a new low in topical enlightenment

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Issue #108 (July 27, 2011)

Du Page River, Naperville

Photo by Joe Carducci

The News Immedia
by Joe Carducci

“Do you know the dark windows of the city, you gentlemen who write continually of temples and art? Come, forget your love for things you never saw, cathedrals and parthenons that exist in yesterdays you never knew. Come, look at the fire escapes that are stamped like letter Z’s against the mysterious rectangles; at the rhythmic flight of windows whose black and silver wings are tipped with the yellow winkings of the corset and ice cream signs. The windows over the dark river are like an alphabet, like the keyboard of a typewriter. They are like anything you want them to be.”

“Night Diary” Ben Hecht 1922, Daily News, 1001 Afternoons in Chicago

The newspapers were once where it was at. They were too new to be decadent. They were making it up as they went along, often even the news they reported. The stories were real, they might’ve said, but with certain points and snags hewn off to reduce reader fiction. Readers understood the points of their papers and picked their papers accordingly. They might get a morning paper delivered and pick up an afternoon paper after work. There were likely three of each in the early 20th-century American city, not counting foreign language papers. In Vienna Karl Kraus was inventing the opinion column and with the Austro-Hungarian empire’s elite opinion to survey he found much to ridicule. He is remembered mostly by students of pre-war European Jewish culture as a self-loathing Jew, though perhaps the Wars, the Revolutions, and the Holocaust just eliminated the patience intellectuals once had for rough debate. I don’t have my Kraus books with me here in Illinois -- the recent biography is titled, The Anti-Journalist -- or I’d dig out something to shame today’s paper.

That old world Habsburg ethnic patchwork required a nimble political acumen that the crowned heads of Europe were losing to decadence. The new world ethnic patchwork of Chicago post-fire had none of Vienna’s stratification or stability. It was essentially an instant city, even compared to other new world cities. There was plenty of bad behavior, a kind of urbanizing wild west where the big money was so big and the life and labor so cheap that large civic projects commenced greased by massive boodle. No true decadence though. That you see now, everywhere. Fine, noble behavior, but decadent.

Ben Hecht, and a fair number of his colleagues in twenties Chicago news papering, were good illustrations of a point made last week regarding how high ambition in America must slum in low culture since we have no high culture. This has made our low culture uniquely high-grade compared to those of the old world. Hecht was fine with that, loved it by all evidence -- his life’s work in papers and movies. He got to Chicago from Racine in 1910 and began in papers as a picture-stealer whose job it was in those days of bulky and expensive photography to obtain photographs from the nightstands and mantels of families caught up in news stories. These were bought, rented, borrowed or stolen depending on need and opportunity. There were a fair number of newspaper pictures made in the early talkie period from Hecht’s own hand. Sound was poorly used at first in all movies but these rapid-fire cynical hilarious tragedies.

Many a degree-toting journalist today might claim to appreciate that old style of news papering, but their actions betray a reflexive middle-class Puritanism. The Murdoch tabloid scandal exposes all this. James Warren brought up Hecht and his play “The Front Page” in “Hildy Johnson Would Have Happily Hacked” without really making the connection. Underachiever that he’s been Warren makes it, rather, mere reference because he or the New York Times (or the Chicago News Cooperative!) do not wish to mitigate by an ounce any punishment the British or American legal systems may feel obliged by this immediastorm to serve up. In the general buzz since last week there has been an apparent wish to see Murdoch & family resign from News Corp and for it to be another fully corporatized multi-national faceless entity. Once in awhile the New York Times reiterates that it is determined to stay a family-owned newspaper. This usually means family-controlled via majority stock ownership. Murdoch was able to shake loose enough Bancroft family-owned stock to buy the Wall Street Journal. This he did in part because he judged the Sulzberger family-owned Times not as vulnerable; also, the Journal could be leveraged to television and its former relationship with CNBC was redirected to the new Fox Business Channel. Nevertheless the New York Times’ media columnist David Carr zeroed in on the family Murdoch in “Scandal Splinters Murdoch Family Business”, anticipating the “fairly biblical” moment when Rupert must decide between News Corp and his family:

“James Murdoch is done. He and his father both know that. His testimony curdled as he emitted it, and within two days a couple of former News Corporation executives publicly challenged it. The hooks are still in him, as Prime Minister David Cameron made clear when he said James still had ‘questions to answer.’ And so he will, gradually sinking further into the mess he has overseen. Oddly, the News Corporation’s stock began to tick up during the hearings as Rupert Murdoch testified, his large hands thumping as he dropped them to the table. But it was less about his performance than about the clear message that emerged: an era had ended. The family business is splintering. If James is out, as would seem to be the case, will his other offspring, Elisabeth and Lachlan, come swinging into view? I and others doubt that the charms of a global media enterprise being run as a corner grocery store will continue. While the family reign seems certain to fracture, the News Corporation’s own fortunes are less predictable.”

Actually News Corp’s fortunes become far more predictable absent the family. Subtract Sumner Redstone from Viacom and it’ll get pretty predictable over there too in a hurry. And yes that might please plenty of true believers in, say, competent predictable managerialism, but David misread his own paper in this instance, because what Times reporters Jeremy Peters and Brian Stelter actually reported, “In Appearance, the Murdochs Caught a Break, Analysts Say” was:

“Analysts noted that the market was watching James in particular, looking for signs of whether the man who is presumed to be the chief executive heir apparent was up to the task. ‘It was a credibility-building day for James,’ Mr. Bank said. ‘I don’t know that it makes succession by him any more definite, but it prevented what could have been the event of making it far less likely.’ And the market appeared to like what it saw. ‘Every time James spoke, the stock ticked up,’ Mr. Bank added.”

Could be Carr saw the ticker more clearly and has told these rookies to quit poaching his beat. (If he told his boss Bill Keller that much, maybe these guys are no longer with us.) Given Carr’s autobiography you’d think he more than most in the game might appreciate “the charms of a global media enterprise being run as a corner grocery store.” But no, he really has gone clean.

Precious few commentators have tried to defend and explain tabloids generally; last week’s NV linked to a fine piece in the Times itself, “Why We Need the Tabloids” by Ryan Linkof. And Brendan O’Neill first parsed Murdochophobia at Spiked (also linked to last week in NV 107, and now in Prospect, "What price a free press?”:

“Hugh Grant won rapturous applause on Question Time when he said ‘I’m not for regulating the proper press, the broadsheet press. But it is insane that the tabloid press is left unregulated.’ The Independent’s Yasmin Alibhai-Brown even suggested in a debate on BBC radio that perhaps journalists should require a licence — from the state — before they can report and write. When the issue of licensing was put to Alan Rusbridger, editor of the Guardian, in a debate about tabloid phone-hacking, he would only say that the ‘notion of state licensing for the press’ made him feel ‘anxious.’ ‘But I’d be interested to hear other views,’ he added. A newspaper editor who only feels ‘anxious’ about state licensing of newspapers, rather than, say, angry or outraged, might want to ask himself if he is in the right profession. Newspapers did once require a license from the authorities, but that system was abolished in the late 17th century, after coming to be seen as an abomination against freedom of the press and freedom of thought.”

I suspect there is an amount of Royal prerogative-envy running loose along the neurons of our meritocratic elite. They don’t quite actively fear licensing or regulation or control because it would certainly be they themselves, speaking in class terms, doing the licensing or regulating or controlling. There’s also a solid disbelief that their credentials might ever fail to keep them immune from whatever might buffet the working class -- globalization, rotten schools, open borders, the caliphate…. They consider that they are in touch with the cool part of the working class, and black culture, and so they are working class, they are black, just as they eat at all the best immigrant restaurants and taco trucks. This casual blue-blooded narcissism calls to my mind Charles Manson who with his Family intended to provoke a race war that blacks would win and then being ignorant blacks would require the surviving whites, Manson & Co., to administer their society, or Los Angeles anyway.

It shouldn’t surprise us that the news media has no true appreciation for its own history and is actively pursuing the destruction of its true purpose. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, mass higher edumucation yields more pretense than knowledge or wisdom. Thinking is clear and moves like water; kids in fallen liberal arts colleges or film schools aren’t exposed to thinking but are encouraged to adopt a number of accepted ideas since they are of more use in constructing a suitably cool lifestyle. These ideas are opaque and solid and can be thrown like rocks, or pebbles really. This explains NPR, hipsters, the overwhelming use of characters like Sarah Palin to help define what one is not. Back in the eighties fat, bad-taste, late Elvis was used similarly as a totem of unpretentious cool in the face of perhaps the last great cultural challenge rock and roll was providing. Now canned beer will do that for you.

Today the media and university culture service and are part of a lifestyle left that doesn’t have the intellectual exoskeleton of even the sixties New Left which had jettisoned the Marxist vertebrae of the Old Left. So it suns itself blob-like before its cultural mirror, tending first and foremost to the opponent of its dreams -- a fanciful Right that somehow remains Cold-Warrior, Neo-Con, Libertarian, Protectionist, Isolationist, Racist, Capitalist, Royalist, and anything else that comes in handy. This doesn’t allow for much to get done politically in our bicameral legislature, even when right now several major issues lend themselves to cross-aisle deals. Offhand these deals-gone-wanting probably include cutting military spending and commitments, decriminalizing drugs, and breaking the inside game between big business and the federal government, i.e., no more too-big-to-fail bail-outs.

There may not be this consensus in the center but because of lazy interference run for purposes of lifestyle defining social coloration by the news media, there cannot be tests of the Left-Right coalitions possible on these and other issues. The Democrats probably think a government shutdown would reprise President Clinton’s trouncing of Speaker Gingrich, but there’s this economic-currency-governmental crisis that probably precludes the kicking of the can, The Can of Cans, further down the road. Europe has let down its biggest fans in the Democratic Party by turning all those third ways into one even bigger can of worms: an economic-trade-currency-governmental-race crisis. The New Right here is entertaining many new ideas, some formerly or still Left ideas. Many center-left critiques of the Left over the years suspected that productive political outcomes rated low on the priority list of those most interested in displaying themselves in told-you-so Cassandra postures predicated on the mixed Old-New Left fantasy image of Amerika the Ugly. The nihilist fantasy of remaining righteous in the belly of the beast doesn’t allow for serious political purpose if one might even fool an electorate outside San Francisco long enough to get elected.

The newsmedia mainstream is simply outing itself in its own determined pandering to Left-Liberal fantasy maintenance with Sarah Palin overkill. It was understandable that her convention speech was going to take the entire campaign to digest but when the election didn’t stop the Palin coverage something else was up. A Dummy Right is being propped up so the meritocracy needn’t work to earn its prerogatives. The news media provides a ventriloquist’s voice for this dummy. When considering Jon Stewart I think of Lenny Bruce and Rush Limbaugh. Jon Stewart has made himself a true weathervane for journalists. They’re so unhip they believe his MTV pedigree is valuable, or perhaps even invaluable! And who in the news media of that day was ready for Lenny Bruce? The sixties newspapers many of which had been semi- or even cutting edge hip forty years earlier had been tamed by FDR, the cold war, and finally television with its visible etiquette of middle class family room propriety. The Chicago Tribune in the sixties was actively trying to lose the last of its roaring twenties hip (Hecht, Lingle, Gould, et. al.). It had lead the losing fight against New Deal somnambulism and interventionism (all this overdue for a revisionist look), and by the sixties was attempting to get hip to the coming Woodward & Bernstein storefront-lawyers style of new-snooze. Lenny Bruce meanwhile was walking the plank pursuing some kind of free-style commentary that had burst out of comedy, burlesque, jazz and drug-use which led him to tour jails in tandem with nightclubs. He lost his television spots on variety shows and late night. Limbaugh came out of the last years of interesting AM music radio and as a result has an anomalous working knowledge of early 70s pop and soul. Stewart, Bruce and Limbaugh are primarily newsmedia monitors. Bruce went through the news media to the police blotter itself and ended up riffing off of his own court transcripts. The simpatico critique Stewart provides nightly journalists just eat up. But they don’t recognize themselves in Limbaugh’s take, even when he’s using audio clips. They hear his show as so much bloviating or shrieking -- unlistenable. I remember Rush describing his studio setup one day back in the nineties when he was following some breaking news story; he had one of those screen splitters which meant he had a checkerboard of each news channel and network so he could monitor who was live with the story and at what level of on-air talent. The news divisions don’t appreciate critical scrutiny and knowledgeable comparison; they hear it as hateful invective. They famously dish it out while exhibiting thinner and thinner skin.

The word is soon-to-be ex-Exec Editor Bill Keller will stop his NYT Magazine column where he regularly bigfooted his media beat reporters by stomping gratuitously on Times competitors. He’ll now be on the opinion pages lobbing such columns as Frank Rich or Gail Collins and other in-house somnambulists have specialized in. Rich is soon to be recapping his television viewing in New York magazine. Again, I caution: Watching television is not as easy as it looks!

Coverage suggests that Rupert Murdoch and son James are famously hands-on owners but certainly, though Rupert loves newspapers, his company is subsidizing them through television, satellite television, movies, sports, and he’d hoped MySpace. The internet is claiming most waking hours of anyone at the top of a media company; for Murdoch it’s the various sites and The Daily, for the NYT it is their paywall which must work before the print edition begins sinking. Any newspaperman, any lover of newspapers can’t seriously cheer Murdoch leaving this sunset industry while there is a single lumen left on that western horizon. It’ll happen too soon as it is. This cheering we hear then is from some other sort of being, one standing in the info-stream but not getting wet.


Immedia Addendum

Seth Mnookin in New York, "The Kingdom and the Paywall".

