a new low in topical enlightenment

Friday, May 4, 2012

Issue #132 (April 25, 2012)

Centennial Beach, Naperville

Photo by Joe Carducci

From the London Desk of Steve Beeho…

Nick Cohen on the British Council's complicity with Chinese state censorship.

“Tomorrow, Britain will get a taste of dictatorial control when the London Book Fair opens. The commercial logic behind the jamboree at Earls Court is easy enough to explain. Publishers want to break into the Chinese market. To help them ‘seek out and capitalise on new business partnerships’, the organisers said that this year's ‘focus’ will be on China. They are keeping Beijing sweet by refusing to invite writers – as ‘visiting authors’ – who might upset the regime. The event's managers struck me as cheerful capitalists. They want to help publishers strike deals and make money. No harm in that, particularly when they can argue that the promotion of propaganda and suppression of free thought have not been arranged by the commercial arm of the fair but by the cultural bureaucrats at the British Council. As the British Council is a BBC-style public corporation, funded by the taxpayer, it is fair to say that its collaboration with a dictatorship is our collaboration too. To my untutored mind, the collaboration also seems to breach the council's charter. Parliament gave it the right to take public money to ‘promote cultural relationships and the understanding of different cultures’. Not, you will notice, to prevent an understanding of how spies and censors police ‘different cultures’.”


Nick Hasted in the Independent on the corporatisation of Soho.


Gerard Cosloy toasts the organisers of Record Store Day 2012.


Will Self on why “walking is political.”

“The Stoic philosopher Epicurus maintained that free will was only an illusory sense we experience when the actions necessitated for us by circumstance fortuitously coincide with what we happen to want – it's my belief that this perfectly characterises the psychotic spatial awareness of the vast majority of contemporary urban dwellers; while the existential threats afflicting women, and the state-sanctioned ones that impinge, in particular, on young black men in British cities, have been internalised even by those – the white, the middle-aged and the middle class – who have no reason to be so trammelled. Put bluntly: deprived of mechanised means of locomotion – the car, the bus, the train – and without the aid of technology, the majority of urbanites, who constitute the vast majority of Britons, neither know where they are, nor are capable of getting somewhere else under their own power.”


Ripped and Torn rises from the grave: complete scans of back issues, Desert Island Discs, “Were Pink Floyd punk?”, etc., etc.


ubuweb have posted the Freeway LPs "English as a Second Language" and ""Neighbourhood Rhythms"" featuring a roll-call of SST alumni.


Jon Savage recalls the greatness of the original Subway Sect.

“The Sect were great because they were new, and the whole point of Punk was to be new. So in many ways, they were the perfect Punk Rock group: formed after seeing the Sex Pistols, fascinated by Television (in particular Little Johnny Jewel) and distinctly media-unfriendly.”

Drawing by James Fotopoulos

From the Kroehler Desk of Joe Carducci…

"We Got Power! - Hardcore Punk Scenes from 1980s Southern California".


Nicholas Pell at LAweekly.com, Greg Ginn on Black Flag Nostalgia and Coachella.

What do you think lies behind musical nostalgia?

I totally understand people looking to the past and asking ‘what the hell has happened?’ There were people who would cite Jimi Hendrix as their biggest influence and would end up playing this really tepid and controlled music. In the '70s I wanted the hippie thing to be maintained, some of that wildness and craziness. But it wasn't. And you can't go back. People pretend like they're bringing back the spirit of something but they aren't. They aren't putting enough into it. They're just trying to tap into it in this cheap kind of way and that cheapens it further. My conclusion is: Move ahead. When people are trying to bring back something it just doesn't work. People can fool themselves into thinking that it does work but it doesn't and they cheapen things up in the process. You can't go back and recreate the time or the situation or the struggles of the past. You can listen to the old recordings and hear it but you can't go back and tap into that. You can be inspired by the past and what not, but you can't recreate it. It always comes up hollow. Say people wanted a Jimi Hendrix reunion and they exhumed his body and he plays Madison Square Garden and headlines Coachella. That would probably draw a big audience. There might be a million people there, but I doubt I would be. I'd just say ‘I never got to see Jimi Hendrix and that's too bad.’”


Greg Ginn & The Royal We at Coachella at LAtimes.com.

“Posed alone onstage with just a guitar, a theremin and a bank of noise-making gadgets, Ginn and his ‘band’ the Royal We played an instrumental set that tested the limits of how much noise a sun-stroked crowd could handle. Halfway between free jazz, industrial throttle and caveman stoner rock, Ginn had pretty much cleared the tent by the time I walked over, and authoritatively cleared it for real 15 minutes after that.”


Ray Waddell in Billboard, "The Mad Genius of Coachella".

“Paul Tollett began promoting punk and ska concerts in 1982 while still in high school in Pomona, Calif., with his brother Perry and continued staging shows as a chemical engineering student at Cal Poly Pomona. In early 1986, Tollett started working handing out fliers for Goldenvoice, a Southern California punk/alternative rock promoter founded by Gary Tovar in 1981, eventually working his way up to talent buyer. Tovar was sentenced to federal prison for marijuana trafficking in 1991, and Tollett and fellow Goldenvoice talent buyer Rick Van Santen, who died of complications related to the flu in 2003, bought the company. Goldenvoice was the premier promoter of post-punk indie rock in Southern California, ‘and years later, that turns out to be a good scene to have gone into,’ Tollett says in typically understated fashion. When Pearl Jam embarked on its infamous nontraditional venue tour of 1993 in an attempt to work without Ticketmaster service fees, Goldenvoice pitched the band‘s agent Don Muller on Palm Springs as a Southern California play outside of Los Angeles.”


Mark Oppenheimer in NYT, "Spiritual Seeker’s Quest, From Blondie to Swedenborg".

“He became a voracious reader of esoteric, occult and spiritual literature. And today Mr. Lachman, 55, who lives in London, is a popular religion writer. His latest book, ‘Swedenborg: An Introduction to His Life and Ideas’ (Tarcher/Penguin), published this month, is about Emanuel Swedenborg, who lived from 1688 to 1772. Mr. Lachman joins a long line of philosophers and writers, including Kant and Baudelaire, intrigued by Swedenborg’s difficult, voluminous corpus, which includes bizarre interpretations of the Bible as well as claims to have traveled among the angels in heaven. After high school, Mr. Lachman moved to New York City, where he led an urchinlike downtown existence, ‘writing some very bad poetry and working as a messenger and starving.’ Soon, some jam sessions led to a job with Blondie, and suddenly he was at the heart of the punk and New Wave scenes, making records and playing at CBGB. Almost immediately, an interest in the occult filled the void Roman Catholicism had left behind.”


Richard Meltzer audio interview at Iconfetch.com.


Brad Cohan at Blurt, "Minutemen + Meltzer = spielgusher".

“‘I moved out of New York in '75; I was 30,’ reflects Meltzer. ‘I felt like I used (N.Y.) up. I lived it - been there, don't that. I ate it up. I moved to L.A. and I used it up in like ten minutes. But it took me longer to get out. I never cared to pretend they (New York) had a scene. The Dictators, who were kind of a pre-punk N.Y. band, who I'm still in touch with and who are friends of mine, weren't really punk. The stuff like Blondie, I never thought it was punk. Talking Heads weren't punk. Maybe Richard Hell was punk. I liked Lydia Lunch. To me, that scene was very overhyped, overrated. They had a bunch of very lightweight bands, who were part of what was considered New York hardcore. I never got along with Richard Hell. I thought he was a putz. But as far as his music (goes), it's alright. I was going to shows like four, five nights a week, wherever shows there were... X, Germs, Weirdos, Screamers. It was an audience of maybe 200 people who would go to most of the shows. It was a scene that didn't give a hoot about the mainstream market for this stuff. It was a vibrant scene for a while. L.A., to me, which is the cesspool of the universe; the punk scene was its only redeeming feature.’ Meltzer also recalls the demise of L.A. punk. ‘It wasn't until I.R.S. Records signed some local bands like Wall of Voodoo and the GoGo's that everybody suddenly smelled the possibility of money in it. That turned everything bad, I think.’”


