Photo by Joe Carducci
The Culturati Headlock and the Reaction Shot
A dead-end is in the air. You can smell it in the reluctance to give up trouncing Romney and turn toward… governing if that’s what they call this. Four years ago the Democrats’ victory dance consisted mostly of trying to destroy Sarah Palin even though they’d won control of both houses of Congress as well. That was quite a spectacle, a mere defeated vice-presidential candidate being drafted by the newsmedia-comedy industrial complex as their fuck-toy (def. – a rock band on tour under certain conditions might make the first one who falls asleep a work of art fully decorated with ink, foodstuffs, or worse.). That Palin fought our leading constituency for civility in politics to a near-draw was something like what Pat Buchanan survived and Dan Quayle didn’t. Though the mass media was ending even then, what’s replacing it – massed media – is somehow even more overwhelming as all those like-minds stampede to their considered opinion without editing. No enemy of the people has a chance against such swarming high-minded freed speech as it becomes universal social coloration for the culturati. Back in the late 1980s “Saturday Night Live” eventually ran a sketch of a cocktail party consisting of unfunny self-satisfied Quayle jokes at which the audience only slowly picked up on the point of the satire and stopped laughing. With no network gatekeepers the social media world spins drunkenly onward, ever more self-satisfied, ever more ineducable.
This election the polling seemed to miss two things: 1. The personal investment of Democrats in Barack Obama as first non-white in the office which evidently trumped their disappointments that he didn’t break with Bush on the wars, the banks, La Migra etc., and 2. The divestment of the libertarian-Ron Paul Republicans in the fate of the Romney campaign after the Convention. The disappointed “Ins” outvoted the less motivated than expected “Outs.” You can’t be too hard on pollsters since their marginal differences are always small and historically they’ve proved just how predictable are we-the-people. (Personally I don’t vote – a writer’s discipline, if not an anarchist’s indulgence.)
The contempt visited upon the first Bush and the only Carter for being “one-termers” is a fate worse than death (there was another memorable “Sat. Night Live” sketch about that). Candidate Obama, though, helped himself and hurt Hillary in the Democratic nominating contest by his very claim that he was willing to be a one-term president if all the brave action he promised did him in. Hillary, like Bill it was assumed, would lie, cheat, steal, grovel, and triangulate to become president and to stay president. The main interest the newsmedia had in this last campaign for the Republican nomination was in the parade of boom-bust challengers making Romney look vulnerable but inevitable. All the great editors of national political coverage failed to register even a David Janssen half-smile when it was learned at the end of the campaign that in fact Ron Paul had actually won the first contest in Iowa. By rights of even the mere horse race coverage an entirely different campaign discourse, if not narrative, was warranted. That was a close one!
Since the good old live televised days and nights of McGovern, Dukakis, Ford, and Bush-1 conventions spinning out of control and into small-d democratic brinksmanship and barter the networks’ and newspapers’ experts and editors have judged winning campaigns and political parties on their ability to present a Madison Avenue-smooth picture of smiling party unanimity. The networks’ news divisions in particular have punished political drama to the point that their own programming depts now won’t run them.
That’s the myopia of the CBS eye that never blinks and the rest of our hard-news Edward R. Murrow-sucking-a-fag-in-a-trenchcoat can’t-we-nail-this-down courage-my-ass first-amendment-absolutist second-amendment-uhhh… newsmediators. But what the politicians and the parties themselves missed was this thing we can smell, the end of the progressive assumption which both parties have made serve their politicking needs even all these years after the philosophy has proven a fallacy.
The anti-science faith of the Democrats is that there is enough money to fund a programmatic heaven on earth. It’s the Goddamn fishes and loaves all over again. Just last week Paul Krugman asked, "Is Growth Over?". He near admits the Bush-Obama plan has simply been to re-inflate the bubble all along when he questions whether federal stimuli will ever yield the expected return to historically average American growth rates. Democrats officially believe that wealth is created by federal redistribution of windfall caches of undeserved earnings by criminal conspiracies. Such greed must be tamed by taxation and regulation, harnessed and steered, excess profits redistributed for planned outcomes with multiplier effects, doubling as luck has it as vote-buying schemes.
Professor Krugman was hired in 1999 by the New York Times to write about economics on the assumption that the next president, Al Gore, would need advice and support as the Clinton bubble popped…, or maybe it was the Bush-1 tax increase boom busting, or even just the Reagan restructuring beginning to run on fumes. Bush-2 and Greenspan were trying and failing to re-stoke the economy when the World Trade Center came down. Lame ducks in second terms usually turn to foreign affairs where they can still achieve something; 9-11 meant the world colonized the White House for Bush-1 by year 2! And while he became a war president he also eased and spent and finally ignited the real estate bubble with the help of Greenspan and Bernanke, not to mention former Democratic presidential runner-up nominee the Reverend Jesse Jackson whose campaign to end banks’ red-lining of the still-smoking Chicago ghettos gradually evolved into the paperless home loan securitization scam headmanned by the liberals at Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, and FHA as well as assorted favored capitalists busy at the trough and racking up bonus brownie points as well. That was then. Now as Obama and Bernanke wait for animal spirits or greed or the business cycle to reinflate any old bubble, Krugman begins the job of lowering expectations to something more reasonable and European-like. Hillary surely hopes to be able to run on promising to return the economy to Clintonian growth rates, as Gingrichian growth rates are usually referred to. In July 2008 The Onion ran a story, "Recession-Plagued Nation Demands New Bubble to Invest In", only it wasn’t the nation demanding it really, but the experts, Great Depression obsessives and Nobel Prize-winning liquidity trap specialists alike, who create and sustain that demand. They might demand a re-tracking of just what the state is responsible for and just what capital risks in a free market that exacts its own punishments and rewards to the favored or the free, but where’s theirs in that? We might try to do without their legions of paper shuffling red-tape postmodernists.
Growth can be achieved by any society that is willing to stop selling today’s top corporations protection from new competitors or paradigm shifts in the form of higher startup costs by increased regulatory and tax burdens. Japan chose to stop growth to end risk to its one-time success; China’s rise is just now forcing a rethink. America with its de-centered regions isn’t so easily tamed. The computer revolution and the web are recent proof of that. And even in this sector it isn’t ITT, IBM, or Hewlett-Packard that dominate but new players. The mess in Europe, where in recent decades their welfare states hoped to grow 2% on the backs of our 4% growth, ought to give Democrats and their faithful culturati pause since they seem obsessed with European models, despite that its they who follow our model to the extent they dare risk their corrupt social peaces. To give them their due, an awful lot of people were killed in high-minded civilized Europe in the last century so there are worse things than corrupt social peaces. But the EU will remain an open question in Germany until Italy, Spain, and Greece get their acts together, which is to say for all time!
More importantly for us there is earnest Scandinavian-style decay in California and grubby Mediterranean-style corruption in Illinois, New York, New Jersey and elsewhere that threatens American economic growth, bubble or no. If these states can get the Obama administration to federalize their dead-end debts then we are seeing the impetus the feds themselves might have to globalize their own fiasco into the great slush-fund wet-dream of Davos Man: a global currency.
The Democrats promise us ever more security when it is the trading away of freedom for those Ponzied mirages that threatens to close the circle against growth and tip us into a death spiral. The Republicans look up at this rhetorical high ground and lose faith in freedom. Democrats and their media friends merely stress discrete freedoms, usually sexual, and then gin up a Reaction Shot to some Republican’s proposal as if it might authorize a theocracy, or reinstitute slavery – see Bork’s obit below. The salty self-image of the cynical seen-it-all ink-stained wretch is gone in a wink and in its place the earnest horrified reaction shot of an offended rube his first day on the streets of the big city – the method acting of the anchorman. Actually the authoritative expert know-it-alls quick to anger have no natural affinity for democracy other than their own Americanness which unfortunately they seek to expunge for citizenship of the world.
What’s sad and costly is that as Nassim Taleb writes in the New York Times, “[T]he solution can be bipartisan, pleasing both those who decry a large federal government and those who distrust the market.” ("Stabilization Won’t Save Us") Taleb’s book, Antifragile – Things That Gain From Disorder, looks like the big idea book of the moment and it sounds like he’s deduced this right-left potential that might have but did not occur around the Ron Paul runs. That Paul stayed in the party primaries rather than run third-party indicates that he believes his ideas, especially those on economic and monetary policy, are in line to be adopted by a Republican party caught with its hand in the cookie jar and unsure of its purpose. But the Republican Party has this clear alternative within it. The Democrats have no such contrapuntal theme within and as their politik is essentially a lifestyle accoutrement-as-ass-covering, something like a selfless class greed, their tensions are just the sub-interest groups jockeying for priority (wind vs solar, transit vs recycling…). On many issues the Republicans can now reprioritize, though the establishment as represented in the McCain and Romney candidacies surely doesn’t realize this. Conservatives have made life adjustments in the form of home-schooling, gated communities, etc. These allow battles to be fought elsewhere. And the wars are both over but for the ticker-tape parade. We won and we lost, as always. We always lose more of the habits of constitutional republican governance during war, not a bad thing for progressives, and they’re fond of using the military as a lab for social engineering.
There won’t be call for much beyond patrolling the Pacific because China though not a good neighbor isn’t likely to go to war against its economy’s suppliers and customers, and the Pentagon has never really been a constituency for war itself; they’re mostly McClellans though they will fight for their budget. Best keep our eyes on the State Department and U.N. though. There’s a left-right draw-down possible here too. In political or policy terms this would hardly take a Molotov-Ribbentrop pact, though it terms of our weird post-sixties lifestyle vanity it might seem so. How did the hippies and radicals end up control freak puritans? Bernadine Dohrn and Bill Ayers don’t rule out violent rebellion, but are they in favor of gun control? Don’t ask.
But it may be it’s the center that is the real problem; those whose quick reflex to compromise makes deals that pay-off both sides and doubles, then squares the cost of anything. It took decades after the Vietnam war to close stateside military bases dating from the Indian wars, and why are we still in Europe? It’s not the wars, it’s these peaces we can’t afford. Such go along-get along “stability” is what Taleb attacks. He also argues for decentralization which you wouldn’t think could be losing ground in a world where the zeitgeist is all about local access to everything via the web. But we get calls for more and steeper top-down hierarchies coming from the culturati, the thousands of useless counselor-types pumped out of higher edumucation annually, all bright-eyed about serving the public by telling them how to live, and determined to fight the man they have every intention of becoming.
The formerly hip Ann Marlowe who wrote for the Village Voice and ArtForum and published her own downtown fanzine in the early 1990s, Pretty Decorating, and a heroin memoir no less, before she morphed right and began writing about Afghanistan for the Weekly Standard and Wall Street Journal, has fretted over the lack of cool on the right ("Hip Replacement" in The Daily). But her complaint looks at the wrong end of the issue. The right can’t be expected to be hip no matter what cachet she, David Mamet, P.J. O’Rourke, and Nick Cohen might muster. A better focus is on the matter of the left’s alleged hipness. That Bruce Springsteen or any of NPR’s approved consciences of a generationlet are presumed to be within skunk-musk smelling distance of hip is just politicos once again stealing fire from a rock and roll they actually know nothing about. Very uncool.
And back to the paper of broken record: days after Krugman entertains the end of growth, professor of economics Gregory Minkiw suggests tax increases on the middle class because there will be no cutting, and professor of constitutional law Louis Seidman cleverdick that he is suggests we give up on the Constitution. As we are obviously well into a post-Constitutional irrepublic I suggest we begin by firing the him. And then not to be outdone, former editor not quite off-loaded dead wood Bill Keller offers one of those patented Times fictional monologues wherein they invent their opponent’s comic rationale for daring to contradict the editorial page. You really have to wonder…
How modernity is waking and remaking different cultures and countries since the end of Communism ought to make this the golden age of an American reassessment of what it is we all have accomplished here in the new world. This is why I try to include a spin around the world in each NV: The rape-murder case in India… Sexual slavery in Belarus… Chasing millionaires out of France… Racism in China… Islamism in Sweden… Minority suppression in Turkey… all of it ought to prompt a recalibration of how we think about all our history has allowed and what it might still allow if we don’t shut it down and live off the past and a foreclosed future.
"Locus #2" by Michael J. Safran
From the London Desk of Steve Beeho…
"What an omnishables" – Ian Hislop, editor of Private Eye, discusses the post-Leveson state of the British media at vice.com.
“The good thing about the hacking scandal is that the failures of journalism were uncovered by a journalist. That’s something to hold on to. It wasn’t an inquiry that turned it up, it wasn’t the police, it certainly wasn’t the government – they would have all happily done nothing. It was Nick Davies at the Guardian, and hats off. Journalism is quite difficult. Investigations can take months. You have to pay people and set it all up and it takes time and you might get nothing. So I do see why people wouldn’t want to do it. It’s troublesome and if it goes wrong there are legal costs and that’s expensive for proprietors. But I still think that if you do it well it should sell newspapers”
Also at vice.com, Adam Curtis' media review.
“It’s left my generation growing up in a supremely paranoid world. What also feeds into it is the fact that the baby boomers – the ageing generation of the first big individualists – are now beginning to understand they’re going to die. If you’re going to die and all you believe in is that you’re the centre of the world, then you can’t conceive of yourself dying. So what you do is you project your own death on to the planet and you say, “I won’t die, it’s the world that will cease to exist.” I think a lot of the exaggerated apocalyptic fears are about this generation projecting their own intimations of mortality on to the planet. For example, climate change is a serious problem, but it’s turned into this great apocalyptic thing.”