“‘I’ve always kept this one,’ he said. ‘This is the Time magazine piece on my father about how he was such an awful publisher that the newspaper wasn’t going to survive.’ The cover features an illustration of Sulzberger’s father in bed, surrounded by copies of the Times’ ‘light’ news sections — ‘Home,’ ‘Living,’ and the like. The headline reads, ‘Coping With the New New York Times,’ and the story, Sulzberger told me, was about how his father ‘was destroying the paper; it’d never been in worse shape. By the way, [that] was just months before they launched the four-section daily, remade the entire paper’ — an illustration, Sulzberger said, of how ‘people don’t have the insight they think they have, and so they react, too frequently, in the moment.’ As it turned out, the piece was a fairly positive account of his father’s effort to remake ‘America’s greatest newspaper’ — evidence, if more were needed, of the painfully thin skin of a man who has spent decades on the defensive.”


David Leonhardt’s farewell Business Section column in the New York Times, “A Knowing Nation With Issues or Lessons From the (U.S. Economy’s) Malaise” is quite revealing of just where his blind spots are as he ticks off in a sub-Rumsfeld way, just what we know politically and economically. It’s worth reading because he’s gone to D.C. to head that NYT’s bureau. Ira Stoll, late of Smartertimes.com, and now at Futureofcapitalism.com notes this promotion and presents links to his recent commentaries on several misbegotten Leonhardt columns.


I was going to assess this Michael Powell column in the NYT, “Government Can’t Help? Tell That to the South Bronx” where he concludes after cooking the books on the Bronx, “The era of government may be in danger. But it saved the South Bronx,” but Ira Stoll does a better job on it than I could have and pulls in a year-old Washington Monthly essay of last year that is to the point.


David Gelles & Andrew Edgecliffe-Johnson in FT, "Thomsons grow restless over Reuters’ progress".

“The family behind Thomson Reuters is pushing for faster results from the three-year-old merger of Thomson Corporation and Reuters, which initially exceeded promises of integration benefits, but has struggled to introduce a central new product in its markets division. People close to the board say the Thomson family, which still controls about 55 per cent of the financial and professional information group through its holding company, Woodbridge, is growing impatient with the pace of change after a year in which shares have fallen by 10 per cent…. ‘Eikon is a fantastic idea and if they have time it will go far,’ said Mr Taylor. ‘It won‘t be a Bloomberg killer, but it will reset the bar for Thomson Reuters.’”


Anthony Lane in New Yorker, "Hack Work".

“For a small nation, Britain has an awful lot of national newspapers. Six days of the week, you can choose among five tabloids, some of them known, for reasons of design rather than of ideology, as ‘red-tops’ (the Sun, the Daily Mirror, the Daily Express, the Daily Star, and the Daily Mail), and five broadsheets — the Times, the Guardian, the Independent, the Financial Times, and the Daily Telegraph. Only the last two are still technically broadsheets, in terms of their page size, but the term has adhered to anything that lays claim to higher ground…. This barrage of print has one overriding effect: in Britain, you cannot hear yourself think. You never really notice this until you leave the country, whereupon the white noise suddenly stops. The noisiest paper, without doubt, was the News of the World, which resounded with three continuous notes. The first and most defensible was sport; last year, the paper laid bare a match-fixing racket in Pakistani cricket — a bigger and more lucrative deal than it sounds. Then, there were television performers, who furnished an astounding proportion of the paper’s stories. (When historians come to measure the age of Murdoch, that symbiosis between media will loom large.) Last and most cacophonous, there was the assumption, or the ardent hope, that somebody, somewhere, was having sex with somebody he should not be having sex with.”


Philip Stephens in FT, "Now for a slimmer, more distinctive BBC".

“The BBC has been enjoying Rupert Murdoch’s troubles. In the humbling of News Corp, it has cheered the dispatch of an implacable enemy. Britain’s public broadcaster should be careful about gloating. It has business of its own to attend to, starting with the rediscovery of its public service mission. Like everyone else in the public realm, the BBC must come to terms with straitened times. A cash freeze in the licence fee implies a cut of 20 per cent in its budget by 2015. The corporation should not expect sympathy. To the contrary, it should see an opportunity in austerity. The BBC does lots of things well and too many badly. It has seen the digital revolution as a chance to compete with everyone, everywhere. The endless quest for audience “reach” has elbowed aside quality. BBC journalism has joined the tabloids in suborning accuracy to impact. The licence fee was not invented to indulge BBC executives who style themselves members of a new global media plutocracy.”


Christopher Bland, former chairman of BBC and then British Telecom, formerly a creature of the Post Office, is somewhat exercized over the matter of James the Younger's performance for shareholders in his press release in the Financial Times, "Why James Murdoch Should Resign Today". The hearings must've interrupted his high tea or his telly watching. Underlying his complaint is the public sector's assumption that its public monies are clean and anyone's private monies dirty.

"If BSkyB is to avoid several months of Murdoch-dominated limbo, its board must be radically reconstructed, starting at the top. James Murdoch’s tenure at BSkyB has been successful. He managed to lose around £350m on investment in ITV, an error of judgment that would for mere mortals have proved terminal. But his strategy of building up a subscriber base, increasing average revenue and diversifying into broadband has worked well. Nevertheless, he should go. There has always been a conflict of interest in chairing a company for which he was also bidding. That conflict still exists. More importantly, his evidence to the select committee relied heavily on ignorance about crucial e-mail evidence. His 'wilful blindness' showed at best a lack of curiosity, and at worst a failure to ask questions, for fear of hearing unacceptable answers."


Charles Madigan, now a professor of journalism at Roosevelt U., and one of the anonymouses who successfully scrubbed the last traces of Colonel-authored greatness from the Chicago Tribune asks alas non-facetiously, “Can journalism survive Murdoch?”

“There may well not have been a civil rights era in America without the press and TV news. And while John F. Kennedy may have been the president who called for a trip to the moon, Walter Cronkite was the national host who raised the engineering and physics of space travel to poetry and read it right into the living rooms of the nation. Yes, things have changed. The people who decided journalism was a profit center managed to squeeze the profit very well. They did not simply throw out the baby with the bath water, they simply crushed the little critter. Most likely all of that happened a long time ago in Britain, where people like the Australian Murdoch found an eager audience for the stinky mess that fronts many British tabloids. It was a numbers game in a media that depended more on circulation than advertising. Tapping the smelly masses, that's what it's all about.”


John Lloyd in FT on William Rees-Mogg’s book, Memoirs.

“His high opinion of Murdoch derives from his time as editor of The Times from 1967-1981, which culminated with the Australian’s acquisition of that newspaper and the Sunday Times from the Canadian Thomson group. As he writes, Murdoch -- by smashing the power of print unions that had escaped the control not just of management but of their own officers -- helped secure a future for an industry that might have been much grimmer and more impoverished. Rees-Mogg’s journalistic apprenticeship was served on this newspaper in the 1950s. He secured a meeting with the editor, Sir Gordon Newton, because Shirley, now Baroness, Williams had written a profile of him in an Oxford student paper when he was president of the union, which had him reading the FT at breakfast. For an editor scouting for the cream of Oxbridge, he was a natural choice.”

Drawing by James Fotopoulos

From the Kroehler Desk of Joe Carducci…

Christian Oliver in FT, "Chaebol pulled into ‘tofu war’ as Seoul backs small companies".

“Seoul plans to designate a range of business sectors -- such as tofu-making -- as exempt from competition or takeovers by the chaebol, mighty family-run conglomerates such as Samsung, Hyundai and Lotte. A commission is reviewing 230 business areas that could be reserved for small- and medium-sized enterprises. Other than tofu, the commission is considering a protected status for products such as soap, light bulbs, industrial moulds, satellite receivers, bottles, sunglasses, toys and vacuum cleaners.”


David Pilling in FT, "High time to concede the Thai king can do wrong".

“Thailand has the most strictly enforced lese majesty laws in the world. David Streckfuss, a US academic who has extensively researched the subject, reckons they are as ferociously applied as in absolute monarchies of the past. Any Thai is free to point the finger at anyone else, opening their use to witch-hunts or political vendettas. There is no defence on the grounds of truth or public interest.”


Jamil Anderlini in FT, "Beijing’s fear of social nightmare slows fulfillment of urban dream".

“China’s economic development ‘suffers from a serious lack of balance, co-ordination and sustainability’. Those are not the words of an ultra-bearish hedge fund manager. They come from a speech delivered three weeks ago by Chinese President Hu Jintao and they show that the ruling Communist party understands better than anyone the momentous challenges it faces in managing the world’s second-largest economy.”


Kathrin Hille in FT, "Symbol of hope in Hotan yet to reap rewards for region’s Uighurs".

“Home to the lion’s share of the country’s onshore energy reserves, Xinjiang is populated by a Turkic people, most of whom do not want to be part of China. Beijing revamped a programme under which richer provinces act as donors and investors for different parts of Xinjiang. It promised to bring in fresh investment and vowed that more attention would be paid to regional disparities.”


Andrew Jacobs in NYT, "As China Steps Up Web Monitoring, Many Wi-Fi Users Stay Away".

“New regulations that require bars, restaurants, hotels and bookstores to install costly Web monitoring software are prompting many businesses to cut Internet access and sending a chill through the capital’s game-playing, Web-grazing literati who have come to expect free Wi-Fi with their lattes and green tea. The software, which costs businesses about $3,100, provides public security officials the identities of those logging on to the wireless service of a restaurant, cafe or private school and monitors their Web activity. Those who ignore the regulation and provide unfettered access face a $2,300 fine and the possible revocation of their business license.”


MercoPress: "China determined to break the grip of the three major global iron ore miners".

“‘China currently owns less than 10% of imported iron ore. We should seek 50% of ore from Chinese-invested overseas resources in the next five to 10 years,’ he said. Li's remarks underscored the ambition of Chinese companies to secure steady supplies of ore globally. Luo Bingsheng, deputy Party secretary of the association, said earlier that China has overseas mining rights capable of producing 150 million tons of ore annually, but most of the mines have yet to start production. He accused the major global mining companies of taking advantage of supply falling short of demand to set prices at unreasonably high levels, squeezing profits from Chinese steel mills.”


FT Profile: "Carson Block, the short seller".

“Just a year ago, Carson Block was the little-known boss of Love Box, a struggling self-storage company in Shanghai. Today he is the best-known short seller in the China market, having triggered collapses in the share prices of six Chinese companies listed in the US and Canada, three of which have subsequently been suspended or delisted. ‘I realized this problem was systemic and that I’ve got the skillset to expose these frauds and take them out of the market,’ Mr Block told the Financial Times in a recent interview. A 35-year-old New Jersey native and fan of 1990s gangsta rap music, Mr Block published his first report on his Muddy Waters Research website on June 28 2010, alleging fraud at a company called Orient Paper, which trades on the American Stock Exchange. ‘By hitting send on that report the world changed tremendously for me,’ he says.”


Jeremy Page in WSJ, "U.N. Clears China Sea-Floor Plan".

“The Jiaolong is diving at a site between Hawaii and the North America mainland, where China was granted rights to explore for minerals in 2001 by the International Seabed Authority, a U.N. body that oversees mining in international waters. ISA, meeting at its headquarters in Jamaica, said it had approved on Tuesday applications from China and Russia -- the first from any countries -- to explore relatively newly discovered deposits called ply metallic sulphides that form around volcanic vents in ridges on the seabed.”


Dan Levin in NYT, "China Is Unprepared To Replace Retiring Yao".

“‘China has no shortage of this kind of talent,’ he said. ‘We simply have coaching and systemic problems that prevent us from discovering and developing these players.’ While the United States develops players through an almost Darwinian process of natural selection in youth leagues, high school teams and colleges, China has a rigid, Soviet-inspired state network of athletic schools, coaches and bureaucrats that selects players as early as age 4. Yao, the son of exceptionally tall basketball players, was a 5-foot-7 third grader when he was plucked by a local sports school for a life of endless drills geared entirely toward molding him into Olympic material. Every professional Chinese player has a similar body and biography. And yet, before and during the 30-year-old Yao’s N.B.A. career, China has managed to reach only the Olympic quarterfinals.”


Urmila Venugopalan at YaleGlobal, "Sorry, Pakistan: China Is No Sugar Daddy".

“The Turkistan Islamic Party (TIP), a Uighur separatist group that Beijing often blames for terrorist attacks within China, appears to have a sanctuary in the borderlands of Afghanistan and Pakistan. TIP leaders were killed in South Waziristan and North Waziristan, in September 2003 and February 2010, respectively. Chinese leaders fear that the reduction in U.S. military aid to Pakistan -- coupled with the impending drawdown of American troops from Afghanistan -- could afford the Uighurs a safe haven outside Beijing's control. Indeed, Afghanistan looms large in China's strategic calculus. Media reports highlighting the discovery of nearly $1 trillion in untapped mineral deposits in Afghanistan surely have piqued Chinese interest in bolstering relations with Kabul. With its export-oriented economy heavily dependent on raw material imports, the prospect of cheap resources on China's periphery is understandably appealing. Acutely aware that Pakistan's generals will play an integral role in Afghanistan's future, Beijing will be keen to leverage its close ties with Rawalpindi. But only up to a point. The relationship is more asymmetric than Pakistan would like to admit.”


NYT: "Pakistan Spies On Its Diaspora, Spreading Fear".

“F.B.I. agents hunting for Pakistani spies in the United States last year began tracking Mohammed Tasleem, an attaché in the Pakistani Consulate in New York and a clandestine operative of Pakistan’s military spy agency, the Directorate for Inter-Services Intelligence. Mr. Tasleem, they discovered, had been posing as an F.B.I. agent to extract information from Pakistanis living in the United States and was issuing threats to keep them from speaking openly about Pakistan’s government. His activities were part of what government officials in Washington, along with a range of Pakistani journalists and scholars, say is a systematic ISI campaign to keep tabs on the Pakistani diaspora inside the United States.”


