In late 2010 I wrote "here" about my father’s early stages of Alzheimer’s and how his memory as a lifelong Pirates fan at 83 years of age stacked up watching the just discovered film of the entire game 7 of the 1960 World Series when they beat the Yankees in the 9th on Mazeroski’s home-run for the ages. Dad’s response to revisiting probably the most powerful sports memory of his young manhood was subdued but interested.
I moved back to Naperville for half a year to see if we could keep him at home and still allow Mom to get out of the house during the day. So Dad and I would walk a mile along the DuPage River to a coffeeshop each morning to buy the papers and have a cup, and then walk back, where we’d eat and he’d watch the stuff I was seeing for my next book: 1950s television Westerns and D.W. Griffith silent Biographs from before 1913. Dad would be glad to sit after the walk and watching “Cheyenne” he might interject, “It’s all about sex, you know?” Or with the silents he might laugh at them or even get confused about what could possibly be going on that he was watching these ancient moving pictures with this guy who might be his brother Joe, or his son Joe, or just any old Joe. He was forgetting the why of things. And for a guy who played as hard as he worked (golf, skiing, basketball…), sitting around the house was just plain odd. Early in his retirement he and Mom were always travelling, and in town he had his “we bad” pals for poker and the football pool, and the “old farts” who gathered at Dunkin Donuts as early as 5am, and grandkids, helping the older ones with homework and bringing bagels to the younger ones.
Dad still remembered certain childhood watersheds as I wrote in that earlier piece:
“Secondo worked first in America for several years before returning to Sarnano to bring his wife and son to America. Dad still remembers his earliest memory – the porpoises following alongside the boat, he was not quite four. Secondo worked with his older brother in the mines until Romeo was killed in a mine collapse…. Dad can usually tell the story of getting into a fight out front of his new house with a neighbor kid who was Irish. He searches for words now but still tells it well. Basically the Irish kid was picking on the new Italian kid and both mothers came out on their porches. Dad remembers his Mother calling out, ‘Dalio, don’ta you fight,’ while the Irish kid’s Mom was yelling ‘Tommy, you whip that little dago!’” (NV78)Actually, Dad did tell an earlier story, the one thing he remembered about his life in the old country. He must’ve been three when he was given a piglet to raise. As he understood it he was given the pig as a pet and so how many months later when they took his pig and slaughtered it he was as he recalled “inconsolable” and you believed him.
He left the house at night on foot once looking for Mom at her sister’s nearby condo when she had been beside him in bed asleep. He drove all around town in circles once trying to drive that short hop and couldn’t find his way home until he found the Hospital. Other misadventures required help by neighbors and policemen. My brother Matt put an alarm on the door; I kept worrying Dad would see what he was doing and get angry or hurt, but he didn’t notice. He got paranoid occasionally and Matt put him on something that mellowed him out, but you’d wonder if you were losing that much more of the real person. Soon he wasn’t mobile enough to get out of the house and be a concern that way. It was usually me who set off the alarm. I went back to Wyoming when he started going to an elder-care facility during the day. He’d fled an earlier one, but he now enjoyed this one, but Alzheimer’s gradually takes away the physical skills as well and soon he was at home all day tended by two care-takers, Cesar and Nancy, in turn, before he went to bed. They’d talk to him and have the television on while they went through a daily routine and Mom was around but able to visit friends and do errands around town, and we, the kids, the seven of us who could, would visit as often as possible, taking turns to keep the activity level high in the house.
About a month later, though, he stopped having alert days, had trouble focusing his eyes, using his tongue, and swallowing. He last ate something Wednesday February 4th and on that Sunday Cesar felt he shouldn’t get him out of bed. Dad encouraged us all to consider medicine and so four of us are doctors. Matt’s practice is descended from Dad’s and is still in Naperville. He sent out emails about Dad’s condition and had his family visit Dad. We all made our plans to come back. Julie flew from Jakarta, Mark drove from Wyoming, and Geri and Michelle drove down from Wisconsin. Geri slept on the floor by his bed and noticed he was breathing roughly before sunrise on Monday Feb. 9th and woke up the others in the house and they were around him when he died. (Mike then flew in from Las Vegas and I left from Wyoming.) There are so many medical professionals in the family that the coroner didn’t shoo the family away from his work as he normally would, which Michelle said she regretted. I would have too.
In a big family there’s one long rolling conversation full of crosscurrents and it never follows one train of thought for very long. You can also forget when one or two of us are missing in all the hubbub, at least for awhile. So we got together, less sisters Jackie (institutionalized with Down’s syndrome) and Lisa and now Dad. But we saw the warm return of Dad’s long practice of medicine in a once-small town come back at the front door, the telephone, the Naper Sun, and several long facebook threads of people delivered by Dad, or treated by him, and on and on. The wake went two days with populations of old Naperville, Hospital staff, and relatives coming in waves with the littlest grandkids dressed up and flitting about in the background. I’ve been out of town for decades and in Wyoming I go days without talking to anyone, but Mom in particular knows and remembers everyone. At the funeral mass in the main church, painters’ scaffolding towered over the sanctuary, and plastic was draped over the stained glass windows and back altar like some Christo project. When the priest asked Mom to help spread the pall over the coffin she stepped over to us pallbearers and whispered, “This is surreal.” That’s the reality of ’Til death do us part, I guess. It reminded me of Dad saying once during our morning walks back when they were getting harder for him to do or even comprehend, “God, this is like a dream!”
Birth order shapes families and our old-country Grandpa Secondo didn’t approve of Mom until she bore Dad three sons; then he told Dad, “Questa donna è la tua fortuna,” – This woman is your good fortune. Except that the three of us (Matt, Mark, and myself) were always unconscionably looking for something to destroy around the house, then around the neighborhood, and once we got bicycles no place in town was safe. For obvious reasons we weren’t allowed to watch The Three Stooges when we were little. Your best entertainment value is to have three boys in short order – together we probably had one-third the good sense of an only child. On Main St. we lived near the city graveyard so could play in the mausoleums and climb the headstones. We were too little to do much damage there. As the family got larger we moved into a big old house near Ss. Peter & Paul Church and School. One inspired summer morning we saw that our neighbor’s tomatoes were coming in so we each got a golf club from the garage and waded into the garden swinging. Dad believed in corporal punishment but we considered ourselves lucky since our cousins would get the belt. I remember one day Dad told us boys to go into the back room; we asked each other, “What did you do?!” Instead he came in and told us about the birds and the bees and pointed at some anatomical drawings in a medical textbook. You could say that the facts of life were completely wasted on us at that point.