Nick Cohen in Standpoint on "how not to write".
“In class-ridden Britain, the parvenu is a stock figure of fun. The social climber or pseudo-intellectual with ‘ideas above his station’ is always good for a laugh. More ridiculous are university-educated commissioning editors and book publishers with ideas beneath their station. They think when they slum it that popular culture is so debased and easy any fool can rattle out a hit. They may be right about the debased nature of much popular culture, but they betray their ignorance when they assume that success is easy. If you want to succeed in pop culture, or indeed any culture, you have to attain a state of mind that is very hard for the ironic upper-middle class cultural bureaucrat to achieve. You have to believe.”
Nicholas Dames in n+1 on the "Theory Generation" and how the tenets of critical theory are now being re-examined in contemporary fiction.
“[T]hese theoretical avant-gardistes were, thanks to employment and tenure, comfortably middle-class — a complaint that ignores the long tendency of Western modernity to remunerate its critics. The more potent irony was that by transforming itself into an engine for critique, the academy ceased to believe in the goal of socialization — making good citizens — that was still one of its functions. (As Richard Rorty had it, the price higher education paid to keep this irony unexamined was to cede secondary education to conservatives.) At the center of this irony was the liberal arts student, tasked with learning to critique social norms before having consciously or fully lived them. It is both socially and aesthetically significant that so much recent virtuoso realism has come from writers who were undergraduates at precisely this moment, often in the places where Theory had most prestige.”
Mike Stax's original mind-blowing Monks cover story which appeared in Ugly Things #11.
“Eddie Shaw: The idea of it was to get as much ‘beat’ out of it as we could. As much ‘bam-bam-bam-bam’ on the beat or whatever. The only time cymbals would be used would be for accent. If anyone wasn’t contributing towards rhythm, then it wasn’t part of the Monks sound. We took every instrument and tried to make it a rhythmic instrument. At that point, Larry, with the organ, became the melody carrier when it came to the solos and stuff. His thing was not to play it pretty, but to just go up and down the keyboard; sarcastic and brutal. The idea was to keep the energy high. So, in summation of what that theory was, it was rhythm and energy. High energy and high rhythm. If one is confined to a cell and has to listen to it for six months, he’s gonna go stark raving mad, because it’s gonna drive him crazy. Even now, when I listen to it, it makes me nervous. It’s like my worst nightmare. If you do that every night for two years, it’s overdrive. You’re in overdrive all the time. It’s aggressive. If you listen to one song after another, it just attacks you.”
Sam Fuller's berserk and rarely-screened "Dead Pigeon on Beethoven Street" (1974) in its entirety, with Can (!) on the soundtrack.
Blazing footage of a full Black Flag set at the Mab on 9th January 1981 with Dez on vocals and Dirk Dirksen captured on film at the end.
Saint Vitus live at Washington DC in July 1987:
You can almost see the ceiling spinning during their dirge take on “Thirsty and Miserable.”
Two clips from the Dim Stars only live performance at the Ritz in New York in October 1991:
"The Night is Coming On"
up behind Medicine Bow forest station
Photo by Joe Carducci
From the Wyoming Desk of Joe Carducci…
Tom Bartlett at chronicle.com, "This Is Not a Profile of Nassim Taleb".
“Taleb has a low opinion of most professors. He titles one section of the new book ‘The Charlatan, the Academic, and the Showman.’ In a chart, Taleb divides professions into three categories: fragile, robust, and antifragile. It's bad to be fragile, better to be robust, best to be antifragile. Artists and writers are antifragile. Postal employees and truck drivers are robust. Academics, bureaucrats, and the pope are fragile. Benedict, beware. Most of Taleb's ire is directed at business schools, specifically the one at Harvard. At Harvard they ‘lecture birds to fly,’ then arrogantly claim credit when the fledglings become airborne. He rails against the ‘Soviet-Harvard delusion,’ linking an institution that's graduated thousands with a state that killed millions. What is the delusion, exactly? It is a belief in a top-down system that tries to control and protect, purportedly for mankind's benefit, thereby eliminating the natural stressors and necessary randomness that create strength and encourage enterprise. Dekulakization and course catalogs are symptoms of the same ailment. Taleb has no patience for so-called structured learning. ‘Only the autodidacts are free,’ he writes in the book. He pursued his real education in his spare time, doing only as much as was required to pass his courses.”
Nassim Taleb in NYT, "Stabilization Won’t Save Us".
“Stabilization, of course, has long been the economic playbook of the United States government; it has kept interest rates low, shored up banks, purchased bad debts and printed money. But the effect is akin to treating metastatic cancer with painkillers. It has not only let deeper problems fester, but also aggravated inequality. Bankers have continued to get rich using taxpayer dollars as both fuel and backstop. And printing money tends to disproportionately benefit a certain class. The rise in asset prices made the superrich even richer, while the median family income has dropped. Overstabilization also corrects problems that ought not to be corrected and renders the economy more fragile; and in a fragile economy, even small errors can lead to crises and plunge the entire system into chaos. That’s what happened in 2008. More than four years after that financial crisis began, nothing has been done to address its root causes. Our goal instead should be an antifragile system — one in which mistakes don’t ricochet throughout the economy, but can instead be used to fuel growth. The key elements to such a system are decentralization of decision making and ensuring that all economic and political actors have some ‘skin in the game.’”
James Bowman in NEW CRITERION, "The Cycle Repeats".
“To Professor Krugman and others of his persuasion, the austerity ‘strategy’ is so obviously the wrong one that they must wonder if those benighted Europeans who perversely persist in it aren’t as much the captives of the dark forces of ‘extremist’ Republican reaction as Messrs. Romney and Ryan. But there is another explanation. It is that ‘austerity’ is not really a strategy but the name we give to reality in order to avoid calling it – or thinking about it as – reality. When reality appears to us a long way off in the form of mere ‘austerity,’ it still looks like a strategy, still looks optional. Uh oh! This strategy doesn’t seem to be working. Let’s try another! And so we turn to intellectuals like Professors Krugman and Tilford who are the perpetual motion men of our era, people who have a system figured out to turn reality into an infinite number of strategies, or maybe just one killer strategy guaranteed to turn the hard reality easy again. Count on them if you need someone to persuade you, or re-persuade you, that reality is optional.”
Jeffrey Sachs in FT, "We Must Look Beyond Keynes to Fix Our Problems".
“There are three more reasons to doubt the Keynesian view. First, the fiscal expansion has been mostly in the form of temporary tax cuts and transfer payments. Much of these were probably saved, not spent. Second, the zero interest rate policy has a risk not acknowledged by the Fed: the creation of another bubble. The Fed has failed to appreciate that the 2008 bubble was partly caused by its own easy liquidity policies in the preceding six years. Friedrich Hayek was prescient: a surge of excessive liquidity can misdirect investments that lead to boom followed by bust. Third, our real challenge was not a great depression, as the Keynesians argued, but deep structural change. Keynesians persuaded Washington it was stimulus or bust. This was questionable. There was indeed a brief depression risk in late 2008 and early 2009, but it resulted from the panic after the abrupt and maladroit closure of Lehman Brothers.”
Robin Harding in FT, "Bernanke and Carney Give Voice to a Quiet Revolution".
“Like most revolutions, it seems to come from nowhere but has deep roots. Like most revolutions, it holds the promise of great good but has the potential for harm. It is crucial that politicians and the public understand what this revolution in central bank thinking is and is not about. ‘A revolution is impossible without a revolutionary situation,’ said Vladimir Lenin, something of an authority in these matters. (A view from Lenin on recent monetary innovations would be interesting. ‘The best way to destroy the capitalist system is to debauch the currency’ is another of his dainty little remarks.) The past five years have led central banks to a revolutionary situation. When the crisis hit, they played their best moves, but to modest effect. Quantitative easing – the ugly term for buying long-term assets in order to drive down long-term interest rates – looks radical thanks to the many-zeroed numbers involved. In reality it is just another way to cut interest rates.”
Gordon Wood in NEW YORK REVIEW OF BOOKS on Kevin Phillips’ book, "1775 – A Good Year for Revolution".
“Most white Americans knew they were freer and less burdened with feudal and monarchical restraints than any other people in the eighteenth century. Indeed, they keenly realized that the liberties they enjoyed actually came from the heritage and traditions of the British nation of which they were a part. They were British subjects who had all the rights and privileges of British subjects—elected legislatures, trial by jury, habeas corpus, and widespread religious toleration. Why then would they have broken away from the nation that was the source of these rights and liberties? These peculiar circumstances made the American Revolution seem different from other revolutions. With none of the legendary tyranny that had so often driven desperate peoples into rebellion, the American Revolution has always seemed strange. To its victims, the Tories or loyalists, the Revolution was totally incomprehensible. Never in history, said Daniel Leonard, John Adams’s antagonist in the Massachusetts debates in 1775, had there been so much rebellion with so ‘little real cause.’ Peter Oliver, who wrote the most vitriolic Tory history of the Revolution, said that it was ‘the most wanton and unnatural rebellion that ever existed.’ The Americans’ response seemed out of all proportion to the stimuli. “The Annals of no Country,” declared a thoroughly bewildered imperial official at the outset, ‘can produce an Instance of so virulent a Rebellion, of such implacable madness and Fury, originating from such trivial Causes, as those alledged by these unhappy People.’”
Sohrab Ahmari in WSJ: "Weekend Interview – Harvey Mansfield".
“At one level Mr. Obama's silence reveals the exhaustion of the progressive agenda, of which his presidency is the spiritual culmination, Mr. Mansfield says. That movement ‘depends on the idea that things will get better and better and progress will be made in the actualization of equality.’ It is telling, then, that during the 2012 campaign progressives were ‘confined to defending what they've already achieved or making small improvements—student loans, free condoms. The Democrats are the party of free condoms. That's typical for them.’ But Democrats' refusal to address the future in positive terms, he adds, also reveals the party's intent to create ‘an entitlement or welfare state that takes issues off the bargaining table and renders them above politics.’ The end goal, Mr. Mansfield worries, is to sideline the American constitutional tradition in favor of ‘a practical constitution consisting of progressive measures the left has passed that cannot be revoked. And that is what would be fixed in our political system—not the Constitution.’ It is a project begun at the turn of the previous century by ‘an alliance of experts and victims,’ Mr. Mansfield says. ‘Social scientists and political scientists were very much involved in the foundation of the progressive movement. What those experts did was find ways to improve the well-being of the poor, the incompetent, all those who have the right to vote but can't quite govern their own lives.”
Jennifer Schuessler in NYT, "Professor Who Learns from Peasants".
“As a newly minted Ph.D. teaching at the University of Wisconsin in the early 1970s, he was active in the antiwar movement but soon realized — ‘if I do say so, more quickly than some of my friends,’ he notes — that wars of national liberation often led to much more oppressive governments. ‘I began to think that if revolution doesn’t work for peasants, maybe there’s not that much to say for it,’ he said. In the late 1970s Mr. Scott took his family to a Malaysian village for two years of fieldwork, despite colleagues’ warnings that it would be a ‘career-killing’ move for a political scientist. The result was ‘Weapons of the Weak,’ which (along with a follow-up, ‘Domination and the Arts of Resistance’) explored the ways peasants and other powerless people used evasion and subterfuge, rather than direct confrontation, to thwart efforts at centralized state control. ‘Seeing Like a State,’ published a decade later, looked at the limitations of state power from the other end, examining — through examples as diverse as 18th-century German scientific forestry and ‘villagization’ in 1970s Tanzania — the way that ‘high modernist’ social engineering doomed itself by ignoring local custom and practical knowledge, which Mr. Scott, borrowing the classical Greek word for wisdom, calls ‘metis.’”
Robert George in NYT on Akhil Amar’s book, "America’s Unwritten Constitution – The Precedents and Principles We Live By".
“Amar is a respectful critic of conservative originalism. He takes the written text seriously as limiting judicial freedom of maneuver, but argues that the Constitution is more than the text, even when supplemented by its original understanding. Like the distinguished conservative constitutional scholar Hadley Arkes, he contends that the written Constitution points beyond itself to principles that it presupposes or entails. This is far from a wholesale rejection of originalism. For example, Amar, a careful student of history, compellingly argues that the First Amendment’s prohibition of laws ‘respecting an establishment of religion’ was framed to leave the question to states, and to prevent the national government from establishing its own religion or interfering with state establishments. Thus, many issues now treated under the so-called establishment clause cannot properly be resolved there, but only (if at all) under other provisions, like the free exercise or equal protection clauses.”
David Super in NYT, "Bring On the Fiscal Cliff".
“In truth, going over the cliff — that is, accepting the ‘last ditch’ spending cuts agreed to in August 2011 as well as the expiration of the Bush-era tax cuts — would have the opposite effect: it would reduce the deficit. That, after all, has been the aim all along. But even those who understand this often misjudge the likely impact of these automatic program cuts, known as the sequester, and the tax changes. Indeed, a closer look at this much-feared budget buzz saw reveals it’s better for the country than any likely deal would be.”
Ross Douthat in NYT, "Bloomberg, LaPierre and the Void".
“Unfortunately for our country, the Bloomberg versus LaPierre contrast is basically all of American politics today. Our society is divided between an ascendant center-left that’s far too confident in its own rigor and righteousness and a conservatism that’s marched into an ideological cul-de-sac and is currently battering its head against the wall. The entire Obama era has been shaped by this conflict, and not for the good. On issue after issue, debate after debate, there is a near-unified establishment view of what the government should do, and then a furious right-wing reaction to this consensus that offers no real policy alternative at all. The establishment view is interventionist, corporatist and culturally liberal. It thinks that issues like health care and climate change and immigration are best worked out through comprehensive bills drawn up by enlightened officials working hand in glove with business interests. It regards sexual liberty as sacrosanct, and other liberties — from the freedoms of churches to the rights of gun owners — as negotiable at best.”