Mihir Bose in FT, "India bats its way up the new world order".

“The event broadcast the power of India’s diaspora: the Indians wanted the English to know that England’s old colony now controlled this newly globalised game. India tops the world’s cricket rankings, but they are the game’s new moneybags too -- providing more than 80 per cent of the game’s global income. A series with India now makes more money for England than even the contest against their own rivals Australia, because of the sale of televised rights to the hungry Indian market.”


Vikas Bajaj in NYT, "Factories Find Favor".

“Mr. Date’s company is emblematic of a recent surge in exports of engineered and other sophisticated goods from India — a country perhaps better known for exports of skilled services like software outsourcing. But in fact, Indian exports of goods are now nearly double exports of services, growing 37.5 percent, to $245.9 billion, in the 12 months that ended in March. Leading the way are high-value products like industrial machinery, automobiles and car parts, and refined petroleum products. Indian exports are following a different path from that taken by other Asian countries like Japan, Korea and China. Those countries started by exporting products like garments and toys made by large numbers of low-paid, low-skilled workers, before moving to more sophisticated products like cars and industrial machinery.”


Ramachandra Guha in FT, "India is too corrupt to become a superpower".

“The sociologist Ashis Nandy once noted that ‘in India the choice could never be between chaos and stability, but between manageable and unmanageable chaos’. He wrote this in the 1980s, a decade marked by ethnic and caste violence, and bloody religious riots. It applies even more to the India of today, however, and is being made worse by the deterioration and corruption of India’s ruling political elite.”


Robert Worth in NYT Magazine, "Yemen on the Brink of Hell".

“She looked up and saw that the officers on the building’s roof were not just throwing rocks, as they had in the past. They were firing straight down into the crowd below. Within minutes, at least four people were dead and about 60 were wounded. Maqtari began running back toward ‘Freedom Square,’ the intersection where thousands of protesters had been camped out for months demanding the resignation of Ali Abdullah Saleh, Yemen’s strongman president. Then the real assault began. Armored vehicles, tanks and bulldozers began converging on the protesters’ tent city from all sides. They fired tear gas and water cannons into the square and began shooting protesters at point-blank range. They doused the tents, which extended for hundreds of yards in every direction, with gasoline and lighted them on fire. None of the protesters had weapons. ‘People were dying all around us, and there was nothing we could do,’ Maqtari told me. Some were burned alive. At around 11 p.m., Maqtari fled to her sister’s house, about 200 yards uphill from the square. There, she and other protesters watched as flames engulfed the entire square, raging for several hours. Officers stormed through the local hospital and several field clinics where protesters were being treated, firing tear gas down the corridors, shooting up the ceilings and arresting doctors and nurses. Some thrust their gun butts into patients’ wounds. Others were laughing hysterically, as if they were on drugs, Maqtari and others told me, and shouting into the darkness, ‘Ali is your god!’ The next morning, amid the charred remains of the tents, someone had scrawled a sardonic reversal of the protesters’ chants on a wall. ‘The regime wants the fall of the people,’ it said.”


Abigail Fielding-Smith in FT on Theo Padnos’ book, Undercover Muslim: A Journey into Yemen.

“Unsatisfied by the worldly capital, Padnos and his friends decide to seek admittance to a remote religious community in Dammaj in the north where thousands of foreigners come to study and pray under the guidance of a Salafi (Sunni fundamentalist) imam. But even here the purity they seek is not unsullied. According to one young man from north London living there, it is also home to a flourishing black market in weapons and sex with boys. And there is an uneasy awareness that the showy austerity is supported by ‘a certain family of petrocrat neighbours to the north… now pouring layers of gold and marble over the holy sites of Islam’.”


George Will in Washington Post, "Sustaining the Unsustainable".

“Thanks largely to the Tea Party, today, more than at any time since Reagan’s arrival 30 years ago, Washington debate is conducted in conservatism’s vocabulary of government retrenchment. The debt-ceiling vote, an action-forcing mechanism of limited utility, has at least demonstrated that Obama is, strictly speaking, unbelievable. Five months ago he submitted a budget that would have accelerated indebtedness, and that the Democratic-controlled Senate rejected in May, 97 to 0. Just three months ago he was demanding a ‘clean’ increase in the debt ceiling, containing nothing to slow the spending carousel. Now he calls for ‘the largest possible’ debt-reduction deal. Today, he says, ‘If you look at the numbers, then Medicare in particular will run out of money and we will not be able to sustain that program no matter how much taxes go up.’ Last year he advertised Obamacare as a sufficient reform of health care.”


Gary Fields & John Emshwiller in WSJ, "As Criminal Laws Proliferate, More Ensnared".

“The U.S. Constitution mentions three federal crimes by citizens: treason, piracy and counterfeiting. By the turn of the 20th century, the number of criminal statutes numbered in the dozens. Today, there are an estimated 4,500 crimes in federal statutes, according to a 2008 study by retired Louisiana State University law professor John Baker. There are also thousands of regulations that carry criminal penalties. Some laws are so complex, scholars debate whether they represent one offense, or scores of offenses. Counting them is impossible. The Justice Department spent two years trying in the 1980s, but produced only an estimate: 3,000 federal criminal offenses. The American Bar Association tried in the late 1990s, but concluded only that the number was likely much higher than 3,000. The ABA's report said ‘the amount of individual citizen behavior now potentially subject to federal criminal control has increased in astonishing proportions in the last few decades.’”


Scott Kilman in WSJ, "Crop Prices Erode Farm Subsidy Program".

“Land prices are way up and so are bank deposits, as high corn and soybean prices mean local farmers are making the most money in their lives. At Sloan Implement, which sells John Deere tractors, ‘This could be our best year ever,’ says chief executive Tom Sloan. An exception to the boom is the local office of the U.S. Agriculture Department, the dispensary of federal payments to farmers from an array of arcane programs with names like ‘loan deficiency’ and ‘milk income loss.’ On a recent afternoon, the parking lot in front of the squat brick building behind a Chinese restaurant was nearly empty. The reason: Payments from America’s primary farm-subsidy program, dating from the 1930s, have stopped here.”


Dan Mihalopoulos in NYT, "The City Payroll May Include a Few Too Many Bosses".

“In City Hall’s Department of Family and Support Services, the relatively small band of employees receive supervision from no less than one commissioner, 14 deputy commissioners, 4 assistant commissioners, 6 assistants to the commissioner and 17 others with the word ‘director’ in their titles. Budget consultants hired by city-employee unions calculate that the department has more than 200 employees in various supervisory roles and 334 ‘front line’ workers, for a ratio of about 1.6 staff members per manager. After weeks of remaining mostly quiet during a public relations barrage from Mayor Rahm Emanuel, labor leaders are preparing to respond with cost-saving alternatives to Mr. Emanuel’s decision to lay off as many as 625 city workers. Union officials will urge him to reduce the number of managers in Family and Support Services as well as other top-heavy departments instead of laying off their members, according to a section of the consultants’ draft report obtained last week by the Chicago News Cooperative. ‘Fewer workers are actually doing the work and an excessive number of supervisors and managers are overseeing the work,’ the consultants contend in the report. ‘We don’t need to be firing any more of the people actually doing the work — we need to get rid of the excessive number of people watching them do it.’”


Mark Konkol in CST on Mark Weinberg’s book, Mayor Culpa: Gone But Not Forgiven.

“In the ’90s, Weinberg published Blue Line, the unofficial Blackhawks program. His target was late Hawks owner Bill Wirtz, who also was the subject of Weinberg’s first book, Career Misconduct, which detailed his take on Wirtz’s business dealings. In fact, Weinberg was arrested three times for hawking that book outside the United Center allegedly in violation of the city peddling ordinance. He sued City Hall claiming his arrest violated his right to free speech since he was selling a book. He won the case in the appellate court and the U.S. Supreme Court declined to consider it further. In skid row circles, Weinberg is known as the patron saint of panhandlers. In 2003, he got City Hall to settle a class-action lawsuit he filed on behalf of beggars who were arrested and ticketed illegally. Panhandlers who were arrested got $400 each, and lawyers, including Weinberg, split nearly $400,000 in attorneys fees. The lawsuit was far more lucrative than the book.”


John Kass in CT, "Landscape is new, but it’s the same Chicago Way".

“Once he was a rock star. If you want to understand Chicago you've got to understand that when Hanhardt would show up in a police district station, you'd think the Beatles had arrived. They'd crowd around him, because he was the guy who could make things happen. He could make a detective with a nod of his head, or have somebody's brother-in-law transferred. He ran things. And his friends were the guys who ran City Hall. On Tuesday he wasn't a rock star. He was an 82-year-old man eased into a Near West Side halfway house, to sleep there nights and walk free by day, to find a relentless truth: Things change. But the Chicago Way is the one street that remains constant. The Outfit paved it years ago with local politicians and bureaucrats who control licenses, and with judges and lawyers and law enforcement honchos like Bill Hanhardt. ‘He comes out, the landscape has changed on him,’ Hanhardt's former friend and former Chicago Police Superintendent Richard Brzeczek told me Tuesday. ‘He's old, but he did survive prison. That's something.’”


Emily York in CT, "Wrigley leaving its longtime home".

“Occupancy at the Wrigley Building, which has not been designated a historic landmark, is at 60 percent, according to the company, which is well below average for office buildings in the area. Without Wrigley, occupancy would stand at 35 percent. Tenants include the advertising firm Energy BBDO, Allstate Insurance Co. and the Chicago Foundation for Education. Wrigley's Pharoah acknowledged that the interior needs extensive renovation and that the company has known for years that increasing occupancy would require a significant investment. He added that the second floor of Wrigley's north and south towers have been vacant for at least a decade. The company made the decision to leave its downtown headquarters about 10 years ago, he said, and construction on the Goose Island campus began in 2003.”

Great shot of "Wrigley Building before the city built up and over its height".


Max Colchester in WSJ, "France Telecom Will Bid Adieu to Minitel".

“That Minitel survived so long is a reminder that even in today’s fast-changing technological world the key to online success lies with a sturdy, easy-to-use system that guarantees a secure connection. ‘Its success was that it allowed people all over France to access a whole new world of information,’ says Tariq Krim, the chief executive of French start-up Joliclolud, who learned to program software using a Minitel. ‘Its downfall was that it was a closed system that refused to adapt.’”


Pierre Haski at YaleGlobal, "Is France on Course to Bid Adieu to Globalization?".

“Montebourg is no radical spokesman. With him, the cry for deglobalization has moved towards mainstream politics. He remained within the ranks of the old PS when maverick politicians such as Jean-Luc Melenchon abandoned it, to create a new party left of PS, following a series of electoral defeats. The effort emulates Germany's Die Linke, an alliance that includes remains of the old communist party and disenchanted former social-democrats who criticize the party’s support for ultraliberal reforms. Today, Montebourg finds himself in an informal coalition of supporters of deglobalization, including Melenchon's Front de Gauche, or Left-Wing Front; former Defense Minister Jean-Pierre Chevènement, another PS defector; and much to his dislike, extreme-right-wing candidate Marine Le Pen, the daughter of National Front historical leader Jean-Marie Le Pen.”


Stefan Wagstyl in FT on Andrzej Stasiuk’s book, "On the Road to Babadag: Travels in the Other Europe".

“Lurking beneath his romanticism is an appreciation of the conflicting realities. ‘Yes, everyone should come hee [Albania]. At least those who make use of the name Europe… Albania is the unconscious of the continent. Yes, the European id, the fear that at night haunts slumbering Paris, London and Frankfurt am Main. Albania is the dark well into which those who believe that everything has been settled once and for all should peer.’”


Dominic Sandbrook in Daily Mail, "Euro-geddon".

“So far, Britain has escaped the worst of the eurozone meltdown, and for the time being the Greek deal seems to have staved off a market crash. But when the financial contagion spreads to Italy and Spain, as it surely will, then British banks, manufacturers and construction firms, the City of London and thousands of exporters will face an almighty reckoning. It is hard to resist the feeling that public opinion has reached a tipping point. European enthusiasm, never strong in this country, curdled into indifference and suspicion long ago. But the looming collapse of the euro — a disastrous experiment we would have joined if Tony Blair and Peter Mandelson had had their way — represents something different. Ten days ago, one opinion poll found 66 per cent of Conservative voters would choose to leave the EU if a referendum were held tomorrow.”


Bruce Bawer in WSJ, "Inside the Mind of the Oslo Murderer".

“But I was stunned to discover on Saturday that Breivik was a reader of my own work, including my book While Europe Slept: How Radical Islam Is Destroying the West from Within. In comments posted in 2009 on a Norwegian blog, document.no, Breivik expressed admiration for my writings, but criticized me for not being a cultural conservative (although he was pleased that I was not a Marxist, either). Later on Saturday came news of a 1,500-page manifesto, entitled ‘2083: A European Declaration of Independence,’ that Breivik had recently written and posted online. The first half, in which he indicts the European cultural elite for permitting Islam to take root in Europe, makes it clear that he is both highly intelligent and very well read in European history and the history of modern ideas. In the second half he describes himself as having revived the Knights Templar. He also outlines in extreme detail how he and his fellow anti-jihadists can acquire weapons, ammunition and body armor and thereupon proceed to use ‘terror as a method for waking up the masses’ to the danger posed by Islam. This makes it clear he is completely insane.”


Joseph Nye in WSJ, "Another Overhyped Challenge to U.S. Power".