Dick Clark to Lester Bangs circa 1973 in Creem posted at Byzantiumshores.

“‘You never know from day to day what young people are gonna do next.’

That reminds me, Dick. Whadda you think of fag-rock?

He gets a worried look. ‘Do you think this is going to be widespread?’

Sure! David Bowie, Lou Reed, all those guys at the top of the charts, the queers are taking over the country!

He chews on that one a minute, and comes back typically unruffled, reflective: ‘Anything that's new takes a while before it gets disseminated across the country. You get the JC Penney versions of fashions of what the style leaders are wearing. There's an interesting premise in all of this, in the youth world, you take the lunatic fringe, the avant-garde, the style leaders, the nuts. And if you are careful enough to determine what they come up with that's a legitimate trend, then you'll be able to figure out eventually what the people in the middle, I don't mean necessarily geographically but in the case of our country it is pretty much the middle, will be doing in the next number of months. Bisexual... what's the other word, AC/DC? I think its partially fad and partially goldfish swallowing, as protest was.’”


A.N. Wilson in Spectator on Dominic Sandbrook’s book, Seasons in the Sun - The Battle for Britain 1974-1979.

“While telling the story of economic and political decline, some of his most entertaining passages relate to the culture of the times. I liked the chapter on punk and on pub rock. With hindsight, the Sex Pistols seem the quintessential product of the 1970s, their apparent attempts to defy all the inherited moral traditions echoing, in a strange way, the despondent elegies of the ‘extreme right’. Old General Walker, darling of the Monday Club and other far-right organisations of the time, with his horror of ‘blacks, yellows and slant-eyes’, his wish for a military coup to cure ‘this awful sleeping sickness’ of the country, his horror at homosexuals (‘who use the main sewer of the human body as a playground’) is not so very different from John Lydon, aka Johnny Rotten, with his ‘Anarchy in the UK’. Both articulated feelings of outrage which decent radio channels and newspapers would not carry. Punk, too, was at times quasi-fascist (‘I think Hitler was very good actually’ — Siouxsie Sioux) but also fundamentally wistful about what had been destroyed and lost. Sandbrook shrewdly quotes a view that there was a puritan streak in Malcolm Maclaren and Vivienne Westwood’s demonisation of SEX (the name they gave their shop). Johnny Rotten’s cry to his audience: ‘I bet you don’t hate us as much as WE hate YOU’ is exactly mirrored by the arch-reactionary Philip Larkin’s attitude to his readers. Even Mrs Thatcher, though not a Nazi sympathiser, had something of the Siouxsie Sioux about her, and her perception of herself as someone who said the unsayable and did the undoable was surely the reason for her success, first in her own party and then with the electorate.”


David Carr in NYT, "Book Publishing’s Real Nemesis".

“As low-margin companies trapped in a declining business with fewer outlets, book publishers face an existential threat. ‘If we are fixing prices for our benefit, we don’t seem to be very good at it,’ said one publishing executive mordantly. (He declined to be named criticizing the lawsuit because of his involvement in the settlement.) The deal struck with Apple also allowed other players into the e-book business, including independent bookstores. Previously, Amazon’s $9.99 subprofit price was a virtually impenetrable barrier to entry for anyone who couldn’t afford to lose millions in order to gain market share. Remember that it was only after agency pricing went into effect that Barnes & Noble was able to gain an impressive 27 percent of the e-book market. Now Amazon has the Justice Department as an ally to rebuild its monopoly and wipe out other players. If the decision to charge the publishers was good for competition, why had the stock price of Barnes & Noble dropped more than 10 percent since Wednesday? Borders is long gone, and the possible loss of Barnes & Noble would be bad for consumer choice, online or off.”


David Streitfeld in NYT, "Daring to Cut Off Amazon".

“‘Amazon is squeezing everyone out of business,’ said Randall White, EDC’s chief executive. ‘I don’t like that. They’re a predator. We’re better off without them.’ It is an unequal contest. EDC has 77 employees, no-frill offices on an industrial strip here and a stock-market valuation of $18 million — hardly a threat to Amazon, a Wall Street darling worth $86 billion. But Mr. White’s bold move to take his 1,800 children’s books away from the greatest retailing success of the Internet era is more evidence of the extraordinary tumult within the book world over one simple question: who gets to decide how much a book costs? The Justice Department last week sued five major publishers and Apple on price-fixing charges, simultaneously settling with three of the houses.”


Myrrh at Hurryupharry.org, "Ten Years Since Something That Never Happened: A Learning Moment for the Guardian".

“Only on the tenth consecutive day of breathless Jenin Massacre reporting did Peter Beaumont report on detailed Israeli accounts refuting the massacre accusations, though predictably this was presented as part of an Israeli PR campaign rather than as conclusive proof. Two days later, Beaumont conceded that there hadn’t after all technically really actually been a massacre but then proceeded to repeat a handful of falsities as fact all over again. Without a doubt, though, the most memorable article the Guardian published on Jenin was its April 17 leader ‘The Battle for the Truth.’ The high dudgeon prose included the following sentences: ‘Jenin camp looks like the scene of a crime’; ‘Jenin smells like a crime’; ‘Jenin feels like a crime’; ‘Jenin already has that aura of infamy that attaches to a crime of especial notoriety’; and, unforgettably, the assertion that Israel’s actions in Jenin were ‘every bit as repellent’ as the 9/11 attacks in New York only seven months earlier.
No correction or retraction has ever been printed for this infamous editorial. On the contrary, though mounting evidence emerged that the whole massacre calumny was a fabrication (never adequately reported by the Guardian), twice over the following year this leader article was obliquely cited — once incondemning another Israeli action by comparing it to the ‘repellent demolition of lives and homes in Jenin’ and most outrageously under the headline ‘Israel still wanted for questioning.’ The latter headline ran on top of the only leader that mentioned the UN report clearing Israel of the massacre charge.”


Josef Joffe in WSJ, "Gunter Grass’s Tin Ear".

If we could only speak out, insinuates Mr. Grass, we will save the planet by defanging Israel. By eliminating its nukes through a ‘permanent control’ regime, we will bring peace to the ‘demented’ Middle East and ‘help ourselves’ to boot. The motive is unbearable guilt feelings, though Germany has evolved into a model democracy since 1945. How to regain moral worth? By projecting culpability onto Israel. ‘The Germans will never forgive the Jews for Auschwitz,’ runs a quip ascribed to Zvi Rex, an Israeli psychiatrist. You don't need a shrink to deconstruct this defense mechanism. Our grandfathers did it, but the Israelis, who won't let us forget, are just as bad. Three classics are: ‘They are the new Nazis,’ ‘Gaza is like the Warsaw Ghetto,’ and ‘We learned our lesson, the Israelis did not.’ Thus, the accounts are squared, with a tidy moral surplus left over for Mr. Grass and his new friends on the far left and far right.”


David Carr in NYT, "TV News Corrects Itself, Just Not on the Air".