Kimberley Strassel in WSJ, "Big Business Sells Out Small Business".
“The Business Roundtable let the cat out of the bag on Dec. 11 when it circulated a letter signed by 150 of its corporate titans sanctioning year-end income-tax hikes. The letter happened to appear a few hours after the White House leaked its offer to include corporate tax reform as part of any cliff deal. The reform, in theory, would lower corporate tax rates. Put another way, the Roundtable saw an opportunity to make the one million small American business owners who pay individual income taxes shoulder a big rate hike (up to 39.6%, from 35%) while radically lightening the tax load for the Roundtable's own corporate behemoths (to 28% from 35%). Any corporate tax reform hinges on closing ‘loopholes’ to pay for a lower corporate rate. Small business owners would lose tax perks along with everyone else—meaning they would pay even more—but they would not benefit from lower corporate rates.”
WSJ: "Of Liberals and Loopholes".
“Since the affluent tend to itemize their deductions more than do average taxpayers, and since the affluent pay higher marginal tax rates, they tend to benefit more from deductions. Ergo, limit deductions and you raise the effective tax rate (not the marginal rate) of the affluent. (The effective tax rate is the share of total income paid in taxes, while the marginal rate is the tax on the next dollar earned.) Such a reform would help tax efficiency and equity, and the economy would benefit from fewer investment distortions. But suddenly liberals are having second thoughts, and our guess is that this is because residents of high-tax Democratic-run states are about twice as likely to take advantage of tax loopholes as taxpayers in low-tax states. For example, 44% of Connecticut filers itemize their deductions, but only some 21% of North and South Dakota residents do. One tax writeoff in particular illustrates the point: the deduction for state and local income taxes. This allows a high-income tax filer who pays, say, $20,000 in state and local income taxes to deduct those payments from his federal taxable income. Because the highest federal tax rate is 35%, the value of the state and local deduction is enormous for high-tax states.”
Thomas Donlan in BARRON’S, "Wrestlers in the Ring".
“Until a few years ago, it was possible to assemble coalitions of special pleaders by tacking ‘earmarks’ onto appropriations bills designating a new park or a new highway interchange as an important national priority. Earmark abuse, however, became so rampant that even the members of Congress were appalled. They shut down a process that they had turned into bribery by another name. The unintended legislative consequence was to make it much harder to make little deals, and without little deals it became much harder to make the grand bargains so beloved by statesmen and political-science professors. Congress is now a cacophony. Committee chairmen can't lead because nobody will follow; Bigfoot lobbyists cancel other out. Every cause has become the "third rail of American politics," not just Social Security.”
WSJ: "Pork for Christmas".
“Trouble is, the ‘Sandy’ bill is laden with billions of dollars of spending stowaways wholly unrelated to the hurricane. Did anyone really think earmarks would stay buried? There's $150 million in there for Alaskan fisheries. We knew Sandy made it to the Midwest, but Alaska? Marine projects from New England to Mississippi also made the cut. Also along for the joyride is $8 million for new cars and other equipment for the Justice Department and Homeland Security, $2 million for roof repair at the Smithsonian in Washington, $4 million for the Kennedy Space Center, $3 million for oil-spill research and $348 million for the National Park Service. Nearly $17 billion is in the bill for the Community Development Fund and social service grants, two long-running initiatives to fund liberal activists. Amtrak would get $188 million, including funds for two new train tunnels in New York unrelated to Sandy. Amtrak already got $1.4 billion last year. And of course some $600 million is directed to the Environmental Protection Agency to support climate change adaptation.”
Will Wiles in NYT, "Before Fruit Ninja, Cybernetics".
“What’s the connection between men so widely separated by ideology, geography and time? After assuming power in 1970, Allende’s administration was faced with economic paralysis, inequality and civil strife. The usual socialist prescription of nationalization of industry was applied, but Allende also looked to an unexpected quarter: the relatively new and niche science of cybernetics. Cybernetics is the study of control and communication in large, complex systems, be they organisms, machines or organizations. It spans management theory, information technology, psychology, biology and sociology. The Chilean government approached a British cybernetician named Stafford Beer and asked him to build a cybernetic hub for the management of the country’s economy — something that had never been attempted before, or since.
A recent history, ‘Cybernetic Revolutionaries,’ by Eden Medina, gives the subsequent project, Cybersyn, the serious attention it deserves. The system, once up and running, would have channeled data from Chile’s nationalized industries into an operations room in Santiago, where Allende’s ministers would have made informed decisions in chairs with control panels built into the armrests. Photos of this room still retain a veneer of giddy futurity. White surfaces, pared-down interfaces, rounded corners — a dash of Apple in the mix.”
futureofcapitalism.com: "The Government Publicist Boom".
“The San Diego Union Tribune reports on government-employed public relations professionals: Nationwide, the number of government PR workers more than doubled from 2003 to 2011 while the number of reporters and correspondents fell by a quarter, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. There used to be one government PR specialist for every four reporters in America; now the relationship is almost 1-to-1....The statistics also don't account for the government's extensive use of PR contractors. Rolling back the government public relations staffs to 2003 levels would be one way to help reduce deficits.”
Tyler Durden at zerohedge.com, "The Fiscal Cliff and the Grand Bargain".
“Now let's look at the size of government spending and taxation. In terms of the overall economy (GDP), government spending's share of the economy has been rising for decades. The Internet and housing bubbles briefly ‘grew’ the economy faster than government spending, but once these one-off expansions faded, government spending quickly returned to its trendline (ever higher). Federal spending rose exponentially until it exceeded the carrying capacity of the economy. For context, recall that Social Security costs $817 billion, Medicare and Medicaid costs total about $800 billion annually, and the Pentagon/National Security budget is around $690 billion. Add in interest on the ballooning national debt, and the vast majority of the Federal budget goes to these four. You could eliminate all other Federal spending and these four consume all the tax revenues and then some.”
Michael Barone at washingtonexaminer.com, "American Men Find Careers in Collecting Disability".
“Since passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act in 1990, millions of public and private dollars have been spent on curb cuts, bus lifts and special elevators. The idea has been to enable people with disabilities to live and work with the same ease as others as they make their way forward in life. I feel sure the large majority of Americans are pleased that we are doing this. But there is another federal program for people with disabilities that has had an unhappier effect. This is the Disability Insurance program, which is part of Social Security. The idea is to provide income for those whose health makes them unable to work. For many years, it was a small and inexpensive program that few people or politicians paid much attention to. In his recent book ‘A Nation of Takers: America's Entitlement Epidemic,’ my American Enterprise Institute colleague Nicholas Eberstadt has shown how DI has grown in recent years. In 1960, some 455,000 workers were receiving disability payments. In 2011, the number was 8,600,000. In 1960, the percentage of the economically active 18-to-64-year-old population receiving disability benefits was 0.65 percent. In 2010, it was 5.6 percent.”
Gretchen Morgenson in NYT, "In an F.H.A. Checkup, a Startling Number".
“Like Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac before it, the Federal Housing Administration is suffering in a mortgage hell of its own making. F.H.A. officials say they won’t need taxpayers’ help, but we’ve heard that kind of line before. The F.H.A. backs $1.1 trillion of American mortgages and, by the look of things, it’s in deep trouble. Last year, its mortgage insurance fund was valued at $1.2 billion. Today that fund is valued at negative $13.48 billion.”
bloomberg.com: "$822,000 Worker Shows California Leads U.S. Pay Giveaway".
“Nine years ago, California Democrat Gray Davis became the first U.S. governor in 82 years to be recalled by voters. The state’s 20 million taxpayers still bear the cost of his four years and 10 months on the job. Davis escalated salaries and benefits for 164,000 state workers, including a 34 percent raise for prison guards, the first of a series of steps in which he and successors saddled California with a legacy of dysfunction. Today, the state’s highest-paid employees make far more than comparable workers elsewhere in almost all job and wage categories, from public safety to health care, base pay to overtime. California Governor Jerry Brown, who granted state workers collective-bargaining rights during his first tenure as governor more than three decades ago, has reduced pension costs for new employees while leaving retirement benefits for current workers intact. Payroll data compiled by Bloomberg on 1.4 million public employees in the 12 most populous states show that California has set a pattern of lax management, inefficient operations and out-of-control costs. From coast to coast, states are cutting funding for schools, public safety and the poor as they struggle with fallout left by politicians who made pay-and-pension promises that taxpayers couldn’t afford.”
Jim Carlton & Mike Cherney in WSJ, "California Targets School Borrowing".
“California Treasurer Bill Lockyer Thursday called for overhauls in school districts' sales of so-called capital-appreciation bonds, saying too many schools are locking themselves into what he described as ‘terrible deals’ with onerous terms such as debt payments of more than 10 times the principal. Mr. Lockyer, a Democrat, said he has been meeting with legislators, underwriters and bond attorneys in recent weeks. His office has compiled spreadsheets showing that about 200 K-12 schools and community-college districts in California issued billions of dollars of this type of bond over the past five years. Many districts turned to capital-appreciation bonds, or CABs, after 2009, when the housing bust and recession dried up property-tax receipts the schools depend on. ‘It's the equivalent of payday loans,’ Mr. Lockyer said, adding that he plans to push for overhauls when the legislature convenes next week. ‘They go to voters and say they can build all these facilities with bonds. But as a consequence of that borrowing, they wind up with a huge balloon payment in the later years of borrowing.’”
Judah Bellin in NEW CRITERION on Bruce Bawer’s book, "The Victim’s Revolution – The Rise of Identity Studies & the Closing of the Liberal Mind".
“One notion gaining steam in feminist studies departments is that racial and sexual groups possess different fixed traits. White men, according to the feminist scholar Peggy McIntosh, are rigid ‘vertical thinkers’ while women and minorities are ‘relational and inclusive.’ Others advocate abandoning the gains made by their particular groups: Bawer shows numerous Queer Studies professors disdaining the increasing public acceptance of gays as a sinister triumph of the ‘establishment’ and ‘normativity.’ One Chicano Studies teacher he interviews is horrified that her Hispanic students believe they are ‘equal partners’ in the United States. She takes it upon herself to teach them otherwise.”
WSJ: "Calpers’s Bankruptcy Ploy".
“Who knew the Constitution's Supremacy Clause included an exemption for state pension funds? It doesn't, but that's essentially what the California Public Employees' Retirement System is arguing in federal bankruptcy court. When the Inland Empire city of San Bernardino filed for Chapter 9 bankruptcy this summer, it deferred $34 million in payments to creditors including Calpers while it restructures in federal bankruptcy court, which automatically stays legal actions. Calpers wants federal bankruptcy judge Meredith Jury to lift the stay and let the pension fund collect a $7 million bill in state court. In a recent court filing, the pension giant cites an exemption in bankruptcy law for states to enforce their police power. As ‘an arm of the state,’ Calpers claims to enjoy police power and sovereign rights. Ergo, it can ignore the stay. Although Calpers and the state may both be arms of the public unions, this is a dangerous syllogistic pirouette. If Calpers has police power and sovereign rights, it could also seize private property or assess a special pension fee on taxpayers. Note also the pension fund's novel interpretation of a state's police power to regulate individuals and enforce order for the general welfare. By Calpers's reckoning, safeguarding government employees' pension benefits is tantamount to protecting the public. Never mind that insolvent cities like San Bernardino are having to lay off police officers to pay their pension bills.”
Felicity Barringer in NYT, "California Law Tests Company Responses to Carbon Costs".
“Beginning Jan. 1, under the terms of a groundbreaking California environmental law known as AB 32, Morning Star and 350 other companies statewide will begin paying for those emissions, which trap heat and contribute to global warming. Companies are trying to figure out how this will affect their bottom lines and have lobbied state regulators to minimize the costs. In the meantime they are weighing their options. Should they stay and adapt or move operations elsewhere? Should they retrofit and innovate to reduce emissions? Should they swallow the regulatory costs or pass them on to customers? Each company’s calculus depends on its particular circumstance. Morning Star, a top producer in a $926 million industry, has to be near the tomato fields of California’s Central Valley, so relocating was never an option. Its biggest question is how to handle the extra costs. About 600 facilities with hefty emissions are covered by the Global Warming Solutions Act of 2006. Oil refiners, electric utilities and cement makers, whose greenhouse-gas output totals in the millions of metric tons annually, are the biggest. But over all, dozens of industries are affected.”
Adam Nagourney in NYT, "With a Supermajority, California Democrats Begin to Make Plans".
“Yet in the ‘be careful what you wish for’ department, Democrats are beginning to confront the struggles and complications that come with being in charge of the store. This authority came at least two years earlier than most Democrats had projected. And it is unleashing years of pent-up Democratic desires — to roll back spending cuts, approve a bond issue to rebuild the state’s water system, amend the state’s tax code, revamp California’s governance system — that had been largely checked by the Republican minority. At the same time, it is stirring concerns from Democrats, among them Gov. Jerry Brown, that the situation may inspire an overreach that could make the party’s reign brief. By contrast, some Democrats argue that handled correctly, the next two years could provide an opportunity to lock in long-term control. ‘The center of gravity of the Democratic Party will be restraint, but some people can’t help themselves,’ Mr. Brown said in an interview.”
