a new low in topical enlightenment

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Issue #95 (April 27, 2011)

On Highway 130

Photo by Joe Carducci

Being Bacri

by Carolyn Heinze

When it comes to actors and actresses, I’m only interested in a few or five or four. They spend so much time adopting foreign babies and not enough time focusing on their lines! Pour moi, it’s all about the directors. I don’t know about you, but I tip my beret to anyone who can get anything as colossal as a movie – any movie – off the ground. And into the studio. And out of the studio. And onto the screen.

And then there’s Jean-Pierre Bacri.

Jean-Pierre Bacri is a comédien (that’s ‘actor’ en français). He’s also a scénariste (that’s ‘screenwriter’). The directing? (La réalisation ?) When they collaborate, he leaves that up to the long-time love of his life: Agnès Jaoui. (I’ll tell you about her some other time.) (Oh, but word has it that between all of her directing and acting and screenwriting and singing, she went and adopted a couple of kids, too.) (From Brazil.) (What’s up with that?) (I mean, not the ‘Brazil’ part, but . . .)

Jean-Pierre Bacri is always being Jean-Pierre Bacri even when he’s not being Jean-Pierre Bacri. You know how Jack Nicholson is always being Jack Nicholson even when he’s not? As in when he’s Jack Nicholson playing a ‘role?’ Kind of like that. Only with Jean-Pierre Bacri, it kind of isn’t like that at all. Because Jean-Pierre Bacri has what we call la classe.

There is a certain tendency in a certain type of French cinéma to be, for certain, réaliste. This means that sometimes the actresses could use a little more make-up and sometimes the actors could use a little more time at the gym. (I think it has something to do with budget: Can you believe the price of personal trainers these days? And have you ever tried to purchase mascara in France? Without taking out a second mortgage? Especially ever since that merde with L’Oreal? Where they hid some money and evaded paying out other money and then paid out even more money to some goony guy? Some goony guy who wasn’t even doing his ‘job?’ And then they got caught?) (Ever since all that, cosmetics prices en France have gone through the roof!) (I mean, somebody’s gotta pay for all the lawyers and legals and paralegals and assistant legals…and the judging and the judgments…and the judge…)

Ahem. Anyway. It also means that in a certain type of French cinéma, certain actors and certain actresses certainly play themselves. What it doesn’t mean is that certain actors and certain actresses play cartoons of themselves. What I mean: No matter the film, no matter the role, with Jack Nicholson you’re always expecting him to pop his head through a door and snarl, “Here’s Johnny!” and then wiggle his eyebrows and away he goes. With Jean-Pierre Bacri, you’re mainly-mostly expecting him to frown. But not because he’s hamming it up; it’s just the way he is.

“They often say that I frown…” Bacri recently admitted to Le Monde Magazine. “Of course I frown! And I will continue to do so! When I have nothing to say and no reason to smile, I frown. That is to say, it’s my normal expression. My face frowns.”

In Avant l’aube (“Before Sunrise” literally, but The Night Clerk is the English title) Jean-Pierre Bacri plays an uncartoonish version of himself as one hell of a manipulative bastard. (Who, uncartoonishly, frowns.) It’s not a terribly special film, but it’s not all that terribly un-special either, shot in the Chabrolian spirit of an old-fashioned French film noir. (I don’t know if director Raphaël Jacoulot is actually a fan of the late Uncle Claude, but I’d be willing to put my mascara money on it.) The French would dub it ‘cinéma du dimanche’ – a sort of cinematic comfort food to nurse the Sunday evening hangover you ambitiously acquired on Saturday night. There are no good guys, not really, in this version of la France there never are…but there’s French murder and French mountains and French mayhem à la française . . . and all the (tastefully understated) social issues and class divisions and struggling ex-convicts and bitchy bourgeoisie to go with. If you don’t really know much about France or – gasp! – you don’t really ever care to, you’ll miss some of the nuances but c’est pas grave. If you’re in the loop, you’ll catch Jacoulot’s playful winks about what’s recently been going on in the Fifth Republic, and all of its unsocial, anti-social, anti-socially-responsible actualité. And, bien sûr, there’s Jean-Pierre Bacri.

“It wouldn’t bother me if they eliminated the word ‘fraternité’ from the Republic’s motto,” Bacri (presumably with a frown) told his interviewer from Le Monde, in reference to France’s revolutionary slogan Liberté Égalité Fraternité. “It’s too hypocritical. We need justice, and equality, but we don’t need to like each other. Respect largely suffices.”

Well, J-P, I can’t deny your logique, but there’s no reason to fret about forcing a smile just yet. If fraternité is hypocritical, le respect is still a way’s off. Which is good news for film-nerd chicks who are into guys who brood.

North of Highway 130

Photo by Joe Carducci

The Times Divided by Truth
by Joe Carducci

There seems to be two ways to get to write for the New York Times. The first is to be really good, an expert at what it is you cover, or reporter enough to track the story idea down and politic enough to fend off the politicos climbing ever higher up the masthead as you toil. Dave Kehr with his Sunday DVD column is the perfect expert matched to the perfect beat (see his Gaumont link below) -- doubly rare. Kehr doesn’t have to review the current flow of film releases at all, whereas the Times’ best music writer, Ben Ratliff, is often compelled by marketing demands (both external and internal) to review contemporary tripe just blown into town, and who cares about phrase-turning per se? (Here’s Ratliff’s latest, a telling review of the psychedelic Neil Young, solo-electric live.) In the NV we link weekly to what seems most interesting in the reportage and commentaries in five or six newspapers, and the New York Times is probably ahead of the Wall Street Journal as top source even though we lean away from it since more of our list reads it than read the business papers. It’s due to those best writers and thinkers at the paper and the resources it affords them that this is true here.

But there’s an easier way to write for the Times and that involves becoming an expert panderer to the needs of its compromised editorial board, which is still stuck in the old world of Manhattan hierarchy even as it tries to fence off its cyberspace spread (episodes include the taking of the formerly joint operation with the Washington Post of The International Herald Tribune, and the sandbagging of WikiLeaks as the Times simultaneously constructs its own instant imitation). The paper would be even worse if they weren’t now a national paper; that is worth remembering. Still judging by the characters in their television ads for “The Weekender” subscription they have a very narrow idea of prospective readers (You don’t need a link to see that again, but here’s a foul-mouthed parody “NYPost” version.). And whereas the Times’ reach used to extend through the three networks’ newscasts, it now seems most efficiently spread through the NPR news division and its civic affairs programming. There is almost a complete mindmeld between these institutions, which is why there was so much buzz to that idea that the Times go non-profit. Sure, they could actually be an NGO staffed by vicarious ex-pats; they’d be a less neurotic BBC -- there now, the only announcers speaking the King’s English properly anymore are the wogs.

Its in national political coverage that the Times editorial higher-ups make disinterested reportage as rare as they possibly can. Coverage from the many foreign desks and assignments seems based on assumptions both cultural and economic that are diametrically opposed to what is presumed to pertain here. Decadence is easier to see in Europe but its here too, albeit with an dronish puritanical gloss that Euros must see as uniquely American to their great covert amusement.

Here are recent examples of what I take to be sad, obvious, indulgent, sleepwalking that screams to me social coloration for mating advantage, rather than authentic contributions to anything. If you know what I’m talking ’bout, then for God’s sake skip these:

• David Leonhardt, "Do-Nothing Congress as a Cure". After which he was presented with one of them shiny Pulitzers, so shiny he’s got it made in its shade.

• Gretchen Morgenson & Louise Story, "In Financial Crisis, No Prosecutions of Top Figures", which could be called boo-bait for bubbie since it neglects to first call for the imprisonment of regulators, politicians, bureaucrats, who claim to be watching other folks stores. Those won’t be fired, or fined, or charged, they will have their budgets and responsibilities increased.

• Jill Lepore, "Poor Jane’s Almanac", can’t quite come up with the goods on the nearby males, she’s not that good a historian, witness her perches at The New Yorker, Harvard, and Princeton (they published her Tea Party book; who assigned it?!). So there’s a tension in this piece no amount of editing can relieve. Are we to admire Jane? Or regret her? Or blame Ben Franklin? Perhaps we ought interrogate her. All we can be sure of is Vote Democratic.

• Paul Krugman, "Patients are not consumers", wherein the Princeton economist successfully unknows that medicine hasn’t been in a laissez faire state of Doctor-Patient bliss for decades thanks to at least two levels of government, plus the courts, and the envious fallen profession of Law generally, as it makes its needs known through the state after which hospitals, offices, insurance companies all must pile on. And further, lets reduce the profession to wage labor, let them unionize so they can be as effective as the former teaching profession. This will cut costs by ending all this unmanageable progress in the medical sciences. It can’t be a Death Panel if there’s no treatment available, not with their attorneys.

• Janny Scott’s book, Why She Went, excerpted, which launders the motives of the president’s mother, somewhat as if Scott herself were back there in 1960 full of unnamable terrors so common to studentka coming out of the horrors of that second golden age of the American twentieth century, with thankfully no models along the lines of Bernadine Dohrn or Squeaky Fromme yet visible as cautionaries.

by Joe Carducci

Marc Myers hyperventilates over a new collection of the Robert Johnson masters in his Wall Street Journal review, "Still Standing at the Crossroads", and since Lightbourne isn’t around to correct him authoritatively I thought the least I could do is a short, drive-by knee-capping. This new collection is quite redundant since this Johnson has always been in reissue and usually in that un-hip, ersatz-omnibus edition Columbia Records way. And sure enough given the label’s Manhattan-Mitch Millerin’ heritage this indicates not that Robert is the preeminent delta blues practitioner Myers assumes, but rather a second-tier one. There is no shame in this given the scale of that first tier’s achievement, but it is important, otherwise, as Myers does, that first-tier is belittled.

The late David Lightbourne (died a year ago Friday, Apr. 29) thought that Charley Patton was the master of acoustic guitar delta blues. His recordings made between 1929 and 1934 were the people’s choice and the party records of that day so they survive mostly in beat-up, noisy copies of the old 78s. Following Patton in no particular order, I think he ranked Tommy Johnson, Skip James, Son House, and Mississippi John Hurt. Then probably Blind Willie McTell, Memphis Minnie, and Bukka White, before you get to the other, later Johnson, Robert. There’s more greats (Willie Brown, Frank Stokes, William Harris, Blind Willie Reynolds…) but they may have shorter discographies or were better writers than performers or were from other regions with less interesting stylistic variations. (David, for his own playing, liked to move the finger-picking style of the delta up to Memphis for jug band accompaniment; see his Stop & Listen Boys album, “Monkey Junk” for that.)

But it's like Robert Johnson had a better agent. He didn’t except that after his death, his label, the New York folk-commies, and the later British blues scene, none of which really knew much about American music, somehow took him and mistook his compelling story and dramatic death for somebody else’s earlier legend. Robert Palmer who did know a lot about American music contributed to this switching of the Johnsons too. The crossroads story ("see background here") was Tommy Johnson’s legend or joke to explain how it was he returned so much better on the guitar if he was feeling too proud to admit he’d gone up from Crystal Springs Miss. to the Dockery Plantation area where he learned from Patton and Willie Brown. Tommy was a better player and singer than Robert. Robert came along a few years later and like John Hurt his recordings survived in better shape, but Robert sounds to my inexpert ear, more folk in his static pace though very blue in inflection, and more vocally emotive in the Son House manner. Palmer in his great book, Deep Blues, has it that Robert was influenced by east coast blues he’d heard from another player or 78s. The primary weakness of Robert Johnson’s recordings are the arrangements, which when you are using primarily a single acoustic guitar to accompany your voice is a big drawback. I would guess many early recording sessions were slightly intimidating to country pickers and if they planned to use the opportunity commercially, they might easily undo what made them successful in a live setting before an audience. The finger-picking style of guitar was a soloist’s strategy to achieve an overall effect of a string band’s rhythm-melody-lead capability in a single player, though often they played with accompaniment.

What I do think is that Patton is a bridge too far to ever get his due -- music writers with mainstream readership will in any case see to it they are spared word of ol’ Charley, thank you very much. But even on such low accessibility terms John Hurt and Memphis Minnie, for two, ought to be an easier sell than Robert Johnson to even the least knowledgeable listener.

What sounds interesting here, though, is that to resell these same old Robert Johnson recordings Sony-Legacy has locked onto the recording studios and what all else was recorded on those days that Robert Johnson sat before the microphones. According to Myers, two discs cover his masters-plus-outtakes, and two more “hold earlier blues recordings as well as hillbilly, Texas swing and Mexican recordings made on the same days as Johnson's and in the same studios.” As curio collections these may offer a glimpse of how these different musicians might have met and heard each other, here in the studio, and elsewhere we trust in radio stations, bars, record shops, on streets, on trains and in hotels. The collections also includes a 1997 documentary, ‘Can You Hear the Wind Howl’, which is probably full of the irrelevant and wrongheaded Limey-commie-New York-Goth-Noir legend of Robert Johnson.

Dave told me something about the famous photograph of Robert Johnson that accompanies the WSJ review -- the shot the USPS airbrushed his cigarette from for the stamp -- but I forgot what it was.

There’s good Lightbourne picking-after-the-original-style in this two-part video tribute that Michael Hurley made after David’s death last year. The two minute section toward the end of part two is a good look and listen at his technique as he shows Michael, a fair picker himself, bits of two arrangements he was working out.

Neolestes Torquatus by James Fotopoulos

From the Desk of Joe Carducci…

AP: "Fighting Kills 115 in Sudan’s South".

“Before this week's violence the United Nations said at least 800 people had been killed and 94,000 displaced because of violence in Southern Sudan this year. The fresh clashes between Gen. Tanginye's forces and the army erupted Saturday morning in Kaldak village, north of Jonglei state, where his forces have been assembled for reintegration into the Sudan People's Liberation Army, poised to become Southern Sudan's regular force in July. Gen. Tanginye said his base was attacked by the southern army because he refused to disarm his men ahead of the reintegration process, an allegation the army has dismissed as a ‘lie.’ Gen. Tanginye was a Khartoum-sponsored warlord who burned and looted southern villages along the Nile River during the decades-long north-south civil war. He continued serving for the north after a 2005 peace deal ended the war. Although he accepted an amnesty and reintegration package with the southern army late last year, it is now unclear which side Gen. Tanginye is fighting for.”


Scott Peterson in CSM, "Rare view from Libya’s western mountains".