“Nobody likes to eat crow in plain sight, especially in front of millions of viewers, but there are other imperatives at work. Lowell Bergman, who works for PBS and has done work for The New York Times, spent many years at ABC and then at ‘60 Minutes.’ He said that part of the problem with corrective reporting on TV is that it pulls back the blankets on the apparatus. The omniscient anchor, the dashing correspondent — most of them are just the spigot for a news product manufactured by many others. ‘Television is an industrial process,’ Mr. Bergman said, pointing to the fact that there are many hands on each story even as only one tells it. ‘It is built on a fiction, and they don’t want to get into the business of deconstructing how news comes together.’ Correcting a broadcast news report presents other challenges. Any correction would have to come out of the mouths of personalities whom networks lavishly promote as trusted sources of information.”


Ron Rosenbaum at Chronicle.com, "The Naked Truth".

“I had a theory about Dylan and God, Dylan and the Holocaust -- and the impact their conjuncture had on American culture. I'd argued that Dylan and his impact had been misconstrued by most Dylanologists; that he should not be situated with rustic pastorals or popular-front folkies, but with the urban, mostly Jewish, mostly literary ‘black humor’ movement of the 60s, which ranged across genres, from Lenny Bruce to Bruce Jay Friedman, Joseph Heller to Stanley Kubrick. A movement whose absurdist nihilism -- which reaches a viciously eloquent peak in Yossarian's denunciation of God in Catch-22 -- was a response to two holocausts: Hitler's, still only 15 years past, and the nuclear holocaust that seemed -- especially after the 1962 Cuban missile crisis -- just a shot away.

Dylan and Hitler? Was I forcing a conjunction? Some time before the lecture, I made what I thought was an important discovery in a pizza parlor. Well, it was while reading in a pizza parlor that I came across a line Dylan had written about Hitler that hardly anyone seemed to have noticed before. Yes he'd referred at least once in his lyrics to the Holocaust (in ‘With God on Our Side’), but I had no recall of an explicit mention of Hitler in the songs, and never in such a compressed and deeply expressive way.

I think no one had paid attention to it because it was hiding in plain sight -- obscured in the thicket of incomprehensibility that is the text of Tarantula, Dylan's ‘novel.’”


Carl Zimmer in NYT, "A Sharp Rise in Retractions Prompts Calls for Reform".

“Dr. Fang became curious how far the rot extended. To find out, he teamed up with a fellow editor at the journal, Dr. Arturo Casadevall of the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York. And before long they reached a troubling conclusion: not only that retractions were rising at an alarming rate, but that retractions were just a manifestation of a much more profound problem -- ‘a symptom of a dysfunctional scientific climate,’ as Dr. Fang put it. Dr. Casadevall, now editor in chief of the journal mBio, said he feared that science had turned into a winner-take-all game with perverse incentives that lead scientists to cut corners and, in some cases, commit acts of misconduct. ‘This is a tremendous threat,’ he said.”


Adam White in WSJ on J. Harvie Wilkinson III’s book, Cosmic Constitutional Theory.

“Judge Wilkinson focuses on four ‘cosmic’ constitutional theories, each anchored in the writings of its major advocates. In a chapter called ‘Living Constitutionalism,’ he discusses the late Justice William Brennan's belief in aggressively expanding constitutional protections to achieve liberal political reform, ranging from racial integration to expanded rights for criminal defendants and prisoners. The ‘Originalism’ chapter deals with Judge Robert Bork's and Justice Antonin Scalia's calls on judges to interpret the Constitution according to the Framers' intent. In ‘Political Process Theory,’ Judge Wilkinson discusses the late legal scholar John Hart Ely, who urged judges to promote well-functioning and equitable democratic processes, preventing majorities from oppressing minorities. The chapter called ‘Pragmatism’ gives us Judge Richard Posner, who argues against abiding by ideological theories and recommends that courts maximize the overall public good instead. For all the theories' differences, Judge Wilkinson finds each undermined by the same root flaw -- not a lack of theoretical detail or elegance but a lack of real constraint on judicial power. Accordingly, they are ‘nothing less than competing schools of liberal and judicial activism, schools that have little in common other than a desire to seek theoretical cover for prescribed and often partisan results.’ The ultimate victim, he says, is ‘democracy itself, which theory has emboldened judges to displace.’”


Mosi Secret in NYT, "Disabilities Act Prompts Flood of Suits Some Cite as Unfair".

“A small cadre of lawyers, some from out of state, are using New York City’s age and architectural quirkiness as the foundation for a flood of lawsuits citing violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act. The lawyers are generally not acting on existing complaints from people with disabilities. Instead, they identify local businesses, like bagel shops and delis, that are not in compliance with the law, and then aggressively recruit plaintiffs from advocacy groups for people with disabilities. The plaintiffs typically collect $500 for each suit, and each plaintiff can be used several times over. The lawyers, meanwhile, make several thousands of dollars, because the civil rights law entitles them to legal fees from the noncompliant businesses.”


Christopher Caldwell in FT, "Obama’s grasp of social Darwinism is yet to evolve".

“On Tuesday, the president slipped the leash of logic. Addressing the American Society of Newspaper Editors on the subject of House Budget Committee chairman Paul Ryan’s new budget, Mr Obama accused Republicans who backed it of ‘thinly veiled social Darwinism’. There are two problems with the president’s reasoning. The first is that practically everyone is now practising thinly veiled social Darwinism. Ever since Edward O. Wilson published Sociobiology in the 1970s, the application of Darwinian insights to social questions has steadily increased. That makes sense, so long as one believes humans are animals. Steven Pinker, Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett and their legions of readers apparently do. Darwinism is becoming almost a master key of the social sciences. Linguists, psychologists, economists and historians resort to it. It would be surprising if the Darwinian vogue didn’t find its way into politics.”


Mark Misulia in First Things on Raymond Tallis’s book, Aping Mankind - Neuromania, Darwinitis, and the Misrepresentation of Humanity.

“A doctor, professor, and self-described secular humanist teaching at the University of Manchester, he delivers a passionate assertion of common sense against the delusive but entrenched acceptance of materialism in academia and particularly of ‘biologism,’ the idea that man is only an animal. Tallis is particularly eager to display to his readers the glaring errors involved in what he calls ‘neuromania,’ an over-confidence in the neuroscience’s explanatory value. He argues that there is simply no empirical connection between the experiences of human life -- deliberation, anxiety, romantic love -- and brain states.”


Gillian Tett in FT on Simon Johnson & James Kwak’s book, White House Burning - The Founding Fathers, Our National Debt and Why It Matters to You.

“Although there was a brief, halcyon period in the late 1990s when it looked as if the deficit would decline, in the early 21st century the fiscal situation deteriorated alarmingly, wrongfooting most observers. (Johnson and Kwak note that in 2001 the Congressional Budget Office projected a budget surplus of more than $700bn for 2010; in the event, there was a deficit of $1.3tn, or a $2tn odd gap.) What explains this unpleasant surprise? Republican politicians are apt to blame it on wasteful government spending and President Obama’s stimulus spending. Johnson and Kwak, however, attribute it to the 2008 financial crisis, which forced a bailout of certain financial institutions, such as the government mortgage bodies, and tipped the economy into a sharp downturn. The 2001 Bush-era tax cuts and wars in Iraq and Afghanistan war further inflated the problem, they note. However, the biggest culprit of all is something often ignored by right and left alike: Medicare and Medicaid. For as the population has aged, outlays on these programmes have swelled so dramatically that mandatory spending now accounts for almost two-thirds of the annual Federal budget. Thus, it has become unrealistic to expect anyone to cut the debt merely by trimming “discretionary spending” (ie on education, the military and so on).”