Sabrina Tavernise in NYT, "States Cut Antismoking Outlays Despite Record Tobacco Revenue".
“Faced with tight budgets, states have spent less on tobacco prevention over the past two years than in any period since the national tobacco settlement in 1998, despite record high revenues from the settlement and tobacco taxes, according to a report to be released on Thursday. States are on track to collect a record $25.7 billion in tobacco taxes and settlement money in the current fiscal year, but they are set to spend less than 2 percent of that on prevention, according to the report, by the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, which compiles the revenue data annually.”
Andrew Martin in NYT, "Building a Showcase Campus, Using an I.O.U. ".
“A decade-long spending binge to build academic buildings, dormitories and recreational facilities — some of them inordinately lavish to attract students — has left colleges and universities saddled with large amounts of debt. Oftentimes, students are stuck picking up the bill. Overall debt levels more than doubled from 2000 to 2011 at the more than 500 institutions rated by Moody’s, according to inflation-adjusted data compiled for The New York Times by the credit rating agency. In the same time, the amount of cash, pledged gifts and investments that colleges maintain declined more than 40 percent relative to the amount they owe. With revenue pinched at institutions big and small, financial experts and college officials are sounding alarms about the consequences of the spending and borrowing.”
Christopher Caldwell in FT, "The State of the Unions: Weak and Getting Weaker".
“During the 1970s a quarter of US workers were unionised. Now the figure is roughly half that and most of them work for the government. This is the result of a natural attrition, not of any concerted programme of ‘union-busting’. Private-sector unions have had the reverse Midas touch: everything they touch turns to lay-offs. Union pensions and benefits would have killed the Michigan-based automobile industry had not Mr Obama and George W. Bush, his predecessor, bailed it out. The only robust US unions today are the ones protected politically, and almost all unions are an arm of the Democratic party. The ‘bosses’ they ‘bargain’ with are allies. When Mr Obama complained that right-to-work laws ‘have everything to do with politics’, he was making a point that none of his adversaries would gainsay. Weakening the power of unions is unlikely to hurt the economy of Michigan, which has been a basket case over recent decades. Dozens of European and Asian vehicle manufacturers have opened plants in the US but they have stayed away from Michigan, despite the concentration of expertise there. The bravado of the state’s unions is a likely explanation. Unlike Britain in the 1970s, the US never had a moment when voters asked themselves whether they ruled the country or the unions did.”
Charles Fishman in ATLANTIC, "The Insourcing Boom".
“Oil prices are three times what they were in 2000, making cargo-ship fuel much more expensive now than it was then. The natural-gas boom in the U.S. has dramatically lowered the cost for running something as energy-intensive as a factory here at home. (Natural gas now costs four times as much in Asia as it does in the U.S.) In dollars, wages in China are some five times what they were in 2000—and they are expected to keep rising 18 percent a year. American unions are changing their priorities. Appliance Park’s union was so fractious in the ’70s and ’80s that the place was known as ‘Strike City.’ That same union agreed to a two-tier wage scale in 2005—and today, 70 percent of the jobs there are on the lower tier, which starts at just over $13.50 an hour, almost $8 less than what the starting wage used to be. U.S. labor productivity has continued its long march upward, meaning that labor costs have become a smaller and smaller proportion of the total cost of finished goods. You simply can’t save much money chasing wages anymore. So much has changed that GE executives came to believe the GeoSpring could be made profitably at Appliance Park without increasing the price of the water heater. ‘First we said, ‘Let’s just bring it back here and build the exact same thing,’’ says Kevin Nolan, the vice president of technology for GE Appliances. But a problem soon became apparent. GE hadn’t made a water heater in the United States in decades. In all the recent years the company had been tucking water heaters into American garages and basements, it had lost track of how to actually make them.”
John Dizard in FT, "The Gas Challenge that Europe and Asia Are Sure to Shirk".
“The US and Canada, populated by overweight people with defective public schools, who then go on to put annoying bumper stickers on their excessively large autos, are getting ever-cheaper energy and increasing their share of manufacturing. That is not fair, is it? After all, in the second part of that first economics lecture, the instructor will say that if simple old natural gas, CH4, methane, is priced differently, then speculators will move it from one place to another, driving the price differential down to the minimum required by transport costs. Instead, the same unit of gas was selling last month for $3.47 in Louisiana, $10.50 in Spain, and $12.75 in coastal China. Given that it costs perhaps $3 at the most to ship the stuff, what happened to that Law of One Price? Is this another example of ‘market failure’ that the underpaid Trotskyite instructor thinks should be solved by more aggressive public policy? Should we just give up on Economics 101, and switch over to the Media Studies course in the same time slot that looks more fun?”
Will Hickey at yaleglobal.yale.edu, "East Asia: Stop Squabbling, Start Drilling".
“In the oil industry, border disputes between countries are resolved with joint development areas, or the oil and gas mechanism of ‘unitization.’ Essentially, unitization lets each nation access undersea resources that cross borders, but leaves national boundaries, or overlapping claims to boundaries, intact. There’s much at stake regarding recent territorial disputes with the Diaoyu-Senkakku Islands between China and Japan and the Spratly-Paracel Islands in the South China Sea overlapping borders with China and ASEAN members. Since 1947 and the revolution, China has linked maritime territorial claims with national sovereignty, pointing to historical maps showing a ‘9 dotted line’ stretching throughout the South China Sea. Through collaboration and unitization, China versus Japan, Vietnam, Malaysia, the Philippines, Brunei and others could develop the resources. But no incumbent government would lose credibility with its citizens over sovereignty rights. Oil reservoirs that cross national frontiers need special agreements. In petroleum states where cross-border reservoirs have been discovered, for example fields straddling Norway and the UK in the North Sea, the governments agreed on a common framework to develop these resources.”
Geoffrey Cain in NEW REPUBLIC on Daniel Tudor’s book, "Korea – The Impossible Country".
“The book also demonstrates that development, like democracy, can take root in a very short period if the entire state is behind it. The South Korea that we know today is the result of a constant self-improving impulse that has dominated the country even amid political turmoil. There is a good chance your television, smart phone, or computer monitor came from South Korea—because, starting in the 1960s, South Korean companies spent decades copying, tinkering with, and improving other countries’ goods. Conglomerates like Samsung benefited from close relationships with the government, allowing them access to easy loans that pushed them into expansion. Samsung has made its mark with the Galaxy, but your Apple iPhone and iPad probably contain a Samsung chipset—the network of chips that makes your device function. Japan is now old news as far as gadgets go; in the mid-2000s, Samsung Electronics overtook Sony in both yearly sales and brand popularity, as measured by the company InterBrand.
Tudor does not shy away from the more oppressive effects of all this forward motion. This culturally ingrained ambition—which he calls a value of striving toward self-perfection—means that pressures run high.”
Choe Sang-Hun in NYT, "In Changing South Korea, Who Counts as ‘Korean’? ".
“Among the factors driving this development is the influx of women from Southeast Asia who have come to marry rural South Korean men, who have difficulty attracting Korean women willing to embrace country life. The number of marriage migrants grew to 211,000 last year from 127,000 in 2007, most of them women from Vietnam and other poorer Asian countries drawn to a better life in South Korea. In industrial towns, young men from Bangladesh and Pakistan toil at jobs shunned by Koreans as too dirty and dangerous, providing cheap labor that South Korea’s export-driven economy needs to compete with China. The number of such workers more than doubled to 553,000 last year, from 260,000 in 2007 — not counting those who overstay their visas and work illegally. One of every 10 marriages in South Korea now involves a foreign spouse. Although the overall number of schoolchildren in South Korea has been declining — to 6.7 million this year from 7.7 million in 2007 — as a result of one of the world’s lowest birthrates, the number of multiethnic students has been climbing by 6,000 a year in the same period.”
Eric Bellman in WSJ, "Southeast Asia at a Crossroads on Wages".
“Governments in this corner of Asia have to walk a fine line to maintain their export competitiveness as rising wages help another of their goals: to build a strong middle class of consumers. In this, they have to look no further than China, where wages rising almost to the level of those in Mexico have threatened the country's status as the world's factory floor, increasing calls on leaders to reduce the reliance on exports and shift to a growth model based on domestic consumption. How the vibrant economies of Southeast Asia upgrade their citizens' skills and salaries will help decide which ones can build sustainable domestic demand and continue to grow and which ones overheat or slow down.”
FT: "Philippines Backs Rearming of Japan".
“‘We would welcome that very much,’ Albert del Rosario told the Financial Times in an interview. ‘We are looking for balancing factors in the region and Japan could be a significant balancing factor.’ The unusual statement, which risks upsetting Beijing, reflects alarm in Manila at what it sees as Chinese provocation over the South China Sea, virtually all of which is claimed by Beijing. It also comes days before an election in Japan that could see the return as prime minister of Shinzo Abe, who is committed to revising Japan’s pacifist constitution and to beefing up its military.”
Gary Silverman in FT, "Cornered by a Blushing LaMotta".
“Did I think it was fair, he asked, that Chinese students have to work so hard at their studies when American children have time to explore the woods and make things out of papier-mache? Before I had a chance to answer, he insisted that he knew what he was talking about because he had read about these things in books. I liked the kid right away. Sometimes I think I know what I’m talking about because I read about things in books, so I couldn’t argue with his method of operation. Speaking as a social commentator myself, I could only tip my hat; his characterization of Americans as people who explore the woods and make things out of papier-mache struck me as altogether poetic. For better or worse, ours is a daydream nation of people who wander and tinker, and either waste their lives, wind up forming Apple Inc or fall somewhere in between.”
Michelle Woo in O.C. WEEKLY, "The Healing Fields of Long Beach’s Cambodia Town".
“While parents went to work, many children got swept into the underworld of violence and crime that plagued Long Beach during the 1980s. ‘Youth were confronted by the ethnic racial hierarchy of poor neighborhoods with scarce resources,’ says Karen Quintiliani, co-director of the Cambodian Community History and Archive Project, a research initiative she runs with anthropologist Susan Needham inside the Historical Society of Long Beach. ‘There was conflict that erupted in the school with Mexican gangs and Central American gangs.’ Essentially, Quintiliani says, ‘they were entering another Killing Field.’ Ly was born in a Cambodian concentration camp during the final year of the Khmer Rouge reign. His mother had to keep the pregnancy a secret, he says, which wasn't difficult because captives were on the verge of starvation and forced to wear black to camouflage themselves.”
Jim Yardley in NYT, "Good Name Is Restored in Terrain Known for Tea".
“‘Russians were not particular about the quality of Darjeeling,’ Mr. Datta said. ‘They took it if it was clear and black.’ Growers saturated their tea gardens with chemicals and pesticides to maximize output, and annual production rose to about 29 million pounds. But when the Soviet Union dissolved in 1991, so did the export deal, leaving Darjeeling with a crop it had trouble selling in Europe, where many customers, especially in Germany, were aghast at the chemical use. ‘There were no buyers,’ Mr. Jha recalled. ‘It took a long time to revive the image of Darjeeling.’ The key was to focus once again on quality. Tea growers began discarding chemicals and shifting toward organic farming practices. Total production fell, but prices rose steadily, as growers marketed Darjeeling teas according to the seasons, with the greatest demand during the two harvesting times, known as the first and second flushes, which run between February and July. Growers also developed luxury tea products, particularly ‘white tips’ tea, which is drawn from the white buds of tea leaves. But as Darjeeling’s reputation was restored, growers discovered that their teas were being repackaged overseas. Europe had become the biggest buyer again, but some wholesalers there were blending Darjeeling with other teas to bulk up their volume, while continuing to label the resulting mixture as Darjeeling tea.”
hurriyetdailynews.com: "Why is Özal’s Death an Urban Legend? ".
“Why was Özal’s death an urban legend? First of all, no autopsy was carried out after he passed away; the authorities at the time claimed his family did not want it, and the family is still not 100 percent clear about it. Second, he had been a popular (first prime minister and then) president. But perhaps more important than those things, the year he passed away turned out to be a very bloody and controversial one as the days passed by; today, many observers of Turkish politics believe that the year 1993 marked a cursed turning point in recent history. The first big incident of the year was the assassination of prominent left-wing journalist Uğur Mumcu, who had been writing extensively on terrorism and its international connections with smuggling rings, on Jan. 24 in front of his house in Ankara. A few days later, on Feb. 5, Adnan Kahveci, former finance minister and one of Özal’s “princes,” died in a car accident near Ankara – suspicions about the accident remain to this day. Kahveci had served as Özal’s link with the intelligence services as a Cabinet secretary before becoming finance minister. On Feb. 17, General Eşref Bitlis, the Gendarmerie commander, died in a plane crash as he took off from a military airport in Ankara; his family still claims that the plane was downed by sabotage and that he might have been killed because he was working on a new Kurdish plan with Özal.”
Ariel Zirulnick in CSM, "In Hezbollah Stronghold, Lebanese Christians Find Respect, Stability".
“Gholam, who throws a party every year in honor of Nasrallah’s birthday and places a photo of him in her Christmas tree, is certainly an anomaly. But other Christian families also speak approvingly of their life under Hezbollah, especially when compared to its predecessor, Amal, which they say forced many Christian residents to sell their homes. In contrast, Hezbollah extended financial support to the Christian families when Dahiyeh needed rebuilding after the civil war and the 2006 war with Israel. Rony Khoury, a Maronite Christian who was born in Harat Hreik and still lives in the same apartment, says he feels comfortable drinking alcohol on his front porch, in full view of members of Hezbollah, and his wife feels no pressure to don a head scarf or follow other rules governing Muslim women's attire. They have property in a predominantly Christian area of Beirut, but have no desire to move.”
