a new low in topical enlightenment

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Issue #151 (April 23, 2017)


Sheep Mountain from Centennial Ridge
Photograph by Joe Carducci

















Money For Food
Michael Essington

 
   At the end of my walk one night, I snuck into my local 7-11 for a diet Mountain Dew (because as a diabetic everything that is “good” for you tastes like shit).

   When I walked in the door, the front of the place was empty except for two or three girls in the corner giggling while making their selection on the Redbox machine.

   I ran in, grabbed the soda, pay and walked out. As I walked out the door I heard, “Hey man, you got some change?” I think what startled me was the voice. It was the voice that I and every kid I have ever known has used to fool our parents into thinking we were sick when we wanted to get out of going to school. That gravelly Barry White thing, minus the sex-appeal.

   I looked down and I saw a guy, late teens-early twenties, sitting next to the phone booth, backpack against the wall, a blanket laid out, and the palm of his hand towards me. I wanted to tell him he was full of shit. I had been in 7-11 three minutes. In that time he had arranged his belongings, laid out his blanket, did his best Barry White and started begging. Once he ran the change thing past me, I shook my head and said, “Sorry, no change.” And walked away.

   Over twenty years earlier, I was on a date with some girl and she wanted to stroll along Melrose. So, we started on one end and headed towards Fairfax. Midway down, we passed a homeless guy, about the same age as the guy out in front of the 7-11 last night. This guy was a little dirty, hair messy, he gave me that strained smile and said, “Sorry to bother you, but I’m in a bit of a bad situation. I haven’t eaten in a while and no place to sleep.” I told him I was sorry he was in that situation. The girl I was with was tugging on my arm, trying to move on down Melrose. I told her to hold on.

   I fished through my pockets, the only cash I had was a five dollar bill. I handed it to him and said sorry it wasn’t more. He thanked me three or four times.

   We start back down Melrose. The girl I was with started in with the whole “Why did you give him that money? He’s only going to use it for drugs or alcohol.”

   I looked at her for a bit and said, “How do you know?” She gave me a snooty look and said, “They all do.” I shook my head and mumbled, “Oh, they do, do they?”

   I didn’t talk to her for the rest of the walk. Kind of juggling this information around in my head. Do people say this to justify not giving money to those in need or were they previously generous and got burnt and are now callous?

   About twenty minutes later we were heading to where we had parked, we pass the guy I had just given money to. I smile and nod to him. Now there is a blonde guy sitting with him. He stands up, a little more aggressively than his friend. He does a whole, “I need some money, man.” I nod at him at point to his friend, kind of a cue for his friend to say, “Hey, he gave us a few bucks.” Instead, the blonde guy takes my actions as a slight and yells “Don’t ignore me, man! Trying to brush me off?!” He jumps in my face.

   The girl I was with is now a half a block away. I put the palm of my hand on this guy’s chest I say to him very softly, “Make another move, say another word I’m knocking your ass out.” The guy pushes against my hand, I cock back – his friend jumps off the sidewalk and yells, “Dude, stop! That’s the guy that gave us the cash!” The blonde does a double-take and says, kind of humble-like, “Oh, sorry dude.” I nod and say, “You two have a good night.”

   Once I catch up to the girl, she starts, “See, that’s why you shouldn’t give them money. They were high. They probably had weapons.” By this point, I had had it. I said, “You have no idea what you’re talking about. Most of us are a check or two away from this. If I lived out here I’d want to be loaded too. I’d have a shit-load of weapons. So what? Not all of us were raised in Thousand Oaks with the luxury to look down on the world.”

   She looked floored. “What?! Take me home.”

----

   In the summer of 2014, I stopped into Headline Records to visit my friend Jean-Luc. In the twenty to twenty-five minutes I was in there two guys popped in asking for money.

   Jean-Luc explained to me what he tells them. He tells each and every one of them the same thing. “Sweep out the shop, wash my front window and I’ll take you to the pizza place across the street and get you lunch.”

   He said out of the hundred plus people that have come through his shop asking for money for “food,” only one person has taken him up on his offer. One.

(from the forthcoming book, Broken; information here.)















Sheep Mountain from Green Rock

Photograph by Joe Carducci
















From the London desk of Steve Beeho…

Larry Elliott on why populism is the result of global economic failure in the GUARDIAN.
Much head-scratching has resulted as leaders seek to work out why large chunks of their electorates are so cross. The answer seems pretty simple. Populism is the result of economic failure. The 10 years since the financial crisis have shown that the system of economic governance which has held sway for the past four decades is broken. Some call this approach neoliberalism. Perhaps a better description would be unpopulism. Unpopulism meant tilting the balance of power in the workplace in favour of management and treating people like wage slaves. Unpopulism was rigged to ensure that the fruits of growth went to the few not to the many. Unpopulism decreed that those responsible for the global financial crisis got away with it while those who were innocent bore the brunt of austerity.


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Matthew Goodhart, Shocked by populism? You shouldn’t be, in the FT.
While most serious analysts share a consensus that populism is set to remain as a durable force, this narrow economics-based interpretation is unconvincing, not least because it ignores the fact that populists experienced much of their growth before the onset of the financial crisis and that the most successful, such as those in the Netherlands or Austria, arose amid some of the lowest unemployment rates in the western world. The second camp, whose bible will now be David Goodhart’s important new book, The Road to Somewhere, instead contends that these revolts are symptomatic of a deeper conflict over values and identity — a conflict that is beginning to eclipse the traditional divide over economic redistribution that used to organise our parties neatly into left and right.Goodhart, a former Financial Times journalist who edited Prospect magazine and now works for the Policy Exchange think-tank, sees two different groups increasingly pitted against each other. On one side are the liberal, socially mobile and university-educated “people from Anywhere”, who subscribe to an “achieved” and cosmopolitan identity. On the other side are conservative, marginalised “people from Somewhere”, who subscribe to a roots-based conception of national identity and cherish ways of life that have been lost or are under threat. It is the latter who, via the populist rebellions of 2016, are forcing themselves back on to the agenda of western politics.


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Frank Furedi, A Revolt Against Deference, at spiked-online.com.
In recent years the decline of deference towards the Western establishment’s truths has prompted it to wage a crusade against populism. This has led to a new stage in the decades-long Culture War. What stands in the way of the elite crusade to regain deference is the wisdom of the people.


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John Gray on Fictions of Fascism in the NEW STATESMAN.
Viewing the current turmoil in politics through the lens of a received account of fascism may stave off a paralysing sense of bafflement. At bottom, however, it is a way of failing to understand the present. Fascism was more alluring to intellectuals, and more modern, than many who fear its return have realised. Yet what we are witnessing is more a meltdown in the political traditions that prevailed since the end of the Cold War than a reversion to interwar fascism. All of our political ideologies are in disarray – not least left-liberalism, now not much more than a collection of smelly new orthodoxies and an uncomprehending wail of self-righteous indignation.


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Rod Liddle, What shocks me about the BBC: occasionally it isn’t biased in the SPECTATOR.
I may have told you before about the comment made to me when I was editor of the Today programme about complaints from Eurosceptics which claimed our coverage was guilty of bias. I had been inclined to take the complaints very seriously. But a senior BBC apparatchik said to me: ‘What you have to understand, Rod, is that these people are all mad.’ That was the BBC’s controller of editorial policy, since you asked.


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Paul Berman on Russian Manipulations, Past and Present in the TABLET.
How should the [Soviet-era] Russians have felt about the Republican Party, then? It depends. The Russians had every reason to look with horror upon the Cold War hard-liners. But, in the degree to which they were willing to confine their ambitions to their own oversized chunk of the world, they also had reason to look with respectful appreciation upon the Kissingerians. And so the question arises: Did the Russians, back in Soviet times, ever go so far as actually to intervene in an American election on behalf of the Republican Party in its Kissingerian mode? This is Devin Nunes’s question, except that I have rendered it more precise. I can answer. They did.


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Tanya Gold, Losing Momentum: how Jeremy Corbyn’s support group ran out of steam, in the NEW STATESMAN.
The man beside me has been ill. He talks sweetly about the potential renewal of society under Corbyn’s Labour as a metaphor for his own recovery, and this moves him; he has not been involved in politics until now. I like this man very much, until I mention the Jewish Labour MP Luciana Berger and the anti-Semitism she has suffered from Corbyn supporters and others; and he says, simply, that she has been employed by the state of Israel. He says nothing else about her, as if there were nothing else to say.


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Mary Wakefield, The mad, bad crusade against ‘cultural appropriation’, in the SPECTATOR.
Who do these righteous muppets think should decide on culturally appropriate subjects for writers and artists? Do they imagine a licensing body, an arm of government going from studio to studio checking for privilege? The truth is, they don’t imagine anything. They just don’t do sustained thought. For them, it’s enough to harangue, and to signal lofty indifference to criticism on Twitter: “Wow. Just wow.”


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Jordan N. Mamone, How Mark Cunningham Blitzed the Bowery With No Wave Icons Mars, at observer.com.
We had our public, absolutely. Especially at CBGB. Sometimes it depended on who we played with; if it was someone that had their own crowd, maybe they didn’t get us at all. This particularly happened while playing with punk or hard rock bands. When we played in a series at Folk City with the Heartbreakers, [the audience was] throwing things at us. But on those nights captured on the record, you can really hear the complicity that we provoked in our immediate circles. For them, the weirder and more intense, the better. In this sense, we were very much a product of our time and place, not ahead of it as is generally thought.


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electric eel Brian McMahon interviewed about his memoir, Jaguar Ride, at noisey.vice.com.
The electric eels started as a myth that became a band, let us swirl forever in mystery and conjecture. I expect inclined readers will decide for themselves whether my book breaks the myth down or builds it up. My intentions were broader than a band book. Less a story about selling the who and more about telling the why.


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David Keenan interviewed about his novel, This Is Memorial Device, An Hallucinated Oral History of the Post-Punk Music Scene in Airdrie, Coatbridge and Environs 1978-1986 in the SUNDAY HERALD.
I think the most interesting stuff about post-punk was what happened outside the urban centres, in the small villages. What happens in This Is Memorial Device happened in a lot of small towns I think. It’s an international scene in microcosm. So you have your local Iggy Pop, you have your local Lou Reed. And as one of the characters says, in a way the people in Airdrie were living it harder than their role models. It’s not easy being Iggy Pop in Airdrie…. I think the surreal aspect of it is closer to the truth in a way… The strange, unlikely, supernatural, hallucinated part was somehow closer to the real experience. And something tells me that’s closer to how people experience reality. Things do seem hallucinated and weird. You’re invaded mentally by all these weird ideas at the same time and memory itself twists and turns it. Memory itself is creative. Rather than some weird fidelity to some social realist notion of Airdrie in 1978 I wanted to get the psychic reality of Airdrie, '78.


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It's The Buzz, Cock! Spiral Scratch 40 Years On at thequietus.com.
Hannett's production, even at his most inexperienced, was somewhat groundbreaking too, remembers Diggle. “Any time the engineer was doing something that sounded right, Martin Hannett would undo it and started messing with everything. The engineer was furious but he ended up getting that unique sound, the 'terrible beauty' as I call it. On the one hand it sounds terrible and on the other it sounds beautiful.”