In those years on Ellsworth St., Dad would blow in from work on a Wednesday or Saturday, between work and house-calls and take us down the street with a bat and ball or a football and we’d play near the North Central College field-house or Central Park. But he’d have to get back to the office or do rounds at the hospital or make house-calls, etc. and so before we knew it he’d leave us there to continue playing by ourselves. We’d be disappointed and watch him leave and then try to resume the game. But it was never as much fun without him.
(Illustrations: Dad and Joe along Route 66 in Kansas 1956; Dad and his sister Filomena in Bradford, Pa. circa 1934; Brothers circa 1959 l-r Matt, Mark, Joe; Dad’s 40th birthday 1967 l-r: Matt, Lisa, Geri, Dad, Mark, Julie, Joe; family portrait 1973, l-r: Lisa, Matt, Mark, Dad, Mike, Michelle, Julie, Mom, Jackie, Joe, Geri, Grandma Hartlaub; Sept. 15 1974, l-r: Mom, me, Dad; Thanksgiving 2011: Dad and grandkids Rafa and Nina)
Photo by Joe Carducci
Dirty Dogs & Beyond
Laramie, Wyoming is 150 miles north of Denver which itself sits several hundred miles from any population center of consequence. That is, if you consider Salt Lake City, Albuquerque, Oklahoma or Kansas City as consequential. It’s the west and the space is vast and in the 1970s it felt much more so, as one could not import visual, auditory or written cultural artifacts in a millisecond. If something did arrive one still had to know where to look. That makes the coming together of the Dirty Dogs in Laramie in 1977 that much more of an intriguing venture.
The Dirty Dogs’ sound and attitude were far outside of the recognized and accepted, local Wyoming musical fare. They began playing Laramie fraternities and even played a high school prom. They had a theatrical side in that a friend would occasionally stage fake fights with them a la Andy Kaufman, and on at least one occasion they tied Kevin to a chair while he played. According to Eric, “to say that people really reacted negatively to the Dirty Dogs would be an understatement”.
The band rehearsed in the living room of Alex’s house, where he had built a stage and a custom PA. They decided that they wanted to make a record and booked time with Rocky’s Recording Service, an outfit run by a local old-timer whose usual clients were more likely to be the local high school orchestra than a Rock band, and the cost of the recording included 200 45s. Kevin left the band just prior to the recording, but since they had already booked the session they decided to go ahead with their plans. They recruited Don Dimasi (a friend from local Rock group Stagger Wing) to play 2nd guitar on these recordings only. In Alex’s living room they recorded two songs live, straight to a stereo mix: “Sorority Girl” (a composition of Alex’s) and “Eric’s Move”. These were self-released as their lone 45 a few months later in mid-1978, and would be the only songs the band ever recorded as the Dirty Dogs. A friend, and fan of the band (Richard Aeilts) was then added as a permanent member on second guitar, and it was around this time they discovered Wax Trax in Denver and made the acquaintance of Jim Nash and Dannie Flesher, the store’s owners. Primarily because the band had a PA that they could provide, they were offered the opening slot on an upcoming Wax Trax sponsored show. On April 14th and 15th, 1978, the Dirty Dogs made their first appearances in Colorado, opening for the Suicide Commandos and the Jonny III at the Oxford hotel.
Fox Theatre in downtown Laramie, an old, abandoned theatre that the group had gained access to and where they had begun to stage concerts. Their self-propelling DIY aesthetic pretty much dictated that they’d need to leave the confines of the Colorado/Wyoming scene. It’d always been either New York or Los Angeles for them, and in October they headed west.
They arrived in Los Angeles on Halloween and on that first night were invited to a gig (Germs/Mau-Maus/Go-Gos/Hal Negro & The Satin Tones) and met Brooke Shields – at the show! They procured a basement rehearsal space at the Masque and took on a new name (the Accelerators), more original songs and a more polished Pop Punk sound. They never played any advertised gig at the Masque (but many parties), instead playing clubs such as Club 88, Troubadour, Blind Pig, Madam Wongs and the Starwood, sharing the stage with the likes of Backstage Pass, Simpletones, Plugz and Levi & The Rockcats. After a few months they were ready to record and had somehow made the acquaintance of Danny Holloway, who had produced the Heptones, Shock, and Furys, among others. At his suggestion they went to Media Arts in Hermosa Beach, where some Dangerhouse 45s as well as Black Flag's "Nervous Breakdown" had been recorded (Spot would subsequently do the early SST recordings there as well). They recorded what became their “It’s Cool To Rock” 7” EP in 1979 (again self-released), which included an updated version of “Sorority Girl”. Though the record was well received and the gigging continued, the rigors and financial strain of trying to survive as band in Los Angeles were too much – before the end of ‘79 the Accelerators were done.
some of which can be heard on Rik’s The Lost Album, released in 1991. Local blues rocker Top Jimmy had heard of Eric and requested that he play guitar in his new band (bringing along Gary and Danny). This was a much bigger deal for Eric as this was the first group Jimmy put together after having done gigs with members of X backing him. This outft lasted until sometime in 1980 when Eric responded to an ad that stated “Looking for 3 good men”. Auditions took place and when the dust settled Eric, Gary and Danny were in as Joan Jett’s new backing band, becoming the original Blackhearts.
At this point Eric handed his Top Jimmy responsibilities to Richard, who, taking the name Dig The Pig, would become an original guitarist in the newly christened Top Jimmy & The Rhythm Pigs. Jimmy and the band were much beloved in L.A., becoming a stalwart of and a phenomenon in the club circuit, helping drive the Roots Rock scene of the early 80s. They were known for their raucous live shows and counted many musicians among their fans, both from the punk underground to big stars. Purportedly Tom Waits, David Lee Roth, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Ray Manzarek, Albert Collins, Bonnie Bramlett, Percy Mayfield, and of course, members of the Blasters and X had all joined them on stage at some point. Their run lasted almost the entire decade and they managed one long player, Pigus Drunkus Maximus in 1987.
Cowboy Technical Services (which he still operates today), as well as opening the Lakeside Lounge in the East Village, a bar many considered to have had the best Blues/R&B jukebox in the city (closed in 2012). Between 2000 & 2005 he toured and recorded with Steve Earle, appearing on his Jerusalem and The Revolution Starts… Now LPs. Almost 40 years after the Dirty Dogs started, Eric continues to play, record and produce.
