a new low in topical enlightenment

Sunday, January 14, 2018

Issue #154 (January 14, 2018)

Libby Flats, Snowy Range
Photograph by Joe Carducci


















Selling Postcards of the Hanging
Bart Bull

“They’re selling post cards of the hanging…” - Opening line of Bob Dylan’s “Desolation Row” (Highway 61 Revisited, 1965)

"If you never been in jail, without a single friend to your name, and stood around there like a lost dog in a hard rain, why then you won’t get the full meaning out of any jailhouse song.  I know. I’ve been where I could hear all them things.  If all the jails I been in was all put together, it would make a hard rock hotel as big as the Capitol building.”
        - Woody Guthrie, recorded by Alan Lomax, as quoted in “The Folk Songs of North America” by Alan Lomax (1960), illuminating the song “Hard Times” which was preceded by Guthrie’s “Hard Travelin’” and followed by Guthrie’s “Hard, Ain’t It Hard”.  These songs, oddly enough, do not bear a Lomax name on the copyright; thus, they could hardly be “folk music” were they not "Copyright TRO/The Richmond Organization."

“It looks like Im a doing everything I can to make a hobo out of me.”
       - written by Woody Guthrie on the back of the manuscript of his song, "Jailhouse Blues”.

He’s in the jailhouse now He’s in the jailhouse now I told him over again To quit drinkin’ whiskey, lay off of that gin He’s in the jailhouse now Ah-d’leedle-odelayee-yodel-ee-hee Yodel-leedle-dodel-ayee-yodel-ee-hee Yodel-ay-ee-hee, lay-ee-hee, d’yodel-ay-ee...
       - first chorus of “In The Jailhouse Now (Number Two)” by Jimmie Rodgers, 1930, Hollywood, California; a Victor recording, published by Peer Music: Ralph Peer, owner and operator, sole proprietor. Jimmie Rodgers, now known as the “Father of Country Music,” was, with Will Rogers, the model for much of what the early public Woody Guthrie claimed to be until after he arrived in New York City, where Jimmie Rodgers was almost unknown (despite dying of tuberculosis, just north of Times Square, immediately after a recording session.)

As a kid, little Woody Guthrie played spoons and harmonica and tap-danced a Tambo shuffle — “jig-dancing,” he called it — on the sidewalks of Okemah, Oklahoma, a comic little raggedy white picaninny in an all-white town, an all-white town his two-fisted courthouse sport of a father had been instrumental in keeping safe and segregated.

It was a time of blackface minstrelsy, of coon songs and cakewalks becoming fiddle tunes and folk culture as ragtime faded and a mysterious black art called jazz invaded the biggest cities. Okemah, a brief bit of a boom town, was nothing like a big city, or even a city. A picaninny was the minstrel show’s cute unthreatening surprise, sometimes brought onstage in a sack slung over a shoulder and then ceremoniously dumped loose and free, unleashed, a blur of dance and delight and condescension. Sammy Davis Jr. started out as a pic in his father and uncle’s act; think of the startling energy explosion of the Jackson 5 as centered around the tiny time-bomb of little Michael Jackson, side-slide gliding across a stage somewhere within shouting distance of 1920s Okemah, Oklahoma, shouting back even farther, and so much deeper than Woody’s own hick-town version. Woody Guthrie’s earliest memory, he would sometimes claim, was a “Negro minstrel jazzy band blowing and tooting and pounding drums up and down our street.” The minstrel show had come to town, in many more ways than one. The circus was in town.

Down the road a piece, still in the Okemah’s own Okfuskee County, just over ten miles away, the entirely Negro town of Boley had been entirely hornswaggled out of their entirely Republican vote during Oklahoma’s very first election in 1907, and thus the Democratic candidate, Charlie Guthrie, was duly sworn in as District Court Clerk.  A prominent citizen and a noted practical joker, later to be elected justice of the peace and then, very briefly, state legislator (until a recount found ballot box stuffing at the courthouse), Charley was almost certainly a central participant of the 1911 mob that lynched a 13-year old black boy and his mother and, lacking the nerve to complete their task, were understood to have left the mother’s baby ditched in the river reeds behind and beneath where the bodies swung. The Okemah Ledger stated:  “It is generally thought the negroes got what would have been due them under due process of law.”

A photograph of the lynchings was printed up and sold as a popular local postcard. It shows more than fifty white citizens posing together on the brand new bridge over the North Canadian River. Some of the men are in suits and ties, others are in their shirtsleeves; nearly all have hats.  The women wear sunbonnets and aprons, the children are in overalls and straw hats, ala Huckleberry Finn.  One little boy is yanking on the rope that holds the corpse of young L.D. (or possibly L.W.) Nelson. The photographer made other exposures so we can see more detail.  The dead boy’s torn pants dangle from his bare ankles.  His left arm, bound at the wrist, hangs at an unnatural angle. In the darkroom, the photographer has dodged in a white blot for the sake of modesty, to cover the unsightly view of castration.  His mother, Laura Nelson, who was raped, is covered in a long sundress.  Drawers or a petticoat droop below her bare feet.
”For a year or so my dad was undersheriff of Okemah, Oklahoma, and he used to tell me many a sad tale about that old black jailhouse... This Negro lady had a right new baby, and a son that was doomed to hang by her dead body with the rise of the morning wind, and my dad told me the whole story.”
        - handwritten introduction to the song “Don’t Kill My Baby and My Son” by Woody Guthrie - “You can stretch my neck on that old river bridge/But don’t kill my baby and my son…”; Charlie Guthrie was never “undersheriff”; he was instead likely a prominent member of the lynch mob; the Okemah jail was not an “old black jailhouse”; the Nelsons were removed from cells at the Okemah County Courthouse, Woody’s father’s workplace; the Nelsons were taken six miles away to a bridge pointedly near a Negro settlement; the mob had arrived around midnight and the hanging had taken place long before “the rise of the morning wind.”
Oklahoma, where the wind comes sweepin’ down the plain, is home-field for the tall tale of Woody Guthrie, but his official story never amounts to much more than a Rodgers & Hammerstein roadshow version done-up for a one-man band. The Sooner State had only just achieved statehood when Woody was born in 1912.  Its name before Oklahoma was chosen had been, as if on the much-disputed-over map of Neverland, “Indian Territory.”

The Sooner story is a core image of Americana, far too colorful ever to be neglected by brightly-illustrated middle school American History textbooks, too darn graphic not to end up as a looming Social Realist post office lobby mural. It’s the perfect American frontier moment at the very border of modern times. Land in Indian Territory was declared free, free for the taking — Free Lunch! Free Beer! — by President Benjamin Harrison (he who pulled Northern troops out of the Reconstruction South, unleashing a tide of lynchings) as of, somehow, the precise stroke of the absolute pocket-watch stroke of the courthouse clock-tower stroke of noon on April 22, 1889, when wild-eyed settlers assembled all along the Arkansas and Texas borders, lining up with toes touching the dusty borderline, waiting for the whistle to blow, the cannon to fire, the race to commence. The typical lively tableau, lacking only Mark Twain to report it from high aloft in a hot air balloon, shows a pistol fired into the air, bugles being blatted bravely but badly, and a mad dash of buggies and buckboards and ponies and fringed surreys and wild-eyed folks clinging to the steam engine’s cow-catcher with derby-hatted dudes pedaling big-wheeled velocipedes in what is obviously the Le Mans start to end all Figure-Eight dirt track racing for at least the next decade or so.  (Being Oklahoma, sooner or later, they're pretty much bound to invent those World Of Outlaws sprint cars with the aerodynamic aluminum wings bolted on top, and the fluorescing sprint-car t-shirts that go with 'em — just be patient, hold your horses, keep your shirt on.) The Great Land Rush was on, and Indian Territory is on its way to becoming O-O-O-O-O-Oklahoma, where the corn is as high as an elephant’s eye, and even cornier.

Ah, but an alert assemblage of federal marshals, bureaucrats, and — beware! be warned! watch out! — railroad men were already there, had already laid out their own personal plots, had already claimed the prime spots, had scammed the simple-minded settlers. The scammers were soon enough known as “Sooners.”  The town of (ahem) Guthrie rose from near-zilch to 10,000 over the course of that one afternoon, but the fix, let’s face it, was in.  The great redeeming laugh of it all was that the town’s precious land was nigh unto worthless, free of wells and water and worth, ready to turn into loose blowing red dust at the hint of a strong sneeze much less a wind come sweepin’ down the plain. The whole mess was Manifest Destiny at its most manifestly messy.

And yet. And yet it’s ever so odd how much that Great Land Rush image is the comic mask that jauntily slaps over top of the tragedy of the Trail of Tears.  Much less a part of any Americana tableau, less comical, less laughable, less likely to loom over a postal lobby, but visually stunning all the same, the so-called “Trail of Tears” — "Nunna daul Tsuny" was how the Cherokee described it in their own language, in their own newspapers and books: The Trail Where They Cried — was as well-organized as any act in our savage centuries-long American ethnic cleansing campaign against all the Indian nations. Some honor accrues to General John Wool, who resigned his commission rather than execute President Andrew Jackson’s land-grab fiat; General Winfield Scott efficiently replaced him in the chain of command and in 1838, the Cherokee Nation was forcibly removed from its fertile traditional lands in Georgia to the absurd barren badlands of Oklahoma:  Neverland.

Their chief, John Scott, had once written directly to Congress: “In truth, our cause is your own. It is the cause of liberty and of justice.  It is based upon your own principles, which we have learned from yourselves; for we have gloried to count Washington and Jefferson our great teachers... We have practised their precepts with success.  And the result is manifest.”  Now Chief Scott was manifestly reduced to begging General Scott to allow his people to break into smaller, less concentrated groups in order that they might more successfully forage for food and survive the thousand-mile forced march. More than 4,000 died all the same. The others of the so-called Five Civilized Tribes, the Creek, the Choctaw, the Chickasaw, and the Seminole, were forced out of Georgia and Florida and Alabama and Mississippi, and driven off to the worthless new Neverland under military guard.

No one has ever gotten around to declaring them “The Laters,” probably since they got there long before the celebrated Sooners.  Besides, “The Later State” would have made a lousy license plate slogan. Thus is history written, or at least stamped out.

Oklahoma’s own Will Rogers, that great American cowboy star, Number One Hollywood Box Office Star in 1934, in the top ten for years before and dead a year later — oh, and the obvious model for most of Woody Guthrie’s showbiz persona when it wasn’t aimed at aping Jimmie Rodgers — was different than Woody Guthrie just the same. Will Rogers had traveled, bummed around, which Woody mostly just claimed to have done, and he’d done it adventurously all over the world. He notched up a long series of show business successes, which Woody envied enormously but never achieved. Guthrie copied Rogers’ newspaper column, “Will Says,” with his own “Woody Sez,” but way-overplayed his auto-Aw-Shucks hokum-tone, invariably coming down on the correct side of the Stalinist line, while Will Rogers was eternally the iconoclast, challenging any and all the powers that be on principle. Rogers’ newspaper column was widely syndicated — 800 newspapers, distributed by the New York Times from 1922 until his death in 1935 — and hugely popular; Woody wrote for the West Coast Communist newspaper People’s World for a brief while but never managed to break into the big leagues.

(“Woody Sez” began May 12, 1939; by August 25, Pravda proudly announced the Molotov-Ribbentrop Non-Aggression Pact allying Hitler’s Germany and Stalin’s Russia; “Woody Sez” appeared sporadically until November 1940; during that time, under the Non-Aggression Pact’s benign accord, Hitler invaded Poland, then Stalin invaded Poland too; Stalin invaded Finland (causing the Soviet Union to be expelled from the League of Nations), Lithuania, Latvia, Estonia, and the Baltic States, while Hitler invaded Denmark, Norway, France, Belgium, Luxembourg, Holland, and blockaded Britain, sinking non-combatant ships throughout the Atlantic and launching rocket and bombing attacks against England’s civilian population; Woody Guthrie maintained his faux-folksy Party line throughout, following the Communist Party insistence on “neutrality” perfectly until Hitler attacked the Soviets on June 22, 1941, at which time the line changed overnight and Guthrie enthusiastically joined in demanding that the United States attack the fascists, that America must “Open Up The Eastern Front” and defend the Soviet Union.)

Once a top-billed vaudeville headliner known as “The Cherokee Kid,” Will Rogers never in life went quiet about being part Indian, never quit nimbly waltzing his massive syndicated newspaper column’s all-American audience over to that other end of reservation so as to have a good quick glance at how things looked from the fucked-up smoky-ass side of the campfire. By the time Woody Guthrie was born, all Oklahoma was a patchwork of Indian reservations, and of former Indian reservations, and of land that just might prove fertile enough yet to become a former Indian reservation. Or, sooner than later, oil-bearing enough. What was left of the Five Civilized Nations were now concentrated there — though many Seminoles succeeded in hiding behind in the swamps of Florida — and the Cheyenne, the Arapaho, the Kiowa, the Kaw, the Shawnee, the Sauk and the Fox, the Ponca, the Caddo, and a dozen other smaller tribes struggling on smaller reservations.  By the time Woody Guthrie died, the only reservation still existing in Oklahoma was occupied by the Osage. Out of nowhere, in the age of the automobile, oil had become of worth, of glorious value, of greasy golden goodness, and it was discovered often enough and ever so inconveniently, on Indian land.  The result, as the Cherokee John Scott had said, was manifest.
“They tell me down in Oklahoma that the Indian language ain’t got no cuss words in it.  Well, wait till they get a little hungrier and raggedier.  They’ll work up some.”
        - Woody Guthrie, quoted in John Greenway’s essay, “Woody Guthrie: The Man, The Land, The Understanding”; Greenway, an Australian folklorist who is recorded playing Guthrie songs at an early Newport Folk Festival, had bumped into Guthrie on an otherwise undocumented cross-country flight from California to New York and interviewed him at length.

“This was not all that melted into the songs that I heard around me, because my Father, Charlie, was always out talking, dancing, drinking and trading with the Indians. He could speak several Creek words, taught me how to count in Chicasaw or Choctaw, Cherokee, Sioux, Osage, or Seminole dialect.”
        - Woody Guthrie, from “My Life,” one of his unceasing “autobiographical” sketches, this one intended for Alan and John Lomax’s 1947 book, “Folk Song U.S.A.”: Collected, adapted, and arranged by John A. Lomax and Alan Lomax; Alan Lomax, Editor; Charles Seeger and Ruth Crawford Seeger, Music Editors; Woody’s extravagant self-aggrandizement was of course not used; the songbook would become a cornerstone in the Lomax’s astonishingly broad and eternally lucrative claim to the copyrights and publishing royalty payments of hundreds upon hundreds of so-called “folk songs,” as registered with both BMI and ASCAP primarily through TRO/The Richmond Organization, which would also represent the publishing claims of Folkways Records Moe Asch, Pete Seeger, The Weavers (under the lucrative pseudonym “Paul Campbell”) and thus much of what we now call folk music, American and international as well.
Buried away beneath all of this is the long-forgotten fact that at the very moment of statehood, Oklahoma was the uplifting Promised Land of Negro Americans, a land-bound Black Star Liner a decade in advance of Marcus Garvey. In a time when the vast majority of Negro Americans continued to be forcibly confined to rural life, post-slavery, post-Reconstruction, Oklahoma was The Rural Harlem, The New Jerusalem, The Great Black Hope. It was The Great Nature Theater of Oklahoma, but not Kafka’s long-distance invert-o-vision as free of Negroes, imagined or real, as Prague. Organized and planned as a grand coordinated endeavor of self-determination, the hope — The Hope — was that by settling in the new upcoming state-to-be, and banding together in significant numbers, Negro Americans might achieve first a semblance of safety, and then prosperity, and afterward, maybe, miraculously, a majority vote.  The most prominent sign of this great outburst of hope was the town of Boley, just a little more than ten miles distant from Okemah.
“Boley, Indian Territory, is the youngest, the most enterprising, and in many ways the most interesting of the negro towns in the United States... This was the town of Boley, where, it is said, no white man ever let the sun go down upon him.”
        - Booker T. Washington, from his article “Boley, A Negro Town in the West,” Outlook magazine, January, 1909
Booker T. Washington, rarely remembered, barely discussed, little considered, and never honored these days, was the most prominent Negro American of his extraordinarily dangerous day, and he took on that notoriety as a grave, terrible, deadly serious responsibility to the entirety of his race. He was as formal and more as any white man in an era of great Edwardian formality; he was determined to lead by example of education and enterprise. He was not, in other words, a giant madcap joker, nor even a courthouse sport, but his article on Boley has at least a couple of very pointedly polite knee-slappers.  One of them is contained in the quote above, and is underscored by his impeccable diction: “…where, it is said, no white man ever let the sun go down upon him.”  So says the eminent Dr. Washington in 1908, at a time when the number of lynchings had been rising annually for decades and showed no sign of slowing down, at a time when everybody black and most whites would have known immediately that he was improving the English of each of the many Southern and Southwestern towns, “sundown towns,” that often literally had the slogan “Nigger, don’t let the sun go down on you here” painted at either end of the city limits.

His article had at least one other jolly, jaunty, jovial jest. During his visit to the Negro towns of Oklahoma, he enquired repeatedly as to the location of the “natives,” upon which occasions he would be introduced to one: Not an Indian, but a Negro. “The negroes who are known in that locality as ‘natives’ are the descendants of slaves that the Indians brought with them from Alabama and Mississippi when they migrated to this Territory [‘The Trail of Tears’] about the middle of the last century.  I was introduced later to one or two other ‘natives’ who were not negroes, but neither were they, as far as my observation went, Indians. They were, on the contrary, white men.”  On the contrary; and even yet, his contrariness-stuffed joke isn’t finished: “‘But where’ I asked at length, ‘are the Indians?’

“’Oh, the Indians,’ was the reply, “they have gone,’ with a wave in the hand of the direction of the horizon, ‘they have gone back!’

“I repeated this question in a number of places, and invariably received the same reply, ‘Oh, they have gone back!’  I remembered the expression because into a phrase went a great deal of local history.”

“A great deal of local history” — What a card, what a crack-up that Booker T. Washington was!  Later in the same article, just ever so lightly soft-shoeing, heel-and-toeing, buck-and-winging past what had gone before, he mentions that Boley locals — not natives, but locals — have told him that on summer nights you can still hear “...the wild notes of the Indian drums and the shrill cries of the Indian dancers among the hills beyond the settlement.”

Booker T. Washington, America’s favorite Negro, most famous Negro, most beloved of either those in power or of those he attempted to speak for, depending, depending… locates within the most prominent and exclusively Negro settlement of his time, at the height of the Coon Song Era, three different races:  white, negro, “native.”  (Coon songs, the prominent pop music of their day, will be briefly followed by a fad for “Indian” songs, just as rock’n’roll in the Little Richard/Chuck Berry moment will be actively attacked from the music publishing business by, among other approaches, calypso songs... and by folk music.) Then Washington follows suit by turning natives into whites, whites into residents of Boley, and Indians into ghosts.  Talk about your original Kings of Comedy!  Louis Jordan’s “Ain’t Nobody Here But Us Chickens” is still three decades away, and the theme from Ghostbusters — “I ain’t ‘fraid of no ghosts!” — lurks on the whole other side of the century. Ahh…just imagine what Booker T. could have done with the Blues Brothers!
"Boley, like the other negro towns that have sprung up in other parts of the country, represents a dawning race consciousness, a wholesome desire to do something to make the race respected; something which shall demonstrate the right of the negro, not merely as an individual, but as a race, to have a worthy and permanent place in the civilization that the American people are creating. In short, Boley is another chapter in the long struggle of the negro for moral, industrial, and political freedom.”
        - Booker T. Washington, concluding his article “Boley, A Negro Town in the West,” Outlook magazine, January, 1909
Woody Guthrie never met a mirror that didn’t fascinate him. A frantic, constant, incessant scribbler — and a fine, accurate typist — who could never manage to write more than a page or paragraph or so about anyone else before compulsively discussing himself, an obsessive self-portraitist, a serial autobiographer stuck on automatic as much as he was stuck on himself, he would eventually rewrite Okemah’s favorite lynching in song, spinning the scene around until he, Woody, was a member of the family being lynched. His father, back in reality not a sheriff at all, ever, but a prominent member of the lynch mob, became an actual victim now, and Woody — strange, strange fruit — was the survivor.
Did you ever lose a brother on that hang knot?
  Did you ever lose a brother on that hang knot?
  My brother was a slave and he tried to escape
  They drug him to his grave on a hang knot

 Did you ever lose your father on a hang knot?
 Did you ever lose your father on a hang knot?
 They hung him on a pole and they shot him full of holes
 Left him there to rot on that hang knot...
        - from “Hang Knot” (also called “Slipknot”) by Woody Guthrie; illustrated by Woody Guthrie in his characteristic rudimentary fashion; the X-shaped crossbars in his illustration make it clear that Guthrie knew the postcard; in his illustration’s background are a pair of tiny gallows with numerous stick-figures of the type commonly seen in the child’s game “Hangman”; in the major foreground illustration, signed, and as detailed as Guthrie is capable, vague fuzzily indistinct figures hang loosely; the X-shaped crossbars, as seen in the “1911 Copyrighted G M Farnum Okemah” postcard photograph, were in fact where the citizens of Okemah gathered to celebrate the lynching in the photographic daylight; the bodies of Mrs. Nelson and her son dangle far below, spinning separated from one another by many yards, not far above the placid water of the North Canadian River; directly beneath the X-angled supports, several local citizens wave at the camera, and reach up to hang on the X-shaped supports.

“That’s how I lived to write a book instead of being hanged for murder.”
        - Woody Guthrie to New York Post syndicated entertainment columnist Leonard Lyons, April 1943, during the promotion for Guthrie’s “autobiography,” Bound For Glory.  Guthrie’s press agent was the notable socialite heiress Amy Vanderbilt, cousin of John Hammond, and later America’s most prominent expert on etiquette.

“It is inevitable, if people are prominent, that such news concerning them will reach the press eventually. It is preferable to have it brief and controlled. Certainly no one of taste discusses intimate difficulties with the press.”
        - from Amy Vanderbilt’s Complete Book of Etiquette — A Guide to Gracious Living, 1952.
This is artistic license, certainly, and blackface minstrelsy, of course — transparently, and greasily, smearing everywhere — but it is also Woody Guthrie’s artistic method for all the rest of life as well. He never succeeds in being popular, he never influences anybody who has any real relation to country music, but he becomes legendary among those who place their politics far in front of their music. He will always work a highly specific audience who make even more highly specified demands on their art. It must bleed; profusely, prominently, and from the correct holes.  Just like Woody, they wish to be deeply hidden away in plain view at the center of every story, their needs and their sympathies driving each action, all of it, every bit, and every outcome determined long before a word can be sung, or even written.  No matter how compulsive it may have been, Woody Guthrie’s unswerving devotion to writing in first person serves his audience every bit as shrewdly as it does him, and the more he blends and blurs the details of his own life into that of the songs, the more his listeners are justified in believing themselves in the presence of Authenticity, justified in feeling authentically moved, justified in their own justification.  Justified.

Later in life, as he told and retold and and told and told over again his story of his life, consistent only in his constant, steady, unwavering need to lie, he would tell the tale of how he first learned to play music.  It is a central story in the history of blackface minstrelsy.  Not Woody Guthrie’s version especially, just the same old story itself, which is one told and told again by white men who practice minstrelsy, as we do, as we will, as we so often seem to do, as we apparently must, over and over again and again. It is a magic story, a fairy tale, with a blue fairy and everything.

The way Woody told it, he learned to play music from a black man, a black man who shall forever remain nameless — though occasionally Woody named him “George,” the generic name that white folks gave to railroad porters and the like — a black man who was a boy, a shoeshine boy, because he was a black man. They are nearly always nameless in this story, these stories, these black men called boys, unless they are George or unless they are crippled old stable hands named Jim Crow who jump jes’ so.  This one played the harmonica, this boogie-woogie shoeshine boy, and of course he played it so well, so lonely, so blue, that you could hear a train whistle blow way off in the distance.  And hanging around the barbershop, young Woody was entranced, enthralled, and decided he must make such magic, such music. The kindly black man not only taught the little white boy how to make the magical sounds... why, he even gave him the magic lamp that would light his path through the world. He hands the boy his very own harmonica. Shhhh! Let’s watch from behind as the happy little white boy jiggedy-dances his new harmonica home, and as the kindly black man turns back toward the barber shop, gathers up his broom, and then jumps jes’ so.
“Woody believed that no man should be anonymous.... Racism achieves its hideous ends only when it is able to render human beings so totally anonymous that they seem not even to be human any longer. In this sense, just about every great song Woody Guthrie ever wrote stands in opposition to racism.”
        - Dave Marsh, “Deportees: Woody Guthrie’s Unfinished Business,” an address delivered to the “Hard Travelin: The Life and Legacy of Woody Guthrie” conference held at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum, September, 1996.
In 1911, Boley, Oklahoma had two banks; it had three cotton gins, two tiny colleges, an electrical generating plant, a water system, a newspaper, an ice plant, and a Masonic temple that was the tallest building in the state until you got to Oklahoma City. There were five grocery stores, five hotels, three drug stores, two insurance agencies, one undertaker, and two photographers. Perhaps it had a shoeshine stand, or maybe more than one, depending on how many barbershops were in business and which hotel had the bigger lobby.  In a brand new state whose white majority legislature’s first official act had been to declare segregation (Booker T. Washington, ever a pragmatist, ever patient in public and ever cautious in private, was doubtless not taken by surprise) maybe, just maybe, there was a harmonica-playing Negro shoeshine boy from Boley who was just foolish and entrepreneurial and foolish enough to eventually start working at the white barbershop all the way down the road in Okemah, leaving his prosperous entirely Negro town to walk eleven miles to another town where white men gladly lynched black women as handily as they did black men, and then sold postcards to prove it. Maybe so. “I ain’t ‘fraid of no ghosts!” If so, we can guess he didn’t let the sun go down on his black ass.
“After Joe Louise done won de crown fo bein the wuhlds most bestas boxuh, all de Niggahs evahwha automatickly got de idee dey wuz tuff too, so dey went out to celibrate how tough dey wuz.  Santa Monica beach wuz de place and de white folks say dem coons got plum wile...”
        - Woody Guthrie in Los Angeles writing as “Rastus Brown” in his newspaper parody, the “Santa Monica Examin ‘Er,” in June 1937, after Joe Louis defeated James J. Braddock for the Heavyweight Championship of the World.