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As surreal postscripts go, this one isn't bad...
















Middle Mountain

Photograph by Joe Carducci


















Red States
Joe Carducci


“I want to ask for your forgiveness, that many of our dreams didn't come true. That what seemed to us to be simple turned out painfully difficult. I ask forgiveness for the fact that I didn't justify some of the hopes of those people who believed that with one stroke, one burst, one sign we could jump from the grey, stagnant, totalitarian past to a bright, rich, civilized future…. but I want you to know – I've never said this, today it's important for me to tell you: the pain of every one of you, I feel in myself, in my heart... in saying farewell, I want to say to every one of you: be happy. You deserve happiness. You deserve happiness, and peace.” - Boris Yeltsin final address, Dec. 31, 1999


   Russia is in poor shape economically but it sure seems politically stable. Since the collapse of Soviet Union it’s been conventional Eastern wisdom that Gorbachev was wrong to put political reform ahead of economic reform. China did it right the sages say; when Chinese people made political demands the People’s Liberation Army was set upon them and the survivors turned to their work-lives and entrepreneurship for some freer space. Today China has many homegrown millionaires and billionaires and politically connected and protected provincial power centers. And now it is China’s center that may not hold. They look at Putin as someone who countered the centrifugal forces spinning from political freedom as they look to counter those spinning from economic freedom. Communism had criminalized all political and economic activity outside of the Party until its societies and cultures were up on blocks and stripped. The Party had to retract some unknown amount from totalitarian control to allow human nature the creative space to regenerate resources it had pillaged. Lenin had done this himself with the New Economic Policy of 1921, but Stalin closed that opening in 1928 with the First Five-Year Plan.

   Any Putinizing of Chinese leadership this year (Xi Jinping becoming a “core” leader like Deng or Mao at his reappointment, and perhaps taking a third term in 2022) tells us the East is in a new era. Trump’s election and Xi’s elevation should both contribute to making Putin himself easier to deal with. But we may not see Putin-Trump deal-making on some grand stage in Mitteleuropa or in twin summits in New York and St. Petersburg with trumpets blaring for quite a while. In the wake of Xi’s recent meeting with Trump we hear that our Metternich, Henry Kissinger, is schooling Jared Kushner on playing China and Russia off against each other. It would appear there’s a thin line between an Isolationist or a Neo-con.

   Vladimir Putin passed up the chance to serve two terms and continue the Yeltsin precedent of stepping away from power. Instead he made a deal with Dmitri Medvedev who became President for one term while Putin glided over to the position of Prime Minister. He then returned to the Presidency. He will presumably win a 4th presidential term next year which will secure his leadership until 2024 when he will be 72. Putin has said that he does not intend to be President-for-life, remarking that he doesn’t believe that would be good for the nation or for himself. If he steps down in 2024 he will have only technically observed the two-term limit, as if the Russian constitution really meant to only bar two consecutive terms. The George Washington-like ritual of Public Servant No. 1 returning to a private life merely interrupted by service, not consumed by rule, seemed inconvenient. Putin considered himself an indispensible man.

   
   Given Russia’s poor economic prospects (barring oil and gas prices doubling back to their 2014 high) Putin will be thinking about turning his current geo-political high-water mark into a new deal with the West that can outlive him. He put himself forward as a new model for the battered, neutered Russian male. The West found this amusing but it needed doing after seven decades of communist cuckolding put the Russian male’s life expectancy at five decades. Putin had risen from his various positions in St. Petersburg and Moscow in the waning days of Boris Yeltin’s presidency and made the deal to immunize the Yeltsin family from prosecution so as to prevent further national drift under his decline. Putin himself, if he’s being truthful and does not die in office, will be even more cautious about negotiating such immunity for himself and his family. After so many terms in office, rumors of Tsar-like wealth, and so much rough governing there is much appetite to get at him and many potential charges. But those who shout that no-one is above the law must be careful they don’t insure tyranny by making stepping down the greater risk.

   But who is there today in Russia who might step forward, and from which organ of state power, to succeed Putin and protect him in retirement? I won’t guess about that, other than to say that it is no longer true as it was in the Soviet period that the secret police have unique awareness in a nation blinded by Pravda. Putin had to emerge from the FSB-KGB; his successor perhaps not. But it does seem likely that Putin would now plan for this event, and that right now is trying to guess at whether Donald Trump will last one term or two. Should Trump be re-elected his second term would end in 2025, a year after Putin’s putative final term. It’s quite likely then that they would conclude the fabled post-Soviet Russo-American reset by 2022, over thirty years past the end of the U.S.S.R.

   The reset that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton floated was out-of-sync with the life-cycle of Putin’s regime. As part of President Obama’s stated goal of “a pivot to Asia” the reset seemed designed to leave a reduced Russia to the EU so as to work at containing a rising China. Why wouldn’t Putin work to tie down American defense and diplomatic dollars in Europe and the Middle East and bank that favor with China? Such amateurish face-up poker is what we’ve seen from our DC realists-idealists since George H.W. Bush let the U.S.S.R. collapse; his challenger Michael Dukakis seemed to advocate saving Gorbachev and the Soviet Union with foreign aid, the very programs designed to bolster others against the Soviet Union! A perfectly Keynesian foreign policy: pay ’em to dig the ditch and then pay ’em to fill it in.

   Bush’s “Chicken Kiev” speech (Aug. 1, 1991) was delivered in Ukraine before its referendum on leaving the USSR. It was written by then aide Condoleeza Rice to warn Ukraine against “suicidal nationalism” but the polling seemed to indicate that it drove a blowout vote for independence even in Crimea though there the vote was closer. Bush’s seeming-timidity (the speech was tagged “chicken” by William Safire) was not however what inspired Pat Buchanan to challenge him for the nomination in 1991. I don’t remember Buchanan having a position on Ukrainian independence per se; what he wanted was for the U.S. to get off the war footing and let a now post-communist non-expansionary, indeed shrinking Russia in out of the cold. The Cold War was over and Buchanan wanted a peace dividend and a return to as much of our classical American Republic as could be salvaged. He campaigned against the Washington establishment’s search for new challenges for our superpowers.

   There’s evidence that early on Putin was inclined to come in out of the cold. George W. Bush intended to reset our geopolitics with more “humility.” Even after the Islamist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon both Russia and China were enthusiastically folding their own respective battles against Muslims-if-not-Islamists in Chechnya and in Xinjiang into the West’s new battle. Soon more attacks followed in Madrid, London, etc., and the West, which had been objecting to Russian and Chinese behavior, went along with a kind of pro forma simpatico. For awhile Islam united East and West, Christendom and Communism, the Hindutva and Buddhism; too bad for Burma the comity was over before their new democracy’s current battle with Muslims-if-not-Islamists began.

   
   Russia has always been a bad neighbor to have. In their defense it was a bad neighborhood that formed them. And now that Russia is back, back to meddling everywhere, creating rump statelets out of minority grievances wherever they can. They even rumped the rump state of Moldova which itself was pealed from Romania. Russia seems fated to seek to force what they assert is a naturally occurring sphere of influence. And this can clash with Putin’s determination to be the standard bearer for stability above all – evolution rather than revolution, the historical position of America in the world. In this light Putin and Russia are loathe to observe the centenary of the Russian Revolution this year, whether the February authentic democratic revolution or the October Bolshevik coup which launched the totalitarian approach to tyranny and perfected it in the sense that simple authoritarian regimes expire with their author. The Baathist regimes in Syria and Iraq are and were mixed versions and like North Korea destined to function like de-sanctified kingdoms with biological princes assuming the secular thrones of Assad, Saddam, and Kim. Further confusing matters was the reverse-truth of the world’s fleeting concern over America’s status as sole “hyperpower” after the passing of the USSR. It wasn’t concern over any American appetite for imperial control but more fear over her rather blithe unleashing of social chaos in states without the cultural sophistication to withstand democratic freedoms. In Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s recent meeting at the Kremlin in the shadow of the American attack on the Syrian airbase over chemical weapon use, the Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov read Tillerson the riot act: Yugoslavia, Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Sudan….

   Personally, I stopped worrying about being an anarchist when I realized that each society gets as much freedom or anarchy as it can handle. So it can be naïve in terms of the old world to insist that, say, Iraqis (even just her component societies – the Sunnis, Shi’a, Kurds, etc.) elect their leaders. The fact that each country must adapt from the US what they dare so as to participate in modernity does not mean that any of them can approach its level of dynamism without breaking apart or retreating into dictatorship.

   America has been struggling to keep its global responsibilities from destroying its own house. But an Americanism seeking a mission beyond realpolitik stability is something of a conundrum. But even free trade stability when with a tyranny that serves only some ruling clique who starves its subject people can be hard to take for either American party. Pat Buchanan’s reprised and revised America First doctrine is still in part based on his suspicion that a post-Cold War NATO is actually only pretending that it will go to war to keep its new members independent, or perhaps he fears that only America is not pretending. The wars that concern the EU, NATO, and the US were Russia’s semi-invasions of parts of Georgia and Ukraine. Neither was conducted like the Chechnya war. And both Ukraine and Georgia during accession talks with the EU behaved as if they could force the hand of NATO to all but excavate them away from their Russian borders. The still uncooled conflict between the now independent nations of Armenia and Azerbaijan hasn’t concerned Putin so much because neither has made moves to join the EU or NATO; they remain members of the Russia-centered CIS and its military alliance the CSTO. But in this unique backwater the ongoing but lukewarm war helps keep the combatants’ respective peaces with Russia, reinforced by Russia’s interest in “defending” Armenia from Turkey, and Azerbaijan from Iran.

   Trump, if he is as advertised, must believe that the West’s objection to Putin’s seizing of Crimea in 2014 was just another fake red line and in a word, “SAD!” Khrushchev’s seemingly meaningless ceding of Crimea to Soviet Ukraine in 1954 only mattered when Ukraine’s incompetent Russia-sponsored president lost a rigged election due to people power in the “Orange Revolution.” The EU still acts like the Crimea, where the Russian naval base on the Black Sea allows access through the Mediterranean Sea to the Atlantic Ocean and the Persian Gulf, must and will be returned to Ukraine, despite the inability of subsequent “legitimate” non-Russian sponsored Ukrainian Presidents, Victor Yushchenko and Petro Poroshenko, to inspire any Western confidence in the nation’s leadership (Currently Poroshenko seems an improvement). This is unlike the Baltic states where governance and spending on defense and training seems coherent and determined.

   Trump has certainly scattered the newsmedia’s leading Russian experts: David Remnick, Stephen F. Cohen, Strobe Talbott, Hedrick Smith, Gary Hart…. They all surely winced when Mitt Romney was laughed at by their fellow liberals for claiming during the 2012 presidential debate that Russia remained our number one geopolitical foe. These experts each retain that warped investment in the Russian mythos once so common, though only Cohen is so old left about it that Trump is actually collaterally repaired as Cohen defends Putin and Russia against the Democrats’ cross-dressing “McCarthyism.” Remnick is the most visible to his detriment methinks on “Charlie Rose” and as one of three authors of an endless essay in a recent New Yorker titled, “Active Measures” – the length of which was required to rescue the beloved Obama administration from culpability for anything but innocent bystanding – Remnick had special access to President Obama and exhibits withdrawal symptoms.