WSJ: Joel Kotkin interview by Allysia Finley.

“According to Mr. Kotkin, most of those leaving are between the ages of 5 and 14 or 34 to 45. In other words, young families. The scruffy-looking urban studies professor at Chapman University in Orange, Calif., has been studying and writing on demographic and geographic trends for 30 years. Part of California's dysfunction, he says, stems from state and local government restrictions on development. These policies have artificially limited housing supply and put a premium on real estate in coastal regions. ‘Basically, if you don't own a piece of Facebook or Google and you haven't robbed a bank and don't have rich parents, then your chances of being able to buy a house or raise a family in the Bay Area or in most of coastal California is pretty weak,’ says Mr. Kotkin. While many middle-class families have moved inland, those regions don't have the same allure or amenities as the coast. People might as well move to Nevada or Texas, where housing and everything else is cheaper and there's no income tax. And things will only get worse in the coming years as Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown and his green cadre implement their ‘smart growth’ plans to cram the proletariat into high-density housing. ‘What I find reprehensible beyond belief is that the people pushing [high-density housing] themselves live in single-family homes and often drive very fancy cars, but want everyone else to live like my grandmother did in Brownsville in Brooklyn in the 1920s,’ Mr. Kotkin declares.”


Jennifer Medina in NYT, "In California, Economic Gap of East vs. West".

“San Bernardino County, which with Riverside County makes up the Inland Empire, a sprawling area now scattered with vacant homes built in the last decade, posted an unemployment rate of 12.6 percent in March. Compared with Orange County, on the more prosperous, western side of California’s vertical divide with an unemployment rate of 8 percent, it can feel like another world. The disparities have played out in all kinds of ways. The Inland Empire and the San Joaquin Valley, in the center of the state, have some of the highest rates of poverty in the country. El Centro, on the state’s southeast edge, has the highest unemployment rate for any metropolitan area in the country, nearly 27 percent. Stockton, 550 miles to the north and also on the eastern side of the divide, became the first city to test the state’s new process for possible bankruptcy.”


Gregory Mankiw in NYT, "Competition Is Healthy for Governments, Too".

“Granted, competition is not always good for producers. I produce economics textbooks. I curse the fact that my competitors are constantly putting out new, improved editions that threaten my market share. But knowing that I have to keep up with the Paul Krugmans and the Glenn Hubbards of the world keeps me on my toes. It makes me work harder, benefiting the customers — in this case, students. The upshot is that competition among economics textbooks makes learning the dismal science a bit less dismal. For much the same reason, competition among governments leads to better governance. In choosing where to live, people can compare public services and taxes. They are attracted to towns that use tax dollars wisely. Competition keeps town managers alert. It prevents governments from exerting substantial monopoly power over residents. If people feel that their taxes exceed the value of their public services, they can go elsewhere.”


CT: "Another Madigan shenanigan".

“There are the state of Illinois pension problems — created by politicians, terrifying in scope, and increasingly lethal to school funding, health care and other spending needs.

Then there is House Speaker Michael Madigan's pension problem — citizens growing smarter every day about what Springfield has done to them: Many of this state's taxpayers have caught on to the crude barter system that long lurked in the shadows: In return for reliable campaign support, Illinois politicians gave public employee unions hugely unaffordable pension and retiree health care benefits. Because those obligations didn't have to be funded immediately, the politicians could divert money to other purposes. They also figured they'd be gone when the dreadful costs of their giveaways erupted.
Thus did the state of Illinois become a massive retirement system that, during work hours, delivers services. This barter system, then, helped the pols and the unions at the expense of taxpayers and their priorities. Now many of those taxpayers are up in arms — which makes incumbents nervous during an election cycle. Some legislators have confided to us that their constituents are furious about taxpayers' nearly $200 billion in unfunded pension obligations and other state debts. Last year's 67 percent hike in the personal income tax rate, with virtually every penny of that revenue bound for the sinking pension system, makes those constituents even more furious. Read our incoming correspondence for a month and you might be surprised at how many Illinoisans comprehend that the tax increase is an exclusively Democratic production.”


John Lanchester in London Review of Books, "Marx at 193".

“I should, however, admit that I haven’t quoted these sentences exactly as Marx wrote them: where I wrote ‘capitalism’, Marx had ‘the bourgeoisie’. He was talking about a class and the system which served its interest, and I made it sound as if he was talking only about a system. Marx doesn’t use the word ‘capitalism’. The term never occurs in the finished first part of Das Kapital. (I checked this by doing a word search and found it three times, every time an apparent mistranslation or loose use of the German plural Kapitals – in German he never talks of Kapitalismus.) Since he is widely, and accurately, seen as capitalism’s greatest critic, this is quite an omission. The terms he preferred were ‘political economy’ and ‘bourgeois political economy’, which he saw as encompassing everything from property rights to our contemporary idea of human rights to the very conception of the independent autonomous individual. I think he didn’t use the word ‘capitalism’ because that would have implied that capitalism was one of a number of competing possible systems – and Marx didn’t believe that.”


Pascal Bruckner in WSJ, "The Ideology of Catastrophe".

“My point is not to minimize our dangers. Rather, it is to understand why apocalyptic fear has gripped so many of our leaders, scientists and intellectuals, who insist on reasoning and arguing as though they were following the scripts of mediocre Hollywood disaster movies. Over the last half-century, leftist intellectuals have identified two great scapegoats for the world's woes. First, Marxism designated capitalism as responsible for human misery. Second, ‘Third World’ ideology, disappointed by the bourgeois indulgences of the working class, targeted the West, supposedly the inventor of slavery, colonialism and imperialism. The guilty party that environmentalism now accuses -- mankind itself, in its will to dominate the planet -- is essentially a composite of the previous two, a capitalism invented by a West that oppresses peoples and destroys the Earth…. The fear becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, with the press reporting, as though it were a surprise, that young people are haunted by the very concerns about global warming that the media continually broadcast. As in an echo chamber, opinion polls reflect the views promulgated by the media. We are inoculated against anxiety by the repetition of the same themes, which become a narcotic we can't do without.”


Gerard Helferich in WSJ on Eric Rutkow’s book, American Canopy.

“By colonizing the mid-Atlantic coastline in the early 1600s, England was hoping to check its rivals' overseas expansion and to stimulate its own economy. The plan was that settlers would buy manufactured goods from the mother country and ship raw materials home in payment. And at the top of England's wish list was American timber. By this time, England was so deforested that its industries -- and its subjects -- were suffering from lack of fuel. Shipwrights demanded enormous quantities of wood for the merchant vessels and warships that were the sine qua non of empire. A single ship of the line consumed 2,000 mature oak trees, enough to populate 50 acres. And that was just for the ship's body. For masts, lighter, more flexible softwoods were needed, 3 feet wide at the base and over 100 feet tall. Such specimens were so highly prized that, toward the end of the 17th century, the Crown reserved all of New England's suitable pines for itself, marking them with a royal blaze and levying a 100-pound fine for cutting one without permission. But despite the scarcity in England, most trees felled by the colonists never made it to Europe. With uncounted miles of forest before them, the settlers cut timber with unheard-of profligacy -- for houses, barns, fences, fuel -- and established an economy more dependent on trees than any the world had ever seen.”


Mark Oppenheimer in NYT on Ross Douthat’s book, Bad Religion.

