involved hurting someone else. So much of the movie is about taking care of people and the courage of empathy and she just had that so strongly—that’s Nazzy’s primary characteristic. She’s so vibrant, too; she’s like flint, shiny flint.”
Christopher Caldwell in FT, "Tarantino’s Strange Crusade to Ennoble Horrific Violence".
“The film-maker Spike Lee has called this film ‘disrespectful to my ancestors’. The remark has puzzled people but it should not. Monsieur Candie reminisces, ‘surrounded by black faces, day in, day out, I had one question: Why don’t they kill us?’ It is an excellent question. However you answer it, the fact is, they didn’t. In the eyes of history, antebellum blacks retain an honour that their white oppressors will forever be denied. Maybe Mr Lee objects to a failure to see that honour. Where Mr Tarantino sees a solidarity with the victims of the past, others might see a contemporary white American eager to believe that, given the opportunity, other peoples of yesteryear would have behaved as shabbily as his own people did.”
Scott Reynolds Nelson at chronicle.com, "Django Untangled: The Legend of the Bad Black Man".
“Like the characters in the blaxploitation films of the 1970s, the bad men in post-Civil War black folklore were ciphers. Never fully described, they wore big hats, rode horses, and spoke with their pistols…. To fight against ‘the man’ was suicide — but it was a beautiful death.”
Edward Kosner in WSJ on Bruce Levine’s book, The Fall of the House of Dixie.
“The scope of slavery at its crest in the decade before Fort Sumter was as vast as it was appalling. In 1858, writes Mr. Levine, there were nearly 60,000 Americans who owned at least 20 slaves. Three thousand men owned 100 or more, and one Georgia planter boasted 1,500 human chattels spread over several properties. In all, there were four million slaves in the states that would form the Confederacy and elsewhere in the Union and its territories. They were valued at the equivalent of $83 billion in today's dollars. The cotton they raised represented fully half of the exports of the young republic, mostly to Britain's ‘dark satanic mills.’ The power of the slave interests was as much political as it was economic. Of the 15 presidents before Lincoln, all but three—the two Adamses and William Henry Harrison, who died after just a month in office—were slave owners or their enablers. Across the South, planters dominated state houses, local governments and congressional delegations.”
Barton Swaim in WSJ on Michele Gillespie’s book, Katherine and R.J. Reynolds.
“In 1874 or 1875, Reynolds headed south to the tiny but rail-connected village of Winston, N.C., and there he stayed, literally putting Winston on the map—the town became Winston-Salem when Reynolds, by then the head of one of the largest companies in the region, persuaded the two towns' officials to consolidate in order to attract investment. A few years and a great deal of wealth and capital later, when the tobacco giant Buck Duke temporarily subsumed his company under the American Tobacco Co., Reynolds refused to move his headquarters to New Jersey. That, as Michele Gillespie shows in Katharine and R.J. Reynolds: Partners of Fortune in the Making of the New South, was just one way in which Reynolds resisted the corporatization of American manufacturing. His ledger books are also full of gifts to churches and civic groups, both black and white, and he was famous for encouraging his workers to approach him for help. Ms. Gillespie calls this ‘paternalism’ and points out that Reynolds's concern for his employees had as much to do with his own interests as any moral concern.”
Blain Roberts in NYT, "The Ugly Side of the Southern Belle".
“Southern Miss Americas also symbolized what was at stake in the battle over desegregation: the possibility of interracial sex. Their scantily clad bodies splashed across newspapers nationwide, young white women were the Southerners who would supposedly suffer most if schools were integrated. They would become vulnerable to black men in other public facilities as well, especially swimming pools. Indeed, precisely because they were ‘more sensitive than schools,’ a judge upheld the segregation of Baltimore’s municipal pools in 1954. The Southern Miss Americas of the 1950s and ’60s embodied the Southern ‘way of life’ and justified its defense, however strident. ‘The winner always carries the ideals of her city and state throughout the world,’ Miss South Carolina, Marian McKnight, announced during the 1956 finals (she won the crown). She added that those of her home state were ‘the finest ideals there are.’ It makes sense that white Southerners would celebrate these ideals, but the rest of the nation was also complicit in the South’s Miss America reign. After all, the region’s strong showing at the pageant post-Brown coincided with the contest’s television debut, and during much of this period, the Miss America Pageant annually rated as the first- or second-most-popular show on television.”
Adam White in WSJ on Constance Jordan’s book, Reason and Imagination.
“Judge Hand rejected Brown not in spite of his progressive values but because of them. That is the major lesson imparted by Reason and Imagination, a collection of Hand's selected correspondence edited by Constance Jordan (a retired English professor and Hand's granddaughter). The book traces Hand's intellectual journey through the words of Hand himself and those of his correspondents, especially his friends Felix Frankfurter and Walter Lippmann. It becomes clear, over the course of these letters, that the views that propelled Hand to acclaim in the first half of his career were also those that, retained with increasing rigidity and even bitterness, put him at odds with the defining legal decision of his lifetime.”
John Kass in CT, "Symbolism Buried with an Imperfect Victim".
"Stokes wasn't an innocent. Far from it. Police said he was a Gangster Disciple. But there were people who loved him, children and parents and friends, and they wept at his grave with the snow falling Tuesday. About 10 days ago, he was shot in a dice game on the South Side, one of more than 40 homicide victims during Chicago's bloody January. Because he wasn't that perfect victim, there were no politicians eager to make the big speech at St. Andrews Temple on Marquette Road, or later at the graveside at Mount Hope Cemetery. So there was no reason to turn him into a symbol for political policies and political agendas. The dozens of young men in mourning at the funeral weren't big speechmakers. They wore stony faces under the straight brims of their baseball caps. They stood on the steps of that church on the edge of Englewood and stared hard at the cops who were in the street, providing security, staring right back at them. The only big speech was made by a gravedigger at Mount Hope after all the mourners had walked back to their cars in the snow. The gravedigger told me to call him Mississippi. His partner was named Raul. 'They never learn,' said Mississippi as he turned a crank and set the gears to grinding. 'I see all these young men up in here. And I try to tell them. And then I see them again up here.'"
Rebecca Keegan in LAT, "Database Catalogs Movie Firearms".
"Relying on the same wisdom-of-the-crowd model as Wikipedia, Christopher Serrano, 29, and a stable of about 300 regular volunteers have meticulously cataloged the weapons, along with screen shots, in more than 11,500 articles, including entries on underwater firearms, missile launchers and flame throwers. The site is laid out in a simple, schematic style, with pictures, quotes and trivia. But it's the searchable database — similar to the Amazon-owned Internet Movie Database (IMDB) — that has made IMFDB.org a resource for Hollywood prop masters, casual gun collectors and anyone looking to settle a bar bet about what kind of rifles Jamie Foxx is carrying in Django Unchained (a variant of a Sharps rifle and a Remington 1858 'Cattleman's Carbine')."
Nick Street in WSJ, "How Megan Fox Got the Holy Spirit".
"The L.A. of 1906 was very different from the relatively stable, suburbanized metropolis of today. Racial unrest, violent labor protests and the threat of typhus, cholera and even bubonic plague roiled Southern California. Los Angeles itself was experiencing difficult growing pains—the city would triple in size during that first decade of the 20th century, and a boom-and-bust economy had created a restive underclass. In the midst of this turmoil an unorthodox black preacher named William J. Seymour appeared. Seymour's testimony about the spiritual transformation that followed the believer's personal experience of the Holy Spirit connected a radically individualist form of Christianity to the event at Pentecost—an account in the New Testament that serves as a touchstone for both Pentecostals and their Catholic counterparts, Charismatic Renewalists. During the Pentecost event, which is supposed to have occurred 50 days after Jesus' resurrection, his 12 main disciples and several dozen other followers were visited by the Holy Spirit, an ecstatic encounter that bestowed on them abilities such as healing, prophesy and supernatural speech—or 'speaking in tongues.' Seymour's church on Azusa Street in downtown L.A. drew motley throngs that alarmed members of a civic and religious establishment. They saw little to like in a black preacher leading an interracial flock that engaged in a noisily emotional form of worship. But the emphasis on emotion in Pentecostalism was, arguably, the primary reason it proved so attractive."
Fred "The Hammer" Williamson interview in New York:
"Eric Benson: Have you seen Django?
Fred Williamson: No, I haven’t seen it. I’m not sure I will.
Why is that?
I don’t want to see me in the film. I know my friend Jamie Foxx gave a good performance. But I’m still alive. I’m still capable. I’m still able. I still look the way I looked in the seventies. There are no new wrinkles. I can still jump out of cars and jump out of planes and do all the things I did. I still want to be in a position where they say, 'Bring me the Hammer! Don’t bring me somebody that looks like the Hammer, acts like the Hammer, talks like the Hammer; bring me the Hammer!'
Are you in touch with Tarantino at all?
I appreciate the acknowledgement by Quentin of The Legend of Nigger Charley. I did a good performance with Quentin in From Dusk Till Dawn. But you don’t go knocking on the door of a guy like that and say, 'Hey, put me in your movie.' If he wants you in the movie, then he’ll call you. I haven’t been called, so I’m not needed. But I’m emulated. I’m not needed, but I’m emulated.
What did you think of Spike Lee’s comment that seeing Django would be disrespectful to his ancestors?
That’s ridiculous. That’s flat-out ridiculous. Movies don’t emulate life. Why doesn’t Spike make a slavery movie? I’m available, Spike! We can make Nigger Charley 2, or Nigger Charley 3 and 4."
From the London desk of Steve Beeho...
The Manchester District Music Archive has started to digitise the back issues of the legendary City Fun zine, which ran from 1978 - 1984.
Target Video's YouTube channel which seems to have slipped under the radar, judging by the general number of views. More please!
Class Wargames film The Game of War, inspired by Guy Debord's and Alice Becker-Ho's board game.
John Barker at 3ammagazine reviews Richard Barbrook and Fabian Thompsett's accompanying book:
"It describes how a group was formed to popularise and play the Game of War which Guy Debord spent the last 10 years of his life developing and playing with Alice Becker-Ho. It lists the various public venues where the group has played the game in real time, but also describes the game in detail and hints at why they think it is important. The first, unstated, is to rescue Debord, long term member and survivor of the Situationist International (SI), from the ironic recuperation of him and the SI by the cultural establishment they despised. Ironic because they were so hot on any kind of politics that could be, as they called it, recuperated, that is, absorbed by the very ‘Spectacle’ they had described. To have an exhibition devoted to them at the Pompidou Centre in 1987, and then for his personal archive to be described as ‘a national treasure’ by the French Minister of Culture in 2009 was the unkindest cut for someone who lived by the sword."
The publisher-endorsed pdf of "Expect Anything Fear Nothing" which focuses primarily on Scandinavian Situationist activity, emphasising the usually down-played significance of Asger Jorn.
The most entertaining piece is Stewart Home's "The Self-Mythologisation of the Situationist International":
"It could almost go without saying that Debord was a comic figure who was unable to understand anything happening beyond the end of his own nose; the way in which he attempted to replicate the organisational structure he’d established in Paris elsewhere in the world shows he had no understanding of how different Northern Europe and North America was at that time from his native France. In England he recruited Chris Gray and Charlie Radcliffe as London activists to do his donkey work, and then put them together with a couple of English students who hung around with him in Paris; Debord didn’t actually tell T.J. Clark and Donald Nicholson- Smith they were supposed to control Radcliffe and Gray, and when things went wrong they were expelled for failing in a task they didn't know they’d been charged with."
The unjustly obscure Punk: The Early Years documentary, packed with great live footage and interviews with first generation British punk luminaries.
Andrew Earle in Spin on the "40 Weirdest Post-Nevermind Major Label Albums":
"Flipper - American Grafishy (Def American, 1993) In early-'80s American hardcore, Flipper were a special band of antagonists for a scene in need of antagonism. No major label was jumping at their monolithic, slo-mo, sludge-drone, which was usually based around an intentionally plodding single riff repeated into oblivion. However, it's no secret that Flipper were influential in the underground: see Black Flag's later records, Melvins' use of space, the entire Pissed Jeans' discography, and everything about Rick Rubin's lesser-known art-punk hobby, Hose. In the early '90s, Rubin was in the process of reissuing classic Flipper material (through the Infinite Zero label that he ran with Henry Rollins) and decided to give the guys a chance to record a new album. If Flipper itself was a bizarre thing to invest in, then consider this dismal version of the band, minus co-frontman/bassist Will Shatter, who died in 1987."
Fred Macpherson at Vice.com "The future of guitar music":
"The guitar continues to hold a consistent place in our lives on both a commercial and cultural level, yet we're still patronised on the subject of how popular it's about to become by the UK media every other January. This has been going on for at least the last decade. NME's pre-occupation with it all is, at least, understandable – they've been Miss Havisham in Converse since 2001, yet to come to terms with the fact that The Strokes' Is This It really was "It". And "It" was the final line drawn under indie as a cultural phenomenon, leaving only a dressing up box of sound and style."