   Trump speaks and tweets scattershot to soften his opponents’ defenses like the wholesale barely-aimed fire from Katyusha rocket launchers. But he shows a simple contempt for the preening moral objection to the seizure of Crimea and other offenses against Ukraine that the EU and Obama administration offered. Any serious protest would have to aim toward a deal, where even a fait accompli might garner a geopolitical cost equal to or greater than the gain. Glancing at a map, the obvious swap to threaten would have been Kaliningrad, but apparently not one neuron in any of the legions of double-domes sheltering behind the desks of the EU, UN or White House was exercised in gaming out such real world penalty. Any motion toward placing Kaliningrad on the table would have been the minimum required of an actual strategy beyond mere protest. It might have been obvious as well to reinforce that with simultaneous motion toward the southern Kuriles, two Japanese islands seized by Stalin at the end of WWII. Military maneuvers and diplomatic demands are the minimum cards to play if one was seriously offended over Crimea. Anything less is the posturing of peacocks and that offends real world dealmaker Trump.

   Putin is still playing a weak hand, well or not. The populist right gained in the Netherlands election but did not win as expected, and Putin’s more direct choice lost in the recent election in Bulgaria, historically the most slavish satellite. The Russian-sponsored America-less Syrian peace process may not survive the recent cruise missile strikes in retaliation for the use of Sarin gas. That may depend on whether Assad was chumping Putin on the use and even the presence of such missiles. So far Trump’s moves regarding Syria and North Korea are working and even reinforcing each other, but he is edge-walking. If Steve Bannon is fired it’s probably a sign that the Pottery Barn doctrine has returned; we will stay the world’s cop because the world is broken.

   Will France vote for Le Pen? Hard to picture but that’d be a hell of a loss for EU pretensions and another effective win for Putin. A German election is due as well after which the playing field for Putin’s last term is set. Crimea might be judged by the Trump administration as not worth the crisis. Then a comprehensive re-tracking of relations would be possible along the lines Pat Buchanan or even George W. Bush initially seemed to favor. When Bush was ridiculed for having seen Putin’s soul he had been impressed by the scale of Putin’s job to right a shellshocked nation with declining lifespans to go with a declining population. The price of oil hadn’t yet risen and the Russian oil industry was leaking more oil than it pumped anyway. Bush saw that Putin took this task seriously which explained everything from his athletic displays to his religious observances. If that soul was real then Buchanan was right to warn that NATO expansion would retrigger Russian imperialism to secure its sphere of influence. All we can be sure of is that it happened.

   In any case Russia and Putin were not reminded that the West includes the East, and Japan’s still open demand for the return of the Kuriles was not used to underscore that Russia’s detached canton on the Baltic Sea between Poland and Latvia might also be plopped back on the table. That Russia quietly reinforced Kaliningrad all through the second half of 2016 tells us that Putin understood his vulnerability if the West did not. Does President Trump understand? We may not know until 2022.

(Illustrations: Putin and Yeltsin, Dec. 31 1999 – Reuters; Patriarch Kirill and Putin, July 2015 – AFP; Xi and Putin, June 2016)













Sheep Mountain from Green Rock #2

Photograph by Joe Carducci















From the Wyoming Desk of Joe Carducci,,, 

Mikhail Khodorkovsky in WSJ, The Ultimate Trump-Putin Deal.
Mr. Putin would like to use international agreements to preserve and formalize the “gains” he has achieved in Europe: his conquest of Crimea and neutral status for Ukraine and other states Mr. Putin considers to be inside Russia’s legitimate sphere of influence. The desire for such concessions may motivate Mr. Putin to discuss the matter of his stepping down while Mr. Trump is in office. That in turn, could create an opportunity to remove other problems from the table. But it could also tempt the West to appease and buckle under, or to throw up barriers. In any other scenario, if Mr. Putin is going to be thinking about how to remain in power, he needs the U.S. for only one thing – to play the role of a “safe enemy.” That allows him to rally the Russian people around him, while knowing America presents no actual danger. To expect any other approach from Mr. Putin is a self-delusion that will carry a high cost in the end…. The window for handling Mr. Putin is very narrow. Mr. Trump’s brashness has stopped at attacking Mr. Putin personally. That atypical restraint horrified many Russia hawks in the West. But it may turn out that Mr. Trump took a better approach. Whether accidentally or by design, he has left the door open for Mr. Putin to make a graceful exit. That would be good for everyone.


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Mark Helprin in WSJ, The Deal Trump Shouldn’t Make With Russia.
The new administration may be sorely tempted to close a showy, diplomatic “deal,” the origins of which are President Obama’s extraordinary policy failure in the Middle East. With American financing rather than resistance, Iran has thrown a military bridge from Afghanistan to the Mediterranean, a feat the U.S. could not equal at the height of its powers when it unsuccessfully tried to construct the Central Treaty Organization in the 1950s.


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Roger Scruton in SPECTATOR, The Russian Way of Lying.
All this has come to mind in reflecting on the role of truth in Russian diplomacy. Communist ideology dismissed the idea of truth as a bourgeois construct. What mattered was power; and you baptised as truth those doctrines which provided it. This invincible way of marginalising reality was exposed for all honest people by Orwell, Koestler, Solzhenitsyn and, more recently, Havel. Only education in a modern university, with repeated doses of Foucault, Deleuze and Vattimo, could blind one to the dangers of a philosophy that sees power as a real goal of discourse. Unfortunately, that education exists, and we have to live with the result of it.


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Alison Smale & Andrew Higgins in NYT, Putin and Merkel: A Rivalry of History, Distrust and Power.
Never a friend nor an open foe, Ms. Merkel has always sought to nudge Mr. Putin and Russia toward a relationship rooted in rules rather than emotion, a comity built on clearly defined common interests, not personal chemistry. Mr. Putin, in turn, has longed for a transactional leader in Europe, someone who would strike a grand bargain and guarantee Russia a fixed, even privileged, place at the decision-making table. Before Ms. Merkel took power, Mr. Putin had that rapport with her predecessor, Gerhard Schröder. Now it is one of Mr. Schröder’s heirs, Martin Schulz, leading the center-left Social Democrats, who poses the biggest challenge to Ms. Merkel. Having the Social Democrats back in power, with their warmer embrace of Russia, would be a boon to Mr. Putin — just as he is hoping for friendlier leadership in France, and with Mr. Trump in the United States.


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James Marson in WSJ, Russia Taps Political Splits.
Sweden is a prime example of Mr. Putin’s divide and conquer strategy as he attempts to maintain Russia’s status as an energy powerhouse and a geopolitical force in Europe. The Nordic country has reinstituted a military draft and moved troops to a strategic Baltic Sea island in response to Russian military moves, but it can’t stop Karlshamn from helping Gazprom because local governments in Sweden have strong authority over local affairs.


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Yoichi Funabashi in FT, Japan Seizes the Rare Chance of a Reset with Russia.
The advent of Mr Trump may create the strategic breathing space that Tokyo was not afforded during the Obama administration. Mr Abe is keenly aware of the potentially favourable environment for fostering Japan-Russia relations and is therefore moving with a sense of urgency. A rare opportunity is opening for Japan and Russia to normalise bilateral relations and finally leave behind the legacy of the second world war. But as Tokyo enjoys leeway to pursue a more autonomous foreign policy, it must be careful not to revert to the kind of opportunism that led to a neutrality pact with Stalin’s Soviet Union in 1941 and then to Japan’s fate being linked to that of the Axis powers in Europe. Japan must choose the path of principled and hard-headed engagement that it followed when it normalised relations with an authoritarian South Korea in 1965 — and again in 1972, when it established diplomatic relations with totalitarian Communist China. Certainly, a peace treaty between Japan and Russia, two great powers, will be of significant benefit to regional stability, as well to both countries’ economies. Mr Abe, though, must not forget the overarching goal of shoring up the liberal international order.


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Evan Gershkovich in NYT, 150 Years On, Russians Have Sellers Remorse.
Russians started to settle Alaska in 1784, setting up trading posts and Eastern Orthodox churches, mostly along the coast. By the 1860s, having lost the Crimean War to Britain, and fearful that Britain would seize Alaska in any future conflict, the czar decided to strike a deal. The sea otters who were the heart of then-thriving fur trade had almost been wiped out, and the Russians also feared that if gold were discovered — as it would be, in the Klondike Gold Rush that started in 1896 — the Americans might overrun the territory, said Susan Smith-Peter, a historian at the College of Staten Island in New York. “From the Russian point of view, the deal made a lot of sense,” she said. “They could irritate Britain, and they could have a closer relationship with the United States.” The United States also thought the purchase would position it closer to trade with China, and fend off any British thoughts of encroachment on the West Coast, said Gwenn A. Miller, a historian at the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Mass.


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Neil MacFarquhar in NYT, ‘Revolution? What Revolution?’ Russia Asks 100 Years Later.
The official reason proffered for ignoring the event is that Russia remains too divided over the consequences of that fateful year. The more likely explanation, some Kremlin officials, historians and other analysts say, is that President Vladimir V. Putin loathes the very idea of revolution, not to mention the thought of Russians dancing in the streets to celebrate the overthrow of any ruler. Moreover, 1917 smudges the Kremlin’s version of Russian history as a long, unified march to greatness, meant to instill a sense of national pride and purpose. For the record, the Kremlin is sticking to the official line of avoiding domestic discord.


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Brendan Simms in WSJ on Robert Gerwarth’s book, The Vanquished.
Regional wars broke out in the Baltics and between Poland and the young Soviet Union. The same fracturing happened in the Austro-Hungarian and Ottoman empires, whose corpses were being dismembered even before the victim was dead. In many cases, especially in the Balkans and the Middle East, postwar rivalries picked up hwere they had left off before the outbreak of hostilities in 1914. Troops from Britain, Italy and France sporadically entered these post-Armistice conflicts, usually attempting to support their local clients or shore up the non-Bolshevik elements in Russia…. In Germany and Finland right-wing paramilitaries battled left-wing revolutionaries seeking to imitate the Bolsheviks. In Germany, Hungary and Turkey, demagogues denounced the humiliations of the Versailles Treaty and the St. Germain and Sevres peace settlements and called for the return of lost lands or the lifting of financial punishments.


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Loren Graham in WSJ on Simon Ings’ book, Stalin and the Scientists.
Russian achievements in science and technology occurred in an environment of political terror. The father of the Russian hydrogen bonds, Andrei Sakharov, wrote in his memoirs that the research facility in which he worked was built by political prisoners, and each morning he looked out the window of his office to see them marching under armed guard to their construction sites. The “chief designer” of the Soviet space program, Sergei Korolev, was long a prisoner who worked in a special prison laboratory, or sharashka. The dean of Soviet airplane designers, A.N. Tupolev, also labored for years as a prisoner to a special laboratory. Three of the Soviet Union’s Nobel Prize-winning physicists were arrested for alleged political disloyalty. Probably half of the engineers in the Soviet Union in the late 1920s were eventually arrested. In 1928 alone 648 members of the staff of the Soviet Academy of Sciences were purged.