“Few journalists have so far crossed into these western mountains, but the picture now emerging is that of a heavily outgunned militia – perhaps better organized than the rag-tag rebels in the east – that has leveraged local knowledge, international support, and deep-seated anger at Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi into unlikely victories. This rugged terrain has witnessed a hidden war in the fight against Colonel Qaddafi. Rebel forces here – many of them ethnic Berbers native to the tough terrain – recently took control of a border crossing with Tunisia, opening a critical new supply line for the embattled opposition, and have gained enough ground in recent days to mark an important waypoint in Libya’s revolution. Several NATO airstrikes Monday – the first after more than two months of fighting in this region – have boosted rebel confidence that this front will no longer be neglected. Rebels say that Arab and Berber tribes and towns along the 90-mile belt of the high sandstone Nafusah Mountain, which stretches from Tunisia to south of Tripoli, are now largely united in their opposition to Qaddafi, despite efforts by Tripoli to play one against the other.”


Dani Rodrik at Project-syndicate.org, "Saif Qaddafi and Me".

“There is a strong sentiment that academics and institutions that collaborated with such an odious regime – often with the encouragement of their governments, no doubt – suffered a grave lapse of judgment. Muammar el-Qaddafi’s murderous stance during the uprising has revealed his true colors, regardless of his more moderate posture in recent years. And Saif al-Islam’s recent support for his father suggests that he is not the liberal reformer many took him to be. But it is much easier to reach such judgments with hindsight. Were the moral overtones of dealing with the Qaddafis so obvious before the Arab revolutions spread to Libya? Or to pose the question more broadly, is it so clear that advisers should always steer clear of dictatorial regimes? Universities all over the world are falling over each other trying to deepen their engagement with China. Most academics would jump at the chance to have a meeting with China’s President Hu Jintao. I haven’t heard much criticism of such contacts, which tend to be viewed as normal and unproblematic. And yet few would deny that China’s is a repressive regime that deals with its opponents harshly. Memories of Tiananmen are still fresh. Who is to say how the Chinese leadership would respond to a future pro-democracy uprising that threatened to undermine the regime?”


Francis Fukuyama in The American Interest, "Political Order in Egypt".

“Huntington, observing the high levels of political instability plaguing countries in the developing world during the 1950s and 1960s, noted that increasing levels of economic and social development often led to coups, revolutions and military takeovers rather than a smooth transition to modern liberal democracy. The reason, he pointed out, was the gap that appeared between the hopes and expectations of newly mobilized, educated and economically empowered people on the one hand, and the existing political system, which did not offer them an institutionalized mechanism for political participation, on the other. He might have added that such poorly institutionalized regimes are also often subject to crony capitalism, which fails to provide jobs and incomes to the newly educated middle class. Attacks against the existing political order, he noted, are seldom driven by the poorest of the poor; they instead tend to be led by rising middle classes who are frustrated by the lack of political and economic opportunity — a phenomenon noted by Alexis de Tocqueville in his masterful analysis of the origins of the French Revolution and raised again in the early 1960s by James Davies’s well known ‘J-curve’ theory of revolution.”


Landon Thomas in NYT, "Turkey Spends Freely Again, And Some Analysts Worry".

“Stock brokers endure four-month waiting lists to pay as much as $150,000 for top-of-the-line Audis and BMWs — twice the manufacturers’ prices after taxes. A real estate developer recently laid out a record $33.3 million an acre for a 24-acre plot of land in Istanbul’s city center. But the most striking sign that the economy here may be overheating comes from a usual suspect: the country’s aggressive banks. They have found a creative way to finance consumer splurges by providing quick loan approval via text message or automated teller machine. Analysts and bankers say the explosive growth in consumer loans has fed a worrying expansion of the country’s current account deficit, estimated to be 8 percent of gross domestic product this year. Turkey’s trouble in financing gaps of that size has been at the root of its past two busts, and some worry that history may be repeating itself.”


Lina Saigol in FT, "Assad cousin accused of favoring the family".

“‘Makhlouf, you thief!’ dozens of protesters have chanted at recent demonstrations in the southern city of Deraa. The son of the former commander of the Syrian Republican Guard, Mr Makhlouf controls as much as 60 per cent of the country’s economy through a complex web of holding companies. His business empire spans industries ranging from telecommunications, oil, gas and construction, to banking, airlines and retail. He even owns several private schools. This concentration of power, says bankers and economists, has made it almost impossible for outsiders to conduct business in Syria without his consent. When the US Treasury levied sanctions against Mr Makhlouf in 2008, forbidding US citizens or entities from doing business with him… he told Reuters news agency: ‘I should thank George W. Bush because the sanctions have raised the level of my support in Syria. I am no hit-and-run businessman.’”


Fouad Ajami in WSJ, "The Freedom Movement Comes to Syria".

“Assad senior had come from crushing rural poverty, but the House of Assad became a huge financial and criminal enterprise. Around Bashar Assad were siblings, cruel and entitled. At the commanding heights of the economy were the Assad in-laws, choking off the life of commerce, reducing the trading families of yesteryear to marginality and dependence. And there was the great sectarian truth of this country: The Alawis, a mountainous community of Shiite schismatics, for centuries cut off from wealth and power, comprising somewhere between 10% and 12% of the population, had hoarded for themselves supreme political power. The intelligence barons were drawn from the Alawis, as were the elite brigades entrusted with the defense of the regime. For the rulers, this sectarian truth was a great taboo, for Damascus had historically been a great city of Sunni urban Islam. That chasm between state and society, between ruler and ruled, that we can see in practically all Arab lands under rebellion was most stark in Syria. It is unlikely that the Gadhafis and Mubaraks and the ruler of Yemen could have entertained thoughts of succession for their sons had they not seen the ease with which Syria became that odd creature — a republican monarchy. When the Arab revolutions hit Tunisia, Egypt and Yemen, Bashar Assad claimed that his country would be bypassed because it was the quintessential ‘frontline’ state in the Arab confrontation with Israel. Let them eat anti-Zionism, the regime had long thought of its subjects.”


Nicholas Blanford in CSM, "Syria’s military shows signs of division amid crackdown".

“The Arabic Al-Jazeera news channel reported that some soldiers were objecting to firing on civilians and that clashes had broken out between separate Army units in Deraa. The minority Alawite sect – a Shiite offshoot – forms the backbone of the regime and controls the Army and intelligence apparatus in Syria, but the Army’s ranks are mainly composed of Sunnis. It has been widely speculated that if troops are ordered to use increasing force against civilian protesters, cracks may emerge – possibly along sectarian lines – within the military which could have far-reaching consequences for the durability of the regime.

In the early stages of the uprising in Deraa, a soldier from the Sunni city of Homs was allegedly shot dead for refusing to open fire on protesters. Since then, there have been numerous unverified reports of soldiers and even senior officers being shot for refusing to obey orders. Last week, Gen. Abdo Khodr Tellawi from Homs was killed with his two sons and a nephew. The Syrian state-run SANA news agency claimed that ‘armed criminal gangs … killed them in cold blood.’ But opposition activists say that the Syrian intelligence services executed them because they were showing signs of sympathy for the protesters. Other officers killed in the past two weeks include two Christian colonels, Samir Kashour and Whaib Issa, and Gen. Ayad Harfoush, who, like Tellawi, was an Alawite. Alawite military and intelligence officers are generally expected to stand with the regime, fearing a bloody backlash against them should Assad fall. But the Alawite community is not a homogenous entity and there are longstanding tensions between rival clans which could witness some powerful Alawite figures siding with the opposition against the Assads.”


Raymond Ibrahim at MEforum.org on Fadil Soliman’s book, Copts: Muslims Before Muhammad.

“His new Arabic book, Copts: Muslims Before Muhammad, which he has been promoting all over the media, including al-Jazeera, asserts that, at the time of the Muslim conquest of Egypt (c. 640), the vast majority of Egyptians were not, as history has long taught, Christians, but rather prototypical Muslims, or muwahidin, who were actually being oppressed by Christians: hence, the Muslim conquest of Egypt was really about ‘liberating’ fellow Muslims. Soliman's evidence is that the Arian sect, which rejected the claim that Jesus was coequal with God, was present in 4th century Egypt. Therefore, according to Soliman, the indigenous Egyptians were practicing ‘proto-Islam’ hundreds of years before it was founded in the 7th century. As with much of modern academia's approach to Islam, this thesis is based on pure fiction. While the Arians were pronounced heretics at the Council of Nicea (325) for their interpretation of the Trinity, they nonetheless accepted all of Christianity's core tenets — including original sin, crucifixion, resurrection, and salvation — all of which directly contradict Islam's teachings. What an imaginative stretch, then, for Soliman to portray the Arians as prototypical Muslims, simply because they did not believe Jesus was coequal with God (a standard that would make many people today ‘Muslims’). Needless to say, no historian has ever suggested that Muslims invaded Egypt to liberate ‘proto-Muslims.’ Rather, the Muslim historians who wrote our primary sources on Islam, candidly and refreshingly present the conquests as they were — conquests, for the glory and empowerment of Islam and its followers at the expense of unbelieving infidels.”


Daniel Pipes at Nationalreview.com has an illustrated chronology of the particulars of Mohammed Bouazizi’s self-immolation in Tunisia.


Tony Barber in FT, "Frustrated True Finns feed Europe’s very own Tea Party".

“[T]he emergence of the True Finns should come as no surprise. They draw on a tradition of popular protest with deep roots in pre-industrial Finland, but their contemporary success stems from tapping into anxiety about Finland’s rapid modernisation after the end of the cold war in 1989-91. Until that frozen conflict melted, Finland had an ambiguous status as a democratic and free society, with self-expression restricted for fear of incurring Moscow’s wrath. It was taboo, for instance, for politicians, bureaucrats and the media to criticise Soviet policies. Books and films considered to be anti-Soviet were removed from circulation. In international affairs Finland was strictly neutral between east and west…. Everything changed after 1991. Within four years Finland entered the European Union. Then came the euro and, in 2001, membership of the EU’s Schengen border-free travel regime…. Jobs are disappearing abroad. Paper and pulp mills are shutting down. When a factory closes in a small Finnish provincial town, the impact is felt more keenly than in densely populated countries, because the plant is often the town‘s sole or main employer.”


Cas Mudde in Opendemocracy.net, "The new new radical right: spectre and reality".

“There is yet again a spectre haunting Europe: the ‘new radical right’. I heard it once more talked of at a recent workshop of European greens: the rise of a movement able to overcome its external and internal isolation by downplaying classic ethnic nationalism and focusing primarily on Islamophobia. The phenomenon is said to encompass two types of organisation: old radical-right parties that have transformed themselves, and entirely new formations. But there is a problem here. It wasn’t very long ago that parties like France's Front National (FN) and the Austrian Freedom Party (FPÖ), which had been intermittently successful since the early 1980s, were themselves seen as a ‘new radical right’. They constituted a break with historical fascism, by embracing (procedural) democracy and exchanging racism for ethno-pluralism (the ideology of ‘different but equal’). Their experience over the past thirty years has inspired hundreds of articles and books which stress their ideological novelty as a key factor in their ability to break out of their political isolation. So what makes the parties of the year 2011 ‘newer’ than those of, say, the year 1991? The protagonists of the ‘new radical right’ thesis, who include strategists within these very groups, argue that this earlier new radical right grew old by remaining stuck in the channels of ethnic nationalism and European supremacy, leading it into petty border disputes (e.g. over Alto Adige/South Tyrol in Italy or South Flanders in France), and wasteful anti-American and anti-Israeli sentiments.”


Mary Anastasia O’Grady in WSJ, "Kirchner Copies Peron’s Model".

“One school of thought says that since the Kirchners (the Mrs. and her late husband, Néstor, who was president before her) have turned Argentina into an economic time bomb, she should be the one asked to hold it for the next four years. Her policies are generating an annual inflation rate that private-sector economists estimate at around 25%-30%. The government's antibusiness bias and judicial insecurity have damaged investment flows, and energy shortages are growing. When all this comes acropper, if there is any justice, the blame for the hardship ought to land in Mrs. Kirchner's lap.

Venezuela's Hugo Chávez and Argentina's Cristina Kirchner combine inflation, repression and heavy state control of the economy. Yet granting Mrs. Kirchner another term is also fraught with danger. Given her lust for power, she is likely to continue copying her Venezuelan mentor Hugo Chávez, who over 12 years has steadily demolished the economic, political and legal mechanisms that ordinarily act as checks on the executive. By 2015, she could have the country in lock down.”


Joe Leahy in FT, "Brazil seeks to triumph in new Great Game for Africa".

“‘Brazil-China trade is today worth more than $50bn, while Africa as a whole is more than $25bn -- so it’s significant in its own right,’ says Brad Koen, the Sao Paulo-based managing director and global head of business development at South Africa’s Standard Bank. Brazil’s courting of Africa is partly the result of tireless campaigning by the previous president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, who made countless trips there. The former leader pointed to the fact that Brazil has the second largest black population of any country in the world after Nigeria. Brazil’s affinity with the continent also comes from its shared Portuguese colonial history with Lusophone Africa, particularly Angola and Mozambique, although the Latin American giant today does more business with Nigeria, Algeria and South Africa.”


Jude Webber in FT, "Subcontinent prepares to be next China".

“‘When China was liberalizing and Latin know-how in areas such as urbanisation, food processing, banking automation could have been relevant, Latin America was setting its macro-economic situation in order,’ Mr Jhala says. ‘In India, the opportunities are still there and Latin companies are more confident. So, we see know-how being exported from Latin America to India.’”


MercoPress: "Where’s the new blood? Cuba’s reforms to be implemented by the old guard".

“Fidel Castro, now 84, quit all his leadership posts when he fell ill in 2006. He attended the final day of the congress. But the appointment of First Vice President Jose Machado Ventura, 80, as second secretary signalled that Cuba's aging leadership was not yet ready for new blood at the top of one of the world's last communist states. He is viewed as a hard-line communist ideologue. Several other party leaders retained are in their 70s, veterans of the Cuban revolution and the one-party communist system it subsequently installed.”


Peter Lee at Atimes.com, "China yearns for peace on southern flank".

“China is obviously eager to repair some of the PR damage from the pummeling it took as the designated neighborhood bully on Diaoyutai Island, rare earths and South China Sea dust-ups. But it also looks like the People's Republic of China (PRC) yearns for stability on its borders - and in the Tibetan Autonomous Region - as it nervously eyes the wave of popular protests sweeping the Middle East. Particularly in Syria, there is distinct - though vociferously denied - evidence that Bashar al-Assad's external enemies, both exiles and foreigners - are taking advantage of the unrest and the regime's faltering and brutal response to stoke violence, spread disinformation, and put the boot in on a hated foe. If and when popular unrest comes to China, Beijing would appreciate New Delhi's forbearance in making sure that its domestic political problems are not exacerbated by snowballing unrest in Tibet, fed by emigre agitation and the temptation of geopolitical competitors to meddle at China's expense. The most significant Chinese concession at the Hainan forum was China's reported (in the Indian press) backpedalling on the arcane issue of stapled visas for residents of Kashmir and Arunachal Pradesh. The Chinese practice of stapling a piece of paper with a visa in a passport (instead of stamping it directly in the book) for some residents of Kashmir and Arunachal Pradesh seeking to visit China dates at least to 2007. It apparently was part of a Chinese campaign to formalize its position on the festering border conflicts between India and China by demonstrating in concrete form China's position that the status of these territories was disputed and not subject to the normal consular relations between the two countries.”