David Brown on a new Dangerhouse release, Sienna Nanini - "Pants Down Time"
"After Wall of Voodoo flamed out and failed to get new bands or liver transplants, percussionist Joe Nanini (the first drummer to combine live and e-drums in recorded and live punk) made an LP in the late 1990s on his way to buy some more heroin in Koreatown. Calling on old friends Billy Bass Nelson (he of pre-Bootsy Funkadelic), multi-sax/reed Hollywood genius Spyder Mitellmann, proto-punk KK Barrett of the Screamers, Rhino 39 superstars Jason Scharback and Larry Parrott, as well as the undead, unmatched Dangerhouse Records production team, all these souls spewed forth a sound that couldn't be repeated in public, and never was, as band members kept dying more quickly than they could be replaced. Deep shit to say the least, and its lyrical quiescence should be completely thawed before fundamental assimilation, as the instrumentals contain no words. As a special down-low bonus, the cover art is Joe's homosexual cartoon animal salute to the original Beggar's Banquet LP sleeve. Why release this record now? Cuz everything else is such unlistenable, boring trash! Pants Down Time is a forgotten, raw slab of vinyl whose time has (perhaps) finally arrived! Sienna Nanini, Joe's vision of a questionable pre-recorded, neo-Eurotrash band with limp wrists and ponytails, wraps a unique, densely-mixed screech around your head. No-core collectors should scratch themselves with wonderment as this is the first release of new material on the original Dangerhouse label since 1979!!! Whatever!"
The UCLA class of 1975 gets its due.
Quarry Pond in Naperville
Photo by Joe Carducci
From the DuPage desk of Joe Carducci…
Michael Cieply & Brooks Barnes in NYT, "To Get Movies Into China, Hollywood Gives Censors a Preview".
“One production currently facing scrutiny is Disney and Marvel’s ‘Iron Man 3,’ parts of which were filmed in Beijing in the last month. It proceeded under the watchful eye of Chinese bureaucrats, who were invited to the set and asked to advise on creative decisions, according to people briefed on the production who asked for anonymity to avoid conflict with government or company officials. Marvel and Disney had no comment. Another prominent film, Ang Lee’s ‘Life of Pi,’ which was nominated last week for 11 Academy Awards, made it through the process mostly unscathed, but got some pushback over a line in which a character declared that ‘religion is darkness.’ ‘They modified the translation a little, for fear of provoking religious people,’ Mr. Lee said. Hollywood as a whole is shifting toward China-friendly fantasies that will fit comfortably within a revised quota system, which allows more international films to be distributed in China, where 3-D and large-format Imax pictures are particularly favored.
At the same time, it is avoiding subject matter and situations that are likely to cause conflict with the roughly three dozen members of a censorship board run by China’s powerful State Administration of Radio, Film and Television, or S.A.R.F.T.”
Peter Aspden in FT, "Western Values".
“It is both a boon and a curse for American civilisation to be the only one mythologised in modern popular culture. In a fledgling nation, this art form immediately resonated with a public anxious to establish an ethical code. The frontier: beautiful metaphor, scary place. America needed its heroes to be better, and badder, than the baddest guys in town. It needed expert gunslingers to persuade people that their future prosperity should not depend on guns. In that respect, the cowboy was a self-destructive hero, which doubly ennobled him. But the symbiosis between America and its fables also posed a problem. Westerns lacked the gravitas of the centuries-old mythologies. The Greeks don’t mess about with Aeschylus. The words of Confucius continue to weigh heavily on the Chinese. But westerns, like all great popular art forms, swayed with the times. They were malleable, able to reflect subtle changes in social attitudes. The taciturn heroes of the 1930s turned into the light-hearted rebels of the 1970s’ Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and then the redemption-seeking outlaw of Clint Eastwood’s Unforgiven. Westerns found themselves unable to remain constant in their moral viewpoints.”
Gary Silverman in FT, "Bricks, Mortar, Stones and Ramones".
“Once I popped into the store and spotted a guy rummaging through the rare albums who had skin so translucent he resembled one of those pictures in an anatomy textbook that identifies the blood vessels of the human body. We made eye contact and I said to myself: ‘That’s Ron Wood of the Rolling Stones.’ I’m sure I was right, and here’s why: every time the see-through man found something he liked, he would say, ‘Fantastic’ in an English accent and fling the album cover over his shoulder (they kept the vinyl in the back so you couldn’t steal it). A big man wearing a sweat suit would then pick it up from the floor and pay for the record using a roll of bills as thick as a Chippendale’s bicep. Another of my rock ’n’ roll moments involved Dee Dee Ramone, late bassist of punk rock group the Ramones. Resplendent in a black-and-white leather jacket with western fringe, Dee Dee proved every inch a Ramone as he engaged in a lengthy circular conversation with the sullen guy behind the counter. At issue was Dee Dee’s rap album (described by at least one reviewer as ‘one of the worst recordings of all time’). ‘You like it?’ Dee Dee began. ‘Yeah,’ was the response. ‘Really?’ Dee Dee asked. ‘Yeah,’ the guy replied. After a pause to collect his thoughts, Dee Dee returned to his opening gambit. ‘You like it?’ he asked – and the colloquy was repeated, more or less verbatim. Today, as I look back on those punk rock days, I realise that the people I most wanted to meet at record stores weren’t celebrities but people who were like me – and might like me because of that. If these people happened to look like Julie Christie, or the women at university who did their homework in the art museum library, so much the better. Things worked out differently for me, as they probably did for many other young men who took their music seriously in those days. But I remain grateful to those old record stores for giving me a reason to move about in the world and see what I could find.”
Mike Hobart in FT on Duncan Heining’s book, Trad Dads, Dirty Boppers and Free Fusioneers – British Jazz, 1960-1975.
“Yet Heining is critical of those who make too much of divisions within jazz, preferring to emphasise continuity. We soon learn that the sectarianism voiced in Birmingham, though great copy, was an aberration, certainly for most working musicians. They mingled and mixed, drew lessons from one style and transported them to another. Thus, somewhat surprisingly, such figures of rock as Cream’s Ginger Baker and Jack Bruce started off playing in traditional jazz bands. Heining quotes Pete Townshend: ‘You hear some very weird shit in The Who’s sound, and some of it has got to do with the fact that we used to play a lot of ‘trad’ jazz.’ Of course, the rapid aesthetic changes Heining so accurately captures were fuelled in part by what was happening in the US. But the author, who has previously written about the late American pianist and composer George Russell, shows how British jazz had its own lineages and dynamics. Indeed musicians of all stripes were extraordinarily driven in their search for personal authenticity. When the book opens, jazz is both promoted on variety bills and lurking in pub back rooms. By the book’s end, a college circuit has come and withered, and musicians are scrabbling for Arts Council grants.”
Scott Eyman in WSJ on Michael Ankerich’s book, Mae Murray.
“There's a priceless story about Mae Murray going to see ‘Sunset Boulevard,’ Billy Wilder's 1950 masterpiece about a silent-movie queen hopelessly barricaded behind fantasies of her own enduring stardom. ‘None of us floozies were that nuts,’ Murray is reported to have said in dismissing the film. Michael Ankerich, in this always interesting biography, suggests that, tragically, the story may be apocryphal. My own doubts revolve around where Murray would have gotten the money to see the movie: She was broke by the mid-1930s and destitute by 1950. But if the story is true, Murray was wrong. Some of those floozies were that nuts, and she was Exhibit A. In an era of indulgence—movie stars in the 1920s made huge sums, and income tax was a minor annoyance—no actress put on a gaudier show than Mae Murray. She was born Anna Mary Koenig on Manhattan's Lower East Side, in 1885, but by 1920 she lived at the Hotel Des Artistes in Manhattan and painted her living-room ceiling with $7,000 of gold leaf. Her Rolls-Royce had solid gold trim and sable lap rugs. She gave birth to a son, apparently without benefit of wedlock, after flings with Rudolph Valentino and Georges Carpentier. Nobody is sure who the father was, although shortly after the birth she married David Mdivani, one of the marrying Mdivanis—bogus Georgian princes who specialized in wedding rich women, soon to be considerably less so. (Other victims included Pola Negri and Barbara Hutton.)”
Christopher Caldwell in FT, "Gangnam Stylishly Debunks Myth of US Cultural Genius".
“Why have Americans so dominated the globalised part of popular culture up till now? Despite complaints from France and elsewhere, it was not a matter of ‘cultural imperialism’. The US has little in the way of cultural infrastructure abroad, like Germany’s Goethe Institutes or the British Council. And that should not matter because, to repeat, the culture we are talking about is not American culture – it is an international culture in which Americans have played the leading role. The US has benefited from intangible advantages. It uses the lingua franca, the cultural equivalent of printing a reserve currency. It is easier for authors to get translated from English than into English, and the same principle holds for movies. US corporations have the longest familiarity with the relatively new business models used in cultural markets. For instance, iTunes is an American invention. This magnifies US cultural advantages because the market into which artists from other countries must sell is often abysmal. A superb report by Youkyung Lee and Ryan Nakashima showed how little Psy has made from ‘Gangnam Style’ in his native South Korea: about $50,000 from CD sales and $61,000 from 3.6m downloads.”
Stephen Budiansky in WSJ on Jared Diamond’s book, The World Until Yesterday.
“He notes that in most hunter-gatherer cultures children are nursed on demand until age 3 or 4, sleep with their parents, are comforted instantly when they cry, and play together in multi-age play groups. They also are rarely punished and allowed far more freedom than we are generally comfortable with. Among the !Kung and Aka pygmies of Africa, children are never physically disciplined, on the grounds that they ‘have no wits and are not responsible for their actions,’ Mr. Diamond writes. ‘Instead, !Kung and Aka children are permitted to slap and insult their parents.’ In one tribe in the New Guinea Highlands, Mr. Diamond noticed that most of the adults had serious burn scars. It turned out these were mostly acquired in infancy: The adults made it a practice never to interfere with a baby, to the point of not preventing them playing around or touching a fire. (Other groups let small children play with sharp knives.) Westerners who have lived with these small-scale societies are ‘struck by the precocious development of social skills in their children’; they are responsible, articulate and competent, and the ‘adolescent identity crises that plague American teenagers aren't an issue.’ But Mr. Diamond admits that all these impressions ‘are just impressions,’ hard to measure and prove, and his ultimate verdict is nuanced: ‘At a minimum . . . one can say that hunter-gatherer rearing practices that seem so foreign to us aren't disastrous, and they don't produce societies of obvious sociopaths.’”
Lisa Pevtzow in CT, "Kids Given Free Range".
“Monica said she first began thinking about this two years ago when her daughter Cassidy, now 9, asked her why the children in the books she reads, books written in the 1960s and 1970s, all wander around by themselves. ‘I told her that was how I grew up, and she said she wanted to do it too,’ Monica said. Monica and her husband thought about moving to the suburbs. Their friend told them not to bother, because suburban parents don't really let their children out either. Instead, they decided to meet up with some like-minded parents and try something that seems almost radical in this day and age. For several years now, parents have been told by child-rearing experts that they need to throw the helicopter out with the bathwater and raise resilient children who can handle failure and are able to move independently through the world. They are told to unwrap the down comforter their children are smothered in and let them experience the consequences of boredom, the occasional bad teacher or a bad grade. But Monica's group did not want her last name used in this article. Although the parents have taken a stand about letting their children explore their neighborhood unsupervised and believe the risks of predators are overblown, a newspaper story about them still pushes the edge of their comfort zone, and they feel that giving too much identifying information tempts fate.”
Paige Hochschild in FIRST THINGS, "What Are Children For? ".
“The law increasingly required that marriage be entered into freely by both parties and that both ‘must stand on a common footing of equal rights and duties.’ It is easier he condescendingly notes, for the impoverished proletariat to enter into such marriages because they have no real property to preserve in marriage and thus can marry solely for love. If love, however is the chief motivation for entering into a marriage, then ‘falling out of’ love is naturally a good reason to end a marriage, and the wife – until then rarely permitted legally to divorce – should be as free to end it as the husband. Where are the children in this evolving picture of marriage? Engels argues that in traditional societies, the motivation for having offspring was largely a matter of economics, honor, family lineage, and so on. In modern societies, children no longer confer any necessary economic advantage and instead are clearly a financial burden. The only possible reason to have them now is natural affectivity, and Engels believes this ought to be the sole reason for having a child – indeed, this motivation safeguards children from the logic of capitalist society. Though parents, particularly mothers, have natural affection for their offspring, Engels insists that children are just one of the many effects of marriage, all of which are meant to contribute to the couple’s personal fulfillment. He has absolutely no vision of a further social good to which the having of children might be ordered in the absence of economic considerations. And on precisely that point he proves prophetic. Affective models of marriage and parenting dominate today, with attendant obsessions with psychological fulfillment, behavior, status, and methodology. Indeed, there are no longer many good reasons to have children, to the extent that they no longer contribute usefully to the running of a household.”
Mark Oppenheimer in NYT, "A Pioneer of Home Schooling Looks to Its Technological Future".
“Back in 1993, when Mary Pride and her husband appeared with their eight children in the first issue of Wired magazine, it was hard to say what seemed strangest: that the Prides were Protestants who rejected birth control, that they home-schooled their children or that in home schooling they relied heavily on computer software. All those choices would have seemed bravely countercultural, or just weird. ‘Bill and Mary Pride have eight kids, all of them home-schooled,’ begins the short profile, under the headline ‘Crash-Tested Homework.’ The family’s home classroom is ‘stuffed with a Mac, Apple IIGS, Amiga, a 386 clone, various CD-ROM devices, Nintendo, a Miracle piano system, and so on.’ The small photograph accompanying the article shows Bill Pride, with his beard and wide red suspenders, presiding over a gaggle of children and two stone-age desktop computers. ‘In between lessons,’ the article continues, ‘Ma and Pa and their computer-savvy kids have evaluated every piece of educational software known to be on the market. The kids are ceaseless and merciless testers.’ Curious readers could find the family’s judgments summed up in ‘Prides’ Guide to Educational Software,’ published the previous year.”