(Illustrations: Dirty Dogs performing at Fox Theatre, Laramie,Wyoming 1978 (theatre demolished in 2009); Dirty Dogs 45 1978; Flier for 10/31/1978 gig at Roosevelt Hotel, Los Angeles; Top Jimmy & the Rhythm Pigs at the Cathay De Grande, Los Angeles, November 1981 l-r: Steve Berlin (cut-off), Gil T., David Lee Roth, Dig The Pig, Top Jimmy, Carlos Guitarlos; Joan Jett & the Blackhearts at SIR rehearsal space, Hollywood 1980 l-r: Eric Ambel, Joan Jett, Danny Furious, Gary Ryan)Rocky Mountain Low - The Colorado Musical Underground Of The Late 1970s
Photo by Joe Carducci
From the London Desk of Steve Beeho…
"Cold War Nightlife" navigate ten Conny Plank productions (and some that were tragically destined not to be):
“Not all of his artists were as willing to recognise his contributions: having pushed Kraftwerk in the direction of synthesizers and added the vital delay to ‘Autobahn’ while the band were out of the studio, they in-sourced their production work and froze him out of future albums. Plank’s reputation was undiminished, and the story is told that Brian Eno suggested him as the producer of U2’s ‘Joshua Tree’ album – an idea that Plank himself rejected with characteristic directness, simply saying, ‘I cannot work with that singer.’”
Steve Hansgen interviewed by Tony Rettman for "Noisey" about “Out of Step” and his year in Minor Threat:
“I got scapegoated over a lot of problems the band had going long before I joined. Apparently by joining, I added to the problems instead of taking them away. I ended up becoming just as dysfunctional as they were just to survive. They asked me to leave after that tour and I was more than happy to go at that point because it became so volatile in that band. After they kicked me out, they lasted another two months before they finally tore themselves apart.”
"Your Band Sucks: What I Saw at Indie Rock’s Failed Revolution (But Can No Longer Hear)".
“This music turned out to be incredibly durable. On a personal level, I placed insanely high hopes on it that were not realistic or sustainable. I believed that this would somehow replace the existing music industry, and I was heartbroken and quite upset when that didn’t happen. But what it did do was that it formalized, nurtured, and maintained an alternate circuit that bands still play on.”
Lydia Lunch passes on her compliments to Brian Eno, Dan Graham and Courtney Love at "Art News".
“Dan Graham, [...] wrote an essay, first published in English in 1982, called ‘New Wave Rock and the Feminine.’ In it, he interpreted Lunch through the philosopher Julia Kristeva, in particular conflating Lunch’s ‘hysterical pitch’ with Kristeva’s concept of ‘semiotic chora,’ a psychoanalytic term, which Graham defines as a ‘prelinguistic realm of primary drives and feelings [from] the period when the child identifies with the mother – before the fixed, social, 'stable ego' necessitated by symbolic language and produced by the castration complex forces conscious denial of these primary drives.’ (‘I have no idea what you’re talking about,’ Lunch told me when I brought up the essay.)”
Rod Liddle in "SPECTATOR" on why ‘football's elite deserves the foulness of FIFA’:
“There is a very good case for saying that football gets the administration it richly deserves. At the top level the game is foul, corrupt, greedy and amoral — in Europe every bit as much as in Africa or Haiti. The players, in the main, show not a shred of loyalty or commitment to either their clubs or their national teams. They and their horrible, grasping agents are motivated by one thing alone — ever more obscene amounts of money.”
"issuemagazine.com" interviewed by Buzz Osborne about his completely and utterly awesome memoir Punk Elegies:
“Recreational inebriation is a progressive endeavor. By 1977, it leads our ‘Punk Elegies’ hero protagonist to a dank basement enclave under an alley off of a sleazy section of Hollywood Boulevard. It’s a place called the Masque. I meet about 100 or so like-minded ‘others.’ We all spontaneously realize that each and every one of us is pretty great, and the world will soon be ours. Somewhere in there, LA punk is born.”Accompanying soundtrack dished up by the author at "DECIBEL" with comment by Lamb Cannon.
Craig Ibarra in "LA RECORD" on his oral history of the San Pedro punk scene, “A Wailing of a Town”:
“The Minutemen were the anchor of the early Pedro punk community, and still are in a way. They set the tone for originality. They blazed a path of creativity that was influential on all the other Pedro bands that formed after them. The Minutemen embodied the DIY spirit to the fullest. Most of the early Pedro punk bands were inspired by the early Hollywood scene, where it was wide open and there was no template. I think the early Pedro punk bands — Minutemen, Saccharine Trust — were more inspired by the real early L.A. stuff and some of the more experimental music coming out of England, not so much by the hardcore scene that came a couple years later.”
Peter Hitchens at "mailonsunday.co.uk" looks forward to the forthcoming EU referendum:
“Plebiscites are a weapon of the state against the people in almost all cases. If elites think they will lose them, they either do not hold them, or (if they are only weak and incompetent elites) they arrange to have them re-run to come up with the desired result.”
A fascinating "history" of The Rainbow where (among other things) Frank Zappa was pushed off stage into the orchestra pit, the Ramones recorded "It's Alive" on New Year's Eve, 1977 and the "auditions" for “The Great Rock'n'Roll Swindle” were filmed.
“This case concerns a dispute as to the ownership of the copyright in a song ‘Touch Sensitive’ which was recorded in 1999 by the Band known as The Fall, featuring the vocalist Mark Smith, and released by Artful Records on an album entitled ‘The Marshall Suite’ in 1999.”
Photo by Joe Carducci
From the Wyoming Desk of Joe Carducci…
Christopher Caldwell in WEEKLY STANDARD, "AWOL from the Summer of Love".
“Dylan’s fans not only had unmeetable expectations of his music, they had unmeetable expectations of him. He was supposed to share and even embody a whole set of burn-it-down, I-spit-on-your-bourgeois-institutions attitudes towards American society—and he simply didn’t. He was suspended like a cartoon character in midair over the chasm separating his own pre-1960s America from the post-1960s America he had done so much to create. His fans would have been appalled (perhaps he, too, would have been appalled) to recognize on which side of that chasm he thought virtue lay. So a touching moment on this collection comes when Dylan begins to strum and sing the syrupy ‘Mister Blue,’ a number-one hit for the Fleetwoods in 1959, a perfect embodiment of Eisenhower-era sentimentality, and someone in the background laughs. Across the years, you can’t tell whose laugh it is, or whether the laugh is a joyous one of recognition or a snotty one of expectation that Dylan would mock or parody this exquisite but dreadfully passé song. One might expect irony, but irony was for a later generation. Dylan delights in ‘Mister Blue,’ and Robertson, recognizing this, embroiders around it a quiet lead-guitar accompaniment that is reminiscent of Bruce Langhorne’s on the Dylan hit ‘Mr. Tambourine Man’ three years before.”
Robert Huddleston in BOSTON REVIEW, "Poetry Makes Nothing Happen".