“But the future relevancy of BRICS depends on the diplomatic efforts of China to expand its influence. Some years ago, Brazil created an organization called IBSA that held summits of the three large democracies: India, Brazil and South Africa. China, not a democracy, has now suggested that IBSA be wrapped into the BRICS framework. At the same time, China has resisted the claims of India and Brazil for permanent membership on the U.N. Security Council that would rival its own status.”


John Miller in WSJ, "WTO Chief Blasts Small Pacts, Says They Hamper Global Opportunities".

“The Doha Round has failed, said analysts, because it is too difficult to get meaningful concessions from 153 countries at the same time. Tariffs are already low around the world, and countries are even more hesitant to change their regulations to suit trading partners. They are more eager to do so within a small coalition of trading aprtners, ‘if, for example, they can be allowed to cut out a developing-world partner, such as China,’ said Mr. Evenett.”


Jack Willoughby in Barron’s, "Gloomy Forecast for Europe’s Banks".

“Time and again, Sean Egan and his team at Pholadelphia-based Egan-Jones Ratings have made important calls months ahead of their better-known rivals. The firm has won grudging respect for its work on Ambac, CIT, Countrywide, General Motors, IndyMac, Lehman Brothers, MBIA and New Century, all of which encountered big problems after getting poor credit grades from Egan-Jones. The firm is a Securities and Exchange Commission-regulated rating agency, whose customers pay for the research and the rating. In contrast, Moody’s, S&P and Fitch are paid by the issuers of the securities that they are rating.”


Andrew Smithers in FT, "The conditions for the next crisis are firmly in place".

“Financial crises occur when debt levels are excessive and asset prices fall. The severity of the recession that ensues can then be mitigated by large increases in government deficits and large cuts in interest rates. Today the conditions for the next financial crisis are already in place. Debt remains at pre-crisis levels and US equities and UK property are seriously overpriced. But the ability to reduce the impact of the next recession with large increases in government deficits and sharp falls in interest rates has vanished.”


Ira Stoll at Reason.com, "Five Facts About the Debt".

“You can fool around with inflation and with the percentage of GDP and with the revenue side of the equation, but the bottom line is that the federal government is spending about double what it was at the end of the Clinton administration. For all the clamor on the left to bring back the Clinton-era top tax rates, there are few, if any, politicians in Washington talking about bringing back the Clinton-era spending levels.”


John Taylor in WSJ, "The End of the Growth Consensus".

“Economic policy in the ’80s and ’90s was decidedly noninterventionist, especially in comparison with the damaging wage and price controls of the ’70s. Attention was paid to the principles of economic and political liberty: limited government, incentives, private markets, and a predictable rule of law. Monetary policy focused on price stability. Tax reform led to lower marginal tax rates. Regulatory reform encouraged competition and innovation. Welfare reform devolved decisions to the states. And with strong economic growth and spending restraint, the federal budget moved into balance. As the 21st century began, many hoped that applying these same limited-government and market-based policy principles to Social Security, education and health care would create greater opportunities and better lives for all Americans. But policy veered in a different direction.”


WSJ: "A Tale of Two Shale States".

“The Marcellus shale formation — 65 million acres running through Ohio, West Virginia, western Pennsylvania and southern New York — offers one of the biggest natural gas opportunities. Former Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell, a Democrat, recognized that potential and set up a regulatory framework to encourage and monitor natural gas drilling, a strategy continued by Republican Tom Corbett. More than 2,000 wells have been drilled in the Keystone State since 2008, and gas production surged to 81 billion cubic feet in 2009 from five billion in 2007. A new Manhattan Institute report by University of Wyoming professor Timothy Considine estimates that a typical Marcellus well generates some $2.8 million in direct economic benefits from natural gas company purchases; $1.2 million in indirect benefits from companies engaged along the supply chain; another $1.5 million from workers spending their wages, or landowners spending their royalty payments; plus $2 million in federal, state and local taxes. Oh, and 62 jobs. Statistics from Pennsylvania bear this out. The state Department of Labor and Industry reports that Marcellus drilling has created 72,000 jobs between the fourth quarter of 2009 and the first quarter of 2011. The average wage for jobs in core Marcellus shale industries is about $73,000, or some $27,000 more than the average for all industries. The Pennsylvania Department of Revenue says drillers have paid more than $1 billion in state taxes since 2006 — and the numbers are swelling…. Then there's New York. The state holds as much as 20% of the estimated Marcellus shale reserves, but green activists have raised fears about the drilling technique known as hydraulic fracturing and convinced politicians to enact what is effectively a moratorium.”


NYT: "Wrong Pipeline, Wrong Assessment".

“To the supporters, this is a straightforward equation: the pipeline would provide a reliable supply of “friendly” oil from a neighboring ally at a time of turmoil in much of the oil-producing world. But Keystone XL would cross sensitive terrain where a spill of diluted bitumen would be especially damaging, including the porous Sand Hills of Nebraska and the shallow Ogallala Aquifer, which supplies much of the Midwest with water. The risks are real. An earlier pipeline — carrying tar sands oil to the Midwest and built by TransCanada, the company planning to build Keystone XL — has had several spills, including recent ones in North Dakota and Kansas. The E.P.A. suggested that the State Department also needed to give more consideration to how constructing and operating the pipeline would affect wetlands, migratory birds and the communities it would pass through. The E.P.A. has also asked the department to re-examine its assessment of greenhouse gas emissions from tar sands oil. And, the agency notes, both of the environmental assessments failed to consider alternative routes.”


Ryan Dezember in Barron’s, "Natural-Gas Price Is Unlikely to Flare Higher".

“Market participants closely watch rig counts, such as the data published by oilfield-service company Baker Hughes, to predict where production is headed. The total number of rigs drilling for natural gas in the U.S. is currently 889, down by 93 rigs from a year ago — while the number of rigs aiming for oil has nearly doubled, to 1,021. That might seem bullish for natural gas, but in recent years, more than 22% of all U.S. natural-gas production has come from oil wells. Indeed, the rush to plumb onshore reserves for crude is yielding more gas than some distribution systems can handle. Each day in April, for example, producers in North Dakota's Bakken shale formation flared about 100 million cubic feet of gas that local pipelines and processing facilities couldn't handle, say analysts at Bentek Energy. That gas, enough to fuel 500,000 typical U.S. homes a day, will eventually hit the market when infrastructure construction catches up to drilling.”


WSJ Letters: "Robert Kennedy’s Conversion on Cost-Efficient Power".


Frank Gannon in WSJ on Naomi Riley’s book, The Faculty Lounges.

“Arthur Butz, shortly after becoming tenured at Northwestern University, published a book denying the Holocaust. Northwestern's president said that he could not take action against Mr. Butz ‘without undermining the vital principle of intellectual freedom.’ Mr. Butz is a professor of electrical engineering. Ms. Riley argues that such controversies are something of a red herring, drawing attention away from a more serious problem: Tenure has enshrined research as the criterion for academic advancement. More important, the premium on ‘original’ research has caused the eclipse of teaching and resulted in the overproduction of jargon-heavy esoterica or trivial ‘scholarship’ intended merely to win preferment within the professors guild. The problem is far from new: As long ago as 1859, Cardinal Newman observed that ‘to discover and teach are distinct functions; they are also distinct gifts, and are not commonly found united in the same person.’ Tenure, Ms. Riley would say, has simply made the problem worse. The idea that the principal purpose of a university is to instruct is now as dusty and irrelevant as a chalkboard. This aspect of tenure, Ms. Riley feels, is ‘eroding American education from the inside out.’”


Naomi Riley in WSJ, "Academia’s Crisis of Irrelevance".

“College teachers have responded as one might expect to a publishing-pays, teaching-does-not incentive. As a 2009 report from the American Enterprise Institute pointed out, over the past five decades the number of language and literature academic monographs has risen to 72,000 from 13,000 while the audience for such scholarship ‘has diminished, with unit sales for books now hovering around 300.’”


Ruth Kott in Univ. of Chicago Magazine, "Illustrated Ideology".

“After the Soviet Union formed in 1922, children’s books were illustrated, Bird explains, with an ‘enthusiastic embrace of avant-garde techniques.’ Many of the books that Special Collections owns were published during or just after the first Soviet Five-Year Plan (1928-32), goals that Stalin set to strengthen the country’s economy. At that time ‘the revolutionary government wasn’t too concerned with style,’ says Bird. ‘If anything, they felt they could utilize the energy of experimental art for their own efforts of remaking consciousness -- essentially, redesigning human consciousness.’ By the mid-1930s, the illustrations had changed to the Soviet realist style, which was mandated by Stalin and easily interpretable, meant to be comforting to a population recovering from ‘rapid modernization, forced collectivization, and mass purges,’ writes art-history professor Matthew Jesse Jackson in the online essay accompanying the exhibit. Soviet realism was presented as more mature than the avant-garde style, says Bird, showing a more certain future.”


Tim Martin in FT on Grant Morrison’s book, Supergods, and Joe Simon’s book, My Life in Comics.

Supergods is also illuminating on the 1980s, the period of Morrison‘s own entry into comics, when every aspect of the superhero character was suddenly up for grabs. This was the decade in which a wave of sardonic British talent took apart America‘s favourite superheroes and sold them back in challenging, adult, deconstructed forms, producing comics such as Alan Moore‘s jet-black satires V for Vendetta and Watchmen and Neil Gaiman‘s literary, dreamlike Sandman.”


I was asked to write about Frank Miller’s Dark Knight collection, actually the second series which Miller was working on when the 9-11 attacks occurred. Ben Schwartz, the graphic novels editor at the new website-soon-maybe-a-quarterly, LA Review of Books, read my riff on the NYTMag Lori Berenson cover story here and thought I might be able to add something to Miller’s take on the hero under fire. It turned out pretty good but they are hammering together a house-style and apparently cyber-space is filling up so they cut it down quite a bit. I’ll run the full-length version here soon, and of course in the book out in the fall. For now this is up.


John Owens in CT, "A pitch for Negro Leaguers".

“Krock raised the $1,000 needed, and then he and the Negro Leagues Research Committee became intrigued about other unmarked graves. With the help of Burr Oak's staff, they located the unmarked graves of Taylor, who was a player or manager for five decades, and Donaldson, a brilliant left-handed pitcher. Donaldson later became one of the first black scouts in the majors, working with the White Sox from 1948 to 1954, where he signed some of the team's first black players, including Connie Johnson and Sam Hairston, the father of longtime Sox outfielder Jerry Hairston and grandfather of current Washington Nationals utility player Jerry Hairston Jr. A variety of donors paid for Taylor's headstone. White Sox majority owner Jerry Reinsdorf provided much of the funding for Donaldson's. After those successes, Krock officially joined forces with the Negro Leagues Research Committee to create the project.”


Keith + Chuck + No Age = "No Flag" live in MacArthur Park, Los Angeles.


Obituary of the Week

Nguyen Cao Ky (1930 - 2011)

"Born in 1930 near Hanoi and raised by an aunt, Nguyen Cao Ky joined the Communist resistance to French colonial rule at the age of 16, inspired by Ho Chi Minh. He fell ill with malaria, and when he recovered he was drafted by the French-controlled government, which sent him abroad to train as a pilot, though he never saw combat. When the country was divided in 1954 after the French defeat at Dien Bien Phu, he fled south along with hundreds of thousands of others and joined the American-backed South Vietnamese Air Force. In 1965, when he was 34 and a commander of the air force, he was chosen by his fellow military officers to lead the country as prime minister, ending a cycle of coups and countercoups that followed the 1963 assassination of Ngo Dinh Diem. In his book, Mr. Ky quotes an assessment of him by the State Department official William Bundy that he was 'the bottom of the barrel' and the last choice for the job.... After fleeing to the United States, Mr. Ky fended off accusations of corruption himself. Responding in 1984 to the columnist Jack Anderson, who accused Mr. Ky of being involved with criminal gangs, he said: 'If I had stolen millions of dollars I could live like a king in this country, but obviously I don’t live like a king.' In his book he made light of his struggles to make a new life in America. 'When a former national leader becomes a storekeeper, it is news,' he wrote."


Thanks to Jay Babcock, Glen Friedman, Steve Beeho, Mark Carducci.

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Friday, July 22, 2011

Issue #107 (July 20, 2011)

La Tuna Canyon Trail, Verdugo Mountains, California

Photo by Chris Collins

Fox Hunting is Illegal
Joe Carducci

One sure takeaway is that The Press is its own favorite story. No doubt the tabloids, as broadsheets call them, will be more circumspect for a while as they serve the readership for gossip and scandalous trivia lawfully for awhile, while only the highest minded broadsheets break laws in the public interest. The Brits are enjoying forgetting for the moment that they have their own low continuum that even 80-year old Rupert Murdoch wasn’t around at its formation. And that continuum has been leaking into the American version for the last couple decades. American low culture has often been quite imbued with high culture ambition, at least compared to the European models, if only because we have no true high culture for the intellectually ambitious to rise into. In music terms, British punk began with high ambition in the Sex Pistols but devolved within the space of two years to boozy Sham 69 shout-alongs as the audience’s needs began to be served. The Press fretting about itself is their version of debauched rockers writing songs about the touring, what Mike Watt called tour-spiel. Under the guise of, in this country, a deep concern for the First Amendment and freedom of the press they get to wallow deeply in their own mud.