I wouldn’t even pay my house rent
  I wouldn’t buy me nothin’ to eat
  Joe Louis said come and take a chance with me
  I’ll bet ya I’ll put you on yo’ feet
  In the ring now — he’s still fightin’! — doin’ that same ol’ thing...
       - from “He’s In The Ring” by Memphis Minnie, b/w “Joe Louis Strut” (“Tell ‘em what it’s all about — they don’t know!”); one of a flood of records by black musicians in the storm of celebration that followed Joe Louis’ far more than symbolic victory.
One way we can reckon out what this New Frontier would become, this Indian Territory/Sooner State/Black Ark/Neverland that never came to be, is by looking at music — let’s not bother to listen, shall we? That will become the traditional Woody Guthrie way! — and at Negro musicians from Oklahoma, and at their influence. (As ever, black music was allowed an economic existence that at least left scant traces, while other black endeavors vanish like vapors on the breeze.)  The author of Invisible Man, novelist Ralph Ellison, Negro, went to school in Oklahoma City with Charlie Christian, the genius, the giant who in his very brief life entirely transformed the playing of guitar, who changed the very nature of the instrument to a degree that we can probably best comprehend if we consider the part-Cherokee Jimi Hendrix. The great tenor sax player Don Byas was born in Muskogee the same year as Woody Guthrie, master swing fiddler Claude Williams was born there four years earlier and the irreplaceable piano player/bandleader Jay McShann four years later. (As for Muskogee’s per capita pot-smoking, well, let it be said that Merle Haggard and the Strangers were only just merely passing through on the tour bus when the idea for the song came inspired, and Merle was usually a wee bit sketchy — not to say cloudy, as to what inspired his inspiration.)  Blues shouter Jimmy Rushing was from Oklahoma, and bluesman Lowell Fulsom and band leader Benny Moten, while protean bop bassist Oscar Pettiford, another complete game-changer, who although black was born on an Indian reservation there. (He was black, in American terms, because his mother was full Cherokee, and his father was half Cherokee and half black.)

All manner of non-Negro musicians from throughout the South and the Southwest, musicians like Bob Wills and Jimmie Rodgers and Jack Teagarden and Hank Williams, musicians known for playing either jazz or country, but who typically mixed the both together, and then tried to come up with something sexier for all the Mexican gals on the dance floor, were raised in close proximity to Negro Americans.  Bob Wills picked cotton row by row with them, we are told by historians who mostly miss the Mexicans who were the backbone of stoop labor in Texas and all points West of the Mississippi state border; Jimmie Rodgers toted water to Negro railway workers in Mississippi rail yards; Jack Teagarden snuck into the Negro tent revivals on the vacant lot next to his family’s home just the other side of the Red River from Indian Territory. Hank Williams sold peanuts as a Dickensian child on the streets of Montgomery, Alabama, and paid a real live Negro musician named Rufe Payne — it was probably short and familiar for “Rufus,” though everybody called him “Tee-Tot” — to teach him what he could learn. It was an exchange of goods and services, which is how it was always meant to be.

Meanwhile, Woody Guthrie grew up just a few miles from one of the most prominent Negro towns in all of America but he absorbed none of its music firsthand. By the time he was growing up, his father and his father’s courthouse cronies had enforced the purest form of segregation, fencing the town as effectively as if they’d sunk postholes in cement and strung barbwire.  Woody would tell his puffed-up tale of the magic Negro shoeshine boy later, but that was a stock character from a minstrel show, not a human being, not based on any experience more real than a darkened afternoon watching Stepin Fetchit slouch through a Will Rogers movie directed by John Ford.  Later in life, crapping out yet again in his own game of liar’s dice, he will let his blackface mask slip: this time he wrote that he had learned harmonica from another kid in Okemah, from his childhood friend, John “Smokey” Woods. There had been, of course, no nameless black “George,” but “Smokey” was another race-bait code-word too.

In his late thirties, at the end of the 1940s, Woody Guthrie will proudly begin learning Open G tuning, “Spanish” tuning, as black musicians called it from “Spanish Flang-dang” after the 1850s parlor guitar piece “Spanish Fandango” written by Henry Worrell, the same composer who created “Sebastopol”, after which “Vastapol” tuning, Open D, was named.  You could hardly have missed learning Spanish tuning if you’d ever been around blues musicians — black guitar players — for more than a few minutes in life.  It’s omnipresent in gospel as well, and so common in country music that these days it’s just as often called Dobro tuning.  Woody Guthrie could have been exposed to some pretty astonishing music if he had been born somewhere like Boley, but he wasn’t, and he was not.  He was born not quite eleven miles away, in a town that sold picture postcards of a lynching in order to send a short but plainly stamped message.

Woody always intended for his alleged “autobiography” Bound For Glory to be called “The Boomchasers".  (And he would forever resent that his editor insisted on titling it after a line from Sister Rosetta Tharpe's very first hit, the pre-war crossover smash, “This Train”, the rocking gospel song that defined R&B almost a decade before the term was invented.) The way Woody Guthrie cared to remember his childhood was boyhood in a boomtown, or boyhood as boomtown and then bust, and when you think of how many booms Oklahoma had been through in its brief history, oil booms and land booms and wave after wave of immigration, forced and voluntary and inadvertent and Sooners and Nevers and such, well, that may have been just right. The American artist Thomas Hart Benton visited Borger, Texas, another boomtown of just the Okemah/Pampa type, in February 1927, less than a year after there’d been a big oil gusher — 5,000 gallons a day — and real estate developer Ace Borger had proceeded to promote himself a town of 30,000 people from nothing out of nowheres.  If Benton had stuck around Borger another month, he could have caught Jimmie Rodgers headlining a tent show called “Swain’s Hollywood Follies” on Sunday, May 4, and as a big a country music fan as Benton was — and a fine harmonica player — it’s hard to believe he wouldn’t have gone, sketchpad in hand. That was what he’d come to Borger for, to look and sketch and gather, and one result was a painting he finished in 1928 entitled “Boomtown.”   "All the mighty anarchic carelessness of our country was revealed in Borger," he reported, "but it was revealed with a breadth, with an expansive grandeur..."  And that was without even sticking around to see Jimmie Rodgers breeze into town with the Hollywood Follies.

This train don’t carry no liars
   No false pretenders
   No back-biters...
        - from “This Train”, by Sister Rosetta Tharpe (Decca Records, 1939); possibly written by Rev. Thomas A. Dorsey, often called “The Father of Black Gospel Music,” and formerly known as Georgia Tom, who, with Tampa Red, sold millions of records with the licentious hokum-blues hit, “It’s Tight Like That”; Sister Rosetta is rarely called “The Father of Rock ’n’ Roll,” but bad-ass electric guitar-picking black women wearing blonde wigs are most likely exempt from that questionable honorific.
  
There’s another good ol’ Okemah tale that Woody Guthrie never got around to mentioning in song or story or sketch, in any of his stretched-out strings of childish fables, all featuring Woody in the starring role boldly leading fierce rock fights in a local vacant lot, or him a-fightin’ the doggone fascists wheresoever Woody found ‘em, or in any of his incessant highflown heroic hyped-up and typed-down two-fisted tales of street-fightin’ triumph. Because it’s difficult to imagine how he might have become the centerpiece of this one, and that may be why he never worked up a Woody-esque version. This one was gathered up instead in 1945 by Hazel Ruby McMahan, then Oklahoma State Historian for the Daughters of the American Revolution, as delivered verbatim from a written account by a gentleman named W.L. Payne, an Okemah resident, and a first-hand witness of sorts, sort of.

It was an essential Okemah story, directly connected to the celebrated double-lynching on that shining new bridge at the Yarborough Crossing over the North Canadian River.  Mr. Payne’s collected account mentioned, in blithe passing, the interesting fact that there had once been a Negro hotel in Okemah established, he said, so that Negroes attending court might have a place to sleep.  But some local wags had stuffed the stone building full of dynamite — farmers eight miles away heard the blast, he claimed, and Mr. Payne remembered dishes rattling in his own home a mile away. It left a blank empty spot on Broadway, Okemah’s main street, an empty lot amidst the store fronts.  “An old southern method had been employed to purify this negro hotel sector... [it] blew furniture and fixtures to fragments.” Mr. Payne didn’t seem to remember if any of the hotel guests he’d mentioned, the ones he described comically blown from their beds, had been killed or injured, nor what might have happened to any clerks, maids, staff, or bystanders. Mr. Payne did add, in his winking Southwestern way, “This brought about a quick reduction in the Negro population of Okemah.”

But that bombing, after all, wasn’t the main thrust of his story, his history, and neither was the castration, the rape, or the lynching of mother and son.  Once he’d told his own interesting version of the lynching (“The jailer released himself after gnawing at a tightly-drawn knot for an hour… however several minutes passed before he could relate what had happened as the rope had been drawn tightly in his mouth, which rendered him speechless.” “Searching partiers were sent out by Sheriff J. A. Dunnegan, but no traces of the prisoners [the lynching victims, kidnapped by a mob of over forty white locals] could be found.” “After conducting an exhaustive inquiry the grand jury failed to ascertain who was responsible for the deaths of Laura and her son, L.D. Nelson.”), he re-commenced his narrative. “The lawless Negroes of Okfuskee and adjoining counties made revengeful threats against residents of Okemah.”  In fact, what he called “a white ‘stool pigeon’” revealed to the sheriff that “the negroes were planning to sack and burn Okemah that night [June 1911; date unspecified]. No mercy was to be shown women and children.”  What followed was yet another rush on the sheriff’s office, with 200 men and boys demanding guns, and a complete sell-out of all ammunition in local stores.  Much of the town would later remember spending the night out in the fields on the outskirts of town, waiting for a mass attack that never came.  At 2am, allegedly, a Negro man riding bareback on a mule happened by, and while many were convinced that he was an outriding scout, a spy, he managed not to be lynched.  “The scare terminated with the loss of a good night’s sleep however, this memorable occasion will linger in our minds forever.”  Thus, the anti-climactic end of what he considered, from his end of the rope, to be “Okemah’s Night of Terror.”
“Many armed Negroes were observed in all sections of Okfuskee County, who threatened revenge for the lynching of the Nelsons... Secret meetings were known to have been held by the infuriated lawless Negroes in formulating plans to wreak vengeance on Okemah. After the Negro colonization plans at Okemah had been shattered, by the demolition of the Negro hotel, white residents living near negro settlements watched movements of the lawless negro element and made reports to the law enforcement officers at Okemah.  Serious trouble was expected on the basis of these reports.”
        - from “Okemah’s Night of Terror” by Mrs. James W. McMahan, directly quoting W.L. Payne’s detailed but undated written record, in Stories of Early Oklahoma — A collection of interesting facts, biographical sketches, and stories relating to the history of Oklahoma, as assembled by Hazel Ruby McMahan, State Historian for the Oklahoma Society of Daughters of the American Revolution, 1945; Payne declared, “An old southern method had been employed to purify…” ; he was incorrect, as dynamite was in fact a modern local method, common to Okemah, as the oil-drilling boomtown of Woody Guthrie’s boyhood. The nearby town of Paden’s newspaper had reported on an incident in March of 1905, stating “…the darkey was not allowed to have his habitat in the town [Okemah] and he was discouraged by high explosives. In 1907, the home of John Hogan, the only Negro living in Okemah, was dynamited. On April 18, 1908, Saturday night around midnight, a boarding house on Broadway was dynamited, but according to the Okemah Daily Leader, “There was no clue to the perpetrator of the deed.”
Me, I’ve passed through Boley. I’ve gone first to Okemah, of course, where nowadays there’s a little memorial park where there’d long been a vacant lot, a gap tooth amongst all the once-and-former-storefronts. Now it’s a park dedicated to tourist-attractive Woody Guthrie, a place where people who aren’t from anywhere near here can pull off the highway and gather once a year to celebrate so great an American hero. Last time I was there, the print shop a bit further down Broadway still had a pretty fierce denunciation of Woody prominently displayed in the front window. There’s the typical small-town retrospective mural on one of the brick walls overlooking the park, in this case mainly dedicated to Okemah’s wayward black sheep semi-favorite son looking a lot like the movie star he once so desperately wished to be, and a van-art Indian warrior astride a charging pinto with a couple of mini oil derricks thrown in, and some squatting cowpokes drinking coffee and chewing on hay-stalks, as cowpokes supposedly do. The park’s centerpiece is a bronze guitar-wielding Woody Guthrie sculpture by sculptor Dan Brook, a Creek-Muscogee, himself born and raised, it turns out, in Okemah. Woody is accurately and appropriately leprechaun-scale, dwarfed by a bronze dreadnaught guitar, just the tiny little guy he truly was, ever bragging about his two-fisted triumphs, always wishing he could be like his Okemah saloon-brawling daddy, and always pretending out loud and into his typewriter that he really was. (In fact, Brook told me, he made the sculpture just ever so slightly larger than life. because it would have seemed too absurdly diminutive otherwise; he boosted Woody up to about five-foot-eight.) The statue is set higher than the tourist — memorial statues are not meant to be looked down upon, other than by pigeons — with a pedestal of commemorative bricks, song titles and slogans emblazoned on them, donated by the well-meaning. There is no mention whatever of how that vacant lot in the middle of Broadway Street came to exist, of why there’s so prominent a gap on that side of the storefront street, that there was once a hotel on the site, and that once upon a time, Negro Americans were, however briefly, allowed to stay in that hotel, if only to attend court. There is certainly no discussion of whether anybody was killed or injured in the explosion that created this empty lot, this commemorative park, this site of what these days we would call an act of terrorism.

No billboard on the highway urges you to Visit Boley — Once Known As “The Largest and Wealthiest Exclusive Negro City In The World”. There wouldn’t be much left to see, after all. There is a commemorative state plaque right where you could turn off the two-lane State Route 62 to come into town, if you were inclined to turn off at yet another brass plaque, and there’s another sign that asks you to Keep Boley Clean. You bet. Boley isn’t even much of a ghost town now, just a wreck wherever it isn’t a struggle; not much of a place to visit, and a hard place to try to live and buy groceries. There’s a two-pump gas station, diesel and unleaded, that might or might not be open, and a fresh new gray-painted funeral home. The inevitable looming small-town water tower isn’t working, and neither is the empty swimming pool out behind the prefab fire department building. I couldn’t tell you where the fire department gets its water these days. A tiny American Legion post, generations deep in heritage, butts up against yet another boarded-over building. This is the poorest county in Oklahoma, and most buildings in Boley older than a single-wide trailer are boarded up, caving in, falling down, shot to hell. Not all of them, but most of them.

 Some people still live there, but no so many. Quite a few of them have come back from the diasporas, all the various great migrations, from the Depression, from World War II, from all those other wars and all the economic tides that have dragged black Americans away from their homes, from hope to hope, from pillar to post on their own trail of tears. Pumpsie Green was born right here in Boley; he was the first black ballplayer the Boston Red Sox allowed on the green grass of Fenway Park wearing their sacred white uniform, finally, at last, in 1959, twelve years, twelve long sunny baseball seasons after Jackie Robinson “broke baseball’s color line.” They mostly let him pinch-hit. Boley’s high school football team won state championships a number of times in the 1970s but now the high school is closed down too. There’s a prison a mile down the road that provides jobs for much of the county. As far as employment goes, it’s what you’d call the local industry.
“Ever since I was a kid growin’ up, I’ve always… I’ve always found time to [stage chuckle] stop and talk to these colored people because I found them to be full of jokes... what I mean... and wisdom. I learned to play a french harp off a boy that shined shoes down there. I was passin’ the barber shop one day, I was about fifteen, sixteen years old, and there was a big barefooted boy up layin’ in there, had his feet layin’ up toward me, and he was playin’ the harmonica… And I says, uh, Boy, I said, that’s undoubtedly the lonesomest piece of music that [stage chuckle] I ever run onto in my life — where in the world did you learn it?”
        - Woody Guthrie, interviewed by Alan Lomax in the Coolidge Auditorium for what are now titled “The Library of Congress Recordings.” Guthrie goes into pseudo-dialect version of the Negro “boy’s” dialog, and soon loses control of his stage chuckle. At the time he is describing, Woody was working as a shoeshine boy. He would claim the name of the barber shop was “Jigg’s”; an outdated racial slur for African-Americans is “jig,” a shortening of the longer slur “jigaboo.” A photo of the barber shop from 1925, when Woody Guthrie was 13, proudly displays a five-chair establishment whose shoeshine boy is, of course, white.

“The bodies were cut down and brought to Okemah, however relatives of the Nelsons refused to claim the bodies and they were buried by Okfuskee County in the Jeff Williams family cemetery on Greenleaf, near Okemah.”
        - from “Okemah’s Night of Terror”; based on the undated written testimony of W.L. Payne, in Stories of Early Oklahoma — A collection of interesting facts, biographical sketches, and stories relating to the history of Oklahoma, assembled by Hazel Ruby McMahan, State Historian for the Oklahoma Society of Daughters of the American Revolution, 1945; W.L. (Lawrence). Payne had in fact been the jailer on duty on the night of May 27, 1911 (not the 25th, as has sometimes been stated, which was the date of the Nelson’s arrest) when Laura Nelson and her son were taken from Okemah’s courthouse jail by a mob around midnight. According to Payne’s statement, he had been tied up, and after two hours managed to hobble over to Moon’s cafe across the street, but was unable to speak for a considerable while later, due, he said, to the tightness of the rope that had gagged him. Payne’s statements at the time of the incident differ significantly from his undated later written narrative; Payne was responsible for actively leaving the door to the jailhouse unlocked, contrary to typical procedure. No nearby Okemah residents heard anything or were able to identify any of the horseback-mounted mob; Payne could not identify any mob members, even so far as to their race; Payne’s boss, Sheriff J.A. Dunnegan, searched Okemah for the Negroes he claimed to believe had freed the Nelsons but was unable to find any trace of the mob’s tracks in town. The Nelson’s hanging bodies were said to be discovered in the morning by a Negro boy leading his cow to water at the river. Hundreds of white citizens visited the site of the lynchings; the photographer, G.H. “Bill” Farnum hired a boat in order to be able to make a photo that would include all the many local residents gathered above the dangling corpses of the Nelsons.

 I’m a stranger at this place, and I’m lookin’ for my mother’ grave
   I’m a stranger at this place, and I’m lookin’ for my mother’ grave
  Well, it seems like to me, oooh hooo... well, someone stole it away...
        - Opening lines of “Strange Place Blues” (1940), by Booker T. Washington White (aka “Bukka White”), likely played in open tuning; his earliest record label, Vocalion, failed to understand White’s proper name and spelled it phonetically, as permanent evidence of their own ignorance; his folk-era re-discoverers insisted on maintaining the authentic mistake, as permanent evidence of their own arrogance; entirely aside from the demeaning nature of the misnaming, which irked him, it also made it difficult for him to verify and cash the rare royalty check that shook its way down to him.
Woody Guthrie’s childhood was sweet and tough, unique and ordinary, and it had tragedy in it too, true genuine tragedy. It was not so very far from typical in most ways, not merely just typical for his time and place, but typical in ways that simply speak of childhood. But typical wasn’t going to get the job done.  No matter how outrageously he acted on the outside, somewhere not far inside Woody knew that he wasn’t going to make the grade with his music, mainly because he really wasn’t ever much good. He was from Oklahoma, where musical genius bloomed as a principal crop, where the Territory bands like Walter Page’s Blue Devils (later to be the Count Basie Orchestra) were playing as many dances as Bob Wills’s Texas Playboys and Milton Brown’s Musical Brownies, bad-asses one and all, black and white, and with Indians passing either way and both. It was as rich as any musical bottom-land in American history, and Woody Guthrie brought nothing to the dance — he couldn’t even play straight time, no matter how many square dances he would claim to have played once he hit Greenwich Village, where they thought country music was supposed to sound awful. He needed more, desperately.  He needed something bigger, grander, flashier, something that would distract but add as well. A true story, his own true story, wouldn’t have been big enough — and being truly tragic, might have cut much too deep — and the more Woody didn’t grow, the taller he seemed to need his tales to be, and the more two-fisted, the more heroic.

He writes his unbelievable autobiographical sketches obsessively, again and again, over and over, as though he can’t help himself.  He can’t.  Driven on by a curious pathology of lying, he keeps sneaking back around and digging up the same old dry bones, sniffing at them and gnawing them, meatless though they are now, and then kicking dirt back over them to hide them away.  In the late 1940s, he begins yet another autobiography, his second book-length effort, this one intended somehow as a follow-up to Bound For Glory, even though he’s back telling the same stories about the gang he’d been in, and the fierce fistfights he’d won, and so on and so on, but somehow he starts losing steam. It’s the first time he’s ever lost interest in himself, really, and he’s gone over this ground too many times to remember which details are allowed.

These dramatically flattering self-portraits of his never include the fact that in 1923 his family moved to Oklahoma City, the biggest metropolis in the state then and now, where Ralph Ellison and Charlie Christian were boys as well but on the other side of town, of the color line, of the world. Woody worked on a milk truck, running up to the door of houses and removing any empties from the wooden box on the porch, then replacing them with fresh cold bottles of milk and cream, waxed cardboard containers of cottage cheese and butter. It didn’t make for much of a thrilling tale, so it always got left out, never mentioned in his reams of retellings of his own tale. (In his early high school days, he learned to strum a typewriter, and it would be the instrument he was most proficient at forever after, always a fast and accurate and obsessive typist, page after page after page, and always wearing out the capitalized letter “I.”)  After a year, the family drifted back to Okemah.  They were actually poor now, genuinely so, but the kind of poor that doesn’t raise much sympathy in a song unless it strips away artifice and falsehood: they had been rich and now they were poor. Kids who live in poverty notoriously don’t notice much poetry in it, then or later.

It wasn’t a poverty that lined up with big obvious socio-economic moments.  The Twenties were a boom time nationwide, and nowhere knew it as much as Oklahoma and Texas when oil was being discovered. “My mama and papa were both injured in a fire.  This family asked me to come and live with them. I had been working out at the golf grounds with Claude, the oldest boy...”

The golf grounds...  This is not the Oklahoma imagined back East, or that would feature in all of Guthrie’s rough ’n’ rowdy tales later on — no telling how many lives were ruined when the mighty dust storms blew all the sand out of the sand traps and muddied up the water hazards to the point where your tiny young caddy couldn’t see to fish your ball out.  This isn’t the hardscrabble Farm Security Administration black-and-white photo Oklahoma, or even the Rodgers and Hammerstein Oklahoma.  This is the Oklahoma where a little boy named Woodrow Wilson Guthrie lost his own parents to their troubles and was taken in by the parents of a pal from school — his name wasn’t really Claude — and together they both made a little pocket change caddying out at the golf course.

There’s a photo, pointedly never displayed in any connection with Woody but only ever seen in relation to his cousin, cowboy singer/recording artist Jack Guthrie, a picture of two happy wet teenagers in swimming trunks, the photo shot through the chain-link fence of the public pool.  Jack, already on his way to being a long tall galoot, towers over his cousin despite being three years younger — though in those days Jack was still known as Leon, or sometimes Jerry.  Jack is sticking out his tongue and making a face at the camera, and Woody has reached his hand up and rested it happily on Jack’s shoulder. It’s nothing much, really, just a chlorine-scented snapshot of a couple of kids in swim trunks standing on the wet concrete on a blazing hot Oklahoma summer day. It’s just that it declares so plainly that the world Woody grew up in, the Oklahoma of the Twenties and early Thirties, while thoroughly segregated, was not so incredibly distant from our own.  It was a place where white kids swam in public pools and got caddy jobs at the golf course and maybe, just maybe, if they were feeling wild or lonely or curious, hitch-hiked out of town one day and then tried to scurry home before it got dark and they got themselves in trouble.

The name of Laura Nelson’s baby, according to census records, was Carrie.
Billy James: “How far did you get when you were seven and left Gallup?” Bob Dylan: “Oh ...Well, I was with an uncle and, uh, I was in Texas, then Kansas. But this stuff you see, I can't really remember so hot. All I remember is basic... base things. Where I could, uh, just base things, sort of like...”
        - from an audio interview with Bob Dylan, October or November 1961, conducted by Billy James of the Columbia Public Relations and Information Services department to prepare liner notes for what would be Dylan’s first album; Dylan, a largely untraveled 20-year-old college drop-out, born and raised in northern Minnesota, had come to New York for the first time earlier that year in order to perform and to visit his idol, Woody Guthrie, whose uncle had first taught him in his late teens to play guitar in Pampa, Texas.