“Auden’s case is revealing. In the 1930s his work developed a following among committed Marxists. Ideologically Auden was a fellow traveler: not a Party member but sympathetic to the egalitarianism of the left. What he perhaps failed to realize, at least initially, was that this audience had certain expectations that did not conform to his traditionally liberal sensibilities. What was expected was overt encouragement of true believers, a celebration of class struggle, and unwavering demonstrations of loyalty to approved causes. Having courted their favor, Auden found himself in the position of having to meet their demands.”
Camille Paglia "interview" at reason.com.
“reason: What would be a way forward for colleges or other institutions to start making a defense of the humanities? Paglia: Oh, that's hopeless. It's absolutely hopeless. The humanities destroyed themselves with veering toward postmodernism and post-structuralism. It's over. They've been completely marginalized by deconstruction, by questioning, undermining, and throwing out the whole idea of the genius, of the master of great works of art. I believe that there are great works of art. I do not believe that the canon is produced by critics sitting in a room testifying to their own power. I believe the canon is created by other artists. You identify the canon by who had the greatest influence on other artists over time. That is the story. The whole historical tradition, the linear line, which I absolutely believe in in terms of art history, has been discarded. The survey courses are being abandoned. Graduate students are not being trained even to think in large terms anymore. They have no sense of history. I find there's more sense of history in southern evangelicals who didn't even finish high school because their knowledge of the world is based on the Bible, so they're thinking in terms of, ‘What happened 2,000 years ago? What happened 2,500 years ago?’”
"Romanticism – A German Affair".
“The author is sympathetic to Romanticism, when it remains in the aesthetic realm, as having the potential to enrich and fulfill a life and a world that would otherwise be sterile and superficial, a literal life and a literal world. The problem comes when Romanticism enters the political realm. Whereas the Romantic craves adventure, intense experiences, and extremes, successful politics depends on compromise, rational discourse, consensus, and achievement that is mostly partial and prosaic. ‘If we fail to realize that the reason of politics and the passions of Romanticism are two separate spheres, which we must know how to keep separate… we risk the danger of looking to politics for an adventure that we would better find in the sphere of culture—or, vice versa, of demanding from the sphere of culture the same social utility we expect from politics. Neither an adventurous politics nor a politically correct cultural sphere is desirable. [Only misfortune and suffering result when] we seek in politics what we can never find there: redemption, true Being, the answer to the ultimate questions, the realization of dreams, the utopia of the successful life, the God of history, apocalypse, and eschatology.’ The contamination of the political sphere with the Romantic impulse has had fateful – indeed, fatal – consequences, particularly in Germany, according to Saranski.”
Jeffrey Collins in WSJ on Mark Greengrass’ book, "Christendom Destroyed".
“For medieval Christendom, religion informed internal stability and inspired external, crusading aggression. The Reformation inverted these effects. By splintering Christianity, it created the fault lines of wretched religious wars across Europe. The most harrowing of these were the French civil wars of the late 16th century and the Thirty Years’ War of the early 17th, both ‘carnivals of death’ punctuated by ghastly massacres and assassinations. Mr. Greengrass offers a chronicle of blood-chilling cruelty. We read of heretics, bound together, thrown into rivers; a besieged family of French Protestants reduced to cannibalism; a pitiless soldier’s diary recording the various ‘pretty girls’ he took as war prizes. The Reformation itself fractured Christian religious practice, but it was the human calamity of the religious wars that ended Europe’s shared sense of Christian culture. ‘An iron century,’ writes Mr. Greengrass, ‘bred iron in the soul.’ Internal division dissipated the external power of Christendom. The Islamic Ottoman Empire was the wonder of the age, stretching from distant Persia, across the defunct Byzantine Empire, into Hungary and across North Africa. The Ottomans terrified Europe, and the Habsburgs warred against them without end (and with a rare success at the naval Battle of Lepanto in 1571). But the common defense of Christendom increasingly became a pallid dream. European kingdoms scrambled to secure trading privileges with the Ottomans, and the French even allied with them against the Holy Roman Empire.”
Stephen Kotkin in WSJ on Paul Preston’s book, "The Last Stalinist – The Life of Santiago Carillo".
“His father served as a prominent trade unionist in Spain’s moderate Socialist Party. The son, via connections and his own dynamism, vaulted in 1934 to the post of general secretary of the Socialist Party’s youth wing. The youth were further to the left: An oversized portrait of Stalin came to dominate the young Carrillo’s office. In the 1930s, Stalinism appealed to those in a hurry. After a failed worker uprising in October 1934 against a more rightist incarnation of the republican government that resulted in 17 months in prison, during which time he demanded revolutionary ‘Bolshevization’ of his father’s gradualist Socialists, the 21-year-old Carrillo betrayed his father, stealing his way to Moscow and folding the Spanish Socialist Youth into the Communist Youth International. Carrillo fought with the republic against General Franco’s Nationalist insurgency in the civil war, and as Mr. Preston conclusively shows, played a leading role in the decision to execute, instead of evacuate, some 2,000 imprisoned Nationalist sympathizers—a massacre that would eventually haunt his political career. Once Franco and his co-conspirators had risen up against the legal government, they pushed it and its defenders to the left—the very outcome the generals’ putsch claimed to be preventing. But Mr. Preston refuses to acknowledge the abject failure of Spain’s so-called Popular Front coalition of Socialists, anarchists and Communists, which was doomed by the irredeemable depravity of Communism, or how Franco held power by forging a de facto popular front on the right, in no small measure because of the now genuine threat posed by the revolutionary left…. Asserting his slavish loyalty, he wrote an open letter in 1939 denouncing his Socialist Party father: ‘When you ask to be in touch with me, you forget that I am a Communist and you are a man who has betrayed his class…. Between a Communist and a traitor there can be no relations of any kind.’ Carrillo’s father responded to the person he presumed to stand behind the heinous letter: ‘I, Señor Stalin, had always educated my son in the love of freedom, you have converted him to slavery. I still love him.’”
Mikhail Shishkin in NYT, "How Russians Lost the War".
“After the war, my father drank. All his submariner friends did. What else could they do? During the Gorbachev era, we had lean times, and my father, as a veteran, received a ration that included items from Germany. For him, this was a personal insult. He got drunk and hollered ‘But we won!’ Then he quieted down and began to weep. ‘Tell me,’ he kept asking no one I could see, ‘did we win the war or lose it?’ In his last years, he destroyed himself with vodka. He was the last man standing: All his submariner friends had drunk themselves into the grave long before. My father was cremated in his sailor’s uniform. He was probably eager to see his wartime buddies. The chief Russian question is: If the fatherland is a monster, should it be loved or hated? Here everything has run together, inseparably. Long ago, a Russian poet put it this way: ‘A heart weary of hate cannot learn to love.’ Of course, I wish my homeland victory. But what would constitute a victory for my country? Each one of Hitler’s victories was a defeat for the German people. And the final rout of Nazi Germany was a victory for the Germans themselves, who demonstrated how a nation can rise up and live like human beings without the delirium of war in their heads. Today, though, Victory Day has nothing to do with the people’s victory or my father’s victory.”