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Owen Matthews in SPECTATOR on Ivan Chistyakov’s book, The Diary of a Gulag Prison Guard.
Clearly the service attracted more than its fair share of sadists and psychopaths, as we can see from Chistyakov’s descriptions of ‘the bunch of misfits’ who are his drunken subordinates. But Chistyakov is an unwilling cog in the apparatus. He has been assigned to the BAM involuntarily, spends much of his time scheming to get away at the earliest opportunity, and shares at least some of the material deprivations of the prisoners. He plans, frequently, to denounce the ‘madhouse shambles’ he finds among his fellow BAM officers and expose their ‘illiteracy’ and ‘misdeeds’. Perhaps the most chilling psychological insight offered by the diary is the portrait of a humane man conforming to an inhuman system. ‘I’m beginning to have that mark on my face, the stamp of stupidity, narrowness, a kind of moronic expression,’ he writes. ‘My heart is desolate, it alarms me.’


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Bartle Bull in WSJ on Daniel Beer’s book, The House of the Dead.
Romanov Russia sent her criminals and political criminals east for two reasons: colonization and punishment. In decent hands, as Australia showed on a much smaller scale, the combination could be enormously successful. In the 19th-century Russian context, it was calamitously flawed. A small portion of those sent east through most of the 19th century were political exiles like Dostoevsky and the Decembrists. The majority were ordinary criminals – thieves, rapists, pimps, murderers, recalcitrant serfs. For these, the theory of czarist Siberia was that Russian society’s worst elements would emerge improved by the bracing atmosphere of the eastern mines…. Instead the opposite happened.


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Andrew Rettman at euobserver.com, Armenia-Azerbaijan War: Line of Contact.
“Frontline coffee is the best coffee in the world”, Marat Babayan, an Armenian lieutenant, told EUobserver on a visit to his post, a short drive from the town of Askeran, on Tuesday. When asked if he had all the equipment that he needed, he said: “Yes. Everything”. Asked if he would like to see international peacekeepers sent to the area, he said: “What for? We’ve got all we need to defend ourselves.” Asked how often his men shot at the Azerbaijanis, he said they only fired if Azerbaijan fired first and only if they got an order from central command. The conflict dates back to 1988 when people in the ethnic Armenian enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh, in the then Azerbaijan Soviet Socialist Republic, tried to join Armenia. Three decades later it risks sudden escalation, destabilising the South Caucasus and aggravating the EU refugee crisis. In the worst case scenario, it could also drag in Russia, Nato member Turkey, and Iran into a regional war.


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Michael O’Hanlon in WSJ, An Alternative to NATO Expansion That Won’t Antagonize Russia.
Today we arguably have the worst of all worlds. At its 2008 summit, NATO promised eventual membership to Ukraine and Georgia. But it did so without offering any specificity as to when they would get it. For now these two countries, as well as other Eastern European neutral states, get no protection from NATO. Knowing of our eventual interest in bringing these nations into the alliance, Mr. Putin has every incentive to keep them weak and unstable so they won’t become eligible for membership…. It is time that Western nations seek to negotiate a new security architecture for neutral countries in Eastern Europe today. The core concept would be permanent neutrality, at least in terms of formal membership in treaty-based mutual-defense organizations.


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Matthew Brunwasser in NYT, As Albania Reckons with Its Communist Past, Critics Say It’s Too Late.
When the Rev. Shtjefen Kurti, a 73-year-old Catholic priest, was executed in 1971 for performing a baptism, the Communist authorities didn’t bother to inform his family. Only when his brother tried to take food to him in prison did he learn the priest’s fate. “Don’t come back,” a guard told the brother. “He won’t be needing it anymore.” Some 6,000 Albanians were taken away by government agents during the Communist era and never heard from again. Their bodies were never recovered, and they are assumed to have been executed, classified as “enforced disappearances” in the language of international human rights law. Of the countries of the former Eastern Bloc, Albania had the harshest and most isolated regime. Enver Hoxha, a hard-line Stalinist, created a repressive apparatus that outlasted his death in 1985 and continued right up until the regime’s fall in 1991.


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Somini Sengupta in NYT, Europe’s Far Right: Female Leaders Wooing Female Voters.
Gender issues don’t much get the attention of far-right parties, whether led by men or women. The parties don’t support gender quotas in politics, as many centrist and left parties do, nor do they campaign on issues like equal pay. Abortion and gay rights are not lightning rod political issues for conservatives as they are in the United States, so they tend not to be ideological tinder in Europe. Gender is a useful wedge, though, when it comes to highlighting what has become one of their main planks: a critique of immigration, particularly from the Muslim world. The European far right has long seized on the hijab as a symbol of patriarchy; more recently it has said that attacks on gays and women in Muslim enclaves are evidence of the Islamic threat to European values.


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Ronald Rosbottom in WSJ on Jonathan Fenby’s book, France.
For Mr. Fenby, the French political class has been relentlessly myopic, if not completely blind, about the concerns of those who work and mine and farm. The rewriting of history – in textbooks, in popular literature and later in film – was one of the most prominent, though ultimately unsuccessful, strategies of the conservative governments of the Third and Fourth Republics. The avoidable mistakes of reluctant decolonialization in the 1950s and 1960s – especially in Indochina and Algeria – left France the policeman of West Africa (a role it maintains) and yet caused a massive increase in African immigration. Unplanned and unaddressed by the politicians, this demographic change has proved to be rich soil for the forces that seek to destabilize a still influential nation.


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Greg Ip in WSJ, Globalism’s Fault Line Now Shifts to France.
The National Front yearns for a return to the state-directed capitalism, or dirigisme, of the 1960s. It would require life insurers to devote 2% of their assets to French venture capital, let the French central bank print money to finance government deficits, favor French firms in government purchasing, require “Made in France” labels and impose “smart protectionism” against cheap imports. All of that is illegal within the EU.


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Adam Nossiter in NYT, As France’s Towns Wither, Fears of a Decline in ‘Frenchness’.
Before arriving, I picked up a government report, an autopsy of many French provincial capitals: Agen, Limoges, Bourges, Arras, Beziers, Auxerre, Vichy, Calais and others. In these old towns, many harder hit than Albi, the interplay of the human-scale architecture, weathered stone and brick, and public life had been one of the crucibles of French history and culture for centuries. Now they were endangered, as even the dry language of the report conveyed that an essential part of French life is disappearing. “This phenomenon of the devitalization of the urban centers is worrisome,” the government report declared, “as the stores contribute so much to city life and largely fashion it.” My first appointment was with the town whistle-blower, who had agreed to give me a tour. Florian Jourdain wasn’t exposing local corruption but the decline of the town that was hidden in plain sight. His meticulous blog, picked up by the French press, caused such resentment among Albi’s commercial establishment that last year the merchants’ association staged a demonstration against him in the main square.


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Tove Lifvendahl in SPECTATOR, How Sweden Became an Example of How Not to Handle Immigration.
The children are every age and arrive from all kinds of countries. Afghans and Somalis are currently the two biggest groups. Then come Syrians, Ethiopians, Iraqis, Moroccans and Eritreans. Some are fleeing war; many are fleeing poverty and misery. Strikingly, boys outnumber girls by about five to one. And it’s far from clear how many may in fact be adults — unlike other countries, Sweden doesn’t test for age. Whatever age the applicant gives is accepted, unless it’s ‘obviously’ untrue. The definition of ‘obvious’ is unclear. During one recent interview on Swedish radio, several asylum-seekers confessed to lying about their age to improve their chances of settlement. One, called Dawood, put it bluntly: ‘If I say I’m grown-up, they’ll deport me.’ The cost of accommodating our child refugees is enormous: £160 per child per day. That could be money well spent, if it worked. There are serious concerns, though, about children falling victim to predatory adults who have lied about their age. Earlier this year, a boy of 12 was raped in refugee accommodation by another refugee who claimed to be 15. A dental X-ray suggested the attacker was closer to 19. Later that month, a 22-year-old Swede (herself the daughter of immigrants) was stabbed to death by one of the refugees she was caring for — another adult claiming to be 15. Such horrific stories raise the fear that the authorities have lost control. This is reflected in the extraordinary rise of the Sweden Democrats.


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Tom Fairless in WSJ, Europe Central Bank Gets Political.
The ECB, which won sweeping new powers after helping to beat back Europe’s successive crises in recent years, has become a last line of defense for the bloc and its single currency. “For the most part, EU leaders are weak and have limited mandates, while Draghi is strong,” said Mujtaba Rahman, managing director at Eurasia Group. “What’s new is the fact that the ECB is now wading into the EU’s international relations.”


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Mariana Mazzucato in FT, Italy’s Future Growth Hinges on New Ways of Doing Business.
To understand why companies in Italy are so small and not growing, it is crucial to look at Germany. While the latter has a strong public bank, KfW, providing long-term capital for corporate innovation, Italy’s public bank, Cassa Depositi e Prestiti, is still too much oriented towards small infrastructure investments for local government, and too little on financing innovative enterprises. Second, Germany has links between science and industry, through the Fraunhofer institutes, which Italy completely lacks. Italy’s average research and development expenditure during the past 20 years has been 1.1 per cent of GDP, whereas Germany has invested 2.49 per cent of GDP in the same period. The subsidy mentality, rather than a proactive investment one, has created a parasitic public-private ecosystem that breeds inertia on both sides. The current banking problem in Italy is partly an outcome of this clientelism.


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Amanda Taub in NYT, In Germany, the Taboo of Patriotism Is Fueling Far Right’s Rise.
“Germany has negotiated the European part very well, but the casualty has been Germanness,” said Ruth Ben-Ghiat, a professor of history and Italian studies at New York University who specializes in the legacy of European fascism. That smoothed the country’s path back into the community of nations after World War II. But Germans are increasingly concerned about the costs. A July 2016 Pew poll found that half of Germans had an unfavorable view of the European Union. As Euroskepticism rises, a growing minority of Germans are chafing at what they see as pressure to place European identity before national identity. The influx of refugees into the country in recent years has caused particular stress, Professor Ben-Ghiat said. “In Germany, you’re not even allowed to say you’re proud to be German. You have to say you’re European,” she said. “So when these people come in, what are they left with?”


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Anton Troianovski in WSJ, German Right Takes Aim at Wartime Guilt.
AfD [Alternative for Germany] politicians accept that the Holocaust happened and describe the Nazis as a criminal regime. Most party leaders avoid rhetoric about racial superiority or ethnic purity. They also say the postwar establishment’s focus on atonement has robbed Germans of a positive identity and pushed the country to act against its own interests. The party wants to reduce the time schools spend teaching children about the Nazis to focus more on German achievements in science and the arts. Some prominent members go further, arguing that the European consensus on World War II history is too anti-German. “History is a whore of politics,” Bjorn Hocke, one of the party’s most radical politicians, said in an interview. “A great people like the German people, which lost two world wars in one century, no longer has a historical narrative of its own.”