Sue Shellenbarger in WSJ, "At-Home Dads Make Parenting More of a ‘Guy’ Thing".
“At-home dads aren't trying to be perfect moms, says a recent study in the Journal of Consumer Research. Instead, they take pride in letting their children take more risks on the playground, compared with their spouses. They tend to jettison daily routines in favor of spontaneous adventures with the kids. And many use technology or DIY skills to squeeze household budgets, or find shortcuts through projects and chores, says the study, based on interviews, observation of father-child outings and an analysis of thousands of pages of at-home dads' blogs and online commentary. ‘Just as we saw a feminization of the workplace in the past few decades, with more emphasis on such skills as empathy and listening, we are seeing the opposite at home—a masculinization of domestic tasks and routines,’ says Gokcen Coskuner-Balli, an assistant professor of marketing at Chapman University in Orange, Calif., and lead author of the study. ‘Many men are building this alternative model of home life that is outdoorsy, playful and more technology-oriented.’”
Meghan Clyne in WSJ on Stephen Asma’s book, Against Fairness.
“Many of Mr. Asma's claims rest on evolutionary biology. We are biologically wired for favoritism, he says. It begins with our ‘first circle of favorites’: the nuclear family, to whom we are bonded by processes like imprinting and hormones like oxytocin. Darwinian kin selection, meanwhile, has shaped social animals to prize the well-being of their clans above their own safety, as when prairie dogs chirp to warn relatives of nearby predators. Over several centuries, though, Western cultural developments have driven us to resist our natural favoritism. Where medieval art allowed ‘favorites’—saints, patrons—to be portrayed larger than life, the introduction of perspective standardized dimensions. After Galileo and Newton, the Earth was no longer the center of the universe but simply one of many celestial bodies all governed by the same laws of motion. And the revolution wasn't just limited to science. Adam Smith called for an ‘impartial spectator’ perspective in ethics; Jeremy Bentham tried to mathematize pleasure and pain. Today, Mr. Asma says, ‘well-educated liberal secular Westerners see morality exclusively as the respecting of individual rights,’ which requires every individual to be treated the same. Our contemporary egalitarianism, the author argues, is reinforced by some unhappy conditions of modern life. The digital world offers networks of hundreds, sometimes thousands, of ‘friends,’ but these are hollow imitations of real tribes, forged through shared histories and mutual sacrifices. False advertising helps, too. Children's entertainment, like ‘Sesame Street,’ erroneously labels basic good behavior—don't be racist, share—as "fairness" when in fact it is ‘tolerance’ or ‘generosity,’ both of which are fully compatible with favoritism. Mr. Asma makes a powerful case that egalitarianism is driven principally by envy, and in our materialistic, post-religious age, emotions like envy ‘find new secular outlets.’
WSJ: "We, Too, Are Violent Animals".
“The violence among chimpanzees is impressively humanlike in several ways. Consider primitive human warfare, which has been well documented around the world. Groups of hunter-gatherers who come into contact with militarily superior groups of farmers rapidly abandon war, but where power is more equal, the hostility between societies that speak different languages is almost endless. Under those conditions, hunter-gatherers are remarkably similar to chimpanzees: Killings are mostly carried out by males, the killers tend to act in small gangs attacking vulnerable individuals, and every adult male in the society readily participates. Moreover, with hunter-gatherers as with chimpanzees, the ordinary response to encountering strangers who are vulnerable is to attack them. Most animals do not exhibit this striking constellation of behaviors, but chimpanzees and humans are not the only species that form coalitions for killing. Other animals that use this strategy to kill their own species include group-living carnivores such as lions, spotted hyenas and wolves. The resulting mortality rate can be high: Among wolves, up to 40% of adults die from attacks by other packs. Killing among these carnivores shows that ape-sized brains and grasping hands do not account for this unusual violent behavior. Two other features appear to be critical: variable group size and group-held territory.”
Dennis Byrne in CT, "Reflecting on 40 Years of Roe, Doe".
“Doe v. Bolton is the companion to the Roe v. Wade case that legalized abortion. Doe v. Bolton, issued on the same day, took Roe a step further by legalizing abortion for any reason at any time during pregnancy. In effect, Doe v. Bolton, however unintentionally, negated Roe's reasonable proclamation that the constitutional right to an abortion is not absolute. Despite Doe's import, you'll notice that very few stories today about Roe's 40th anniversary mention it. This omission is extreme in its ignorance or dishonesty. Doe's significance is that it seeks to define Roe's declaration that abortion is permitted to preserve a woman's health. Doe's interpretation of the meaning of ‘health’ is so broad that it encompasses just about every possible reason — real or concocted — put forward by the woman and her doctor to legally justify an abortion up to and including the very moment of birth. In Doe, the court said: ‘We agree … that the medical judgment may be exercised in the light of all factors — physical, emotional, psychological, familial, and the woman's age — relevant to the well-being of the patient. All these factors may relate to health.’”
Stephen Asma at nytimes.com, "The Myth of Universal Love".
“Singer seems to be suggesting that I arrive at perfect egalitarian ethics by first accepting perfect egalitarian metaphysics. But I, for one, do not accept it. Nor, I venture to guess, do many others. All people are not equally entitled to my time, affection, resources or moral duties — and only conjectural assumption can make them appear so. (For many of us, family members are more entitled than friends, and friends more entitled than acquaintances, and acquaintances more than strangers, and so on.) It seems dubious to say that we should transcend tribe and be utilitarian because all people are equal, when the equal status of strangers and kin is an unproven and counterintuitive assumption. Singer’s abstract ‘ethical point of view’ is not wrong so much as irrelevant. Our actual lives are punctuated by moral gravity, which makes some people (kith and kin) much more central and forceful in our daily orbit of values. (Gravity is actually an apt metaphor. Some people in our lives take on great ‘affection mass’ and bend our continuum of values into a solar-system of biases. Family members usually have more moral gravity —what Robert Nozick calls ‘ethical pull.’”
James Taranto at wsj.com, "Gray Lady Dumps Darwin".
“It's unclear why we should think that responses to hypothetical proposals, such as those in the Conley study, would be a better guide to actual behavior than responses to play-acts that the experimental subjects believe to be genuine proposals. Do words speak louder than actions in Ann Arbor? That objection aside, the results of Conley's study are in no way inconsistent with those of the famous 1989 one. The latter found that men are far likelier than women to say yes to a proposal of sex on the basis of no information except physical appearance and a fleeting first impression. The former found that women are as apt as men to say yes to an offer of sex with a high-status partner, one who has proved himself either by becoming famous or by sexually satisfying a presumably trusted common friend. Men incline toward promiscuity, women toward hypergamy. Darwin 2, Slater 0. Why would the New York Times, which scoffs at creationism, publish such an intellectually slipshod attack on evolution? Because evolutionary psychology contradicts the feminist dogma that the sexes are created equal, that all differences between men and women (or at least those differences that represent male dominance or superiority) are pure products of cultural conditioning. Feminism is the new creationism. The left loves to scoff at people who believe that Genesis is literally true, but these days feminist beliefs are a lot more influential.”
Supriya Sharma in FT, "India Has at Last Broken Its Silence About Sexual Violence".
“In a country where an unborn girl faces the threat of annihilation, why did the tragedy of one woman resonate so deeply? The answer, I suspect, has a lot to do with the multiple empowerments under way in India: of women, of youth, of the middle class. This was visible in the village where a Jat girl, a schoolmate of the victim, shared information on the men from her own community accused of rape, choosing sisterhood over caste. Until it was cut short, the life of the 23-year-old woman contained the same kernel of promise: she was bright enough to inspire her father to sell his small parcel of land in the village to fund her college education. Even the most cynical of urban, affluent Indians could not look away. India’s urban middle class is notoriously apathetic. It safeguards its hard-earned prosperity by cocooning itself from the country’s daily cruelties. It can be berated for not caring about sexual violence in the conflict zones of Kashmir and Chhattisgarh, but, as the recent events show, it has at least begun to care about what happens in its cities.”
Gardiner Harris in NYT, "India’s New Focus on Rape Shows Only the Surface of Women’s Perils".
“Using techniques pioneered by Amartya Sen, an economist who won the Nobel Prize in 1998, researchers estimate that there are as many as 100 million ‘missing women,’ as Mr. Sen called them, in India. These are women who would be alive if they died at the same rates relative to men as woman die relative to men in more developed countries, and their ranks grow by nearly two million each year, studies by an American and Canadian research team concluded.
Some of these lives are ended before they begin: Indian women are far more likely to abort female fetuses than male ones. Still, such birth selection accounts for, at most, 12 percent of the figure, the researchers found. The official explanation for many of the deaths of ‘missing women’ is that they died from accidents or injuries, but there is little reason to believe that Indians are especially clumsy or accident-prone, the researchers said. Instead, they believe that in many cases the official explanations mask deadly crimes. ‘Our guess is that a lot of these deaths are due to the dowry phenomenon, but it just doesn’t get reported that way,’ said Siwan Anderson, an associate professor of economics at the University of British Columbia and an author of the studies.”
Ananth Krishnan at yale.edu, "In China, Delhi Gang Rape Spurs Online Debate, Censorship".
“Chinese authorities have moved to censor news about the Delhi gang rape and ensuing protests after the incident triggered a heated debate online between State media outlets and pro-democracy voices. The incident and the protests in New Delhi in recent days have received wide attention in China. While the brutal attack was initially highlighted by Communist Party-run outlets as indicative of the failures of India’s democratic system to ensure stability, the following protests in New Delhi triggered calls from pro-reform bloggers for the Chinese government to learn from India and to allow the public to express its voice.”
Angshukanta Chakraborty at opendemocracy.net, "At the Root of Rape Is Language".
“All foundational stories and histories of origin contain the rape of women and murder of men, women and children. From Livy’s history of Rome’s origins, to the present day extraction of historical records during medieval or colonial times, politics has been inextricably linked with the bodypolitic —especially of the woman. Raped, mutilated, dead or disappeared women litter the pages of history. The American state of Virginia is named after a historico-mythical character Verginia, who, when threatened with rape, is killed by her own father to let her escape the fate of being ‘violated.’ A number of American presidents have been known to rape their female acquaintances or attendants, but the tales are either hushed up as unsubstantiated rumours, or are circulated as juicy gossip of the President’s sexual bravado. In the world wars, women have been routinely used and raped: more so if they were from the working class, or had communist inclinations. Chastity is not a deterrent to rape: the hitherto chaste woman becomes defiled the moment she’s forcibly consumed. Closer home, in traditional Hindu scriptures and ancient lore, the ultimate authority of a husband over his wife was indicated by ‘his operational availability over her body’, as suggested by scholars of Indian gender studies. ‘Marriage makes man master of his wife’s womb,’ thus overruling any possibility of such a thing as ‘marital rape.’Further, the ideal wife, according to scriptures, is ‘one who does household chores like a servant, gives counsel like a minister, is as beautiful and charming as the goddess Laxmi, is as patient as the earth-goddess, bestows love and tenderness like a mother, and gives pleasure like a courtesan.’ A classic example of the treatment meted out to the wife is how Ram banishes Sita to the forest because he cannot fathom how a man, Raavan, can leave a woman within his power untouched. In the Hindutva-laced veneration of Ram as ‘maryada purushottam’ (the first among honourable men), his despicable but socially-enforced misogyny is firmly reinforced as the strength and nobility of his character, while Raavan, who indeed deserves respect for knowing how to behave with a woman, and who had vowed never to touch a woman without her consent, is cast as an evil abductor and the arch-villain.”
Sara Schonhardt in NYT, "Indonesian Women Told How to Ride Motorbikes".
“Leaflets have been circulating for a week in Lhokseumawe, in Aceh Province on the island of Sumatra, informing residents about a proposed bylaw that would prohibit women from sitting in a straddle position or holding on to the driver while riding on the back of a motorbike.
Most Indonesians are Muslims, but Aceh is the only province that seeks to strictly enforce Islamic law, or Shariah. The province already has bylaws prohibiting gambling and adultery and restricting how women may dress in public, with penalties that include public canings.”
John Eligon in NYT, "An Oil Town Where Men Are Many, and Women Are Hounded".
“Over the past six years, North Dakota has shot from the middle of the pack to become the state with the third-highest ratio of single young men to single young women in the country. In 2011, nearly 58 percent of North Dakota’s unmarried 18-to-34-year-olds were men, according to census data. That disparity was even starker in the three counties where the oil boom is heaviest — there were more than 1.6 young single men for every young single woman. And most people around here say the gap is considerably larger. Census data mostly captures permanent residents. Most of the men who come here to work maintain their primary residences elsewhere and split time between the oil fields and their homes. And women note that many of the men who approach them are married. Some women have banked on the female shortage. Williston’s two strip clubs attract dancers from around the country. Prostitutes from out of state troll the bars.”