Andrew Browne in WSJ, "Vietnam’s Bind".
“Moreover, the stakes are rising. Nguyen Quang A, a prominent Vietnamese economist, says that anti-Chinese nationalist sentiment in Vietnam, while perhaps not strong enough to bring down the government, could ‘undermine the foundations of this system.’ China moved its first deep-water drilling rig, pictured in a file photo, to disputed waters off Vietnam in May last year. The economist was among those who signed an open letter last May to urge Vietnam’s leaders to join the Philippines’ legal challenge of China’s claims to almost the entire South China Sea. Reflecting the government’s ambivalence, Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung suggested last year that Hanoi was considering such a move, but since then leaders have instead attempted to reset cordial ties with China.”
Tom Mitchell & James Crabtree in FT, "Modi’s Himalayan Visit Sparks China Anger".
“Liu Zhenmin, Chinese vice-foreign minister, said the Indian prime minister’s trip to Arunachal Pradesh, which Beijing considers part of Tibet, ‘infringes on China’s territorial sovereignty and magnifies the border dispute’…. Security analysts said China’s unusual decision to rebuke India’s ambassador reflected bad feeling in the aftermath of US president Barack Obama’s trip to New Delhi last month. During the visit, the US and India signed a ‘vision statement’ covering the Asia-Pacific and Indian Ocean regions, which irked Beijing by including a pointed reference to security concerns in the South China Sea.”
William Dalrymple in NY REVIEW OF BOOKS, "The Great & Beautiful Lost Kingdoms".
“Out of India came not just artists, sculptors, traders, scientists, astronomers, and the occasional fleets of warships, but also missionaries of three Indic forms of religion: Buddhism and two rival branches of Hinduism: Shaivism, in which Lord Shiva is revered as the Supreme Being; and Vaishnavism, which venerates Lord Vishnu. If the scale and breadth of this extraordinary cultural diffusion is not as well known as it should be, that is perhaps partly because of a tendency to perceive and study this process as two separate disciplines, each the preserve of a different group of scholars. The many Buddhist monuments scattered around Afghanistan and the Taklamakan desert in northwest China, through which Xuanzang passed, for example, are usually viewed today as the first step in the story of the spread of Buddhism from India through Asia, or else as an episode in the history of the ‘Silk Road,’ a term coined in the nineteenth century by the Prussian geographer Ferdinand von Richthofen to describe the trading routes linking China with the Mediterranean West. Conversely, the spread of Indian and especially Hindu culture, literature, and religion southeastward to Burma, Thailand, Sumatra, Vietnam, Laos, Indonesia, Java, and the Malay Peninsula tends to be studied as part of the story of the adoption throughout Indo-China of the Sanskrit language and literary culture.”
Pankaj Mishra in WSJ, "The Literary Riches of India’s ‘Many Countries’".
“In 19th century India, the humiliations of British colonialism forced many upper-caste Hindu nationalists to seek flattering self-definitions in the past. Ironically, they used European scholarship on India’s Sanskritic heritage to bolster their self-esteem. Though barely spoken in India, Sanskrit, the ‘language of the gods,’ seemed to sum up the range of virtues that exalted India above inferior, even barbaric, civilizations. The inconveniently substantial non-Sanskritic and folk traditions of India—those followed by a majority of Indians and described by Prof. Doniger in her ‘alternative history’—were a source of embarrassment to Western-educated upper-caste Hindus. This elite’s fossilized notions of India’s Sanskritic past came to obscure the vitality of the country’s many other old and still existing cultures. Created as a supposed antidote to soul-destroying Western influence, cultural nationalism in India ironically turned into an exercise in suppressing Indian traditions.”
"Finding Zero – A Mathematician’s Odyssey to Uncover the Origins of Numbers".
“Although this claim was prevalent among scholars in the early 20th century, Dr. Aczel considers this claim European bigotry. The zero, he has no doubt, is the creation of what he calls ‘the Eastern mind.’ Westerners, according to Dr. Aczel, have mainly used numbers for commerce and other utilitarian purposes. Zero, however, is not just a useful symbol, but a paradox — a sign that represents absence, or ‘something’ that is also ‘nothing.’ Little wonder, he believes, that the practical-minded Europeans never stumbled upon it. In Eastern thought, however, the rigid oppositions between existence and nonexistence are blurred, allowing for intermediate states such as ‘neither existing nor not existing.’ This fluidity, Dr. Aczel believes, allows for the startling juxtaposition of mathematics and sex at Khajuraho. More profoundly, it accounts for ‘shunyata,’ the positive emptiness that is the goal of Buddhist meditation. And zero, in Hindi, is ‘shunya.’ Dr. Aczel’s connections between early zeros and Eastern thought are powerful, but his opposition of East and West suggests that he might be guilty of some Western binarism himself. One need consider only that the Pythagoreans, founders of the Western mathematical tradition, were a religious cult to realize that the mystical use of numbers was far from unknown in the West.”
Oriana Mastro in National Interest, "China Can’t Stay Home".
“The PLA has also been pushing for a greater role in protection of citizens overseas; for the first time, China’s 2013 Defense White Paper emphasized the need to ‘protect Chinese people overseas,’ stating specifically that ‘when there is a war, riot or political disturbance, the army should be able to evacuate Chinese people swiftly.’ An editorial in the China Daily by a former PLA colonel captures this sentiment: The PLA is also responsible for rescuing Chinese hostages in the event of such crises, and this is especially pertinent at a time when pirates, terrorists and armed kidnappers are operating on a greater scale in many parts of the world. The army should also act as a deterrent against those who attempt to harm Chinese people. We will not allow any repeat of such tragedies as the May 1998 riots in Indonesia, in which some 1,200 ethnic Chinese were killed.”
David Shambaugh in WSJ, "The Coming Chinese Crackup".
“First, China’s economic elites have one foot out the door, and they are ready to flee en masse if the system really begins to crumble. In 2014, Shanghai’s Hurun Research Institute, which studies China’s wealthy, found that 64% of the ‘high net worth individuals’ whom it polled—393 millionaires and billionaires—were either emigrating or planning to do so. Rich Chinese are sending their children to study abroad in record numbers (in itself, an indictment of the quality of the Chinese higher-education system). Just this week, the Journal reported, federal agents searched several Southern California locations that U.S. authorities allege are linked to ‘multimillion-dollar birth-tourism businesses that enabled thousands of Chinese women to travel here and return home with infants born as U.S. citizens.’ Wealthy Chinese are also buying property abroad at record levels and prices, and they are parking their financial assets overseas, often in well-shielded tax havens and shell companies. Meanwhile, Beijing is trying to extradite back to China a large number of alleged financial fugitives living abroad. When a country’s elites—many of them party members—flee in such large numbers, it is a telling sign of lack of confidence in the regime and the country’s future.”