They’re selling postcards of the hanging
   They’re painting the passports brown
   The beauty parlor’s filled with sailors
   The circus is in town...
        - Opening lines of Bob Dylan’s “Desolation Row” (Highway 61 Revisited, 1965)


(Illustrations: Lynching postcard 1911; Indian Territory 1857; Guthrie’s autobiography; Swains Hollywood Follies poster; Guthrie statue and park, photos by Bart Bull)

(from Dustiest of the Dust Bowlers: The Tall Tale of Woody Guthrie, a work in progress first written in 2003; revised January 2009; revised April 2017)















Laramie footbridge
Photograph by Joe Carducci

















Welcome Yankee – Curtis Jones in Paris, 1967
Jane Stokes

Curtis never gave up on America even when he said he was never coming back:
“…I’m from Texas… Where is this country, Negro? …The black man of the USA he has no home to return to… his forefathers were from Africa – they're not going to accept them… our home is like a rabbit …where ever we make it…. I don't want this curse on my country – the people who do these things to America they don't love it neither do they love themselves…. But yet I have no desire to get even with him for nothing – I love the USA and I want the people of the USA to be loved instead of the reply from the many other countries, repeating go home Yankee with your propaganda – I want them to say welcome Yankee to whom it may concern.”
My improbable friendship with Curtis Jones began in Paris in 1967, but it wasn’t until a recent Google search that I quite realized that same Curtis Jones was a blues legend, a pianist and vocalist, credited with songs such as “Highway 51”, “Tin Pan Alley”, and “Decoration Day Blues”. And also noted in the Herb Museum for the song, “Reefer Hound Blues”. These and many more are credited to him. Curtis Jones died at the piano in 1971 I was told and buried in an unmarked grave….

The Curtis Jones I knew in 1967 was the man between the gigs – not the noted blues pianist, but a guitarist, an instrument he taught himself as a child and carried around with him even while playing piano at Texas bars and dance halls in the twenties and thirties. He and guitar great T-bone Walker knew each other when they were both young men in Dallas, if not earlier in their small neighboring hometowns between Dallas and Shreveport. Curtis came along as ragtime and barrelhouse piano styles were evolving into the dance-oriented boogie-woogie and the slower, more cerebral blues style after the war.

But to me in Paris and after, Curtis was always a guitarist, and also protector, and a real friend.  He was the man living in a hotel room – the same provisional “rabbit” home I imagined he inhabited during all of his musician’s travels since the 1930s when he recorded “Lonesome Bedroom Blues”. He was also the man who often told his visitors that he had no time for them. It was the year before the student revolution, before Martin Luther King was killed and before race-riots swept the US in a long hot summer. And a few years before NOW defined the “woman problem.”

Curtis and I had little in common except our birthdays – not age, religion, or race. I was already a refugee from The Sixties sitting in a cafe on St. Germain du Pres, 20 years old, just abandoned by what might have been called my boyfriend. All this was back when suddenly nobody knew what to call anything.

Curtis was a refugee from America. He referred often to black power, a phrase he would weave into everything. He called himself, “One of the soul brothers who love all power… all kind.” In Europe in the sixties American blues was being discovered and appreciated. Curtis had arrived with the American Folk Festival five years earlier. He told me, “I must be black power if I’ve come to Europe – I am treated like a king – they call me Mr. Curtis Jones USA… but in the USA they call me Negro….”

The day we met, I was sitting in Café Buci, a left bank dive patronized by an assortment of expats – some American hippies gone mad on drugs, some French Algerians still talking about the war five years past, and some Lebanese with their bricks of hash and dark rumors soothed by espresso. Someone there invited me to visit this guy Curtis Jones in the Hotel La Louisiane across the street. Through an indistinct entrance, up and around three flights of spiral stairs, lay a small, neat, lonesome room sans toilette where Curtis stood, his face shining and smiling, welcoming us in….

Curtis gratefully receives a bit of sweet-smelling Lebanese hash from one of my party and rolls it with Chesterfield tobacco.  He then takes a moment to show off his prized WWII-era Zippo, and to praise the owners of “La Louisiane” as if they, not he, were somehow our real hosts. After lighting the joint and clunking his Zippo closed, he waved his hand around him, repeating “La Louisiane.” He loved to say it and considered them part of his great fortune coming to Europe. (The hotel, I would later learn, was easy on artists and writers in arrears.)

Curtis was known for his recordings and performances on the piano but in his hotel room he had only a guitar. Someone requests Curtis play ”Morocco” a place many seemed to be going to, or coming from. He picked up the guitar and obliged:
Plan your vacation Please toll down Morocco way… God knows I copped a scene One year, one month, one day…. Tangiers on a mountain Sahara desert far below…
After the song, Curtis describes how he came to Paris with another of what I’d soon recognize as one of his refrains:  “no bank account, no booking agent, couldn’t speak the language….” He couldn’t speak the language?  He loved language. And the words he loved to say were the words he sang – words like chérie or s'il vous plaît

A few days later I was knocking on his door with my own request:  “Could you give me guitar lessons?” Curtis laughed. Curtis always laughed-giggled… And so, with brief interruptions of him trying to teach me a few chords, began my friendship with Curtis Jones.  I would play, and he would say, “Oooh eeee”, a long “ohoooeeeeee…. I don’t never want to scold you…!” I would pass the guitar back to him and watch his toughened fingers slide effortlessly on the metal strings. And listen. Eventually, I stopped taking the guitar back… And then our project changed – he would talk and I would write… He wanted to tell the story of his life and the story of black power.

“Mama give birth but she ain’t give breath,” he began, “and the baby goes wha wha wah… And who made the air we breathe… and the ore and the coal that he gather out of the earth?” “God,” he went on to prove. “The power of God that operates the moon, sun, and the stars as same as he operates the brains of all of his creative work…” I had never heard the Old Testament told the way he told it, but he was only leading to his subject...
“So blame the one who did it… To hate a person because of the color of the flesh as the person responsible for his color… If not, then blame the one who did it…. “His power caused man to dream because Moses mentioned in his write up, that it was a dream that told him where to go to find the first commandment. Also he mentioned it was a dream that told him to take the walking cane and take the slaves from Pharaoh…” “So the people of the tower was dancing and singing unpleasant songs and doing many different evil things until it was God who saw fit to destroy this unholy tower – not man – but He who created man. Before this tower there was only one language. He never can forget this tower… and the many different languages that we gather upon the face of today come from that one address, the Babbling Tower…”
Through Café Buci, through the darkness with untrustworthy people, I was led to Curtis Jones, King of the Blues, and the story continued…


*


I didn’t at first realize what it meant to meet a religious man…
“God put it there, not man – Man’s power can’t stop the earthquakes, neither the storms or tornadoes, neither can he stand before God’s cold, sleet, and snow…. Then from what I can see now, I very much agree with the bible, there will be no peace on earth until men love each other as brothers…”
I hadn’t even heard of Freemasonry until his biblical poetics:
“Even little David killed Goliath with a slingshot… everybody shouted for joy – took a live sword and cut his head off his body, then he became king as same as LB Johnson is today. So little David… married this dead man's wife then went home and got the bible – and said he was going to build the Masonic Temple… That's when the Spirit of God appeared to him in a dream and told him he didn't kill the man's wife but… he had blood stain hands and the dream told him that the temple had to be built with clean hands. “So little David was so frightened when he awakens from the dream he composed all the Psalms in the Bible asking God to forgive him for what he had did which was wrong taking something he can't give which is life so then he gave the blessings and the understandings what he knew about the dream to his son King Solomon which was a black man which is black power…”
He would go on and on until he “would shame me out of disbelief.” I didn’t know too much about black magic either, but he did.
I call it black magic – some people call it plain hoodoo, I call it black magic – some people call it plain hoodoo… But this evil curse leave me no place with you.
Those were his lyrics, but his recipes to potions he wouldn’t let me write down.

He knew things. He knew about trafficking, about getting off the street with drugs. He knew about “the Arab lock up their women,” and he warned me. He knew things about violent takeover being talked about back home and he explained how its better to cut all the (telephone) wires….

Then maybe Vietnamese food down the corner… His tunes in my head following me down the Paris streets, the metro – standin’ at the station – his tune in key, past Pigalle and up the winding steps… and back, the reverse route next day back to La Louisiane… And that’s how the days passed in Paris in 1967.


*


Everything was strange here – the art, the parties in the middle of the night, the characters, the international intrigue… Switzerland, strange… The mountains by size alone were strange, but then the people and myself… “No,” Curtis would say, “those are sad magic thoughts.” Then he would play the guitar… And then the book resumed:
“We must find a foundation to talk about black power because it exists, plus the history… So we’ll take the history and see what the history said about black power – the history is the history of the first religions, Christianity – from that to Dixieland jazz, then American jazz, blues and boogies from the foundation of WC Handy, “St. Louis Blues”, then Louis Armstrong, his Dixieland Jazz, Madam Ma Rainey, Bessie Smith, Hot Lips Page, Jack Johnson World Champion, Two Brothers, Jimmy Yancey, Fats Waller, Art Tatum, Art Blakey, Ray Charles, Joe Lewis, Mahalia Jackson soul sister, Rosetta Tharpe,  and Marian Anderson, Josephine Baker, Bennie Moten, Count Basie, James P. Johnson, Lester Young, Ella Fitzgerald, Nat King Cole, Leroy Carr, Scrapper Blackwell, Joe Turner, Big Bill Broonzy, Curtis Jones, black power, Joe Walcott, Adam Clayton Powell soul brother, Martin Luther King… that’s the popularity part and the society part of black power .”
Curtis learned to stay out of trouble, watching his friends go down with alcoholism. He’d mention some one of them, then take a drag and pause… and then go on to name them all in a list, another refrain… “Your body is your temple,” he’d remind me and then inhale the sweet smoke from his hash.
“…They was very happy smoking their peace pipes, hashish, marijuana, until the white power put a law against it and put whiskey on the shelf and today we acknowledge many, many whiskey cancer and many other alcoholic illness but no patient for hashish smokers neither reefer smokers nor marijuana…”
About history and economics Curtis said and I wrote down: “The history is clear, from slave labor to poor pay to black market, black power made America rich.” But first he explained the emerging from slavery with illiteracy but also the strong oral tradition of which music of course was central. “Many, many black power of the USA don't have education but some of the greatest talent that you want to meet, many of them can't read and write music, neither can Curtis Jones…” And then in summation, his tone now lawyerly:
“I want to ask you and you and you, my composing, my playing and my singing and my talent and my name and my photo is all my own material. Then if they take my material and record it on their wax and sell for all countries and all parts of the world, then I have a fully right to speak about my own civil right. If the musicians are artists that can read and write music, receive royalties from their product then no matter whether I can't read music or write music I deserve my royalties the same as they do. Why don't the law give me the same protection as he gives to all other artists, why am I discriminated? What reason have I given to be Black market in this way? If there is a reason please let it be known so the whole world can know what it is all about because they are the one that's buying my records in their home in the night clubs and restaurants and many other places and I don't have a copy of the paper to show to nobody that's the music companies of the USA has paid me no royalties from 1940 until this present moment January 8, 1968”
Then Vietnamese food…, the Buci…, sometimes going to hear him perform on the piano – I can’t say I remember his ever playing the guitar in those venues. The gigs were few and far between and no dancing. They were at restaurant-bars and I remember Curtis playing “Gee, Pretty Baby”, “I Want to Be Your Slave”, “Soul Brother Blues”…. I can still hear him singing, “Goin’ to Paris to sing my blues all night, Cause I love a little baby but she don’t treat me right…”, then banging out “Gee, Gee, Gee, Gee, Gee, Gee, Gee, Gee…” and still see everyone look up from their meals at him before he’d finish the chorus, “Gee, pretty baby what you do to me.” Later they’d smoke their Gauloises and listen seriously. (Curtis smoked non-filter American because they were “healthier.”) But then came time for me to leave – really leave – back to the States.


*


Curtis’ question returned with me: Where is the money? “I’ve got some of the best selling blues on the market, and who got the money? I’m black power and I didn’t get it.” I hired a lawyer to find out about “these business matters” and Curtis and I continued to write. His letters from Paris came on preprinted stationery with header en Francais “Curtis Jones, Chanteuse et Pianiste.” I also received the song with a note: “I hope you have obtained my latest issue ‘Now Resident in Europe’ [Blue Horizon, 1968] so you can listen to ‘Jane Blues,’ you beautiful lovely you.”

Yes, it was sad to leave Paris. Then about a month after I left, in May, the student revolution erupted. His notes from the front: “Please believe me Paris is a blaze of fire and it is real dangerous…. Little snow for two or three days but the police keep the streets so hot until this snow got shame and melted.” In the USA, MLK had just been shot: “…ain't nothing happening in Paris only just like the situation of the USA.”

Curtis’ letters were always signed “King of the Blues”, but things weren’t going well in Paris or with his record producers. His letters with the preprinted stationery also had the preprinted footer with the names of all those labels displayed proudly (”Vedette des disques: Decca, Paramount, Vocalion, Colombia, Bluebird, Okeh, Prestige, Delmar, etc…”), but understood now by me to be the very culprits I had heard about.

But at least the law process had started:
“well baby I am really glad that you found out that I told you the truth… I received here at my hotel $3…. No they don’t ask me nothing – the only time I hear from them is through you.”
In the meantime, Parisian students and 11 million workers went on strike:
“Yes of course anybody can come to Paris and spend lots of money and work like hell and make no money… The Paris police is checking passports hustling all of the peddlers off to jail both young and old… Paris is burnt up. The hippie and the young cats set up flame and the police are trying real well… from what I understand the police are hustling on tourists and artists with all of their know-how… If the people see you on the street and you not spending your money then they tell the police that you selling dope – this place is a drag…. I don't take it anymore, only you can live in France longer than you can any other country in Europe… Of course Bill got caught and German Arthur and many, many others was in jail…. October 20, 1968 I stayed at the hotel one night and paid $300 hotel bill and we came to London October 21, 1968 and I'm still here in London to engage my last concert – December 30, 1968 – as for myself I'm cooling for a while and I'm not in no hurry.”
I was back home after MLK’s death and riots spread across USA. Curtis wrote from Europe: “I have many white friend in the USA were being beat up like the black man.” Women’s groups and anti-war protest groups and other loosely formed organizations were allying with each other in the name of freedom. And while riots were breaking out, ideologies were being formulated and radicalized – self-defense, militancy, anti-Americanism – The Black Panthers were debating among themselves the meaning of their own new term, Black Power – the same term Curtis had been using when referring to Discrimination as a “discovery… the most poisonous material that is existeth… man can reverse hate to love since he discovered this…”

Curtis felt the USA had driven him out with its discrimination. And from Europe he warned that “when you drive out black power you drive out the popularity from your country.” And popular music was changing in the new political climate. Music was louder, more message-oriented. People… Peoples>/i> had been listening in on each other through radio and records since the twenties. Now they… we all seemed in direct contact… “Say it louder.”  “Goddamn Mississippi.” Bobby Seale’s book refers to Bob Dylan’s “The Ballad of a Thin Man” as inspiring the Panthers.

Now in Cambridge, Mass., I found that Curtis Jones was known to one David Lightbourne, expert in Delta Blues, unofficial Harvard Coop musicologist for the local Medford boys. Many nights were spent getting David’s records out, passing the joint, playing first some Motown, then BB King, then finally the old ones, the ones with the scratchy acoustics even on the newest compilation albums. And they all listened as if to the grand uncles who’d taught Curtis and were somehow even more distant, across the bigger ocean of time – those slave times pulling the Old Testament up close to our own day. Of the Medford boys, Vernie would have been another Otis Redding if he wasn’t always getting drunk and going to jail. Ponce, Taj Mahal’s first manager, and Johnny, the thinker…. We all stopped and listened. It was a time when the experts were exhuming the old acoustic masters while the popular electric sounds were drowning out but also exhuming those very surviving masters.

The recent documentary, Two Trains Runnin’ (2016), follows blues collectors in 1964 as they follow the vaguest clues suggesting that Skip James and Son House might still be alive in Mississippi – these collectors entirely oblivious to another group of outsiders, the civil rights activists also gathering in Mississippi that year to break Jim Crow segregation by registering black voters for Freedom Summer. James and House were both found and returned to stages while Schwerner, Chaney, and Goodman were murdered by Klansmen and laid in graves. The next year the Voting Rights Act passed and Bob Dylan plugged-in and recorded “Highway 61 Revisited”. Trains and highways… We were all going somewhere new and ancient.

Lightbourne had been following the ongoing excavation of the earliest blues recordings and no sooner did I mention to him that I knew Curtis Jones than he was able to find Curtis’ name in his magazines and west-side blues programs from 1963, back when Europeans were discovering these blues artists in person via the American Folk Blues Festival tours. As Curtis said his music was out there in the market for the Chicago sound, but it was jumping its own music distribution segregation more and more. * The law case over royalties due Curtis went slowly, but at least with a lawyer he knew he had a case and it was in motion:

“There was a letter from the Delmar record company, and the details and understanding that I gathered so you know that I print my writing in block letters and by the time that I finish giving them, the lawyer, my statement that I had to hurry to the post so my letter could reach them at the earliest possible before the post close…. Trying to work and advertise my type of work as a whole, but to tell the truth a real good lawyer working secretly not letting the people know that he is protecting my rights within one years time he would be rich from the money he would obtain including his other business matters.”
Curtis then writes:
“I enjoyed four months vacation [July 1 to Oct. 30, 1969] in the beautiful and sunshine city of Roma, Italy including the film that I recorded not by music, only in person October 29, 1969 to October 30, 1969. I took a first-class train ticket arriving in Zurich, Switzerland, October 31 beginning my one-month tour of Switzerland except 10 Days in Poland completed December 1, 1969 …so you have plenty of time to return an answer to me.”
While he was enjoying a European resurgence with many new recordings and re-recordings a legal dispute involving London producers was simmering and he was as broke as ever: “Yes of course I am poor as far as money. But for music I am rich and will remain this way until I die or obtain a stroke which I hope not.” Whatever amount agreed upon in the settlement he never got it:
“I posted to the address location there in New York… that I received from you a check that I received in London last December 68 because the England banks would not cash the Delmar record company, USA check. Also I posted this check in particular to let them know that the Delmar record company do owe me money until this very moment that I have not received…. Leads Music Company there in New York, copyright Curtis Jones 51 Highway Blues, please look in the book of the blues American folk book on the blues on page 51 and you can see where they got it in sheet music, and having mention nothing to me whatsoever no they did not mention no mail to me, no money unless it was a three dollar… Of course London is also the same but it still exists for accommodation.”
Over the next years, I received his tour schedules, especially the steady places like Haim House in München, where he could pick up and return mail. His letters and notes were not on his custom stationery anymore but they still featured his customary patois: “I'm the King that's in the know and I know which away to go for the happenings all around the globe.”

The case over unpaid royalties continued slowly and his bookings began to lag so he was obviously frustrated:

“Why should someone the age of myself let them square monkeys get away with all of my beautiful talent voices and they sit and laugh at me – would not even invite me to a cup of coffee. I often wonder to myself how much more longer do I have to continue knowing all the while that's remembering the strength behind me…”

Back home radical groups such as the Black Panthers, the Weatherman, and other anti-war groups continued re-aligning. Curtis only read about America now and his advice was cautionary:
“I read the Herald Tribune paper every day and this is so much danger. I gather the revolution, the demonstration, the bombs, plus all of the evil things that happening in the USA…. You can be full of mistake – as good as you can be – full of mistake…. Stop and think what is best for yourself… to not get involved with the wrong type of peoples…”
In the new decade, The Seventies now, the word “mistake” no longer existed for women and this came to dominate my thoughts. Everything could change and yet not improve. Curtis knew well, as the grandson of slaves (b. 1906), and from his own young sharecropping days, all about the Jim Crow regime of the south:
“…the black people who has no weapon, only their own bare hand with the Bible in their right hand and a prayer in their mouth to go to the location where the dishonesty is located to kneel and pray and return back to their home only asking that the prayer of civil rights be answered.”
But he also knew from his years in Dallas, Kansas City, and especially in Chicago that the battles were now in the streets of the urban ghettos where they didn’t have this background from the south:
“USA has more scandal discrimination segregation, racketeer, President murder, then any place in the whole world… the many, many murders… The history is clear… slave labor… poor pay… they even black market the black powers money… The white power took black power – the white power didn't want the black power to buy a building in their neighborhood and many other different ways the USA black-market the black powers money – black power made this country rich with their labor and their talent…. Would you prefer black power with its rich clean moral refine society or would you prefer the racketeer, the gangster, the swindler and people who hate another one because of the color of their skin? …As far as white is concerned I have seen white cotton, white snow, white clouds but never in my life have I ever seen a white man or a white woman.”
The black power of the Panthers started in the city ghettos and reached more people with its body-based clenched-fist message, and soon overshadowed the faith-based MLK movement. Music was more electric and the messages more in tune with revolution. The new mix included “Say It Loud I’m Black and I’m Proud” by James Brown, “Why Am I Treated So Bad” by The Staple Singers, “The End of the Silence” by Elaine Brown, “Seize the Time” by Bob Dylan, “Revolution” by The Beatles, and “Revolution” by Nina Simone. The great migration to northern cities made an urban music directly from ex-rural hands but younger city-born blacks and suburban whites were changing the blues.
“It is almost hell anyway you point your finger but the USA's tops for… such matters until it is not safe for innocents who don't even approve of these situations that is performed.”
Curtis was right about the innocents. The innocence of people not knowing the matter, the muting of MLK’s dream, and the new separatism that set in subtly. Even with our own friends, the Medford boys… We all began to go toward different places. They disappeared into a different mode of segregation, their musical roots not deep enough. Taj Mahal winding up in Hawaii. Hanging out changed, even for the boys, or men.

The American Folk Festival that had brought Curtis to Europe in 1963 was discontinued by 1970. Nevertheless in Europe Curtis felt he had the freedom without history:

“No I don't want to return to the USA because it is too much hatred. Yes of course we have hatred in Europe but much different from this of the USA. No I don't hate no one only I want to be far away from these that hate me because my skin is black and my age is 63. …This new manager did not like me because I talk too straight and plane to please him, also he was an evil crook charging the peoples too much money for everything…”
European producers finally couldn’t recognize him as a national treasure either. They didn’t promote him and most importantly, didn’t pay him. In liner-notes to one release is a biography written after he died where Curtis is described as the grandson of a slave and as “impoverished.” The notes go on to describe Curtis as not as successful as contemporaries such as Jack Dupree, and as an embittered man.

I know they were wrong and even self- incriminating. He used to praise his fellow singers, the soul brothers on the list, Dupree especially – Curtis was godfather to his child. Curtis was surely a self-promoter (“no bank account, no booking agent”) but he was not envious, and not fighting over slavery, but fighting in the marketplace of that day for agreed upon rights. In the end he used his poverty contra his contract specifying the royalties owed him as collateral for a place to sleep or eat.


*


In 1971 I unexpectedly received a letter:
“This is very important news that I now hear forward to you post…. The same doctor that was treating my illness… in München… and I was his patient so I have the same kind of illness which he explained that it is call Blatter illness so when I entered my hotel to collect my key to rest a while… this new manager that the hotel owner employed told me that he didn't have any vacant room for Curtis Jones and I was so weak and I ask him if I could sit a little while and take a breath he said yes so me and my suitcase guitar and pillow….” (note: a piano stool pillow – underlined in his letter because in the midst of everything, he is still teasing me for that time I forgot to bring it!)
Curtis knew he didn’t want to return to America:
“…So I am glad they won't let the Negro haters guinea pig me… because we all are going to die someway someday. I can't explain or name the date or the reason. No I don't hate nobody, I only want to be as far away as I can from people approve of such matters. That is the reason that I rather to remain in Europe because the USA has the worst history in any country that exist.”
An expat to the end.
“The doctors and nurses was so nice to me and I didn't have no one and they knew that I did not have money… so I have to give the credit to the German people and Jane… So thanks for your attention to my sad news”
That was the last letter I got from Curtis. His sister wrote me soon after: “my bro he gone – heart stopped... at piano.” (Sept. 11, 1971, during the Attica prison riots) Curtis Jones’ musical legacy dwindled over the next decade. And worse, eight years later they removed his pauper’s grave for non-payment – removing even his name. All unbeknownst to me because my son was born at that time. I gave him the middle name Curtis – Cur, I still call him when I’m in my bluesy loving mood – so his name is preserved in my life.

Then, now, after the internet seemed to brush away everything – shady independent labels, corporate major labels, giant record superstores, dingy used record shops… – I google “Bob Dylan Columbia Records 1962, Highway 51 Sheet Music” and find Curtis Jones’ name and an addendum:

“NOTICE Purchasers of this musical file are entitled to use it for their personal enjoyment and musical fulfillment. However, any duplication, adaptation, arranging and/or transmission of this copyrighted music… requires the written consent of the copyright owner(s)… infringements of the copyright law… may subject the user to civil and/or criminal penalties.”
Thank you credit card $3 download. But who got the money? I know Curtis Jones didn’t…
“I repeat regardless to richer poor, he come in the world naked not one but all – there's only one world and one life to live for all mankind no matter city country town or village he or she may come from we all are traveling the same road and that's extended from birth till we return to death as the sun travels from east to west so does mankind travel from generation to generation.”



Curtis Jones' guitar songs "Jane" and "Morocco" can be found HERE

Curtis Jones live at café in Montmartre 1967 – “Lowdown Worried Blues”.


Mel Wright talks about being a sideman for Curtis Jones on a 1968 UK tour date at Nag’s Head, near London.
I positioned myself with a good view of the piano and Curtis. Ron Skinner on bass guitar hovered over my shoulder with the same idea.  All you can hope for at this stage is a look, a gesture or some signal what the number was. No set list or idea of what he was about to play – just feel it. Unprofessional? I don’t think so. It keeps you on your toes and can give the music an edge – a lot of trust is needed between you. Curtis rolled the piano keys, Unlike Jack Dupree he didn’t hammer his foot down to give you the beat – his was more lilting style. Some lovely slow blues Lonesome Bedroom Blues. The student crowd loved it. Cheap beer, a legendary blues player from Texas and Dynaflow just making it by the skin of their teeth. It seemed a short set but maybe it was because of the relief of getting to the gig and the long journey – it was suddenly all over.
(Illustrations: Hotel La Louisiane – out a window, Tripadvisor.com; Bluebird Records 1937; Hotel La Louisiane side entrance; Vocalion Records 1938; Curtis Jones LP back cover; German poster circa 1968; Curtis w/ IHT; page of letter to author, 1968; Nag’s Head poster, 1968)

















Libby Flats, Snowy Range
Photograph by Joe Carducci
















From the London Desk of Steve Beeho…

John Gray in NEW STATESMAN on Francis O’Gorman’s book, Forgetfulness: The Dangers of a Modern Culture that Wages War on its Own Past.
Demolishing national and cultural identities makes moral and political sense if – and only if – the result will be better than the liberal societies that have actually existed. Yet these societies are highly fragile settlements, regularly disrupted by war and economic crisis. Today they are also threatened by an ideology that wages war on their past. Societies that repudiate their historic inheritance in this way leave themselves defenceless against the dark forces that are now re-emerging. As George Santayana might have put it were he alive today, those who deconstruct the past are condemned to repeat it.