A couple pieces in the Chicago papers noted Murdoch’s brief ownership of the Sun-Times from 1984-86 but it was left out of Ken Auletta’s chronology in the New Yorker. But it was an interesting early failure of the then Australian Rupert Murdoch’s early stumbling around on his first tour. Mike Royko had just moved to the Sun-Times when the Chicago Daily News folded in 1979. But Royko loudly crossed the street to join the Tribune, determined not to work a single day under Murdoch. He even switched allegiance to the Trib-owned Cubs after decades baiting the Republicans at the Trib and appearing for all anyone could see to live and die with the White Sox. It struck me as an agreeably provincial gesture but then I saw the Murdoch Sun-Times on a trip to Chicago for the rare-but-short 1984 Cubs post-season (sat behind Bill Veeck in the bleachers for game 2). The headline that covered the front page said something like “14 BURNED ALIVE!” but the story inside was a contrivance that added up the casualty totals of three different fires from around the country. Utterly meaningless to a Chicago readership. Murdoch already owned the New York Post and though I never saw that paper then, today its often a very entertaining first read -- a coherent mix of big city crime reporting, derisive gossip on celebrities and pols, and white ethnic conservatism. That’s a mix that might have worked in Chicago but he wasn’t quite doing that then and gave up on Chicago quick. Royko and some Midwestern difference froze him out.

The Sun-Times righted itself but was slowly losing circulation and probably influence. Conrad Black bought it in 1994 and as part of his chain (CST, Jerusalem Post, London Daily Telegraph, and National Post) it improved, still regularly breaking local political news but adding international and conservative flavors to what had been a working class paper. Black was a great newspaper magnate but went to jail for abusing the perqs of his position vis-à-vis shareholders. He’s now a writer and he weighed in nicely on Murdoch in the Financial Times, "Murdoch, like Napoleon, is a great bad man".

“Although his personality is generally quite agreeable, Mr Murdoch has no loyalty to anyone or anything except his company. He has difficulty keeping friendships; rarely keeps his word for long; is an exploiter of the discomfort of others; and has betrayed every political leader who ever helped him in any country, except Ronald Reagan and perhaps Tony Blair. All his instincts are downmarket; he is not only a tabloid sensationalist; he is a malicious myth-maker, an assassin of the dignity of others and of respected institutions, all in the guise of anti-elitism. He masquerades as a pillar of contemporary, enlightened populism in Britain and sensible conservatism in the US, though he has been assiduously kissing the undercarriage of the rulers of Beijing for years. His notions of public entertainment and civic values are enshrined in the cartoon television series ‘The Simpsons’: all public officials are crooks and the public is an ignorant lumpenproletariat. There is nothing illegal in this, and it has amusing aspects, but it is unbecoming someone who has been the subject of such widespread deference and official preferments.”

Black lost control of Hollinger and the Sun-Times became independent again in 2004, using bankruptcy protections to reorganize and downsize. This week saw an announcement that the Sun-Times would shut down its south-side printing operation and henceforth be printed by the Tribune, which already distributes it. The CST report of this humiliation quoted the chairman of the Sun-Times Media LLC as claiming this was possible due to the circulation drop of the Tribune’s leaving 30 to 40 percent of its presses idle “even though the plant produces local editions of the New York Times, Wall Street Journal and Investor’s Business Daily.” The Trib issues a commuter tabloid version of its not-so-broadsheet home delivery edition every weekday and it is notably smaller than the Sun-Times, so once again a major metropolitan daily will shrink in physical size. (The NYT has not only shrunk in size, it has also widened the margins at page-edges, and between columns on the opinion page for mysterious reasons.)

Making fun of old people is not so common in these latter days of baby boom late capitalism, so Murdoch’s competitors at BBC, Financial Times, New York Times, and I’m sure elsewhere could merely suggest the old Fox was slowing down a bit, to perhaps you know allow himself to be uh caught by you know themselves…. Well they didn’t have that part of it figured out, but in all the overkill in the lead up and aftermath of the appearance of Murdoch and Son (and wife) before the Parliament’s committee, each managed to slip in some side-bar reality running counter to the rest of the coverage. The FT’s sidebar, “Sign of relief as shares in News Corp rise”, had it that every time James spoke the stock climbed as investors got a look at Murdoch the Younger for the first time and liked what they saw. Elsewhere the FT proffered that Rupert should step down and professional managers take over rather than his family. The New York Times counterposed a USC historian with a tabloid specialty to drivel by Joe Nocera and Maureen Dowd. Ryan Linkof in his “Why We Need the Tabloids” recounts the pedigree of London tabloids over the last century and posits that “the vast majority of the tabloids carry out their news coverage above board. They are not an external source of infection, slowly contaminating the mainstream press, but rather an extension, and often an exaggeration, of the basic logic that animates all news reporting.” Then Linkof continues in a British vein,

“Watching the painfully choreographed, and highly policed, red-carpet arrival of Prince William and Kate Middleton at a recent Los Angeles polo match reminded me why intrusive journalistic tactics are often called upon. They exist to break down the barriers of access that keep social elites at a remove from ordinary people. The tabloids, throughout history, on both sides of the Atlantic, have been predicated on chipping away at that division. They play a fundamental role in democratic cultures, especially in societies characterized by the pull between the demands of a mass society and the persistence of social and economic inequality.”

I bet his dissertation on “the origins of tabloid photojournalism in Britain” would make a great book.

The News Corp’s Wall Street Journal was of course sharp in its defense of its owner’s basic competence though at pains to denounce the criminal activity. Bret Stephens in his column, “News of the World vs. WikiLeaks” sharply contrasted the scale of these crimes to the various cases of crosstown nemesis New York Times’s claimed supra-morality usually regarding the US government’s defense or surveillance arrangements. The WSJ’s editorial features editor Robert Pollock’s sidebar, “The Murdoch Empire: An Inside View” admits there was nervousness at the Journal when the new owner Rupert Murdoch arrived and worry he would interfere editorially:

“Everyone knows the Sulzbergers interfere in the New York Times. The Grahams are not hands-off owners of the Washington Post. Wall Street Journal editors and writers had been by far the freest at a major American newspaper. That freedom continued under Mr. Murdoch. People who have never worked in large corporations or in government are often inclined to ascribe near magical powers of management to the people who lead them. The truth about organizations is much more interesting, if less satisfying to the conspiracy-minded. It is nearly impossible to control more than about 20 or so people, and only then if they directly report to you.”

He mentions that Murdoch’s only directive was the gruff question regarding a lead op-ed, “Does this article really need to be so long?” and he goes on to say, “If you want an example of editorial independence at News Corp., look at how often ‘The Simpsons’ mock their broadcasters at Fox.”

Brevity is something one would expect Murdoch to push. I wished he ordered it as I do not have all day to read the papers! Editors love to move shit around and remove as much writerly personality as possible, but they seem loathe to actually edit.

However, the big drift of all this coverage suggests that an identifiable owner-publisher is a bad thing compared to university accredited professional management. This J-school canard is a self-serving defensive reaction by all the teeming incompetents in fear for their jobs in the shrinking news media pecking order. The most clueless newspapers, say, the Chicago Tribune and L.A. Times, are paralyzed as the internet catches them still attempting to live down their great family ownerships and trade it in for faceless corporate competences. The Tribune even features the infamous Time magazine caricature of Col. Robert McCormick wearing a dunce-cap made out of his paper as their Twitter feed icon. The New York Times is embarrassed enough to have young Sulzberger threatening to personalize the place or exercise his authority, while the Washington Post’s own very visible ownership family is disappearing into a corporate haze which will make its predictable hostility to invasions by Republicans from out west more noxious and authorless and pretentious than they ever could be under the Grahams.


Media addendum

James Taranto at WSJ.com, "Power and the Press".

“The best distillation of this attitude came from The New Yorker's Hendrik Hertzberg last week: ‘In terms of its net impact on human welfare, News of the World has been the least evil of Rupert Murdoch's three-cornered Axis of Evil, the other two being the Fox News Network and the editorial page of the Wall Street Journal.’ This sort of demonization of dissent is common enough to be tiresome and is of a piece with the deplorable and unsuccessful effort (in which Hertzberg participated) to scapegoat conservative media figures for the attempted murder of Rep. Gabrielle Giffords. In England, however, the complaint about Murdoch is not merely that he supports ‘evil’ points of view but that he exercises actual power, because the press plays a larger and more direct role in politics there than in the U.S. In all this there is a warning to Americans, to which the Financial Times's Clive Crook perhaps unwittingly alluded in an interview with NPR's Scott Simon the other day (hat tip: Newsbusters.org):

Crook: An important aspect of this story in Britain is the close relationship between the newspaper business, Rupert Murdoch's business, and leading politicians--not just the Tories, though the current prime minister is very embarrassed by this.

Simon: Yeah.

Crook: But Labour is just the same, all the parties are just the same. They have to get on with the newspapers. And why is that? I think it's interesting that they have to because Britain has largely succeeded in getting money out of politics, something many Americans would like to do here. The consequence of doing that is that the newspapers become incredibly important and you have to have them in your pocket if you're going to do well.

‘Getting money out of politics’ -- that is, imposing governmental restrictions on political speech--is a cause that many American newspapers have championed. (The Journal is a notable exception.) The McCain-Feingold law's unconstitutional ban on corporate political speech included an exemption for ‘media corporations,’ so that while it was in effect, those corporations had an effective monopoly, as in Britain.”


Brendan O’Neill at Spiked-online.com, "Murdochphobia is not as radical as you think".

“It isn’t surprising that Murdoch-bashing often sounds eerily similar to conspiracy theorising - because, like conspiracy theories, it too is underpinned by its adherents’ own profound sense of dislocation and angst. It was largely the left and the cultural elite’s inability to make inroads with the public which led them to conclude that some other, super-sinister force must have us in its dastardly grip. It is no coincidence that the liberal-commentariat view of Murdoch as the controller of minds and the dictator of agendas really took off in the 1980s: because it is directly proportionate to the declining fortunes of the Labour Party and of mainstream left-wing thinking in general. If you were to draw up a graph to illustrate this, you would see that the axis marked ‘Belief in Murdoch’s awesome power’ goes up just as the axis marked ‘Influence of mainstream left-wing thought’ goes down…. Feverish anti-Murdoch sentiment expressed both the left’s unwillingness to have a serious word with itself, and its increasingly irate view of the gruff public as easily brainwashed saps who had been mentally kidnapped by Murdoch.”


Paul Farhi in Washington Post, Guardian, N.Y. Times worked to break News Corp. hacking case.

"What’s more, some of the Guardian’s reporting avenues were cut off by British laws that limit the extent of press inquiries in cases under police investigation; one key figure in the scandal, a private detective named Jonathan Rees, was being investigated on murder charges, hampering the Guardian’s efforts to probe his activities. Perhaps the Times would be interested in taking a look at the News Corp. scandal, Rusbridger asked? Keller was intrigued. 'I’d been watching the hacking story from afar, and it seemed like a good time to bring this amazing yarn to the attention of American readers,' Keller said Wednesday via e-mail, 'especially if there were fresh angles to be explored.' The Times editor has denied that the paper’s initial coverage of the story was an attempt to embarrass News Corp. at a time when the Murdoch-owned Wall Street Journal had started a New York edition in direct competition with the Times."


Martin Cizmar, Ellis Conklin, Kristen Hinman in Village Voice, flood the zone to protect their personal ad empire from the puritan backlash led by Ashton Kutcher that only they can see. This isn’t the old libertine Village Voice, of course, this is the New Times Phoenixized Voice Media, but still they might ponder how what that old Voice intended became more like what the old Screw magazine was rooting around for. "Real Men Get Their Facts Straight", followed by this special message:

“Editor’s note: Congress hauled in Craigslist on September 15, 2010. There, feminists, religious zealots, the well-intentioned, law enforcement, and social-service bureaucrats pilloried the online classified business for peddling ‘100,000 to 300,000’ underage prostitutes annually. Those same numbers had already inspired terrified politicians, who let loose hundreds of millions of dollars in the past decade to prohibitionists bent on ending the world’s oldest profession. The Craigslist beat-down was absurdist theater. The House Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security hearing on ‘Domestic Minor Sex Trafficking’ culminated with the humbled attorneys from Craigslist announcing that they would close down their adult classified business. The First Amendment was shouted down in the name of children. Village Voice Media watched with more than passing interest. From its earliest days, the Village Voice has run adult classifieds. Today, those classifieds are hosted online at Backpage.com. Having run off Craigslist, reformers, the devout, and the government-funded have turned their guns upon Village Voice Media. Solicited by advocates, such websites as Huffington Post and The Daily Beast and others in the mainstream media raised the alarm that America’s children have been enslaved in prostitution, thanks to the Internet. It is true that Village Voice Media has a stake in this discussion. But the facts speak for themselves.”


Matt Moffett & Taos Turner in WSJ, "Argentine Leader Prohibits Sex Ads".

“Mrs. Kirchner's main enemy in the media has been Grupo Clarin SA, which runs Argentina's largest newspaper, as well as a television network. Mrs. Kirchner and her late husband and predecessor, Nestor, had a bitter falling out with Clarin in 2008 when the media group sided with farmers in a dispute with the government over a grain export tax.

Last September, Mrs. Kirchner's cabinet chief, Aníbal Fernández, wrote a blog post accusing Clarin of ‘double morals’ for denouncing sexual trafficking in its news columns while at the same time publishing sex-worker ads. He said the number of such ads in Clarin ran to the thousands, and, based upon the average line rate, would bring in revenue of more than a million pesos a month, or around $250,000. Clarin had no comment.”


Mike Davis’s Pt. 1 of serialized biography of Harrison Gray Otis at LAReviewofBooks.org.