Haian Dukhan at opendemocracy.net, "Tribes and Tribalism in the Syrian Revolution".
“In 2003, the regime used a network of clients from the Arab tribes to suppress the Kurdish uprising. It is reported that the armed tribesmen from Shammar tribe have participated in the military operations led by the regime forces. This big divide created between the Arab tribes and the Kurds in al-Hasakeh was clearly manifested later in the uprising. During a conference for the Syrian opposition held in Cairo in 2011, the Kurdish parties ended up withdrawing after a wrangle with the Council of the Syrian Arab Tribes in which the latter refused a Kurdish suggestion to abolish the ‘discriminatory’ projects initiated by the Syrian regime on their lands.
Most of the research conducted so far into the Syrian uprising is focused on the sectarian element of the conflict, forgetting that there is a tribal dimension to the conflict as well. The spark of the Syrian revolution started in Dar’a, which is a predominantly tribal area. A tribal delegation went to meet Atif Najeeb, the head of the political security branch in Dar’a, to request the release of children imprisoned for writing anti-regime slogans on the wall of their school. In a traditional gesture, they took their headbands off and placed them on the table, saying they would take them up again when the matter had been resolved. The headband is the symbol of manhood and chivalry in tribal traditions. Therefore, when making a request, tribesmen would traditionally take off their headband expecting the other person to reply positively. By way of response Atif took the headbands of the senior tribal leaders from the table and threw them into the rubbish bin. In response to this disrespectful behaviour, the first demonstration to take place in Dar’a was organised by networks of tribesmen from al-Zu’bi and al-Masalmeh tribes. Therefore, ‘Friday of the Tribes’ is held in recognition of Syrian tribes participating in protests against the Syrian regime.”
Matthew Brunwasser in NYT, "That Crush at Kosovo’s Business Door? The Return of U.S. Heroes".
“Kosovo is not the only nation where former officials have returned to conduct business — Iraq is another example — but it presents an extreme case, and perhaps a special ethical quandary, given the outsize American influence here. Pristina, the capital, may be the only city in the world where Bob Dole Street intersects Bill Clinton Boulevard. Foreign policy experts say the practice of former officials’ returning for business is more common than acknowledged publicly. Privately, former officials concede the possibility of conflicts of interest and even the potential to influence American foreign policy as diplomats who traditionally made careers in public service now rotate more frequently to lucrative jobs in the private sector.”
Seera Marston at opendemocracy.net, "Postcard from Albania".
“For a country of just over 3 million people, we have 4 mobile phone networks! I wonder how they make any money, leader is Vodafone! Then others whose names do not clearly indicate to me where they come from; Eagle may be local given the prominence of eagles everywhere in Albania, including the national flag. Albanian flags are everywhere, particularly in this year when they are celebrating 100 years of independence, perhaps a way of reconciling people to 100 years of pretty turbulent history. The place is also plastered with EU and US flags, in houses, bars, and even in the streets. Presumably reflecting the ambition to join the EU, which is not making massive progress though still seems to be perceived as a good thing by many. Some pre-accession funds are arriving, mostly to bring various agricultural produce to EU standards. There is a long way to go.... Why the US flag is all over the place is not something I have managed to work out during this short trip.”
Ian Thomson in FT on Christopher Duggan’s book, "Fascist Voices – An Intimate History of Mussolini’s Italy".
“Parts of the British establishment initially saw a potential ally in Mussolini and a bulwark against Hitler’s Germany. The ‘virile’ alternative of Fascism in the 1920s appealed to many Britons disgruntled by an age of leftist poets, flappers and perceived Judeo-Bolshevik threats. Beforethe days of Hitler, it was a rare British writer who defended Jewish culture. Caricatures of ugly moneylenders had marked 19th-century British fiction – even Thackeray, that most likeable of Victorian novelists, disparaged a Rothschild banker as a ‘greasy-faced compound of donkey and pig’. Subsequently, many British writers and thinkers advocated racial rejuvenation through genetic engineering.”
Philip Broughton in WSJ, "Italy’s Berlusconi Temptation".
“Mr. Belusconi's popular touch has always been remarkable, and once again the contrast between the twinkling-eyed, soccer-loving 76-year-old in Milan and the hunted-looking Mr. Monti in Rome could not have been greater. Mr. Monti has a right to look tired. He was shovel-passed a disintegrating economy in November 2011 and has made an honorable attempt with an unenviable job. His personal credibility and austerity plan enabled Italy to skirt a Greek or Spanish fate. But the time was inevitably coming when he would have to run for election or stand down. Democracies can only take technocratic leadership for so long. The applause of the investment community is no substitute for a popular vote.”
Delphine Strauss in FT on Jacques Chirac’s book, "My Life in Politics".
“Beginning with his stint as employment minister under Georges Pompidou, when Chirac says he dissuaded unions from joining the 1968 student protests, the book ends with his second term as president, during which he won notoriety in the US and acclaim at home for opposing the Iraq war. In the intervening years, he spent much time governing, whether as prime minister or president, in tandem with opponents from the left or rivals of similar convictions. Of the two, the governments of cohabitation seem to have been easier.”
Steven Erlanger in NYT, "Young, Educated and Jobless in France".
“‘We have to begin with parents — ‘Stop dreaming of white collars!’’ Mr. Béharel said. ‘Blue collars, there really is a true path for them,’ he said. But small and medium-size companies, which are France’s primary employers, do not have the resources or the profit margins to train the untrained. ‘We’ve piled up battalions of students in general education, and everyone knows that there aren’t 10,000 among them who are going to find the job that they imagined when they entered university,’ he said. Only 40 percent of students entering university get their degree; the rest drop out, trained for nothing.”
Paul Berman in NEW REPUBLIC, "How Europe Earned Its Nobel Peace Prize".
“Alfred Nobel, the unfortunate inventor of dynamite, died before he was able to articulate the logic for his prize, but no explanation was necessary. The history of Europe during the last four 400 years has been punctuated by one attempt after another to avoid a recurrence of the mother-tragedy of all European tragedies, which was the Thirty Years War back in the seventeenth century, together with the sundry other religious wars of the time. Europeans slaughtered each other for the purpose of imposing on the entire continent a single theological truth, which was going to be Catholicism, or Protestantism, or some variation, but was not going to be more than one of the above. And the agreements that brought the slaughters to an end, codified in the seventeenth century, rested on the tolerant principle of cuius regio, eius religio, meaning, the local religion will be whatever the local potentate says it is, and neighboring potentates should mind their own business. This was a principle of renunciation. Europe agreed to give up on the ambition of discovering a single truth and set out instead to manage the multiple truths. Renunciation and muddling-through proved to be a success, within limits. During the 150 years that followed, European wars tended to be ritualized affairs fought by armies wearing colored jackets, as in sports, shooting at each other instead of at the bystanders. When the system broke down, it was only because the French Revolution had introduced a different dispute about right and wrong—instead of Catholicism versus Protestantism, a matter of feudalism versus post-feudalism. And when Napoleon was defeated and order was reestablished, the principles of peace conformed roughly to the same doctrine of cuius regio, eius religio as before, except extended this time to multiple sociopolitical systems.”
Timothy Snyder in NEW YORK REVIEW OF BOOKS, "Hitler’s Logical Holocaust".
“As Donald Bloxham suggests in his Final Solution, the Holocaust can be seen, among many other things, as the final catastrophe accompanying the breakdown of what some historians call the first globalization, the expansions of world trade of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. It collapsed in three stages: World War I, the Great Depression, and World War II. Its fatal flaw was its dependence upon European empire. The process of decolonization began within Europe itself, as the Balkan nation-states liberated themselves first from the Ottoman Empire and then from the dominance of their British, German, Austrian, or Russian imperial patrons. The leaders of these small, isolated, agrarian nation-states found a natural harmony between nationalist ideology and their own desperate economic situations: if only we liberate our fellow nationals beyond the next river or mountain range from foreign rule, we can expand our narrow tax base with their farmland. After a few false starts involving wars against one another, the Balkan nation-states turned against the Ottoman Empire itself in 1912 in the First Balkan War, effectively driving Ottoman power from Europe and dividing up the spoils (although not without a Second Balkan War, in 1913). The conflict that we remember as World War I can be seen as the Third Balkan War, as elements within the Serbian government tried to win territory from Austria just as they had recently done from the Ottomans. With the coming of World War I, the Balkan model of establishing nation-states spread to Turkey (which involved the mass murder of more than a million Armenians); afterward it was accepted in Central Europe. World War I also shattered a system of world trade, and inaugurated an era of European impoverishment that would last nearly half a century.”
Matthew Kaminski in WSJ, "Weekend Interview: Leszek Balcerowicz".
“‘While the benefits of non-conventional [monetary] policies are short lived, the costs grow with time,’ he says. ‘The longer you practice these sorts of policies, the more difficult it is to exit it. Japan is trapped.’ Anemic Japan is the prime example, but now the U.S., Britain and potentially the European Central Bank are on the same road. If he were in Mr. Bernanke's shoes, Mr. Balcerowicz says he'd rethink the link between easy money and economic growth. Over time, he says, lower interest rates and money printing presses harm the economy—though not necessarily or primarily through higher inflation. First, Bernanke-style policies ‘weaken incentives for politicians to pursue structural reforms, including fiscal reforms,’ he says. ‘They can maintain large deficits at low current rates.’ It indulges the preference of many Western politicians for stimulus spending. It means they don't have to grapple as seriously with difficult choices, say, on Medicare. Another unappreciated consequence of easy money, according to Mr. Balcerowicz, is the easing of pressure on the private economy to restructure. With low interest rates, large companies ‘can just refinance their loans,’ he says. Banks are happy to go along. Adjustments are delayed, markets distorted.”
Edward Lucas in WSJ on Yegor Gaidar’s book, "Russia – A Long View".
“Having established his theoretical framework, Gaidar turns to the root causes of Russia's backwardness. He places special emphasis on the eclipse of the self-governing medieval republic of Novgorod in northern Russia, a polity akin, he says, to Italy's then-thriving city-states. When Novgorod was subjugated by Moscow in the 15th century, becoming part of Russia's vast feudal apparatus, it lost its self-governance, and Russia became separated ‘culturally, religiously, politically and ideologically from the center of innovation that Western Europe was rapidly becoming.’ Russia came to perceive Western Europe ‘as something alien and foreign.’ The effect was ‘the narrowing of cultural exchange and more suspicion and isolationism.’ Whereas elements of a ‘taxpayers' democracy’ were becoming entrenched in Europe, Russia's system was of the ‘Eastern despotic type,’ based on maximizing the resources that the state could extract from the peasant population. Here Gaidar is echoing a point that has been ably made at greater length by the historian Alexander Etkind of Cambridge University. The natural abundance of Russia—furs and forests in the past, mineral resources later—encourages rulers to loot their country by ‘internal colonization’ rather than to develop it.”
Yelena Akhtiorskaya in NEW REPUBLIC on Douglas Smith’s book, "Former People – The Final Days of the Russian Aristocracy".
“Lenin’s father was a ‘Your Excellency’ whose financial support allowed young Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov to focus on his extracurricular interest in insurgence. The systematic extinction (though what an unsystematic system!) of the Russian elite was saturated in contradiction and irony, and Smith is light on his toes in exposing both. But he is always mindful of the gravity of his subject, and very persuasively makes the point that disinterest toward the destruction of the Russian elite is disinterest toward much of Russia. Moreover, the aristocracy pleads its own case convincingly, namely by not pleading it at all: most of them, as Smith chronicles, supported the revolution that would lead to their decline. If Russia shone with the nascent glimmer of a democratic republic between the deposing of the tsar and the Bolshevik coup it was due, largely, to the efforts of the nobility. ‘The old system was rotten, everyone knew that,’ encapsulated Baroness Meiendorff. But hanging red flags out of windows did not exempt the nobility from the terror to come (it would be disingenuous to say they didn’t hope that it might). When they wound up in the camps, their breeding was as much on display as it had been at the balls. Solzhenitsyn found them to be ‘genuine aristocrats.’ ‘Because of their upbringing, their traditions, they were too proud to show depression or fear, to whine and complain,’ he wrote. ‘It was a sign of good manners to take everything with a smile, even while being marched out to be shot.’”
Moeletsi Mbeki in FT, "South Africa Needs an Industrial Revolution to Prosper".
“The expectation was that a commodities super cycle, driven by the industrialization of China and other big Asian countries, had begun and was expected to last for several decades. The ANC saw this period of impending prosperity as a time to reward its political constituency – black South Africa – with accelerated private household consumption. Reality was very different. During the commodity boom years, South Africa’s mining sector shrunk by 1 per cent annually, according to the Fraser Institute, the leading think-tank on the global mining industry.”
Lydia Polgreen in NYT, "In South Africa, Lethal Battles for Even Smallest of Political Posts".
“Mr. Malunga and Mr. Chiliza were the latest casualties in an increasingly bloody battle for local political posts in South Africa. Dozens of officials, including ward councilors, party leaders and mayors, have been killed in what has become a desperate, deadly struggle for power and its spoils. The killings threaten to tarnish the image of the so-called rainbow nation, whose largely bloodless transition from white minority rule to nonracial democracy has made it a beacon of peace, tolerance and forgiveness. Amid rising corruption and waning economic opportunities, political killings are on the rise. Here in KwaZulu-Natal Province, nearly 40 politicians have been killed since 2010 in battles over political posts, more than triple the number in the previous three years, according to government figures.”