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Yaroslav Trofimov in WSJ, Turkey’s Autocratic Turn.
“Erdogan’s real aim is to take Turkey out of the Western bloc, out of the civilized world, and to turn Turkey into a Middle Eastern country where he can continue to rule without any obstacles,” said Kemal Kilicdaroglu, the head of Turkey’s biggest opposition party, the Republican People’s Party, or CHP. “He wants to turn Turkey into a country where there is no secularism and where people are divided along their ethnic identity and their beliefs. It is becoming a nation that faces internal conflict, just as we have seen in Iraq, Syria or Libya.” Turkish officials retort that the West is abandoning their country, not the other way around. Mr. Erdogan recently blasted the European Union for its “meaningless hostility” as decadeslong talks on Turkish membership in the bloc neared collapse. “Neither the European Union nor the European countries that are on the brink of falling into the clutches of racism can exclude Turkey from Europe,” said Mr. Erdogan. “We are not a guest but a host in Europe.”


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Dion Nissenbaum in WSJ, Detained in Turkey – A Reporter’s Story.
We still don’t know why I was detained or released. The Turkish government has yet to officially explain. (Turkish officials didn’t reply to requests for comment for this article.) I may have been rounded up by overzealous investigators; the Interior Ministry says that more than 1,600 people have been arrested for social–media posts in the past six months and that 10,000 more are being investigated. Or the decision may have been made higher up. In any event, I was very lucky. I experienced a small dose of what scores of Turkish journalists face behind bars, where they endure much harsher conditions and far greater risks.


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Ulrich von Schwerin in qantara.de, Neo-Ottoman Rumblings.
The Treaty of Lausanne is generally considered a great success for Turkey, as it revised the 1919 Treaty of Sevres, which had envisaged parcelling out much of Anatolia among Greece, France, Italy and Armenia after the defeat of the Ottoman Empire in the First World War.  After the Turkish nationalists' successful war of independence under the leadership of Ataturk, the major European powers meeting in Lausanne were then forced to acknowledge the existence of the modern Turkish Republic. Erdogan's references to the previous size of the Ottoman Empire are not new. Ever since his AKP Party took power in 2002, he has endeavoured to cast the memory of the empire in a more positive light. His long-time foreign minister Ahmet Davutoglu, who, until being deposed as prime minister last May, had a considerable influence on the ideology of the AKP, made former Ottoman countries such as Iraq and Syria a focus of Turkish foreign policy and tried to position Turkey as a regional leader.


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Sohrab Ahmari in WSJ, A Christian Pastor in Turkey’s Prisons.
Fethullah Gulen is a Pennsylvania-based imam whom President Recep Tayyip Erdogan accuses of masterminding July’s failed coup. For years Mr. Gulen’s followers worked hand-in-hand with Mr. Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party to purge the country’s secular establishment. The relationship soured in 2013, however, and a power struggle ensued between the rival Islamist camps. Most observers in Turkey, including members of the opposition, believe Gulenists were behind the attempted putsch this summer. But “Gulen” plays the role of Goldstein in Mr. Erdogan’s personal “1984” – the devious traitor who lurks behind every doner-kebob stand and behind every tragedy. Under the pretext of rooting out Gulenists, the government has jailed or fired tens of thousands of police officers, prosecutors, judges, journalists, educators and members of the armed forces. Now even evangelical pastors are secret Gulenists.


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Rod Nordland in NYT, Gender Equality in Kurdish Society Erodes in Turkey.
In local government, boards and committees have male and female co-executives, with one exception: the Women’s Affairs Department. Any decision-making process regarding women can be made only by women. Even Kurdish guerrilla units are fully integrated by gender: Women occupy the same combat roles as men, and when the military goes to war, it sends a woman to command one of its major units. There is one big problem with this aspect of Kurdish life, in Turkey at least: It has, in effect, been outlawed as part of the Turkish government’s crackdown after a failed coup attempt last summer. Along with arresting Kurdish political leaders, the government is taking aim at measures meant to promote gender equality. This was the world as envisioned by the banned Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or P.K.K. The P.K.K. may be a terrorist organization in the view of the Turkish government, Europe and the United States, but it has also long made women’s rights a centerpiece of its political platform.


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NEW DELHI TIMES: Orienting Islam to Modern Times; Society Has Lost Its Patience with Blood-letting Religion.
The universal laws of karma have ensured that Islam has also killed its own adherents-Sunnis, Shias, and Ahmedias. Different religions, at crucial periods of their evolution, have undergone reform process to rid themselves of the unrefined remnants of outdated practices. Hinduism was fortunate to have Ram Mohan Roys, Keshab Chandra Sens to offload the unwanted baggage while other religions have not been that fortunate. Islamophobia may be a bogey which the liberals, pseudo intellectuals beat, but the fact remains that people fear Islam, they hate Islam. If a person in burkha is dreaded, and the adherents of a particular religion are warded off from countries, what type of dignity it can claim? Threat to Islam is not from other religions but from within. A religion cannot be held back from obsolescence merely by a bunch of hard core adherents holding guns and bombs to protect the tenets of the desert that developed around fourteen centuries back. Islam must evolve.


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Tawfik Hamid at THE COUNTER JIHAD REPORT, Liberal Support for the American Flag Hijab Is an Endorsement of Slavery.
Many ideologues (be they of the liberal left or Islamophiles or whomever) are apparently blind to, or unaware of, or simply choose to ignore the fact that traditional and unopposed Islamic teaching (which is to say, mainstream modern Islamic teaching) unambiguously states: The Hijab is a dress code in Islam that was designed to distinguish “free” from “slave” women. According to Ibn Kathir (one of the most reputable interpretations of the Quran), and according to almost all authentic and approved Islamic theology and Sharia legal texts, the hijab exists to differentiate between free women and concubines so that free Muslim women will not be accidentally molested. Slaves and concubines (actual modern classes of human beings in Islam) enjoy no such protections. Only “free” women are allowed to wear the hijab and cover their bodies.


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qantara.de: Egypt’s Coptic Church – The Cost of a Cornerstone.
The Copts regard themselves as quasi the "indigenous people" of Egypt. They were present before the Islamisation of most of the population in the 7th century, the name "Copts" is derived from the Greek word for "Egyptians". But since they have been in the minority, they feel like second class citizens, held back by the state and repeatedly used as a political football. In the 1970s, President Anwar Al Sadat entered into a pact with the Islamists, even forcing the Coptic Pope Shenouda III into exile. After the death of Al Sadat, relations between Copts and Muslims recovered slightly during the era of Hosni Mubarak. But the building of new churches was always a bone of contention. "There are 90 churches in my province, although only half of them are real church buildings. The other half are just places in which we are allowed to hold our religious rituals. 150 villages have no place for worship at all," says Bishop Makarios of Minya. Sometimes the rooms are so small, that masses have to be held out in the open or in tents. The Bishop is convinced that the new law won't change that.


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Kareem Chehayeb at qantara.de, Young People and Protests in the Arab World.
Youth participation in protests across the Arab region was over 18% in 2013 – almost double that of middle income countries. However, Arab youth have the lowest voting rate worldwide at 68.4%, whereas youth from middle income countries make up a hefty 87.4%. Despite their eagerness to be part of the political process and the lack of formal barriers to at least some participation (in all except eight countries), young people remain excluded. For instance, the average age of ministerial councils in the region is 58 years old.


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Christopher de Belloigue in SPECTATOR, The Islamic World Did Liberalise – But Then Came the First World War.
That Islam’s liberal moment came juddering to a halt in 1914 is a little-known tragedy. In the first decade of the 20th century, Iranian and Turkish democrats had launched revolutions establishing parliamentary systems that limited the powers of the ruler — a similar movement in favour of popular sovereignty in Egypt had been thwarted by the British occupation two decades earlier. But war laid waste to the region and the British and French chopped up much of the former Ottoman Empire into mandate-sized chunks. Egypt stayed under British supervision, while in Iran and Turkey the powers were only kept at bay by new regimes that westernised furiously along Roman lines (Mussolini was the model), not Jeffersonian ones.


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Margherita Stancati & Nicolas Parasie in WSJ, Arab States Push to Develop Own Arms Makers.
Wealthy Gulf Arab states have a warning for Western suppliers of military equipment: If they want business, they have to transfer technical knowledge to local companies that are part of a rising, home-grown defense sector…. The rulers want to become less dependent on the U.S. and other Western countries, and they see defense as a sector that can help diversify their oil-based economies. The Saudi government, the world’s No. 3 defense spender after the U.S. and China, last year said it wants half the money it allots for military equipment to go to local firms by 2030, up from 2% today. Even if the kingdom only partly achieves its goal, the impact will reverberate through the global defense industry.


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Mujib Mashal in NYT, Being an Afghan General Is Nice Work if You Can Get It. And Many Do.
The country has close to 1,000 officers of general rank on its books — more than the United States, whose military is three times as large. And off the books? No one knows. New names are added to the roster at a rate far out of proportion to battlefield realities, where the Afghan armed forces — the army, national police and intelligence forces, numbering 350,000 in all — have been steadily losing soldiers and territory to the Taliban. Meanwhile, retirements are rare. The United States government, which picks up much of the tab for the Afghan military, can’t pin down the number of generals. “We still don’t know how many police and how many soldiers we’re paying salaries for,” said John F. Sopko, the United States special inspector general for Afghanistan reconstruction. “We don’t even know how many generals. It is pretty pathetic, and here we are, 15 years into this.”


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Preetika Rana in WSJ, Fast-Food Jobs Attract Women in India.
American fast-food chains have become an unlikely source of female employment and empowerment in India, a country where traditionally most women are kept from working outside the home. The increasingly female face of a new Indian workforce shines at suburban Delhi’s Mall of India. Nearly half of the employees in its five floors of newly opened food and fashion outlets are women. Just across the street in the old shopping district, females are few and far between. Even the women’s clothing stores are almost entirely manned my men.


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Norimitsu Onishi in NYT, South Africa Anti-Immigrant Protests Turn Violent.
South Africans accuse migrants of stealing jobs or exploiting locals by running small businesses in poor, black townships. Others blame foreigners for the country’s high crime rates. The accusations, which are not backed up by official statistics, resonate in a country with a jobless rate of 27-percent and yawning income inequalities. The latest anti-immigrant sentiments were set off in a neighborhood south of Johannesburg called Rosettenville, where residents burned down a dozen houses that they said were being used by Nigerians as drug dens and brothels.


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Douglas Murray in SPECTATOR, Who Will Protect Nigeria’s Northern Christians?
Another day in northern Nigeria, another Christian village reeling from an attack by the Muslim Fulani herdsmen who used to be their neighbours — and who are now cleansing them from the area. The locals daren’t collect the freshest bodies. Some who tried earlier have already been killed, spotted by the waiting militia and hacked down or shot. The Fulani are watching everything closely from the surrounding mountains. Every week, their progress across the northern states of Plateau and Kaduna continues. Every week, more massacres — another village burned, its church razed, its inhabitants slaughtered, raped or chased away. A young woman, whose husband and two children have just been killed in front of her, tells me blankly, ‘Our parents told us about these people. But we lived in relative peace and we forgot what they said.’ For the outside world, what is happening to the Christians of northern Nigeria is both beyond our imagination and beneath our interest. These tribal-led villages, each with their own ‘paramount ruler’, were converted by missionaries in the 19th and 20th centuries. But now these Christians — from the bishop down — sense that they have become unsympathetic figures, perhaps even an embarrassment, to the West.


