Banana Chorus

Via, some banana art.


The most popular ethonography site on the web

And at the moment, probably the most popular blog on wordpress.

Bow Tie of the Week

From, the “Kingsclere.” 


The Nation, 7 April 2008

A special issue devoted to the 75th anniversary of the New Deal.

Most interesting are three items outside the special pieces.  A brief editorial by Laila al-Arian notices the recent panels Iraq Veterans Against the War sponsored in Silver Spring, Maryland, where US military personnel returned from Iraq testified about war crimes they committed and witnessed in that country.  Unlike their predecessors who appeared at the 1971 Winter Soldier Investigation during the Vietnam War, these veterans all produced photographs, videos, and other corroborating evidence for their accounts.  What stick in my mind was a quote from an active duty enlisted man named Hart Viges.  Specialist Viges tells of his refusal to join in desecrating an Iraqi corpse.  “I said no- not in the context of, That’s really wrong on an ethical basis.  I said no because it wasn’t my kill.  You shouldn’t take trophies for things you didn’t kill.  That’s where my mindset was back then.” 

Kim Phillips-Fein reviews a silly book by libertarian writer Amity Shlaes arguing that the Great Depression was solely the result of government meddling and that only laissez faire economic policies can lead to prosperity.  Phillips-Fein points out the logical implication of this argument.  The US effort in World War Two represented the biggest increase in government spending, taxation, and regulation in history up to that point.  On Shlaes’ premises, that should have been accompanied by a profound exacerbation of the depression.  Yet in fact the war years saw prosperity return to America, and were followed by decades of tremendous growth. 

Robin Einhorn reviews Woody Holton’s history of the debates around the constitution, faulting Holton for his uncritical acceptance of the Antifederalist worldview and his failure to engage with any scholarship produced since 1940.  Still, Einhorn finds much to praise in Holton’s unflagging optimism and democratic spirit.  “What Holton really wants is for Americans to understand that we have a grander political tradition than constitutionalism, a democratic tradition in which ‘ordinary farmers’ used tangible power to win tangible gains.”

Some free music from a member of the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain

If you’ve followed my advice and looked up the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain, you’ll have noticed Hester Goodman, the attractive brunette with the haunting voice.  Here’s her myspace page, complete with two free songs I defy you to get out of your head.

The American Conservative, 24 March 2008

A remarkable story on the cover.  John Derbyshire writes that US foreign aid to Africa has produced enthusiastic crowds to greet George W. Bush on his recent visit to the continent and high approval ratings for America and Americans in polls of African opinion.  However, he expresses doubts as to the real value of such aid.  Citing Peter Bauer’s 1970’s-vintage definition of foreign aid as “transfer of wealth from poor people in rich countries to rich people on poor countries” and economic studies by Bauer and other supporting that characterization, Derbyshire argues that changes in foreign aid programs in recent years have been at best cosmetic and that aid continues to make matters worse for the countries that receive it.  Going beyond narrowly economic arguments, Derbyshire points out that foreign aid, like big oil reserves, free a government from the need to finance itself by taxing its people, and thus from the need to win that people’s support or respect.  Thus aid, however nobly intended,  undermines democracy.  Quoting Africans who resent the rich world’s gifts to their countries and prefer the more straightforward exchanges businesses from China make in Africa, Derbyshire speculates that the short-term popularity aid may buy donors will come at the cost of an overall loss of influence.  Derbyshire mars this very interesting and tightly-argued article with some paragraphs near the end wherein, for no apparent reason, he brings up James Watson and the question of race and IQ.  A well-known exponent of the nativist hypothesis, Derbyshire evidently could not write anything at all about Africa without indulging himself in this rather unseemly preoccupation of his.  Still, the article as a whole makes a powerful case against the rich world’s patronage of the poor. 