Douglas Rogers in WSJ on Rian Malan’s book, "The Lion Sleeps Tonight – And Other Stories of Africa".
“The central and most controversial piece—one the author admits ‘will dog me to my grave’—is an investigation into the AIDS-denialism of Thabo Mbkei, South Africa's president from 1999 to 2008, which appeared in Rolling Stone in 2001. Or, rather, it didn't: What we get here is an astonishing 10,000-word letter Mr. Malan wrote to his editor, explaining how the assignment he had been given had veered wildly off course. What he found was a booming AIDS industry whose funding dwarfs that devoted to equally dire diseases, such as malaria and tuberculosis. Lax testing methods for Africans meant that blood samples from a few HIV-positive pregnant women in, say, Uganda were fed into a computer model in Geneva which extrapolated that ‘14 million Africans’ have died of AIDS. The letter is riven with Mr. Malan's discomfort at the questions he is raising. The author was branded an AIDS denier in South Africa for his troubles, but it is apparent from the original letter that he never denied the existence or seriousness of the disease—just the predicted scale of it. Perhaps inevitably, the piece Rolling Stone ended up running was so watered down as to be almost unreadable. But Mr. Malan, it turned out, was right. AIDS statistics for Africa have been radically downscaled in the decade since.”
Richard Dowden in SPECTATOR, "The Sick Man of Africa".
“The politics of East Africa’s Rift Valley are as complex, fractured and violent as the tectonic plates that rend the landscape and throw up volcanic eruptions. The latest conflict is not primarily a war over resources. Areas rich in gold, diamonds and coltan have not been particular targets. The M23 rebels’ seizure of Goma is yet another aftershock of the Rwandan genocide of 1994, which itself was part of a conflict that goes back centuries. History matters here. It is a vast Götterdämmerung saga. The two former kingdoms of Rwanda and Burundi are a unique phenomenon. Two races, Hutu and Tutsi, became part of the same ethnic group from the 17th century. They live in the same space and society, speak the same language, worship the same gods, obey the same chiefs. The Hutu, a Bantu people, were farmers who moved into the area from about the 8th century. The Tutsi, a tall cattle-keeping people probably from the Horn of Africa, came later and settled in the same areas. They integrated their societies but maintained separate roles in complex but balanced power structures. But they did not, for the most part, intermarry. These two peculiar kingdoms covered today’s Rwanda and Burundi as well as parts of southern Uganda and Kivu in eastern Congo. German and then Belgian imperialists decided that the tall, long-headed Tutsi were superior and gave them education and positions of power, making them the ruling class and destroying the delicately balanced status quo. But the Tutsis were a minority and independence in 1962 brought majority rule, which turned into a pogrom and drove them into exile. In Burundi the Tutsis retained power but Rwanda became a Hutu-ruled state, driving thousands of Tutsis into exile.”
Andres Schipani in FT, "Trial Begins of Peru’s Final Member of Shining Path".
“To the distress of Peruvians, some of the members of the Shining Path group who were imprisoned 20 years ago will start to leave prison next year. Several of the movement’s followers have sought to set up a political party, Movadef, which they say has up to 500,000 supporters already. ‘In today’s world, the armed struggle is a thing of the past. We just want political representation, we are never going to take up arms,’ Alfredo Crespo, Movadef’s leader told the Financial Times.”
mercopress.com: "Preaching Resentment and Confrontation".
“Morales Solá believes that inflation is one of the major punishments for the low income population. Real income was down 3.5% in the last twelve months, and one thing is 24% inflation with the economy expanding 8%, as in 2011, and 24% with 1% growth this year. Furthermore the subsidies policy without any matching efforts in education or work, has become an effective electoral instrument of Kirchnerism which has used and abused the resource, meaning there are generations of Argentines that have lost the work culture or have never known it. Thus when the looting of supermarkets there is a blend of all these factors and an overall feeling of resentment from vandals against those who ‘have’ something or very much, triggering confrontation.”
Jillian Melchior in WEEKLY STANDARD, "Charity Begins in China".
“The Chinese public took notice. For all of communism’s promises, the Sichuan quake established that the Chinese government simply isn’t up to the job of responding to citizens in need. It’s not only victims of national disaster, either: From treating victims of AIDS to feeding the hungry to taking care of the country’s orphans, disabled, and elderly, it’s clear that Chinese Christian charities do a much better job than the government. And that reality is leading to a seismic change in modern Chinese society that has gone mostly unreported. Christian churches in Sichuan saw a dramatic increase in conversions after the earthquake. But the conversion of the government might be more dramatic. Despite its long antipathy toward Christianity, the government appears to realize that the churches fill a glaring gap in Chinese society. Beijing has taken some promising steps this year to encourage Christians and other believers to continue expanding their philanthropic pursuits.”
Brian Stanley in TIMES LITERARY SUPPLEMENT on Rupert Shortt’s book, "Christianophobia – A Faith Under Attack".
“For Christians in Western Europe and North America, freedom of belief and worship is universal and unquestioned. For perhaps 200 million of their fellow believers elsewhere – principally in Asia, the Middle East and some parts of Africa – this is not the case. Rupert Shortt, Religion Editor of the TLS, has written this book out of a conviction that this state of affairs ‘ought to be a major foreign policy issue for governments across a vast belt of the world’ (it is in fact governments in the Western world for whom this ought to be a foreign policy issue). That it is not so, Shortt maintains, ‘tells us much about a rarely acknowledged hierarchy of victimhood’ in which Christians occupy a low rank. That indifference to their predicament, Shortt suggests, is due to the lingering but largely false impression prevalent in the post-Enlightenment West that human conflicts can more often be traced to religion than to struggles for power, resources or status.”
Judith Herrin in TIMES LITERARY SUPPLEMENT on Helen Evans & Brandie Ratliff’s anthology, "Byzantium and Islam – Age of Transition".
“In tackling the fundamental problem of how the Arabs achieved their conquests, this volume illuminates and documents the ways in which Islam gained a physical presence, manifested in mosques, copies of the Qur'an, textiles, metalware and glass objects specific to the new faith. Coming from a largely oral culture, with developed traditions of heroic poetry and unwritten tribal customs, the Arab warriors had no immediate need of documents. The revelations to Muhammad were learned by heart and passed from one generation to the next, while the five duties of all Muslims, like the daily prayers, did not require writing. At Mecca and Medina, the central shrine of the Ka'ba and the tomb of the Prophet created immediate centres of Muslim devotion. Beyond Arabia, however, the conquerors faced the deeply embedded cultures of the Hellenistic Near East and Persian Mesopotamia. In these regions, a competitive rivalry for dominance created great turmoil which was only resolved towards the end of the seventh century (roughly fifty years after the initial military victories). How this happened is the core problem of transition. Within the slow process of adaptation, a key point occurred in the 690s, two generations after the Arab invasions. After his victories in 692, Caliph Abd al-Malik decreed that administrative records should be kept in Arabic, rather than Greek; he began to issue coins with Qur'anic texts in Arabic, and built the Dome of the Rock on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, which is decorated with the same quotations from the Qur'an. This was the moment of fundamental change.”
Anthony Esolen in WSJ on Joseph Ratzinger’s book, "Jesus of Nazareth – The Infancy Narratives".
“Even to those who think themselves familiar with these texts, every page of ‘Jesus of Nazareth’ will present some pearl of great value, something that should have been obvious but that has been passed over in haste or inattention. For example, when Luke places Jesus' birth in the context of the Augustan empire, and notes that Joseph and Mary had to travel to Bethlehem to register for the tax, he expects his readers, Benedict argues, to compare one ‘prince of peace’ with another, for that is what Augustus styled himself (‘Princeps Pacis’). The epithet was more than propaganda, Benedict says. It expressed a heartfelt longing in the people of the time, racked by the Roman civil wars and conflicts between the Roman empire and her rivals to the east. We might see how seriously it was taken if we study Augustus's Altar of Peace in Rome, consecrated a few years before Jesus' birth. It was so placed that on the emperor's birthday, between morning and evening, the sun cast the shadow of an obelisk, says the Pope, along a line that struck the very center of the altar, where Augustus himself was portrayed as supreme pontiff.”
Jonathan Sacks in NYT, "The Moral Animal".
“To put it at its simplest, we hand on our genes as individuals but we survive as members of groups, and groups can exist only when individuals act not solely for their own advantage but for the sake of the group as a whole. Our unique advantage is that we form larger and more complex groups than any other life-form. A result is that we have two patterns of reaction in the brain, one focusing on potential danger to us as individuals, the other, located in the prefrontal cortex, taking a more considered view of the consequences of our actions for us and others. The first is immediate, instinctive and emotive. The second is reflective and rational. We are caught, in the psychologist Daniel Kahneman’s phrase, between thinking fast and slow. The fast track helps us survive, but it can also lead us to acts that are impulsive and destructive. The slow track leads us to more considered behavior, but it is often overridden in the heat of the moment. We are sinners and saints, egotists and altruists, exactly as the prophets and philosophers have long maintained.
If this is so, we are in a position to understand why religion helped us survive in the past — and why we will need it in the future. It strengthens and speeds up the slow track.”
Peter Brown in NEW YORK REVIEW OF BOOKS on Paula Fredriksen’s book, Sin – The Early History of an Idea, and Isabel Moreira’s book, "Heaven’s Purge – Purgatory in Late Antiquity".
“They make a strong cast of characters. Some, like Jesus of Nazareth, Saint Paul, and Saint Augustine, need no introduction. But Marcion, Valentinus, Justin Martyr (who flourished around the middle of the second century), and even the great Origen (who lived half a century later) belong to a Christianity that is deeply unfamiliar to most modern people. Justin Martyr was accepted as orthodox by later generations of Christians. But several of the others came to be considered as heretics. Marcion was condemned for treating the Jewish past as irrelevant to Christianity. Valentinus regarded the universe as a vast mistake, caused by the rebellion of envious supernatural powers. Origen’s enemies claimed that he had castrated himself in his enthusiasm for the ascetic life, and that he was prepared to believe that even the Devil would be saved. In particular, those who wrote in the Greek East in the second and third centuries CE were a remarkable group. They were fierce intellectuals, engaged in teaching intense coteries of disciples. They were deeply engagé, and often at considerable risk. Justin was martyred because he was denounced as a Christian by a rival teacher of philosophy. Origen was the son of a martyr. When he was a boy he wished to follow his father, and his mother had to hide his clothes to prevent him from running out to defy the pagan authorities.”
Ross Douthat in NYT, "The Loss of the Innocents".
“But if the ideal of the Good Place, the lost Eden or Arcadia, can stir up the residue of religious hopes even in hardened materialists, the reality of what transpired in the real Newtown last week — the murder in cold blood of 20 small children — can make Ivan Karamazovs out of even the devout. In Fyodor Dostoyevsky’s famous novel, Ivan is the Karamazov brother who collects stories of children tortured, beaten, killed — babes caught on the points of soldiers’ bayonets, a serf boy run down by his master’s hounds, a child of 5 locked in a freezing outhouse by her parents. Ivan invokes these innocents in a speech that remains one of the most powerful rebukes to the idea of a loving, omniscient God — a speech that accepts the possibility that the Christian story of free will leading to suffering and then eventually redemption might be true, but rejects its Author anyway, on the grounds that the price of our freedom is too high.”
David Carr in NYT, "A TV Voice Rang True in Clamor of Shooting".
“‘I’ve been going to crime scenes since I was 9 years old,’ Mr. Miller said. ‘It would not be unusual for me to see Sammy Davis Jr. at the Copacabana on Friday night and then be at the scene of a murder in Washington Square on Saturday night.’ Mr. Miller’s credentials are further burnished by the fact that the Mafia boss Frank Costello was his godfather. By the time he was 14 he was getting his own assignments at Channel 5 News. He would skip gym at Montclair High in New Jersey and hop a bus to the station’s headquarters in New York. While reporters were busy finishing editing, he would be sent out on late-breaking stories to do interviews. He covered collapsed buildings, murders and perp walks, and had his own N.Y.P.D. press pass saying ‘John Miller is entitled to cross police and fire lines wherever formed.’ ‘It was like a golden ticket to the night,’ he said.”
Hal Jensen in TIMES LITERARY SUPPLEMENT, "A Novel in E Flat".
“Burgess sets up ‘an improbable Heaven with squabbling sanctified musicians in it’ and they sit around impatiently waiting for Mozart to arrive and give a recital. Eventually the genius turns up but to everyone's dismay it is the genius of the public imagination, the child prodigy. Mozart is saddled - for eternity, it seems - with the child prodigy label. And Burgess, no less eternally, is the man who wrote the book that Stanley Kubrick turned into a controversial film. In This Man and Music (1982), Burgess says ‘I have spent a good deal of time in the last ten years defending myself against charges of incitations to violence levelled by people who, reading the book after seeing the film, used the book as a mere memorandum of what they considered the primary artistic experience’. So, in 1987, twenty-five years after the original publication of A Clockwork Orange, Burgess published a stage version of the novel. This version, as well as allowing music - especially Beethoven's Ninth - a more prominent and powerful role in the story, was a corrective to Kubrick, for it restored the optimistic ending in which the ‘hero’ (Alex) matures and chooses freely to do no more evil. Burgess was reclaiming his work, a point he made with typical gusto by ending his play with a Chorus singing ‘choice is free but seldom easy’ (to the tune of Beethoven's Ode to Joy) only to be interrupted by Kubrick himself coming on stage playing ‘Singin' in the Rain’ on a trumpet. Kubrick is kicked off and the Chorus resumes.”