WSJ: "Caesar in Beijing".

“Over the past decade, the Communist Party has cautiously embraced mainstream Christianity, funding the construction of officially recognized churches and seminaries. Unregistered groups like Shouwang continue to face occasional harassment, but local officials usually welcome their good works and turn a blind eye to low-key proselytizing.

The reason for this detente is simple: Christianity poses little overt threat to the Party's monopoly on power and it helps to promote social stability. Much like South Koreans before them, millions of Chinese are flocking to churches to find a spiritual fulfillment that balances their material prosperity. Anyone who has tried to attend a service in a major Chinese city knows how powerful this call has become among the new urban middle class: Not only are the churches packed, but it can be hard to find a place outside to hear the liturgy over loudspeakers.”


Yukon Huang in FT, "Expand cities to stop an era of Chinese dissent".

“Legal barriers that inhibit changes in residency therefore need to be eliminated, allowing rural and urban areas to be better connected. More formal property rights are important. In order to move to cities, families need to be able to cash in their farm land. Since all land is owned by the state, markets to allow farmers to sell or rent are essential. In urban areas, meanwhile, redevelopment of plots formerly used for traditional housing is a major source of state revenue in the absence of property taxes. More must be done to lessen pressures to seize such holdings so as to curb rising housing prices. This seems challenging but South Korea has shown just how a country can move rapidly from low to high income and grow more equal. South Korea succeeded not just by moving away from manufacturing but also with rising internal migration and urbanisation. Without hukou-type restrictions, its urbanisation rate went from about 30 per cent by 1990. Korean inequality now also compares favorably with China’s.”


Clifford Levy in NYT, "An Evangelical Preacher’s Message Catches Fire in Ukraine".

“It is as if a Sunbelt megachurch had been transplanted to Kiev, birthplace of Slavic Orthodoxy, land of onion-domed cathedrals and incense-shrouded icons. But the preacher at the podium has little if any connection to the United States. Could there be a more unlikely success story in the former Soviet Union than the Rev. Sunday Adelaja, an immigrant from Nigeria who has developed an ardent — and enormous — following across Ukraine? From his start with a prayer group in a ramshackle apartment soon after the Soviet collapse two decades ago, Mr. Adelaja has built a vast religious organization under the banner of his church, Embassy of God. He has become one of Ukraine’s best known public figures, advocating a Christianity that pairs evangelical tenets with an up-from-the-bootstraps philosophy found in religiously oriented self-help books. (Several of which Mr. Adelaja has published.) He has throngs of admirers, but is also reviled by some in the Ukrainian establishment who resent a black man from Africa luring white Slavs away from their religious traditions.”


Andrew Kramer in NYT, "English-Language Press Flexing Its Muscles in Eastern Europe".

“Media rights groups say that all too often at newspapers in this region, a phone call is all it takes to kill an article, even if only to save face for a public official who misspoke.

But when that approach was applied to an English-language newspaper with Western ideals, the phone calls did not work as intended. Mr. Bonner refused to kill the article and was fired, and the newsroom went on strike to support him. The episode highlighted the spunky role English-language newspapers play in many Eastern European capitals, particularly in countries with repressive policies toward publications in the local language. Distributed free in racks at bars and hotels, the papers blend nightlife reporting for tourists with hard-hitting news aimed at a highbrow audience of businesspeople and diplomats. In Ukraine and Russia, these newspapers come under less scrutiny than their local counterparts, which made the move to muffle reporting at The Kyiv Post unusual. English-language newspapers like The Moscow Times, The Prague Post, The Budapest Times, The Slovak Spectator, The Baltic Times and The Krakow Post have been springboards for a generation of American journalists interested in working in the former East Bloc — though not in the servile role of many local publications. ‘Kyiv Post had a great tradition of editorial independence,’ Mr. Bonner said in an interview. ‘I don’t want the job if it’s not independent journalism. Who would want it?’”


Alexandra Odynova in Moscow Times, "The Day a Soviet Paradise Stood Still".

“‘We thought we were living in the best city,’ said Natalya Oleinichenko, 50, a former Pripyat resident. ‘I came here when I was 21, directed by the Komsomol after graduation,’ she said with a slight laugh of irony standing in the deserted center of Pripyat, two kilometers from the Chernobyl nuclear power station. A contractor by training, Oleinichenko ultimately ended up commanding two construction crews working in the area, including at Power Unit No. 4 where the ill-fated reactor was located. Her other crew raised buildings in the town, she said, pointing at nearby blocks of flats — now staring with black, square holes. Twenty-five years later, she can recall in detail how she was walking outside with a baby carriage on April 26, 1986, when the first anxiety started to waft through the air, already ionized with radioactive vapor estimated by scientists to have been 10 times greater than the Hiroshima explosion. ‘I remember helicopters buzzing back and forth in the sky,’ said Oleinichenko, who was 25 at the time. The reactor had blown up a day earlier, at 1:23 a.m. Friday, during a planned experiment as a result of what is still a subject of debate among scientists. But the unequivocal fact remains that the some 50,000 residents of Pripyat, whose average age was 26, continued living their weekend lives, awaiting the upcoming May holiday celebrations. ‘Only after lunch we were told to stay inside with the windows closed, while pills of potassium iodide were distributed around the flats,’ Oleinichenko said. ‘Late in the evening of April 26, Saturday, it was announced that a bus would stop by the apartment building on April 27 at 2 p.m. to move us away for three days.’”


David Beito in WSJ, "The Forgotten Tax Revolt of the 1930s".

“In 1932, New York Times journalist Anne O'Hare McCormick noted that ‘the nearest thing to a political revolution in the country is the tax revolt.... Taxpayers are wrought up to the point of willingness to give up public services. 'We'll do without county agents,' they say. 'We'll give up the public health service.'’ The head of the International City Managers Association bemoaned that, ‘There seems to be no game laws of any kind to protect public officers and the establishment we call government. Taxes have been assailed as economic waste and those who spend tax money have been pictured as wastrels.’ While most tax leaguers emphasized conventional legal approaches, a few pressed more radical measures. The best known was the Association of Real Estate Taxpayers in Chicago, which led one of the largest tax strikes in American history. At its height in 1933, it had 30,000 paid members, a budget of $600,000, and a weekly radio show. The strikers so angered Mayor Anton Cermak in 1932 that he threatened to cut off their city water. During a special visit to Washington, D.C., Cermak implored Congress to send ‘money now or militia later.’ It did neither.”


David Runciman in London Review of Books on Nicholas Shaxson’s book, Treasure Islands: Tax Havens and the Men who Stole the World, and Jacob Hacker & Paul Pierson’s book, Winner-Take-All Politics.

“This is the web, but where is the spider? At the heart of Shaxson’s story lies the City of London, itself a kind of island within the British state. Again, the rise of the City as the favourite place for foreigners to park their money, no matter who they were or where it came from, is related to imperial decline. After the Second World War, sterling still financed much of global trade, but the British economy was no longer able to sustain the value of the pound against the dollar. In the aftermath of Suez, which caused a run on the pound, the government attempted to impose curbs on the overseas lending of London’s merchant banks. The response of the banks, with the connivance of the Bank of England, was to shift their international lending into dollars. The result was the creation of the so-called ‘Eurodollar market’ – which was effectively an offshore haven. Because the trade was happening in dollars, the British saw no need to tax or regulate it; because it was happening in London, the Americans had no means to tax or regulate it. Among the first people to spot the advantages of this new system were the Soviets, who wanted a secure place outside the US to hold their dollars so that the Americans could not seize them if relations between the countries deteriorated. They were soon followed by the Americans themselves – that is, American banks and wealthy individuals – who saw the London market as somewhere to do business free from the grasping hand of the US authorities. The money started to pile in.”


Ira Stoll at Futureofcapitalism.com, "Lewis Lehrman on Gold".

“Lewis Lehman has a piece in the Wall Street Journal saying that a key to federal deficit reduction is restoring the convertability of the dollar to gold at a fixed rate. The word ‘Nixon’ doesn't appear in the piece, but it strikes me that that one word, along with inflation rapid and painful enough to make the issue a priority, is the key to the politics of the issue: framing it to the public as undoing Nixon's mistake of August 15, 1971.”


Richard White in NYT, "Fast Train To Nowhere".

“It is not that either transcontinental railroads or high-speed railroads are always bad ideas. A compelling case can be made for high-speed rail between Boston and Washington, for example, but the administration proposes building high-speed lines in places where there is no demonstrated demand…. Proponents of the transcontinental railroads promised all kinds of benefits they did not deliver. They claimed that the railroads were needed to save the Union, but the Union was already saved before the first line was completed. The best Western farmlands would have been settled without the railroads; their impact on other lands was often environmentally disastrous. For three decades California commodities could move more cheaply, and virtually as quickly, by sea. The subsidies the railroads received enriched contractors and financiers, but nearly all the railroads went into receivership, some multiple times; the government rescued others. As more astute members of Congress came to recognize, the subsidies were a mistake. One described the major drawback of a proposal for the government to guarantee bonds: ‘If there be profit, the corporations may take it; if there be loss, the government must bear it.’ After 1872, the country turned against the subsidizing of large corporations. It was a little late. Fraud and failure left a legacy that would lead to four decades of government attempts to get back what had so carelessly been given away.”


Michael Cooper & Mary Walsh in NYT, "Public Pensions, Once Off Limits, Face Budgets Cuts".

“Michigan’s new Republican governor, Rick Snyder, has taken a carrot-and-stick approach to the state’s troubled cities. The carrot: He scrapped the old way of distributing state aid, and wants to make aid contingent on having cities adopt ‘best practices,’ which he says should include reducing the rate at which workers earn pension benefits. The stick: A new law allowing the state to appoint fiscal managers with broad powers over distressed local governments. Mayor Dave Bing of Detroit referred to both carrot and stick in his budget address this month, when he spoke of the need to reduce pensions for current workers, and to move away from traditional pension plans to those more like 401(k)’s for ‘at a minimum all new hires.’ ‘If we are unable or unwilling to make these changes, an emergency financial manager will be appointed by the state to make them for us,’ he said. ‘It’s that simple.’”


Simon Kuper in FT, "What counts now is capital".

“Yes, we’ve had a three-year crisis, but for most western families it was preceded by 60 years of accumulating houses, savings and stuff. The middle classes have built up capital. The young are hurting, the British economist David Blanchflower told me, but ‘most of the other guys have done fine. They have big values in their houses, they have probably got pensions.’ Even with zero interest rates and sagging house prices, it’s still easier to live off capital than off non-existent jobs. It’s the young who have become most reliant on capital. The author Richard Gordon once joked that if you measured the sophistication of a species by how long its young were dependent on their parents, medical students were the most highly evolved form of life. The upper classes, too, were always expected to leech off their ancestors’ capital…. Now, though, leeching is spreading through the class system: from the royal family to the Middletons and downwards. In Britain, most men aged 20 to 24 now live with their parents. In certain Mediterranean countries, anyone who leaves home before 30 is considered practically a teenage runaway.”


Chris Cook in FT, "Britain’s poor white pupils lag behind other ethnic groups".

“Among the poorest fifth of youngsters, identified by the deprivation of areas in which they live, white British children lag behind black, Pakistani and Bangladeshi neighbours as well as pupils for whom English is a second language. It highlights the challenge for the UK’s coalition government, which has identified social mobility as a top concern.”


Martin Amis in the Guardian on the Christopher Hitchens book, Quotable Hitchens.

“And most literary types, probably, would hope for inclusion somewhere or other on Nabokov's sliding scale: ‘I think like a genius, I write like a distinguished author, and I speak like a child.’ Mr Hitchens isn't like that. Christopher and His Kind runs the title of one of Isherwood's famous memoirs. And yet this Christopher doesn't have a kind. Everyone is unique – but Christopher is preternatural. And it may even be that he exactly inverts the Nabokovian paradigm. He thinks like a child (that is to say, his judgments are far more instinctive and moral-visceral than they seem, and are animated by a child's eager apprehension of what feels just and true); he writes like a distinguished author; and he speaks like a genius. As a result, Christopher is one of the most terrifying rhetoricians that the world has yet seen. Lenin used to boast that his objective, in debate, was not rebuttal and then refutation: it was the ‘destruction’ of his interlocutor. This isn't Christopher's policy – but it is his practice.”


Jeffrey Trachtenberg in WSJ, "Cheapest E-Book Upend the Charts".

“Amazon.com Inc.'s top 50 digital best-seller list featured 15 books priced at $5 or less on Wednesday afternoon. Louisville businessman John Locke, for example, a part-time thriller writer whose signature series features a former CIA assassin, claimed seven of those titles, all priced at 99 cents. ‘They're training their customers away from brand name authors and are instead creating visibility for self-published titles,’ one senior publishing executive who asked not to be identified, says of Amazon. As digital sales surge, publishers are casting a worried eye towards the previously scorned self-published market. Unlike five years ago, when self-published writers rarely saw their works on the same shelf as the industry's biggest names, the low cost of digital publishing, coupled with Twitter and other social-networking tools, has enabled previously unknown writers to make a splash.”


Spengler at Atimes.com, "When America flew on one wing".

“‘We are a band of brothers / Native to the soil / Fighting for the property / We gained by honest toil,’ the South sang. Union soldiers intoned a messianic message that has more in common with Malachi than Montesquieu. Julia Ward Howe's Battle Hymn of the Republic remains the most characteristic American utterance. Even today the heart pounds and the blood surges to this clumsy imitation of the King James Bible with its inelegant prosody, rough as the tramp of boots.

I have seen Him in the watch-fires of a hundred circling camps,

They have builded Him an altar in the evening dews and damps;

I can read His righteous sentence by the dim and flaring lamps…

That this was a holy war, there can no doubt. Northern textile manufacturers did not have to conquer the South to buy its cotton. Free labor of the North did not need to fight the Southern slaveholders for land, for on the eve of war in 1861, the South offered to accept restrictions on the expansion of slavery within the United States if only Lincoln would annex Cuba. Lincoln refused, and three million northerners went to war. Nearly 400,000 of them died.”


WSJ: excerpt from Eric Felton’s book, Loyalty: The Vexing Virtue.