Pam Belluck in NYT, "Zest a Likely Factor in ‘Perfect’ Woman’s Long Life".
“Published reports from 1912 and 1913 provide glimpses of the type of person Miss Scheel was and of her immediate-post-‘perfect’ experience. She participated in many sports, playing basketball at Cornell. ‘I play a guard, where my weight helps,’ she told a newspaper. She was a suffragette and, the Times article said, ‘doesn’t know what fear is.’ She ate only three meals every two days, loved beefsteak and shunned candy and caffeine. An article in The Oregonian asked her about her advice for healthy living, reporting that ‘Miss Scheel feels that the average girl does too much of the wrong sort of thing — too many dances and not enough good bracing tramps. I just got back from a 25-mile tramp to Enfield Falls.’ Some of the news media coverage was catty, even brutal. And it was extremely detailed. Her particulars — the size of her chest, waist and hips — were compared to the Venus de Milo. A day after the Times article, The New York Herald ran a story about Miss Scheel above the fold on its front page: ‘Brooklyn Venus Much Too Large is Verdict of Physical Culturists.’”
Sara Llana in CSM, "Do French Women Need Feminism? ".
“French professor Anne Deneys-Tunney, at New York University, says that she finds the US, where she has spent the last 20 years, to be a more egalitarian society for gender relations. American women have certain protections such as clear sexual harassment policies that are strictly enforced, yet it comes at a social cost, including a cultural tone that many French would find distasteful and too politically correct. The French want legal equality that doesn't come bound up in the inability to compliment women at work. ‘Women are freer here, but on the other hand, it has destroyed a certain charm, an innocence and lightness of life,’ she says. But that freedom can, at its worst, have a social cost. In July in the wake of the Strauss-Kahn case, for example, the country's female housing minister, Cécile Duflot, was subject to shouts and wolf whistles from the right-wing opposition as she prepared to address the national Parliament in a flowery but professional dress. The speaker of the chamber had to ask the male representatives to stop hooting at her. Yet Ms. Duflot didn't shy away from responding. As she began her address to the chamber amid taunting from the opposition, she said, ‘Ladies and gentlemen representatives, but mostly gentlemen, apparently.’”
Ian Thomson in FT on Lucy Hughes-Hallett’s book, The Pike – Gabriele d’Annunzio, Poet, Seducer and Preacher of War.
“In September 1919, in an attempt to restore Italy’s pride after the ‘mutilated victory’ of the first world war, d’Annunzio led 2,000 nationalist irregulars in seizing the Adriatic port of Fiume (later Rijeka, part of Croatia) in the newly formed Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes. Amid displays of balcony-ranting and other braggadocio he sought to reclaim the city as Italian territory. His fighters were dubbed ‘legionnaires’ to recall ancient Roman greatness, and they wore black shirts before the term fascismo was current. For more than a year, Fiume operated as an independent quasi-Fascist republic, giving Europe a glimpse of the dark decades ahead. Hughes-Hallett describes d’Annunzio as a ‘brilliant pasticheur’ – a man whom a contemporary likened to a lurking pike, snapping at passing fads and influences. But in many ways, his life was his own finest creation. He could come up with the wildest nonsense about himself (prematurely bald at the age of 22, he considered his egg-like cranium one of the ‘beauties of creation’). At the age of 52 he volunteered for frontline duty against the Austrians, crash-landing his warplane and losing his right eye. His lakeside villa in northern Italy, the Vittoriale, is a memorial to his bellicose exploits. On display are captured Austrian machine-guns as well as the coffin on which he used to lie and contemplate death, surrounded by leopard skins. Mussolini was impressed both by d’Annunzio’s priapic endeavours and his violent contempt for parliamentary liberalism. Yet d’Annunzio was unhappy about Mussolini’s ties to Hitler: the Germans were a barbarous horde from the wrong side of the Alps, he thought.”
David Roman in WSJ, "Spain Drains Fund Backing Pensions".
“Spain has been quietly tapping the country's richest piggy bank, the Social Security Reserve Fund, as a buyer of last resort for Spanish government bonds, raising questions about the fund's role as guarantor of future pension payouts. Now the scarcely noticed borrowing spree, carried out amid a prolonged economic crisis, is about to end, because there is little left to take. At least 90% of the €65 billion ($85.7 billion) fund has been invested in increasingly risky Spanish debt, according to official figures, and the government has begun withdrawing cash for emergency payments.”
Jack Ewing in NYT, "Germany Will Cart Home Some of Its Buried Treasure".
“During the cold war, West Germany followed a policy of storing its gold as far west as possible in case of a Soviet invasion. While that worry is gone, there is still an argument for keeping some gold in financial centers like New York and London. It remains the one currency that is accepted everywhere. In the event of a currency crisis, the gold could be quickly deployed in financial markets to help restore confidence. The New York Fed stores the German gold without cost on the theory that the presence of foreign gold supports the dollar’s status as the global reserve currency. A spokesman for the New York Fed declined to comment. The Bundesbank announcement follows a public outcry last year after a clash in Parliament about whether all the bank’s gold was properly accounted for. For the great many Germans who still rue the day they had to trade their marks for euros, there has been at least one consolation. If the common currency did not work out, Germany still had huge reserves of the hardest currency of all: gold. Except, as many people learned for the first time last year, it did not — at least not in the country itself. More than two-thirds of Germany’s gold reserves, valued at 137 billion euros, or $183 billion, is abroad, stored in vaults in New York, Paris and London. The new policy will include the complete withdrawal of 374 tons of German gold stored at the Banque de France in Paris, about 11 percent of the total. Bundesbank officials were quick to note that the decision was not a reflection of French trustworthiness.”
Kostas Vaxevanis in NYT, "Greece’s Rotten Oligarchy".
“For all that has been said about the Greek crisis, much has been left unsaid. The crisis has become a battleground of interests and ideologies. At stake is the role of the public sector and the welfare state. Yes, in Greece we have a dysfunctional public sector; for the past 40 years the ruling parties handed out government jobs to their supporters, regardless of their qualifications.
But the real problem with the public sector is the tiny elite of business people who live off the Greek state while passing themselves off as ‘entrepreneurs.’ They bribe politicians to get fat government contracts, usually at inflated prices. They also own many of the country’s media outlets, and thus manage to ensure that their actions are clothed in silence.”
Leon Aron in WSJ on Vladimir Tismaneanu’s book, The Devil in History.
“Quite properly, there is more in this book about communism and Stalinism than fascism and Nazism. Although the former survived the latter, in Europe, by almost half a century (and still rules Cuba, North Korea and Vietnam), documentation of communism, its crimes and, especially, its victims has been minuscule compared with the myriad studies of fascism, even as, by one estimate in the book, fascism cost 25 million lives and communism between 80 and 100 million. The ‘Black Book of Communism,’ a catalog of killings, tortures, famines, mass deportations and deaths in camps, was not published until 1997—and even then, as Mr. Tismaneanu reminds us, it met with fierce critique by defenders of the communist ‘experiment.’
The greater attention to communism is justified not only as the correction of a glaring historical and analytical imbalance. Despite occasional pathetic attempts at revival, fascism died with Hitler and Mussolini, but the dragon teeth that Lenin and Stalin and Mao sowed in the soil of Marxism have not been extracted or lost their potency, even with the fall, or erosion, of state communism. Whether in the streets of major European cities, ‘occupied’ Wall Street or al Qaeda hide-outs, the key elements of the ‘totalitarian temptation,’ of which we have been warned by Raymond Aron, Isaiah Berlin, Albert Camus, Czeslaw Miłosz, Karl Popper, Jean-François Revel and Boris Souvarine, are instantly recognizable, embodying the themes explored by Mr. Tismaneanu: the zero-sum Manichaeism of Lenin's ‘kto kogo’ (‘Who [defeats] whom’) political philosophy; the stigmatization, demonization and, eventually, dehumanization of the ‘enemy’; radical egalitarianism; the fanatical hatred of ‘bourgeois philistinism’ and democratic capitalism; and the ecstatic hope of deliverance from the uncertainties of economic and political competition into a conflictless Eden under an omnipotent state.”
Patricia Kowsmann in WSJ, "Slowing Birthrates Weigh on Europe’s Weak Economies".
“Experts say a 2.1 fertility rate is needed to keep the population stable, assuming net migration is zero. In crisis-stricken Greece, the fertility rate dropped to an estimated 1.43 in 2011 after rising to 1.51 in 2008 from 1.27 in 2000, Mr. Sobotka said. Official data from Greece show abortions there rose 50% to 300,000 in 2011 from 2010. In Spain, which has one of the highest unemployment rates in Europe, the fertility rate fell to 1.36 in 2011, after increasing to 1.46 in 2008 from 1.23 in 2000, according to Mr. Sobotka's data. In Ireland, the economy is still growing despite the country's austerity regime, begun when it took a bailout in 2010. The Irish birthrate registered only a modest fall in 2011, Mr. Sobotka said, to 2.05 from 2.1 in 2008. In Portugal, the number of births in 2012 is expected to tally around 90,000, the lowest level in more than 60 years.”
Satyajit Das in FT, "More Closed Economies Will Not Aid Recovery".
“In a world of lower growth, nations seek to improve their own position through trade restrictions, manipulating currency values, capital controls and different regulatory regimes. These policies reinforce the trend to autarky. Despite oft-repeated statements at G20 meetings about the importance of free trade and avoiding the mistakes of the 1930s, trade restrictions are increasing. Subsidies, government procurement policies favouring national suppliers, ‘buy local’ campaigns, preferential financing and industry assistance policies are used to direct demand. Safety and environmental standards are used to prevent foreign products penetrating national markets.”
Samuel Brittan in FT, "The Long Foreshadowed Decline of Western Dominance".
“It may be worth starting with the German writer Oswald Spengler who published in 1918-1923 an alarmist book, The Decline of the West. He was not so much wrong as premature. And like many ‘declinists’ he failed to see that a decline in relative position was compatible with high and even rising western living standards. Indeed, what has to be explained is not the west’s looming relative decline but its temporary pre-eminence. Of a world population approaching 7bn, the US and western Europe together account for a mere 770m. Their gross domestic product per head – a very approximate guide to living standards – is three times the world average. Such discrepancies can hardly be expected to last in an increasingly globalised planet. In 1500, just after Christopher Columbus’s voyages of discovery, China and India were both estimated to have had a total GDP considerably higher than western Europe’s and GDP per head only slightly lower. Earlier still, in about 1000, living standards were fairly uniform – and low – throughout the world but the estimates show China slightly in the lead. The reversal towards an earlier norm has already started. Emerging and developing countries now account, for the first time in the modern era, for about half of total world output. Historians have offered endless explanations for the west’s temporary surge: religions that put more emphasis on the individual and his activities in this life; an intellectual climate more favourable to scientific thought; property rights that safeguarded acquisitions of wealth; less autocratic forms of government. The list is endless and doubtless all these elements played a part. In the late 18th century the government of England’s George III sent a trade mission to China, only to be rebuffed by the Chinese emperor who declared that his country had everything it required and did not need western trinkets.”
Harry Eyres in FT, "Tales of Colonial Derring-do".
“The tensions that arose between Raffles and Farquhar when Raffles returned to Singapore in 1822, and resulted in Farquhar’s summary dismissal from the post of Resident, were partly caused by disagreements over style of administration. Farquhar had a ‘native wife’, the half-Malay Nonya Clemaine by whom he had six children, whom he supported even when he returned to Scotland and married a younger bride. He was thus embedded in Malay society in a way that Raffles, for all his mastery of the language, never was. His ‘mild sway’ included the toleration – among the native though not the European population – of the opium trade and of slavery. In one way, despite his unfair treatment at the hands both of Raffles and of posterity, Farquhar was fortunate. He managed to preserve the most enchanting and appropriate monument, for a man who made himself widely loved and appreciated in a far-off place, and had the intensest interest in its flora and fauna. That monument consists of his collection of 477 natural history drawings, commissioned from unnamed Chinese artists when he was Resident of Melaka from 1795 to 1818, brought by him to Singapore and then on to London. Unlike the greater part of the collection of his rival Raffles, which was burnt in a ship fire, the collection survived these perilous journeys; in 1826 Farquhar donated it to the Royal Asiatic Society in London.”
Hazem Saghieh at opendemocracy.net, "Syria’s Regime and a Populist Left".
“The unease of much of the western left in face of the popular uprising in Syria has taken several different forms. Among them are scepticism about its ‘revolutionary’ character; the notion that it is rather a civil war in the making; and the belief that it is a ‘western conspiracy’ against the ‘last bastion of resistance’ in the Arab world. This unease - which contrasts sharply with the left's endorsement of the other Arab revolutions - has less to do with the facts on the ground than with the long, tortuous love-affair that has bound what might be called the ‘western populist left’ to the dying Syrian regime. This populist group, a brand of the third-worldist left, obviously does not represent the left as a whole, but it has emerged as one of the family's most prominent currents in relation to the Arab world. Its connection to the Syrian regime highlights both the flaws of its thinking and this regime's capacity to co-opt radical discourses for dubious aims. After 1967, the western left became obsessed with the Palestinian cause. Perhaps a double atonement was involved: for the west’s colonial history in the region, but also for the left's own affection for Israel in the twenty years since its inception, on the grounds that the country had a ‘socialist’ character embodied by its kibbutz movement. This drive for atonement ended in 1993, when the Oslo accords were signed. The left then lost interest in Palestine, at a time when the Palestinian struggle was morphing into various forms of Islamism. The western left had (and has) many ways of excusing and justifying Islamism, but for a myriad of reasons can never join forces with it.”