Charles Clover in FT, "Beijing Enlists Private Sector to Slim Down Its Bloated Army".
“‘Private companies can do things for one-third the cost of state companies,’ said Yang Xiaojie, general manager of the joint venture who originally hails from the lab. Ms Yang, who has spent most of her career working in the state-owned aero-space sectors, said the elite state factories had a tendency to look down their noses at the new entrants. ‘In terms of qualifications and experience, the private companies are clearly still inferior to the state companies. The state companies still attract better degrees from better universities, a better caliber.’ But the private companies learn quickly, and they make do with fewer people – ‘they develop people better’, she said.”
Jeremy Page & Emre Peker in WSJ, "As Muslim Uighurs Flee, China Sees Jihad Peril".
“Chinese and Turkish officials have clashed over roughly 300 suspected Uighurs detained in Thailand since March, whom Thai police said they found hiding on a rubber plantation. Beijing has pressed Thailand to return the suspected Uighurs, who have no identification documents but claim Turkish descent and ask to go to Turkey, say people involved in those discussions. Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu in November said publicly that Turkey informed Thailand it wished to take them in. China’s foreign ministry, responding to a question about Mr. Cavusoglu’s statement, said: ‘We urge Turkey to immediately stop interfering in the handling of the relevant case’ and ‘not to send mistaken signals to the outside world that connive in, and even support, illegal immigration activities.’ Sek Wannamethee a Thai-foreign-ministry spokesman, said his government knew the Chinese and Turkish positions but needed time to identify the detainees—men, women and children.”
"Atatürk in the Nazi Imagination, and David Motadel’s book, Islam and Nazi Germany’s War".
“‘It’s been our misfortune to have the wrong religion,’ Hitler complained to his pet architect Albert Speer. ‘Why did it have to be Christianity, with its meekness and flabbiness?’ Islam was a Männerreligion—a ‘religion of men’—and hygienic too. The ‘soldiers of Islam’ received a warrior’s heaven, ‘a real earthly paradise’ with ‘houris’ and ‘wine flowing.’ This, Hitler argued, was much more suited to the ‘Germanic temperament’ than the ‘Jewish filth and priestly twaddle’ of Christianity. For decades, historians have seen Hitler’s Beer Hall Putsch of 1923 as emulating Mussolini’s 1922 March on Rome. Not so, says Stefan Ihrig in ‘Atatürk in the Nazi Imagination.’ Hitler also had Turkey in mind—and not just the 1908 march of the Young Turks on Constantinople, which brought down a government. After 1917, the bankrupt, defeated and cosmopolitan Ottoman Empire contracted into a vigorous ‘Turanic’ nation-state. In the early 1920s, the new Turkey was the first ‘revisionist’ power to opt out of the postwar system, retaking lost lands on the Syrian coast and control over the Strait of the Dardanelles. Hitler, Mr. Ihrig writes, saw Turkey as the model of a ‘prosperous and völkisch modern state.’”
Christopher de Bellaigue in NY REVIEW OF BOOKS on Marwa Elshakry’s book, "Reading Darwin in Arabic, 1860-1950".
“Just as Darwinism had been involved in political controversies in Britain, drawn on by Malthusians, white supremacists, and abolitionists alike, so darwiniya had its own effect on Egypt’s situation. The country was colonized by Britain in 1882, prompting a ‘scramble for Africa’ in which some 80 percent of the continent came under European rule. In 1898 General Herbert Kitchener defeated the Sudanese Mahdists at Omdurman and annexed what the Egyptians regarded as their natural hinterland; it was a particularly bloody demonstration of European military might, with the British losing forty-seven dead and an estimated 10,000 Muslims killed. ‘The law of natural selection,’ observed a demoralized Egyptian nationalist, Qasim Amin, had impelled the Europeans, ‘powered by steam and electricity,’ to seized the wealth of any country weaker than them. ‘For Amin,’ Elshakry writes, ‘like so many other Arab thinkers at theat time, the encounter with the Western world was itself an example of the ˈstruggle for lifeˈ between nations.’”
Edward Rothstein in WSJ, "Iconoclasm Redefined".
“What saved these images is that they long ago found a home at the British Museum. Carved in relief on 8-foot-high stone slabs, they once lined a room of the palace of the Assyrian king, Sennacherib, in Nineveh, recounting the siege of Lachish in 701 B.C. and victory over the Judean King Hezekiah—an event recounted both in accompanying inscription and in Kings II. The reliefs portray an exaggeratedly immense battle, in which the Assyrian king boasted of carrying off more than 200,000 prisoners. And if those who now boast of demolishing ancient Assyrian ruins had seen these images—in one panel two captives are stretched horizontally as they are apparently being flayed alive—would they have taken some pride in seeing ancient versions of themselves? Probably not: Islamic State worships other gods.”
Tamer El-Ghobashy in WSJ, "Traveling Call: Iraq League Draws American Hoops Players".
“Last year’s Superleague champion, Dohuk, from the northern Kurdistan region, dropped out of competition this season because of the cash crunch and the difficulty of traveling for games across territory held by Islamic State. But the league fights on, as much of Iraq has done. Mr. Kearse and two other Americans play for the Police Club, a team that represents Iraq’s interior ministry and won the championship Thursday, beating a team once run by a now-deceased son of Saddam Hussein and now run by the ministry of education. ‘It’s amazing how basketball is still relevant, especially with everything going on,” said DeAndre Rice, a 29-year-old Police Club point guard from Flint, Mich., who arrived in January. American players began joining Iraqi team rosters in 2010, drawn by relatively high pay and few other options. The top American players earn as much as $20,000 a month here, making them among the highest paid public employees in Iraq. Most are being paid between $4,000 and $10,000 monthly. Apart from the Americans, there are five other players from outside Iraq in the league. The top Iraqi players are earning about $12,000 a month; most make much less.”
Ayaan Hirsi Ali in WSJ, "America’s Academies for Jihad".