“Of all these Mr. Douthat is shrewdest about the role of wealth. ‘Entering the ministry had always involved sacrifice,’ he writes, but with salaries rising so swiftly in other sectors, ‘the scale of that sacrifice grew considerable steeper during the 1960s and ’70s.’ The quality of the clergy declined, as did its ability to preach about charity and encourage sacrifice. Worshipers grew richer, and on Sundays they wanted to drive S.U.V.’s to megachurch campuses, guilt free. The dissolution of the old ethnic ghettos was particularly disastrous for Catholicism. The parish’s social cohesion disintegrated, parochial schools closed, priests and nuns left. But Protestants suffered their own decline. Lutheranism, for example, was a powerful part of German and Scandinavian ethnic identity, so it may have never stood a chance in tolerant, integrated America.”


Michael Kimmage in New Republic on Andrew Preston’s book, Sword of the Spirit, Shield of Faith - Religion in American War and Diplomacy.

“Church and empire were inclined to march together. Or so it must have seemed in Europe until World War I -- ‘Christendom’s ultimate civil war,’ in Preston’s words.

All the great Christian empires are now dead. France, Spain, Portugal, Austria, Russia, and Britain are no longer empires, and these diminished modern states currently do little to align their foreign policy with Christian causes. If the European Union is a federation of states, and one to which only Christians need apply, it is no empire, and its official language is studiously un-Christian. Preston’s new book on religion and foreign policy is not about Europe. It is about America and Americans. In over six hundred pages, Preston charts the scope and the centrality of religion in American politics, from the seventeenth century to the present. This book merges American history with the history of Christianity, and in doing so it qualifies the story of Christian empire. Unlike the Christian empires of the past, America has never had an established church. Nor did the American Revolution result in empire. The animating spirit behind much of Preston’s narrative is Christian republicanism, and no Christian republic has ever had the territory or the influence or the power that the United States would come to possess.”


Anne Hendershott & Christopher White in WSJ, "Traditional Catholicism Is Winning".

“Many boomer priests and scholars were shaped by what they believed was an ‘unfulfilled promise’ of Vatican II to embrace modernity. Claiming that the only salvation for the church would be to ordain women, remove the celibacy requirement and empower the laity, theologians such as Paul Lakeland, a Fairfield University professor and former Jesuit priest, have demanded that much of the teaching authority of the bishops and priests be transferred to the laity. This aging generation of progressives continues to lobby church leaders to change Catholic teachings on reproductive rights, same-sex marriage and women's ordination. But it is being replaced by younger men and women who are attracted to the church because of the very timelessness of its teachings.”


Lesley Chamberlain in WSJ on Victoria Frede’s book, Doubt, Atheism, and the Nineteenth Century Russian Intelligentsia.

“The philosophical underpinning for Russian doubt came from the Germans. The writer and mystical dabbler Prince Vladimir Odoevsky (1803-69) and the poet Dmitri Venevitinov (1805-27) were among a tiny group of educated Russians who drew from Friedrich Schelling's ‘nature philosophy’ a high-minded endorsement of their quest to grasp Creation and their place within it. Schelling gave these men from privileged backgrounds -- a group that came to be known as the Lovers of Wisdom -- the sense of being a spiritual elite, with a quasi-Platonic task to divine the universal truth. Friendship and love were to be their tools. The political implications of their poetic inwardness might seem slight to us today, but in an age that saw the first, aristocratic, revolt against autocracy, in 1825, the Lovers of Wisdom represented individualism -- in the sense of individuals of conscience answerable to themselves. They helped to build an image of ‘philosophy,’ in the state's eyes, as a hotbed of revolution, but they were far from revolutionaries in a simple political sense. The design they stamped on Russian inwardness remained in place deep into the 20th century, with perhaps the most articulate Russian ‘spiritual’ figure of all time, Nikolai Berdyaev (1874-1948), still trying to explain it to a West that could then -- as too often also now -- understand Russia only in terms of ‘communism’ or ‘freedom.’ From the outset, this Russian individualism, spiritual but not religious, anti-autocratic but not necessarily pro-Western, clashed with Russia's politically ultraconservative Orthodox Church.”


Anthony Kroner in Hoover Digest, "Searching for Peter Wrangel".

“A legend surrounds Wrangel, the White commander who in 1920 sailed away across the Black Sea with the last of the anti-communist forces for a life of exile. His aura of courage, charisma, and incorruptibility was only enhanced by the mystery of his untimely death in 1928, shortly after his memoirs were published. For many exiled Russians, his death shattered the last hope of returning to the Motherland. He became the emblem of a lost cause. Peter Nikolaevich Wrangel was born into a well-established aristocratic family of Baltic German-Swedish origin, a branch of which had entered Russian state service in the second half of the eighteenth century, as Russia consolidated control of the Baltic provinces. Educated as a mining engineer, Wrangel served with distinction in the First World War, reaching the rank of major general by the time the Bolsheviks withdrew Russia from the conflict in 1917. The next year, after being arrested and released by the Bolsheviks, he joined the anti-Bolshevik Volunteer Army in the Kuban Cossack city of Yekaterinodar. His later short reign as White leader of the Crimea allowed him to deploy not only military but also political and managerial skills, and it thrust him -- albeit briefly -- onto the world stage. Even the Soviets acknowledged his military accomplishments, describing him as ‘a brilliant Guards officer’ (blestiashchii gvardeiskii ofitser) in the Great Soviet Encyclopedia.”


Nikolaj Nielsen at EUobserver.com, "EU authorities accused of blindness on ‘counter-jihad’".

“Hope Not Hate in a report out on Sunday said the 'counter-jihad' movement has become the new face of the far right in Europe and North America. The survey identifies some 300 disparate groups and individuals behind the trend. Many of them say Muslims are a threat to Western cultural identity or values because old-fashioned racist language is no longer acceptable in mainstream politics and media. They also profess sympathy toward gay people and Jews. The conservative American commentator, David Horowitz, is possibly the number one counter-jihad personality. His Freedom Centre think tank is a financial backer of many of the groups, the report says. He has also organised fund-raising events for Geert Wilders, a Dutch politician who recently hit the headlines by launching a website where people can denounce immigrants who work on the black market.”


Loretta Napoleoni in FT, "The slow shredding of western democracy".

“Marxist and neo-Keynesian economists unite in arguing that European economic and monetary union has made the rich countries the creditors of the poor ones. But this analysis does not fully explain what is happening in Greece. Among those responsible for this Greek tragedy is a political class that used votes as goods of exchange. Each time a party won an election the public sector expanded, says Panos Kazakos, a professor at the University of Athens. After all, establishing a limited company required the presentation of 200 pages of certificates, he notes, while a public sector desk job could be had just by tapping the right contacts.”


Tony Barber in FT on Jurgen Habermas’s book, The Crisis of the European Union.

“A more closely integrated Europe is taking shape – even if, for the foreseeable future, it may be limited to the 17 nations that share the euro. The problem identified by Jürgen Habermas is that this is happening without the involvement or even awareness of much of the public. Political leaders, each guided by the interests of his or her nation as much as by the general European interest, are keeping citizens out of the picture. If indeed they are uniting Europe, they are doing so on ‘an arrangement for exercising a kind of post-democratic, bureaucratic rule’, Habermas warns in The Crisis of the European Union.”


Gideon Rachman in FT, "Europe has yet to make Europeans".