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Jeffrey Gettleman in NYT, Quandary in South Sudan: Should It Lose Its Hard-Won Independence?
The South Sudanese had absorbed bombings and massacres. The Arabs stole their children and turned tother slahem into slaves. As a result, many South Sudanese were scattered across the four corners of the earth — the famous Lost Boys, but also many Lost Girls, ripped from their families and forced to flee to cold foreign places that they had never envisioned. On independence day, South Sudan’s capital, Juba, partied until dawn. Lost Boys swigged White Bull (the local beer) next to hardened guerrillas bobbing their heads to reggae rap. All around us, there seemed to be a real appreciation of what had been achieved and what lay ahead. Most important, there was unity. That crumbled quickly, undermined by old political rivalries, ethnic tension and a greed for South Sudan’s one main export: oil. The fault line was the most predictable one, the Dinka versus the Nuer.


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Frances Robles in NYT, Trying to Stanch Trinidad’s Flow of Young Recruits to ISIS.
Trinidad has a history of Islamist extremism — a radical Muslim group was responsible for a failed coup in 1990 that lasted six days, and in 2012 a Trinidadian man was sentenced to life in prison for his role in a plot to blow up Kennedy International Airport. Muslims make up only about 6 percent of the population, and the combatants often come from the margins of society, some of them on the run from criminal charges. They saw few opportunities in an oil-rich nation whose economy has declined with the price of petroleum, experts say. Some were gang members who either converted or were radicalized in prison, while others have been swayed by local imams who studied in the Middle East, according to Muslim leaders and American officials.


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Simon Romero in NYT, Voice of Brazilian Rodeo Rides a National Movement to the Right.
While unknown to many residents of coastal cities in Brazil, he has won fame in the hinterland as a rodeo announcer with an ostentatious style that might shock some counterparts in the United States, and for his vocal embrace of socially conservative positions in a country shifting to the right. In a meandering interview over a lunch of draft beer and copious amounts of beef, Mr. Lima expressed his views on a wide variety of issues, including religion (he calls himself as a staunch Roman Catholic who also frequents an evangelical church), the role of women in society (his views appear to be reflected in a country music video he made in which he boasts about paying for a homemaker’s plastic surgery) and the environment. “Don’t get me started on the Amazon,” Mr. Lima said, referring to the vast river basin where, the authorities say, the expansion of Brazil’s ranching frontier has illegally destroyed large tracts of the rain forest. “I’ve flown over the Amazon in a small plane, and all I saw for hours was trees. Trust me, we can deforest a lot more if we have to.”


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Mary Walsh in NYT, In Puerto Rico, Teachers’ Pension Fund Works Like a Ponzi Scheme.
Pension funds are supposed to be giant, largely self-sustaining pools of money, contributed by taxpayers and often workers, that earn investment income. Over time, the money is supposed to grow enough to pay retirees. Knowing this, teachers might reasonably expect to get a pension worth more than what they invested. But that is not always the case. In Puerto Rico, for instance, the pension funds are so short of cash that money contributed by working teachers basically flows straight out to retirees. None of Puerto Rico’s current teachers can expect to get their money back, because the fund is due to run out of money in 2018, long before they retire. That is, essentially, a Ponzi scheme. But this structure is legal in Puerto Rico because of a complicated series of changes in the law brought about in recent years by the island’s financial crisis. Puerto Rico, a United States territory, ran off the rails by using debt to spend beyond its means.


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Ira Stoll at smartertimes.com, David Brooks Smears Ronald Reagan.
Anyone without ideological blinders on should be able to look at these columns of numbers and realize that federal revenue grew during the Reagan administration even as tax rates were cut. The economic growth effects of the tax cuts helped the government revenues increase, on both a nominal and an inflation-adjusted basis, even though the rates were reduced. To dismiss this as "utopian" or an instance of Reagan having "erred" is itself an error; if anyone is in error here it is Mr. Brooks, not President Reagan. As for the accusation that the elimination of nuclear weapons is a utopian error, the evidence on that isn't in as decisively as the evidence on the Reagan tax cuts is, but even there Mr. Brooks seems off-base. Reagan's alleged "utopianism" on the point is shared by such legendarily realistic strategic thinkers as George P. Shultz, Henry Kissinger, William Perry, and Sam Nunn. Back during the Reagan administration, the Times editorialists were criticizing missile defense (a now well-proven technology with bipartisan support) as utopian, and faulting Reagan for abandoning the zero option on nuclear missiles to pursue what the Times considered a missile defense fantasy. These days, the Times editorialists have been slightly critical of President Obama and Secretary of State Kerry for failing to move fast enough toward Obama's stated goal of eliminating nuclear weapons. What's important for our point is that even in a column devoted to praising Reagan in comparison to President Trump, even in a column by what passes for a token conservative or at least center-right columnist at the New York Times, David Brooks manages to sneak in a totally unjustified cheap shot or two at the Gipper. Would it be a utopian error on my part to hope the Times can ever stop this sort of nonsense?


***

FISCAL TIMES: Chicago, New York in Worst Financial Shape Among Large US Cities.
Last summer, Mayor Rahm Emmanuel announced a plan to resolve MEABF underfunding by raising water and sewer rates and increasing employee contributions to the system. Because these changes don’t take effect until this year, it will take some time for them to impact Chicago’s audited financial statements and their fiscal health scores. While Chicago’s place at the bottom of the list is unsurprising, New York City’s position — just one step above — was unexpected. An extended bull market and soaring real estate prices have pumped money into the Big Apple’s coffers. Total municipal revenues rose from $60 billion in 2009 to $81 billion in 2015. But the city has been spending the money almost as quickly as it has been coming in. At the end of its 2015 fiscal year, the city’s general fund reserves amounted to just 0.67 percent of expenditures — well below the Government Finance Officers Association recommendation of 16.67 percent (equivalent to two months of spending). A city’s general fund is roughly analogous to an individual’s checking account.


***

WSJ: Illinois Tax Heist.
In 2011 Senate President John Cullerton said the point of the temporary hike was to pay pensions, “pay off our debt [and] to have enough money to pay the interest on that debt.” But the roughly $31 billion it generated made hardly a dent. Since 2011 the unfunded pension liability in Illinois has grown by $47 billion, even as the tax hike was mostly spent on pensions. Meanwhile, Democrats won’t change the state constitution to allow for pension reform that won’t be overturned by the Illinois Supreme Court. Democrats are still peddling that they can tax their way out of Illinois’s economic decline, while taxpayers are picking up and heading to neighboring states.


***

John Kass in CT, The Chicago Outfit, Chicago Police and the Silence of Consent.
Chicago is loud about its sports and its politics. But noise doesn't tell you the whole story. Sometimes, it's silence that can tell you the truth of things. And Chicago was never so silent than on the day the feds indicted former Chief of Detectives William Hanhardt. In Italy, they have a phrase for this silence. "Chi tace acconsente," said my excellent barber, Raffaele Raia, born near Salerno. "He who is silent says yes," Raia translated. "The silence is the consent." For decades, Hanhardt, who died the other day at 88, was a hero cop lionized in Chicago media as a great crime fighter. But according to the feds, he was Joey "The Clown" Lombardo's guy. As chief of detectives he was the de facto boss of the Chicago police. An officer needed his blessing to make detective, or get a transfer, or a promotion. When he'd show up at a police district, cops would crowd around him, around that Sinatra vibe. He was a rock star. He had Hollywood connections, serving as technical adviser on the movie "Thief" with James Caan, and once appearing as a hit man in the TV show "Crime Story," where his buddy, the late cop turned actor Dennis Farina played a Hanhardt-like crime-buster.


***

Bret Stephens in WSJ, Doomed to Stagnate?
Want to better understand the mess Greece is in? In 2006 it took an average of 151 days to enforce a contract in the Hellenic Republic. Today it takes 1,580. Want to measure Israel’s progress? A decade ago, starting a business in the startup nation took about 34 days. Now it takes 12. What about the United States? When President Obama took office in 2009, the U.S. ranked third in the overall index, just behind Singapore and New Zealand. It has since fallen to eighth place. Eight years ago, 40 days were needed to get a construction permit. Now it’s 81.


***

Peter Pitts in WSJ, How Other Countries Freeload on U.S. Drug Research.
The U.S. is the world leader in producing new medicines. The country’s strong intellectual property laws, coupled with a comparatively free-market pricing system, encourage firms to research new treatments. Companies wouldn’t take on the enormous cost of developing a new drug without a solid chance of recouping their investment. On average, a new medicine takes 10 years and costs $2.6 billion to develop, according to the Tufts Center for the Study of Drug Development. The problem is that either than promote innovation, may other countries impose price controls on prescription drugs – including new medicines invented in the United States – to make them artificially cheaper for consumers. If American companies refuse to sell their medicines at these steeply discounted dictated prices, foreign countries threaten to break their patents and produce knockoff versions of the medicines…. Foreign price controls succeed because they are carried on the back of the American consumer.


***

Shelby Steele in WSJ, The Exhaustion of American Liberalism.
White guilt is not angst over injustices suffered by others; it is the terror of being stigmatized with America’s old bigotries – racism, sexism, homophobia and xenophobia. To be stigmatized as a fellow traveler with any of these bigotries is to be utterly stripped of moral authority and made into a pariah. The terror of this, of having “no name in the street” as the Bible puts it, pressures whites to act guiltily even when they feel no actual guilt. White guilt is a mock guilt, a pretense of real guilt, a shallow etiquette of empathy, pity and regret. It is also the heart and soul of contemporary liberalism. This liberalism is the politics given to us by white guilt, and it shares white guilt’s central corruption. It is not real liberalism, in the classic sense. It is a mock liberalism. Freedom is not its raison d’etre; moral authority is.


***

Rod Liddle in SPECTATOR, A Field Guide to Our Doomed Liberal Elite.
The liberal elite we talk about today is beholden to a leftish cultural and political paradigm which predominates in all the non-elected institutions which run our lives. In the judiciary, for example. Within the BBC. In the running of our universities and in the courses they put before students. In the teaching profession. In the social services departments of every council in the land. At the top of the medical profession. On the boards of all the quangos — the lot of them, from those which hand out money in the arts to those which regulate our media and our utilities. It is a left-liberal paradigm, informed by affluence, which has been swallowed whole by all of these institutions and which is utterly intolerant of dissent. Try being a social worker who thinks gay adoptions are problematic. Or a doctor who disapproves of abortion or transitioning…. Try being a judge who thinks an awful lot of hate crimes are imaginary or vexatious. In all cases you’d be drummed out. No job. You’d be finished. There would be tribunals — where you would be judged by other upholders of the liberal elite — and you’d be out.
Crispin Sartwell in WSJ, The ‘Postmodern’ Intellectual Roots of Today’s Campus Mobs.
For Rorty, truth is nothing but a story we will all come to accept together – a progressive story in which inequalities of race, sex and sexuality are being steadily ameliorated. The positions articulated by opponents of this narrative are false by definition, false from the outset, known to be false before they are even examined. It is then well within the values of academia – devoted to the truth – to silence those views.