Diana Appelbaum at meforum.org, "Islamic Supremacy Alive and Well in Ankara".
“Islamic supersession can be understood in two senses, as replacement and as erasure. Going forward, Islam will supplant all other faiths. But Islam also controls the time before the birth of Muhammad; it claims to have preexisted all other faiths with the Qur'an preexisting all other scripture. Because Islam has always existed, all children are born Muslim although their parents may rear them in another faith. The proof text is in the reported words of Muhammad: ‘Every child is born according to God's plan; then his parents make him a Jew, a Christian, or a Magian [Zoroastrian].’ The claim that Islam has always existed effectively erases all that went before Muhammad. The notion that Islam is the final, true faith, divinely ordained to rule everywhere, has driven Islamic imperialism for 1,400 years. Supersessionist erasure can also be enacted on the landscape. The ancient pagan shrine in Mecca was converted into the Muslim Kaaba. But the Muslim claim is not that monotheism has replaced pagan worship at the Kaaba in the way that a thousand Christian churches were built on pagan altars, but rather that the Kaaba was the "first house" of God (Qur'an 3:96-97) built by Abraham and Ishmael. The Temple Mount in Jerusalem was superseded by the erection of the Dome of the Rock, bolstered by the myth of Muhammad's ‘Night Journey’ to Jerusalem, erasing the pre-Islamic history of the temple and, with it, all Christian and Jewish claims.”
Efraim Karsh at meforum.org, "Ankara’s Unacknowledged Genocide".
“The ethnic cleansing of a virtually unarmed nation cannot, therefore, but indicate that, in the words of Turkish-American scholar Taner Akçam, ‘the wartime policies of the Ottoman government toward the Armenians were never … the result of military exigencies’ but were rather the culmination of a preconceived design to destroy Armenian nationalism, for which war provided the ideal pretext. Drawing on a wealth of Ottoman, German, British, and U.S. documents, Akçam unveils a disturbing picture of elaborate planning and meticulous execution of Ottoman Armenia's ethnic cleansing. He traces this design to the Ottomans' defeat in the Balkan wars of 1912-13, which sealed their creeping expulsion from Europe and convinced the Young Turks leadership, dominated since January 1913 by the radical triumvirate—minister of war Enver Pasha, minister of the interior Talat Pasha, and minister of the navy Djemal Pasha—of the empire's imminent demise absent drastic homogenization of the Anatolian homeland: "The Christian population was to be reduced; that is, removed, and the non-Turkish Muslim groups were to be assimilated.’ This resulted in a campaign of massacres and expulsions against the Ottoman Greeks, suspended after November 1914 under German pressure, and culminating in the cleansing of the Armenians. The six historically Armenian provinces of eastern Anatolia were emptied of their inhabitants, who either perished on the harrowing track to exile or were resettled in the deserts of present-day Syria and Iraq. Most of the Cilician and West Anatolian Armenians endured a similar fate.”
Peter Brown in TIMES LITERARY SUPPLEMENT on Patricia Crone’s book, The Nativist Prophets of Early Islamic Iran.
“In the third century a Zoroastrian priest, Zardusht son of Khrosak, propounded an analysis of the ills of society and their remedy through the redistribution of land and through a reform of marriage (a sharing of land and a sharing of wives) that was far more consequential than any scheme dreamed up by Plato. Two centuries later, his follower, Mazdak, put these ideas into action. He propounded what was ‘one of the most striking examples of pre-modern communism’. From the late fifth to the early sixth centuries, at a time of famine and looting, ‘a communist vision of Iran’ held sway across the plateau, until it was suppressed (around 530) with memorable (and much-praised) savagery by the great Shah Khusraw Anushirwan. Two centuries later, as the Muslim armies of the East turned back towards the West to fight the civil war that led to the establishment of the Abbasid Caliphate in Baghdad, the men of the mountains and of the villages, along with the petty gentry of the small castles, pitched in. They first appeared as followers of pious Muslim warlords bent on the reform of Islam. But few of them had been Islamized. Many of them returned to their villages, disillusioned, demobilized, but still dangerous.”
Hassan Hassan at qantara.de, "Don’t Blame It on al-Ghazali".
“After writing his book, The Incoherence of Philosophers, Algazel as he was known in medieval Europe, is said to have ‘stabbed falsafa in such a manner that it could not rise again in the Muslim world’. Thanks to his unparalleled mastery of falsafa and Islamic theology, he injected repugnance among Muslims for science that ultimately led to its decline and, in the process, the decline of Islamic civilisation. Or at least, this is what academics and Orientalists have argued for over a century. I believe this assessment is misinformed. Academics are correct in pinpointing the exact period in which Muslims began turning away from scientific innovation – the 11th century – but they have identified the wrong person. Abu Ali al-Hassan al-Tusi (1018–1092), better known as Nizam al-Mulk, the grand vizier of the Seljuq dynasty, was in fact the driving force. Nizam al-Mulk had created a system of education known as ‘Nizamiyah’ that focused on religious studies at the expense of independent inquiry. For the first time in Islamic history, religious studies became institutionalised and religious studies were seen as a more lucrative career path. Previously, sciences and Islamic law were intertwined.”
Ziauddin Sardar interview at qantara.de.
“It is known that the second issue of CM, on The Idea of Islam, was banned in Malaysia. Could you say more about bans or negative feedback; what issues have aroused most controversy among governments or individual readers? Ziauddin Sardar: While the reaction to CM has generally been quite ecstatic, we do have our critics. It is not for those who see themselves as guardians of 'truth', in Muslim societies or the West, and we expect harsh reactions from these quarters. Not every Salafist or Wahhabis will approve its contents. Neither will the traditionalists be comfortable with what we have to say. So the second issue, The Idea of Islam, was banned in Malaysia because the religious authorities there disapproved of the content. Our co-publisher, Oxford University Press (OUP) Pakistan, did not publish issue 3, Fear and Loathing, because they thought that an article on 'Islamic beards', and another one arguing that Muslims need to develop a language to deal with homosexuality, could produce repercussions from 'the Jihadis'. Frankly, we are not too bothered: we will say what needs to be said.”
Isabel Kershner in NYT, "Illuminating Jewish Life in a Muslim Empire".
“‘This is the first time that we have actual physical evidence of the Jewish life and culture within the Iranian culture of the 11th century,’ said Prof. Haggai Ben-Shammai, the library’s academic director. While other historical sources have pointed to the existence of Jewish communities in that area in the early Middle Ages, he said, the documents offer ‘proof that they were there.’ The texts are known collectively as the Afghan Geniza, a Hebrew term for a repository of sacred texts and objects. They were written in Hebrew, Aramaic, Judeo-Persian, Judeo-Arabic and Arabic, and some used the Babylonian system for vowels, a linguistic assortment that scholars said would have been nearly impossible to forge. One text includes a discussion of Hebrew words that are spelled the same but have different meanings. Another is a letter between two brothers in which one denied rumors that he was no longer an observant Jew.”
Benjamin Balint in WSJ on Frederic Raphael’s book, A Jew Among Romans.
“Captured by the Romans in the town of Jotapata, Josephus saved his skin by switching sides and predicting to Vespasian, the Roman commander, that he would soon become emperor. Like his biblical namesake, Josephus ventured an oracular prediction and when it came to pass was rescued by the ruler whose future he forecast. Two years later, in the year 70, Josephus accompanied Titus—Vespasian's son and his successor as Rome's commander in Judaea—to the fateful siege of Jerusalem. He faced a difficult position: ‘My life was frequently in danger,’ he wrote, ‘both from the Jews, who were eager to get me into their hands to gratify their revenge, and from the Romans, who attributed every reverse to some treachery on my part.’”
John Kay in FT, "The Lesson of Victorian London’s Rise from Sewer to Spectacle".
“Over the next decade an extensive network of sewers was built under the supervision of the engineer Joseph Bazalgette. The project benefited not just the nostrils of Londoners but the face of London itself; most strikingly through the creation of embankments on each side of the Thames. The northern embankment is one of London’s major traffic arteries and supports a series of gardens. Beneath is an underground railway line and the city’s principal sewer. On the south bank, a walkway from County Hall to Tower Bridge atop the sewer offers one of the world’s most spectacular riverscapes. These sewers have met the needs of the capital for 150 years. Only recently has their capacity come under pressure and work will soon begin on a new Thames tunnel, deep underground. The technology needed for such construction did not exist in Bazalgette’s day: 20 years earlier the Brunels had built the first river tunnel under the Thames, barely a quarter of a mile long, at ruinous cost in financial and human terms. Yet if Bazalgette’s scheme had been subjected to current appraisal procedures, it is hard to imagine that it would have been built.”
Charles Mann in NYT on Bernard Bailyn’s book, The Barbarous Years – The Peopling of British North America: The Conflict of Civilizations, 1600-1675.
“Once the colony’s backers discovered that Chesapeake Bay was, contrary to their initial belief, laden with neither gold and silver nor a passage to the Pacific, they tried everything they could think of to salvage their investment. Ship after ship of ill-equipped migrants — many of them abducted, many of them children — went out, each vessel intended to fulfill some new harebrained scheme: winemaking, silk-making, glassmaking. Each and every one failed, as did the Virginia Company, which went bankrupt in 1624. By then three-quarters or more of the Jamestown colonists had died, felled by starvation, disease, murder, wolves, Indian arrows and even cannibalism. English people kept coming anyway, lured by a discovery that the Crown and company hated: tobacco. Hip, fun, disdained by stuffy authorities and wildly addictive, the smoking weed was an ideal consumer product. Thousands of migrants were willing to risk death for the chance to cash in on England’s squadrons of new nicotine junkies. The Chesapeake Bay became a barely governed swarm of semi-independent tobacco fiefs, owned by families, operated by squads of indentured servants, all squabbling with one another, Protestants against Catholics, English against other Europeans, everyone against Indians.”
Robert Merry in NATIONAL INTEREST, "Spengler’s Ominous Prophecy".
“A similar distinction is seen in architecture. While the Ionic hovers, the Gothic soars. It was no accident that Western man invented the flying buttress, enabling him to construct cathedrals reflecting his relentless drive toward space. Or that he developed the window as architecture: ‘In it can be felt the will to emerge from the interior into the boundless.’ And just as classical architecture led to sculpture as the premier Apollinian art form, Western architecture led inexorably to music. From around 1500 to about 1800, writes Spengler, as Faustian man grappled with his ‘will to spacial transcendence,’ instrumental music emerged as the West’s ruling art form. But first Western man transformed painting, which went through its own ‘decisive epochal turn’ in the sixteenth century. Using light and shadow to burst through space and time, Western painters brought dimension to their work, and background became a symbol of the infinite. Thus was ‘the depth-experience of the Faustian soul . . . captured in the kinesis of a picture.’ This artistic expression reached its fullest flowering with Rembrandt. And it is significant that, as Dutch Baroque painting reached culmination, the West’s cultural momentum was picked up by the soaring new expression of Baroque music. As for Western science, it wasn’t accidental that the telescope was a Western invention or that human flight first occurred in the West. Likewise, with drama, particularly tragedy, the West developed a penetrating ‘biographical’ approach, as opposed to the Greeks’ ‘anecdotal’ outlook.”
Heba Saleh in FT, "Fortress Algeria Wary of Western Influence Over Its Policies".
“Having vanquished a violent Islamic insurgency that killed 200,000 people during the 1990s and having evaded the upheavals of the Arab uprising – possibly due to the traumas of its recent past – Algeria had largely disappeared from the headlines until last week. Algeria is not insular in the way North Korea is. It is, however, a country with an opaque regime dominated by a shadowy intelligence service that is hoping to keep its distance from a meddling world. Western journalists are only intermittently welcome, and a form of economic nationalism, which the country has only recently started to ease, has governed prickly relations with international investors in oil and gas, the mainstay of the economy.”
Katrina Manson in FT, "Radical Islam Puts Zanzibar’s Relaxed Way of Life in Jeopardy".
“Al-Noor charity, set up four years ago with money from private donors in Dubai and Saudi Arabia, is among a clutch of new foreign-funded religious institutions to increase its investment on the island. As well as the radio, it has established a mosque, internet rooms and a nationwide network of madrassas. It plans to build more, and every year pays for students and teachers alike to study in Sudan, Abu Dhabi and Saudi Arabia. Academics estimate that Saudi Arabia – where Wahhabi Islam is practised – alone spends $1m a year on Islamic institutions in Zanzibar. ‘Wahhabi madrasas are just starting – they are now many and Saudi funds are spreading their work – they have nice buildings, they are well off and well organised; they preach and convince the parents to come there, so the effect of the madrassa is very powerful,’ says Idrissa Ahmad Khamis, a teacher who is from the Sufi tradition, a mystical form of Islam opposed by more literalist Wahhabis or Salafists.”
William Wallis in FT, "Continent’s Twin Poles on Different Trajectories".