^^^

Craig Brown in GUARDIAN, Princess Margaret's Misadventures in Bohemia.
Where did it come from, her tendency towards the artistic? Margaret’s elder sister, their parents and grandparents regarded the arts as less to be enjoyed than endured. “Come over here, May, this’ll make you laugh,” George V called to his wife, Queen Mary, when he first set eyes on a Cézanne. Listening with her children to TS Eliot reading from The Waste Land at a wartime recital, the Queen Mother had to stifle her giggles. “Such a gloomy man ... we didn’t understand a word!” she explained some years later.

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Rod Liddle in SPECTATOR, Raising Awareness for Enraged ‘Victims’ Always Ends in Lunacy.
What begins as an admirable and necessary attempt to raise our awareness of iniquity in society almost always ends, somewhere down the line, in a form of lunacy. This is true of feminism, anti-racism, transgenderism, gay rights and especially, perhaps, the disability lobby. It always begins with advocacy groups insisting, almost certainly rightly, that their particular tranche of victims are wrongly discriminated against. But it is in the nature of advocacy groups — and human beings in general — that they cannot simply clap their hands, cheer and close down their organisations when legislative battles establishing equal rights have been nobly won. They carry on and on and on. Whereas once they insisted that iniquities occurred because the victim groups they supported were a small minority, they now expand their remit and argue almost the opposite, almost always to the disservice of the people they were representing in the first place.

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Mark Lilla in NEW STATESMAN, How the modern addiction to identity politics has fractured the left.
What matters about these academic trends is that they give an intellectual patina to the narcissism that almost everything else in our society encourages. If our young student accepts the mystical idea that anonymous forces of power shape everything in life, she will be perfectly justified in withdrawing from democratic politics and casting an ironic eye on it. If, as is more likely, she accepts the all-American idea that her unique identity is something she gets to construct and change as the fancy strikes her, she can hardly be expected to have an enduring political attachment to others, and certainly cannot be expected to hear the call of duty towards them. Instead, she will find herself in the hold of what might be called the Facebook model of identity: the self as a home page I construct like a personal brand, linked to others through associations I can “like” and “unlike” at will. Intersectionality is too ephemeral to serve as a lasting foundation for solidarity and commitment.

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TJ Clark at the LONDON REVIEW OF BOOKS, Reinstall the Footlights.
Inevitably, the reassembled Malevich installation had too much the appearance of a theme park, clean and well lit – the publicity photos don’t get that wrong. For those of us who had fed for years on the grainy black and whites of the exhibit taken in 1932, the weird warm glow of reality came as a shock. But the room was nonetheless a triumph, a reopened tomb, a definitive counterfactual – in which all the absurd and horrifying improbability of Bolshevik culture came back to outflank the mind. It reminded one, for a start, of the utter unlikelihood of the exhibit’s having happened in the first place, in the last grisly year of the first Five Year Plan. This is not what Stalinist art was (or is) supposed to have looked like.

^^^

Simon Reynolds at redbullmusicacademy.com, Simon Draper and the Story of Virgin Records.
Like most denizens of the progressive realm represented by labels such as Island, Harvest, Charisma and others, Draper had assumed music would continue on its ever-upward path of sophistication. Fusion was the prevailing ethos at the mid-decade mark: rock’s destiny was to keep on hybridizing and hyphenating itself with classical, jazz, folk and world influences. “Music Week was doing a series of interviews with A&R people in 1976, asking what they were listening to,” Draper recalls. “I said ‘Keith Jarrett’s Arbour Zena and Joni Mitchell’s The Hissing of Summer Lawns.’” Punk erupted in the midst of all that maturity and musicianship, a teenage rampage of crude energy stomping on the prevailing ideals of subtlety and sensitivity. Skinning up and drifting off to album-side-long dreamscapes suddenly seemed decadent and disengaged, a retreat from the political urgencies of the present. The crisis time demanded not discounted admission to a Hatfield and the North concert, but proper crisis music.

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Kirsty Allison at 3ammagazine.com on the anthology, Punk is Dead: Modernity Killed Every Night.
In this masterfully edited collection, which flows in a style that at times reaches post-Burroughs glory in Neil Brown’s outstanding cut-up diary, or Richard Cabut’s fanzine love for Richard Hell, writing on the spiky-haired singer-cum-writer as: a peddle-to-metal hopped-up dropout crossing the States with the larger-than-life aplomb of a pulp-fiction anti-hero. Vagabond poet rogue of the open highway’ – you get to the end of this, and feel Punk can now die happy. Covered. Analysed. Of course, this alignment to the poets of yore is one referenced repeatedly by Paris-based co-editor, Andrew Gallix, who founded this publication, and home to all of us poets, philosophers, and punks, under the strap-line, ‘whatever it is, we’re against it’. He considers the literary tradition of punk, from his French perspective, exploring Arthur Cravan, and Comte de Lautréamont as forerunners to Situationism, surrealism and DADA. Collectively, the edition explores what killed punk, and why it wanted to kill everything that had been before.

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Luc Sante at Noisey, Maybe the People Would Be the Times.
We all paid heed to that English tatterdemalion's cry of "no future" in different ways, and if the word "future" didn't portend a lifetime's career opportunity in the mills gone south, or a cracked vision of needle-nosed high-rises connected by space taxis against a bloodred sky with three moons, what mostly remained in our heads was no. Our fill-in-the-blank generation has had its blank filled by no. There is a No Wave, and it is coming to your town but not really. Your town could not take it. You want your big guitars and hummable melodies and never-ending teenage idyll. Those things look delusional from where we stand. They were washed away by wars and assassinations and riots long ago, and if you don't understand this, you are huffing stronger drugs than we possess. Our aesthetic is destroy, as the French say, who have converted the English verb into an adjective. Not for nothing are the faces of this instant those of Ulrike Meinhof and Andreas Baader, lately deceased.

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Frank Parlato in NIAGARA FALLS REPORTER, Mike Hudson, Founder of Niagara Falls Reporter, Has Died.
Mike Hudson co-founded and was lead singer of the American punk rock band, the Pagans.  His brother Brian co founded the group and was its drummer…. Mike worked as editor for the Cleveland Sun, crime reporter at the Corry Evening Journal, literary critic at the Irish Echo. His work appeared in Radar, Field & Stream, Rolling Stone, Hustler, the Associated Press, Master Detective and the New York Post. By 1998, he moved to Niagara Falls with his wife, Rebecca Hudson. He worked as a staff reporter for the Niagara Gazette. In 2000, he was fired for repeatedly coming in drunk. He disputed his firing, since he continued to produce the same output drunk or sober. His publisher disagreed and would not let him return. With a few thousand dollars, he started the Niagara Falls Reporter. Its first edition was June 28, 2000. With his hard hitting and muckraking style of reporting, the newspaper grew and attracted advertisers. Mike remained editor in chief, until he sold his share and moved to Los Angeles in 2012. During the interim, he wrote groundbreaking stories on politics in the Falls. A series of articles critical of a local labor union resulted in Hudson getting beat up by three of its members. His stories led to numerous convictions and the bust up of the mob-controlled union.
















near Libby Circle
Photograph by Joe Carducci
















From the Wyoming Desk of Joe Carducci

James Damore in WSJ, Why I Was Fired by Google.
In my document, I committed heresy against the Google creed by stating that not all disparities between men and women that we see in the world are the result of discriminatory treatment. When I first circulated the document about a month ago to our diversity groups and individuals at Google, there was no outcry or charge of misogyny. I engaged in reasoned discussion with some of my peers on these issues, but mostly I was ignored. Everything changed when the document went viral within the company and the wider tech world. Those most zealously committed to the diversity creed – that all differences in outcome are due to differential treatment and all people are inherently the same – could not let this public offense go unpunished.

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John McKinnon & Brody Mullins in WSJ, Google’s Washington Clout Faces a Reckoning.
Within days of the election, Google posted a help wanted notice for an employee in Washington who could manage outreach to conservative organizations, and ultimately hired someone from the staff of Sen. Ted Cruz, the Texas Republican. Overall, Alphabet has spend $13.6 million on lobbying this year as of the end of September, compared with 2016’s full year total of $15.4 million, according to lobbying – disclosure records compiled by the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics. Cumulatively over the past five years, only Boeing Co. has spent more on lobbying in Washington than Google.

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Julie Bykowicz in WSJ, Facebook Seeks More Sway in Washington.
The Menlo Park, Calif., company has invested more than $8.4 million this year on its 36-member federal lobbying team – putting it on track to spend more on federal lobbying than in any previous year. The company recently added Republican-led Hamilton Place Strategies and other communications strategists to its team and posted an ad seeking a crisis communications specialist. The tech giant also held several focus-group session last week hosted by Quadrant Strategies, a Democratic-led research firm. People familiar with the sessions said public relations professionals and other Washington insiders were among the attendees. Facebook was soliciting advice as to how best to respond to the Russia ad controversy – and how to communicate with Republicans in particular, the people said.

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Rana Foroohar in FT, Why Big Tech Wants to Keep the Net Neutral.
Liberals in the US have supported the idea for reasons of social equity. But some conservatives, as well as some members of the business community, have argued that it is a distorting regulation that prevents the ISPs from properly monetising their investment in broadband. It’s a fair point. After all, the telecoms companies building the 21st-century digital highway have single-digit profit margins, while the likes of Google and Facebook — which simply has to wait for someone to upload a cat video and then sell hyper-targeted advertising against it — have high double-digit profit margins. Big tech platform companies, which have been the largest corporate beneficiaries of net neutrality, have until now worked both the social and economic arguments to their own advantage. They and many other supporters of net neutrality — including start-ups that are worried about being winnowed out by larger players with deeper pockets that can pay to have their data delivered faster — have argued that more power for the ISPs would squash innovation on the internet and unfairly penalise small businesses.

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Andy Kessler in WSJ, Zuckerberg’s Opiate for the Masses.
Many Americans really do need help, and no one should be dying in the streets. But why create an entire class of freeloaders out of people who otherwise wouldn’t have sought handouts? The bigger question is why all these Silicon Valley bigwigs are intent on giving away other people’s money. Perhaps it’s a misplaced sense of shame for their riches. Worse, some believe they are chosen to carry society on their packs while the teeming masses can be paid to idle along. Well, as long as they download the latest apps and are given enough to pay for wireless internet and an iPhone upgrade every few years. Facebook and videogames are already huge mind sinks. Add Mr. Musk’s Neuralink direct brain interface and no one will ever get off the couch.

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Mark Epstein in WSJ, The Google-Facebook Duopoly Threatens Diversity of Thought.
Google, Facebook and Twitter place stricter content policies on advertisers than general users. There are legitimate reasons for this. The tech companies are sensitive to accusations that they not only profit from controversial content but also fund it by giving its creator a slice of the ad revenue. When virtually all online advertising goes through two companies, howeer, they have the power to harm websites arbitrarily. One political blog that posted an article trying to distinguish the “alt-right” from white nationalism received a warning email from Google’s Ad-Sense team. An editor took the article down, explaining to readers that the blog “needs revenue from the Google ad platform in order to survive.”

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Cecilia Kang in NYT, Amazon Lobbyists Are Upping Their Charm Offensive in D.C. .
Amazon is sweeping the nation’s capitol with a branding campaign of jobs creation and support for small businesses, promoting the upsides of its major expansion in media, groceries and transportation. This year, Amazon has increased its lobbying staff to 83 members from 60, making it one of the biggest corporate lobbying shops in town. The company is also on its way to surpassing its previous high for lobbying spending: $11.3 million last year. The $6.2 million Amazon spent in the first two quarters of this year was the 11th most among companies, above Exxon and far above Walmart, which spent $3.6 million in the same period. The company’s more aggressive approach, focused on building relationships with leading politicians and improving the company’s overall reputation, is a break from its past. Before last year, the company relied on a no-frills operation for more than a decade, prodding officials in Washington on narrow laws and regulations and arguing about the nuances of issues like sales taxes and copyright.

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futureofcapitalism.com: Amazon Second Headquarters.
I'd be happy to see Amazon come here so long as the tax breaks aren't a total giveaway. But if I had to predict or bet, I'd suspect that the company winds up choosing Washington, D.C., Virginia, or Maryland. Jeff Bezos just spent $23 million on a 27,000-square-foot building in Washington, D.C., that he intends to convert into a single-family home, according to a report in the Washington Post newspaper, which Bezos owns. But there are reasons to choose the Washington, D.C. area beyond the convenience of, or proximity to, the CEO, or friendly local press. Sure, there's a faint case that the D.C. area has the universities — Georgetown, University of Maryland, Johns Hopkins, George Mason, George Washington University, American University — to generate the workforce Amazon needs. And, though D.C. is hardly Silicon Valley or even Kendall Square, there's some web startup tech culture there dating back at least to the era of AOL, which was based in suburban Virginia. The main reason, though, is the opportunity and threat that comes from the federal government. Opportunity, because the huge federal government, with its taxing power, offers Amazon the chance to sell products and services to the government, including web services — server hosting for websites, computing power — and more run-of-the-mill purchasing that would allow government employees to order things from Amazon the same way that consumers do. And threat, because the federal government is just about the only institution in American life at this point that is powerful enough to challenge Amazon, either by forcing it to break up as an antitrust matter (hence the need for two headquarters rather than one), or by forcing it to collect sales tax on all sales (including those of "marketplace" vendors), or even by some sort of retroactive play on those past sales taxes that went uncollected….

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Nicholas Carr in WSJ, How Smart-Phones Hijack Our Minds.
The results were striking. In both tests, the subjects whose phones were in view posted the worst scores, while those who left their phones in a different room did the best. The students who kept their phones in their pockets or bags came out in the middle. As the phone’s proximity increased, brainpower decreased. In subsequent interviews, nearly all the participants said that their phones hadn’t been a distraction – that they hadn’t even thought about the device during the experiment. They remained oblivious even as the phones disrupted their focus and thinking.

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Steven Russolillo in WSJ, Countries Urged to Weigh Issuing Digital Currencies.
Overall, the debate about how central banks should best consider embracing cryptocurrencies is more important in countries such as Sweden, where cash use id dwindling rapidly, according to the BIS report. “In making this decision, central banks will have to consider not only consumer preferences for privacy and possible efficiency gains – in terms of payments, clearing and settlement – but also the risks it may entail for the financial system and the wider economy, as well as any implications for monetary policy,” the BIS said.

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Andrew Browne in WSJ, President Uses Big Data to Tighten Big Brother’s Grip.
In public at least, the chief executives of China’s data oligopolies, including Alibaba and Tencent, are evangelists for the project that requires them to sluice gushers of consumer data to state superhubs. Alibaba founder Jack Ma in a seminar last year likened the role of big data in economic management to an X-ray or CT-scan in medical diagnosis. In the next 30 years, he declared, “the planned economy will get bigger and bigger.”

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Yang Jie & Liza Lin in WSJ, Amazon Bends to Beijing’s Call.
Peter Fuhrman, chairman of technology investment bank China First Capital, said Amazon’s decision illustrates China’s tightened grip on those companies that provide internet services. “The key policy brickwork is now done,” Mr. Fuhrman said. “The Chinese internet, in the borad entirety, will become even more comprehensively managed by the Chinese state.” Mr. Fuhrman added that such protectionist moves will ultimately limit China’s access to the latest technology and could hurt its competitiveness over the long term.

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Li Yuan in WSJ, U.S. Tech Giants Need to Rethink China Ties.
A five-minute report shown on national television’s prime-time newscast featured 10 seconds of applause for Mr. Xi from the executives. That was after he told them that the goal of education is to “train the builders and successors of socialism with Chinese characteristics, not bystanders and opponents.” Social-media users cackled about the event. Some referred to Mr. Zuckerberg and Mr. Cook as “comrades.” Others said the executives looked like representatives of the toothless government advisory body, the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, reporting to Mr. Xi. Some publication closed off their social-media posts’ comment function.

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Carlos Tejada in NYT, Google Announces Plan for A.I. Center in China.
Google closed its search business in China in 2010, saying it would no longer tolerate Beijing’s censorship requirements and government-linked efforts to hack the Gmail accounts of human rights activists and others. Google’s services were subsequently blocked in the country, and China’s internet developed its own answers to the company’s products, from email and search to video-sharing and chat. Still, Google never left China entirely. It has an active business distributing online ads for desktop computers and mobile applications, and Chinese makers of smartphones use its Android mobile device software. The two sides have shown signs of warming. Last week, Sundar Pichai, Google’s chief executive, spoke at China’s annual internet conference in the city of Wuzhen, saying the company did robust business helping Chinese firms seeking customers abroad. And this year, Google began offering its translation software in China.

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Jun Mai in SCMP, China’s Shadowy Ideology Chief Steps Out from Behind the Curtains to Address Internet Conference.
Wang’s speech to the World Internet Conference on Sunday came just weeks after he secured a seat on the seven-member Politburo Standing Committee. As the most senior political figure at the event, which Apple chief executive Tim Cook and Google boss Sundar Pichai also attended, Wang’s presence appeared to be further confirmation that the new number five in the party’s hierarchy will take care of ideological control. Wang addressed state journalists and political advisers last month, but these two speeches were not open to non-official media. At Sunday’s event in Wuzhen, in the eastern province of Zhejiang, Wang did not wave to his audience as he led the dozen officials into the main arena. Speaking in a low voice and fluently repeating the tongue-twisting jargon of the party’s political slogans, Wang argued for China to have a greater say over how the internet operates around the world, with a call for more “balanced internet rules”. “China is happy to work with the international community to make international rules that are more balanced and better reflect the interests of all parties,” he said.

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Emily Feng in FT, Chinese Collection of DNA Data Sparks Uighur Concerns.
Government notices mandate police officers and cadres to collect and record pictures, fingerprints, blood type, DNA and iris scans in six counties and prefectures through specially-designed mobile apps and a health check-up programme offered to all Xinjiang residents. Officials from each of the six areas, which together hold about one-third of Xinjiang’s 22m residents, confirmed the authenticity of the notices but all declined to comment. A spokeswoman for Xinjiang’s Aksu prefectural government said she had been instructed not to discuss such issues over the phone. The collection is fuelling concerns among Uighur residents that the DNA data will be used to match the organs of suspected criminals who may face execution with potential recipients, said Darren Byler, a researcher at the University of Washington who specialises in Xinjiang.

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Josh Chin & Clement Burge in WSJ, Where China Is Always Watching.
At a security exposition in October, an executive of Guangzhou-based CloudWalk Technology Co., which has sold facial-recognition algorithms to police and identity-verification systems to gas stations in Xinjiang, called the region the world’s most heavily guarded place. According to the executive, Jiang Jun, for every 100,000 people the police in Xinjiang want to monitor, they use the same amount of surveillance equipment that police in other parts of China would use to monitor millions. Authorities in Xinjiang declined to respond to questions about surveillance. Top party officials from Xinjiang said at a Communist Party gathering in Beijing in October that “social stability and long-term security” were the local government’s bottom-line goals. Chinese and foreign civil-liberty activists say the surveillance in this northwestern corner of China offers a preview of what is to come nationwide. “They constantly take lessons from the high-pressure rule they apply in Xinjiang and implement them in the east,” says Zhu Shengwu, a Chinese human-rights lawyer who has worked on surveillance cases. “What happens in Xinjiang has bearing on the fate of all Chinese people.”

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Charles Clover in FT, Spying Fears Lead China to Curb Self-Driving Foreign Cars.
So far, only foreign companies have been given this message. “We have some obstacles related to testing of automated functionalities, but this is a delicate thing,” said a representative of one global carmaker. “We have obstacles driving around China making photos and recording GPS co-ordinates,” he said, adding this was “connected with [China’s] national defence policies”. Already Beijing has made clear that accurate GPS mapping of China can only be done by Chinese companies, but the objections being presented appear to signal the entire suite of driverless technology may eventually be subject to national security restrictions. Automated and self-driving cars rely on cameras, advanced sensors such as Lidar, and hyper accurate GPS maps to find their locations and avoid obstacles. But China’s security agencies are also concerned they can also be used to spy, said analysts. Local Chinese companies working on autonomous driving technology, however, say they have not faced the same objections. “I’ve never heard of this,” said a senior executive at the autonomous driving unit of Baidu, China’s largest search engine.

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Maya Wang in WSJ, China’s Chilling ‘Social Credit’ Blacklist.
The experience of lawyer Li Xiaolin may give a taste of what that future looks like. During a 2016 work trip inside China, he tried to use his national identity card to purchase a plane ticket. To his surprise, the online system rejected it, saying he had been blacklisted by China’s top court. Mr. Li checked the court’s website: His name was on a list of “untrustworthy” people for having failed to carry out a court order in 2015. He thought he had resolved the issue, but now he was stranded more than 1,200 miles from home. Mr. Li’s dilemma was due to the Chinese government’s ambitious “social credit system.” Launched by the government in 2012. It vows to “make trustworthy people benefit everywhere and untrustworthy people restricted everywhere” by the time it is fully implemented in 2020.

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Amy Qin in NYT, Fraud Scandals Sap China’s Dream of Becoming a Science Superpower.
It now has more laboratory scientists than any other country, outspends the entire European Union on research and development, and produces more scientific articles than any other nation except the United States. But in its rush to dominance, China has stood out in another, less boastful way. Since 2012, the country has retracted more scientific papers because of faked peer reviews than all other countries and territories put together, according to Retraction Watch, a blog that tracks and seeks to publicize retractions of research papers. Now, a recent string of high-profile scandals over questionable or discredited research has driven home the point in China that to become a scientific superpower, it must first overcome a festering problem of systemic fraud.

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Ai Jun in GLOBAL TIMES, Is China Ready to Face Direct Competition with US? .
China never thought that the era of Beijing-Washington competition would come so soon. Frankly speaking, China is not ready, since all it has been doing is focusing on its own development and its own growth. Chinese people believe that although the country has become the world's second-largest economy, a great gap still exists in regard to technology, military, education etc. Yet Americans do not see it that way. They see no progress, or even a recession in their national strength over the past few years, while China is rising sharply. Especially since the Made in China 2025 strategy was announced by China, the US has been sensing Beijing may take over the global value chain in no time.

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Fan Feifei in CHINA DAILY, China Can Play Key Role in Setting 5G Standards.
Wang Jianya, president of Nokia Shanghai Bell, is confident that China will pioneer 5G research and development before it is rolled out in the next few years. This in turn will help develop a standard blueprint across the sector. "The key issue for 5G is producing a unified global standard," Wang said. A joint venture of Nokia Corp and State-owned investment firm China Huaxin, Nokia Shanghai Bell has been promoting the commercialization of 5G with domestic telecom carriers. China Mobile Communications Corp, the world's largest telecom carrier by subscribers, has stepped up efforts to develop 5G technology. It plans to launch a pre-commercial service in 2019 before launching a fully commercialized 5G network in 2020. "With the rapid development of 5G, internet of things (IoT) and big data, we are entering the digital era," said Sha Yuejia, vice-president of China Mobile. "As intelligent manufacturing, smart transportation and healthcare become more popular, this will promote the economic momentum to achieve a new leap forward in our society," Sha said. So far, the company has established more than 2.23 million base stations with more than 900 million mobile users and 200 million IoT connections.

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Jamil Anderlini in FT, Xi’s Anti-Corruption Drive Mimics a Ming Obsession.
Today, the party’s official version of history claims the Mongolian Khans and Manchu princes as part of a continuum of unbroken Chinese civilization stretching back millennia. But for much of the Mongolian Yuan dynasty (1271-1368) and Manchu Qing dynasty (1644-1912), the majority ethnically Han Chinese were subjugated and treated as lower-class citizens. Throughout these and other periods, the central state was often weak or predatory, without the ability or incentive to protect Chinese subjects in far-flung reaches of the empire. So citizens formed strong clan networks based around blood, geographical and professional ties reinforced by Confucian concepts of filial piety.

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Ian Johnson in NY REVIEW OF BOOKS, When the Law Meets the Party.
At the time of Mao’s death in 1976, China effectively had no laws. His successors created a legal code for two reasons. First, they wanted it to pursue economic reforms – capitalism needs contracts. But often overlooked was their genuine desire for the civilizing effect on politics that a functioning legal system can bring. Many senior party members had suffered badly because of Mao’s whims. Unsure of their own system and willing to look outward for solutions, leaders such as Peng Zhen, Deng Xiaoping, Hu Yaobang, and Zhao Ziyang realized that laws, especially as a way to regulate disputes, would make society fairer while also helping to restore the Party’s badly damaged legitimacy.

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Chris Buckley in NYT, Risky Defense of Rule of Law in China.
The nation’s current anticorruption watchdog is an arm of the Communist Party, with broad powers but jurisdiction only over the party’s 89 million members. Mr. Xi’s new commission would be a state agency with oversight over China’s entire public sector, which employs as many as 62 million people, many of whom do not belong to the party. Opponents say the legislation would violate China’s Constitution and give the new commission carte blanche to operate beyond the scope of Chinese laws, especially those meant to prevent arbitrary arrest.