“The difficulty of ‘making Italians’ is a cautionary tale for those who now have to struggle to ‘make Europeans’. More than 150 years after unification, the Northern League, a powerful opposition party, campaigns to turn Italy into a much looser federation, or even to break the country up. The League’s leader, Umberto Bossi, was forced to resign last week but the tensions on which his party thrives remain. Southern Italy is still much poorer than the north. Some argue that its relative stagnation is partly a result of being stuck in a currency union with the more productive north. Meanwhile many northern taxpayers deeply resent the transfers of tax money to the south and lambast the region’s corruption. Like Italy, Europe suffers from a north-south divide, with mutual resentments growing between the citizens of a more prosperous north and an economically struggling south. Somehow, politicians have to persuade both sides to overcome their differences, by thinking of themselves as Europeans. But ‘making Europeans’ will be much tougher than making Italians: the process of identity formation must take place across a huge territory with entrenched differences of language and culture.”


Isabelle de Pommereau in CSM, "In increasingly urban France, farmers still wield political clout".

“Farmers are a critical part of the national identity of Europe’s top farming nation. They are the guardians of the good food, joie de vivre, vineyards, and idyllic countryside for which France is known. But with 18,000 farms closing every year for more than a decade, farmers' clout is on the decline. The election of Mr. Sarkozy, France’s first urban president, heralded a new era. Farmers soon resented him for his blunders at farm shows and his support for environmental regulations they view as bureaucratic and stifling. They also blame his government for not doing enough to lower the cost of hiring seasonal workers.”


Douglas Davis in Spectator, "Out of the east".

“Just ask the dwindling Arab Christian minorities in the region who believed their arabness would trump their Christianity — the Copts and Chaldeans, the Maronites and Melkites, the Latin Rite Catholics and Protestants, the Armenians, Syriac Orthodox, the Assyrian Church of the East and others. They have paid a high price for hanging on. Christian Arabs constituted 20 per cent of the region’s population a century ago; today, they represent about 5 per cent, and falling. The remnant of the 2,000-year-old Christian population is being decanted from the Arab world.”


Richard Miles in FT on Tom Holland’s book, In the Shadow of the Sword - The Battle for Global Empire and the End of the Ancient World.

“He argues that the Romans and Persians would have found much that was familiar in the theocratic pronouncements of the Arab invaders. For what they were listening to were their own words and ideas, reworked and repackaged for a different age and audience. The relationship between the nascent Islam and the empires that it overran was never a simple case of the supplanting of the old with the new. For Holland, early Islam was forged in a religious and cultural melting pot where Persian Zoroastrianism, Christianity, Judaism and Gnosticism were all common currency, all which it liberally borrowed from.

In the Shadow of the Sword is an exhilarating read because Holland succeeds in capturing much of the excitement, strangeness and importance of a long past age – albeit one with a very contemporary resonance. It is difficult not to be bedazzled by a cast that includes ulcerated Christian holy men, Zoroastrian priests obsessed with dental hygiene, demonic emperors, barbarians with self-inflicted cranial deformities, perfumed Persian monarchs and Arab ambassadors stinking of camel.”


James Balowski at Qantara.de, "Punks and Sharia Law in Indonesia".

“The secretary of the Aceh Ulama Association, Faisal Ali, said in a statement that the local government should offer no place for punk communities to thrive, calling on local government to issue a by-law that would ban punk communities in Aceh. The chair of the Aceh Association for Imams, Tarmizi Rasyid, even suggested that the detention period be extended to three months. Also backing the move was the notorious Islamic Defenders' Front, which is known for vandalising Jakarta nightspots that fail to pay police protection money. Several days into the re-education camp, a delegation from the Muslim cleric council delivered a religious lecture to the youths. But there was little sign of a mass conversion to religious piety. ‘Punk's not dead!’ shouted 18-year-old Andre after being forced back onto the truck after a compulsory visit to a nearby mosque at prayer time. Andre said he was sick of being re-educated, and that it was having no effect. ‘I'll still be a punk when they let me go,’ he said. ‘It's my chosen life.’ Efforts to restore moral values by having the punks march military-style for hours beneath the tropical sun wasn't working, and the punks were showing no signs of bending. When camp commanders turn their backs, the detainees raised their fists and shouted, ‘Punk will never die!’”


Qantara.de interview with "Hazem Saghieh".

“Saghieh: I can't rule out that a new form of totalitarian rule cloaked in religion may arise in an Arab nation, especially in view of the catastrophic economic conditions in some of the Arab countries. But there are a few ‘guarantees’ or reasons that would militate against this happening, namely the interest on the part of the Arab states currently undergoing transformation to cooperate economically with the Western world, an interest that is guiding the new power elites in a different, more politically open, direction. Besides, the new youth protests and uprisings in the Arab world represent an epochal break with what were formerly declared to be sacred authorities in this region. If the religious parties that have come to power through democratic elections in the post-revolutionary Arab states play by democratic rules, then we will have taken a major step in the direction of democratisation. But up to now, the Arab republics and monarchies have mainly been based on family ties, cultivating a pronounced clan culture that hinders any form of modern participation.

Saghieh: Yes, you're right as far as the role of tribal membership is concerned. But we must not forget that the legitimacy of conservative Arab monarchies comes from a different, traditional base. And some of these monarchies, especially in the Gulf region, have – thanks to their oil reserves – the ability to buy themselves societal loyalties. Therefore, these systems of rule have little to do with totalitarian regimes in the modern and ideological sense. They represent instead an Oriental and primitive form of despotism.”


Albert Wu at L.A. Review of Books on Liao Yiwu’s book, God is Red - The Secret Story of How Christianity Survived and Flourished in Communist China.

“What is unusual is the biography of the author. Liao, who is not a Christian, made news earlier this year when he left China for Germany, after having been denied a visa for foreign travel for more than a decade, and declared himself officially a writer-in-exile. Born in 1958, Liao belongs to the same generation of Chinese dissidents as Liu Xiaobo, the winner of the Nobel Peace Prize in 2010 for his work in authoring the dissident manifesto Charter 08, which Liao also signed. Like Liu, Liao came of age during the Cultural Revolution; his father, a schoolteacher, was considered a counterrevolutionary. The young Liao failed to gain admission once universities were reopened in 1977, and he spent several years as a truck driver, at the same time immersing himself in the writings of Western poets. In the early 1980s, he became involved in the underground avant-garde poetry scene, while at the same time supporting himself as a ‘propaganda’ author for the government. Then came Tiananmen Square. In response to the June 4th massacres of 1989, Liao wrote and recorded an epic poem, Massacre, on cassette tapes. The poem spread quickly through underground channels. It is a work of bombastic indignation, a bricolage of radio dramaturgy and Chinese classical dramatic rituals, set to a soundtrack of Bruckner’s Eighth Symphony and Penderecki’s Threnody to the Victims of Hiroshima. It begins with evocations of the revolutionary moments of the French revolution and the May 4th movement, and chants of ‘protest’ (kangyi). Massacre is a showcase for Liao’s language: frenetic, onomatopoetic, and brutal.”


Ian Crouch in New Republic on Jim Yardley’s book, Brave Dragons - A Chinese Basketball Team, and American Coach, and Two Cultures Clashing.

“Basketball is China’s most popular sport, a fact that creates, in itself, a kind of existential national crisis, since a more perfect version of the game is played elsewhere, in the United States. Chinese players, Yardley writes, ‘had been taught to regard themselves as defective,’ and ‘considered themselves genetically less capable of excelling at sports that require a combination of power and speed.’ Foreign hired guns raised the level of play in China, but they were also a constant reminder of domestic inferiority. Could there be another way to improve the Chinese game? Yardley, the former Beijing bureau chief for the New York Times, introduces an unlikely innovator in Boss Wang, a blustery nouveau riche steel baron and owner of the bottom-dwelling Shanxi Brave Dragons, who looked to America not just for on-court talent, but for ‘a higher basketball consciousness.’ He identifies that consciousness as Bob Weiss, who in 2008 became the first former N.B.A. head coach to be hired as a consultant in the Chinese league. It is a mark of the awe in which the Chinese hold American basketball that the bald and bespectacled Weiss -- who during his American coaching days often appeared glum and slightly defeated -- could overnight become Babu WeeSuh, the guru savior of the Chinese game. Yet upon his arrival Weiss is eyed jealously by reporters and fans in other cities, as if he were, as Yardley writes, ‘a fancy piece of new technology that had been shipped to the wrong place.’”