***

Lee Smith in TABLET, Wayne Barrett, Donald Trump, and the Death of the American Press.
Barrett had Trump on a whole variety of issues, but check the records yourself—up until the day of his death, the day before Trump’s inauguration, there’s nothing on Trump and Putin. Does this mean Trump is totally clean? Who knows? But the journalists now clamoring like maniacs about Trump’s ties sure aren’t going to find it. They’re thin-skinned hacks outraged that Trump dared violate the inherent dignity of that most important of American political institutions, the presidential press conference. And as we all know, this is the apex of real journalism, where esteemed members of the press sit side by side with other masters of the craft to see who gets their question televised. Does Trump really believe the media are “an enemy of the people”? Please. Let’s remember how he rode his wave to fame on the back of the New York Post’s Page Six (and Graydon Carter’s Spy magazine). He still speaks regularly to the head of CNN (aka “Fake News”), Jeff Zucker, who put him on The Apprentice and Celebrity Apprentice at NBC, where Trump sat atop the Nielsens for 13 years.


***

Ira Stoll at reason.com, Trump Versus the Bureaucracy.
A lecturer at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government, Robert Behn, writes about this as "the law of diminishing control: the larger any organization becomes, the weaker is the control over its actions exercised by those at the top." He says bureaucrats speak of "residents" and "tourists"— the residents are the bureaucrats; the tourists are political appointees, just passing through. Or, Behn writes, a member of the permanent government refers to himself or herself as a "We Be" — as in, "We be here before you're here. We be here after you're here." The civilian bureaucracy, after all, voted overwhelmingly against Trump. The District of Columbia voted 91 percent for Hillary Clinton. Washington's Virginia suburbs, where federal workers live, voted for her, too: she won 77 percent of the vote in Arlington County and 65 percentof the vote in Fairfax County. In Montgomery County, Maryland, another Washington suburb full of federal employees, 76 percent of the vote went to Clinton. In Prince George's County, Maryland, another Washington suburb full of federal employees, the presidential vote was 89 percent for Clinton.


***

Reuven Brenner in WSJ, The ‘Longshoreman Philosopher’ Saw Trump Coming in 1970.
“Scratch an intellectual, and you find a would-be aristocrat who loathes the sight, the sound and the smell of common folk.” Those words might have been written last year, as an explanation for Donald Trump’s rise or a rejoinder to Hillary Clinton’s denunciation of “deplorables.” In fact they were published in November 1970 and written by Eric Hoffer, the “longshoreman philosopher,” who was best known for his slender 1951 classic, “The True Believer: Thoughts on the nature of Mass Movements.”


***

Christopher Caldwell in NYT, What Does Steve Bannon Want?
He warned against “the Ayn Rand or the Objectivist School of libertarian capitalism,” by which he meant “a capitalism that really looks to make people commodities, and to objectify people.” Capitalism, he said, ought to rest on a “Judeo-Christian” foundation. If so, this was bad news for the Republican Party. By the time Mr. Bannon spoke, Ayn Rand-style capitalism was all that remained of its Reagan-era agenda. Free-market thinking had swallowed the party whole, and its Judeo-Christian preoccupations — “a nation with a culture” and “a reason for being” — along with it. A business orientation was what donors wanted. But voters never more than tolerated it. It was Pat Buchanan who in his 1992 run for president first called on Republicans to value jobs and communities over profits. An argument consumed the party over whether this was a better-rounded vision of society or just the grousing of a reactionary. After a generation, Mr. Buchanan has won that argument. By 2016 his views on trade and migration, once dismissed as crackpot, were spreading so fast that everyone in the party had embraced them — except its elected officials and its establishment presidential candidates.


***

Jason Horowitz in NYT, Fascists Too Lax For a Philosopher Cited by Bannon.
[Julius] Evola’s early artistic endeavors gave way to his love of the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, and he developed a worldview with an overriding animosity toward the decadence of modernity. Influenced by mystical works and the occult, Evola began developing an idea of the individual’s ability to transcend his reality and “be unconditionally whatever one wants.” Under the influence of René Guénon, a French metaphysicist and convert to Islam, Evola in 1934 published his most influential work, “The Revolt Against the Modern World,” which cast materialism as an eroding influence on ancient values. It viewed humanism, the Renaissance, the Protestant Reformation and the French Revolution all as historical disasters that took man further away from a transcendental perennial truth. Changing the system, Evola argued, was “not a question of contesting and polemicizing, but of blowing everything up.”


***

Sohrab Ahmari in WSJ, The Left Helped Build the Wall.
The irony is that freedom of movement is unraveling because liberals won central debates – about Islamism, social cohesion, and nationalism. Rather than give any ground, they accused opponents of being phobic and reactionary. Now liberals are reaping the rewards of those underhanded victories.


***

Pat Buchanan at worldnetdaily.com, Trump: America for the Americans!
Indeed, it carries echoes of FDR’s second inaugural: “I see one-third of a nation ill-housed, ill-clad, ill-nourished. … The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little.” Some of the recoil to Trump’s speech is surely traceable to an awareness by those covering and commenting upon it – that this was a searing indictment of them and their own ruling class. With America’s political elite sitting behind him, Trump accused them of enriching “foreign industry,” not ours, of subsidizing other countries’ armies but neglecting our own, of defending other nation’s borders while leaving America’s borders unprotected. Then, in the line that will give his address its name in history, he declared: “From this day forward it’s going to be only America First.”


***

Micah Meadowcroft in WSJ on Patrick Deneen’s book, Conserving America?
We have ceased to live in light of the past or in anticipation of the future. Fixation on the present has left us – a loose, contractual collection of individuals – unmoored, adrift in the now. Instead of living lives of memory and hope, we have severed the ties that bind us to our ancestors and to our posterity…. The two dominant alternatives to this fixation on the present are progressivism’s focus on the future and what Mr. Deneen refers to as “nostalgism,” which “dons rose-tinted glasses in its high regard for a perfect past.”


***

Jon Baskin in THE CHRONICLE REVIEW, The Academic Home of Trumpism.
Not incidentally, the progressives whom Wilson brought with him into government were taken largely from the first generation of American Ph.D.s. The result was the rise and rule of the "administrative state," a term of art that plays, for the Claremonsters, approximately the same role that the "culture industry" plays in the literature of the Frankfurt School. To Kesler and company, the growth of this "fourth branch of government" has accounted not only for a series of costly and ineffective social programs but also for the gradual erosion of democratic norms and the substitution of the founders’ philosophical wisdom with the shallow certainties of university-trained "scientists" (think Robert McNamara or, better, Cass Sunstein). In other words, one of the things that is most disturbing about Trump for liberal and conservative elites (including some East Coast Straussians) — his utter disdain for expertise and convention — is what is most promising about him from the point of view of the Claremonsters. "There’s a fundamental clash between the self-evident truths of the Declaration and the worldview of the progressives," said Voegeli. "Our view is that governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed, whereas progressives are inclined to think that government derives just powers from the expertise of the experts."


***

David Ernst in THE FEDERALIST, Donald Trump Is the First President to Turn Postmodernism Against Itself.
All this raises an uncomfortable question for people who have no use for PC’s agenda, and who value the freedom to think for themselves. How do you respond to someone who is determined to smear you for your alleged bigotry regardless of what you think and why? How do you win an argument against someone who willfully changes the meaning of words, maintains that the truth is completely relative, and feels perfectly justified in accusing virtually anyone of the gravest moral failure? If our opponents are going to accuse us of being evil-minded bigots, regardless of what we say or think, then what’s the point in bothering to convince them otherwise? Enter the right-wing postmodern antihero. Unlike just about every other presidential candidate who ran on the Republican ticket, Trump grasps our postmodern culture intuitively, and put it to use with devastating effect. If our opponents are going to accuse us of being evil-minded bigots, regardless of what we say or think, then what’s the point in bothering to convince them otherwise? Let’s play by their own rules of relativism and subjectivity, dismiss their baseless accusations, and hammer them mercilessly where it hurts them the most: their hypocrisy. After all, if there is no virtue greater than authenticity, and no vice worse than phoniness, then the purveyors of contrived PC outrage are distinctively vulnerable.


***

Michael Lind in NYTBR on Stephen Kinzer’s book, The True Flag.
America’s turn from isolationism to foreign interventionism, often attributed to World War II, was the result of the Spanish-American War and the subsequent American conquest of the Philippines. That is the thesis of the journalist and historian Stephen Kinzer in “The True Flag: Theodore Roosevelt, Mark Twain, and the Birth of American Empire.” All foreign policy debates since 1898 have echoed the themes of that era, Kinzer asserts. “Only once before — in the period when the United States was founded — have so many brilliant Americans so eloquently debated a question so fraught with meaning for all humanity.” On May 1, 1898, during the Spanish-American War, Adm. George Dewey’s warships crippled the Spanish fleet in Manila Bay in the Philippines, a Spanish colony soon to become an American protectorate until after World War II. On Sept. 30, 1899, in a triumphal parade in New York City, the admiral passed under the Dewey Arch, which stretched across Fifth Avenue at 24th Street. According to Kinzer, “It was modeled after the first-century Arch of Titus in Rome but was more ornate.”


***

John Stauffer in WSJ on Steven Hahn’s book, A Nation Without Borders.
In 1850, slaveholders made up only about 1% of the U.S. population. Yet they wielded enormous power, aligning themselves with non-slaveholding expansionists, “chiefly in the Democratic Party,” as Mr. Hahn notes. As a group, they were the wealthiest Americans, the 1% of their day. Yet slaveholders felt besieged. In 1770, human bondage was legal everywhere in the New World, but by 1850, owing to the growing moral outrage over slavery, it persisted only in the U.S., along with Brazil, Cuba and Dutch Guiana. Slaveholders sought to protect an institution that had been almost unquestioned for centuries but that was now facing vast resistance.


***

Scott Spillman in THE POINT, Conflict and Consensus.
The living embodiment of Boorstin’s vision of American consensus was the new president, Dwight D. Eisenhower. As Supreme Commander of the Allied Forces in Europe, Eisenhower had led the victory over fascism in World War II. As the first Supreme Commander of NATO, he had represented European and American cooperation against Soviet Communism in the early years of the Cold War. His political positions were sufficiently anodyne and indistinct that in 1948 he was courted as a presidential contender by both Democrats and Republicans. “Except for moral issues and exact sciences,” he once said, “extreme positions are always wrong.” Eisenhower preferred the “dynamic center.” Elected in 1952 as the first Republican president since the New Deal, he nevertheless helped ensure the survival of Roosevelt’s programs and reforms by expanding Social Security, extending the minimum wage and allowing social-welfare spending to grow despite his party’s emphasis on cutting the federal budget. Other consensus historians, who had also come out of thirties-era dalliances with communism, found it harder to celebrate the conciliatory politics of the Eisenhower era. They agreed with Boorstin that a consensus about the virtues of individual liberty and economic freedom governed American life, but they approached that consensus with ambivalence or even resignation. If for Boorstin these shared commitments gave American politics its unique genius, for critics they were evidence of the American political spectrum’s lamentably narrow and parochial constraints. In other words, the consensus school had its roots not only in Tocqueville but also in Marx.