“Sub-Saharan Africa’s voice on the global stage has been strongest in the past decade and a half when its two most powerful players have worked together. When Thabo Mbeki and Olusegun Obasanjo were heads of state in South Africa and Nigeria, respectively, this was often the case. The two men had a shared history dating back to when Gen Obasanjo was military head of state in the late 1970s and Nigeria supported Mr Mbeki and other African National Congress exiles from apartheid South Africa. In different ways the gruff, former general, elected as civilian leader in 1999, and the prickly intellectual, who succeeded Nelson Mandela as head of state the same year, had clout and influence across the globe…. The same cannot be said of President Goodluck Jonathan in Nigeria and his counterpart Jacob Zuma in South Africa, both of whom have been struggling with domestic crises in the past year….”
David Gauthier-Villars & Drew Hinshaw in WSJ, "Mali Advance Shows Paris’s Africa Dilemma".
“The Mali campaign, which comes just weeks after France dispatched soldiers to two other countries, underscores Paris's Africa dilemma: In spite of its increasingly stated desire to distance itself from the continent's conflicts, it has continued to step in. Late last year, President François Hollande gave voice to French reluctance, telling Senegalese lawmakers he would provide only logistical aid and training to West African countries fighting radical Islamists roaming through Mali and the vast Sahara. He wouldn't send troops, he stressed. Just weeks later, French soldiers are on the ground in Mali. After French troops helped to retake the towns of Diabaly and Douentza from al Qaeda-backed rebels on Monday, Mr. Hollande says he is ready to see out a protracted war against a foe that is blamed for last week's deadly attack on a remote natural-gas complex in Algeria, which left at least 37 foreign nationals dead. ‘Only France could decide and make this intervention,’ Mr. Hollande said in a speech in Dubai last week.”
Odd Westad in NYT, "In Asia, Ill Will Runs Deep".
“The long shadow of history continues to haunt relations between the two countries. In Asia, World War II started in 1937 as a Sino-Japanese war; millions of Chinese were killed as a result of Japan’s expansionism. But that does not explain why young people in China and Japan today are more inimical in their views of one another than their forebears — even immediately after the war — were. The real explanation lies further back. Japan’s rise in the late 19th century was seen as an affront by China, which had always felt entitled to the mantle of regional leadership. Mao Zedong and other founders of the Chinese Communist Party adopted these views and bequeathed them to their successors. Most Chinese today therefore regard Japan’s wealth, and its position as America’s main ally in Asia, as results of ill-gotten gains. Even when the Chinese state was at its weakest, in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, its elites felt that the Confucianism China had exported to its key neighbors — Korea, Japan and Vietnam — was the root of a common culture. Other countries in the ‘Confucian zone’ were supposed to simply accept China’s natural leadership.”
Peter Tasker in FT, "Japanomics Goes Where Few Nations Have Gone Before".
“For the past 15 years Japan has been trying to shrink its way out of its problems. That did not work. Now it is about to try the opposite approach. Japan’s ‘lost decades’ have long been an awful warning to the world of the damage that a spectacular boom and bust can inflict on an economy’s long-term prospects. Now Japan could become another kind of example. If the pedal-to-the-metal reflationary policies of Shinzo Abe, the recently elected prime minister, succeed, there will be a profound impact on post-crisis policy making everywhere. History shows that Japan rarely does things by half-measures. The financial bubble of the 1980s was probably the biggest in history. At its peak the Tokyo stock market was worth more than half of global market capitalisation. The contraction was equally intense.”
Ian Buruma in NY REVIEW OF BOOKS on Doryun Chong’s book, Tokyo 1955-1970 – A New Avant-Garde, and MoMA’s “Art Theater Guild and Japanese Underground Cinema, 1962-1984".
“Many Japanese artists and intellectuals in the 1950s rebelled against the overwhelming American influence of the immediate postwar by looking to Europe, especially France, for ideas. Sartre, Camus, and Merleau-Ponty were widely read. French berets and long hair became the common badges of the thinking man (still in evidence today, among men of a certain age). The French action painter Georges Mathieu visited Japan in 1957, and demonstrated his art wearing a kimono. The Bauhaus was another source of inspiration. But the main point was to be engage, and the main sponsor of engaged art was a most peculiar one: the conservative Yomiuri newspaper company, which had been the most zealous promoter of wartime propaganda only a few years before. To scrub this blot on its reputation, the Yomiuri did its best to promote avant-garde shows and events under a radical manifesto that promised an ‘art revolution’; Japanese society would be ‘democratized’ through art.”
Patti Waldmeir in FT, "Smoking Out the Tree-Hugging Set".
“Slavish devotees to materialism are scarcely thin on the ground even now: how could it be otherwise, in a country where credit card debt is still a new and exciting concept? But tucked away in rural corners of this vast country are more and more urban professionals who have chosen to drop out and make goat’s cheese (or the Chinese equivalent: live off the land, open a guest house or start an artists’ commune). They are, for lack of a better word, Chinese ‘hippies’.”
Jamil Anderlini in FT on Juan Cardenal & Heriberto Araujo’s book, China’s Silent Army – The Pioneers, Traders, Fixers and Workers Who Are Remaking the World in Beijing’s Image.
“It is the sympathetic accounts of ordinary emigrants’ experiences that provide the backdrop for the real insights of the book. At various points the authors point out that the bad behaviour of some Chinese companies abroad often comes down to their willingness to cut corrupt deals with local elites, who benefit directly from Chinese investment while their own people miss out. This pattern is exacerbated by the fact that authoritarian China itself lacks a strong rule of law, free press or civil society that can ‘keep watch, set limits, denounce or punish the inappropriate actions of China’s corporations abroad – as happens in democratic countries’.”
Kathrin Hille in FT, "Fighting Talk is Beijing’s Shot at Gluing the Nation Together".
“For many years, western military officials have been urging Beijing to be more transparent about its military modernization and strategic intentions. You should be careful what you wish for. Beijing is now much more straightforward and few like the message. To put it simply, China is talking about war. Xu Qiliang, deputy chairman of the Central Military Commission, told troops in Qingdao and Luoyang last weekend that they ‘must do everything to focus on winning wars.’”
Simon Rabinovitch in FT, "China’s Lottery Boom Conceals Worry at Damage to the Vulnerable".
“In the late 1980s, seeking to boost revenue, the government made an exception to a ban on all gambling that had been strictly enforced since Mao’s day and created a lottery to support the development of a welfare system. More than two decades on, this anomaly has grown into the biggest lottery boom the world has ever seen. Annual ticket sales are nearly 15,000-times higher than at their humble beginnings. China is on track to be the world’s largest lottery market within this decade. Ticket sales were up nearly 20 per cent last year and the industry is worth $40bn, ranking only behind the US, which pulls in more than $50bn.”
Jamil Anderlini in FT, "Beijing Pre-empts End of the World in Crackdown on Eastern Lightning Cult".
“A nationwide crackdown has so far led to the arrest of about 1,000 followers of the quasi-Christian group, which also calls itself the Church of Almighty God. Eastern Lightning, one of China’s most aggressive millenarian sects, believes that Christ has been reincarnated as a woman in central China and is on a mission to lead the faithful in a decisive battle to slay the ‘great red dragon’ of the Communist party.”
David Brown at yale.edu, "State Secrets Revealed in Vietnam".
“Thanh's principal mission was to explain why, in the view of Vietnam's leaders, a policy of restraint is the nation's only rational course vis-a-vis its huge neighbor. Had he stuck to that theme, the recording might not have made much of a splash. However, Thanh chose to embroider his two-hour talk with riffs on the treachery of Americans, the admirable qualities of the North Korean and Iranian regimes, the likely return of Russia to the region, and a lengthy, sometimes impenetrable discussion of Vietnam's millennium-plus co-existence with the resurgent giant to the north. For critics of the Vietnamese regime, the rambling remarks of this hitherto obscure professor epitomize what's wrong with the nation's politics. It is not the foreign policy discussion that has most energized the blogosphere, however. Domestic attention has riveted on a short passage near the beginning of Thanh's talk, when he noted that in his first term as President of Russia, Vladimir Putin had banned Communist Party activities and abolished the pensions of former Soviet Union officials. That could also happen in Vietnam if the Party were to fall from power, Thanh warned. ‘Comrades now working don't yet have a pension but sooner or later, we'll all be eligible for our retirement pay, and we hope every one of us will draw it in full. I'm explaining this so that each of you realizes that defending our nation and socialist ideology covers a lot of things, and among these is the very practical fact that we are protecting our own pensions and the pensions of those who will come after us... So, I have to say clearly, we must do everything we can to protect our socialist Vietnamese regime at all costs.’”
Gardiner Harris in NYT, "India Aims to Keep Money for Poor Out of Other’s Pockets".
“India has more poor people than any nation on earth, but many of its antipoverty programs end up feeding the rich more than the needy. A new program hopes to change that. On Jan. 1, India eliminated a raft of bureaucratic middlemen by depositing government pension and scholarship payments directly into the bank accounts of about 245,000 people in 20 of the nation’s hundreds of districts, in a bid to prevent corrupt state and local officials from diverting much of the money to their own pockets. Hundreds of thousands more people will be added to the program in the coming months. In a country of 1.2 billion, the numbers so far are modest, but some officials and economists see the start of direct payments as revolutionary — a program intended not only to curb corruption but also to serve as a vehicle for lifting countless millions out of poverty altogether.”
James Harrigan & Anthony Davis in IBD, "Runaway Debt Inevitably Will Bring Inflation".
“From 1954 through 2012, the federal government shelled out a total of almost $72 trillion on all spending, combined. Over the same period, it collected revenues of under $56 trillion from all sources. The $16 trillion difference is today's federal debt. But this simple math hides the fact that the dollar in your pocket today doesn't buy what the dollar in your grandfather's pocket bought years ago. There is a sleight-of-hand to Washington's method of dealing with long-term debt. Like every shell game, those who play will lose to those who make the rules. And make no mistake, we are all playing by Washington's rules.”
Stephen Foley in FT, "Outlook Unchanged".
“Rating agencies’ processes for managing conflicts of interest are now more closely scrutinised following a demand by the G20 in 2009 that they be brought under the oversight of regulators. Nine agencies are formally registered in the US and 20 in Europe. Outside the big three there is consternation. Smaller rivals fear that the cost of new rules is entrenching the status quo, making it ever harder to shake up the industry. ‘It’s hard for anybody to complain too loudly about all this new, relatively onerous regulation because it’s pretty obvious why we are finding ourselves in this situation,’ says Dan Curry, president at DBRS, Canada’s dominant rater, which has been trying to build a bigger global footprint. ‘We tried to politely point out to regulators that they designed all this regulation looking at, particularly, Moody’s and S&P, and a lot of these smaller agencies are going to get caught in the crossfire. Everyone’s saying they’d like more competition but what you’re doing is impeding competition and creating big barriers to entry.’ According to executives at the big three companies, they are entrenched for a reason: reputations and analytical prowess built up over generations. S&P traces its history back to 1860, when Henry Varnum Poor published his History of the Railroads and Canals of the United States; John Moody & Company published Moody’s Manual of Industrial and Miscellaneous Securities in 1900. Fitch, established in 1913, thinks of itself as a hungry young challenger, and the best horse for those looking to back competition in the industry.”
James Mackintosh in FT, "The Short View".
“Financial repression has been one of the buzzwords of the past three years: the idea that cash-strapped governments will raise a hidden tax by pushing up inflation while holding down interest rates. Thursday brought good and bad news on this front. The bad news first: the 10-year inflation-linked gilt yield – Britain’s benchmark real interest rates – plunged by the most in a quarter of a century, to a new low of minus 0.9 per cent. Buyers lock in a return below inflation for a decade. The good news, at least for investors, is that this was the result of the UK’s Office for National Statistics deciding not to fiddle with the calculation of the retail prices index, used for inflation-linked bonds. There are good reasons to change RPI: the ONS estimates it overstates inflation by almost a full percentage point, half of that the unintended effect of a change in clothing price measurement. Factor this back in, and the UK’s real 10-year real interest rate is zero. More relevant to investors is the compelling matter of close to £3bn in interest payments: taxpayers will keep paying it to bondholders. Index changes could be justified, but would smack of financial repression.”
Shahien Nasiripour in FT, "Republicans Join Liberals to Control Rise of the ‘Megabank’".
“‘The Republican response to Dodd-Frank’s overkill is to break up the banks. The far left also wants to break up the big banks,’ said Jaret Seiberg, senior policy analyst at Guggenheim Securities. ‘There are . . . serious threats here.’ Among the critics of large financial groups is Ed Royce, a senior Republican on the House financial services committee. Mr Royce last week wrote a letter to Dan Tarullo, the US Federal Reserve governor overseeing financial regulation, asking that the Fed conduct a comprehensive analysis to determine the size at which big financial groups achieve economies of scale. The lawmaker also asked that the Fed determine whether the lower funding costs large banks presently enjoy is a result of those efficiencies or a market perception that financial groups are guaranteed by the US government.”
Brian Barry in CT, "Blue States’ Fiscal Woes Test Obama".