Floyd Whaley in NYT, "Philippines and China in a Standoff at Sea".

“Some analysts speculate that Beijing’s harsher tone could be a tit-for-tat after Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton stood on the deck of an American warship last November in Manila Bay and reaffirmed the military alliance between the Philippines and the United States. Mrs. Clinton referred to an area of the South China Sea as the West Philippine Sea — a name used by the Philippines but not other nations — a point that irritated the Chinese. In a demonstration of how exploration of oil and gas is a crucial aspect of the South China Sea territorial disputes, American and Philippine naval exercises this month will include one that involves retaking a hijacked oil rig, according to the Philippine military. The current naval standoff began Sunday when Philippine surveillance aircraft spotted eight Chinese fishing boats near Scarborough Shoal, an outcropping of rocks 124 nautical miles west of Luzon Island in the Philippines. The shoal, which is called Panatag in the Philippines and Huangyan in China, is claimed by both countries. The Philippine Navy sent the Gregorio del Pilar, a 378-foot patrol frigate that was formerly an American Coast Guard cutter. The ship arrived early Tuesday and found the boats anchored inside the horseshoe-shaped shoal, according to Vice Adm. Alexander P. Pama. ‘At about 7:20 in the morning, the boarding team started to conduct a board, search and seizure on the first Chinese fishing vessel and found large amounts of corals, sizable quantities of giant clams and live sharks in its compartments,’ Admiral Pama told reporters on Wednesday, adding that the other Chinese boats carried similar sea resources that he said were illegal to harvest.”


Martin Fackler in NYT, "In a Rowdy Democracy, a Dictator’s Daughter With an Unsoiled Aura".

“‘She is part Bismarck and part Evita,’ said Ahn Byong-jin, author of ‘The Park Geun-hye Phenomenon.’ ‘She wants to be like her father by being a strong leader who looks out for her people, but she also tries to be a woman who is sympathetic to the people’s problems.’ It is a remarkable rise, even if she had the advantage of being schooled in politics from an early age by one of South Korea’s most accomplished leaders: her father, Park Chung-hee, a general who ruled the country with an iron fist for 18 years but also laid the foundation for one of Asia’s great economic success stories. After Ms. Park’s mother was killed in 1974 during a botched assassination attempt on Mr. Park, he summoned his daughter, then 22, back from graduate school in France. FOR the next five years she stood at his side, hosting world leaders and fulfilling the public duties of a first lady, until he was killed by his spy chief in 1979. Over those years, she said, she got her first lessons in politics from her father during conversations in the back seat of his limousine.”


New Left Review: Pierre Brocheux interview.

You mentioned earlier that you knew some of the leaders of the Khmer Rouge during your time at the Sorbonne.

Yes, I knew many Cambodian communists when we lived together in the Maison de l‘Indochine at the university. They all fell victim to the purges ordered by Pol Pot: Hou Youn, Sien An, Toch Phoeun, Vong Serevuth, In Sokan. Son Sen, the last chief of the Khmer Rouge army, was killed along with his entire family. They were all sincere communists, idealists, for whom solidarity in the fight against colonialism was no mere slogan. What happened between their time in France and the moment where they found themselves plunged into the realities of Cambodia, at a time when US intervention was at its most intense, the Sino-Soviet split was deepening, and tensions between Cambodia and Vietnam had reached a paroxysm because of historic resentments and irredentist claims? I do not have an answer to these questions. To this very day, I have not found an adequate explanation for the slide of the Cambodian communists towards a chauvinistic nationalism that was shot through with murderous dementia.”


James Hookway in WSJ, "Myanmar Meets With Rebels".

“There are several guerrilla conflicts in the country, dating back to just after the formation of Myanmar and independence from Britain in 1948. The guerrilla wars have been marked by a series of human-rights abuses, international investigators say, from press-ganging ethnic minorities to a systematic campaign of army-sponsored rape and torture.

The Karen insurgency is one of the largest and most important, both for the size of the Karen population, which is around 7% of Myanmar's total, and for the activities in strategic areas, including Myanmar's border with Thailand and the area around a proposed deep-sea port at Dawei. At one point the insurgents threatened to block roads and disrupt the project, which Myanmar's government views as a vital pivot point in its future development. A sustainable peace deal between the central government and Karen, Kachin and other ethnic insurgents could go a long way to buoying the country's economy, which has been held back in part because of hostilities in many of Myanmar's border areas. Brutal military crackdowns in rebel areas also were among the factors that led the U.S. and European Union to impose wide-ranging political and economic sanctions on Myanmar in the 1990s, which forced the country's former military government to depend heavily on China for trade and investment.”


James Lamont in FT, "Direction uncertain".

“Senior officials at the Reserve Bank of India want parliament’s current budget session to pass higher energy costs on to consumers in order to pare down a subsidies bill estimated by the Paris-based OECD to be as much as 9 per cent of gross domestic product. Even the most meagre fiscal consolidation, they say, would give reason for optimism that the left-leaning Congress party-led government, with two years still to run until parliamentary elections, has some will remaining to put the economy on a high-growth trajectory to rival China. However, many critics claim that in the world’s largest democracy the clock is in fact turning back to a statist model reminiscent of that seen in the 1970s. Forty years ago, an inward-looking economy tangled up in red tape was stuck with the sluggish ‘Hindu rate of growth’ of about 4 per cent. A reversal would diminish the clout of a nation regarded by western and regional partners as a counterbalance to the growing power of Beijing.”


Michael Boskin in WSJ, "A Passage to India-Pakistan Peace".

“Free trade would substantially increase trade and investment flows, incomes and employment, and it would give the citizens of both countries a far greater stake in the other's success. Economists of varying backgrounds agree that free trade is a positive-sum economic activity for all involved. In the seven years following Nafta, trade among the United States, Canada and Mexico tripled and real wages rose in each country. The International Monetary Fund reports that direct trade between Pakistan and India was a pitifully small $2.7 billion in 2010, just two-thirds of India's trade with far smaller Sri Lanka. Remarkably, Pakistan's exports to Bangladesh are larger than those to India, though Bangladesh's economy is only 6% the size of India's. South Asia doesn't have enough trade.”


David Gardner in FT, "Triumphalist Turkey can’t go it alone".

“Yet, even assuming he wants to, Mr Erdogan cannot become a Putin. Nor can the Turkey he so dominates go it alone. For all the triumphalism about Turkey’s Chinese rates of economic growth compared with a stagnant and fragile eurozone, the success of its economy depends on its growing integration with the EU. There are 14,000 EU companies in Turkey, and many of them transfer technology. If the boundlessly ambitious Mr Erdogan wants, say, an aerospace industry, he needs Europe. Turkey, moreover, has no oil. As an open economy it has to earn its living in the marketplace, and the EU is still by far its biggest market. ‘This is not, thank God, a rentier economy,’ says the academic. ‘We cannot behave like Putin’s Russia. The fact we have to make a living sets a floor against [the extent of] authoritarianism, but how do you break through the ceiling above to full democracy?’ His answer is re-engagement with – and by – the EU.”