***

Roger Kimball in WSJ, Yale’s Inconsistent Name-Dropping.
Readers who savor tortuous verbal legerdemain will want to acquaint themselves with the “Letter of the Advisory Group on the Renaming of Calhoun College,” which is available online. It is a masterpiece of the genre. Is it also convincing? I think the best way to answer that is to fill out the historical picture a bit…. Calhoun owned slaves. But so did Timothy Dwight, Calhoun’s mentor at Yale, who has a college named in his honor. So did Benjamin Silliman, who also gives his name to a residential college, and whose mother was the largest slave owner in Fairfield County, Conn. So did Ezra Stiles, John Davenport and even Jonathan Edwards, all of whom have colleges named in their honor at Yale. Writing in these pages last summer, I suggested that Yale table the question of John Calhoun and tackle some figures even more obnoxious to contemporary sensitivities. One example was Elihu Yale, the American-born British merchant who, as an administrator in India, was an active participant in the slave trade.


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Peter Nabokov in NY REVIEW OF BOOKS on Andres Resendez’s book, The Other Slavery, and Benjamin Madley’s book, An American Genocide.
Among the eleventh-century mound-building Indian cultures of the Mississippi Bottoms, such war prisoners made up a serf-like underclass. This civilization collapsed in the thirteenth century and the succeeding tribes we know as Choctaw, Cherokee, Creek, and others perpetuated the practice of serfdom; Cherokee war parties added to each town’s stock of atsi nahsa’i, or “one who is owned.” The custom continued across indigenous America, with child-bearing women and prepubescent males generally preferred. Their husbands and fathers were more commonly killed. Reséndez hardly mentions the subsequent participation of those same tribes in the white man’s race-based “peculiar institution.” They bought and sold African-American slaves to work their Indian-owned plantations. Once the Civil War broke out there was a painfully divisive splitting of southern Indian nations into Confederate and Union allies.


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Chuka Umunna in PROSPECT, Harnessing the Power of Patriotism.
We on the left must get over our queasiness at displays of national pride and stop giving the impression that we believe transnational entities such as the European Union to be somehow morally superior to nation states. We must harness the power of patriotism to accentuate our essential sameness and build bonds of trust between Britons of all backgrounds in every corner of our country. Englishness, much like Scottishness, is deeply felt—there’s no denying it’s a more emotional connection than Britishness.


***

Ian Buruma in NY REVIEW OF BOOKS on Andrew Lownie’s book, Stalin’s Englishman, and Stewart Purvis & Jeff Hulbert’s book, Guy Burgess.
Marxism, then, was in the air, especially at Cambridge. To be on the far left was also a way for high-minded young people to distinguish themselves from the conventional mainstream and feel morally righteous about it, a superior form of epater les bourgeois. The previous generation of aesthetes and “bright young things” had reacted to the horrors of World War I by affecting a deliberate air of decadence and frivolousness.


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G.M. Tamas in LA REVIEW OF BOOKS, The Never-Ending Lukacs Debate.
Yet Lukács was indeed a communist, and in 1956 an authentic socialist revolution took place, in which he participated. But the most important revolution of his life occurred long before, in 1917. Before the Bolshevik Revolution, Lukács was a pessimistic conservative. Like so many German and Austrian writers of the time, he hated the bourgeoisie from the right. In 1917, however, he lost all his reserve and reticence, and all his respect for convention. For him, as for many of his generation, the revolution brought salvation: it saved their souls by proclaiming the end of exploitation, of class divisions, of the distinction between intellectual and manual labor, of punitive law, property, family, churches, prisons. In other words, it promised the end of the state. The revolution also meant the end of utopia.


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Nicholas Wade in NYT, The Woolly Mammoth’s Last Stand.
Woolly mammoths once flourished from northern Europe to Siberia. As the last ice age drew to a close some 10,000 years ago, the mainland population perished, victims of climate change and human hunters. But some populations lived on for thousands of years, notably on two remote islands that had once been part of Beringia, the now foundered land bridge that joined Alaska to Siberia. One of these refuges was Wrangel Island, a mountainous island set in polar seas and so inaccessible that Baron von Wrangel, the explorer after whom it is named, never managed to reach it. The other is St. Paul Island, which lies some 280 miles from Alaska and the Aleutians. The mammoths on St. Paul survived until 5,600 years ago, but the reasons for their extinction have long been a matter of speculation. Last August, a team led by Russell W. Graham of Pennsylvania State University ruled out all the leading candidates, including human predation, polar bears, increased winter snowpack, volcanic activity and changing vegetation.


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Robert Hotz in WSJ, What Lurks in DNA? $50 Gift Cards.
In fact, analysts at IBM Corp. estimate that 90% of all the electronic data in the world has been created in the past two years. In a bid to contain this deluge, researchers at Columbia University and the New York Genome Center have crossed a significant new milestone. They have figured out how to store and retrieve a 122-year-old French movie, an entire computer operating system, and even a $50 Amazon gift card – all in a single drop of DNA.


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BEC Crew at sciencealert.com, Harvard Physicists Just Proposed That Mystery Radio Bursts Are Powering Alien Spaceships.
Of all the unexplained things in our Universe, fast radio bursts are arguably the weirdest. They're some of the most elusive and explosive signals ever detected in space, and while they last for mere milliseconds, they generate as much energy as 500 million Suns. Last year, researchers found 16 Fast Radio Bursts all coming from the same source beyond our Milky Way, and now Harvard physicists have proposed that signals like these could be evidence of advanced alien technology.... The leading hypotheses right now are that these signals result from the most volatile and explosive events in the Universe - supermassive black holes coughing up cosmic material; explosions of superluminous supernovae; or rotating magnetars - a type of neutron star that pummels everything around it with intense magnetic fields. But this is all just speculation, based on the assumption that such powerful signals would originate from the most powerful events we've ever detected. Now Loeb and his team say that in the absence of an explanation everyone can agree on, we should be looking at some slightly less... natural sources. "[W]e have posited that Fast Radio Bursts are beams set up by extragalactic civilisations to potentially power lightsails," they describe in a new paper.


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Ross Douthat in NYT, Resist the Internet.
I suspect that versions of these ideas will be embraced within my lifetime by a segment of the upper class and a certain kind of religious family. But the masses will still be addicted, and the technology itself will have evolved to hook and immerse — and alienate and sedate — more completely and efficiently. But what if we decided that what’s good for the Silicon Valley overlords who send their kids to a low-tech Waldorf school is also good for everyone else? Our devices we shall always have with us, but we can choose the terms. We just have to choose together, to embrace temperance and paternalism both. Only a movement can save you from the tyrant in your pocket.


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Claudia Dreifus in NYT, Why We Can’t Look Away From Our Screens.
Smartphones give everything you need to enjoy the moment you’re in, but they don’t require much initiative. You never have to remember anything because everything is right in front of you. You don’t have to develop the ability to memorize or to come up with new ideas. I find it interesting that the late Steve Jobs said in a 2010 interview that his own children didn’t use iPads. In fact, there are a surprising number of Silicon Valley titans who refuse to let their kids near certain devices. There’s a private school in the Bay Area and it doesn’t allow any tech — no iPhones or iPads. The really interesting thing about this school is that 75 percent of the parents are tech executives.


***

Obituaries of the Issue.

Robert Sengstacke (1943-2017)
"His father got him his first camera when he was 14," his daughter said. At 16, he accompanied his father on a trip to Cuba, where he took a picture of Fidel Castro with boxing champion Joe Louis. "That was the start of his professional career." His great-uncle Robert Sengstacke Abbott founded the paper in 1905. His father, John Sengstacke, ran the paper for nearly 60 years. He began his career as a freelance photographer for the paper. He later served as president of Sengstacke Newspapers and was a former editor of what was then the Chicago Daily Defender. A 2002 Chicago Tribune story recounted some of the paper's storied past, including the information that the Defender's sustained editorial campaign during the 1910s and 1920s, urging Southern black people to relocate to Chicago, is widely credited with spurring the Great Migration of Southern black people to Northern cities.
Jerry Krause (1939-2017)
He was a second-string catcher at Taft High School, then attended Bradley University hoping to become a journalist. He was a student assistant to the basketball coach, charting plays, then quit school to pursue a career in sports and was hired as a “flunky,” as he told it, with the Chicago Cubs. He began to scout baseball and basketball teams, and while working for the Bullets, he drafted Earl Monroe out of little-known Winston-Salem State in 1967. He became a Bulls scout in the 1960s and had a brief stint as their director of player personnel in 1976. Krause was hired as a scout in 1978 by Bill Veeck, the White Sox owner, and three years later began working for Reinsdorf and Eddie Einhorn when they took over the team. He persuaded management to obtain Ozzie Guillen, their future All-Star shortstop and manager, from the San Diego Padres’ organization. After leaving pro basketball, he returned to baseball, scouting for the Yankees, the Mets and the Arizona Diamondbacks.
Yevgeny Yevtushenko (1933-2017)
Mr. Yevtushenko kept homes in Russia and in the United States and, besides the University of Tulsa, taught at the City University of New York and New York University (where one student remembered him dressed in silver suits “stalking back and forth across the front of the lecture hall” as he read his poems in “booming Russian”). He traveled widely, reading his poetry, lecturing, teaching and giving speeches to overflow crowds at universities. Through it all, Mr. Yevtushenko regarded himself as a patriot. In “Don’t Die Before You’re Dead,” he summed up his ambivalent feelings of triumph, nostalgia and remorse as a survivor of the defunct Soviet system. In a poem on the final page, “Goodbye, Our Red Flag,” he wrote: I didn’t take the czars’ Winter Palace. / I didn’t storm Hitler’s Reichstag. / I am not what you call a “Commie.” / But I caress the Red Flag and cry.... He preferred Oklahoma to New York. “In some provincial cities you can find the real soul of a country,” he told The New York Times in 2003. “I like the craziness of New York, but New York is really not America. It’s all humanity in one drop. Tulsa is very American.” He called Tulsa “the bellybutton of world culture.”


Thanks to Steve Beeho, Mark Carducci…













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  2. You know, I might as well say it, I STILL think you really suck! Nice that another of your bullshit anti-gay tirades is being published. (You know I'm being sarcastic.) Your taste in music has always been crap, seeing how your cruddy book Pop Narcotic endlessly whines about gay influence in music when your favorite 70s cock rock like Mountain and Ted Nugent is so much better. Honestly why don't ya go fuck yourself? Nothing I've seen in your reactionary blog alters my impression of you as a boorish jerk, so don't even try!

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