“It isn't hard to find empirical evidence that patriotic conviction can lead to biased beliefs. But critics of patriotism overstate the extent to which the sentiment itself is rooted in unjustifiable claims about one's country's superiority. Isn't it possible, rather, that love of country is like love of family? Being devoted to one's family doesn't require a belief that it is the best family in the world. I'm loyal to my family because it is my family. I don't love my mother because she is the best mother in the world (though, I should hasten to add, she is). It is because she is my mother, who together with my father made my life possible. Gratitude, affection and a good dose of sentimental attachment to those with whom my life has been shared — all these things go into the love and loyal commitment I have to my family. Why can't these same factors provide me, unobjectionably, with a love and loyal commitment to my country? G.K. Chesterton was onto something when he wrote that saying ‘my country, right or wrong’ was rather like saying ‘my mother, drunk or sober.’ C.S. Lewis thought that Chesterton's analogy captured the heart of the best sort of patriotism: Just as a man who loves his mother will persevere in his affections whatever becomes of her, ‘a man who truly loves his country will love her in her ruin and degeneration.’ Which doesn't mean a man should glibly cooperate in his loved one's self-destruction. If his mother is a drunk, he might well express his devotion to her by shuttling her off to the ministrations of the Betty Ford people.”


John Buntin in LATmag, "Shadow Caster".

“Their struggle shaped the history of L.A., the future of policing and the course of American politics. In time, two primary antagonists emerged: William H. Parker, L.A.’s greatest and most controversial police chief; and the city’s most colorful criminal — featherweight boxer turned gangster Mickey Cohen. In 1920, L.A. surpassed San Francisco as California’s largest city. It was a triumph for Los Angeles Times publisher Harry Chandler. It was also the year that saw the emergence of a major threat from Prohibition. For years, Chandler and the so-called business barons had supplied local politicians with the advertising, publicity and money needed to reach the city’s new residents — in exchange for power over the city government. But with Prohibition, a new force appeared with the money and the desire to purchase L.A.’s politicians: the criminal underworld. To suppress it, the business community turned to the Los Angeles Police Department. The underworld also looked to the LAPD — for protection. Bill Parker and Mickey Cohen entered the drama as bit players. Two characters more different would be hard to imagine. Parker arrived in 1922 from Deadwood, South Dakota, an ambitious 17-year-old. He became a patrolman in the LAPD. Coldly cerebral (Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry, a onetime LAPD officer and Parker speechwriter, reputedly based Mr. Spock on his former boss), intolerant of fools and famously incorruptible, Parker persevered — and rose. Born Meyer Harris Cohen in 1913, by age six Mickey Cohen was hustling newspapers in Boyle Heights. At nine, he began his career in armed robbery with an attempt to ‘heist’ a downtown movie theater using a baseball bat. His skill with a .38 took him into the rackets, first in Cleveland, then in Al Capone’s Chicago.”


Matthew Fleischer in LATmag, "Policing Revolution".

“One of the biggest shootouts in American history had just begun, pitting the vanguard of domestic American radicalism against a newly constituted paramilitary police force: Special Weapons and Tactics, aka SWAT. The year 1969 was a headline maker for the Southern California chapter of the Black Panthers, led by charismatic founder Bunchy Carter. The group emerged from the shadow of its more famous Oakland counterpart, into the forefront of the blackpower movement in Los Angeles — and arguably the nation. They organized community breakfast programs, trained locals in black history and self-defense and published the Black Panther Community News Service, which enjoyed a robust following. But the Panthers’ meteoric rise drew enemies — lots of them. On January 17, 1969, Carter and fellow Panther John Huggins were shot to death in UCLA’s Campbell Hall by members of the rival black radical group Us. Agents, operating under the FBI’s infamous COINTEL (counterintelligence) program and masquerading as Panthers and anonymous Us members, crafted insulting missives and death threats and began sending them between the two groups. ‘It is hoped this counterintelligence measure will result in an Us and BPP vendetta,’ one internal FBI memo explained. The plan worked. While the UCLA shootout was the most significant in a series of violent confrontations between the two groups, the danger of further violence was always present. Surprisingly, it wasn’t until the middle of 1969 that the Panthers caught the attention of the LAPD.”


Alan Wolfe in New Republic on Lawrence Scaff’s book, Max Weber in America.

“Weber cannot be understood without an appreciation of his experiences in this country, and America’s special path to modernity is difficult to grasp without a substantial dip into Weber’s extensive body of writing…. Weber and his wife Marianne arrived in the United States in August, 1904 for a three-month stay. The reason for their visit was the Congress of Arts and Sciences, an offshoot of the World’s Fair in St. Louis. Once capable of generating massive fascination, World’s Fairs have lost their appeal. (The 2012 Expo will take place in Yeosu, South Korea and will be devoted to issues of coastal management.) In Weber’s day, by contrast, not only did the events in St. Louis inspire a famous musical comedy, they brought together an all-star list of American and European intellectuals to debate whether there exists a methodological unity linking the natural and social sciences. John Dewey and William James did not show up in St. Louis, which was too bad, because not only Weber but also such extraordinary German scholars as Werner Sombart and Ernst Troeltsch did. Theodore Roosevelt invited the leading academics from St. Louis to the White House for a reception, much as the current president honors the annual March Madness champion. Weber did not attend because he preferred to go to Muskogee. Oklahoma’s and America’s Indian Territory piqued his curiosity for a number of reasons. The leading scholar of questions of power and authority in the twentieth century here found something like a state of nature (or so he thought) in which economic and political forms could not be taken as given.”


John Miller in WSJ, "How Teddy Roosevelt Saved Football".

“One study sponsored by the NFL found that professional veterans over the age of 50 are five times as likely as the general population to suffer from dementia. Those numbers are bad, but consider the situation in 1905, when 18 people died on the gridiron. Back then, foes likened the game to gladiatorial combat in Roman amphitheaters and launched a crusade. Led by Harvard President Charles Eliot and joined by the Nation magazine and muckraking journalists, Progressive-era prohibitionists wanted to sack the increasingly popular sport. At one point, Harvard actually quit playing the game. So did Columbia, Northwestern, Stanford, the University of California and several smaller colleges. Following the 1897 death of Richard Von Gammon, a fullback at the University of Georgia, the Georgia state legislature voted to ban football. The governor vetoed the bill, but only after hearing from Gammon's mother, who urged him not to outlaw a sport that her son had loved. Harvard's Eliot was adamant. No honorable sport, he wrote in a 1905 report, embraces ‘the barbarous ethics of warfare.’ Roosevelt had little patience for such talk. ‘Harvard will be doing the baby act if she takes any such foolish course as President Eliot advises,’ he wrote. Elsewhere, he worried about producing ‘mollycoddles instead of vigorous men.’”


Francis Hodgson in FT, "Clarity amid the vapour".

“Two apparently contradictory elements of photography appear to have driven the Pre-Raphaelite painters. They consistently strove for the great clarity of the collodion process invented by Frederick Scott Archer almost exactly at the mid-point of the 19th century. But they also were moved by the effects achieved where photography made less realistic marks, either through the long exposure times of the period or through the peculiar chemical sensitivities of the mixes then known. The former led to splendid sweeps of blur; the latter to odd blending of tonalities in unexpected way.”


Dave Kehr in NYT, "At Gaumont in France When All Was Possible".

“The first volume covered the rise of cinema in France from the first public exhibitions to the position of global dominance that French producers had achieved on the eve of World War I (a period covered in glorious detail in Richard Abel’s classic history, The Ciné Goes to Town). The story of the second volume is less triumphal. With the emergence of D. W. Griffith in the United States and the development of long form, psychologically nuanced narrations that Griffith’s innovations helped make possible, the carnivalesque French cinema began to lose its luster, and eventually ceded its majority market share to the upstarts of Hollywood. The French-American rivalry is already apparent in the first disc in this new collection, devoted to the work of the pioneering animator Émile Cohl. He was already 50, with a successful career as a caricaturist and art world provocateur, when Léon Gaumont took him on as a writer in 1908. Tradition has it that Cohl was one of several Gaumont employees set to work to uncover the mysteries of ‘The Haunted Hotel,’ an American trick film from 1907 that was a current sensation. Cohl discovered that the director, J. Stuart Blackton, had made a dinner seem to prepare itself through the use of stop-motion animation: moving objects in tiny increments and photographing them one frame at a time.”


John Tierney in NYT, "A Generation’s Vanity, Heard Through Lyrics".

“Where 19th-century Shakers had sung ‘’Tis the gift to be simple, ’tis the gift to be free,’ Mr. Cuomo offered his own lyrics: ‘I’m the meanest in the place, step up, I’ll mess with your face.’ Instead of the Shaker message of love and humility, Mr. Cuomo sang over and over, ‘I’m the greatest man that ever lived.’ The refrain got Dr. DeWall wondering: ‘Who would actually sing that aloud?’ Mr. Cuomo may have been parodying the grandiosity of other singers — but then, why was there so much grandiosity to parody? Did the change from ‘Simple Gifts’ to ‘Greatest Man That Ever Lived’ exemplify a broader trend? Now, after a computer analysis of three decades of hit songs, Dr. DeWall and other psychologists report finding what they were looking for: a statistically significant trend toward narcissism and hostility in popular music. As they hypothesized, the words ‘I’ and ‘me’ appear more frequently along with anger-related words, while there’s been a corresponding decline in ‘we’ and ‘us’ and the expression of positive emotions.”


Archie Patterson interview of Gerhard Augustin (“Beat Club”) at Rocksbackpages.com.

“Q: Was it just after doing The Beat Club that you became the head of A&R at Liberty/UA Records and were involved in production of the first Amon Duul 2 and Popol Vuh records (around 1969-1970)?

Well, not quite…it didn’t happen that soon… When I left The Beat Club, in 1968-1969 I went to America and lived in San Francisco. There I discovered bands like Santana and CCR for the German market. I also met Bill Graham and we became good friends. He introduced me to the Grateful Dead, Quicksilver, Sly & the Family Stone, Ike and Tina Turner, Tom Donahue (the original FM DJ playing underground music) and Ralph Gleason who was one of the first journalists to write about the new underground music in the Bay area. I was very fortunate to be in the right place, at the right time for all that was happening in SF then. While I lived in SF, I worked at KQED TV and was awarded a scholarship and got a diploma in Mass Communications at Stanford University. After graduation, I got a job in Los Angeles with United Artist Records and learned all about how the company worked. They then sent me to Germany to work for the company there. When I got over there they wanted to sign some domestic German bands to their roster. Sigi Loch, head of the famous Star Club record label, started a German flagship label for UA/Liberty Records, to aim both at the home market and abroad. I got them to sign AD 2, Popol Vuh and Can. The record company knew little about that type of music of course, so it was sometimes a rather strange situation as you might imagine.”


“The Arthur Archive-in-progress is now available online, for free. It includes almost all blog entries, all previously available magazine PDFs, all the Arthur Radio shows, and, as of this minute, about 60 percent of the content from the magazine's 31-issue run. You can browse the Archive by search, date, or category. The categories are organized mainly by author (writer, photographer, cartoonist, columnist, etc.), but other categories are present as well. Not all entries have been tagged or categorized yet, though, so browsing by category exclusively will probably limit your results. Ye've been warned.”


Obituary of the Week

Violet Cowden (1916 - 2011)

“Violet Clara Thurn was born on Oct. 1, 1916, in a sod house in Bowdle, S.D. In 1936, she earned a teaching certificate from what was then the Spearfish Normal School, in Spearfish, S.D., and stayed in Spearfish to teach first grade. There, she rode her bicycle six miles each way to a local airfield for her first flying lessons. (She had no driver’s license.) She knew immediately that she had found her calling. ‘The air is such a comfortable place for me,’ Mrs. Cowden said in a 2007 interview with the Betty H. Carter Women Veterans Historical Project at the University of North Carolina, Greensboro. ‘I feel so in oneness with life and with the world and everything when I’m in the air.’ After Pearl Harbor was attacked, Mrs. Cowden, by then a licensed pilot, asked to join the Civil Air Patrol but got no reply. ‘Everybody was joining something,’ she said in the interview. ‘So I joined the Navy, because I liked their hats.’ She soon heard about the Women’s Flying Training Detachment, an early incarnation of the WASPs. Of the 25,000 women who applied, she was one of 1,830 accepted. She had lived for a week on a diet rich in bananas and malted milk to raise her weight from 92 pounds to 100, the required minimum.”


Thanks to Jay Babcock, Steve Beeho.

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• The New Vulgate
• Joe Carducci, Chris Collins, James Fotopoulos, Mike Vann Gray, David Lightbourne
• Copyright retained by the writer, artist, or photographer

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Issue #94 (April 20, 2011)

Centennial Ridge, Wyoming

Photo by Joe Carducci

From the Dept. of Enervation
by Joe Carducci

There’s been an outpouring of stray energy policy recommendations from all corners of the New York Times. Seriously. These stories no doubt assigned, written and edited by graduates of our finest journalism schools. Occasionally both the news and editorial desks lose control of a story and it runs anyway in the Tuesday Science section or in someone’s column, and the editorial enforcers of New York Times energy policy must send in the j-school grads afterwards to clean up.

Tuesday April 12th saw a major piece by Tom Zeller Jr. sandbagging natural gas, which the editors and “two coming studies” by a Cornell Professor of Ecology -- I kid you not -- and some piggy-backed “study” already based on this not yet released first study, this by something Cali called “The Post Carbon Institute”, disapprove of. With such disinterested researchers Bill Keller and Tom Friedman might as well just smoke a bowl in the commissary and make it all up.

It’s been my sense of things that the Earth Libbers are driving the drift of the Times, NPR (semi-official), and the rest of the clean-fingernail crowd in their push to move us all back into their thirties dream of no-growth, urbanized, mass-transit, black-and-white depression utopia. Somehow they believe their lights will stay on since as we all know the job they do is so important to society; if they weren’t here to lecture us who knows what reign of terror might settle upon this sad, benighted land. The particulars of their recommendations are never fully traced but they lead actually not to the thirties but unbeknownst to all but the Earth Lib Front to the seventh century or so, which is why they can’t be trusted to not play footsie with the sexist, racist, fascist Islamist radicals who also have hard-ons for those good old centuries.

There is so much goddamn natural gas and coal in this state, let alone this country, let alone the world at large that arguing to keep it in the ground unburned while forcing the wasteful burning of foodstocks and manufacture of the polyvinyl/rare-metal hells-broth it takes to make and cover the earth in solar cells amounts to a kind of reverse Luddism. When I moved to Laramie my tenant was an ex-plumber, ex-bar owner, fossil-and-rock collector/jeweler mal-vivant named Bob Tracy. When natural gas spiked in the late nineties and I had to raise his rent he spotted the visible hand of government because he knew from walking all over the state of Wyoming that there were thousands of capped wells drilled over the decades when the search for oil had yielded then useless natural gas.