“The original auteur of Blue Sulphur Springs’s desolation, most deserving of credit for its romantic and melancholy ambience, was none other than the young Harry Otis. Tracking Confederate irregulars, the 26-year-old second lieutenant marched into the place in November 1863 with a newly formed squadron of elite Union scouts. His men were volunteers from three veteran regiments, nominated by their comrades for proven valor and wilderness skill. They were the first unit in American military history organized for the sole purpose of counter-partisan warfare. Otis, a brave soldier who had won his commission in battle, was considered by his commander, Colonel White, to be smart, nervy, albeit somewhat tyrannical, and therefore a good choice to lead men into the hostile mountains. Unlike many of the guerrillas whom they were hunting (and who hunted them), the scouts wore uniforms, even if Otis, experienced enough to know that bushwhackers always aim first at officers, had wisely removed his epaulets.”


Arthur Brisbane in NYT, on the dust-up from April which I covered then in NV, and here the most hated man in the building, the paper’s reader ombudsman goes back for a look, "Clashing Views on the Future of Natural Gas".

“I asked Mr. Urbina and his editors to address complaints about the article, starting with the broad objection that it cast doubt on shale gas without mentioning that it had grown rapidly as an energy source — rising from 2 percent of all natural gas production in 2000 to 23 percent 10 years later, which the M.I.T. group called a ‘paradigm shift.’ The journalists said The Times had already cited the big picture of a gas boom in the “Drilling Down” series opener back in February and had thoroughly covered it elsewhere.
I also asked why The Times didn’t include input from the energy giants, like Exxon Mobil, that have invested billions in natural gas recently. If shale gas is a Ponzi scheme, I wondered, why would the nation’s energy leader jump in? Mr. Urbina and Adam Bryant, a deputy national editor, said the focus was not on the major companies but on the ‘independents’ that focus on shale gas, because these firms have been the most vocal boosters of shale gas, have benefited most from federal rules changes regarding reserves and are most vulnerable to sharp financial swings. The independents, in industry parlance, are a diverse group that are smaller than major companies like Exxon Mobil and don’t operate major-brand gas stations. This was lost on many readers, including me. Michael Levi, a senior fellow for energy and the environment at the Council on Foreign Relations, wrote that the article ‘repeatedly confuses the fortunes of various risk-hungry independents with the fortunes of the industry as a whole.’”

Drawing by James Fotopoulos

From the Desk of Joe Carducci…

Mrs Moneypenny in FT, "My walk-on part in Chicago".

“I recently spent a somewhat surreal evening in a windowless room in the company of a group of 500 international bankers, many of whose black-tie outfits were rather gangsterish – not a collective tailoring failure but a response to the ‘Chicago chic’ dress code on the invitation. I assume that the rationale for this, and for decorating the space à la 1930s, was to remind us of the last time things were this bad in the banking profession. (Perhaps the room was windowless in order to stop people taking the theme too far.) The gathering was to mark the Euromoney Awards for Excellence.”


WSJ James Grant interview, "The Scourge of the Faith-Based Paper Dollar".

“Mr. Grant is skeptical, scathing even, of the Japanese-style deflation fears that today motivate Mr. Bernanke's monetary spigots. Good deflation, he says, is ‘when prices fall as a result of productive processes and technical apparatus, that is called progress.’ Bad deflation is when merchants, drowning in debt and unable to get credit, dump goods at firesale prices. ‘The Fed refuses to make that distinction.’ Hence a horrifying irony: After the dot-com crash, Alan Greenspan and Mr. Bernanke drove down interest rates to fight a feared deflation and ended up inflating the mortgage bubble. ‘The Fed, in assaulting a phantom deflation, precipitated an actual one.’ Mr. Grant would prefer a monetary system tied to the amount of gold dug out of the ground to one based on the untrammeled discretion of Ph.Ds. The latter is what America got with President Nixon's 1971 decision to close the Treasury's gold window, breaking the last link to the classical gold standard, in which anyone was free to exchange dollars for gold at a fixed and guaranteed price. Result: the dollar, not gold, became the world's ‘reserve currency.’ The U.S. government was empowered to borrow seemingly unlimited funds from foreigners and repay with a currency that the U.S. government itself could print.”


Gary Silverman in FT, "How the House could cut it fine".

“The fact is, advances in technology have reduced the need for so many legislators. Before the internet, it might have taken 435 people to criss-cross our country and find out what people wanted. But with Facebook and Twitter, a single representative such as Anthony Weiner was able to engage almost the entire nation single-handedly. All we need now is, let’s say, 335 Weiners who can keep their shirts on and the public business will get done.”


Hal Dardick & Kristen Mack in CT, "Ward remap jockeying begins".

“Because Democrats run Chicago, remap debates are about race and ethnicity, not party affiliation. They're often contentious. Much changed in the ethnic and racial makeup of the city from 2000 to 2010, when the population dropped to just under 2.7 million. A loss of about 200,000 people will shrink the average size of each ward to about 53,900 people.
The biggest decline was among African-Americans, whose numbers dropped by about 182,000 as the city tore down public housing high-rises, the foreclosure crisis left swaths of South Side and West Side communities vacant and blacks moved to the suburbs. The white population also fell, by nearly 53,000. Meanwhile, the number of Latinos rose by about 25,000. The Asian population grew by more than 20,000. If the ethnic and racial makeup of the city mirrored its population, the council would have 16 whites, 16 blacks, 15 Latinos and three Asians. But the way wards get carved up — by politicians trying to maintain or grow power while not running afoul of federal and state voting protections for minorities — is far from that simple. The council now has 22 white members, 19 African-Americans, eight Latinos and one alderman of Indian descent — a combination well out of sync with the makeup of the Chicago following the 2000 census.”


Monique Garcia in CT, "Don’t bet on more casinos, official says".

“The legislation, which would allow for a Chicago casino, four other new land-based gambling halls and the addition of slot machines at horse racing tracks, is filled with regulatory loopholes, Jaffe said. ‘I've said before and I will tell you again, it's 409 pages of garbage,’ Jaffe said, later adding: ‘Use your imagination, and whatever evil thoughts come into your minds, it will probably be worse than that.’”


Peter Plagens in WSJ on Hunter Drohojowska-Philp’s book, Rebels in Paradise, and Lyn Kienholz’s book, L.A. Rising.

“Oddly, these two books present the West Coast art of the era as a kind of retroactive preview of the art world we have now. Mr. Bengston thought that the whole Abstract Expressionist ambience still prevalent in New York was theatrically abject and melodramatic. He advocated artists dressing well and turning goodly portions of their studios into showrooms for sales. He hobnobbed with actresses and manipulated the media. The ‘rebels’ consorted with fashion designers (remember Rudi Gernreich and the monokini?), engaged in outrageous-lite behavior and made the art scene fully compatible with L.A.'s version of café society. A jump-cut to today's art fairs, gossipy Internet chatter, and ubiquitous and extreme extensions of what an L.A. artist said to me in the 1970s — ‘Hey Pete, I think I've figured out a way to make some paintings’ — is hardly a jump at all.”


Charlotte Allen in WSJ, "Isn’t Love Divine".

“As early as 1939, Denis de Rougemont, in his ‘Love in the Western World,’ located the origins of the modern conception of all-consuming human love in the lyrics that 12th-century Occitanian troubadours composed in praise of their (usually married) mistresses. The troubadours' idealization of the beloved and of amorous passion itself helped inspire the Romantic sensibility several centuries later. During the rapidly secularizing 20th century, as divorce and sex outside of marriage became accepted (a process accelerated during the 1960s by rebellion against convention and efficient birth control), the Romantic championing of all-consuming human love, once mostly the province of disheveled geniuses, became democratized.”


FT Lex: "US ethanol".

“With the road to the White House running through corn-producing Iowa and farm-belt states punching far above their economic weight legislatively, such a reversal seemed unbelievable. Well don’t believe it. While the direct subsidies may be eliminated, the monster that is corn-based ethanol will keep growing with barely a hiccup. Distillers have now hit what they call the ‘blendwall’ in which the US’s ability to absorb the product is limited, forcing excess ethanol overseas -- some even going to suddenly constrained Brazil.”


WSJ: "Cellulosic Ethanol and Unicorns".

“Today’s pop quiz: What happens if the government mandates the consumption of a product that doesn’t exist? Naturally, the Environmental Protection Agency has decided to punish the gasoline refiners because they can’t buy a type of alternative fuel that no one is making. Consumers will be punished too.”


Robert F. Kennedy Jr. in WSJ, "Nantucket’s Wind Power Rip-off".

“Stopping Cape Wind is no longer merely about preventing the desecration of sacred Native American land, including land now under shallow waters in the Sound, where the turbines would also obstruct religiously significant views of the sunrise and sunset. It is no longer simply about protecting fish and fishing -- which Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick has moved to do for other areas of the state. Those reasons, along with protecting the safety of boats and planes while saving Cape Cod and the Islands from a devastating blow to tourism and property values, are still valid. Stopping Cape Wind is now about preventing us from buying into a boondoggle: from investing desperately needed federal, state and ratepayer dollars in a single project, on public land, for the benefit of a private developer when better and cheaper renewable energy -- from wind and water power -- is abundantly available.”


Richard Waters in FT, "Google needs more firepower in raging patent wars".

“As we have pointed out here before, Google’s notable under-endowment in the IP department has left it vulnerable to legal assault. With only 600 patents to its name in the US, it is far behind Apple (with almost 4,000) and Microsoft (17,000). Handset makers that ship devices with Google’s open-source Android software are also exposed. The importance of Nortel’s patents is evident from the way Google upped its offer from $900m to more than $4bn over 18 rounds of bidding. But that was one round too few: a consortium called Rockstar Bidco carried the day with an offer of $4.5bn, or $750,000 per patent. Rockstar includes some of Google’s biggest rivals in mobile software: Apple, Microsoft and Research in Motion.”


Bill Vlasic in NYT, "With Sonic, G.M. Stands Automaking on Its Head".

“One of the oldest axioms in the auto industry is that no company can build a subcompact car in the United States and make money because they are priced too low. The Ford Fiesta is built in Mexico. The Honda Fit is made in several places, including China and Brazil. But with Americans — and Detroit — rediscovering small cars because of high gasoline prices, General Motors is intent on shattering that notion with its new Chevrolet Sonic. The car, with a base price of around $14,000, will give G.M. a new entry in the lowest tier of the market when it goes on sale this fall. The Sonic is also expected to be a breakthrough in establishing a new level of cooperation between Detroit and the United Automobile Workers.”


Michael Wines in NYT, "China Plans to Release Some of Its Pork Stockpile to Hold Down Prices".

“As living standards and meat consumption have risen, the demand for pork has jumped apace. The average Chinese consumer ate four times as much pork in 2007 as he did in the early 1990s, the English-language newspaper China Daily reported at the time. While per-person consumption is still higher in some nations like Denmark, the Chinese, over all, produce and eat more than half the world’s pigs. The crush of demand for pork has made the supply vulnerable to all sorts of fluctuations, from epidemics of pig diseases to weather changes that affect the price of grain that fattens pigs. But a nation that runs on pork cannot afford to run short. So in 2007, the government decided to establish a national pork reserve, reasoning that a backlog of frozen meat could be used to make up for shortages and stabilize prices when necessary. In practice, a strategic pork reserve has problems. Frozen meat does not keep for more than about four months, and live animals must be fed and constantly replenished to keep the reserve stable.”


Jonathan Kaiman & Andrew Jacobs in NYT, "Ethnic Music Tests Limits In China".

“The event, undiminished by the erratic sound quality and overpriced food, attracted a swarm of state security officers who monitored the crowd with suspicion, impatience and a hint of curiosity. A growing roster of alternative performance sites and music festivals has allowed Chinese ethnic minority musicians like the members of Hanggai to enjoy an unusual degree of financial security and cultural prominence. But in China, where the central government maintains a firm grip on popular media and cultural events, minority musicians walk a fine line: play it safe and they may lose their audience; go too far and they may lose their stage.”


Francis Fukuyama in FT, "Mao’s battle with Confucius for China’s soul".

“Mao attacked Confucius as a reactionary, but today academics have tried to revive a Confucian approach to international relations. The American scholar Tu Weiming left the Harvard-Yenching Institute in 2009 for a post at Beijing University, promoting Confucianism as a serious ethical system on a par with western philosophy. Chinese dynastic history is again regularly taught in schools and there is renewed interest in traditional Chinese medicine, music and art. The government has encouraged this revivial of Confucianism to provide a justification for a modern, authoritarian China that does not depend on western theories of history. The latter necessarily see China as an uncompleted project: the Chinese may have developed a strong, bureaucratic state by the Qin unification in 221 BC, but they never evolved a rule of law or democratic accountability.”


FT: "Doubts over China steel output".

“China is underreporting the amount of steel it makes by about 40m tonnes a year -- roughly the amount made by Germany -- according to a new analysis that provides insights into the recent high prices for the main raw material used by the world steel industry. Detective work by Meps, a UK steel consultancy, indicates that Chinese steel output last year was 672m tonnes as opposted to the 627m tonnes reported by the Chinese authorities. Behind the underreporting, according to Peter Fish, Meps managing director, is that plants that Beijing would like to shut down because they are not economical and produce too much pollution have stayed open to meet local demand.”


Simon Rabinovitch in FT, "Wenzhou financiers shy away from traditional industries".

“As China seeks to rein in stubbornly high inflation, measures to tighten borrowing have prompted fears that the country’s small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) will be hit hard as credit is channeled instead to large, state-backed companies. But the real picture is more complex. Rather than facing a widespread credit squeeze, the SME sector is undergoing a painful process of restructuring. Capital is being funneled towards high-tech and green energy-related companies at the expense of traditional low-end manufacturers. In Wenzhou, China’s SME heartland, many of the shoe and clothing factories are indeed struggling.”