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Viola Zhou in SCMP, Why China’s Armed Police Will Now Only Take Orders from Xi and His Generals.
The People’s Armed Police (PAP) has been under the dual command of the CMC, which oversees the armed forces, and the State Council, China’s cabinet. The structure gave lower-level authorities the power to deploy the PAP to tackle natural disasters, protests and hostage crises. But from January 1, the PAP will be under the sole command of the CMC, chaired by President Xi Jinping, a move that will strip local officials of that power. Analysts said the change – applauded by party media outlets as strengthening centralised control – was prompted by fears among top leaders that the PAP could be used to challenge their rule. One incident that might have sparked those concerns was in February 2012 when armed police were sent to Chengdu after former Chongqing police chief Wang Lijun sought refuge in the US consulate in the Sichuan capital. The PAP officers had reportedly been sent on the orders of Chongqing party chief Bo Xilai after Bo and Wang argued over the involvement of Bo’s wife in the murder of a British businessman. Observers said the use of armed police in the political crisis might have spooked Beijing.

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Jennifer Hughes in FT, Communist Party Control Written into Law at China’s Big Companies.
China’s Communist party is writing itself into the articles of association of many of the country’s biggest companies in a blow to investor hopes that Beijing would relax its grip on the market. More than 30 Hong Kong-listed state-owned enterprises, representing more than $1tn in market capitalisation, have this year added lines to their central documents that place the party, rather than the Chinese state, at the heart of each group. New phrases injected into the articles of association in recent months include describing the party as playing a core role in “an organised, institutionalised and concrete way” and “providing direction [and] managing the overall situation”. The changes are being billed by the companies as part of Beijing’s efforts to improve efficiency and productivity at SOEs, which account for about a fifth of the country’s economic output.

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Tom Mitchell in FT, China’s Communist Party Seeks Company Control Before Reform.
To most western executives and analysts, the party’s higher profile at SOEs undermines the authority of their company boards and is more bad news for state-sector reform, which they feel has been neglected by Mr Xi’s administration…. To Mr Xi and Mr Wang, the party’s more prominent profile in SOEs is actually a prerequisite for state-sector reform. In their view, the party had given SOEs too long a leash, leading to mismanagement at best and unchecked corruption at worst. For Mr Xi, who last year described SOEs as “the major force to boost the comprehensive strength of the country and to protect the common interests of the people”, state companies are too important not to play a more active role in supervising and, if necessary, managing. Whether stricter party oversight will ultimately help or hinder SOEs is no mere academic debate. It could well determine the fate of Mr Xi’s larger project to end the Chinese economy’s dependence on debt-fuelled investment and establish himself as a “transformative” economic reformer in the mould of Deng Xiaoping, the architect of China’s post-Mao “reform and opening” strategy. In Communist party-speak, the proliferation of party committees at SOEs is in keeping with a larger strategy of quan fu gai, or “full coverage”. For better or worse, people who do business with or invest in SOEs are going to be seeing a lot more of the party.

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Javier Hernandez in NYT, Reading Writing and Revolution.
Jiang Xueqin, an education consultant in Beijing, said fanning national pride could quickly “mutate into a fierce and militant nationalism” that is difficult to control. Mr. Xi’s vision of patriotic education is already in full bloom at the Workers and Peasants Red Army Elementary School, which was founded in 1788 but only became a Red Army school in 2012. Classes begin with Red Army songs, and students take turns reciting revolutionary stories featuring Japanese spies as villains. “The blood in the past gave us the life we have today,” said Kuang Yanli, 11, a sixth-grade student. “A lot of other countries want to invade our country again, so we have to study hard and make sure that doesn’t happen.” Local officials are sensitive to the idea that the school is indoctrinating students, and the police blocked journalists from The New York Times from reporting after being alerted to their presence.

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Glenn Thrush & Alan Rappeport in NYT, Intellectual Property Theft by China Will Get Scrutiny.
The request for an investigation will focus on Beijing’s practices of coercing American companies doing business in China to partner with local firms, which require them to turn over proprietary technological secrets as part of what American officials described as a coordinated effort to steal intellectual property. Mr. Trump’s trade advisers, speaking to reporters on a conference call early Saturday, did not say why the administration decided to add the intermediate step of requesting an investigation, rather than starting one immediately. This month, people familiar with Mr. Trump’s deliberations suggested that the administration was prepared to immediately begin an inquiry into Chinese theft under the 1974 Trade Act. Chinese officials have repeatedly denied that they have engaged in such theft. The pause might give both sides a chance to negotiate some kind of a deal before the investigation begins, one American official involved in the policy said. If Mr. Trump moves ahead with an investigation, China could litigate it with the World Trade Organization.

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Kate O’Keefe, Arund Viswanatha & Cezary Podkul in NYT, China’s Hunt for Critic Roils U.S. .
At first, the Chinese officials said they were cultural affairs diplomats. Then they admitted to being security agents. The FBI agents instructed them to leave the country, saying they were in violation of their visas and weren’t to speak to Mr. Guo again. The Chinese got on the train to Washington. The FBI assumed they would be gone in 24 hours. Two days later, on May 26, Mr. Liu and the other Chinese officials returned to Mr. Guo’s apartment ahead of a planned flight back to China in the late afternoon. U.S. law-enforcement authorities, whom Mr. Guo had told about the impending visit, decided it was time to act. The U.S. Attorney’s office in Brooklyn prepared charges alleging visa fraud and extortion, according to people familiar with the matter. FBI agents raced to John F. Kennedy International airport ahead of the official’s scheduled 4:50 p.m. Air China flight.

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Austin Ramzy in NYT, Artist Flees After Filming Evictions in Beijing.
Mr. Hua, 48, said that were it not for the money he earned from painting, he too would be a member of the “low-end population.” In his conversations with workers, some said they felt painfully unwelcome in Beijing. Last week, Mr. Hua, like many of the people he has filmed, was forced to leave Beijing. He fled the city after the police came to arrest him for publicizing the evictions. He has relied on friends to move him “from city A to city B,” he said in a video posted Sunday. “Now they want to move me on to an even safer city C,” he added. It was not his first run-in with the authorities. In 2012, Mr. Hua was sentenced to a labor camp for a performance in memory of the protesters killed during a 1989 pro-democracy demonstration. In Tiananmen Square he punched himself in the face until his nose started bleeding, then used his blood to write “64,” the way the June 4 crackdown is usually rendered in Chinese. He has made his living as a painter, but now questions the value of such work. “In an environment where you can’t speak the truth, creating art is utterly worthless,” he said in an interview before he left Beijing.

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Jane Perlez in NYT, Xi Jinping Pushes China’s Rise Despite Friction and Fear.
Analysts say Australia has been a tempting target because China is its biggest trading partner, and it is home to large populations of Chinese immigrants and students, who provide critical financial support to its universities. But the government is now considering new limits on campaign contributions, restrictions on foreign investments and tougher counterintelligence laws. Australia is also seeking to strengthen security ties with India and Japan. “The Chinese party-state has overplayed its hand in trying to influence Australia’s choices,” said Rory Medcalf, head of the national security college at the Australian National University. Concern about political interference by China is also growing in New Zealand, where a Chinese official recently advised Chinese-language journalists to coordinate coverage with China’s official press. “I never imagined the level of instruction was that direct,” said Anne-Marie Brady, a professor of Chinese politics at the University of Canterbury in Christchurch, who recently published a research paper on Beijing’s efforts in New Zealand.

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Ian Johnson in NYT, Xi Jinping and China’s New Era of Glory.
For five years, Mr. Xi has led a fierce campaign against corruption, which arguably was the biggest threat to the party’s long-term ability to rule. But he’s also leveraged this crackdown to sideline political rivals, admitting as much last year when he said that high-ranking officials arrested for corruption had been engaging in “political conspiracies.” A sophisticated program of domestic surveillance is part of this strategy. The government has encouraged provinces to experiment with a system of “social credit” that rates people on how they behave — from financial delinquency to being too critical online — and then limiting the freedom of offenders, for example by restricting their ability to get promoted or travel on trains or planes, something the German political scientist Sebastian Heilmann calls “digital Leninism.” Nationally, this new policy of refined coercion has eradicated public dissent. Previous leaders disliked alternative viewpoints, but small bookstores, regional newspapers, think tanks and, for a while, social media allowed some space for differing views. Now these channels are all but closed.

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Markos Koulanakis at mcclatchydc.com, China Is Using Fentanyl in a Chemical War Against America.
China has a deep, visceral understanding of how an Opium War can convulse a nation and collapse an empire. After all, it happened to them in the 19th century. Chinese call it their “Century of Humiliation.” Now the tables have turned. China has absorbed the Century of Humiliation’s lessons of stealth attack and economic power and applied them globally. President Xi sits atop the world’s power pinnacle; a recent Economist cover story called him “the world’s most powerful man,” and POTUS acknowledges Xi’s king-like authority. But either this omnipotent man can control his population or not. Given China’s authoritarian tech and police state tools, Xi’s monopoly power gives him extraordinary abilities to monitor and manage domestic criminal activity. Trump should not call to crack down further on the general population, but appeal for a more targeted application of Beijing’s honed control practices. Since China already easily and regularly arrests bloggers, VPN users, artists, protesters, and other innocents, it can certainly find and disrupt criminal cartels cooking up deadly street drugs for sale in America.

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Stephen Chen in SCMP, China Set to Move into US’ Backyard with National Development Plan for Grenada.
The Chinese foreign ministry told the South China Morning Post this month that “China Development Bank, at the request of the Grenadian government, is helping them draft a national development strategy”. It said the Grenadian government “assumed the primary responsibility for the development of their own country” and that China was “willing to provide necessary assistance to their economic and social development upon request”. Wang Yingjie, a lead researcher involved in the drafting of the Grenada national development strategic plan, told the Post this month the plan had been finished recently and “should be in the hands of the Grenadian government already”. The Grenadian government announced its national strategic plan 2030 in November 2014. Beijing’s blueprint envisions the construction of massive infrastructure projects in the small tropical nation, which has a population of about 100,000. They include the construction of a highway connecting the major towns on its main island, which is about four times the size of Hong Kong Island, and a railway line encircling it. The plan also calls for the building of deepwater ports that could accommodate a large number of cruise and cargo ships, a large wind farm to replace diesel-fuelled generators and a modernised airport with more, longer runways.

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Tom Hancock in FT, Chinese Migrants Lose Faith in Southern Africa.
Known for its entrepreneurial culture and history of emigration, hundreds of thousands have moved from China’s Fujian province to southern Africa since the early 2000s, and are thought to make up most of South Africa’s Chinese population of more than 350,000. As a result, visitors to remote coastal villages in Fujian can find their request for directions answered in English, tinged with a South African accent. Migration has transformed the villages with tall houses built with remittances from overseas workers, many with crosses painted above their doors, a reflection of the province’s large Christian population.

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Gabriel Wildau in FT, China Debt Analyst Warns of $6.8tn in Hidden Losses.
In her latest report, Ms Chu estimates that credit losses in China’s financial system will reach as much as Rmb51tn ($7.6tn) by the end of this year, more than five times the value of bank loans officially classified as either non-performing or one notch above. That estimate implies a bad debt ratio of 25 per cent, well above the official 5.3 per cent ratio for those two categories at the end of June. Charlene Chu was one the first analysts to warn of risks from China’s rising debt. China’s problem with borrowing came under the spotlight this week when the International Monetary Fund issued a warning about Beijing’s reluctance to rein in “dangerous” levels of debt. The fund blamed Beijing’s tolerance of high debt levels on its goal of doubling the size of the economy between 2010 and 2020. “The [Chinese] authorities will do what it takes to attain the 2020 GDP target,” the IMF said.

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Sidney Leng in SCMP, Audit Report Reveals China’s Economic Fault Lines.
Beijing’s push for structural reforms in the economy appears to have sparked a backlash in the form of companies inflating their profitability, according to an analyst. An official audit report published on Friday said that 18 of the 20 state-owned firms that were audited have in recent years inflated their revenues by more than 200 billion yuan (US$29 billion) and boosted their profits by 20 billion yuan with faked business and manipulated books.

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Jane Cai in SCMP, Foreign Players Feeling Squeezed Out by Beijing’s Support for State Companies.
In the cement sector, China plans to expand the combined market share of the 10 biggest producers from the nearly 42 per cent last year to 60 per cent by 2020 through mergers and acquisitions, according to an action plan drafted by the China Cement Association, a semi-official industry federation. The biggest cement producer by assets, the state-owned China National Building Material Group, was formed last year by merging with China National Materials Corp (Sinoma), an SOE. But Wu said picking winners was an outdated approach. What China needed were policies that could ensure information was shared and various players competed fairly, leaving business decisions to entrepreneurs, he said. “Since China introduced industry policies in 1987, the government has been inclined to blame ‘market dysfunction’ too often,” he said. “They like to see market dysfunction as an inherent defect of the market system, thus opening the door to boundless government intervention.”

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Trefor Moss in WSJ, China Pushes Domestic Electric-Car Batteries.
Foreign batteries aren’t banned in China, but auto makers must use ones from a government-approved list to qulify for generous EV subsidies. The Ministry of Industry and Information Technology’s list includes 57 manufacturers, all of them Chinese. Foreign battery companies declined to discuss their absence from the list. But analyst Mark Newman of Sanford C. Bernstein said the government has cited reasons such as paperwork errors to exclude foreign suppliers. “They want to give their companies two to three years” without foreign competition to secure customers, achieve scale, and improve their technology, Mr. Newman said. The Ministry didn’t respond to questions.

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Jane Cai in SCMP, Forget Privatisation, Xi Has Other Big Plans for Bloated State Firms.
China’s government is speeding up a massive ownership change among its largest state-owned enterprises designed to make them richer, bigger and stronger, a process that may reshape the future landscape of the Chinese economy by cultivating a group of influential “national champions”. The government is encouraging state financing institutions and the country’s private technology giants to invest in weak state enterprises grappling with debt and inefficiency under its “mixed ownership reform”. The state parent of China Unicom, the weakest of the country’s three telecom operators in profitability, sold a combined 35.2 per cent equity stake to more than a dozen investors as part of a 78 billion yuan (US$11.9 billion) deal. Among the new investors are Tencent Holdings, JD.com, Baidu and Alibaba Group, which owns the South China Morning Post. China Railway Corp, with outstanding debt of more than US$700 billion, says it wants to undergo similar mixed ownership reform and it has sent “invitations” to a number of potential investors, including FAW Group, the country’s state-owned car maker.

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Sui-Lee Wee in NYT, China’s Entrepreneurs Squirm Under Xi Jinping’s Tightening Grip.
The country now has 647 billionaires in American dollar terms, according to The Hurun Report, which tracks wealth in China. But the political environment remains perilous for many. Two prominent Chinese businessmen — Xiao Jianhua and Wu Xiaohui — have not been seen in months since they were taken away for questioning. Guo Wengui, a billionaire developer who has accused Chinese officials of corruption, is seeking political asylum in the United States. Last year, party officials put Ren Zhiqiang, an outspoken property tycoon, on probation as a party member for one year after he criticized Mr. Xi’s propaganda policies. “Clearly, there’s been a willingness to let these guys flourish but, at the same time, a desire to neutralize them as an independent political force,” said Arthur Kroeber, a founding partner of the Beijing-based research firm Gavekal Dragonomics. Analysts say the state intervention has resulted in entrepreneurs’ losing confidence in China’s future. Private-sector investment has been weak, and many tycoons have parked their money abroad should they run afoul of the government.

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He Huifeng in SCMP, Runaway Borrowers the New Face of China’s Personal Credit Boom.
China’s online lending boom has sent a steady stream of new clients to Guangzhou lawyer Luo Aiping in recent months: the parents and siblings of young men trapped or ruined by usurious debts. “These young men, the son or the brother in a family, are actually subprime borrowers with little in the way of savings and no assets,” Luo said. “They’ve recently been encouraged to access a dizzying array of online microcredit platforms to fund their own consumption and have cared little about the exorbitant interest rates. “Now they’ve run away from their creditors and left behind big troubles for their parents, who are not wealthy.”

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Alexandra Stevenson & Cao Li in NYT, China’s New Lenders Collect Invasive Data and Offer Billions. Beijing Is Worried.
One of those was a company named Smart Finance. Its app — Yongqianbao, or “use wallet” in Chinese — helps it build a credit rating system based on 1,200 data points related to user behavior. Yongqianbao then connects potential borrowers with lenders. Backed by the venture capital vehicle of Kai-Fu Lee, the former head of Google China and a prominent start-up investor in China, it has approved 1.5 million loans a month. Its algorithms look for correlations between behavior and repayment history — and some of those are unusual. Yongqianbao considers how quickly people type on their phones, how often they eat takeout or how much power is left on their smartphone batteries when they apply for the loan. It also evaluates whether the borrower took the time to read the Yongqianbao user agreement. Approval can come in eight seconds or less. “It is hard to determine how the machine knows,” said Jiao Ke, a former Baidu product manager who created Smart Finance, “but it is much more accurate” than a traditional loan officer.

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Nectar Gan in SCMP, China’s Communist Party Makes Big Inroads into Foreign-Funded Firms.
Party branches had been set up in 67.9 per cent of the country’s 2.73 million private enterprises by the end of last year. That equates to a 30 percentage point rise, according to the government. Xi has tried to increase the role of the party in all aspects of life in China since taking office and he pledged to continue this process during his speech on Wednesday at the opening of its five-yearly congress in Beijing. Xi has also tried to expand the party’s presence in areas where it has previously had a limited role, such as in private and foreign joint-venture companies and the boards of listed firms. Qi dismissed some foreign businesses’ concerns that the party’s growing presence in their companies could affect their operations. He said party branches could aid foreign companies’ business and development by helping them better understand government policies and by guiding them in obeying the country’s laws and regulations. “Setting up grass-roots party organisations in companies in China has always been a common practice and is in accordance with China’s laws and regulations,” Qi said.

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Chun Han Wong & Eva Dou in WSJ, Chinese Communist Party Encroaches on Foreign Workplaces.
The 300 or so Communist Party members who work at Walt Disney Co.’s theme park in China don’t keep their politics to themselves. Many attend party lectures during business hours and display hammer and sickle insignia at their desks. Company newsletters and state media praise them as exemplary workers…. State media described the park’s party organization – established in 2011 with 14 members – as a “bridge of enchantment” between the American and Chinese management. “At the time, the American management didn’t quite understand this,” Shendi Chairman Fan Xiping told Jiefang Daily, Shanghai’s flagship party newspaper, in a June report marking the resort’s first anniversary. It quoted Mr. King, the resort’s vice president for public affairs, as saying that the party organization has created value for shareholders.

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Liza Lin & Josh Chin in WSJ, China’s Tech Giants Have a Side Job: Helping Beijing Spy.
Unlike American companies, which often resist U.S. government requests for information, Chinese ones talk openly about working with authorities. Ten-cent Chief Executive Ma Huateng, also known as Pony Ma, and Alibaba founder Jack Ma both have voiced support for private companies working with the government on law enforcement and security issues. “The political and legal system of the fture is inseparable from the internet, inseparable from big data,” Alibaba’s Mr. Ma told a Communist Party commission overseeing law enforcement last year. He said technology will soon make it possible to predict security threats. “Bad guys won’t even be able to walk into the square,” he said.

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Andrew Browne in WSJ, China’s Disgraced Web Czar Still Wins.
At home and abroad, the swaggering Lu Wei, China’s now disgraced chief censor, won all his battles. Humiliation was his trademark, whether publicly cowing the country’s “Big V” bloggers—wits and satirists who once commanded tens of millions of followers with mild critiques of the regime—or extracting homage from Western media and technology executives. On a visit to Silicon Valley three years ago, he famously took a spin in the office chair of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg. That moment, his face lit up in delight, seemed to cap his triumph. An old-style Communist apparatchik with digital-era savvy, he had practically written the autocrat’s guide to internet management, demonstrating how the web could be turned into an effective tool of authoritarian control while still acting as an engine of economic growth and innovation—a goal many in the West thought impossible. Now, a U.S. media mogul who’d made his fortune on free expression in an open society was playing along.

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Greg Rushford in WSJ, Don’t Believe China’s Trade Hype.
Global economic leadership is a key part of Mr. Xi’s “Chinese Dream.” But going by China’s actual record in the WTO, Mr. Xi will have to dream on. Despite the glowing free-trade rhetoric from Beijing, inside WTO negotiating rooms China is hardly a champion of free trade. Instead the Chinese run with the G-33, a group of poorer, protectionist-minded WTO laggards – the likes of South Africa, Venezuela, Zimbabwe and India.

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Ben McLannahan & Shawn Donnan in FT, US Rebuffs Chinese Deals with Red-Tape Delays.
Rod Hunter, who oversaw Cfius cases while on President George W Bush’s National Security Council and is now a partner at law firm Baker McKenzie, said the US moves were part of a broader international crackdown on record levels of Chinese investment. The EU is considering new constraints on inbound investment and Australia and Canada are among other countries implementing similar scrutiny. But by extending Cfius’ scrutiny to outbound investment and overseas joint ventures, the proposed US legislation would vastly expand the number of transactions facing review to thousands from the 250 or so expected this year. “It basically would turn the investment regime into a technology control regime,” Mr Hunter said.

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Demetri Sevastopulo & Shawn Donnan in FT, US Steps Up Tough Talk on Trade with China.
Mr Trump castigated China repeatedly on the campaign trail. But in office, and particularly since the Mar-a-Lago summit with Mr Xi, he has taken a less combative stance, partly because the US believes Chinese pressure on North Korea is crucial to tackling the nuclear crisis. Over the past few months, however, Mr Trump has grown more irritated at the lack of progress in tackling the US trade deficit with China. He hinted at a return to a harder position at the Apec summit in Vietnam when he said he would no longer tolerate “chronic trade abuses” by Asian nations. HR McMaster, US national security adviser, who oversaw the strategy, this week said China — along with Russia — was a “revisionist power” that was “undermining the international order”. The inclusion of the tough language on China heralds a rockier period for Sino-US relations next year. It also marks a departure from previous national security strategies, which did not incorporate trade and economic issues so prominently. The White House National Security Council did not respond to a request for comment. The Chinese embassy in Washington also did not respond.

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Florent Detroy in LE MONDE DIPLOMATIQUE, Rail Caravan from China.
China’s President Xi Jinping must have been pleased with the success of the first international forum on its new Silk Roads plan – One Best, One Road – in Beijing in May…. Though Russia and China both criticize US dominance, it would have been hard to predict that Russia would have such a prominent role in this forum. Russia has long been suspicious of the plan, which encroaches on its traditional zone of influence in Central Asia. China sees the policy mostly as a way to protect trade with Europe, 95% of which currently goes by sea. China fears a trade blockade in the event of conflict with the US – whose allies in the region include Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Thiland and Australia – and is keen to develop an alternative land route through Central Asia.

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Charles Clover in FT on Elisabeth McGuire’s book, Red at Heart – How Chinese Communists Fell in Love with the Russian Revolution.
The Chinese began to arrive in Moscow with Qu Qiubai, a flighty, slightly neurotic translator and writer, one of only a handful of Chinese people who spoke any Russian at the time. Qu wrote History of the Heart in the Red Capital, which so successfully conjured the charms of Moscow in the 1920s that it propelled a generation of Chinese spiritual adventurers to seek it out.In truth, Moscow at the time could hardly have been more inhospitable. Food was scarce, the climate was unforgiving, and the language was a nearly insurmountable barrier. Stalinist purges were unpredictable and many Chinese students fell afoul of opaque factional rivalries. But for many Chinese visitors, Moscow remained a paradise, where they found inspiration, ideological affinity, friendship and love — not to mention a lot of sex. Escaping the stifling conformity of China was a common theme. The author and radical Chen Bilan, for example, was propelled to Moscow in 1924 to escape an arranged marriage. Soviet archives, reports McGuire, contain collections of letters and reports “that show how wracked by love and overcome with desire the Chinese in the Red Capital were”. Stalin, meanwhile, made sure to pay special attention to China. In 1949, shortly after the communist victory in China, he hosted Mao for three months in Moscow — an unheard-of length of time for a new leader to be absent from his capital, and an indicator of just how close the two revolutions had become.

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Javier Henandez in NYT, In China a Religious Revival Fuels Environmental Activism.
Shen Zhanqing, a pastor who works for the Amity Foundation, a Christian charity, said many church members felt inspired by religion to help protect the environment. The foundation has held study groups on issues like reducing carbon emissions and climate change, and it encourages members to take buses to church. “The decadence of human beings has destroyed the environment in China,” Pastor Shen said. “Our purpose is to protect God’s creation.” At Mao Mountain, the monks gather each morning to read ancient texts and to write calligraphy next to the trees and stones. Hundreds of visitors climb the stairs each day to pay respect to Lao-tzu. To limit pollution, they are prohibited from burning more than three sticks of incense each. Abbot Yang devotes much of his time to persuading local officials across China to set aside areas for natural protection, an unpopular idea in many parts. He has also worked to attract young, wealthy urbanites to Taoism.

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Nectar Gan in SCMP, Replace Pictures of Jesus with Xi Jingping, Christian Villagers Urged.
In Yugan, the officially atheist party is competing for influence with Christianity, which has spread rapidly in both poor rural villages and prosperous cities since the end of the Cultural Revolution more than 40 years ago. By some estimates, Christians in China now outnumber the 90 million members of the party. A local social media account reported over the weekend that in Yugan’s Huangjinbu township, cadres visited poor Christian families to promote the party’s poverty-relief policies and helped them solve their material problems. The officials successfully “melted the hard ice in their hearts” and “transformed them from believing in religion to believing in the party”, the report said. As a result, more than 600 villagers “voluntarily” got rid of the religious texts and paintings they had in their homes, and replaced them with 453 portraits of Xi. The report had disappeared on Monday afternoon, but the campaign was confirmed by villagers and local officials contacted by the South China Morning Post.

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Ben Bland in FT, Chinese Buy Back History in Patriotic Surge.
The wave is driven by a patriotic urge to bring back great objects as well as hopes for financial gains. “It’s an expression of the soft power of China,” says Mr Stone. Christie’s sold £430.9m of Asian art in the first half of 2017, double the figure for the same period a year ago. Pieces on offer at the fair include a book of astronomical instruments written by Jesuits in the 17th century to prove the supremacy of western science to the Chinese emperor.