Now the enviros are worried that natural gas is getting a free ride, because after all one must burn it. They don’t like hydroelectric anymore either, and as I see these lonely forests of wind turbines miles from highways it don’t take an ouija-board session with Edward Abbey to predict the coming eco-bombing of these hulking totems to, oddly enough, their own absurd ideology as interpreted by the geniuses who labor under the authority of various Energy Czars seemingly just outside of the voting public’s reach but under the nodding approval the sour Know-Nothings fresh out of college. I’d like to interject here that I think our young people are just the finest, smartest, greatest….

Also that Tuesday the Times’ Dan Barry covertly valorized the old West Virginia coal culture of the thirties in his piece, "As the Mountaintops Fall, a Coal Town Vanishes". Its uncertain tone is due to the hallowed place coal culture history holds in the Left’s mythology if not American history itself. As we near a hundred years past the thirties, the hold that decade has on the “progressive” mind won’t yield to the future of now or ever. The thirties were the high water mark of national socialism, and not just in Germany. The dream of international socialism, such as it was, left the USSR with Trotsky, and FDR’s fans consider that he saved hated capitalism by making a federal case out of everything he could grab, pushing for as much socialism as the courts and the culture allowed. Barry writes: “[B]ut the coal that helped to create Lindytown also destroyed it. Here was the church; here was its steeple; now it’s all gone, along with its people.” (Editor!) The bad guys here are the coal companies who remove mountaintops and leave some kind of leveled but restored landscape. There is no smoking gun in this article, and the Times editor would have certainly fired the gun herself if she’d found one laying around.

The Times recently gave its business columnist Joe Nocera a column on the editorial page. Right away on that famous April 12, his column, "Pass The Boone Pickens Bill", he ran up against the fury of all those readers out in New York Times-land. He wrote:

“Boone Pickens and I go way back; he was the subject of my first-ever business story, for Texas Monthly, nearly 30 years ago. Though we‘ve had our ups and downs since then, and though our politics are very different, I like and respect him. In recent years, we‘ve become friends.” (Joe Nocera, NYT)

Not that he needs a bias to support one more bi-partisan tax-incentive boondoggle, this designed to get semis to burn natural gas instead of diesel. Maybe it will work but if so even then it would be a precedent stolen from a development that will come of its own superior sense, that is unless some other industry is protected by a previous tax-incentivized rent-seeker’s inside-deal. Maybe they could get funding for retraining.

Anyway it wasn’t Friday after the famous Tuesday that Nocera’s next column had been hijacked by the crazed rejection of his very Tuesday notion from all the loyal NYT readers primed previously by the editorial page and NPR. In fact it was probably NPR’s coverage of fracking which piggybacked on its own coverage of the documentary film, Gasland, that has softened the ground for this coming Know-Nothing triumph. Nocera rebuts:

“To begin with, fracking is hardly new. In Texas and Oklahoma, it has been used for decades, with nobody complaining much about environmental degradation. It must be a coincidence that these worries surfaced when a natural gas field called the Marcellus Shale was discovered in the Northeast, primarily under Pennsylvania and New York. Surely, East Coast residents wouldn’t object to having the country use more natural gas just because it‘s going to be drilled in their own backyard instead of, say, downtown Fort Worth. Would they?” (Ibid.)

Well, as he was writing this second column because of just such mass refusal channeled up into the usual college-grad pretentious air of pseudo-philosophical “profound” objections…. Again, where is an editor? But Nocera does patiently explain as perhaps only he at the Times can, that fracking occurs nearly a mile beneath water tables and it is a failure of simple drilling that has caused methane leaks into water supply where it’s happened. By now I’m sure Joe Nocera understands this is all hopeless jousting at windmills as it were, but there’s no word yet on the subject of his next column or whether he’s been retired back to the Business section.

Amazingly enough, the current issue of the New Yorker shows up the NYT with a non-judgmental if hardly celebratory adventure-geology story filed by Eric Konigsberg from the wilds of North Dakota titled, "Kuwait on the Prairie". It’s a beautifully illustrated essay that follows the history of western North Dakota farming and mineral exploration. It’s been known that there was oil under the barely productive farmlands for decades but the rock formations took awhile to solve and turns out there’s a lot of oil there. The story is fine except for the limitations of today’s New Yorker. They drop their political sense for the purpose of this piece that paints a neutral portrait of a bunch of oil patch characters from Texas and Oklahoma working amongst the Scandinavian descendents of turn-of-the-century homesteaders. I guess they rationalize the piece as related to literature, but as its not committed to the reality it paints it suffers from a similar autophagic sterility to the Times’ West Virginia piece, which was also beautifully illustrated -- a photographer’s “lie” can’t help but glorify its subject. Konigsberg the writer peaks out occasionally:

“Around noon on April 4, 1951, Andrew (Blackie) Davidson, the drilling superintendent on a wildcat well east of Williston, set fire to a rag and flung it in the air. He watched as its trajectory met an invisible stream of natural gas that emanated from the ground, sending a flare thirty feet into the sky; by nightfall, it could be seen ten miles away. There was oil in North Dakota.” (Eric Konigsberg, New Yorker)

1951 is far in the past and so safely valorized I supposed. But in those vaunted thirties I hate to inform the NYT readership (as if), that Blackie Davidson would’ve been played by Clark Gable on the big screen and he and Spencer Tracy would’ve messed up half of the state while punching each other out and trading girlfriends while striking it rich and going bust several times. We’ll have no more of that in North Dakota or the Gulf or the coast of California.

Spring blooms in downtown Burbank

Photos by Chris Collins

Phyllastrephus Fulviventris by James Fotopoulos

From the Desk of Joe Carducci…

Michael Pettis in FT, "America must give up on the dollar".

“The large imbalances that this system has permitted now destablilise the world. If forced to give up the dollar, the world might reduce global trade somewhat, and it would probably spell the end of the Asian growth model. But it would also lower long-term costs for the US, and reduce dangerous global imbalances. The US should therefore take the lead in shifting to multi-currency reserves, in which the dollar is simply first among equals.”


Tyler Cowen in NYT, "Euro vs. Invasion Of the Zombie Banks".

“This flight of capital reflects a centuries-old economic principle known as Gresham’s Law, sometimes expressed casually as ‘bad money drives out good money.’ In this context, if two assets — euros inside and outside Ireland — are not equal in value in the eyes of the marketplace, sooner or later the legally fixed price parity will fall apart.

If enough depositors fear frozen accounts, the banks will be emptied out, and they also will require additional government bailouts, on top of the bailouts for the bad real estate loans. The banks come to resemble empty shells, conduits for public aid but shrinking and unprofitable as businesses — and, to a large extent, that is already the case in Ireland. Portugal is moving in this same direction, toward being a land inhabited by zombie banks. It’s the zombie banks that doom the current European bailout plans. On any single day, or even for a year or two, an economy can survive with zombie banks, but over time functional domestic banks are needed to allocate credit. As it stands, European Union emergency facilities are marking time by lending more money to the fiscally troubled nations in the currency union. But these loans do not reverse the logic of Gresham’s Law.”


Tony Barber in FT, "Germany puts off its day of reckoning over Europe rescues".

“In 2009 came the sovereign debt crisis, an emergency in which German policymakers are shaping Europe’s response. From the redesign of the Eurozone’s rules of economic governance to the EU treaty amendment that permit’s a permanent mechanism for safeguarding the area’s financial stability, Germany is calling the shots. It was at Germany’s insistence that last year’s 110bn rescue of Greece, and the establishment of a 440bn fund for troubled eurozone countries, were kept under the supervision of national governments rather than opened to the European Commission. Throughout the crisis, the German definition of the causes has prevailed: fiscal irresponsibility, cosseted public sectors, lack of competitiveness and even cheating on the part of weaker countries that failed to appreciate the virtues of thrift, hard work and other German values. It is all but impossible for Greek, Irish or Portuguese policymakers to challenge this narrative.”


David Barboza in NYT, "Inflation in China Poses Big Threat to Global Trade".

“Because China is now the world’s second largest economy, after the United States, and because the country has been a leading source of global growth during the last two years, money problems here can reverberate from Wal-Mart to Wall Street and the world beyond. High inflation endangers China’s status as the low-cost workshop for the world. And if the government’s efforts to fight inflation cause the economy to stumble, that will cloud the outlook for international businesses — whether multinationals like General Electric or copper miners in Chile — that have been counting on China for growth.

Inside China, inflation also poses a threat to social stability, a particular worry for Beijing, especially since authoritarian governments in North Africa and the Middle East have become the focus of popular uprisings. ‘China’s inflation is a big concern, and actual numbers are worse than officially reported,’ said Carmen M. Reinhart, an economist at the Peterson Institute for International Economics in Washington.”


Bob Davis in WSJ, "Political Overlords Shackle China’s Monetary Mandarins".

“In most countries, controlling inflation falls to a central bank. China has the People's Bank of China, or PBOC, with a 63-year-old reformer, Zhou Xiaochuan, at the helm. But unlike the heads of the Fed, the European Central Bank and other major central banks, which are independent from politicians so they can take unpopular measures to thwart inflation, Mr. Zhou answers to China's political leaders. The PBOC, indeed, often doesn't know about monetary decisions until it is informed by higher-ups, Chinese officials say. It is just one of a dozen ministries that lobby top decision makers in the Chinese government and Communist Party about whether or not to raise interest rates or boost the value of the currency to fight inflation. The central bank often loses such battles to ministries that represent go-go exporters and free-spending local governments, say economists who track the process. The laborious, politically charged process can delay decisions for months. China's central bank began pushing for tighter monetary policy around last June. But China didn't start its anti-inflation campaign in earnest until November, after inflation had hit a two-year high.”


Emilie Frenkiel at Booksandideas.net, "Is China Asian?"

“Moreover, particularly since the celebrations organized for the thirtieth anniversary of the Policy of Reform and Openness, China has been making headway with the idea of a new model of development, arising out of its own experience. For example, an endless stream of publications focus on the Chinese model (zhongguo moshi). One cannot help noticing that China’s perception of its development is totally self-absorbed. As Barry Buzan has emphasized, its exceptionalist vision is reflected in the stock phrase ‘with Chinese characteristics’ (zhongguo tese de), which is forever being enlisted to describe development, or socialism, or democracy, and so forth. In contrast to the universalistic claims of American liberalism, China emphasizes its unique culture, and points out that its contribution to world order is limited to its own peaceful development. Recent talk about the Chinese model has slightly altered this approach, with some Chinese scholars arguing that Chinese development is worthy of emulation and could well have its day serving as a standard in other parts of the world. Globally, however, western values prevail and the rise of a non-democratic country that associates cultural, social and political nationalism with economic liberalism is disquieting. Some analysts suggest that the Chinese regime and its ideas are more attractive regionally. Without altogether resuming the now dated debate about Asian values, there are many who say that the countries of East Asia do share certain values. These countries pay more heed to national sovereignty and the principle of non-intervention, and are more inclined to hierarchies and bandwagoning.”


Shen Dingli at YaleGlobal, "China’s Foreign-Policy Balancing Act".

“China is better off due to its extensive international engagement. Yet such engagement is double-edged, increasingly exposing China to regional unrest such as the current turbulence in Libya. Chinese investment and laborers were at risk there, and required swift action. Beijing’s effort at protecting its physical investment interests, verbal insistence on the longstanding principle of non-intervention, as well as support for and compromise on the United Nations Security Council resolutions imposing sanctions, which indeed constitute interference in Libya, reveal China’s ever-complicated calculation of interest as well as its pragmatic diplomacy.”


Michael Lind in NYTBR on Francis Fukuyama’s book, The Origins of Political Order.

“In the 20 years since, Fukuyama has qualified his argument, but he has not abandoned it. In The Origins of Political Order, the first of a projected two volumes, he writes: ‘Alexandre Kojève, the great Russian-French interpreter of Hegel, argued that history as such had ended in the year 1806 with the Battle of Jena-Auerstadt, when Napoleon defeated the Prussian monarchy and brought the principles of liberty and equality to Hegel’s part of Europe.’ And he continues: ‘I believe that Kojève’s assertion still deserves to be taken seriously. The three components of a modern political order — a strong and capable state, the state’s subordination to a rule of law and government accountability to all citizens — had all been established in one or another part of the world by the end of the 18th century.’ By chance, these three elements were united for the first time in Britain, although other northwestern European countries that were influenced by the Reformation, like the Netherlands, Denmark and Sweden, ‘also succeeded in putting together the state, rule of law and accountability in a single package by the 19th century.’ But before their combination in Britain and its neighbors at the time of the industrial and democratic revolutions, the three elements of modern political order had evolved separately in different premodern civilizations: ‘China had developed a powerful state early on; the rule of law existed in India, the Middle East and Europe; and in Britain, accountable government appeared for the first time.’”


Andrew Bast in Newsweek, "The Beginning of History".

“While the world can’t take its eyes off the Middle East, Fukuyama is, instead, looking ahead to China. Beijing has gone to great lengths — stymieing communications, hitting protests with an iron fist — to keep any democratic wave from rolling too far east. The Chinese government, he argues, will be successful in stifling protest, at least in the near term. ‘Authoritarianism in China is of a far higher quality than in the Middle East,’ he wrote recently. Revolutions, he argues, don’t come from the disenchanted poor, but from an upwardly mobile middle class fed up with anachronistic government that does little but keep them from achieving their potential. So Beijing may be able to keep its people happy for now, but in the coming years its biggest risk is putting off democratic reforms and ending up with a regime that’s fallen behind its people. When the Chinese middle class is no longer willing to forgo political freedom for bigger paychecks, or when the Communist Party grows stagnant, unable to keep up with the masses, then change is going to come, one way or another. Strange as it may sound for a man who secured fame and fortune with an essay titled ‘The End of History?’ his prescience as a political philosopher flows from his ‘revulsion at triumphalist views’ (in the view of Paul Berman, author of Flight of the Intellectuals). When Fukuyama first joined up with the neocons back in the 1970s under the tutelage of Allan Bloom (who wrote The Closing of the American Mind), it was largely a reaction against the left-wing triumphalism of the Great Society and of the cultural rebellions of the New Left spawned in 1968. More recently, Berman says, ‘the same kind of triumphalism overtook the neoconservatives on the right, and he turned away from them.’”


Ron Nixon in NYT, "U.S. Groups Helped Nurture Arab Opposition".