“It may take a decade or more for this dynamic to take hold, but as leaders of both parties bargain over the debt ceiling and assess their strategies for deficit talks during Obama's second term, they should also think about the path of state finances. The prospects should unnerve Democrats, in particular: The 26 states Obama carried in November tended overwhelmingly to have lower credit ratings than the 24 where he lost. The most obvious examples are California and Illinois, two big states that are deep-blue politically and deep in the red fiscally. The pattern holds much more broadly, however, across the states that broke for Obama rather than the Republican nominee, former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney. To see this, imagine an electoral college in which each state's worth, rather than being dependent on its population, was instead determined by the soundness of its Standard & Poor's credit rating.”
Stephanie Kirchgaessner in FT, "Republicans Split Between Tea Party and Business".
“While the Republican party is often seen as the party of big business, its shift toward populism has – on some issues, including fiscal matters – created a divide between corporate interests and the Tea Party-driven members in the House of Representatives. Some Republicans are quietly seething that business leaders were too closely aligned with the White House on the push for higher taxes in December. Members of Congress, such as Steve Scalise of Louisiana, a conservative leader, portray themselves as defenders of small business interests, not the Fortune 500, which pushed for increases in tax rates that Republicans say disproportionately hit small enterprises. Mr Patti says business is fighting a two-front war, with uncompromising anti-tax advocates on one side and the other that advocates public spending, saying ‘every government dollar is good’. ‘Because we are glass half full kind of people we are saying you are both kind of right,’ he says.”
CT: "Pension-Mess Primer".
“That is where state government, Chicago's City Hall and some suburbs find themselves today, reeling from the very real consequences of decades of deferred financial maintenance on their retirement systems. Displaying a chronic lack of leadership that spans both Democratic and Republican control, elected officials committed to a costly array of retirement promises for government workers but failed to set aside anything close to adequate money to pay for them. The how-we-got-here part of the story has resulted in furious finger-pointing among politicians and employee unions as the issue has come to dominate public policy debate in Illinois. Rhetoric aside, there's a reason average folks should care: Not only are taxpayers on the hook for the tens of billions of dollars, but the enormous pressure to put more toward retirement costs is leaving less money to spend on stuff voters tend to favor, including education.”
Ann Pettifor at opendemocracy.net, "The Power to ‘Create Money Out of Thin Air’".
“However, while Ingham’s review of heterodox analyses is illuminating, it is, by his own admission, not comprehensive and, I will argue, includes a number of flawed analyses which are the subject of current debate, and discussed in some detail in this review. First while acknowledging that capitalism’s hallmark is the ‘elastic production of money’ he then retracts, and suggests that private credit-creation is constrained by the practice of ‘fractional reserve banking’ – a form of commercial banking probably not practised since the founding of the Bank of England in 1694. Again this is the subject of heated debate within the economics sphere, so more on the subject below. Second Ingham, like many economists, blames the inflation of the 1970s on the ‘the power of monopoly capital and their labour forces to mark up their respective prices’. This analysis appears to discount the role played by the City of London in creating excessive credit - ‘too much money chasing too few goods and services’ - after Chancellor Anthony Barber’s assault on banking regulation in 1971. Third, by his own admission, Ingham arbitrarily excludes from his list of heterodox theorists a number of 20th century thinkers who have greatly illuminated our understanding of both the systemic nature of capitalism but also its dutiful hand-maiden, neoliberal economic theory. While I respect his right to choose the most influential, the inclusion of progressive 20th century thinkers would have added considerable value to this study of capitalism. These disagreements are not new, and I am not the first to raise them. However given the extent to which society, political parties and progressives have a ‘blind spot’ for the admittedly opaque role played by private bankers in the economic life of nations, I believe it important to raise further discussion about ‘fractional reserve banking’ and the causality of inflation.”
Gillian Tett in FT, "Reality Not Politics Dictates Corporate Cash Hoarding".
“But is there another way to look at that cash mountain? Finn Poschmann, vice president of research at the CD Howe Institute, a rightwing think-tank in Toronto, has recently analysed historical data on Canadian corporate balance sheets, and come to some striking conclusions. Looked at from a long-term perspective, this cash hoarding is not a new phenomenon, he argues. On the contrary, cash holdings first started to rise a couple of decades ago and then bounced up in 2003, shortly after the collapse of the internet bubble. They also jumped again after financial crisis of 2007-08 but, since that simply built on earlier rises, it implies the trend cannot be blamed on the financial crisis, or political uncertainty alone. Instead, Mr Poschmann thinks ‘changing trade conditions, improvements in technology and logistics, and responses to market incentives’ are the main reasons why cash holdings are rising.”
Annie Lowrey in NYT, "A Trillion-Dollar Coin as a Way to Handle the Debt Hits a Jackpot of Jests".
“The workaround would come from exploiting a 1997 law that allows the Treasury to ‘mint and issue platinum bullion coins and proof platinum coins in accordance with such specifications, designs, varieties, quantities, denominations, and inscriptions as the secretary, in the secretary’s discretion, may prescribe from time to time.’ The idea was that a secretary might authorize the creation of a commemorative eagle coin, for instance, to be put on sale for collectors. But the law inadvertently gave the Treasury secretary the power to mint, say, a $1 trillion coin, or even a $5 trillion coin, or even a $1 quadrillion coin. Rather than selling it, he might deposit it at the Federal Reserve. Presto! The shiny new asset would erase a trillion dollars in debt liabilities.”
Annie Lowrey in NYTMag, "The Bucks Stopped Here".
“When Abdo founded his business, in 1996, the United States was enjoying around 4 percent economic growth, but in Washington, dysfunction and Mayor Marion Barry Jr. reigned. The city government was locked in a mismanagement-driven fiscal crisis: traffic lights were malfunctioning; garbage trucks stopped picking up trash; District residents were advised to boil their own water; President Clinton and Congress placed the city into federal receivership. During the 1990s, while employment in Washington declined, Northern Virginia added 300,000 jobs, and the Maryland suburbs added about half that. ‘Washington was a national embarrassment,’ Abdo said back inside the Range Rover. ‘There was all this aggressive panhandling, all these vacant burned-out buildings. But I knew the city could only go so low. It’s one of the least cyclical economies in the country, and it has this tremendous urban fabric.’ Abdo figured that federal employment would remain relatively stable, even in recessions. The continued opening of Metro stations would also allow for transit-driven development. And of course, there was that tremendous urban fabric — the brick row houses that make up the bulk of the housing in the city’s center, from Georgetown in the west to Anacostia in the southeast, and give it some of its genteel European feel. Abdo’s timing, it turned out, couldn’t have been better. Billions in federal spending, largely a result of two foreign wars, were pouring into the local economy by the early 2000s. Then came the housing bubble. But after it burst, a remarkable inversion occurred: as the country withered, Washington bloomed.”
Robert Self in NYT, "Are We There Yet? ".
“Roosevelt and Reagan were historical opponents in the 20th century version of our longstanding battle between empowered and limited government. Roosevelt argued that ‘we have begun to bring private autocratic powers into their proper subordination to the public’s government.’ Reagan might as well have been talking to F.D.R. when he countered, ‘We asked things of government that government was not equipped to give.’ Yet to understand the full meaning of their re-election, we have to look closely at what allowed each party to define an era. The Democratic Party dominated the period between 1932 and 1980 with nearly unassailable Congressional majorities. The Republican Party was far more dependent on the executive branch and a few friendly Congresses. The House of Representatives had a Democratic majority every year but four between 1933 and 1995, the Senate every year but four between 1933 and 1981. While the Roosevelt-Truman and Kennedy-Johnson presidencies were instrumental in developing Democratic liberalism, it was Congressional Democratic strength that defined the era and boxed in Eisenhower and Nixon. That Republicans have rarely enjoyed such unassailable majorities helps us understand recent history.”
Holman Jenkins in WSJ, "Green Energy’s Baptists and Bootleggers".
“Twenty-nine states now have such mandates, and a recent defeat signals no topping out in this most enduring source of subsidies for solar entrepreneurs. In November, activists largely funded by a San Francisco green-energy promoter failed to amend Michigan's state constitution to up the state's existing mandate to 25% from 10%. Yes, amend the state constitution: Most greenies now agree the campaign failed by overreaching and should have settled for seeking a legislated increase. Political scholars use the term ‘baptists-and-bootleggers’ to describe the coalitions of do-gooders and mercenaries that gather around such agendas. The pitch wouldn't be complete without claims about how, with enough transmission (after all, the sun is always shining and the wind always blowing somewhere), renewables are a real answer to America's energy needs, not just a costly indulgence. Yet funny how the bootleggers' interests are the only ones that end up being served. Notice, for instance, that though shale gas has done more than wind or solar to reduce America's CO2 output by displacing coal, the green lobby has had to attack shale because it accentuates the high cost of wind and solar.”
Steve Schmadeke in CT, "Judge Who Shoved Deputy Found Not Guilty by Reason of Insanity"
"A Democratic Party-backed judge who won re-election in November while facing battery charges was found not guilty Monday — by reason of insanity. The insanity verdict could aid the judge's effort to return to the bench. Not long after Judge Cynthia Brim was charged in March with misdemeanor battery for shoving a deputy outside the Daley Center, a panel of supervising judges effectively suspended her, banning Brim from the county's courthouses without a police escort. Bar associations have recommended since 2000 that Brim be tossed from her $182,000-a-year job, but voters have kept returning her to the bench. Experts have said Brim's case highlights the difficulty of unseating a judge up for retention in Cook County. On Monday, less than a year after the judge embarked on what attorneys described as a delusional journey across the city that ended with her in handcuffs, Brim sat at a wooden table marked 'Defendant' on the 13th floor of the Daley Center for a highly unusual bench trial. Testimony revealed that Brim has been hospitalized five times after suffering mental breakdowns in the 18 years since she was first elected.... Brim, 54, was diagnosed years ago with a bipolar type of schizoaffective disorder, which means she experiences delusions and hallucinations, psychiatrist Mathew Markos testified."
Amity Shlaes in WSJ on Robert Dalzell’s book, The Good Rich – And What They Cost Us.
“Even the ‘good rich’ cost us: They don't give wisely, Mr. Dalzell contends, spending too much on ‘elite institutions like Harvard, Yale, MIT and Princeton, which seems unlikely to reduce the income gap by much.’ The extent of modern giving also falls short, in Mr. Dalzell's eyes. ‘The most striking feature of the figures for giving by the rich is how low they are,’ Mr. Dalzell writes, without noting that our wealthy give more than the wealthy of other countries. The money that the rich give away, he says, ‘might better be spent by leaving it to the democratic political process to decide what to do with the money.’ Read: No more charitable deduction; the IRS keeps the cash. For the sake of the public good, then, the rich must fashion better charity projects while handing over more of their money to the government. But there is another sort of giving that Mr. Dalzell doesn't consider. Charity is a sideshow: What matters about the rich, if we are considering the public good, isn't their charity but their investments—their ideas about what to do with ‘slimey petroleum’ and microchips—and the jobs and activity they create. At only one point does Mr. Dalzell come close to acknowledging this third possibility. Commenting in wonderment on Steve Jobs's indifference to charity, Mr. Dalzell observes: ‘He did not need it.’ Nor, one could add, was charity what the world needed from Steve Jobs.”
Mark Mills in WSJ, "California Could Be the Next Shale Boom".
“Do the math: The overall economic benefits of opening up the Monterey shale field could reach $1 trillion. One can only imagine the impact on California's education system, social programs, infrastructure, and even energy-tech R&D. Moreover, with that kind of revenue, Sacramento tax collections could wipe out debt and deficits. There is a precedent for this. Technologies of the early 20th century unleashed oil fields from Long Beach to Bakersfield. Beverly Hills sits atop a legacy field still in production, its surface hardware hidden artfully off Pico and Olympic Boulevards in large windowless buildings. Black gold, not the gold rush, funded many California businesses for the first half of the 20th century. In the heyday of the 1960s, when the state's education system was first in the nation, California's oil production ranked second nationally, at about 400 million barrels annually. Now with production down 50%, California has dropped to No. 4 in oil production, behind Texas, North Dakota and Alaska. North Dakota's embrace of the shale-oil revolution vaulted it to No. 2 and has led to low unemployment, no deficit, and university funding on the rise.”
Hank Brown in WSJ, "The Rise of the Accreditor as Big Man on Campus".
“As the organizations that control access to federal student aid, accreditors hold much sway over colleges and universities. When they interfere with institutional autonomy there are few trustees—or presidents for that matter—who are willing to cry foul. Accreditors are supposed to protect students and taxpayers by ensuring that federal aid flows only to schools with ‘educational quality.’ But accreditors increasingly interfere in institutional decision-making and use their bully authority to tie the hands of colleges and universities. Frankly, there's nothing more intimidating to schools—public or private—than the threat of losing accreditation and with it federal financial aid. That's why most presidents and trustees quietly accede to accreditors' demands. When it comes to accreditors' real assignment—ensuring educational quality—the record is dismal. According to the 2003 National Assessment of Adult Literacy, conducted by the Department of Education's National Center for Education Statistics, the literacy of college-educated citizens dropped significantly between 1992 and 2003. Of college graduates, only 31% were classified as proficient in reading compared with 40% in 1992. Academic rigor has also declined, evidenced by rampant grade inflation.”
Ron Rosenbaum at slate.com, "Should You Go to Grad School? ".