Anne Barnard in NYT, "Resurgent Beirut Offers Haven Amid Turmoil of Arab Spring".

“This country doesn’t change — the people like life,” said Sonia Bailouni, a Syrian psychologist sunning herself on the boardwalk. The very divisions that started Lebanon’s civil war have may have helped insulate it from the past year’s Arab revolts. The war ended in 1990 after a rigid apportioning of power among religious sects. The system is fractious and inefficient but allows dissent and keeps the state weak, with little ability to impose or intimidate. Amid the Lebanese factions’ mutual mistrust, there is no single authority to rally against. With Lebanese torn between wistfulness for change and fear of what it could unleash, an uneasy calm prevails.”


Matthew Rees in WSJ, "How the World Gets Ahead".

“What has been most eventful, though gradual, has been something else -- the near-miraculous rise of emerging markets and the explosive growth of hitherto stagnant or failing economies. In 1980, low- to middle-income countries -- from Chile and China to Uganda to Ukraine -- accounted for just 30% of global economic growth; today they generate more than half. Many of these countries, in the past couple of decades, have challenged the postwar consensus favoring a quasi-socialist, heavily managed, Keynesian model of economic organization. They have curtailed government spending, reduced inflation and integrated themselves into a global network of trade and consumption. The result has been extraordinary progress—between 1990 and 2005, more than 1.2 billion people saw their standards of living rise and thus escaped extreme poverty, according to the World Bank. The momentousness of this shift is, arguably, greater than any recent episode of crisis or economic catastrophe.”


Richard Dowden in "WSJ on Jean-Michel Severino & Olivier Ray’s book, Africa’s Moment, and Stephen Ellis’s book, Season of Rains.

“For Mr. Severino, in ‘Africa's Moment,’ what matters now is the demographics: the coming African population explosion and the mass movement of people from rural areas to towns. The population boom is partly due to a decline in infant mortality. According to the World Bank, in 1970 there were 136 deaths per thousand live births; by 2009, the number had dropped to 72.6. But the birthrate itself remains very high in many African nations. The U.S. fertility rate is estimated at 2.1, Europe's is 1.59. Sub-Saharan Africa's is estimated at 4.94. One simple fact is clear: Many Africans want to have many children. Africa, Mr. Severino notes, had a fifth of the world's population in 1500 and then suffered four centuries of mortal disruption. It is only now catching up. But this raises a question. Historically, when populations have exploded -- such as Europe's in the 19th century -- the answer was emigration. But tomorrow's young Africans will have nowhere to go.”


Elisabeth Rosenthal in NYT, "Nigeria Tested by Rapid Rise in Population".

“At his concrete home in the town of Ipetumodu, Abel Olanyi, 35, a laborer, said he has four children and wants two more. ‘The number you have depends on your strength and capacity,’ he said, his wife sitting silently by his side. Large families signal prosperity and importance in African cultures; some cultures let women attend village meetings only after they have had their 11th child. And a history of high infant mortality, since improved thanks to interventions like vaccination, makes families reluctant to have fewer children. Muriana Taiwo, 45, explained that it was ‘God’s will’ for him to have 12 children by his three wives, calling each child a “blessing” because so many of his own siblings had died.”


Mary O’Grady in WSJ, "What’s Behind Brazil’s Slow Growth?".

“Think of what would happen if policy makers allowed the real to appreciate. As dollars flowed into the country and were used to purchase reais, the exchange rate would appreciate. The stronger real would give Brazilians more purchasing power around the world to modernize production facilities, increasing productivity and thus competitiveness. This would be a wealth-building process. But Brazilian central planners have other ideas. They have always envisioned the country as a manufacturing giant, and the government has long subsidized domestic producers -- think of the theory of infant industries -- and provided protection from foreign competition. That was easier when the local currency was weak. Brazilians could not afford imports and the country's exports looked more attractive to foreigners.”


John Rathbone in FT, "Mexico steps out of Brazil’s shadow".

“Now that luck may be changing. For the first time in a decade there are good reasons to be less bullish about China – and thus Brazil. There are also good reasons to be more bullish about the US – and thus Mexico. China has lost competitiveness because of rising wage and transport costs. North American corporate supply chains are already shortening. If the US economy recovers, Mexican manufacturers should do well. Mexico has also become a global car producer. The industry generated $23bn of exports last year – more than oil or tourism. Nor are these cheapo maquiladora operations: Volkswagen and Nissan use Mexico’s web of trade agreements to export their cars to the whole world. As for Mexico’s ‘drugs war’, the once dizzying increase of violence has slowed and in some areas fallen. Why is not clear, but a 74 per cent increase in federal security spending will eventually make a difference, anywhere.”


Adam Thomson in FT, "Location provides competitive edge".

“When China erupted onto the world manufacturing stage at the beginning of the century, most people in the know predicted bleak times ahead for Mexico. Unlike South American countries, for which China’s growth meant a vast and hungry customer for their agricultural and mineral commodities, Mexico saw China as a seemingly unmatchable competitor in exactly the same things it was producing – cheap manufactured goods.

A decade or so on, not only has Mexico survived the onslaught but it has actually begun to gain market share of total US imports, the world’s largest import market. According to figures from the United Nations Commodity Trade Statistics Database, Mexico accounted for 12.3 per cent of all US, non-oil imports in 2010. In 1999, prior to China’s emergence as the world’s factory, its share was just 10.6 per cent.”


Pierpaolo Barbieri in WSJ, "The Tragedy of Argentina".

“Recent scenes in the streets of Athens vividly recall the last months of the Argentine currency peg in the early 2000s. Countries spiraling toward collapse, it seems, are doomed to see their politicians bickering on the precipice while hooligans throw Molotov cocktails at public buildings. Yet in calling for Greece to follow in Argentina’s footsteps -- toward a hard default, a steep devaluation, and out of the euro zone -- commentators are drawing all the wrong lessons from my motherland’s recent history. When instituted in 1991, Argentina’s peg to the U.S. dollar was astute economic policy: It ended the cycle of hyperinflation and chronic devaluations that had thwarted development for decades. Argentina had finally escaped the tumult of post-dictatorship democratic instability. Reforms, privatizations and the peg have a new government legitimacy. Hard-won low interest rates, however, led to a domestic borrowing and spending binge, not unlike Greece’s after it joined the euro zone.”


FT Profile: Axel Kicillof "Deputy economy minister holds influence beyond his station".

Meet the rising star in Argentine politics and the brains of the government’s new take-no-prisoners approach to energy company YPF: a baby-faced Marxist economist with Elvis sideburns who does not appear to own a tie. Axel Kicillof, the deputy economy minister, not only has more clout than the man who should be his boss. He has swiftly risen to the pinnacle of power within the ultra-select clique of officials who have the ear of Cristina Fernández, the president. ‘He is the economic brains – the first economist she has listened to since Néstor Kirchner died,’ said Laura Di Marco, author of a book on the radical La Cámpora group founded by the president’s son, Máximo, and to which Mr Kicillof belongs. She was referring to Ms Fernández’s husband and predecessor, who ran the economy from behind the scenes after leaving power until his sudden death in 2010. Mr Kicillof, described by a former close colleague as ‘on the left of the left’, has long been a militant but did – for a time – publicly question the government’s policy regarding Indec, the state statistics agency whose data it is widely believed to have been manipulating since 2007 to conceal rampant inflation.”


Thanks to Mike Applestein.

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• The New Vulgate
• Joe Carducci, Chris Collins, James Fotopoulos, Mike Vann Gray, David Lightbourne (1942 - 2010)
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