Emily Smith at thedailybeast.com, "For Camille Paglia, the Spiritual Quest Defines All Great Art".
“That was then. While she is still more than willing to dig into what is left of the feminist movement—‘feminism today is anti-intellectual’ and ‘defined by paranoia,’ she says—these days, she directs the venom of her sharp tongue to the dogmatic champions of secularism, liberals who narrow-mindedly dismiss religion and God. There is one, in particular, whom she cannot stand: the late Christopher Hitchens—like her, a libertarian-minded atheist. The key difference between the two is that he despised religion and God while Paglia respects both and thinks they are fundamental to Western culture and art. Paglia calls Hitchens ‘a sybaritic narcissist committed to no real ideas outside his personal advancement.’ Paglia’s problem with Hitchens reflects her larger concern about the state of art and culture. The arts world’s dismissal of religion, which came to a head in the 1980s and 1990s in the controversies over sacrilege, turned baiting Christianity into a litmus test of being avant-garde. ‘Nothing is more hackneyed than the liberal dogma that shock value confers automatic importance on an artwork,’ she writes in her new book. In rushing to defend third-rate works like Andres Serrano’s Piss Christ (1987) and Chris Ofili’s The Holy Virgin Mary (1996), the art establishment backed itself into a partisan corner from which it has been unable to emerge. Thanks to this, many Americans consider the art world to be snobbish, effete, and debased.”
Mark Henninger in WSJ, "Alfred Hitchcock’s Surprise Ending".
“At the time, I was a graduate student in philosophy at UCLA, and I was (and remain) a Jesuit priest. A fellow priest, Tom Sullivan, who knew Hitchcock, said one Thursday that the next day he was going over to hear Hitchcock's confession. Tom asked whether on Saturday afternoon I would accompany him to celebrate a Mass in Hitchcock's house. I was dumbfounded, but of course said yes. On that Saturday, when we found Hitchcock asleep in the living room, Tom gently shook him. Hitchcock awoke, looked up and kissed Tom's hand, thanking him. Tom said, ‘Hitch, this is Mark Henninger, a young priest from Cleveland.’ ‘Cleveland?’ Hitchcock said. ‘Disgraceful!’ After we chatted for a while, we all crossed from the living room through a breezeway to his study, and there, with his wife, Alma, we celebrated a quiet Mass. Across from me were the bound volumes of his movie scripts, ‘The Birds,’ ‘Psycho,’ ‘North by Northwest’ and others—a great distraction. Hitchcock had been away from the church for some time, and he answered the responses in Latin the old way. But the most remarkable sight was that after receiving communion, he silently cried, tears rolling down his huge cheeks.”
Morgan Meis at thesmartset.com, "The Art of Shame".
“In one of his essays, ‘Towards a Newer Laocoon,’ Greenberg tried to explain what was going on in Romantic painting of the late 19th century. He wrote: The painted picture occurs in blank, indeterminate space; it just happens to be on a square of canvas and inside a frame. It might just as well have been breathed on air or formed out of plasma. It tries to be something you imagine rather than see…. Everything contributes to the denial of the medium, as if the artist were ashamed to admit that he had actually painted his picture instead of dreaming it forth. Greenberg meant this an insult. Greenberg thought that painting should revel in the sensuous qualities of paint, not evaporate into a dream world. But the true Romantic accepts the charge of denying his medium.”
Norman Lebrecht in STANDPOINT, "The Artistic Legacy of the Great War".
“The war shattered the formal rules of social relationships. To a generation that lost its moral anchor between 1914 and 1918, art became both refuge and beacon. The next decade proved to be among the most nervous and fertile in human civilisation, a fertility complicated by external insemination. The United States came late into the war. For three long, sideline years, it made do with domestic entertainments, augmented by the spread of new technology—the gramophone, the silent film, the motor car, the urge to fly. Popular music, a hybrid form, flourished in the absence of imports. Jazz became the bedrock music of dance and romance. When America entered the war, it took command of mass culture.”
Stephen Rosen in AMERICAN INTEREST, "War and the Intellectuals".
“The educated New England elite had by the end of the 19th century lost its Puritan character, but it had not found a compelling replacement for it. Its younger elements were increasingly dissatisfied both with the New England provincialism, which was what remained, and the commercialism of new industrial American wealth. The younger educated elites began to redefine themselves as disinterested intellectuals who were or ought to be the moral leaders of society, and who pledged loyalty to a cosmopolitan ideal that legitimized the independent intellectual by justifying their unwillingness to subordinate themselves to the national majority. In that context, war threatened American intellectuals, not because war was costly to America, but because war aroused populist passions that threatened them by demanding they serve the nation, not their consciences.”
Jonathan Foyle in FT, "Glass from the Past".
“Most figures in late medieval stained glass are light-haired because yellow was the de rigeur stain, the colour made economical for the first time after someone dabbled with washes of silver nitrate and a hot kiln just after 1300. Solid-coloured dark ‘pot metal’ glass was rejected for the brighter effects gained from fusing thin sheets of coloured glass on to clear glass. By 1400, the common method of making images on clear glass was through a simpler palette of brown-black oxide painting of outlines, with silver stain washes for hair, wings, and haloes: thereby, a host of blonde angels filled the land, lending a golden glow to the northern climate. At that time, Coventry was busy filling the windows of the largest of all English parish churches, St Michael, visible from many miles thanks to its tallest church steeple at 303ft. Coventry’s glass was paid for by merchants dealing in blue cloth and millinery – and sometimes a combination of those, to go by a fragment showing a blue hat with a gold hat-pin. That piece is one of about 8,000 from St Michael’s that miraculously escaped destruction, twice: first, in the 1640s, when Puritan iconoclasts attacked the graven images of the windows; the many surviving pieces were then reassembled in a jumble to fill the clerestory windows above the main arcades. All those panels were taken down for safe storage when war broke out in September 1939, one year before St Michael’s – now promoted to cathedral status – was destroyed by incendiary bombs on November 14 1940.”
Roger Scruton in AEON, "The Great Swindle".
“The life of the mind has its intrinsic methods and rewards. It is concerned with the true, the beautiful and the good, which between them define the scope of reasoning and the goals of serious enquiry. But each of those goals can be faked, and one of the most interesting developments in our educational and cultural institutions over the past half century is the extent to which fake culture and fake scholarship have driven out the true varieties. It is important to ask why. The most important way of clearing intellectual space for fake scholarship and culture is to marginalise the concept of truth. This looks difficult at first. After all, every utterance, every discussion, seems to be aimed at truth by its very nature. How can knowledge come to us, if we are indifferent to the truth of what we read? But this is too simple. There is a way of debating that disregards the truth of another’s words, since it is concerned to diagnose them, to discover ‘where they are coming from’, and to reveal the emotional, moral and political attitudes that underlie a given choice of words. The habit of ‘going behind’ your opponent’s words stems from Karl Marx’s theory of ideology, which tells us that, in bourgeois conditions, concepts, habits of thought and ways of seeing the world are adopted because of their socio-economic function, not their truth. The idea of justice, for instance, which sees the world in terms of rights and responsibilities and assigns ownership and obligations across society, was dismissed by early Marxists as a piece of bourgeois ‘ideology’.”
Tom Aitken in TIMES LITERARY SUPPLEMENT on William Romanowski’s book, "Reforming Hollywood – How American Protestants Fought for Freedom at the Movies".
“By 1934, Hays had organized cooperation from everyone he needed and established the Production Code. The Catholic Church, working through its newly founded Legion of Decency, would preview movies, condemning any deemed ‘vile and unwholesome’, leaving implementation of their advice to the studios. They thought the system would work best if studios continued to own first-run theatres and enforced block booking. Thus, films not conforming to the Code could not be shown in the metropolitan areas which ensured commercial success. The Code accepted Catholic censorship of American movies. Catholics rejoiced, since they believed that judgment on entertainments affecting the moral standards of America should not be passed by Protestants, Jews and pagans, who ‘confused the issues’ with talk of art, business practices and free speech. Hays had outflanked his co-religionists, to prevent those who had no conception of Christian morals making indecent movies. Protestants were soon angered by Catholic decisions implying that mocking Protestant clerics was less offensive than mocking Catholic priests.”
James Panero in NEW CRITERION, "The Armory Show at 100".
“While the New York press was generally favorable, often full of praise save for some cranky responses from the city’s establishment critics, the show’s reception at its next stop, The Art Institute of Chicago, was far less gleeful. The Institute’s academic student body staged public protests during the exhibition and even burned in effigy the figure of Walter Pach. Today this display sounds gruesome, but I suspect at the time it was meant to be somewhat jocular. Pach, after all, never went into hiding during his stay in the Land of Lincoln. In fact, this free publicity helped boost the Chicago run of the show, a smaller version of New York stripped of its American art component. At 100,000, Chicago had the highest attendance numbers of all three venues, compared to 87,000 in New York. At only 17,000, Boston proved to be a disappointing third stop in late April, one that says much about the ‘Brahmin mind,’ writes Brown, and the city’s cultural passivity. The Chicago press largely vilified the show, calling it ‘profane,’ ‘blasphemous,’ ‘obscene,’ ‘vile,’ ‘suggestive,’ and a ‘desecration.’ But Chicago also saw some of the Armory’s most eloquent defenders, in particular Harriet Monroe in the Sunday Tribune. ‘In a profound sense these radical artists are right,’ she observed. ‘They represent a search for new beauty, impatience with formulae, a reaching out toward the inexpressible, a longing for new versions of truth observed.’ The excitement around the show, both in New York and Chicago, both positive and negative, speaks to the broad conversation the culture of art enjoyed in 1913. The heated response paralleled the modernist experience in Europe, where the 1913 Paris premiere of The Rite of Spring degenerated into a riot.”
Raffi Khatchadourian in NEW YORKER, "Operation Delirium".
“Edgewood had been built in a fit of urgency during the First World War, when weaponized gas—chlorine and, later, mustard—was used to devastating effect in the trenches of Europe. Fritz Haber, the German scientist who pioneered the rise of chemical weapons, proclaimed, ‘In no future war will the military be able to ignore poison gas. It is a higher form of killing.’ The U.S. Army took the threat seriously, and launched a program to study the chemicals, building laboratories and gas chambers in order to test human subjects. ‘We began to hear about the terrors of this place,’ a private wrote in 1918. ‘Everyone we talked to on the way out here said we were coming to the place God forgot! They tell tales about men being gassed and burned.’
After the Second World War, intelligence reports emerged from Germany of chemical weapons far deadlier than mustard or chlorine. The new compounds, which had evolved out of research into insecticides, were called nerve gases, because they created a body-wide overflow of the neurotransmitter acetylcholine, often triggering organ failure and near-sudden death. The Reich had invested primarily in three—tabun, soman, and sarin—and the victorious powers rushed to obtain them. The Soviet Union secretly dismantled an entire nerve-gas plant and relocated the technology behind the Iron Curtain. The American government, for its part, acquired the Nazi chemical formulas—and, in some cases, the scientists who developed them—and brought them to Edgewood.”
Claudia Dreifus in NYT, "A Conversation with S. Matthew Liao".
It’s a kind of subspecialty of bioethics. Until very recently, the human mind was a black box. But here we are in the 21st century, and now we have all these new technologies with opportunities to look inside that black box — a little. With functional magnetic imaging, f.M.R.I., you can get pictures of what the brain is doing during cognition. You see which parts light up during brain activity. Scientists are trying to match those lights with specific behaviors. At the same time this is moving forward, there are all kinds of drugs being developed and tested to modify behavior and the mind. So the question is: Are these new technologies ethical? A neuroethicist can look at the downstream implications of these new possibilities. We help map the conflicting arguments, which will, hopefully, lead to more informed decisions. What we want is for citizens and policy makers to be thinking in advance about how new technologies will affect them. As a society, we don’t do enough of that.”
Gordon Crovitz in WSJ, "America’s First Big Digital Defeat".
“At the just-concluded conference of the International Telecommunications Union in Dubai, the U.S. and its allies got outmaneuvered. The ITU conference was highly technical, which may be why the media outside of tech blogs paid little attention, but the result is noteworthy: A majority of the 193 United Nations member countries approved a treaty giving governments new powers to close off access to the Internet in their countries. U.S. diplomats were shocked by the result, but they shouldn't have been surprised. Authoritarian regimes, led by Russia and China, have long schemed to use the U.N. to claim control over today's borderless Internet, whose open, decentralized architecture makes it hard for these countries to close their people off entirely. In the run-up to the conference, dozens of secret proposals by authoritarian governments were leaked online.”
3 x John Strausbaugh at chisler.org:
“He grew up poor and Jewish in smalltown Mississippi. He was bright but viciously boorish, physically handsome yet repulsively slovenly, and argumentative to a fault, with a genius for the insult that could end any discussion, usually with his being punched in the mouth. As young men Bodenheim and Hecht were the pranksters of the Chicago Renaissance. According to Allen Churchill’s The Improper Bohemians, they once filled a hall for a literary debate on the topic ‘Resolved: That People Who Attend Literary Debates Are Imbeciles.’ Hecht strode center-stage to announce that he would take the affirmative. Then he stated, ‘The affirmative rests.’ Bodenheim shambled forward, scrutinized his confident opponent, and said, ‘You win.’ Bodenheim — Bogie to his long-suffering friends — was twenty-two when he blew into Greenwich Village with other Chicago émigrés in 1915, and instantly made a name for himself in the neighborhood as a poet of promise.”
"Human Dialect Cocktails".