“Some Egyptian youth leaders attended a 2008 technology meeting in New York, where they were taught to use social networking and mobile technologies to promote democracy. Among those sponsoring the meeting were Facebook, Google, MTV, Columbia Law School and the State Department. ‘We learned how to organize and build coalitions,’ said Bashem Fathy, a founder of the youth movement that ultimately drove the Egyptian uprisings. Mr. Fathy, who attended training with Freedom House, said, ‘This certainly helped during the revolution.’ Ms. Qadhi, the Yemeni youth activist, attended American training sessions in Yemen. ‘It helped me very much because I used to think that change only takes place by force and by weapons,’ she said. But now, she said, it is clear that results can be achieved with peaceful protests and other nonviolent means. But some members of the activist groups complained in interviews that the United States was hypocritical for helping them at the same time that it was supporting the governments they sought to change. ‘While we appreciated the training we received through the NGOs sponsored by the U.S. government, and it did help us in our struggles, we are also aware that the same government also trained the state security investigative service, which was responsible for the harassment and jailing of many of us,’ said Mr. Fathy, the Egyptian activist.”


Bill Keller in NYTMag, "Team America".

“The American missionary impulse crosses boundaries of party and ideology. Paul Wolfowitz, the Bush defense deputy who argued that invading Iraq would catalyze new freedom across the region, and Samantha Power, the Obama adviser whose passion for humanitarian intervention has helped drive our involvement in Libya, are more alike than either would probably admit. Although Power opposed the invasion of Iraq in 2003, she would have used force in 1988 to stop Saddam Hussein from gassing the Kurds. And on stopping the bloodletting in Libya, Wolfowitz and Power are singing from the same hymnal. Eight years ago, when I was an Op-Ed columnist for this paper, I aligned myself with something I called the I-Can’t-Believe-I’m-a-Hawk Club — baby boomers whose distrust of foreign intervention, forged during the bloody mess of Vietnam, was tempered by the noble rescue of Bosnia and Kosovo, leading to a grudging sympathy for the invasion of Iraq. I’m sure the Bush administration did not need permission from the East Coast pundit chorus to go to war, but it was a high-water mark of the missionary impulse.

Some members of that club have since repudiated their support for the Iraq invasion. Others have not. It’s intriguing to watch them variously extrapolating from Baghdad to Benghazi.”


Tim Arango in NYT, "Bottoms Up Democracy".

“In January, bars and clubs, including the Writers Union, were raided in what many Iraqis saw as a government move toward a stricter interpretation of Islamic law. The author of the ban on alcohol was the head of the Baghdad Provincial Council, Kamil al-Zaidi, who told The New York Times, ‘We are a Muslim country, and everyone must respect that.’

But soon after, as protests for reform began about other issues, the boozy haunts were allowed to reopen. And since then, Baghdad has seen a surprising renaissance of its night life. It hasn’t been the only sign here this year of a tilt away from Islam, and toward a more expansive view of personal freedoms. The new education minister reopened art and music classes that the previous minister had banned. An attempt to require female government employees to wear a veil was blocked in Parliament. Even Moqtada al-Sadr, the anti-American cleric, responded to France’s ban on full-face veils for women with a statement that sounded remarkably like an embrace of democratic tolerance: ‘According to Muslim law, it is not an obligation to wear the niqab, but to ban it by law is a repression of freedom. Forcing women to wear the niqab, or not to wear it, both are unacceptable.’”


Tim Arango in NYT, "Iraqi Youths’ Political Rise Is Stunted by Elites".

“In a country where the demographics skew even younger than in places like Egypt, Tunisia and Libya, the wave of political change in the region has laid bare a generation gap here split by old resentments nurtured by dictatorship and war and a youthful grasping for a stake in the new Iraq. ‘The younger generation is ready to go forward; they are carrying less resentments,’ said Rawaz M. Khoshnaw, 32, a Kurdish member of Parliament, in a recent interview. But the forces of youth are blunted by the same forces that have robbed Iraqi society of so much for so long — violence, a stagnant economy, zero-sum politics and sectarianism — and that have prevented a new political class from emerging to take Iraq into a new democratic future. A common sentiment from nearly three dozen interviews with young Iraqis around the country recently is a persistent disenchantment with both their political leaders and the way democracy has played out here. ‘The youth is the excluded class in the Iraqi community,’ said Swash Ahmed, a 19-year-old law student in Kirkuk. ‘So they’ve started to unify through Facebook or the Internet or through demonstrations and evenings in cafes, symposiums and in universities. But they don’t have power.’”


Michael Peel in FT, "Regional turmoil concentrates minds".

“On the one hand, the uprisings gripping the region have made the nation’s partially democratic status look far-sighted and wise -- and a crucial foundation for its continued survival as a rich small state in a tough neighbourhood. On the other, revolutions from Egypt to Yemen have reinforced a sense of malaise and a feeling that, 50 years on from independence from Britain, a country that is the world’s 15th-richest and one of its top oil exporters, should be doing better. Also, the Kuwaiti monarchy‘s financial handouts at the time of the anniversaries -- including KD1,000 gift for every citizen -- have been seized on by critics as further evidence of a political culture that remains in hock to short-term consumption and has failed to wean the country off its dependence on oil.”


Samir Grees at Qantara.de, "The Merit Publishing House in Cairo".

“A small sign in the entrance bears the name of the publishing house based on the first floor. It's difficult to believe that this small, unassuming apartment is the headquarters of the ‘Merit’ publishing house, the foundation of which triggered a small earthquake on the Egyptian book market in 1998. Many now-famous names published their debut work through Merit…. Merit focused on young, sophisticated literature right from the outset, and quickly became a good outlet for this kind of genre. Don't judge a book by its cover. Neither a publishing house: Entrance to Merit, one of Egypt's most influential publishers The motor behind the publishing house is founder and director Muhammad Hashim. He looks almost like a small, meagre civil servant – thin, as though he's suffering from anaemia. Chaotic, restless, hyperactive. Many writers complain about him bitterly, calling him unreliable, accusing him of making promises that he doesn't keep. But as soon as they have a new manuscript in their hands, they run to him and want him to publish it more than anything else. Muhammad Hashim is a revolutionary and political publisher through and through. His publishing house is the scene of debates more heated than any taking place in the offices of Egyptian political parties. He is a die-hard opposition figure, against the government, the president and the corruption that blights the nation. A vehement advocate of civil society and secularism in Egypt. ‘When I founded the publishing house in 1998,’ says Muhammad Hashim, ‘I decided that either I achieve something, or I commit suicide.’ Previously, in the 1970s under Sadat, Hashim was politically active and was persecuted and detained ‘for Communism, an attempt to topple the regime and insulting the president,’ he says.”


Hillel Fradkin in Claremont Review of Books on Fred Donner’s book, Mohammad and the Believers, and Robert Reilly’s book, The Closing of the Muslim Mind.

“His most generally helpful emphasis is the claim that Muhammad originally conceived his venture as a movement of monotheistic reform. Muhammad’s earliest and most fundamental teachings are in their very simplicity supportive of the conception and might offer a certain ‘ecumenical’ embrace of Jews and Christians who saw the need for reform. Moreover, the Koran is explicit that earlier monotheists -- i.e., Jews and Christians -- had distorted the true revelations that were bequeathed them, and so needed reform. Although Donner does not note this, the conception of ‘reform’ is also helpful for understanding Islam’s subsequent history. Down to the present day important Muslim movements have presented themselves as movements of ‘reform,’ evoking Muhammad’s original reform and even imitating it through the practice of ‘emigration.’

…Reilly’s very powerful, crucial point is that the theological debate of the 9th century issued, through the victory of the Asharite view in an understanding of God and man which banished reason not only from man but from God Himself. God’s essential characteristics were understood to consist entirely of His will and power -- or almost entirely because as the Koran frequently asserts, God is also just and merciful. But both His mercy and His justice were understood to be entirely derivative from His will. Moreover, this general theological understanding embraced as its ‘physics’ a form of ancient atomism that denied any intrinsic causality to the world other than the continual but unknowable and unpredictable exercises of God’s will. As Reilly points out, this theology was implicitly hostile to that pursuit of philosophy of science that had begun to flourish under the early Abbasid rules, nurtured by their great project of translating ancient Greek but also Indian and Persian texts.”


Laura Kasinof in NYT, "Offended Yemeni Women Protest President’s Remarks".

“Mr. Saleh’s comments on Friday, in which he called on the antigovernment protesters at Sana University ‘to prevent the mixing on University Avenue, which is not approved by Islam,’ seemed only to further embolden female protesters in Yemen, where virtually all women are covered in black head to toe, including a niqab, or face veil. ‘The reason why people are upset is that you cannot talk about women’s honor here,’ said Atiaf Alwazir, a Yemeni woman raised in the United States who is now a youth organizer. ‘That is really a big shame. It’s a black shame. It shames the tribe, the husband, the brother, the whole family.’ ‘You tell us mixing is haram,’ she added, using the Arabic word for sin. ‘Killing is haram.’ The women surrounding Ms. Alwazir chanted, ‘Oh Ali, you’re a lowlife, the honor of women is not cheap,’ and, ‘Oh Bilqis, oh Bilqis, tell your father we don’t want crazy talk,’ in reference to both one of Mr. Saleh’s daughters and an ancient queen who ruled Yemen thousands of years ago.”


Thomas Friedman in NYT, "Pray. Hope. Prepare."

“Let’s start with the structure of the Arab state. Think about the 1989 democracy wave in Europe. In Europe, virtually every state was like Germany, a homogenous nation, except Yugoslavia. The Arab world is exactly the opposite. There, virtually every state is like Yugoslavia — except Egypt, Tunisia and Morocco. That is to say, in Europe, when the iron fist of communism was removed, the big, largely homogenous states, with traditions of civil society, were able to move relatively quickly and stably to more self-government — except Yugoslavia, a multiethnic, multireligious country that exploded into pieces. In the Arab world, almost all these countries are Yugoslavia-like assemblages of ethnic, religious and tribal groups put together by colonial powers — except Egypt, Tunisia and Morocco, which have big homogeneous majorities. So when you take the lid off these countries, you potentially unleash not civil society but civil war. That is why, for now, the relatively peaceful Arab democracy revolutions are probably over. They have happened in the two countries where they were most able to happen because the whole society in Tunisia and Egypt could pull together as a family and oust the evil ‘dad’ — the dictator. From here forward, we have to hope for ‘Arab evolutions’ or we’re going to get Arab civil wars.”


Philip Stephens in FT, "Hooray! The Yanks are going home."

“You can see why European leaders might be alarmed. They are already struggling to enforce the Libyan no-fly zone, which scarcely counts as even a medium-size conflict. Germany, unhelpfully, has sided with Russia and China in opposing the operation. So has Poland. Italy, Sweden and the Netherlands have contributed warplanes, but with caveats. Their pilots can patrol the skies, but must not shoot at anything. That leaves most of the burden on the French and British, who are said to be running short of precision bombs. What would Europe do in a real war?”


Peggy Hollinger in FT, "France adjusts to German Strength."

“Germany’s self-assertiveness has been all the more galling for France because the competitive strength of its partner across the Rhine is a reminder of its own relative economic weaknesses. While Germany stormed out of recession with 3.6 per cent growth last year thanks to structural reforms in the aftermath of unification. France struggled to get barely half that. While France clocked up a budget deficit of 7.7 per cent in 2010, Germany’s was just 3.5 per cent. Over 10 years, German exports have grown more rapidly France’s and its wage costs more slowly. While Paris still sees a Franco-German motor at the heart of the European Union, the growing competitiveness gap between the two countries means France appears the junior partner.”


Rachel Donadio in NYT, "Fears About Immigrants Deepen Divisions in Europe."

“But today few issues are proving more divisive within the bloc than immigration.

That much was clear this week, when the fractious 27-member European Union rejected Italy’s idea to make it easier for immigrants who first land in Italy to travel elsewhere in Europe. At a time when a wave of immigrants fleeing the unrest in North Africa shows no signs of abating, the rejection raised the possibility of tightened intra-European border controls for the first time since visa-free travel was introduced in the 1990s. Frustrations have been building here for weeks, and over the weekend Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi finally said enough was enough. Visiting the Italian island of Lampedusa, the point of entry for thousands of North African immigrants to Europe, he said: ‘Either Europe is something that’s real and concrete or it isn’t. And in that case, it’s better to go back to each going our own way and letting everyone follow his own policies and egotism.’ Mr. Berlusconi’s statement, echoed by other members of his government and criticized by his European counterparts, highlighted a looming showdown within Europe over how to handle the 23,000 migrants who have arrived in Italy since January.”


James Stewart in WSJ, "Emerging Markets: Another Reason to Be Wary."

“Vale is the second-largest metals-and-mining company in the world and the largest producer of iron ore. It also is one of the 30 largest publicly traded companies. Vale is currently the fifth-largest holding in the $38.2 billion #iShares MSCI Emerging Markets Index ETF and the second largest (after #Petrobras) in the $13.2 billion #iShares MSCI Brazil Index ETF. Mr. Agnelli is a native of Sao Paulo who grew up in modest circumstances. He was named Vale's chief executive in 2001. Since then he has shown a shrewd eye for international acquisitions and has steered Vale through a global boom in commodities fueled by Chinese demand. Vale's stock price has increased more than tenfold during his tenure. Vale, which ended the week at $32.78, has an ownership structure unusual among public companies, though not among former government-owned companies in developing countries. According to Vale, 53.3% of its common shares are owned by Valepar, a holding company, and 6.8% are owned directly by the Brazilian government. Brazil's national development bank owns a stake in Valepar, as do various pension funds, and it is widely perceived as heavily influenced, if not controlled, by the government. Though the government denies interfering in Vale's affairs, it has been widely reported that Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff and her top ministers orchestrated the ouster. One of many points of contention between Ms. Rousseff and Mr. Agnelli appears to be the government's interest in boosting employment and investment in Brazil by having Vale expand from its historic roots in mining into labor-intensive steelmaking. Does this make any sense?”


Chris Giles in FT, "Slow train of diplomacy is worth keeping on the tracks."

“From the US and European perspective, there is also the hope that as time passes emerging economies, particularly China, will change their economic analysis and share the view that export-orientated growth is not in their domestic interest. They see the ground slowly shifting. Were China to change its policies and ditch what others see as mercantilism, and others follow suit, that would be a prize worth many sleepless nights. So the G20 train will continue to the next station. The fear is that if it comes off the rails, the destination will never be reached.”


MercoPress: "BRICS members discuss trade grievances with host China."

“The five nations agreed to push for Russia’s entry into the World Trade Organization and called for progress in the Doha Round of WTO trade talks. Chen told reporters that the BRICS nations ‘still face economic overheating issues such as inflationary pressure and asset bubbles.’ The difficulties faced by Brazil, Russia, India and South Africa in increasing high-technology and manufactured exports to China was underscored this week by Brazilian aircraft-maker Embraer. The company failed to get China’s government to approve final assembly of its E-190 aircraft in China because of concerns it would compete with a domestic regional jet, Chief Executive Officer Frederico Curado said in Beijing. Howeer Embraer will build business jets in China. ‘We had the goal of building the 190 here but the Chinese government didn’t approve the project,’ Curado said. The government was concerned that there wouldn’t be enough demand for both the E-190 and China’s rival ARJ21, he said. Complaints from Brazilian unions and industry groups, including toymakers and textile producers, have led the Brazilian government to enact 29 anti-dumping measures aimed at Chinese-made goods, more than those against any other country and almost four times more than directed at the US, according to the Trade Ministry.”