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Steven Lee Myers in NYT, Tibet Group Challenges China on Bid for Unesco Heritage Site.
In a report released late last week, the group argued that recognizing the region as a World Heritage site would bolster China’s efforts to resettle tens of thousands of pastoralists from the plateaus into villages, while threatening the habitat of the antelope and the environment in general. “This controversial nomination would signify Unesco endorsement of China’s forced relocation of Tibetan nomads, who have protected the grasslands and wildlife for centuries,” said Matteo Mecacci, president of the Tibet organization. The annual meeting of Unesco has become unusually contentious, underscoring how debates on cultural patrimony can assume political significance.

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Ian Johnson in NYT, Is a Buddhist Group Changing China? Or Is China Changing It? .
After fleeing the Communist Revolution, Master Hsing Yun took that message to Taiwan and founded Fo Guang Shan in the southern port of Kaohsiung in 1967. He sought to make Buddhism more accessible to ordinary people by updating its fusty image and embracing mass-market tactics. In sports stadiums, he held lectures that owed more to Billy Graham than the sound of one hand clapping. He built a theme park with multimedia shows and slot machines that displayed dioramas of Buddhist saints. The approach had a profound impact in Taiwan, which then resembled mainland China today: an industrializing society that worried it had cast off traditional values in its rush to modernize. Fo Guang Shan became part of a popular embrace of religious life. Many scholars say it also helped lay the foundation for the self-governing island’s evolution into a vibrant democracy by fostering a political culture committed to equality, civility and social progress…. While Mr. Xi’s government has tightened restrictions on Christianity and Islam, it has allowed Fo Guang Shan to open cultural centers in four cities, including Beijing and Shanghai. The organization’s students include government officials, who don gray tunics and trousers and live like monks or nuns for several days, reciting the sutras and learning about Master Hsing Yun’s philosophy. But unlike in Taiwan, where it held special services during national crises and encouraged members to participate in public affairs, Fo Guang Shan avoids politics in China.

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Nectar Gan in SCMP, China’s New Campaign to Instill Official Historical Narrative in Xinjiang.
“In the lead-up to the 19th National Congress next month, [the meeting] aims at establishing some clear lines for the party’s approach to Xinjiang,” said Michael Clarke, an expert on Xinjiang at the National Security College, Australian National University. Xinjiang, home to some 10 million mostly Muslim Uygurs, has been subject to beefed up security measures and a crackdown on religious activities after ethnic violence that has killed hundreds of people in recent years. But the government seems to have opened up a new front in the fight against what it calls “the rise in extremism and separatism” – an ideological campaign around history. The Xinhua report did not specify exactly what “historical issues” were discussed at the symposium, but it did list what “stances” had been clarified: that Xinjiang has been an inalienable part of Chinese territory since the ancient dynasties; that various ethnic groups in the region are members of the Chinese nation; that the culture of Xinjiang’s ethnic groups is deeply rooted in, and an indivisible part of, Chinese civilisation; and that Xinjiang is a region where a number of religions exist side by side. The rhetoric is consistent with the party’s official line that was first summarised in a white paper released in 2003 on the history and development of Xinjiang…. The white paper states that “since the Han dynasty established the Western Regions Frontier Command in Xinjiang in 60BC, the Chinese central governments of all historical periods exercised military and administrative jurisdiction over Xinjiang”.

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Jacob Dreyer in TLS, Belt and Road.
Historically, Chinese emigrants have long settled in Southeast Asia (called “Nanyang”, or the south sea, in Chinese), bringing language and folkways with them. However, in times past, this emigration was largely responsive to China’s own domestic turmoil – villagers from Fujian and Guangzhou fleeing poverty or local tyrants. Effectively, Chinese are what the historian Yuri Slezkine calls “service nomads” in much of Southeast Asia – they form a loose but coherent network, avoiding politics in favour of business, which they deem safer and more reliable. In countries such as Thailand and Indonesia, most of the biggest fortunes are those of ethnically Chinese – and backlash  has been frequent (one example being the 1960s Indonesian pogroms depicted in The Act of Killing). But the Chinese state is strong now, and it superimposes its logic onto the more diffuse networks of commerce. Chineseness itself is as vague as any category enclosing billions of humans must necessarily be; indeed, the Chinese language differentiates between China as a polity (??) and as a culture (??); many of Asia’s tensions and conflicts, from Hong Kong’s umbrella movement to the island-building movement in the South China Sea, hinge on the fact that many who are culturally Chinese nonetheless oppose the state that calls itself China; in many cases, the ethnic Chinese in Southeast Asia are there because they fled from that same state. The sheer weight of the Chinese state and the population it represents can flatten these distinctions, in the process displacing older social structures.

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Joe Cochrane in NYT, Indonesia, Long on Sidelines, Starts to Confront China’s Territorial Claims.
Before naming part of the contested waterway the North Natuna Sea “to make it sound more Indonesian,” Mr. Storey said, Indonesia last year began beefing up its military presence in the Natunas. That included expanding its naval port on the main island to handle bigger ships and lengthening the runway at its air force base there to accommodate larger aircraft. For decades, Indonesia’s official policy has been that it is not a party to any territorial disputes with China in the South China Sea, unlike its regional neighbors Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam. Last year, however, Indonesia and China had the three maritime skirmishes within Indonesia’s 200-nautical-mile exclusive economic zone off its Natuna Islands, which lie northwest of Borneo. After the third skirmish, in June 2016, China’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued a statement in which it claimed for the first time that its controversial nine-dash line included “traditional fishing grounds” within Indonesia’s exclusive economic zone. The administration of the Indonesian president, Joko Widodo, whose top administrative priorities since taking office in October 2014 include transforming his country into a maritime power, has ordered the authorities to blow up hundreds of foreign fishing vessels seized while illegally fishing in Indonesian waters. Mr. Joko, during a visit to Japan in 2015, said in a newspaper interview that China’s nine-dash line had no basis in international law.

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Philip Bowring in NY REVIEW OF BOOKS, Indonesia & China: The Sea Between.
Do not imagine that the term “South China Sea” ever implied Chinese ownership. It is a Western construction that dates to about 1900. Previously, European maps referred to it as the China Sea, and before that as part of the Indian Sea. When the Portuguese arrived there in the early sixteenth century they called it the Cham Sea, after the maritime kingdom of coastal Vietnam. Other names at various times include Luzon Sea and (by early Arab traders) the Clove Sea. To China it has long been the South Sea and to Vietnamese the East Sea. The Philippines now refers to it as the West Philippine Sea. “Malay seas” is another term that has been applied to it and its immediate neighbors, the Java, Sulu, and Banda seas. The South China Sea itself is predominantly a Malay sea, as defined by the culture and language group of the majority of people living along its shores. Until European imperialism from the sixteenth century onward gradually snuffed out these trade-based kingdoms and sultanates, they were the region’s principal traders. Earlier, the Sumatra-based Srivijaya kingdom held similar sway through its control of the Melaka straits and hence all seaborne trade between China and the Spice Islands with India, Arabia, and beyond. It was during this era that ships from the archipelago brought the first colonists to Madagascar, leaving a language and genetic imprint that remains to this day. They also traded across the Indian ocean to Africa and Yemen. The first Romans known to have visited China did so by sea via India and the Malay peninsula. Trade spread Buddhism to Sumatra and Java, where by the fifth century it was flourishing to such an extent that Srivijaya attracted Chinese monks, who then traveled on to Sri Lanka and India. Chinese traders occasionally visited countries to the south, but did so on “barbarian” ships based out of Champa, Funan (in the Mekong delta), Java, Borneo, or Sumatra.

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Charles Clover in FT, Factories Ready for Military Role.
High technology undergoes a dramatic transformation when it hits China — everything from smartphones to laptops to telecommunications networks go from being expensive and proprietary to being cheap and easy to produce in a few short years. Thousands of factories in southern China churn out components for iPhone or iPad imitations, sometimes in the same factories that produce the Apple gadgets themselves. Could the commodification of technology happen to defence industries as well? This is an important question for The Pentagon. The prospect of robot wars in the future raises the question of whether quantity will finally trump quality when it comes to military hardware. This trend clearly favours China as the world’s manufacturing powerhouse.

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Alastair Gale in WSJ, Japan Fortifies Islands Near China.
Ishigaki and neighboring islands are part of what China’s military calls the “first island chain,” a series of archipelagoes around China’s perimeter stretching from Russia’s Kurils to the South China Sea, where Beijing seeks naval dominance. Authorities on Ishigaki have jurisdiction over a nearby group of tiny, uninhabited islands that Japan calls the Senkakus. They are also claimed by China and Taiwan. Their Chinese name is Diaoyu. In recent years China has sent larger coast guard ships, some armed, to circle the islands. A fleet of 10 Japanese coast guard ships based in Ishigaki regularly plays cat and mouse with the Chinese vessels.

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Mike Ives in NYT, A Defiant Map-Hunter Stakes Vietnam’s Claims in the South China Sea.
“The Chinese know very clearly they never mentioned the Hoang Sa or the Truong Sa in their history books or historical maps,” Dr. Son said, using the Vietnamese terms for the Paracels and Spratlys. By contrast, he said, he found evidence in more than 50 books — in English, French, Dutch, Spanish and Portuguese — that a Nguyen-era Vietnamese explorer planted the royal flag in the Paracels in the 1850s. International arbitration over territorial sovereignty can only proceed if both parties agree, analysts say, and China has shown no interest in that. Still, the frenzy of interest in Vietnam’s maritime history since about 2012 has produced a buzz in the state-run news media — and a few unexpected heroes. One is Tran Thang, a Vietnamese-American mechanical engineer who lives in Connecticut. He said by telephone that he had donated 153 maps and atlases to the Danang government in 2012 after ordering them on eBay for about $30,000. Among Vietnamese academics who study the government’s territorial claims in what it calls the East Vietnam Sea, Dr. Son is among the most prominent. He was born in 1967 in Hue, about 50 miles northwest of Danang, and his father was killed in 1970 while fighting for South Vietnam. “I only remember the funeral,” he said.

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Steven Lee Myers in NYT, Squeezed by an India-China Standoff, Bhutan Holds Its Breath.
“In the case of war between India and China, we would be the meat in the sandwich,” said Pema Gyamtsho, a leader of the opposition party in Bhutan’s National Assembly. “It shouldn’t have to be a choice,” he added, referring to his nation’s ties with India and China, “but it is at the moment.” For decades, Bhutan has chosen India. More than a half century ago, Bhutan watched warily as China’s Communists took power and eventually occupied neighboring Tibet, with which it has close ethnic, cultural and religious ties. India offered to defend the kingdom, and Bhutan accepted. But the latest standoff has inflamed festering resentments over India’s influence in the country. In particular, many suspect that India has sought to block Bhutan’s efforts to establish diplomatic relations and expand trade with Beijing, fearing that a rapprochement could remove the strategic buffer that Bhutan provides.

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NYT: Nepal Communists’ Victories May Signal Closer China Ties.
The defeat of Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba’s governing Nepali Congress party is likely to have significant foreign policy implications for Nepal, a landlocked country squeezed between India and China. Mr. Deuba’s government recently oversaw the cancellation of an award granted by a Chinese company to develop a large hydropower project in Nepal. Politicians say that decisions like that could be reversed under the leadership of politicians like Mr. Oli of the Communist Party of Nepal, who took a harder line against India when he served as prime minister. Nepal has been through turmoil in recent years. A decade-long insurgency led by Maoist rebels left more than 17,000 people dead before a 2006 peace deal ushered in democracy. In April 2015, a series of earthquakes dealt another devastating blow, killing nearly 9,000 people and destroying hundreds of thousands of homes. When Nepal’s Constitution was finally adopted in September 2015 after long, contentious delays, ethnic groups living along the country’s southern border with India mobilized in deadly protests against provisions that they saw as discriminatory against women, indigenous communities and those from lower castes. India also perked up.

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Kai Schultz in NYT, Deep in Debt, Sri Lanka Leases Big Port to China.
Sri Lanka owes more than $8 billion to state-controlled Chinese firms, officials say. Sri Lankan politicians said the Hambantota deal, valued at $1.1 billion, was necessary to chip away at the debt, but analysts warned of the consequences of signing away too much control to China. “The price being paid for reducing the China debt could prove more costly than the debt burden Sri Lanka seeks to reduce,” said N. Sathiya Moorthy, a senior fellow specializing in Sri Lanka at the New Delhi-based Observer Research Foundation. Sri Lanka has long been in India’s orbit, but its relationship with China has strengthened in recent years. As Western nations accused Mahinda Rajapaksa, the country’s former president, of grievous human rights abuses during the final stages of Sri Lanka’s nearly 26-year civil war, China extended billions of dollars of loans to Mr. Rajapaksa’s government for new infrastructure projects.

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Charlotte Graham in NYT, A New Zealand Lawmaker’s Spy-Linked Past Raises Alarms on China’s Reach.
Several China experts said in interviews that it was not possible for people to willingly “leave” China’s Communist Party, as Mr. Yang said he did, unless they had been expelled from it. Mr. Yang has not denounced the party. Rodney Jones, a New Zealand economist who lives in Beijing and who has worked in Asia for 30 years, said that an “unrepentant” former member of the Communist Party should not be eligible to be a New Zealand lawmaker. He said that Mr. Yang should resign from Parliament. Mr. Jones said that New Zealand needed better representation of its Chinese population in Parliament, but that Mr. Yang’s ascension showed that New Zealand had become a “tributary state” of China.

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Laura Zhou in SCMP, China Angrily Denies Buying Political Influence in Australia.
A statement from the Chinese embassy in Australia said allegations first aired in the media of China attempting to increase political influence through donations were “made up out of thin air and filled with a cold war mentality and ideological bias”. The statement also criticised media reports about China’s increasing influence on university campuses, adding that the allegations might harm political trust with Australia. “The relevant reports not only made unjustifiable accusations against the Chinese government, but also unscrupulously vilified Chinese students as well as the Chinese community in Australia with racial prejudice, which in turn has tarnished Australia’s reputation as a multicultural society,” the statement said. “[This] reflected a typical anti-China hysteria and paranoia,” it added. “China has no intention of interfering in Australia’s internal affairs or exerting influence on its political process through political donations.”

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Nikolaj Nielsen at euobserver.com, Germany Says China Using LinkedIn to Recruit Informants.
The German domestic intelligence agency (BfV) says China is using fake profiles on social media to target German officials and politicians. "This is a broad-based attempt to infiltrate, in particular, parliaments, ministries and government agencies," said BfV head Hans-Georg Maassen on Sunday (10 December). Maassen said more than 10,000 Germans have been approached by the alleged ruse from Chinese profiles posing as reputable professionals on social networking site LinkedIn. The BfV released around half dozen fake LinkedIn profiles of young attractive Chinese professionals. Among them is Laeticia Chen who supposedly works at the China Center for International Politics and Economy. Another, Eva Han, is from the China University of Political Science and Law.

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Salman Rafi Sheikh in Asia Sentinel, Pakistan’s Costly Plunge into China Debt.
Wherever China’s One Belt, One Road initiative goes, it appears that the Chinese lenders including the Bank of China – the government’s flagship bank – aren’t far behind, and that Beijing is using the financial power of the government-owned banks to its advantage, along with Chinese President Xi Jinping’s Asian International Investment Bank. Chinese banks including the China Development Bank, the Export-Import Bank of China and others by the end of 2014 loaned almost as much money to developing countries as the next six lenders had together, including the World Bank, the Asian Development Bank and the Inter-American Development Bank, according to Boston University’s Global Economic Governance Initiative. While obviously development loans are crucial for modernization and investment in developing countries, in some cases the terms are onerous and interest rates are steep. Nowhere is that clearer than in Pakistan, where the Bank of China began operations in the country just in the past week and where soaring developmental debt to China threatens the macro economy.

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NEW DELHI TIMES: Beijing Wants Chinese Currency ‘Yuan’ in Pakistan’s Gwadar.
Thus far, only two countries have officially allowed the Yuan to be legal tender: Angola and Zimbabwe. Zimbabwe’s decision was aided by collapse of its own currency in 2009, when they shifted to the US dollar and the South African rand as legal tender, and added Yuan in 2015. Pak government has so far hidden information from the public and signing agreements with foreign countries and entities obligating the people without public disclosure and consent in violation of public trust and democratic norms. Important issues are neither discussed in parliament nor details shared with the public. The lands along the Road have been bought by political people making the Chinese buy back those lands at high rates for projects. Any information withheld causes worry to people. China first showed interest in 2006 to have energy pipelines run from Gwadar to China via the Himalayas which years later turned into CPEC under President Xi’s grand OBOR vision. Chinese soon built a small harbour at Gwadar to bring machinery, equipment and materials for constructing a proper port while the management and development of other facilities was given to a Singaporean Company. CPEC added rail and road connections to the energy lines projecting it as a grand plan for overall economic and industrial development of Pakistan. China is thinking long term – laying the seeds in both Sri Lanka and Pakistan, for eroding the absolute sovereignty over strategic geographical locations like Hambantota Port in Sri Lanka and Gwadar in Pakistan which will become like Hong Kong and Falklands – colonies that are defended by force or demographic changes if necessary to defend the Chinese world order.

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Nathaniel Taplin in WSJ, China’s Problematic Oil-Yuan Plan.
Oil markets are already among the world’s most volatile—prices can leap 3% overnight on news from Middle Eastern nations many investors couldn’t pinpoint on a map. Oil guzzlers like China and India suffer the additional indignity of having to pay for this fickle resource in dollars, magnifying price swings. China would love to pay in yuan instead: and after years of preparation, it is finally launching yuan-denominated oil futures to let it do just that. Actual oil market investors, however, are likely to be unimpressed. It makes sense for China to have its own benchmark: China’s oil bill shouldn’t remain forever pegged to the price of barrels from aging Brent fields off the coast of Britain, half a world away. The problem is that China doesn’t trust its own markets, and routinely intervenes when they move in ways it doesn’t like—particularly the yuan. As long as that is true, foreign oil producers and traders will be leery of committing capital to a market that adds quixotic regulatory and currency risk to an already volatile game.

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Tom Hancock in FT, China’s Christian Missionaries Seek Converts Along the Belt and Road.
Some Chinese churches are inspired by an evangelical movement from the 1940s called “Back to Jerusalem”, named after a Chinese pastor’s vision of converting populations from east China to the ancient city. “The idea is that once Christianity spreads back to Jerusalem, it will hasten the second coming [of Christ],” says Carsten Vala, a professor at Loyola University Maryland who has studied underground churches. The movement was revived in 2000, when 36 Chinese Christians travelled to a neighbouring Buddhist country, according to its website. It reports a total of 274 missionaries working as of June in what it calls the “darkest regions of the world”, including 56 in Egypt, 30 in Myanmar and 20 in Pakistan. Chinese churches’ most ambitious plan is “Mission China 2030”, which aims to send 20,000 faithful overseas by the end of next decade. The number, calculated in part on an estimate of the number of foreign missionaries who died in China, was affirmed at a meeting of 1,000 Chinese church representatives in South Korea last summer.

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Mimi Lau in SCMP, The Secret Lives of Chinese Missionaries in Northern Iraq.
Michael, 25, and Christy, 23, left China just over a year ago, right after their wedding, for one of the world’s most war-torn areas. Security concerns, in Iraq and in China, mean details of their identities cannot be revealed. “It is not as torn up by warfare here as much as outsiders would read in the news, I actually feel safer here,” said Michael, comparing his experience in Iraq with life in China as a full-time worker in an underground Christian church. “Life could be described as normal here.” There are no official statistics about the number of Chinese missionaries working overseas, and they often pose as businessmen or teachers for travel purposes. But estimates by some academics and mainland house churches say there could be hundreds, or even a couple of thousand. Pastors working on the mainland say it has the largest number of born-again Christians in the world, and that despite having a communist government that is officially atheist is on track to be the world’s largest exporter of Christian faith. Emulating the Western missionaries who proselytised in China centuries ago, most Chinese missionaries serve in developing countries, especially Muslim ones, where such activities are dangerous. The dream honeymoon destination for most Chinese couples would be somewhere like the Maldives, but Michael and Christy, a former make-up artist, spent their honeymoon and first wedding anniversary in an Iraqi village, saying they were simply called by faith.

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Michael Peel in FT on the anthology, Khaki Capital – The Political Economy of the Military in Southeast Asia.
Militaries have asserted themselves in business from contrasting starting points. Modern-day armed forces are the products of national liberation wars in Vietnam and Indonesia, post-imperial turbulence in the Philippines, and non-colonial evolution in Thailand. Generals have held power directly for years in Indonesia, Thailand and Myanmar, whereas Cambodia has become a tightly controlled quasi-democracy, and Vietnam and Laos remain one-party Communist states. Southeast Asian khaki capitalism has also been fuelled from abroad. The US, Soviet Union and China all sent large amounts of military and economic aid to the region during the cold war. Armed forces were tasked in many cases not only with security but also rural development, giving them new avenues to win business contracts and amass wealth.

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NEW DELHI TIMES: Syria Sees Increase in Uighur Militants.
There are parallels that can be drawn between the East Turkistan Islamic Movement/Party (ETIM/ETIP) and the the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan (IMU). The East Turkistan Islamic Movement/Party (ETIM/ETIP) started its activities against the Chinese government in the late 1990s, when its presence in Afghanistan was first reported. It was probably influenced by another Central Asian militant Islamist group, which was also in its early stages in Afghanistan in those years, after having been forced out of Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. Since then, ETIM has maintained very close relations with the IMU. The two groups have been closely cooperation have often followed each other’s political and military trajectories very closely. The two groups, for example, have been operating together in Afghanistan since 2001, co-operating with groups of Taliban and Al-Qaeda militants. Typically, ETIM fighters would be mixed with IMU fighters in the same tactical units. After some years, ETIM also made attempts at infiltration in the Central Asian countries, but relatively on a smaller scale, in close co-operation with the IMU. The surge for supremacy between Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State for projecting themselves as the custodians of global Islamist militancy has had a deep impact on the IMU, which as of spring 2017 had disintegrated into five different groups, without counting older splits. Debates have started within the IMU over ideological alliances; primarily on the issue of affiliating with the Islamic State as opposed to Al-Qaeda, and the degree of cooperation with the Central Asian Islamist with Al Qaeda.

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Simon Tisdall at GUARDIAN, Was Mugabe’s Fall a Result of China’s Flexing Its Muscle? .
A visit to Beijing last Friday by Zimbabwe’s military chief, General Constantino Chiwenga, has fuelled suspicions that China may have given the green light to this week’s army takeover in Harare. If so, the world may just have witnessed the first example of a covert coup d’etat of the kind once favoured by the CIA and Britain’s MI6, but conceived and executed with the tacit support of the 21st century’s new global superpower. Military vehicles take control of the streets of Harare in the early hours. South Africa says Mugabe has told its president, Jacob Zuma, by telephone that he is under house arrest but is "fine". China, Africa’s biggest foreign investor, has more at stake in Zimbabwe, and more political influence, than any other state. This is largely due to its extensive investments in the mining, agriculture, energy and construction sectors. China was Zimbabwe’s top trade partner in 2015, buying 28% of its exports. But the Chinese connection is about more than money. The pre-independence guerrilla force led to victory by Robert Mugabe, the 93-year-old Zimbabwean president detained by the military on Tuesday night, was financed and armed by the Chinese in the 1970s.

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Amy Qin in NYT, A Bollywood Smash With a Twist, in China’s Cultural Battle with India.
Featuring the Bollywood star Aamir Khan, Dangal was India’s first big hit at the Chinese box office. It took in more than $194 million in two months, making it one of the 20 highest-grossing films of all time in China. In cinemas across the country, moviegoers cheered and grew misty-eyed in one particularly moving scene as the Indian flag was raised to the tune of the Indian national anthem. While China’s film industry has long sought both to emulate and compete with Hollywood, the runaway success of Dangal has prompted Chinese production companies to turn their gaze from West to East. Suddenly, Chinese companies are racing to snap up all things Bollywood — partnerships and distribution rights, but also Indian directors and screenwriters. And that has led to some unease.

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Erich Schwartzel in WSJ, China’s Hollywood Challenge.
Beijing-based Shinework Media has an entire Belt & Road slate of productions planned with producers from countries along the route. It includes a comedy with Iran, a sports drama with Brazil, and a disaster epic with Indonesia. The film projects come as China makes other One Belt, One Road investments, including high-speed rail and oil pipelines, in those and neighboring countries.

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Patrick Brzeski in HOLLYWOOD REPORTER, No China’s Not Over.
"In the past, many tried to co-produce a film that can work in all markets, but it is very difficult to bridge Chinese and Western cultures," says Song Ge, chairman of Beijing Culture Media, currently one of the hottest studios in Beijing. "Now we are taking a more targeted approach and thinking more strategically about how we collaborate." Action star Wu Jing's smash hit Wolf Warrior 2, which Song's Beijing Culture co-produced, could be the box-office phenomenon that launches the new model. The film blends a story of emphatically Chinese patriotic appeal — the tagline: "Whoever attacks China will be killed no matter how far the target is" — with a level of action-flick proficiency previously unseen. The Hollywood dazzle came courtesy of Marvel mainstays Joe and Anthony Russo (the duo is at work on the next Avengers film), who consulted on the project via a deal with Beijing Culture. "The American team helped Wu Jing make a stronger film," says Song. This proved to be a winning formula: Although it did limited business overseas, Wolf Warrior 2 grossed $854 million in China alone, the second-biggest single-market gross ever behind only J.J. Abrams' Star Wars: The Force Awakens ($936.7 million in North America). Song says this type of project-specific, piecemeal collaboration will be a feature of the Chinese film industry going forward — the company recently hired Oscar-winning producer Barrie M. Osborne (The Lord of the Rings) and a U.S. stunt team to consult on its forthcoming fantasy epic The Creation of Gods.