“They were in many ways the female equivalent of minstrels, and some began their careers in blackface. They sang what white folks took to be blues and jazz and rag; they belted and moaned and shimmied; they exuded raw desire and humor, and generally performed in ways white folks thought black folks did. Just as the first minstrels, primarily of Irish or German descent, passed the form down to mostly Jewish ones by the 1900s, coon shouters of the twentieth century tended to be Jewish. It was entry-level schtick, especially for those who in one way or another didn’t conform to contemporary standards of stage pulchritude. May Irwin was one of the first coon shouters, and helped set a pattern followed by many others. Born Ada Campbell near Toronto in 1862, she was large and fleshy even by expansive Victorian standards, with a milk-and-roses complexion that showed her Irish heritage. She and her sister Georgia, who took the stage name Flo Irwin, became a singing sensation at Tony Pastor’s variety theater in the mid-1870s. They split up in the 1880s, and May went on to belt out coon songs both in blackface and not. ‘The Bully Song,’ her biggest hit, begins: ‘Have yo’ heard about dat bully dat’s just come to town/ He’s round among de niggers a-layin’ their bodies down.’ She performed it in a Broadway musical review of 1895, The Widow Jones, which also included a lingering kiss with her co-star. Thomas Edison caught the show and got the stars to come to his studio, where he filmed The Kiss.”
"The Old Bowery".
“There wasn’t much professional theater in America before the Revolutionary War. A scant handful of English troupes braved the Atlantic crossing to perform in the colonies, but they did so under great duress. Colonial religious and civic leaders denounced theater as symptomatic of the Old World wickedness and frivolity they’d come to the Americas to escape. Theater was specifically associated with prostitution, as hookers had traditionally found the pickings easy in theater balconies stuffed with young males out for a good time. Preachers called theater ‘the Devil’s Church.’ Several colonies banned all stage plays outright. Even New York, a wide open party town from its beginnings as New Amsterdam, issued a ban against ‘play acting and prize fighting.’”
Mike Stax in UGLY THINGS on Mike Markesich’s book, "Teenbeat Mayhem! ".
“Q. With the book you’ve made a bold and concerted effort to redefine what has become known as ’60s ‘garage’ as ‘teenbeat.’ Could you explain why?
A. I wouldn’t say that I am being audacious by swapping one term for the other. I’m merely placing these terms into historical context for purposes of the book. I find ‘teenbeat’ is a more forgiving and correct representation than that of ‘garage.’ Teenbeat was even used in Europe as a genre reference during the ’60s. A teenaged rock & roll group that made a record in 1966 is just that. Stereotyping a group as a garage band is quixotic, a revisionist means of categorization, besides being historically inaccurate. Nobody used that phrase in those days. In my mind, how can something be so when it had not been invented as spoken or printed vernacular of the time?”
Andy Schwartz at boogiewoogieflu.blogspot.com, "Bert Berns’ Seven-Year Itch".
“Things began to pop when an old–school music publisher, Robert Mellin, hired Bert to be his firm’s conduit to teenage music. Berns and the African–American songwriter Phil Medley came up with ‘Push Push,’ recorded by Austin Taylor in a somewhat goofy but undeniably infectious production rife with Berns’ trademark Caribbean undertones. The Laurie Records release struggled to #90 on the Hot 100 – Bert’s first song to make the charts. September 1961 brought a career breakthrough when a Richmond VA group called the Jarmels made it all the way to #12 with his song ‘A Little Bit of Soap.’ Bum ticker be damned: Bert Berns was off and running. In the summer of ’62, he took the Isley Brothers all the way to #2 with ‘Twist and Shout,’ a Berns/Medley song and a Bert Berns production. On February 11, 1963, it became the last song recorded by the Beatles in nearly nine hours of recording for their debut album Please Please Me. (‘Twist And Shout’ was later covered by Johnny Rivers, Mae West, Booker T. & the MGs, The Mamas & Papas, and Rodney Dangerfield, among others.)”
ONO – "Machines That Kill People" $15pp.
“In another bout of pretending I run a record label, Steve Krakow (AKA Plastic Crimewave) and I are partnering up with the assistance of a generous grant from local arts preservation non-profit SOTA Chicago to reissue the incredible and timeless debut LP "Machines That Kill People" by ONO.”
"Randy and the Randies" by Philip Zimmerman.
“Randy and the Randies: Jennifer Lobianco, Randy Moe, Steve Lee Reade and Philip Zimmerman were a Portland band in existence from 1979 to 1982. Super-obscure and defying easy catagorization, they are of the Portland music lineage traced back through Jennifer to Formica and the Bitches, the Neoboys, becoming the strange little brother band to these more famous underground greats.”
"Neo Boys" live in studio, 1979; from Northwest Passage (2010)
Raymond Cummings at splicetoday.com,
"Scarcity of Tanks interview".
“From the doom funk of No Endowments to the lurching noise grooves of NZ Metals to how Sensational Grade’s A+ rock through to the just-released Ohio Captives, the SOT sound is in a constant state of metamorphosis while remaining recognizably definitive, an endless baseline-coastline of roiling, probing electric blues as expressive and depthless as a Francisco Goya painting—anchored by Matthew Wascovich’s impressionistic non-sequiturs, punch line/joke combinations that bring to mind Mitch Hedberg at his best. These guys should garner way more acclaim than they currently receive. Next year, they plan to issue three more albums via Wascovich’s Total Life Society Records; maybe that’ll help get the ball rolling.
I interviewed members of SOT over several months earlier this year.
Q: How and when did Scarcity Of Tanks get its start, and what inspired the name?
A: I had been contemplating this idea of having a group like SOT for years. At first, the sound was completely improvised and primarily non-rock, sound-art but with a working class ethos, anti-authority, and non-academic kind of stuff. The group is fairly steady now with its line-ups.”
Archie Patterson at rocksbackpagesblogs.com, "The All-American Underground Band – Larry Mondello Band".
“The actual music, if you can call it that, features a collection of primitive beats, noises, notes and strange sounds. Who can judge if it’s good, bad, or anything else, the two seem trying to bed trying to communicate something that is virtually incomprehensible. They do succeed however in creating a form of anti-music, which exists on a separate plane from any other music.”
"Screamin' Mee-Mees - Clutching Hand Monster Mitt".
“Released on vinyl in 1992 by the Screamin' Mee-Mees on their own Dog Face Records, this was the public follow-up to their debut EP unleashed fifteen years earlier in 1977! Bruce Cole and Jon Ashline (R.I.P.) made probably the best ‘worst’ record of the 1970s American punk era; the Live From The Basement EP is right down there with the Germs' ‘Forming’ and O. Rex's 1976 maxi-single. And then came Clutching Hand Monster Mitt! They're still in the basement, but with better equipment; technique that's still primitive, but more sure and much more experimental; a style that's equal parts ACID and STOOPID. Like, there's a song called ‘Mudflap,’ but it's instrumental and has a vibe somewhere 'twixt The Piper At The Gates Of Dawn and the Godz on ESP. ‘Riotous Crowd’ sets the tone for the whole thing with a kinda cranky paranoid narrative voice describing a world both surreal and mundane (like the Mee-Mees themselves). It goes on for a good while. The whole record's loaded with similar wah-wah guitar spasms, sloppy perfect drums, and oddball vocals. Dig ‘Visions Of The Dark Pumpkin’--Midwestern psycho-somethin'-delic with a shimmering dash of English acid-rock circa '67. And then comes the gruntspeak of ‘Visual Harm,’ staggering along like some very twisted Midwestern garage-rock-mutant locked away in a cellar for twenty years with nothing but Krautrock records and cheap beer. Urp. Like the Mee-Mees. (Eddie Flowers/Gizmos, Crawlspace)”
Chris Richards in WASHINGTON POST, "Arthur Magazine, a Counterculture Favorite, Returns to Print".
“Four years later, Arthur has risen. ‘It’s good to be alive again, doing something that we love,’ writes editor and co-publisher Jay Babcock in the magazine’s new issue, which features a definitive interview with late outsider guitarist Jack Rose and an almost hallucinogenic appreciation of Waylon Jennings’s finest album, ‘Dreaming My Dreams,’ by Stewart Voegtlin.
And then there’s the biggest surprise: You can actually hold this thing — a beautiful, 16-page broadsheet — in your hands. ‘Print is what our writers and artists want to do,’ says Babcock, 42, over the phone from his home in Joshua Tree, Calif. ‘And it’s what I want to publish. Print is the first thing for us — making a physical artifact and all that that means.’”
Encore spotlight: "Clint Eastwood", Sat. Jan. 5 all day from 8:30am eastern:
Starz-Encore has about the worst website going so here’s the best info:
Coogan’s Bluff 10:45am
The Rookie 2:20pm
The Gauntlet 4:30pm
The Enforcer 6:20pm
Play Misty For Me 1:45am
"Spirit of the Beehive (Spain, 1973)".
(Victor Erice/Fernando F. Gomez, Teresa Gimpera, Ana Torrent, Isabel Telleria)
TCM - Mon., Jan. 7, 10:30pm eastern
"The symbol-laden work is often considered a coded commentary on life in the authoritarian Franco regime, which was marked by isolationism and the persecution of political 'enemies.' But Erice's film is far richer than a mere political tract, with its acute rendering of everyday village life and its unique vision of the world of childhood imagination. Luis Cuadrado's cinematography is remarkable for its subdued color scheme and its painterly lighting effects, especially in the interiors of the family residence, which are bathed in golden light. (Cuadrado was reportedly going blind during this period and committed suicide in the 1980s.) But the aspect which seems to have stayed with viewers the most is the extraordinary performance of child actress Ana Torrent in the lead role."
Dave Lang at manwithoutshame.blogspot.com, "Melbourne Record Shop Rundown".
“[I]n an interview I heard on the radio last year w/ Pepperell, he was saying that the standard procedure for record stores back in the day was to register the store, open an account w/ all the local record companies and they would decide what to stock in the store. You had ‘X’ amount of money to spend, and they would nominate the releases they would sell to you. If that business practice strikes you as fairly absurd and fascistic, you may be correct. And thus there came to be Archie & Jughead's... Both Glass and Pepperell deserve their own entries: there is simply too much to say in a brief spiel as this (and one which isn't even supposed to be about them). Keith Glass has his own Wikipedia entry…. Suffice to say, as an actor (in Hair!), singer, producer, DJ, label and retail owner, his CV spreads far and wide. I've never actually met him (he's lived in the US for a number of years), although I'm friends with his daughter, Daisy, but Pepperell is a different story. He's a larger than life motormouth who, similarly, has done a lot since he sold the store 30-odd years ago, as a journalist and music retail manager, and I'll certainly never forget his visit to Missing Link on the shop's 30th anniversary in 2001. For an hour, he regalled us w/ stories of the first few years of the store. In short, from the first day it opened, they knew they were onto a good thing: there were hundreds, maybe thousands of music-starved freaks who needed an outlet like Archie & Jugheads in their lives. The music trucked out the door. How did they evade prosecution? That's something you best ask them.”
Obituaries of the Week.
"Robert Bork" (1927-2012)
“In the summer of 1987, right out of college, I was a summer intern for Senator Joe Biden, who was chairing the Robert Bork confirmation hearings. My contribution to the epic battle was modest: I helped with research for a speech on the history of the confirmation process, in which Biden argued that the Senate had the duty to scrutinize not only the legal qualifications but also the constitutional views of nominees. This was a controversial proposition at the time; today it has been taken to extremes that neither Biden nor Bork, who died today at 85, could have imagined. But even from the sidelines, as I celebrated Bork’s defeat, I remember feeling that the nominee was being treated unfairly. Senator Edward Kennedy set the tone with a demagogic attack. ‘Robert Bork’s America,’ he said, ‘is a land in which women would be forced into back-alley abortions, blacks would sit at segregated lunch counters, rogue police could break down citizens’ doors in midnight raids, and schoolchildren could not be taught about evolution, writers and artists could be censored at the whim of government, and the doors of the federal courts would be shut on the fingers of millions of Americans.’ Bork’s record was distorted beyond recognition, and his name was transformed from a noun into a verb.”
"Harry Carey Jr." (1927-2012)
"The red-haired, boyishly handsome Carey lacked the screen-dominating star quality of his longtime pal, John Wayne, with whom he appeared in nearly a dozen films. Instead, Carey made his mark as a character actor whose work in westerns bore an authenticity unmatched by most actors: He was considered one of Hollywood's best horsemen. That was amply illustrated in 1950's 'Rio Grande,' for which he and cowboy-turned-character actor Ben Johnson learned to ride two horses while standing up, with one foot on the back of each horse. His other Ford film credits include '3 Godfathers,' 'Wagon Master,' 'The Long Gray Line, 'Mister Roberts,' 'Two Rode Together' and 'Cheyenne Autumn.' Carey also appeared in dozens of television shows, most of them westerns such as 'Gunsmoke,' 'Bonanza,' "Have Gun-Will Travel,' 'The Rifleman' and 'Branded.' He also portrayed the boys' ranch counselor in the popular 'Spin and Marty' serials on 'The Mickey Mouse Club' in the 1950s. According to Dante, Carey's best role was in Ford's 1950 western 'Wagon Master,' in which Carey and Johnson co-starred as horse traders who join a Mormon wagon train."
Thanks to Mike Carducci, Mark Carducci, Jay Babcock, Steve Beeho, Andy Schwartz, Joe Pope, worldpress.org.
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• The New Vulgate
• Joe Carducci, Chris Collins, James Fotopoulos, Mike Vann Gray, David Lightbourne (1942 - 2010), Michael J. Safran
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