Michael Wines in NYT, "Wary Rivals, U.S. and China Try to Reach Truce on Military Strategy".

“Charles W. Freeman Jr., a former diplomat whom Mr. Obama unsuccessfully nominated to lead the National Intelligence Council, made that case forcefully in a recent speech to the China Maritime Studies Institute, which is based in Rhode Island. “The United States is now fiscally hollow,” Mr. Freeman said, noting that the entire American military budget is essentially financed with borrowed money. “Yet we are entering a long-term military rivalry with China on terms that are easily bearable by China but fiscally ruinous for us. This rivalry is all the more disadvantageous because China is competing in notably cost-effective ways, and we are not.” Some analysts dispute his assessment. But most would agree that it costs much less to build a missile that can sink an American carrier than it does to build the carrier and a sophisticated anti-missile defense system.”


Patrick Barta in WSJ, "U.S., Vietnam in Exercises Amid Tensions With China".

“The exchanges, which are confined to noncombat training, fall short of the kinds of advanced military exercises that occur between the U.S. and longer-term allies in the region, such as the Philippines and Australia. But they underscore a push by the U.S. to deepen military ties across Southeast Asia, especially in the face of greater shared concerns over China, which has spent aggressively in recent years to enhance its military capabilities. The U.S. strategy includes an expansion of training exercises in other parts of the region to include newer participants, such as Cambodia and Malaysia, in some programs, as well as the deployment of new hardware, including littoral combat ships in Singapore.”


Ellen Barry in NYT, "Protesters Get Creative in Post-Soviet Countries".

“But it was difficult for them to know who, among the skateboarders, young urban professionals and stolid-looking grandmothers, was taking part. The park benches filled up, and then the stone curbs, but the activists — following instructions posted on an Internet site — were not actually doing anything. At 8 p.m., their phones buzzed or beeped or played music. That was the whole protest. Plainclothes officers with camcorders meticulously filmed the face of every person in the park and forced a few demonstrators, struggling and shouting, into buses. But the sixth of the weekly “clapping protests” had eliminated clapping, which presented both the police and activists with some tough questions. Can you really detain people because their phones are beeping? And when you cannot tell who is protesting, is it still a protest?”


Liz Gooch in NYT, "Malaysia Premier Is to Meet With the Pope".

“Malaysia, where Christians make up 9 percent of the population, is one of the few countries without diplomatic ties with the Vatican. Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Pakistan and many other predominantly Muslim counties already have diplomatic relations. Though Islam is the official religion in Malaysia, the Constitution guarantees the right to freedom of religion. There are about 850,000 Catholics in Malaysia, which has a population of 28 million. In recent years, Christians and other religious minorities have expressed concern over what they view as the increasing dominance of Islam in Malaysia. In addition to the firebombing of churches, Malay-language Bibles have been seized by the authorities in a dispute over whether Christians should be allowed to use the word Allah for God.”


Aatish Taseer in WSJ, "Why My Father Hated India".

“In the absence of a true national identity, Pakistan defined itself by its opposition to India. It turned its back on all that had been common between Muslims and non-Muslims in the era before partition. Everything came under suspicion, from dress to customs to festivals, marriage rituals and literature. The new country set itself the task of erasing its association with the subcontinent, an association that many came to view as a contamination. Had this assertion of national identity meant the casting out of something alien or foreign in favor of an organic or homegrown identity, it might have had an empowering effect. What made it self-wounding, even nihilistic, was that Pakistan, by asserting a new Arabized Islamic identity, rejected its own local and regional culture. In trying to turn its back on its shared past with India, Pakistan turned its back on itself.”


Zahid Hussain in WSJ, "Pakistan’s Central Banker Resigns".

“The resignation of Mr. Kardar, who was respected by many of Pakistan’s foreign donors, further complicates the economic picture for a country highly dependent on International Monetary Fund and World Bank loans. Pakistan’s elite pay some of the lowest taxes in the world, but the state pays out huge subsidies on the consumption of oil and other commodities. To fund the mounting deficit, the government has been borrowing from the central bank, essentially printing money and stoking annual inflation of about 13%.”


Michael Schwirtz in NYT, "On the Rise in Tajikistan, Islam Worries an Authoritarian Government".

“After decades of enforced secularism, the people of this impoverished former Soviet republic have been flocking to their traditional religion with all the zeal of born-again movements anywhere in the world. The authoritarian government here could not be more worried. Spooked by the specter of Islamic radicalism and the challenges posed by increasingly influential religious leaders, the Tajik authorities have been working fervently to curb religious expression. Bearded men have been detained at random, and women barred from religious services. This year, the government demanded that students studying religion at universities in places like Egypt, Syria and Iran return home.”


Isma’il Kushkush in NYT, "Sudan’s President Invokes Lofty Language to Hint at Fresh Start".

“The question of identity is a central one. While the overwhelming majority of Sudan’s remaining citizens are Muslim — 96.7 percent, according to an official booklet published by the Ministry of Information days before South Sudan’s independence — the nation remains ethnically diverse. ‘If south Sudan secedes, we will change the Constitution and then there will be no time to speak of diversity of culture and ethnicity,’ Mr. Bashir told supporters at a rally in the eastern city of Gedaref last year, weeks before the referendum in which south Sudanese overwhelmingly voted for independence. ‘Shariah and Islam will be the main source for the Constitution, Islam the official religion and Arabic the official language,’ he said. The information minister, Ms. Awad, however, saw things differently. ‘A characteristic of the second republic is that Sudanese, after much debate, see themselves as simultaneously part of Africa and the Arab world; we are a hybrid people that resemble the people of the belt that extends from Somalia and Ethiopia to Mali and Senegal,’ she said.”


Claudia Mende at Qantara.de, "Syria: The Opposition and the Church".

“Authoritarian rule by inclusion: After Hafez al-Assad seized power in 1970, the Assads deliberately targeted the Christian minority in order to win their support The churches' representatives do see the need for reform, but they fear the fall of the regime. Syria, with its secular constitution, has vouchsafed religious freedom of a kind that does not exist anywhere else in the Middle East. After Hafez al-Assad seized power in 1970, the Assads deliberately targeted the Christian minority in order to get them on side and win their support. However, the tradition of tolerant coexistence in Syria is far older than the Ba'ath Party regime. Christians are fully integrated into the work and in business life of the country, and the regime has always ensured that there was no religious discrimination.”


FT: "Anti-Gaddafi Berbers tune in to new freedom".

“For Mr Sifaw, a civil engineer-turned-rebel activist, the delight lay not just in the track’s revolutionary thrust, but in its use of the language of his Amazigh -- or Berber -- people, which Colonel Muammer Gaddafi’s regime suppressed ruthlessly. Mr Sifaw said: ‘Before, we can’t speak, we can’t sing, we can’t write -- we can’t do anything. Now when I hear Amazigh songs, I can smell the freedom.’”


Prishtina - Poetic Memories.

Valbona Shukaju from the Introduction: “Pictures seemed to rekindle dear memories and incite reactions. The anonymous photographer had captured the town’s transitional period. In 1953, the socialist regime drafted an urban plan to modernise and expand Prishtina. It was under the slogan, ‘Tear down old, build new’, which took a full swing at making sure that the character of the town was torn down. All evidence of a life and culture that had given our town its shape destroyed. The centuries old bazaar of local tradesmen and travelers from distant places, the little stores and shops that were the sustenance of many families, the historical and the cultural heritage carried by all this, came down and got covered by the flat concrete, all in the name of the new. Disappearance of the nucleus affected lives of the many craftsmen who either never restored their businesses, or migrated to other countries. The town changed its structure and purpose. It was not the little town of gardeners and craftsmen anymore, but a growing town of administrators and bureaucrats.”

Ethem Ceku at EUobserver.com, "Kosovo’s young people deserve a better future".

“Having lived in a monist state for half a century, with a fully-centralised economy, and then gone through the demolition of this structure in the 1990s by the Serbian regime, Kosovo has struggled to cultivate a political elite up to the job of facing today's challenges. Lack of direct investment, an unemployment rate of up to 45 percent, poverty levels of up to 17 percent, often inadequate courts, the remoteness of EU accession prospects and strained relations with major bodies, like the International Monetary Fund (IMF) -- all these stand in the way of Kosovo's development. Prisitina recently lost IMF soft loans to the amount of $87 million under a so-called 'Stand-by Arrangement' and relations were downgraded to a 'Staff Monitored Program' which does not include financial assistance. This had a domino effect of stopping also European Commission loans of €50 million and up to €20 million from other donors. The financial crisis has made the international community wary of uncontrolled national spending.”


Mario Monti in FT, "We need growth, not commedia all’italiana".

“So if Italy has been chosen as the target -- and a target whose size and seniority within the EU makes it a more severe test of the Eurozone’s resilience -- it is probably because of the recent intensification of belligerence within prime minister Silvio Berlusconi’s government. Describing that as commedia is, I admit, an understatement. Yet even if these moves against Italy are not wholly justified by fundamentals, the combination of rating agencies and markets has triggered a sense of urgency reminiscent of the days in which Italy found itself in financial difficulties before the euro’s launch. Masterminded by president Giorgio Napolitano, the reaction has in fact been prompt and unexpectedly cohesive.”

FT letter: "Improvising their way out of a crisis".

“Sir, Mario Monti draws creatively from the Italian tradition of the commedia dell’arte in his analysis of Italy being ensnared in the eurozone crisis. At present, the characters of this play are working through the imbroglio, a crisis, before it is resolved, usually with great comic force, in the scenario. Stock characters such as Pantalone, the servant Harlequin and Il Dottore, usually an old learned man such as a university professor, improvise the resolution of the crisis facing them all within their given characteristics that are well known to the audience. Il Dottore prattles on and on and on with no one really listening to him, while Harlequin hatches schemes and plots for his own end. I leave it to the imagination of your readers to identify who is Pantalone, Harlequin and Il Dottore in the present imbroglio and whether a satisfactory resolution will emerge in the scenario. And, of course, it is from the commedia that, in the UK, Punch and Judy shows evolved. I hesitate to say that the eurozone crisis is now fast approaching a Punch and Judy show!
Adrian Woods, Brunel University”


John Lloyd in FT, "Forza Italia! Only Latin alchemy can save the Union".

“The generous spread of the Euro zone to countries of sharply differencing polities and cultures means that what fellow Europeans once found charming, they now find intolerable. National habits have become European vices. So Britains’s tendency to euroscepticism, its shifts between cautious enthusiasm and incautious anathematizing, infuriate dedicated Europeanists: in an interview with Corriere della Sera last month, Helmut Schmidt, the 92-year-old former German chancellor, snapped: ‘There is no crisis of the euro! It’s all nonsense spread about the world by a little group of British financial journalists!’”


Stacy Meichtry in WSJ, "Italy Budget Scrutiny Hits Close to Rome".

“Luigi Angeletti, head of UIL, Italy’s third-largest union, on Tuesday suggested that reducing the so-called cost of politics was a condition for his union’s support of the deficit-busting measures currently before Parliament. ‘Politicians need to show they know how to cut waste and excess costs,’ Mr. Angeletti told reporters. As part of the government’s new austerity plan, Italy’s Economy Minister Giulio Tremonti has ordered the creation of a commission charged with finding ways to bring Parliament’s costs in line with those of Europe’s biggest members. ‘It’s fundamental that the political class provide a good example,’ Mr. Tremonti said.”


Rachel Donadio in NYT, "Backing Austerity, Italy Bids to End Deficit by 2014".

“The center-left opposition voted against the measures, but did not present the kind of obstructionist amendments that are often used to block a bill’s passage in debates over budgets. On Friday, opposition leaders amplified their calls for Mr. Berlusconi to step down, saying he was no longer able to run the country.”


Anne Jolis in WSJ, "Greece: Where Profit Is Taboo".

“‘Nobody listens.’ If they ever do. Mr. Coustas would recommend nothing less than a constitutional overhaul. He would start by ‘removing the Supreme Court’s environmental involvement, through which it can practically annul anything, even if it’s been legislated by the Greek parliament.’ He cites this judicial climate as a key reason for why Qatar has yet to proceed with its planned $5 billion investment in the Greek economy. Equally unhelpful is Greece’s tax code, which Mr. Coustas says ‘is designed so that the taxman can benefit from the lack of transparency…. He gets bribed in order to accept your illegitimacy.’ Businesses‘ total levies are 47% of profits, according to the World Bank, and Mr. Coustas notes that ‘of course a lower tax rate helps.’ But stability and transparency are more important. ‘That‘s how you really generate corruption, when things are grey,’ he tells me. ‘When things are black or white, interpretation is very easy; that is why we need a complete rewrite of Greek laws.”


David McCourt in WSJ, "Let the Celtic Tiger Roar Again".

“Foreign creditors might not be happy if they’re forced to accept shares in Irish banks, but any other solution would turn the country into a large debt-servicing agency for a generation, reducing the Irish political class to little more than debt collectors for foreign creditors. This is neither financially nor politically tenable. The Greek situation, by contrast, is rooted in long-term fiscal mismanagement, a rapidly aging population, and a business environment that has never shown much enthusiasm for either entrepreneurial activity, capitalism, or tax collection -- the polar opposite of Ireland.”


Frank Arnold at Opendemocracy.net, "Shoot the NHS whistleblower: malignant managerialism is killing people".

“At least 25,000 people die avoidably following defective clinical care in the UK each year. No healthcare system, however improved, can prevent all of these tragedies. But many — perhaps half — are the result of dangerous, systematic and recurrent failures, of which some 400+ excess deaths at Mid Staffs are merely the most blatant recent example.