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Erich Schwartzel in WSJ, Helping China Make Movies: Director of ‘Die Hard 2’.
Colleagues on set told Mr. Harlin that Chinese viewers wouldn’t understand “attention shoppers,” forcing his translators to search for a replacement. Sarcasm is often lost on Chinese viewers, too. Mr. Harlin debated dropping the line altogether. Mr. Cheung, though, opted to keep it – thinking younger Chinese audiences familiar with Hollywood-style heroes will find his character cool. “It’s like an additive flavor in this movie, that mix of East and West,” said Mr. Cheung. Antiheroes or villains who get away with their crime are also a no-go, turning nearly every Chinese movie into a morality play. Mr. Cheung’s doctor cannot directly kill the main villain, as he inevitably would in most Western narratives. Having a vigilante act as a law enforcer would be morally suspect for Chinese audiences – and censors – so the bad guy dies at his own hand, giving Mr. Harlin’s hero the distance he needs to remain pure.

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Tom Hancock in FT, Beijing Woos Highly Paid A-list Actors.
This year, the Communist Party has attempted to channel celebrities’ charisma into its own propaganda. It has ordered Chinese cinemas to play short films celebrating themes such as “core socialist values” and featuring movie stars such as [Jackie] Chan before every movie screening. It also gathered 100 of China’s top filmmakers, actors and pop stars in the city of Hangzhou for a day last month to study the “spirit” of October’s party congress, which bolstered the status of President Xi Jinping. But the party has registered little success to date in reining in A-listers’ rampant fees, despite surveys showing their unpopularity with the public.

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Daniel Stacey & Alastair Gale in WSJ, Japan, India Slowed in Bid to Curb China.
Experts say India has long believed its vast land and sea borders were best left undeveloped to avoid providing useful infrastructure for potential invaders. Now, with China building highways along India’s Himalayan border and constructing ports in neighboring countries, India is facing the reality that it needs to spend heavily to keep up. Key strategic sites in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, an Indian archipelago at the eastern gateway to the Indian Ocean, haven’t been developed, even as China has forged ahead with new ports in Pakistan and Sri Lanka. The U.S. has been largely hamstrung in its offers to help. Indian authorities have rejected six requests by the U.S. Navy to dock ships at the Andamans in recent years, an official said, linking those rejections to China’s expressions of displeasure about the role of the U.S. in the Indian Ocean. In the place of U.S. support, Japan has offered to step in.

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Shawn Donnan in FT, US, EU and Japan to Link Up on China Trade.
The EU, Japan and the US are set to announce a new alliance to take on China more aggressively over trade issues such as overcapacity in steel and forced technology transfers, in a rare effort at international economic co-operation by the Trump administration. In a statement due to be issued on Tuesday on the sidelines of a World Trade Organization meeting, the three economies will target the “severe excess capacity” in important sectors like steel and the role of illegal subsidies, state financing and state-owned enterprises in fuelling it, according to a draft read to the Financial Times. Also targeted are the rules in countries such as China that require foreign investors to hand over important proprietary technologies or house content and data on local servers.

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Ankit Srivastava in NEW DELHI TIMES, Shanghai Cooperation Organisation Admits India and Pakistan: Quarrelling Country Cousins Worry China.
The Shanghai Five began on April 26, 1996 comprising of China, Russia, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan. That became Shanghai Cooperation Organisation when Uzbekistan joined the group in June 2001 as sixth member. With focus on military cooperation, intelligence sharing and counter-terrorism operations in Central Asia. SCO is the only organisation in the world to combine military with economic cooperation. India and Pakistan availed observer status along with Iran, Afghanistan, Mongolia and Belarus. During Ufa summit, the SCO formally adopted a resolution to begin the process of admission of India and Pakistan as full members. The Memorandum of Obligations was signed on June 26, 2016 at the Tashkent summit that has now led to their admission as full time members during Astana summit in Kazakhstan in May 2017. India and Pakistan also became the first nations to be inducted as members since the formation of SCO to expand the scope of the group from China, Russia and Central Asian countries to South Asia, covering over 60 per cent of Eurasia. Once the euphoria dies down, the teething problems of expanded membership will come to focus. The hostility between the two states is too ingrained to be settled in the short time. Add to that their complicated relations with China and Russia, the admission could be a Trojan horse to drag more internal conflicts into SCO than it can handle. The SCO has seen how the estrangement between India and Pakistan rendered an established organisation like SAARC dysfunctional overnight.

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Maxwell Carter in WSJ on Audrey Truschke’s book, Aurangzeb.
The first Mughal emperor, Babur, wrested power from the Lodi dynasty in 1526 and wrote one of the world’s outstanding memoirs; the second, Humayun, rallied from defeat and exile to restore Mughal sovereignty in 1555; the third, Akbar, promoted an exemplary religious syncretism, abolishing the poll tax for non-Muslims in 1564; the fourth, Jahangir, was Mughal portraiture’s keenest patron and connoisseur; and the fifth, Shah Jahan, built Delhi’s Red Fort and the Taj Mahal. His son, Aurangzeb, the last of the so-called great Mughal emperors, whose reign spanned nearly 50 years (1658-1707), enlarged the empire’s borders to their furthest extent.

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Russell Goldman in NYT, Muslims’ Protest in Indonesia Puts Deity Under Wraps.
The Islamist campaign against the statue, a depiction of the third-century general Guan Yu, who is worshiped as a god in several Chinese religions, began online and soon spread to the gates of a Chinese Confucian temple in Tuban, near the Java Sea coast, where the figure was erected last month. On social media, Muslims assailed the statue as an “uncivilized” affront to Islam and the island’s “home people,” and a mob gathered this week outside the East Java legislature in the city of Surabaya to demand its destruction. Statues deemed un-Islamic have been destroyed or vandalized around Indonesia in recent years, and several Chinese temples have been set on fire. Covering the statue with a large white tarp was a stopgap measure proposed by the temple’s officials after a governmental religious body pushed them to find a solution.

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Mark Ives in NYT, Ultranationalist Monks in Myanmar, Facing Crackdown, Say They’re Unrepentant.
Ma Ba Tha has long denied promoting violence, but critics say that its statements — which often go viral on social media — have clearly fueled it. “You can be full of kindness and love, but you cannot sleep next to a mad dog,” Ma Ba Tha’s best-known ultranationalist monk, Ashin Wirathu, said in a 2013 sermon, referring to Muslims. Analysts say the Buddhist authority’s directive, and Ma Ba Tha’s headstrong reply, illustrate a central challenge facing the governing National League for Democracy, the political party led by the Nobel Peace Prize laureate Daw Aung San Suu Kyi. The government’s crackdown on Ma Ba Tha, they say, could ease pressure on Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi from rights advocates overseas who have criticized her inability — or perhaps unwillingness — to curb state-sanctioned violence against Rohingya who live in western Myanmar. However, the analysts said, it could also drive Ma Ba Tha’s supporters toward political parties that increasingly embrace hard-line Buddhist rhetoric, including one party that is linked to the military junta that ruled Myanmar for decades until 2011.

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Richard Paddock in NYT, Ethnic Purge Elevates Myanmar’s Other Leader.
Min Aung Hlaing graduated in 1977 and became an infantry officer in a military whose existence had largely been defined by its wars against ethnic minorities. It waged a ruthless counterinsurgency strategy known as the “Four Cuts,” isolating rebels from civilian support by violently severing their access to food, money, intelligence and recruits. “Burning villages is what they have done for years,” Mr. Mathieson said. “He would have risen in the ranks in the ’80s when this was happening all the time.” …One of his commanding officers, Mr. Hla Oo said, was a colonel named Than Shwe, who later became senior general and head of the ruling clique. In early 2009, Min Aung Hlaing was named chief of the Bureau of Special Operations-2, overseeing northeastern Myanmar. In July and August that year, his troops targeted rebels in Shan State campaigns that drove nearly 50,000 people from their homes. “This campaign has been carried out coldbloodedly and systematically,” Kham Harn Fah, director of the Shan Human Rights Foundation, said at the time. “The troops commandeered petrol to burn down the houses, and radioed repeatedly to their headquarters as the buildings went up in flames.” The assault in the Kokang region of northern Shan State began after the military, known as the Tatmadaw, tried to arrest a popular Kokang leader, Pheung Kya-shin. Fighting erupted, dozens were killed and 37,000 refugees fled into China. Mr. Pheung accused soldiers of robbing, raping and killing civilians. In March 2011, Senior Gen. Than Shwe bypassed older and more experienced generals and picked Min Aung Hlaing, then a young lieutenant general, as commander-in-chief. His selection was part of the junta leader’s plan to restructure the government under the new Constitution. Then in his mid-70s, Than Shwe needed a trusted successor who would not hold him accountable in retirement for his brutal reign or his accumulation of personal wealth. Than Shwe put two other top generals into civilian positions, including Thein Sein as president, and dissolved the junta in 2011. In 2013, Min Aung Hlaing took on the title of senior general previously held by his mentor. It is unclear who promoted him.

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Robert Kaplan in WSJ on Richard McGregor’s book, Asia’s Reckoning.
It was only the security guarantee provided by the U.S. Navy that allowed Asian countries not to fear one another and thus to concentrate on building their economies instead of their militaries. The result has been the Asian economic miracle, which began to gagther force in the late 1970s and has continued to the present day. Of course, Asians themselves have ascribed their success to “Asian values” – the emphasis on order and hierarchy embodied in the Confucian ethos. But “the region’s peaceful postwar coexistence, far from being somehow organic to local political cultures,” notes Richard McGregor in Asia’s Reckoning, “had been underwritten by the U.S. military.” Now the situation is changing. The rise of the Chinese navy and the arms race that it has set off across Asia have made the region’s stability tenuous.

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Yaroslav Trofimov in WSJ, Central Asians Bridge Divisions.
The most progress so far as been made between Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan, which have had frosty relations since the Soviet Union’s collapse in 1991, with festering disputes over frontiers, water allocation and minority rights. The Soviet-drawn border has left two fully isolated Uzbek enclaves in Kyrgyzstan and a small Kyrgyz enclave in Uzbekistan. Travel between the nations was restricted by Uzbekistan following the 2005 Islamist-inspired uprising in the Uzbek section of the Fergana Valley, near the Kyrgyz frontier. Such travel became virtually impossible after 2010. Last month, jubilant crowds gathered as Uzbek-Kyrgyz border checkpoints in the valley fully reopened, allowing people on both sides to visit relatives and friends they hadn’t seen in years.

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Thomas Erdbrink in NYT, As Toll Rises Iran Says ISIS Recruited Attackers from Within Country.
Official Iranian news accounts said the men were killed and the woman blew herself up. It was Iran’s worst episode of terrorism in years, exposing security lapses and undermining government assertions that the country is a beacon of calm in the volatile Middle East. The attacks also appeared to be the first time that Iran, a predominantly Shiite Muslim nation, had been successfully targeted by the Islamic State, which considers Shiites to be religious traitors. A government statement issued Thursday about the attacks said the male assailants had left Iran at an unspecified time to fight for the Islamic State in Mosul, Iraq, and in Raqqa, Syria, the group’s de facto capital. They returned to Iran last July or August under the leadership of a commander with the nom de guerre Abu Aisha, the statement said, and had “intended to carry out terrorist operations in religious cities.” The statement did not specify whether they were Iranian citizens or provide further information about the female assailant. But Reza Seifollahi, deputy chief of the Supreme National Security Council, was quoted by the independent newspaper Shargh as saying the men were Iranian. If true, that would be an unusual acknowledgment, given the antipathy between the Islamic State and Iran.

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Shabnam Madadzadeh in WSJ, Iran Remembers the Murderous Summer of 1988.
Although the regime has tried to force Iranians to foregt 1988, the crimes committed were so vast that this was impossible. An estimated 20,000 people, mainly MIK activists, were executed. Their “trials” usually lasted minutes…. The mass burial sites of 1988 remain largely unknown, and the public is banned from visiting any that have been uncovered, like those in Tehran’s Khavaran area. Nevertheless, mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers have been doing so for the past 29 years.

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Thomas Erdbrink in NYT, Iran Saps Strength of Revolutionary Guards with Arrests and Cutbacks.
For years, the construction giant and numerous other companies and conglomerates run by the Revolutionary Guards have operated with impunity, well beyond the reach of civilian authorities, driving Iran’s sanctions-crippled economy, financing its military adventures in the region and — not coincidentally — enriching the hard-line commanders and clerics at their helms. But now, with many sanctions lifted after the nuclear deal, and as the government tries to open the country to competition and foreign investment, the group’s economic dominance is increasingly seen as a liability. The Revolutionary Guards’ international reputation for regional meddling, its potential designation as a terrorist group by the Trump administration and the sanctions that remain in place combine to make it a toxic business partner for the Western and Asian companies Tehran needs to reinvigorate its economy and rebuild its crumbling infrastructure. As a result, it has had its budget cut and seen large government projects that were once its private preserve steered to outsiders.

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Christopher Carroll in WSJ on G.W. Bowersock’s book, The Crucible of Islam.
Islam, he stresses, emerged from an environment that was already rich in religion – Judaism, Christianity and polytheism – and rife with religious conflict. There were even other monotheist prophets contemporary with Muhammad, including Musaylima, who is “alleged to have had his own unique god called Rahman, his own revelations, and his own Qur’an.” Later chapters cover the Arab invasions of the 630s and 640s. Here Mr. Bowersock challenges the commonly held idea that the lands conquered by the Muslim armies were shattered and exhausted from conflicts between the Persians and the Eastern Roman Empire, easy pickings for the Muslim armies. “In pacifying and administering the regions they had conquered, [the Persians] created a world that was not much different from what it had been before, with its rich traditions of Judaism, Christianity, and Hellenism.” Many of the conquered territories – like Jerusalem – capitulated not out of hopeless exasperation but out of a belief that surrender would be the best way to preserve their way of life.

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Yaroslav Trofimov in WSJ, Echoes of Putin and Xi in Kingdom’s Purge of Power Brokers.
This weekend’s purge, which follows an earlier wave of arrests and the dismissal of Prince Muhammed’s predecessor as crown prince, former interior minister Mohammed bin Nayef, is unprecedented in modern Saudi history. Those detained include leading business and media tycoons, senior princes and the main policy makers of previous Saudi administrations. While corruption is widespread at the top rungs of the Saudi royal family and business elite, the reasons for targeting these individuals – just as was the case in Russia’s and China’s anti-graft campaigns – have more to do with Prince Mohammed’s consolidation of power than administering justice, according to analysts and diplomats.

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Dan Bilefsky in NYT, In Turkish Schools Darwin Is Out and Jihad In.
“The reason Turkey is not Pakistan is that generations have been exposed to a secular public education,” Mr. Cagaptay said. “But for Erdogan, who comes from the other side of the tracks and feels religion was marginalized for decades, this is his revenge.” Politicians across the political spectrum criticized the changes. When they were first highlighted this summer, a leading teachers union called them an effort to stymie the raising of “generations who ask questions.” Turkey’s education system, which has long provided a secular education to religious and secular students alike, has come under scrutiny by the government following the attempted coup on July 15, 2016, culminating in the firing of more than 33,000 teachers and the closing of scores of schools. At the same time, the ruling Islamic-inspired Justice and Development Party has significantly increased the number of religious schools, known as imam hatip schools, and promoted Mr. Erdogan’s professed goal of raising a “pious generation” of Turks. Following the new changes, evolutionary concepts like natural selection will be removed from the high school curriculum, along with any mention of Darwin, the English naturalist whose theory has become a mainstay of biology classes around the world.

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Patrick Kingsley in NYT, Greek Government Is Accused of Deporting Asylum Seekers to Placate Turkey.
The Greek government denies that account, by the Hellenic League for Human Rights and the International Federation for Human Rights, which say that twice in the last few weeks, on May 24 and June 2, Turks fleeing persecution have been shipped back to their country. The Hellenic League documented a total of 17 forcible deportations, or pushbacks, including those of seven children. The pushbacks followed a pattern, according to the league. The Greek police drove the asylum seekers in a van to a meeting point where they were handed over to masked armed men. These men then forced the refugees onto a boat that was sent across the Evros River to Turkey.

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Nikolaj Nielsen at euobserver.com, Turkey Received €1bn in EU Money to Develop Democracy.
A European Commission spokesperson told Euobserver earlier this month some €979.6 million was paid out between 2007 and April this year with more likely to come given Turkey's continued candidacy for EU membership. Thank you for reading EUobserver! Subscribe now for a 30 day free trial. 1. €150 per year 2. or €15 per month 3. Cancel anytime Not now Register EUobserver is an independent, not-for-profit news organization that publishes daily news reports, analysis, and investigations from Brussels and the EU member states. We are an indispensable news source for anyone who wants to know what is going on in the EU. We are mainly funded by advertising and subscription revenues. As advertising revenues are falling fast, we depend on subscription revenues to support our journalism. For group, corporate or student subscriptions, please contact us. See also our full Terms of Use. If you already have an account click here to login. The commission also said it was closely reviewing ongoing and future financial assistance for Turkey "to make sure it is fully in line with our interests and values." But Turkey's backsliding into an autocracy led by its president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has, since last July, led to over 50,000 arrests, some 100,000 detentions, 138,000 job sackings, and close to 2,100 schools being shut down. Of those, 234 journalists have been arrested, over 4,400 judges and prosecutors dismissed, and around 8,270 academics fired. Earlier this month, Taner Kilic, the chair of Amnesty International Turkey, had also been detained by the police along with 22 other lawyers. He was then charged of belonging to a terrorist organisation.

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Yaakov Katz in JERUSALEM POST, In Possible Nod to Israel, Two Top Saudi Officials Visit Paris Synagogue.
The officials were Secretary General of the Muslim World League Dr. Muhammad Abdul-Kareem al-Issa, a former Saudi justice minister, and Khalid bin Mohammed Al Angari, a former Saudi education minister who currently serves as Riyadh’s ambassador to France. The Muslim World League is an international Islamic NGO based in Mecca that works to spread Islam. Alongside al-Issa’s work in the league, he also serves as an official adviser to the royal court in Riyadh and to the Saudi minister of defense. The pair, who visited the Grand Synagogue in Paris on Monday, were hosted by France’s Chief Rabbi Haim Korsia and the synagogue’s rabbi, Moshe Sebbag. Sebbag and Korsia removed a Torah scroll from the Ark during the visit and showed it to the Saudi officials, explaining the significance of the text and showing them various ornaments in the sanctuary.

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Jason Horowitz in NYT, Italian Youths Find Mission in Disrupting Migration.
It began in May, when Mr. Fiato, a leader of the Italian branch of a European right-wing movement that calls itself identitarian, joined his allies in using an inflatable raft to momentarily delay a ship carrying Doctors Without Borders personnel that was chartered to rescue migrants at sea. The tactic appalled human rights organizations, which argued that the activists, mostly in their 20s, threatened the lives of desperate migrants making the perilous journey across the Mediterranean Sea. But it also attracted publicity, new members and, identitarians say, at least $100,000 in private donations. That money went to Defend Europe, a project that included as its centerpiece the chartering of a 130-foot ship previously used off the Horn of Africa. Mr. Fiato and his allies around Europe suspect aid ships of colluding with human traffickers and believe migration amounts to a Muslim invasion. They wanted to disrupt and monitor the operations of rescue vessels and make sure they did not cross into Libyan waters, cooperate with human traffickers or bring more migrants to Europe’s shores.

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Alexander Stille in NY REVIEW OF BOOKS on Zekeria Ould Ahmed Salem’s book, Preaching in the Desert – Political Islam and Social Change in Mauritania.
On April 27, 2012, the prominent political figure Biram Dah Abeid held a demonstration near his local mosque and, before a stunned crowd of followers, burned a set of Islamic religious-legal texts that had been used for centuries to justify slavery in Mauritania. Abeid fully intended to challenge and provoke Mauritania’s religious and political authorities. Quite predictably, he was arrested the next day and crowds of demonstrators demanded that he be put to death for blasphemy, a serious crime under Islamic religious law. The book burning produced an intense debate among religious scholars about the status of slavery in Islam and inspired counterdemonstrations by former slaves who supported Abeid. After a few months in prison, he was released. This auto-da-fe, in Salem’s view, reflects not only the bold self-confidence of a new generation of abolitionist leaders but also the degree to which social conflicts in Mauritania tend to invoke the language of religion. “It is extremely significant,” Salem told me at his house in Nouakchott, “that Biram carried out his book burning after Friday prayers and with the blessing of an imam.”

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Dionne Searcey & Jaime Yaya Barry in NYT, An Old Enemy for Sub-Saharan Migrants: Bigotry.
Libyan smugglers call them “burned,” a racial epithet sometimes used in the country for people whose skin color is black. And while many of the migrants who pass through Libya hoping to set sail for Italy are beaten and otherwise abused by smugglers, Mr. Drammeh believes his treatment was especially harsh because of his skin color. Fellow Muslims — even children — refused to let him pray alongside them. “They think they’re better than us,” Mr. Drammeh, who is 18, said by phone from a refugee camp in Italy. “They say we’re created different from them.”

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Caroline Elkins in WSJ on Lawrence James’ book, Empires in the Sun.
From the get-go, Mr. James gazes into his historical crystal ball and declares how, without European colonization of Africa – formalized in Berlin in 1884-85 – the continent would have descended into horror. Africa’s partition was an act of European mercy. Had it not occurred, “Africa’s subsequent history might have followed the pattern of Europe’s in the Dark and Early Middle Ages, with intermittent regional wars for political supremacy and consolidation.” Mr. James’s subtitle, “The Struggle for the Mastery of Africa,” tips his historical hand. “War had always been endemic in Africa,” the author avers, as had an Islamism “untroubled by slavery.” In contrast, “Britain was the friend of the weak and the oppressed and a nation deeply aware of its collective Christian duty.”

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Norimitsu Onishi in NYT, As Colonizer Flounders, Angola Flaunts Riches.
Angola had been at war — fighting for independence from Portugal, which came in 1975, and then locked in a civil war — for four decades by the time peace finally arrived in 2002. Peace coincided with an extended oil boom that eventually propelled Angola, with only 25 million people, to become one of the top 20 oil producers in the world. It was an extraordinary turnaround for a country that had been dominated for centuries by Portugal, which exploited Angola for the slave trade and its natural resources, before falling into a long and costly civil war fueled by the Cold War. But the oil boom disproportionately benefited Angola’s governing elite, who moved enormous sums abroad. Between 2002 and 2015, Angolan companies and individuals poured $189 billion outside the country into often opaque investments, according to the Catholic University of Angola’s Center for Studies and Scientific Research in Luanda. Inside Angola, one of the world’s most unequal societies, half of the working population lives on less than $3.10 a day. Meanwhile, its former colonial ruler, Portugal, suffered from a financial crisis that forced it to obtain a $111 billion bailout from international creditors and downgraded its national debt, rated junk to this day. Portugal was desperate for investment.

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Kimiko de Freytas-Tamura in NYT, ‘We Are Everywhere’: How Ethiopia Became a Land of Prying Eyes.
Mr. Alene’s loyalty to the governing party has earned him handsome rewards. He was given the title of “model farmer” and has been granted plots of land and other benefits like farm animals, a cellphone, the gun he turned on his neighbor and a radio, which he keeps under lock and key. “I am No. 1,” he exclaimed recently in the village pub, sitting against a wall stacked with sacks of fertilizer and drinking home-brewed beer poured into what used to be a can of chickpeas. “I feel great happiness,” he added. Ethiopia is unlike many countries in Africa, where the power of the state often reaches beyond the capital in name only. More organized, more ambitious and more centrally controlled than a lot of governments on the continent, the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (a coalition of four regional parties), which controls this mountainous, semiarid but spectacularly beautiful land of just over 100 million people, intends to transform it into a middle-income country by 2025. Achieving that goal, in a country that 30 years ago was a byword for famine, means realizing a plan of rapid industrial and agricultural growth modeled on the success stories of Asia. Ethiopia is relying on state-driven development rather than the Western-style liberalization that in the 1980s and 1990s hurt many economies across Africa, like Ghana and the Ivory Coast.

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Amanda DeMarco in WSJ on Christa Wolf’s book, One Day a Year.
To the end, she saw things in terms of “us” and “them,” and she doesn’t hesitate to speak on behalf of “us” – a concept that could telescope from former citizens of the GDR to what we now call the 99%. Her oppositional thinking is understandable in a cloistered, struggling society but maladapted to a global, interconnected modernity. In her own eyes she remained an easterner, a child of war, and a mourner of a great civilizational project whose failure whispered things about the nature of humanity that she didn’t want to hear.

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John O’Sullivan in CLAREMONT REVIEW OF BOOKS on James Kirchick’s book, The End of Europe, and Douglas Murray’s book, The Strange Death of Europe.
Legal attempts to regulate immigration were made by governments, but the rules were quite liberal since politicians felt guilty about keeping out poor people from former colonies, and besides, the immigrants learned to game the system. So a modest but relentless rise in immigration continued, not much hindered by official controls, until Tony Blair became prime minister in 1997 and adopted a policy positively encouraging migration—to boost economic growth, official documents argued; to swamp the Tories electorally, said a Blair policymaker. The new policy accelerated the transformation of Britain into a multicultural society with racial and religious tensions; terrorist murders, bombings, and beheadings; physical attacks on gays in East London; the extraordinary epidemic of the rape and sexual grooming of underage girls by Pakistani Muslim gangs in Rotherham and in two dozen other provincial cities; hostile demonstrations against British soldiers returning from Afghanistan; an estimated (by the British Medical Association) 74,000 cases of female genital mutilation by 2006; the occasional honor killing; and excellent restaurants.