“First, it seems intuitively true that for subjects such as history, philosophy, the hard sciences, and even some of the softer ones, it would be hard for me to make a case against graduate study. But grad school for literature, I can't advocate. I escaped Yale before it became the center of the frenzied fad for French literary theorists, as a result of which students read more about arcane metaphysics of language, semiotics and the like than the actual literature itself. But, even though many of the most sophisticated contemporary intellectuals who once bought into this sophistry (such as Terry Eagleton) have abandoned it, the tenured relics who imposed this intellectual regime are still there, still espousing their view that literature itself is only to be understood through their diminishing deconstructing lens. I can testify to it, having sat through enough seminars at the Shakespeare Association of America conferences to last a life time. Please don't waste your life this way.”
David Edgerton in FT on Paul Kennedy’s book, Engineers of Victory – The Problem Solvers Who Turned the Tide in the Second World War.
“None of these things were possible at the beginning of the period, but all were being achieved by the end. By mid-1944 Operation Bagration in the east, and the Normandy landings in the west, had succeeded; strategic bombing was already causing great damage to Germany and was soon to be unleashed on Japan. There was no doubt that the Axis powers were close to defeat, which was not the cast in early 1943. What made this possible is not easy to describe. It is nicely acknowledged through the book that writing seriously about the nuts and bolts of war-fighting is challenging, not least because neat, simplifying assumptions need confronting if the story is to convince. Thus although in early 1943 the United Nations (as the allies styled themselves from January 1942) had greater war production than the Axis powers, what mattered was the effective use of resources in the right places, something not captured by war production statistics, not easy to comprehend or achieve.”
Clifford Bob at yale.edu, "Conservative Causes Go Global".
“Members of this informal ‘Baptist-burqa’ coalition may not agree among themselves on dogma. But conservative Catholics, Protestants, Orthodox Jews and Muslims have worked together for years promoting long-established values, customs and prohibitions. This week’s protests against gay marriage in France exemplify the trend. As another example, in 2009 when Italian secularists backed by foreign rights NGOs brought a court case challenging crucifixes in classrooms, a transnational faith coalition fought it. Prominent in this and other European clashes were American-supported activists and legal advocacy groups such as the European Center for Law and Justice, ECLJ, and the Alliance Defense Fund, ADF. On more conventional human rights themes, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch face off not only against the governments they target, but also against other civil society groups. In the Middle East, rights activism now comes under microscopic analysis and scathing criticism from the Israeli group NGO Watch. Such organizations aim both to support their own countries’ policies and, more fundamentally, to challenge rights groups’ reputations as unbiased moral beacons.”
James Taranto at wsj.com, "Dr. Butterfield, I Presume".
“In that last story, Butterfield made reference to ‘the paradox of a falling crime rate but a rising prison population.’ The Butterfield Fallacy consists in misidentifying as a paradox what is in fact a simple cause-and-effect relationship: ‘Of course, the huge increase in the number of inmates has helped lower the crime rate by incapacitating more criminals behind bars.’ That quote is from Butterfield's own 1997 story, but it is a to-be-sure throwaway line, which he seems to have completely forgotten by 2004. The Butterfield Fallacy is rooted in ideological prejudice. The typical New York Times reporter does not like the idea of sending people to prison, because, among other reasons cited in Butterfield's reports on the subject, they think it is racially discriminatory (in 2004, ‘almost 10 percent of all American black men ages 25 to 29 were in prison’), and it diverts tax money away from what they think should be higher priorities (in 1997, ‘already, California and Florida spend more to incarcerate people than to educate their college-age populations’).”
Michael Oneal & Steve Mills in CT, "Broken Deal".
“So even as some recognized that a rollicking era of cheap-money capitalism was drawing to a close, many thought they could squeeze out one more high-wire deal, especially if an investor of Zell’s caliber was involved. One legacy of Zell’s Tribune Co. transaction is that it captures the very moment in the summer of 2007 when the machinery began to seize up and shift into reverse, exposing the mania for what it was. Until then, the world’s deal-makers were content to keep going, brushing aside the warning signs in pursuit of more profit.”
Holman Jenkins in WSJ, "Where the Tribune LBO Went Wrong".
“The banks that went along and bore much of the losses, we have no sympathy for. But losses also were borne by Tribune creditors forced into bed with a fake buyer who (in the normal, healthy logic of capitalism) should have looked after their interests by looking after its own. The deal also inevitably deprived employees of compensation and 401(k) money that would have come their way had they not been dragooned into an overpriced ESOP. A year ago, a not very penetrating Labor Department investigation finally ended with a settlement that netted the affected employees less than $2,500 each. Sam Zell has been a fabulously successful real-estate investor and, in many ways, a great spokesman for sound economic policy in our country. Trib management, from a certain perspective, did a superlative job of getting top dollar for the controlling shareholders who wanted out from their Tribune investment. The disgrace of the Tribune LBO may have been out of character for all concerned, but it was a disgrace nonetheless, even if a big part of the fault lies with federal ESOP law. And the Tribune newspaper's own reliance on business-press bloviation about ‘an era of superheated Wall Street deal-making’ leaves us with a feeling the air has yet to be cleared.”
Neil Steinberg in CST, "Monopoly Tokens Born in Chicago".
“Sam Dowst, like much of the city, attended the 1893 World’s Fair, where he saw the Mergenthaler Linotype machine, which creates type by shooting hot lead into molds. He realized that not only could it make type, but also buttons — of use to laundry owners. So the Dowsts bought a machine. One journal subscriber, Ole Odegard, wanted to win the loyalty of his customers’ children by giving them small prizes. He asked the Dowsts if they could whip up some kind of charm for his business, the Flat Iron Laundry. Something ... like ... a ... little flat iron. They did, as well as small die cast cars, which they called Tootsietoys. Nor were they the only Chicago company making charms; a company called Cosmo turned them out, too, selling to another local business, Cracker Jack. The two companies merged in 1926, becoming Strombecker Toys. Parker Brothers rolled out Monopoly in 1935, using wood dowels as tokens; it decided to include six made-in-Chicago metal tokens in 1937: a thimble, cannon, top hat (hooray!), shoe, battleship and that original flat iron. In the 1950s, it added a Scottie dog, race car and wheelbarrow, and lost the cannon.”
Sam Borden in NYT, "Legacy of a Rebel".
“Jerry Tarkanian is 82. His health, which began deteriorating about four years ago when he fell while walking in San Diego, has declined to the point that basic movements are difficult. When someone comes by for an introduction during the meal at Landry’s, Tarkanian shakes hands with his left hand because his right is anchored to the table, as if to keep him from slumping over. His eyes, which drooped like week-old balloons when he was 40, now seem to hang to his neck. After eating, as Tarkanian makes his way to the parking lot, he hesitates as he steps down from the curb, putting his hand on the shoulder of a visitor and grunting hard as he guides his walker a few inches in front of him. His Division I coaching career, which covered 31 seasons, 3 colleges and countless hearings, depositions and court dates as he fought the governing body of the sport he loves, feels far away. In the car on the way back to the family home, a two-story Spanish-style house that Tarkanian and his wife, Lois, bought in 1973, he is asked about his years of plenty. He nods twice when the championship team of 1990 is mentioned. He shakes his head when asked to remember coaching against John Wooden. ‘Played him three times,’ he says slowly. ‘Lost all three.’ He looks out the window. ‘Should have won one of them.’”
7 hours of VHS & 2 Premieres at Microscope Gallery:
• February 24, 2pm-9pm
4 Charles Place, Brooklyn NY 11221
"On February 24 the Microscope Gallery will be screening James Fotopoulos’ four video series Jerusalem, Sublimation, Conjunction and The Pearl on VHS from 2pm-9pm. The second and third installments of the series will be screening for the first time.
Jerusalem (2003, 78 minutes)
Conjunction (2003, 142 minutes - Premiere)
Sublimation (2003, 76 minutes, - Premiere)
The Pearl (2004, 120 minutes)"
Alison Braun, L.A. Punk Photographer’s new site alisonbraun.com.
Obituaries of the Month
• Dan Edelman (1920-2013)
“Born in New York City in 1920, Mr. Edelman attended DeWitt Clinton High School in the Bronx, where he was sports editor of the school newspaper. He graduated Phi Beta Kappa in 1940 from Columbia University, where he tutored fraternity brother Sid Luckman, who went on to be a star quarterback for the Chicago Bears. In 1941, Mr. Edelman earned a master's degree from Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism, taking a job as sports editor and reporter for a Poughkeepsie, N.Y., newspaper. Drafted into the Army in 1942, Mr. Edelman was assigned to the 5th Mobile Radio Broadcasting Company, a psychological warfare unit. His job was to analyze German propaganda, providing information that was used by the Allies to counter with messages of their own. After the war, Mr. Edelman went from being a New York-based music publicist to heading up public relations for Toni, which was headquartered in Chicago. He moved to Chicago in 1948 and created the first of many public relations innovations, the media tour, by sending six sets of attractive twins on a cross-country road trip to promote the ubiquitous advertising campaign, ‘Which Twin has the Toni?’ In 1952 he went out on his own with Toni as a client. Over the years, he helped build brands such as Sara Lee, KFC and 9Lives cat food, for which he helped make Morris the Cat a household name.”
• Harry Heftman (1909-2013)
“Heftman opened the Little Snack Shop in 1954 in the four-story building on the northwest corner of Randolph and Franklin, home to the Showmen’s League of America, the national organization for carnival workers and circus performers, of which he was a proud member. The dark gray building was distinctive for its small elephant sculptures, trunks raised in joy, decorating each of the 24 windows, and for the mustard-yellow awnings of Harry’s Hot Dog’s — he changed the name in 1982 — on the ground floor. Heftman worried about his customers — when a fire damaged the building in 2003, and the hot dog stand had to close for a few weeks, he posted a sign on the front door that read, in essence: Don’t worry; we’ll be back soon; It’s not as bad as it looks — something of a life philosophy for Harry. When John Buck built the 42-story 155 W. Wacker next door and wanted the land under Harry’s, some urged Heftman to fight.
But Heftman decided it was time to close. He was, after all, 100 years old. Instead he had a big birthday party, with cake and hot dogs and TV cameras. The president of Vienna Hot Dogs came. Mayor Richard M. Daley showed up too and ate a hot dog. ‘My father used to come here,’ Daley said.”
• Yang Baibing (1920-2013)
“The younger half brother of Yang Shangkun, a former president of China and a Red Army luminary, General Yang had largely been forgotten in the two decades since the paramount leader, Deng Xiaoping, stripped the brothers of their posts out of concern that they were seeking to upend his succession plan with what some analysts described as a ‘minicoup.’ Their downfall was probably abetted by Deng’s handpicked successor, Jiang Zemin, as he moved to isolate potential rivals in his drive to consolidate power. But during the politically turbulent years after the Tiananmen crackdown, General Yang was a prominent defender of the economic reforms being championed by Deng, who was facing resistance from conservatives. In a statement published by a party newspaper, General Yang declared the military to be the ‘protector and escort’ of reform, which included efforts to open China to the outside world.”
• Prospero Gallinari (1951-2013)
“His parents were sharecroppers. His devotion to leftist causes began when he was 9, he said, after he attended a funeral for people killed in clashes between landowners and the police. At a young age he joined the Communist youth federation and remained with it until the late 1960s.
He then joined the Superclan, an ultrasecret leftist group (the name stands for ‘super clandestine’) that specialized in armed robberies. He became a full member of the Red Brigades around 1973. Modeling itself after urban guerrilla groups in Latin America, the Brigades hoped to destabilize Italy through sabotage, bank robberies, kidnappings and murder. Its members were known to cripple people by shooting them in the kneecaps. In 1974, Mr. Gallinari participated in the abduction and mock trial of Mario Sossi, a prosecutor. Convicted of the kidnapping, Mr. Gallinari escaped from a prison in Treviso in 1976. Two years later, on a Rome street, he was one of four armed terrorists who jumped out of bushes, automatic pistols blazing, to capture Mr. Moro.”
• Essie Mae Washington-Williams (1925-2013)
"The teenager knew Butler was taking her to meet her father, but 'I was surprised because she never mentioned that he was white,' Washington-Williams told CBS' Dan Rather many years later. She recalled that when they met, Thurmond told her, 'Well, you look like one of my sisters. You've got those cheekbones like our family.' But that was as close as he got to acknowledging that they were kin. From that point on, Thurmond regularly sent her money. After she graduated from high school in 1945, he encouraged her to attend the all-black South Carolina State College in Orangeburg. He paid her tuition and after he became governor in 1947, visited her on campus, causing rumors to swirl about why the coed had a friend in such a high place. Her relationship to Thurmond stirred complicated emotions, which she kept to herself. As governor, Thurmond was a proud, loud segregationist who in 1948 declared publicly that there were 'not enough troops in the Army to force the Southern people to break down segregation and admit the nigger race into our theaters, into our swimming pools, into our homes and into our churches.' 'I wasn't proud of him at that time,' Washington-Williams told The Times in 2004. One time when she was in college she asked him why he was segregationist 'and he said, 'Well, that's the way things have always been',' she recalled in the CBS interview. 'I don't believe he was a racist at heart. And when the times changed, he changed,' she said."
Thanks to Archie Patterson, Jay Babcock, Steve Beeho, Geralyn Carducci.
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• The New Vulgate
• Joe Carducci, Chris Collins, James Fotopoulos, Mike Vann Gray, David Lightbourne (1942 - 2010)
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