An ugly dilemma awaits doctors who try to bring disasters like these to the attention of their managers, and if necessary, the public. The General Medical Council — which can bar them from practising if they do not comply with the duties of a doctor — requires them to speak out. Equally, NHS managers and ministers are unenthusiastic about receiving information that could damage their reputations, bonuses, employment or chances of re-election. They frequently respond with legal actions, payoffs and sackings. Unwelcome medical messengers are (metaphorically) shot or paid off, and bad news and patients are (literally) buried.”


Peggy Hollinger & Richard Milne in FT, "Volatility hangs over French haven status".

“Could France be losing its haven status in Europe’s sovereign debt markets? This week, the gap between French and German borrowing costs rose to its widest since 1997, raising concerns over whether France could become the next victim of the crisis of confidence in European debt markets.”


"Shock Cinema: Clint Walker interview".

“SC: During 1958-61 you appeared in three westerns directed by Gordon Douglas: Fort Dobbs (1958), Yellowstone Kelly (1959) and Gold of the Seven Saints (1961)…

CW: I really liked Gordon. He was a very good director, a man’s man, and I thought he was very good at outdoors stuff. He directed all those features I did for Warner Brothers and some of the (“Cheyenne”) TV episodes.”

Sunday July 24, Encore Westerns is running five Clint Walker films, including the three Gordon Douglas-directed titles, plus two lesser films. Douglas had a long career that I’ve written about before in connection with Clint Walker (NV #61). The three westerns here were dismissed by Budd Boetticher in an interview as productions that might have become Randolph Scott westerns and if so Boetticher would’ve been in, but that’s not entirely fair. Fort Dobbs is written by Burt Kennedy (who wrote the best of the Boetticher-Scott westerns) and is as good as those classic programmers. It’s a beautiful black and white production and as Brian Garfield put it in his book on westerns, Walker lent a dignity to these films. Yellowstone Kelly is the lesser of the three westerns -- in color, blue-eyed Indian maiden, more studio-bound -- though it too is written by Kennedy, but unfortunately Encore is showing a trimmed version of the Warnerscope b&w Gold of the Seven Saints. Worth watching but not quite the whole of a very good film. There are scenes where the moron doing the trimming keeps Roger Moore in the frame and leaves Walker out. Moore is fine in this Leigh Brackett-Leonard Freeman riff on Treasure of the Sierra Madre themes, but on some modern scale he outweighs Walker.

Sunday, July 24, Encore Westerns channel:

Yellowstone Kelly - 3:15pm eastern
Fort Dobbs - 4:50pm
Gold of the Seven Saints - 6:30pm
Pancho Villa (1972) - 8pm
More Dead Than Alive (1969) - 9:35pm
Fort Dobbs - 3:40am



Budd Boetticher died ten years ago but the new Filmfax (127) has Pt. II of a great, previously unpublished interview done by Sean Axmaker. Budd doesn’t mention the Douglas-Walker films here but he does go deep into his westerns with Burt Kennedy, Harry Joe Brown, and Randolph Scott, as well as John Wayne, Sam Peckinpah and others. Here’s his story of a film I mentioned last year in connection with “Yojimbo” in the NV #59, Buchanan Rides Alone:

“Charlie Lang was under tremendous pressure and I knew that I had the ability to fix it. He was going through a very sad divorce. I went to Mexico and left Charlie the treatment we had written called ‘The Name’s Buchanan.’ I was late in coming home and I drove directly from Mexico City to Tucson. I got there four or five days before the picture was to start. Lucien was supposed to get there the day before the picture was to start, and he walked into breakfast four days early and threw the script out. He said, ‘Have you read this?’ I said, ‘What do you mean, read it? I wrote it.’ He said, ‘You didn‘t write this piece of shit.’ I started to read it, and with all the tension that Charlie was under, he had made that script as if we had given him a baseball picture and all of the sudden we were doing an underwater film. I mean, it was completely different than the stuff that we had given him. He’s a great, great friend of mine now, and you just have to understand these things. A lot of people get drunk when they have a situation like that and can‘t work, and Charlie just wasn‘t paying attention to what he was supposed to do. His loyalty to me was to write a script, and he wrote one, but he didn‘t read the one we gave him. So that‘s what happened there. I called Burt and said, ‘Burt, we’re really in trouble,’ so we ad-libbed the whole damn thing. The only way that that got into script form was the script girl would write down what we did, not what we were going to do.”


The Film Forum’s new early-thirties series is doing for Warren William what the last did for Lee Tracy.

"Warren William" by J. Hoberman in the Village Voice.

“Every other year or so, Film Forum’s Bruce Goldstein acknowledges this halcyon period with an all-35mm pre-Code fest. This summer’s edition has a pre–New Deal edge as well, focusing on that most seductive of scoundrels, Minnesota’s own Warren William (1894–1948).”


Michael Phillips in CT, "Recalling a theater’s champion".

“The Clark Theater at Clark and Madison in the Loop operated as a repertory house, open 22 hours a day, until time and the neighborhood and dwindling box office caught up with it. The building itself was demolished in 1974. Filmgoers' memories are long, however, and many Chicago-area cinephiles recall the monthly Clark Theater schedule (‘Hark! Hark! To the sound of the Clark!’) promising double bills of every stripe, from classic Hollywood to Poverty Row programmers, foreign titles and marginal work of historical interest. The Clark drew the homeless, the drunks, the college students, the cinephiles, the nostalgists, the urban, the suburban, the curious and, as years went on and the Loop's reputation went south before coming back up north again, the brave. It had a place in this city's history, and does still. Bruce S. Trinz served as the Clark's operating manager. He was born in Chicago in 1917 and died July 7 in Philadelphia. He came from a family of motion picture business mavens, predating Balaban & Katz. Trinz is survived by a daughter, Bundy Trinz. He leaves behind an unfinished book chronicling the Clark, his life as a programmer and his longtime love of the movies.”


Eddie Dean in WSJ on Preston Lauterbach’s book, The Chitlin’ Circuit and the Road to Rock ‘n’ Roll.

“Much of the narrative's present-tense feel and its pulpy detail come from newspapers like the Defender, the Indianapolis Recorder and the Houston Informer, which gave the circuit breathless coverage in their entertainment pages. The era's hepcat lingo (‘ork’ for orchestra, ‘ofay’ for ‘white’) and hard-boiled, noir ambience give Mr. Lauterbach a tune he can carry. He describes a beat reporter from the Informer on Houston's stroll 'round midnight in 1938: ‘A prostitute hey babied him over the brittle clap and baritone din drifting from Johnson's Domino Parlor. The hickory smoke from Snow's Barbecue teared up his eyes. . . . The stroll became the stagger.’ The street-wise tone works because the book is at heart a well-researched valentine to a lost world of seedy con men, promoters and club owners, the power brokers and hustlers who made the ‘circuitry spark.’ Sax Kari emerges as the circuit's wheel-chair historian and ultimate workhorse, with a résumé that includes leading a swing band in the early 1940s and composing the soundtrack for a late '70s blaxploitation film, ‘Super Soul Brother.’ His career spans the circuit's evolution from its vaudeville origins and postwar glory years to the funk eras and beyond.”


"Descendents’ Bill Stevenson after Grapefruit-sized Brain Tumor, Bloodclot and Diabetes".

“Q: And what was going on when you had the tumor? How did you feel then?

A: It was just crazy. I just thought I was getting old. I was like ‘What happened to me? I suck now.’ The first thing to go was my emotions. I became flat-lined, not happy, not sad. Emotions are what drive people. It was if I was aging really rapidly, I felt like a 70-year-old. I couldn't even get up and play ball with my kids and stuff. But I didn't go to the doctor because I didn't care. It was like, just picture not caring about anything. Not even in a ‘Oh, I don't care, like, I'm a teenage brat and I don't care.’ No, I mean just really not caring about anything, because that part of your brain has been impaired. So, my health got really, really bad. Like I said, I got up to 400 lbs. I was like Snicker-bar man. Eventually I ended up in the ER, and when the blood clot broke loose outta my leg and slammed into my heart, that should've been the end of me. I have the record at the hospital here in Ft. Collins for having survived the largest pulmonary embolism in their history. I guess all the drumming gave me a very strong heart, because I was able to push this sausage through to the other side, which landed into my lungs. Then people started examining me, but it was still three months until they found the brain tumor. Even after all that.

Q: How could something that big go unnoticed?

A: My wife told them they should give me a brain scan, like when I was first in the hospital, but they didn't do it for some reason. She said ‘This isn't my husband. He's not right,’ and they're like ‘Well, we don't know your husband,’ so they put me on various psychotropic drugs and things. I was like ‘Hey guys, I know I ain't what I used to be. I mean, I was an honor student, but why you giving me f---in' Ritalin?’ Then I woke up one day with double vision, so I went to the eye doctor and the eye doctor looked at me for five seconds and went ‘You need to go get an MRI,’ because he knew that there was a tumor pushing my f---in' eyes outta my head.”


As I was driving into Illinois last Thursday I switched from the Cubs game which was semi-well-in-hand and started searching for Q101, WONC, 1390AM, and various other favorites. I found Q101 first but it wasn’t coming in clear so I thought the radio sign-off of a format-change might be from some downstate radio station on the same frequency. I hadn’t heard that not only had Chicago’s disappointing-and-getting-worse alt-rock station been sold, it had been sold to Randy Michaels, recently booted from the Tribune Co., where he and fellow slob-in-arms Lee Abrams had incredibly failed to save hallowed Journalism from this, that, or t’other threat.

Here’s the scoop: Ryan Haggerty reporting in the Trib, "Alt-rock’s Q101 takes curtain call".

“James VanOsdol, a former DJ at Q101, said the station's demise shouldn't have come as a surprise. The alternative rocker, along with Chicago classic rock station The Loop (WLUP-FM 97.9) and a New York station, were sold last month to Merlin Media, a new venture headed by Randy Michaels, former chief executive of Tribune Co., owner of the Chicago Tribune. Still, VanOsdol said he understands fans' anguish. He said a friend of his recently compared the station's loss to the change in formats from rock to news/talk at WLS-AM 890 in 1989. ‘It made sense. (Q101) was where kids found out about new music,’ VanOsdol said. ‘I understand why people are affected by it, because it was part of their growing up.’ Both VanOsdol and Fred Jacobs, founder and president of Michigan-based Jacobs Media, the nation's largest rock radio consulting firm, said listeners must keep in mind that the format change is simply a business decision.”

People get invested in anything I suppose, but I don’t really understand anyone’s anguish but that of the on-air staff. Here, as everywhere talkers play what they are told, the talent feel like veritable Radio KAOS guerrilla jocks, barring the studio door against the Man so they can play, oh who knows… entire albums of the collected works of The Pink Floyd. I heard the KLOS crew go off the air together on KMET, or maybe it was an anniversary of it, every too-hip hero (and heroine) fighting the good fight to keep the waterworks from electrocuting the interns, heretofore treated as human ashtrays when not treated to lizard-drainage maintenance work. When the music folks were banished from radio it came to be peopled with the worst, most venal creepazoids from the lowest rungs of the advertising industry. But cry for the musicians who’ve let these a-holes call the tune. On Monday in the car driving around Naperville I checked what unannounced surprise the interim might bring, and I hear Q101 seeming on commerical-free autopilot playing Red Hot Chili Peppers, one lame-ass ersatz non-funky, non-sensual, non-sexy, non-soulful, non-black, sub-white, non-rock bullshit platinum-selling filler jam after another. Then two wannabe venal creepazoids from beneath the lowest runs of the advertising industry come on the mic and start talking about how under-estimated the RHCP’s drummer is. They explain some p.r. fanciful narrative of some brand new 15 minute meisterwerk the boys (and we assume they are still male) have cooked up. Then, chuckling, with nothing better to do, they play the track by these perennial stars of every hotcha alt-rock station’s Christmas Payola Benefit Concert again! The whole fifteen-uncraved-minute rave down. All I could think of was, wait til Dave Grohl hears about this; he is going to be green with envy until he can out-brown the Peppers.

The word is Randy Michaels will be innovating a hipper news-talk format on the old Q101. He bought WLUP too, though, so he’s got a lot of airtime to fill. But I have confidence no matter what new frontiers of failure he pioneers, he won’t let an ounce of musical excitement accidently disturb the peace of a dead music-radio culture.

Btw, the Cubs alleged closer Carlos Marmol took his two-run lead in the ninth, walked the bases loaded allowed a double and you never heard such booing in the friendly confines. Luckily I pulled into my parents driveway and got to turn off the car and its radio after a long, hot 1058 miles.


“The Whitney Museum of American Art is pleased to present
Title TK Meets Danny Goldberg
Wednesday, August 10 at 7 pm

Title TK is a band consisting of artist/musicians Cory Arcangel, Howie Chen, and Alan Licht. Danny Goldberg is a legendary music mogul. Join them this evening for ‘Title TK Meets Danny Goldberg,’ an unscripted conversation about the twists and turns of music culture over the last fifty years. Goldberg has had a long and distinguished career since the late 1960s, ranging from personal manager, record company president, public relations man, and music journalist. Among other things, he served as Chairman and CEO of Mercury Records Group and of Warner Bros. Records, was Vice President of Led Zeppelin’s Swan Song Records, and managed The Allman Brothers, Sonic Youth, Nirvana, and the Beastie Boys. Title TK is a ‘banter prone’ band which Arcangel, Chen, and Licht describe as ‘a cross between David Antin and Spinal Tap.’ This program is part of the My Turn public programs series. For the exhibition Cory Arcangel: Pro Tools, My Turn invited Arcangel to create programs for the Whitney’s public that are an extension of and informed by his own artistic processes and methods. Admission is free, but registration is recommended.”


Thanks Jon Wurster

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