“Less than a year after I moved to the United States in 2006, I was asked to speak at the University of Pittsburgh. Among those who objected to my appearance was a local imam, Fouad El Bayly, of the Johnstown Islamic Center. Mr. Bayly was born in Egypt but has lived in the U.S. since 1976. In his own words, I had ‘been identified as one who has defamed the faith.’ As he explained at the time: ‘If you come into the faith, you must abide by the laws, and when you decide to defame it deliberately, the sentence is death.’ After a local newspaper reported Mr. Bayly’s comments, he was forced to resign from the Islamic Center. That was the last I would hear of him—or so I thought. Imagine my surprise when I learned recently that the man who threatened me with death for apostasy is being paid by the U.S. Justice Department to teach Islam in American jails. According to records on the federal site USASpending.gov and first reported by Chuck Ross of the Daily Caller, the Federal Bureau of Prisons awarded Mr. Bayly a $10,500 contract in February 2014 to provide ‘religious services, leadership and guidance’ to inmates at the Federal Correctional Institution in Cumberland, Md. Ten months later he received another federal contract, worth $2,400, to provide ‘Muslim classes for inmates’ at the same prison.”
“The author’s conclusion is that black America sold itself out, entered ‘a Faustian pact,’ as he puts it, by placing its destiny in the ‘hands of contrite white people.’ Doing so, he writes, ‘left us pleading with government, not for freedom, which we had already won, but for ‘programs’ and ‘preferences’ that would be a ladder to full equality. The chilling result is that now, fifty years later, we remain – by most important measures – in the position of inferiors and dependents.’ The liberalism that has come into prominence wince the 1960s, Mr. Steele believes, ‘has done little more than toy with blacks.’”
Natalie Lampert in NEW REPUBLIC, "A Modern Woman’s Burden".
“When it comes to fertility, the United States is schizophrenic. The modern woman (ideally) uses some form of birth control as soon as she becomes sexually active; then, suddenly, she’s in her late twenties or early thirties and is encouraged to consider exchanging the pill for fertility hormones. What’s more: There isn’t any breathing room between this ‘prevent birth’ and ‘preserve fertility’ logic.”
Nicholas Eberstadt in WSJ, "The Global Flight From the Family".
“All around the world today, pre-existing family patterns are being upended by a revolutionary new force: the seemingly unstoppable quest for convenience by adults demanding ever-greater autonomy. We can think of this as another triumph of consumer sovereignty, which has at last brought rational choice and elective affinities into a bastion heretofore governed by traditions and duties—many of them onerous. Thanks to this revolution, it is perhaps easier than ever before to free oneself from the burdens that would otherwise be imposed by spouses, children, relatives or significant others with whom one shares a hearth. Yet in infancy and childhood and then again much later, in feebleness or senescence, people need more from others. Whatever else we may be, we are all manifestly inconvenient at the start and end of life. Thus the recasting of the family puts it on a collision course with the inescapable inconvenience of the human condition itself—portending outcomes and risks we have scarcely begun to consider.”
Jason Clayworth & Rodney White in DES MOINES REGISTER, "Lost Schools: A Photo That Launched a Revolution".
“Iowa's Amish school controversy was in the making more than a decade before the 1965 incident. In 1947 the Hazleton Township voted to consolidate with the Hazleton Independent School District. All rural one-room schools in the areas were closed with the exception of two that were purchased by the Amish community and run privately with no support from taxes. Questions arose in 1961 about the lack of state-certified teachers in at least some of the Amish schools. Following the 1962 merger of the Hazleton and Oelwein districts, local school officials contacted the state about the issue and believed from the state's response that the Amish schools failed to meet minimum state education standards. Officials from the Iowa Department of Public Instruction told Oelwein officials that the department insisted that seventh- and eighth-grade Amish be sent to the Hazleton attendance center immediately and that kindergarten through sixth grades transition to the public school system within two years. The instruction must include teaching science, as required by law, the state department insisted, according to newspaper and written accounts provided by Sensor, the Oelwein superintendent at the time. The Amish resisted. At least 10 Amish men were found guilty in 1962 for failure to send their children to schools with certified teachers. Eight were jailed for three days for failing to pay the fines…. In March 1965, the Oelwein school board asked the Iowa attorney general for assistance and by September the state publicly concluded the problem was local and should be resolved by the Oelwein board. On Nov. 18, school officials notified Amish parents that buses would pick their children up the following morning. Parents like Sarah Swartz refused, and the highly emotional cornfield chase ensued. Register file photos from that day show law enforcement and school officials trying to force students at Hickory Grove onto the bus.”
Ross Douthat in NYT, "Our Police Union Problem".
“In an irony typical of politics, then, the right’s intellectual critique of public-sector unions is illustrated by the ease with which police unions have bridled and ridden actual right-wing politicians. Which in turn has left those unions in a politically enviable position, insulated from any real pressure to reform. Yet reform is what they need. There are many similarities between police officers and teachers: Both belong to professions filled with heroic and dedicated public servants, and both enjoy deep reservoirs of public sympathy as a result. But in both professions, unions have consistently exploited that sympathy to protect failed policies and incompetent personnel. With this important difference, however: Even with the worst teacher, the effects are diffused across many years and many kids, and it’s hard for just one teacher to do that much damage to any given student. A bad cop, on the other hand, can leave his victim dead or permanently damaged, and under the right circumstances one cop’s bad call — or a group of cops’ habitual thuggishness — can be the spark that leaves a city like Baltimore in flames.”
Zusha Elinson in WSJ, "Aging Baby Boomers Hold on to Drug Habits".
“The rate of death by accidental drug overdose for people aged 45 through 64 increased 11-fold between 1990, when no baby boomers were in the age group, and 2010, when the age group was filled with baby boomers, according to an analysis of Centers for Disease Control and Prevention mortality data. That multiple of increase was greater than for any other age group in that time span. The surge has pushed the accidental overdose rate for these late middle age adults higher than that of 25- to 44-year-olds for the first time. More than 12,000 boomers died of accidental drug overdoses in 2013, the most recent data available. That is more than the number that died that year from either car accidents or influenza and pneumonia, according to the CDC.”
Charles Murray in WSJ, "Fifty Shades of Red".
“We now live under a presumption of constraint. Put aside all the ways in which city and state governments require us to march to their drummers and consider just the federal government. The number of federal crimes you could commit as of 2007 (the last year they were tallied) was about 4,450, a 50% increase since just 1980. A comparative handful of those crimes are ‘malum in se’—bad in themselves. The rest are ‘malum prohibitum’—crimes because the government disapproves. The laws setting out these crimes are often so complicated that only lawyers, working in teams, know everything that the law requires. Everyone knows how to obey the laws against robbery. No individual can know how to ‘obey’ laws such as Sarbanes-Oxley (30,470 words), the Affordable Care Act (400,038 words) or Dodd-Frank (377,491 words). We submit to them.”
Kimberley Strassel in WSJ, "The Greens’ Back Door at the EPA".