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Christopher Caldwell in WEEKLY STANDARD, A Less and Less Grand Coalition.
Even with merely moderate immigration, there are two countries that would see their Muslim population rise by more than 10 percent: Sweden and Britain. You begin to understand the electrifying effect that immigration had on the Brexit referendum: All these nations, even if no one dares to say it, are fighting for their demographic lives. And you begin to see how, under the surface of German politeness and historic repentance, people might be angered by the return of the Christian Democrat-Social Democrat grand coalition that got Germany into its immigration predicament. Normally a leader in Merkel’s position will pay a high price in policy and personnel for the support of a reluctant coalition partner like the SPD. But Merkel’s governing strategy has always been to upstage and demoralize the Social Democrats by preempting the issues they care about. She committed Germany to phasing out nuclear power, instituted quotas for women on corporate boards, and secured gay marriage (while professing to be personally opposed). Germany’s taboo against right-wing parties allowed Merkel to pull this off, protecting her from her own conservative voters. But the vote for the AfD and the FDP this fall is a sign that the taboo is losing its power.

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Ryszard Legutko in WSJ, Why the Eurocrats Can’t Stand Poland’s Law and Justice Party.
Western European governments and the leadership of EUY institutions have long rerated the countries of Eastern Europe as adolescents under their tutelage. European commissioner Gunther Oettinger asked the Polish government to bring legislative proposals to Brussels before submitting them to the Polish parliament. During an informal meeting with Polish politicians last year, German Chancellor Angela Merkel couldn’t disuise her irritation at Poland’s new economic relationship with China, arguing that such an opening should have had the blessing of “friends.” Most irritating to the Eurocrats has been the growing cooperation among the Visegrad Four – the Czech Republic, Hungary, Poland and Slovakia – and the Trimarium, composed of the V4, the three Baltic states, Austria, Slovenia, Croatia, Bulgaria and Romania. Poland has played a major role in bringing these Central and Eastern European perspectives together. The EU functionaries seek to enlarge their power by centralizing it. Watching Eastern European countries regain their political agency drives them crazy.

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Thomas Grove in WSJ, Underground, Finns Gird for Russia.
Much of Finland’s defensive planning has been shaped by its three-month war against the Soviet Union in the winter of 1939-40. In record cold temperatures, small groups of Finnish ski soldiers in winter camouflage picked off approaching Red Army soldiers in the forests. The Finns lost 10% of their territory to the Soviets, but maintained their sovereignty. Planning is still shaped by that experience – with an emphasis on survival and forcing the enemy into unfamiliar terrain – though it shifted, after the Cold War, to the tunnels. In March, Finland carried out a military exercise based on a recent, real-world scenario: The takeover of government buildings by foreign specialforces, like the Russians who seized installations in Crimea ahead of Moscow’s 2014 annexation of the Ukrainian peninsula.

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Walter Russell Mead in WSJ, Secessionism’s Dangerous Return.
There are approximately 34 million Igbo compared with seven million Bulgarians, six million Danes, and two million Slovenes. Nevertheless, a wave of secession movements in the developing world would be a geopolitical and humanitarian nightmare. South Sudan, Rwanda, Syria and Myanmar show what can result when ethnic and religious identity politics erupt in full force. As a result, with some rare exceptions (Eritrea, East Timor, South Sudan and Bangladesh) the world has looked askance at independence and secession movements in postcolonial countries. Western elites have fondly hoped that modernization – understood as economic development and the spread of democracy – would cause identity politics and ethno-nationalist grievances to fade. Yet the history of Europe from the Napoleonic Wars through the aftermath of World War I is the story of movements for national liberation that grew more powerful as economic and social development spread.

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Ioan Grillo in NYT, The Paradox of Mexico’s Mass Graves.
I’ve covered Mexico’s violence since 2001, but I am still dumbstruck by the extent to which normal life seems to carry on next door to such terrors. A study released last month found that at least 1,400 bodies were dug up from mass graves across the country between 2009 and 2014. And those are just a fraction of the 176,000 murders that police have counted here over the last decade. At the same time, Mexico has a trillion-dollar economy and is the eighth-most-visited tourist destination on the planet. The government denies there is an armed conflict going on. How can we understand this paradox and classify this bloodshed? Is it simply a horrendous crime problem, or is it an actual war? The question is not merely academic — it affects real-life decisions, like those of judges who decide whether people fleeing the violence can be classified as refugees.

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James Marson & Julian Barnes in WSJ, After Multiple Invasions, the U.S. Army Is Tired of Liberating Atropia.
“Candidly,” says Lt. Col. Joe Buccino of the 82nd Airborne Division, a veteran of multiple Atropia actions, “having liberated that place four times in 15 months, it is about time we let the Atropians provide security for themselves.” Atropia’s problem, it seems, is reality. It keeps interfering with an elaborately constructed military-training scenario. The U.S. Army’s training command in 2012 developed a rich back story for various ersatz countries in its war games. The fictional country of Atropia, according to the playbook, is a pro-western dictatorship. The Army ordered its training centers adopt the scenario.

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Ross Douthat in NYT, The West and What Comes After.
Wilder follows two black intellectuals and politicians, Aimé Césaire of Martinique and Léopold Sédar Senghor of Senegal, who shared a striking combination of anti-imperialist zeal and desire for continued political union with the French Republic. Césaire’s tiny Martinique did indeed become a French département. But in Senegal and Africa and the once-colonized world writ large, their project never had a chance. Once the age of empire ended, political separation became inevitable. Yet against critics who deemed both men sellouts and self-haters for desiring to remain in some sense French, Wilder argues that their vision was complex and potentially prophetic. They were Western-educated Francophones who read deeply in the European canon, who believed in the “miracle of Greek civilization,” who drew on Plato and Virgil and Pascal and Goethe. At the same time, they argued for their own race’s civilizational genius, for a negritude that turned a derogatory label into a celebration of African cultural distinctiveness.

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Musab Younis in LONDON REVIEW OF BOOKS on Gary Wilder’s book, Freedom Time – Negritude, Decolonisation and the Future of the World.
Eminent politicians in French-controlled West Africa were campaigning, like Césaire, for their countries to remain legally tied to France. In a referendum across the French Empire in September 1958 – two years before decolonization in French sub-Saharan Africa – only one country, Guinea, opted for outright independence. Senghor, the future president of independent Senegal and a close friend of Césaire (they had met in Paris as students), called for a federal structure that would bind France and its West African possessions in a new arrangement. Even as events seemed to tip the balance decisively in favour of national self-determination and a clean break – the Algerian war (from 1954), French withdrawal from Vietnam (1954), the independence of Morocco and Tunisia (1956), and Ghanaian independence (1957) – Senghor insisted that federation with France was essential for French-speaking West Africa. In 1955, by which time he had been an overseas deputy in the French National Assembly for ten years, he disparaged independence as an ‘iron collar’ and argued that federalism would herald a new area in which both Africans and Europeans would become full human beings, dispensing with the hierarchies that had divided them.

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David Reynolds in NY REVIEW OF BOOKS on Matthew Karp’s book, This Vast Southern Empire – Slaveholders at the Helm of American Foreign Policy.
Karp argues that, in fact, the South saw itself as ultra-modern and forward-looking. Slave countries like Brazil and Cuba, pro-slavery leaders held, were prospering while places where slavery had been abolished, such as Mexico and the West Indies, were faring poorly. Slavery, therefore, appeared to southerners to make excellent economic sense for the modern world. American champions of human bondage noted that even England, despite its official policy of abolition, exploited indigenous peoples in India, China, South Africa, and elsewhere…. The southern view, Karp reminds us, was bolstered by contemporary scientific ethnology, which identified “inferior” races destined to die off unless they had the protection and security offered by American-style slavery.

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Eric Foner in LONDON REVIEW OF BOOKS on Sydney Nathans’ book, A Mind to Stay – White Plantation, Black Homeland.
The Great Migration, as it came to be called, produced the modern urban ghettos of New York, Philadelphia, Chicago and other cities, which epitomized African-American life in the 20th century as surely as the Southern farm and plantation had in the 19th…. The fact is, however, that more blacks preferred to stay in the South than embark on the Great Migration, and far less attention has been paid to them.

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Clifford Thompson in WSJ on Lawrence Jackson’s book, Chester B. Himes.
As Mr. Jackson notes, Himes was “the rare black writer to earn official condemnation from the NAACP.” Another irony of Himes’s career is that the very source of his later fame and financial success likely excluded him, at least initially, from the loftier reaches of literary repute. With Cotton Comes to Harlem and the other slim, biting, funny, wonderful novels featuring the super-tough black Harlem detectives Grave Digger Jones and Coffin Ed Johnson, Himes forayed, as Wright, Ellison and Baldwin never did, into the supposedly less serious world of genre fiction. Grave Digger and Coffin Ed are neither stooges of their white-run police department nor revolutionaries with badges. They are cops – unsentimental, devoted to their jobs and to each other, given to occasional, laconic musing about the way things are but hardly kept awake at night by having shot criminals during the day.

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Darryl Pinckney in NY REVIEW OF BOOKS on Claude McKay’s book, Amiable with Big Teeth – A Novel of the Love Affair Between the Communists and the Poor Black Sheep of Harlem.
Then, too, it's as though McKay had got to that particular theme of anticommunism too early, or too rhetorically, too topically. He was writing his novel after the Hitler-Stalin pact had been made and broken. Yet his handling of politics differs so much in tone from that of the generation of black writers who found advancement with the Party when other doors to publication were closed to them because of racism. He remembered the tragic factional disputes in the early days of the Russian Revolution. Wright's brilliant autobiography, Black Boy, had its original ending of his fallout with the Communist Party cut when it was first published in 1945. The edited chapters were published on their own as American Hunger (1977). Among Chester Himes's early work is Lonely Crusade (1947), about Communist attempts to control a black union organizer at an airplane factory in California during the war. One of Wright's failures, The Outsider (1953), is also about Party efforts to manipulate a black frontman. And in Invisible Man, Ralph Ellison transforms his experience with the Communist Party into allegory. Perhaps the real difference is that McKay had never been one of the faithful, unlike [Langston] Hughes and Paul Robeson.

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Benjamin Nathans in NY REVIEW OF BOOKS on Yuri Slezkine’s book, The House of Government – A Saga of the Russian Revolution.
Yuri Slezkine’s monumental new study, The House of Government, also situates the Russian Revolution within a much larger drama, but one that resists the modernization narrative and instead places the Bolsheviks among ancient Zoroastrians and Israelites, early Christians and Muslims, Calvinists, Anabaptists, Puritans, Old Believers, Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Rastafarians, and other millenarian sects. As sworn enemies of religion, the Bolsheviks would have hated this casting decision and demanded to be put in a different play, preferably with Jacobins, Saint-Simonians, Marxists, and Communards in supporting roles. Slezkine, however, has claimed these groups for his story as well, insisting that underneath their secular costumes they too dreamed of hastening the apocalypse and building the Kingdom of Heaven on earth. The Bolsheviks, it seems, were condemned to repeat history—a history driven not by class struggle, as they thought, but by theology.

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Thomas Loy in NEW EASTERN EUROPE, The Jews of Central Asia.
In the 1920s and early 30s, thousands of Jews fled from Soviet Central Asia – not merely because of religion or ideology this time, but in order to escape state persecution and the rapid deterioration of living and working conditions under Bolshevik rule. Bukharan Jewish religious dignitaries and entrepreneurs – the so-called NEP-men – were the first ones who fled. At the end of the 1920s, Stalin disposed of the New Economic Policy (NEP) and set up the first Five-Year Plan. Forced collectivization and sedentarisation brought about a drastic deterioration of living conditions in Soviet Central Asia. Hundreds of thousands opted to flee to northern Afghanistan – among them about 4,000 Bukharan Jews (about one-tenth of the community) trying to make their way to Palestine. Almost every Jewish family had relatives or friends among the refugees. Others left the Uzbek Soviet Socialist Republic and moved to towns in the recently established Tajik SSR, where there were job prospects for the educated Tajik speakers.

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Gavin Jacobson in FT on Martin Goodman’s book, A History of Judaism, and Rebecca Abrams’ book, The Jewish Journey.
Writing to Martin Buber, the existentialist philosopher, in May 1917, the Austrian novelist Stefan Zweig set out his most passionate views on what he called “the Jewish question”. Seized by an irrepressible wanderlust, Zweig had spent the previous 10 years travelling throughout Europe, reveling in his being “homeless in the highest sense of the word”, where all places felt like home. “This supranational feeling of freedom from the madness of a fanatical world,” he wrote, “has saved me psychologically during these trying times, and I feel with gratitude that it is Judaism that has made this supranational feeling possible for me.”

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John Buntin in WSJ on Steven Ross’ book, Hitler in Los Angeles, and Laura Rosensweig’s book, Hollywood’s Spies.
Schwinn and his Nazi-friendly colleagues dreamed of “der Tag,” the day when fascist storm troopers would defeat communist insurgents and take control of the U.S. government. But was this ever more than a delusional dream? “Perhaps,” is Mr. Ross’s answer. A professor at the University of Southern California, Mr. Ross is a distinguished historian of prewar Los Angeles. For someone of his stature, “perhaps” is disappointing answer. Fortunately, Laura Rosensweig’s Hollywood’s Spies: The Undercover Surveillance of Nazis in Los Angeles supplies the context that is often missing from Mr. Ross’s book. She starts with Leon Lewis’s spy operation itself. Los Angeles, Ms. Rosenzweig explains, was a city in which “political espionage was standard operating procedure.” The business community funded (and provided office space to) the Los Angeles Police Department’s notorious “Red Squad,” which spied on communists and busted up labor unions. Citizen groups hired corrupt cops to rat out police misconduct. Communists angled for control of unions and ports. Business groups paid fascists to infiltrate the Communist Party. The Ku Klux Klan spied on both the fascists and the communists. In short, everyone was spying on everyone else.

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Andrew Ferguson in WEEKLY STANDARD, To Be Sure Nazis Are Evil.
There’s a trick in journalism called the “to-be-sure paragraph.” It is meant to get the readers off the reporter’s back, letting them know that the reporter is already familiar with the objections that may be forming in their minds. Say you’re writing a story for Times readers about the loveliness of rainbows. “To be sure,” the reporter will write, “the beauty we associate with rainbows often follows violent storms that tend to devastate poor areas while leaving wealthier enclaves relatively untouched.” Fausset’s real fault is that he didn’t salt his story with to-be-sure paragraphs. “He eats at Applebee’s,” he could have written, then reassured his readers by starting a new paragraph: “To be sure, eating at Applebee’s will do little to alter the fact that this Nazi is a creep.” “His pasta is delicious.” Then: “To be sure, delicious pasta doesn’t weigh much in the scales of this country’s history of racial injustice .??.??. ” Times readers are a needy bunch, craving reassurance at every turn. The reassurance they require is that their beliefs—even those that are shared by pretty much everybody, like anti-fascism—are true and righteous altogether. And they need to be reassured that the writers and editors of their favorite newspaper know this. They want to see it in print.

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Scott Stossel in WSJ on Nancy Schoenberger’s book, Wayne and Ford.
In retrospect, 1962 – the year of The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance – was probably the year that “John Wayne” as a plausible ideal of manhood expired. Ford’s heroic vision curdled into the gothic sensibility of the Spaghetti westerns and their offshoots. By 1970 the western as valorizer o the white-hatted masculine hero was effectively dead. Yet at this moment of reckoning for men, maybe there remains some benefit to resuscitating the ideal that John Wayne, at his most mythical, represented. Ms. Schoenberger’s affection for him, and for her own war-hero father, is palpable. And no less gimlet-eyed an observer than Joan Didion, writing in 1965, offered up Wayne as her romantic beau ideal. So OK, then: Print the legend.

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Andrew Ferguson in WEEKLY STANDARD, The More Times Are A-Changin’, the More They Stay the Same.
The classic formulation of the pro-Dylan argument was produced more than 15 years ago, during another Dylan plagiarism scandal, by a music critic for the New York Times: "The hoopla over [Dylan's plagiarism] is a symptom of a growing misunderstanding about culture's ownership and evolution, a misunderstanding that has accelerated as humanity's oral tradition migrates to the Internet. Ideas aren't meant to be carved in stone and left inviolate; they're meant to stimulate the next idea and the next." Though wrong about everything else, this Times writer was right on the money when he mentioned the subject of "ownership." It is the nub of the matter. When Dylan takes other people's stuff for his own work, he doesn't just pass it along so that others in the "folk tradition" can then take it and claim it for their own, as part of the long glorious evolution of culture. No, he copyrights it. He makes people who want to use it pay for it. And he's got a nice big house in Malibu to prove it.

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Jim Farber in NYT, The Gay Architects of Classic Rock.
The gay managers of that era were forthright about their sexuality, if only among friends and colleagues. Besides Mr. Epstein and Mr. Lambert, those men included Robert Stigwood (manager of Cream and the Bee Gees), Simon Napier-Bell (the Yardbirds, Marc Bolan), Billy Gaff (Rod Stewart), Ken Pitt (David Bowie), Barry Krost (Cat Stevens) and Larry Parnes (who molded pre-Beatles British rockers, including Tommy Steele and Billy Fury). Their sexual orientation was mirrored by Americans including Nat Weiss (who oversaw the Beatles’ business interests and later managed James Taylor), Danny Fields (who managed Iggy Pop and the Stooges and, later, the Ramones), as well as music moguls including David Geffen and Clive Davis (who identifies as bisexual). According to Mr. Napier-Bell, part of the reason British gay men of his era gravitated to the music business was because it was one of the few areas “where you could be out amongst yourselves. It was like a private club,” he said. “It was such a good life. You’d go to Robert Stigwood’s house and it was like a gay pub.” Jim Fouratt, who has worked in the music industry since the 1960s, believes the men in Mr. Napier-Bell’s circle brought to the emerging rock scene a special understanding of image. “As gay men, we have to remake ourselves in order to survive,” he said. “That matches perfectly with the masquerade of rock ’n’ roll, with the fantasy.”

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Heather Murphy in NYT, The ‘Gaydar’ Machine Causes an Uproar.
The software extracts information from thousands of facial data points, including nose width, mustache shape, eyebrows, corners of the mouth, hairline and even aspects of the face we don’t have words for. It then turns the faces into numbers. “We showed that this model produces slightly different numbers for gay and straight faces,” Dr. Kosinski said. The authors were then ready to pit their prediction model against humans in what would become a notorious gaydar competition. Both humans and machine were given pairings of two faces — one straight, one gay — and asked to pick who was more likely heterosexual. The participants, who were procured through Amazon Mechanical Turk, a supplier for digital tasks, were advised to “use the best of your intuition.” They made the correct selection 54 percent of the time for women and 61 percent of the time for men — slightly better than flipping a coin. Dr. Kosinski’s algorithm, by comparison, picked correctly 71 percent for of the time for women and 81 percent for men. When the computer was given five photos for each person instead of just one, accuracy rose to 83 percent for women and 91 percent for the men.

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Steven Poole in WSJ on Abigail Marsh’s book, The Fear Factory.
It turns out the amygdales of altruists are the opposite to those of psychopaths: They are bigger and more active than ordinary people’s when shown frightened faces. In other words, they have an unusually high empathetic response to others’ fear. Together with that, altruists tend to be more frightened themselves by things, and there seems to be a strong link between this fear and a more vivid understanding of the fear of the others they feel driven to save, whether by donating an organ or running into a burning house.

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Maudlyne Ihejirika in CST, Chicago Chronicles – Church Revival.
On Jan, 6, 2006, workers hired for a $500,000 restoration of Chicago’s historic Pilgrim Baptist Church accidentally set its roof on fire. As many watched — drawn physically to the block or glued to televisions — scorching orange flames swallowed the interior of the renowned landmark designed in 1890 by engineer Dankmar Adler and architect Louis Sullivan; with it, priceless history. Since then, the limestone shell at 3301 S. Indiana has stood a vacant sentinel over the national birthplace of gospel music. But no more. “When I got the call in 2015 to come out to the church, seeing the ruins and the braces holding up its walls almost made me cry,” says Don Jackson, CEO of Chicago-based Central City Productions and founder of the 32-year-old Stellar Gospel Music Awards…. At the announcement Friday at nearby Illinois Institute of Technology, gospel greats like Marvin Sapp, Smokie Norful, Donald Lawrence and Charles Jenkins will be in attendance to celebrate a project culminating the decade-long effort to pay tribute to Pilgrim’s long-time music director, the “Father of Gospel Music,” Thomas A. Dorsey. Pilgrim’s music director from 1932 until the late ’70s, the former blues pianist created the music genre by blending Christian praise with the rhythms of jazz and blues, and drew top singers who would become gospel greats to perform at the church, e.g. Mahalia Jackson, Albertina Walker, Aretha Franklin, Sallie Martin, James Cleveland and the Staples Singers.

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Janan Ganesh in FT, How Sport Beat the Anti-Globalists.
There is no mystery to the gold rush when sport commands so many paying spectators. The mystery is why sport holds out against the world’s general turn away from globalisation. To judge by the data, international trade volumes, foreign direct investment and cross-border stocks of financial assets peaked before or just after the crash. More ineffably, the moral momentum behind the idea of openness has passed, too. Even Britain and America, nations that shaped those 30 liberal years from Deng Xiaoping’s Open Door speech to the fall of Lehman Brothers, are having a nativist moment. And there, steadfastly, is sport, colour-blind, passport-blind and near-nihilist in its pursuit of competitive excellence above all claims of blood and soil. The easy reply is that sport can do this because it does not matter. It is what Hugh McIlvanney, the best writer on the subject that Britain has produced, called “our magnificent triviality”. Expose people to the same pitiless competition in the factory or the office, where normal wages are earned, and things like Brexit happen.

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Bill Pennington in NYT, Ready, Set, Gone! The N.F.L.’s Disappearing Huddle.
The origin of the huddle appears to date to the 1890s, when it was first used by players at a school for the deaf, Gallaudet University, where quarterbacks had been communicating to teammates using sign language. Because both teams in games were often from schools for the hearing-impaired, the opposition could discern the play call by watching the quarterback’s hands. Gallaudet quarterback Paul Hubbard’s solution was to summon teammates into a huddle that shielded his team’s intentions. The practice spread throughout football, especially as teams left behind primitive, run-only schemes for more sophisticated formations that included forward passes. Various other universities have staked a claim to inventing the huddle, including Illinois, Georgia and Oregon, although a majority of early-20th-century football historians point to Hubbard and Gallaudet, in Washington, D.C. What is certain is that a huddle soon followed every play as football spiked in popularity. Stories from and about the huddle, a unique convention in a major American sport, began to color the historical narrative of the game, whether it was the 1939 Heisman Trophy winner, Nile Kinnick, exhorting teammates in the huddle during an upset of Notre Dame or Baltimore Colts quarterback Unitas reconfiguring his team’s pass routes on the fly in the huddle.


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CT: Lost Sports Venues.

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Eric Zweig in NYT, When the N.H.L. Began Play, the Goalies Stood Tall. They Had to.

Small rosters and few substitutions meant the game was slower. Equipment was limited and rather primitive, providing only minimal protection. Players did not hit nearly as hard as they do today. The rules were different too. Forward passing was not yet permitted in the N.H.L.; it would begin to be phased in during the 1918-19 season. When play began with two games on Dec. 19, 1917, goalies were not even allowed to drop to the ice to make a save.... While perhaps not the game changer that forward passing became, it is hard to imagine modern hockey without goalies being allowed to leave their feet. Credit for the rule change has often been given to Clint Benedict, a Hall of Fame goalie with the Senators. Benedict’s habit of dropping to his knees to stop the puck had led Toronto fans to mockingly call him Praying Benny. “It was against the rules then,” Benedict told The Ottawa Journal in 1962, “but if you made it look like an accident, you could get away without a penalty. I got pretty good at it.”

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Obituaries of the Issue…

Johnny Bower (1924-2017)
Bower was one of hockey’s most talented and durable goalies. Facing flying pucks without donning a mask until his final full season, he lost almost all his teeth and needed at least 200 stitches in his face. He came out of his net to dive at opposing players on breakaways, exposing his face to their sharpened skates as he wielded his stick to poke-check the puck away….. “Glenn Hall, Terry Sawchuk, Jacques Plante, Johnny Bower — they were the heroes of my childhood,” Ken Dryden, the Montreal Canadiens’ Hall of Fame goalie, wrote in his book “The Game” (1983). “Performing before my adolescent eyes, they did unimaginable things in magical places. Everything they did was braver and better than I had ever seen before.”

Iulian Vlad (1931-2017)
Ceausescu sought to quell the uprising by ordering his security forces to shoot to kill instead of firing blanks — an order that General Vlad apparently disobeyed. Either because he was genuinely fed up with the failing regime or because he detected the shifting political winds, General Vlad declared on state radio — one day after Ceausescu fled the capital — that he was joining the revolutionaries. He later claimed credit, along with another general, Stefan Gusa, for averting a civil war and preventing Russia from seizing Moldova and Hungary from grabbing Transylvania. Ceausescu and his wife, Elena, were captured by soldiers, tried and executed on Christmas Day 1989. Adrian Nastase, a former prime minister of Romania, wrote on his blog this week that he respected General Vlad’s “efforts to temper the situation in the country before 1989 and to ensure the defense of the country’s interests at the end of the Cold War.”

U.R. Rao (1932-2017)
The roof leaked and equipment was being transported by ox carts and bicycles, but in the abandoned St. Mary Magdalene Church, along the southern coast of India, there was no room for pessimism. There, in 1962, with rocket prototypes crowding the pews, India’s space program was being born. And helping to steer it was U. R. Rao, who believed that science — particularly aerospace science — could help his country solve its food shortages and eradicate its poverty. He would begin toiling there, pursuing his vision with other scientists, from offices in a converted bishop’s house. Eighteen years later, on Nov. 21, 1980, their efforts bore fruit when the former churchyard became the scene of India’s first rocket launch, giving the country a foothold in an exclusive club of spacefaring nations.

















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