Arieh O’Sullivan in Jerusalem Post, "Ties remain strained, but Turkey, Israel keep on trading."

“Speaking on condition of anonymity, Israeli officials told The Media Line that the government of Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has toned down its anti-Israel rhetoric lately, a move they see linked to the upcoming national elections June 12. Ergodan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) is going after moderate votes, they said. ‘Our understanding is that they are turning toward the center which it turns out didn’t like all this Israel bashing. It only made the AKP look like extremists,’ said one official. Israel has also been cautiously buoyed by the Turkish authorities’ decision in late March to intercept an Iranian cargo jet bound for Syria and force it to land at a Turkish air base. The Turks discovered weapons on board that were suspected to bound for Hezbollah, the Lebanese Shi'ite terrorist group and Israeli foe. Turkey filed a complaint with the United Nations.”


Tobias Buck in FT, "Jihadis have capacity to push Hamas into conflict."

“For Hamas, the Jihadi Salafist presence offers an unusual ideological challenge. Suddenly, the Islamist group finds itself under attack not for being violent and extremists -- but for not being violent and extreme enough. Shunned by Israel, the US and the European Union as a terrorist organization, Hamas is seen by the Jihadi Salafists as something entirely different. They regard Hamas as an Islamist group that has betrayed its origins, abandoned the war against Israel and become too enamored with the trappings of power.”


Katrina Manson in FT, "Somaliland’s painstaking frankincense producers scent sweet smell of success."

“Two thousand years after the three wise men’s journey, the price of gold is hitting new highs, while frankincense bumps along at $1.65 a kilogramme. Keenly watching this price is 33-year-old Guelleh Osman Guelleh, Somaliland’s biggest natural gums exporter. His family’s trading company, Neo Trading/Beyomol, buys and sells $600,000 of aromatic resins a year, and employs dozens of people such as Ms Jama. Mr Guelleh, sitting in a hotel garden gazebo in Somaliland’s capitol, Hargeisa, says: ‘There is a lot of room for production to be increased, but the main obstacle is we‘re pressured on price. The lower the price, the more problematic it is for farmers to go out and spend time tapping and collecting.’ Each tree is handed down through generations of local clans who appoint someone to tend and slash the bark of the stout leafless Boswellia tree, which grows wild in the region’s sparse mountain forest.”


Peter Godwin in NYT, "Making Mugabe Laugh."

“The parallels between Ivory Coast and Zimbabwe are striking: both were once viewed as the singular successes in their respective regions, the envy of their neighbors. Both Mr. Gbagbo, a former history professor, and Mr. Mugabe, a serial graduate student, are highly educated men who helped liberate their countries from authoritarian regimes. Both later clothed themselves in the racist vestments of extreme nativism. Mr. Gbagbo claimed that his rival Alassane Ouattara couldn’t stand for president because his mother wasn’t Ivorian; Mr. Mugabe disenfranchised black Zimbabweans who had blood ties to neighboring states (even though his own father is widely believed to have been Malawian). The two countries have also been similarly plagued by north-south conflicts. And when they spiraled into failed statehood, both leaders blamed the West, in particular their former colonial powers — France and Britain — for interfering to promote regime change. Finally, the international community imposed sanctions against both countries, including bans on foreign travel and the freezing of bank accounts, that have largely proved insufficient. But here’s where the stories crucially diverge — why Laurent Gbagbo is no longer in power, while Robert Mugabe, who lost an election in 2008, continues to flout his people’s will.”


Christopher Hitchens at Slate.com on Peter Godwin’s book, The Fear.

“Writing on all this some years ago, Peter Godwin opted for the view that Mugabe wasn't explicable by any change in circumstances or personality. He had had the heart and soul of a tyrant all along, and simply waited until he could give the tendency an unfettered expression. Even though I have a quasi-psychological theory of my own — that Mugabe became corroded by jealousy of the adulation heaped on Nelson Mandela — I now think that this is almost certainly right. In the Sino-Soviet split that divided African nationalists in the 1960s and 1970s (with the ANC of South Africa, for example, clearly favoring the Soviet Union) Mugabe was not just pro-Chinese. He was pro-North Korean. He enlisted Kim Il Sung to train his notorious Praetorian Guard, the so-called ‘Fifth Brigade,’ and to design the gruesome monument to those who fell in the war of liberation. Some of his white-liberal apologists used to argue that Mugabe couldn't really be a believing Stalinist because he was such a devoted Roman Catholic. But this consideration — while it might help explain his obsession with sexual deviance — might weigh on the opposite scale as well. Catholics can be extremely authoritarian, and Mugabe has, in addition, done very well from his Vatican connection. He broke the ban on his traveling to Europe by visiting the pope as an honored guest. The church unfrocked Pius Ncube, the outspokenly anti-Mugabe bishop of Bulawayo, for apparently having an affair with his (female) secretary. Festooned and bemerded with far graver sins, Mugabe remains a Roman Catholic in good standing, and it's impossible to imagine what he would now have to do to earn himself excommunication.”


David Hayes at Opendemocracy.net, "Thinking of Cambodia."

“I was thinking about Cambodia tonight. I remembered the Ben Kiernan story about his first visit back after the genocide, and how he asked a Khmer Rouge cadre what had happened to an arrested man in a village. ‘We killed him for the time being’. I remembered the story of how the peaceable Cham were hunted down and massacred because they were not pure Khmer. I remembered reading Francois Ponchaud and Lek Hor Tan on the pathology of absolute power, and then finding a leftist magazine discussing the Kampuchean ‘workers’ state’. I remembered the story of how the graduates, technicians and intellectuals answered the call to return from Paris after liberation in 1975, and were met at the airport to be taken away to be tortured and murdered. I remembered Malcolm Caldwell, who never got the chance to report on his last interview with Pol Pot in December 1978, and whose farewell words on the night he was murdered compared Cambodia to Scotland.”


Ulrich Herbert interview at Signandsight.com, "Mass murderers of conviction."

In the 1950s the Nazis were considered underclass criminals…

…‘real antisocial elements,’ as Konrad Adenauer said. 

Why didn't historians work to ensure a more detailed picture of the offenders?

In the 1950s and 1960s this was not the primary problem. At the time, research was done about groups of perpetrators, but usually by outsiders. During this period society was asking: How could this happen? And not: Who was responsible? The historians responded to the first question. Also, for a long time there was a reluctance to name names in research on National Socialism. The important Nazi historian Martin Broszat, for example, was convinced that the Nazi perpetrators were insignificant, to a certain extent not historically viable. The structures were what mattered, which is true to a certain extent….

How important is the group of perpetrators with this biographic profile for the Nazi system?

It is one of many different profiles, but it's a very important one, because it was found particularly often in key positions of power within the terror regime - as especially Michael Wildt has stated very clearly. However, one hardly finds this personal type within the party. The fact that one finds so many young academics precisely among the leadership of the SS and the Gestapo contradicts the picture painted by Friedrich Meinecke, for example, shortly after the war, in which educated Germany stood for the ‘other Germany’. That's not how it was. The intellectual progress of the past 30 years confirms the realisation that these extreme mass murderers were often competent, intelligent, and often even charming gentlemen, not monsters. This thought is still difficult to bear.”


Paul Hollander in New Criterion on Richard Wolin’s book, The Wind from the East: French Intellectuals, the Cultural Revolution & the Legacy of the 1960s.

“It is difficult to see how the fanatical collectivism and murderous intolerance of Maoism -- even as refracted by wishful and deluded Western perceptions -- could have given rise to, or converged with, the kind of therapeutic individualism that was one of the hallmarks of the 1960s. Equally difficult is to discern an affinity between Maoism and the kind of liberating, classless identity politics the author favors and associates with the 1960s. If, as Wolin proposes, the essence of era was the rediscovery of ‘the virtues of participatory politics,’ neither Maoism in general nor the Cultural Revolution in particular had much to offer unless one confuses the hysterical mob violence with meaningful participation. Likewise, it is bizarre to see a connection between Maoism and ‘acts of self-transformation and the search for personal authenticity’ -- phenomena strictly limited to Western societies.”


James Bowman in New Criterion, "The media: Cerebofacturers."

“There are certain problems that arise when you identify education and intelligence with virtue and good sense, and one of them is that you begin to think yourself immune from stupidity. Among the casualties of the Libyan revolution was Howard Davies, Director of the London School of Economics, whose prestigious institution was revealed to have the kind of close ties with the Gaddafi regime that Ron Schiller could only dream of forming with Mr. O’Keefe’s fake Islamicist philanthropists. It was widely supposed, in the one case as in the other, that the motive for these serious institutional ‘mistakes’ which cost the top people their jobs was money. But I think that Daniel Finkelstein of The Times of London was closer to the mark when he wrote that the LSE scandal was one where it didn‘t make sense to ‘follow the money’ as the intrepid Watergate sleuths in All the President’s Men were advised, but rather to ‘follow the stupid ideas.’ Now there’s a job for an intellectual.”


Sarah Hurst at Opendemocracy.net, "Alaska-Chukotka: when cousins reunite."

“Before the Soviet government took charge in the Russian Far East, Ainana’s grandfather was often hired by American whalers. He was supposed to go out just for the season, but one year he didn’t come back. The ice had closed in too quickly and the captain of the ship couldn’t land at Old Chaplino. Instead, he was forced to take Ainana’s grandfather with him to Nome, then on to San Francisco. Ainana’s grandfather lived with the captain for the rest of the year and learned to speak English fluently. When he came home to Chukotka, he brought back flour, sugar, Ceylon tea, tobacco and crackers. Ainana’s father also went out on American whaling ships and learned how to captain a boat, as well as how to speak English. After the Communists came to power, he began working as a captain on a boat transporting cargo from Provideniya north to Cape Serdtse-Kamen. He was paid a decent salary, and so the family lived well up until World War II. During the war, work was much more difficult: Ainana’s father only had a mechanic on the boat with him, and no sailor to help them. They battled storms and freezing conditions. Some nights he went without any sleep. Exhausted, he died of a heart attack in Old Chaplino shortly after returning from a trip.”


Nicholas Wade in NYT, "Ancient Clicks Hint Language Is Africa-Born."

“Dr. Atkinson, an expert at applying mathematical methods to linguistics, has found a simple but striking pattern in some 500 languages spoken throughout the world: A language area uses fewer phonemes the farther that early humans had to travel from Africa to reach it. Some of the click-using languages of Africa have more than 100 phonemes, whereas Hawaiian, toward the far end of the human migration route out of Africa, has only 13. English has about 45 phonemes. This pattern of decreasing diversity with distance, similar to the well-established decrease in genetic diversity with distance from Africa, implies that the origin of modern human language is in the region of southwestern Africa, Dr. Atkinson says in an article published on Thursday in the journal Science. Language is at least 50,000 years old, the date that modern humans dispersed from Africa, and some experts say it is at least 100,000 years old.”


Jeffrey Hart in New Criterion on James Haley’s book, Wolf: The Lives of Jack London.

“On opposite coasts of the United States, Jack London and Stephen Crane fashioned the direct yet nuanced voice of the twentieth century. Contemporaries born in the late nineteenth century, both worked in the same direction, their prose breaking with the Victorian genteel tradition and using the vocabulary and rhythms of living speech, anticipating Hemingway and many other important writers to follow. Both London and Crane, moreover, called for urgent social reform as slums grew worse in the country’s major urban areas. Despite the warm early reception of London’s work, it is Stephen Crane’s Red Badge of Courage (1885)… that has become a fixture in the canon of American literature. Its direct descriptive style, however, has much in common with London’s prose.”


Craig Fehrman in Boston Globe, "Civil war lit."

“In the 1850s, the ideals that were driving the nation toward war often issued from literary writers — and from Boston, the nation’s literary capital. Outside Boston’s Court House, Thomas Wentworth Higginson, one of the period’s most infamous abolitionists, led riots over the Fugitive Slave Act. Inside his Worcester home, Higginson was studying authors like Ralph Waldo Emerson, whose essays he found ‘starry with statements of absolute truth.’ One of Fuller’s key claims is that the North’s literary culture — especially the pro-war, antislavery writing appearing in The Atlantic Monthly — exerted a powerful influence on its broader culture. Emerson and his disciples had spent decades calling for moral and cultural transformation. Now the war offered them a perfect set of causes.
Not every Northern writer fell in line. Nathaniel Hawthorne, who, like Emerson, had written books popular enough to turn him into a celebrity, admitted in a letter the month after Fort Sumter that ‘I don’t quite understand what we are fighting for, or what definite result can be expected.’ This uncertainty carried over to Hawthorne’s writing. Struggling to complete his novel-in-progress, and in need of a break, he headed to Washington to do some reporting — and to write about what he saw for The Atlantic. Hawthorne got to meet Abraham Lincoln and General George McClellan on his trip. But his eventual essay, ‘Chiefly about War-Matters,’ applied fiction’s perspectives and ambivalences to nonfiction. Hawthorne critiqued everything from mechanized warfare to Lincoln’s appearance — his editors cut the latter bit — and even managed to satirize The Atlantic’s self-assured support of the war.”


WSJ Graphic: "An Economy Divided, United States, 1860".


Nicholas Dames in N+1 on Terry Caste’s book, The Professor and Other Writings, Louis Menand’s book, The Marketplace of Ideas, and Martha Nussbaum’s book, Not for Profit.

“The young humanist, as Castle depicts her, is necessarily perverse, and certainly ‘neurotically invested.’ She is likely to be a prig, but is also a cynic, at least about some cultural norms. She disbelieves many hoary old narratives, but still thinks academic achievement earns love. (These days: she knows all the numbers, but still thinks she will get a job.) She is the bad child of Dewey’s progressive educational model — an introvert, a solitary, an obsessive — who can fake the moves of the good child. And by trying so sincerely to earn a way into the academic middle class while feeling uneasy about it she lives out a contemporary contradiction, in which ‘being middle-class these days means feeling freaky a lot of the time.’ She is good, in other words, at inhabiting the gap between sincerity and irony, between cultural gatekeeper and cultural rebel, between grandiosity and humility. And she is good at making others feel similarly. Richard Rorty once argued that Western culture needs the novel, in order to force us to imagine lives and destinies different from our own. Perhaps the humanities, in their current plight, need to be novelistic again. Not necessarily in their fictional mode, such as the moribund campus novel genre with its essentially demystifying comedy, but the novelistic ability to marshal narratives and details that give us back some sense of why the humanities exist for individuals — how, to put it bluntly, they still rescue lives. One doesn’t enter the academy to become a disillusioned professional (although that will happen along the way). One doesn’t enter it to equip businesses with flexible analytic intellects (although that will also happen). One enters it, shamefacedly and unhappily, perhaps, but enters it nonetheless, in order to devote oneself to something greater than personal resentments — to salvational or transformational modes of thought.”