“Mr. Collier also sought EPA documents related to the veto by submitting disclosure requests to related agencies. The National Park Service recently came through with a smoking gun: a nine-page ‘Options Paper’ for the Pebble Mine, already in circulation by early May 2010. It shows the agency intended even then to veto the mine—a full year before it began its (sham) watershed assessment. The only question was timing. One reason listed in support of nixing the mine pre-emptively was that this would allow Pebble to ‘avoid spending tens of millions of dollars on a project EPA program staff believe should be vetoed.’ Meanwhile, emails show that in drafting the options paper EPA staff collaborated with Jeff Parker, an environmental activist and attorney who works with mine opponents. In June 2010, as the paper’s draft was being revised, Mr. Parker emailed EPA biologist Phil North (driving the veto process internally) and EPA lawyer Cara Steiner-Riley. In a message with the subject line ‘options paper,’ he suggested how best to craft a veto. More suggestions followed, some of which made it into the final options paper.”
Eric Lipton & Coral Davenport in NYT, "Critics Hear E.P.A.’s Voice in ‘Public Comments’".
“The Obama administration is the first to give the E.P.A. a mandate to create broad public outreach campaigns, using the tactics of elections, in support of federal environmental regulations before they are final. The E.P.A.’s campaign highlights the tension between exploiting emerging technologies while trying to abide by laws written for another age. Federal law permits the president and political appointees, like the E.P.A. administrator, to promote government policy, or to support or oppose pending legislation. But the Justice Department, in a series of legal opinions going back nearly three decades, has told federal agencies that they should not engage in substantial ‘grass-roots’ lobbying, defined as ‘communications by executive officials directed to members of the public at large, or particular segments of the general public, intended to persuade them in turn to communicate with their elected representatives on some issue of concern to the executive.’”
"Government Against Itself – Public Union Power and Its Consequences".
“The trend is a shame and a drag on the economy. For the costs of public-sector unions are great. ‘The byproduct of political management of the economy is waste,’ the author notes. Second, pension and benefit obligations weigh down our cities. Trash disposal in Chicago costs $231 per ton, versus $74 in non-union Dallas. Increasingly, such a burden is fatal. When Detroit declared bankruptcy in 2013, a full half of the city’s$18.2 billion long-term debt was owed for employee pensions and health benefits. Even before the next downturn, other cities and some states will find themselves faltering because of similarly massive obligations. There is something grotesque about public workers fighting for benefits whose provision will hurt the public. Citizens who vote Democratic may choose not to acknowledge the perversity out of party loyalty. But over the years a few well-known Democrats have sided against the public-sector unions. ‘The process of collective bargaining as usually understood cannot be transplanted into the public service,’ a Democratic politician once declared. His name? Franklin Roosevelt.”
Diana Rickert in CT, "The Outrageous Perks of the Public Sector".
“At a time when government agencies at all levels are crying poor, the bureaucrats who work there have never been better off. In the Chicago area, many of the perks Breuder enjoys are commonplace in the public sector. Elgin Community College President David Sam banked $317,337 in 2014, public records show. Every year through 2020 that he stays on the job, Sam's pay increases by 10 percent. Like Breuder, Sam gets a housing allowance; Sam's is equal to 10 percent of his salary. Taxpayers cover the cost of Sam's cellphone, up to $500 each month for his car and also foot the bill for a $12,000 annual expense account. Sam's contract also includes generous paid time off: five weeks of paid vacation, a week off for winter break, another week off for spring break, paid holidays and Fridays off during the summer. Before Breuder worked in DuPage County, he was president at Harper College in Palatine. The school gave him the parting gift of a Lexus SUV.”
David Graeber in FT, "Capitalism’s Secret Love Affair with Bureaucracy".
“It seems significant that while both postal services and the internet emerge from the military, they could be seen as adopting military technologies to quintessential anti-military purposes. Here we have a way of taking stripped-down, minimalistic forms of action and communication typical of military systems and turning them into the invisible base on which everything they are not can be constructed: dreams, projects, declarations of love and passion, artistic effusions, subversive manifestos, or pretty much anything else. But all this also implies that bureaucracy appeals to us — that it seems at its most liberating — precisely when it disappears: when it becomes so rational and reliable that we are able to just take it for granted that we can go to sleep on a bed of numbers and wake up with all those numbers still snugly in place. In this sense, bureaucracy enchants when it can be seen as a species of what I like to call ‘poetic technology’ — when mechanical forms of organisation, usually military in their ultimate inspiration, can be marshalled to the realisation of impossible visions: to create cities out of nothing, scale the heavens, make the desert bloom. For most of human history this kind of power was only available to the rulers of empires or commanders of conquering armies, so we might even speak here of a democratisation of despotism.”
Robert Pozen in WSJ, "The Other Debt Bomb in Public-Employee Benefits".
“Unlike pension plans, governments are not required to contribute to separate trusts to support health-care promises. As a result, only 11 states have funded more than 10% of retiree health-care liabilities, according to a November 2013 report from the credit-rating agency Standard & Poor’s. For example, New Jersey has almost no assets backing one of the largest retiree health-care liabilities of any state—$63.8 billion. Only eight out of the 30 largest U.S. cities have funded more than 5% of their retiree health-care obligations, according to a study released last March by the Pew Charitable Trust. New York City tops the list with $22,857 of unfunded liabilities per household. What exactly are retiree health-care obligations? State and local governments typically pay most of the insurance premiums for employees who retire before they are eligible for Medicare at age 65. That can be a long commitment, as many workers retire as early as 50. Many governments also pay a percentage of Medicare premiums once retired workers turn 65.”
James Grant in WSJ on Andrew Palmer’s book, "Smart Money".
“As an example of benign adaptation, Mr. Palmer notes that new kinds of lenders—lightly regulated and digitally empowered—have sprung up to fill the business vacuum that Washington’s suffocating rules have made. Lending Club, a so-called peer-to-peer lender, and OnDeck Capital, a non-bank lender to speculative-grade small business, are among the author’s favorite creations. What he seems most to admire about OnDeck, which was founded in 2007 and went public early this year, is the speed with which it tells its customers, “Yes!” No need to eyeball the applicant when all the facts you need are online. Speed, accuracy and flexibility are the advertised virtues of the digital method. At last report, OnDeck was borrowing at 5.1% and lending at 36.7%. Oddly enough, the company does not turn a profit even at that shocking interest differential. Credit losses and competitive pressures take a large and growing bite out of revenue even today, a time of ostensible prosperity. Stay tuned for the next recession. Money—smart or otherwise—is at the center of Mr. Palmer’s narrative, though the raw material itself gets short shrift. As finance becomes more innovative, money becomes less substantial. It would be nice if a few of Mr. Palmer’s intellectual pioneers could spare some time to improve the quality of the currency—and, while they’re at it, to beat back the depredations of the regulatory state.”
Thanks to Mark Carducci, Andy Schwartz, and Joseph Pope.
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