Wilfred McClay in Claremont Review of Books on Claude Fischer’s book, Made in America: A Social History of American Culture and Character.

“Stimulated partly by the work of cultural anthropologists such as Ruth Benedict and Margaret Mead and other social scientists with an interest in culture and personality, and partly by a burst of postwar scholarly interest in Tocqueville’s Democracy in America, an influential group of writers including Richard Hofstadter, Arthur M. Schlesinger, Jr., David Riesman, David Porter, Perry Miller, Daniel Boorstin, and Louis Hartz argued for a fresh view of American history and society, one in which a unifying framework of ideas, myths, symbols, and values was thought to have created and sustained a distinctively American people and culture…. Clearly whatever sins the consensus writers committed, they have been more than surpassed by those of the opposition, which is still going strong some half-century after the academic rout of what the late historian John Higham derided, in a 1959 Commentary article, as ‘The Cult of the American Consensus.’ That’s 50 years and hundreds of monographs for the ‘cult of the anti-consensus,’ compared with 15 years and a handful of books for the original ‘cult’ -- a startling disproportional that somehow escapes mention.”


James Hohmann at Politico.com, Watergate’s ‘last chapter.’

“Woodward is 68, seven years older than Nixon at the time of his resignation. Bradlee, who turns 90 in August, first met Nixon while covering the 1960 presidential campaign. His confrontations with the Nixon White House on Watergate and the decision to publish the Pentagon Papers cemented the Post as a top-tier newspaper. He has lived long enough since retiring at 70 in 1991 to see his old home struggle to maintain itself during an industrywide crisis for newspapers. Meanwhile, a new generation of Nixon admirers believes that telling the Watergate story with more scholarly detachment will allow the rest of his record to be appraised more fairly. Asked by an audience member whether he thought Nixon was a good president, Bradlee made a so-so gesture with his hand. Reflecting on Nixon’s resignation, he said Arizona Sen. Barry Goldwater was a ‘tremendously useful source’ in the Post’s Watergate coverage. ‘No one thought that Barry Goldwater would have a friend at The Washington Post, but he was my wife’s mother’s — should I say it? — boyfriend,’ he confided to the huge crowd. ‘We saw a lot of Barry Goldwater.’ ‘Too much information, Ben,’ Woodward cracked in return.”


Matt Ridley in WSJ, "When Scientists Confuse Cause and Effect."

“When in 1999 Antarctic ice cores revealed carbon-dioxide concentrations and temperature marching in lockstep over 400,000 years, many — including me — found this a convincing argument for attributing past climate change to carbon dioxide. (About 95% of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere is natural, coming from the exhalations of living things. In the past, carbon-dioxide levels rose as the earth warmed at the end of ice ages and fell as it cooled at the end of interglacial periods.) Then four years later came clear evidence from finer-grained analysis of ice cores that temperature changes preceded carbon-dioxide changes by at least 800 years. Effects cannot precede their causes by eight centuries, so temperatures must drive carbon dioxide, chiefly by warming the sea and causing carbon dioxide dissolved in water to ‘out-gas’ into the air. Climate scientists fell back on a ‘feedback’ hypothesis, arguing that an initial change, probably caused by variations in the earth's orbit that affect the warmth of the sun, was then amplified by changes in carbon-dioxide levels. But this made the attribution argument circular and left the reversal of the trend after a period of warming (when amplification should be at its strongest) still harder to explain. If carbon dioxide is still driving the temperature upward but it falls instead, then other factors must be stronger than expected.”


Katherine Bouton in NYT on Howard Friedman & Leslie Martin’s book, The Longevity Project.

“After reading The Longevity Project, I took an unscientific survey of friends and relatives asking them what personality characteristic they thought was most associated with long life. Several said ‘optimism,’ followed by ‘equanimity,’ ‘happiness,’ ‘a good marriage,’ ‘the ability to handle stress.’ One offered, jokingly, ‘good table manners.’ In fact, ‘good table manners’ is closest to the correct answer. Cheerfulness, optimism, extroversion and sociability may make life more enjoyable, but they won’t necessarily extend it, Howard S. Friedman and Leslie R. Martin found in a study that covered eight decades. The key traits are prudence and persistence. ‘The findings clearly revealed that the best childhood personality predictor of longevity was conscientiousness,’ they write, ‘the qualities of a prudent, persistent, well-organized person, like a scientist-professor — somewhat obsessive and not at all carefree.’”


Carl Bialik in WSJ, Reliable Tally of Gay Population Proves Elusive.

“Other demographers say the 3.5% figure seems much more plausible than the discredited Kinsey number. But they say the data available are too scant to draw definitive conclusions. One problem they cited with Dr. Gates's findings is that they combine results from surveys with different sample sizes and interview formats. The California Health Interview Survey canvassed about 50,000 Californians in 2009 by phone, finding that 3.2% identified themselves as gay, lesbian or bisexual. In contrast, roughly 5,900 people took Indiana University's online National Survey of Sexual Health and Behavior in 2009, and nearly twice as many — 5.6% — identified themselves that way. ‘I think there are a lot of problems with every one of those data sets,’ says Randall Sell, associate professor at Drexel University's school of public health. A concern, he says, is that people are more likely to reveal their sexual identity via computer than by phone or in person. Dr. Gates says without more information about the validity of each survey, averaging the results is the best compromise. ‘You can make an argument they're all credible,’ he says. Dr. Sell also notes that if just a small percentage of heterosexuals accidentally identify themselves as gay, lesbian or bisexual, that can skew counts for those relatively small groups. ‘There are people who have never heard the word 'heterosexual,'’ Dr. Sell says.”


Dorothy Rabinowitz in WSJ, "The Loud Family Returns."

“HBO's ‘Cinema Verite’ rescues the Louds from that artifice all these years later and gives them the human voices so evidently stifled in the documentary. In this dramatization, Bill Loud (Tim Robbins) doesn't react with smooth urbanity and chatter to his wife's surprise announcement that she's divorcing him and wants him out of the house, as the real Bill did when he got that news, in 1973, in the presence of the camera.

He looks like a man stunned and in pain. And when he makes the same response — ‘That's short-sighted’ — that the real Bill did, they come as words torn from a man barely able to breathe. Nothing like the reflexive control and affability the chronically ebullient original brought to his on-camera scenes. Mr. Robbins has found every nuance and side of this character and delivered them to such dazzling effect that he appears to have out-Louded Bill Loud and, along the way, brought him to life.”


Carolyn Heinze at Runninginheels.co.uk, "I was a Parisian booth bunny".

“But what – you ask – just what is a ‘booth bunny?’ Well, for us booth bunnies, it’s not so much what you are as what you ought to be. For one, booth bunnies must beam. (That’s ‘smile’ in booth bunny-speak.) No booth bunny boss wants you skulking and sneering and sulking around her stand – even if you are Parisienne. Next, there is the issue of les toilettes. One must be able to tell non-booth bunnies where to find them. (I find the swoopy-sweeping hand signals signature to in-flight stewardesses suffice.) Directing people to les toilettes is an especially important part of Parisian booth bunnydom, since Parisian convention center architects all seem to have conspired to treat les toilettes as an afterthought. So nobody ever knows where the hell they are.”


Paul Gorman digs up the first mention of Sex Pistols, December 1975, NME.

“Not published in the 36 years since appearing in the issue of the New Musical Express dated December 27, 1975, this is the very first media mention of the Sex Pistols (just seven weeks after their live debut). These sentences were written by NME staffer Kate Phillips in her review of the All Night Christmas Ball on November 27 1975 at Queen Elizabeth College (then in Campden Hill, Kensington, west London). The Ball had occasioned the fifth appearance by the Pistols, somewhere down a bill dominated by such mid-70s London live stalwarts as Georgie Fame & The Blue Flames, Mike Absolom and Slack Alice. I recall exactly when + where I first read this, on Christmas Eve afternoon with friends on the top deck of a 31 bus traveling through Westbourne Grove. The previous Friday we had been at a dance at Chelsea College Of Art (then in Manresa Street off the King’s Road), where talk had focused on the Pistols’ gig there the week before.

This first slice of media coverage has not featured in any of the many histories of punk and the Pistols. Received opinion has it that the band didn’t make it to print until the February 1976 review by Neil Spencer, so I made sure there was at least one reference to Phillips’ prescient words in my music press history In Their Own Write.”


It cannot make a lot of sense to send your best music writer across country to something like the Coachella Festival but its possible the NYT’s Ben Ratliff had business in Los Angeles. His review, however, does allow for him to note indirectly in passing the anomaly of Keith Morris’ career as a singer:

“Off!, a new band with an old punk-rock eminence — Keith Morris — played a lean, smoking 25-minute set. These new songs find within Mr. Morris the guy he was in the late 1970s when he was Black Flag’s first singer, squirmy and paranoid and disempowered; with graffiti guitar solos and fast, swinging rhythm, they’re studiously close to the sound and songwriting from the first Black Flag EP, ‘Nervous Breakdown,’ which deserves a place in the National Recording Registry. Dreadlocked, balding and worn, Mr. Morris, 55, is a great Southern California artist, one of the few at this year’s Coachella.” (Ben Ratliff, NYT)

Keith was at first determined to play drums but Greg convinced him to sing since he was regularly observed to go off like the Tasmanian Devil of Looney Tunes’ artists imaginations at other bands’ gigs. Keith agreed to sing only after he and Greg and probably Raymond went up to Hollywood and saw the Ramones on their first trip west -- seeing Joey, then, he could conceive of it. (Keith is one of the great voices in Stevie Chick’s Black Flag book, Spray Paint the Walls) And Ben’s right Keith on that first Black Flag EP and the band itself were uniquely on point in one of those initial punk rock compactions of rock and roll form and history. Today when young bands play the style there is no historical compaction of music as they know only the punk form’s surface. The rest of that 1978 session plus an October 1979 live in studio session comprise the 9 songs Keith recorded in Black Flag. When he left to form Circle Jerks they did an instant album and got caught lifting songs from BF and the Angry Samoans, so their popularity was resented, and not just by his former bandmates. What’s more surprising is that Keith himself didn’t sing as well with his new band, even given the songs themselves weren’t more than serviceable. (I remember Greg and Chuck making fun of the CJ’s song from their second album, “Question Authority,” as if that was a radical proposition.)

I never saw Black Flag play with Keith (or Ron for that matter – another drummer turned singer); Dez was the singer when I first saw them. And I never saw much of Greg or Chuck working over the particulars of Henry’s approach to phrasing, though I’m sure some of that happened initially. So I doubt that went on much with Keith either, though they must’ve talked music alot. I think maybe Keith stopped drinking a few years back and maybe that’s part of it. There’s always a good practical reason for alcohol or pot when it comes to musicians when they are young and so full of energy as to leap out of the tune itself during performance. Keith did that finally on stage one night when he quit Black Flag. Quickly the drugs drain emotional content, wreck musical interplay and then kills them ahead of schedule unless they can stop. Musicians usually have to quit music too as they are so bound up together by then. If Keith is that good again, it's great news.


It’s pretty rare for a screenwriter to have his filmography programmed anywhere. I don’t think the Writers Guild does anything like what the Directors Guild or even SAG does for their memberships. So the Anthology’s Rudy Wurlitzer series is a nice surprise, though there’s probably a couple hundred screenwriters I’d program before Wurlitzer, though its always good to see Two-Lane Blacktop again at least:

Pat Garrett & Billy the Kid

• April 29, May 1, 4

Two-Lane Blacktop
April 30, May 2

Glen and Randa
• April 30, May 2, 4

Keep Busy / Energy and How to Get It / Birth of the Flag Pts I & II

• May 1, 5


• May 1, 3

Candy Mountain

• May 3, 5


The Los Angeles Review of Books, a new print quarterly begins with a site and Ben Ehrenreich’s The Death of the Book.

“In 1967, when Jacques Derrida took up the theme of ‘the end of the book’ in Of Grammatology, McLuhan’s ideas were still sufficiently in the air that the philosopher could refer to ‘this death of the civilization of the book of which so much is said’ without need for further explanation. But the ‘civilization of the book,’ for Derrida, meant more than the era of moveable type. It preceded Gutenberg, and even the medieval rationalists who wrote of ‘the book of nature’ and via that metaphor understood the material world as revelation analogous to scripture. The book for Derrida stood in for an entire metaphysics that reached back through all of Western thought: a conception of existence as a text that could be deciphered, a text with a stable meaning lodged somewhere outside of language. ‘The idea of the book is the idea of a totality,’ he wrote. ‘It is the encyclopedic protection of theology and of logocentrism against the disruption of writing, against its aphoristic energy and … against difference in general.’ Those, in case you couldn’t tell, are fighting words. It is perhaps a symptom of print’s decline that the current conversation about the book’s demise has forgotten all these other ones. Instead we shuttle between two equally hollow poles: goofball digital boosterism a la Negroponte on one side and on the other a helpless, anguished nostalgia for the good old days of papercuts.”


April 1955 WGN newsreel of Richard J. Daley’s first election as Mayor. He’d been elected Cook County Democratic Party Chairman two years earlier and many heard their personal bell toll when he broke convention and did not resign the position upon his election.


Obituary of the Week

• Cyrus Harvey (1925 - 2011)

“Janus Films, founded in 1956, grew from his part ownership of the Brattle Theater in Cambridge, Mass., which he and a partner, the actor Bryant Haliday, had transformed from a live-theater venue to a movie house that showed the art films Mr. Harvey had grown to love as a Fulbright scholar in Paris. ‘Instead of spending two years at the Sorbonne, he spent two years at the cinémathèque,’ his wife said. Mr. Harvey and Mr. Haliday showed Janus films at the Brattle and at the 55th Street Playhouse in New York. They had named the company for a Roman god usually depicted with two heads facing in different directions. ‘They named it that because they themselves were opposites,’ Ms. Harvey said. ‘Bryant was gay and Catholic. Cy was straight and Jewish. They really liked that.’ Before they sold the company in 1966, Janus helped introduce American audiences to dozens of films that have since been accepted as masterpieces of world cinema: Antonioni’s L’Avventura, Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai, Fellini’s La Strada, and Bergman’s Seventh Seal and Virgin Spring, which won the Academy Award for best foreign film in 1960, among many others. The Brattle Theater still stands and is still a symbol of Harvard intellectual hip.”


Thanks to Steve Beeho, Jay Babcock.

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• Joe Carducci, Chris Collins, James Fotopoulos, Mike Vann Gray, David Lightbourne
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