A review of recent books on the history of the American right points to an historical cleavage of considerable importance.  Before the mid 60’s, the most prominent right-wing intellectuals in the USA were men whose education had been primarily in philosophy, history, and literature, and whose chief goal was to give true answers to the main questions of the day.  The following generations were men (and a few women) whose education had been primarily in the social sciences and whose chief goal was to formulate policies that right-wing politicians could implement.  The two groups could not understand each other- the older group were mystified as to what the younger ones really wanted, and the younger group thought the older ones were foolish to care so much about being right.  This is a story that The American Conservative should tell often, since the word “neoconservative” is so easy to spin as an anti-semitic slur.  By exploring this history, the magazine could enrich the word and avoid veiled bigotry. 

Eric Margolis contrasts the Iranian president’s recent highly publicized, multi-day, triumphal procession through thecities of Iraq with the brief, unannounced visits American leaders pay to US military bases and to highly guarded sites in the quietest corners of the country.  This contrast suggests to him that the US has already lost any hope of competing with Iran for influence in the future Iraq. 

Elsewhere in the issue,  Andrew Bacevich tries to talk himself and other disillusioned conservatives into voting for Barack Obama; Leon Hadar speculates on how Obama and McCain would handle crises stemming from Kosovo’s recent declaration of “independence”; and William S. Lind explains how past Balkan crises led to World War One, and finds inexcusable hubris in western governments’ failure to see a renewed disaster brewing in the region.

Bow Tie of the Week

Via, the “Bolero” (a misleading choice of name- you’d expect a bolo.) 


Chronicles, April 2008

One of the preoccupations of this ultra-ultra-right wing publication is the value of distinctions among people- class distinctions, ethnic distinctions, gender distinctions, etc.  Most of its contributors are firmly convinced that the great trouble with the current age is that such distinctions are being elided.  They say that what they dread is not equality- that what will come when all the old distinctions are destroyed or concealed is not an egalitarian society, but its opposite.  The new elite will rule brutally, while the ruled will be atomized, unable to form bonds of solidarity among themselves. 

Several pieces in the current issue explore this worry.  Editor Thomas Fleming writes the obituary of the bourgeoisie: “The old bourgeoisie is as dead as the old aristocracy.  The two classes, at least in America, have merged into a single type.”  With them has perished the citizen who feels himself to have a stake of ownership in the state, and so too have perished the republican virtues that made free government possible.  Historian John Lukacs laments “The End of the American Middle Class,” finding that only a tiny number of Americans truly own any property.  Most of those who claim to be owners really hold only an abstraction, and that on the sufferance of the bank.  As a result, “We now live in a largely classless society.  Not unforeseeable is the emergence of a new kind of ruling class- but who, and how, and when, no one can tell.”  James O. Tate’s “Nostalgia Ain’t What It Used to Be: Arriving at Indistinction” traces the idea that “the flattening out of all distinctions would put an end to war” through various twentieth century American novelists.  Scott Richert analyzes the consequences of current trade policy on our future class structure, concluding that “we can see the ranks of the underclass swelling, while the new-new rich drive the transformation.”    

Some of the magazine’s other preoccupations crop up, too.  Its “neoconfederate” streak shows up in an extremely hostile item about Abraham Lincoln’s refusal to negotiate with secessionists in the period from November 1860- April 1861.  Christie Davies writes about the horrors that her native Britain is supposedly suffering as the result of allowing large-scale immigration from Muslim countries.  Lefalcon’s idol Srdja Trifkovic documents both the uses to which secessionist movements around the world have put the USA’s recognition of Kosovo’s declaration of “independence” and the distrust that recognition has inspired in American allies who face secessionist movements of their own.  In particular he calls attention to intense unease in India, where public opinion fears that the USA will try to win favor with Pakistan by recognizing a similar declaration in Kashmir.  A review of three movies dealing with abortion (including the Romanian film 4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days, reviewed favorably in the Nation a few weeks back) is dominated by horror and indignation at the procedure.  The critic praises 4 Months, 3 Weeks, and 2 Days, because the filmmaker’s prochoice views are overpowered by graphic scenes near the end.

The Nation, 31 March 2008

Alex Cockburn’s column treats the NY Governor prostitution scandal, characterizing Spitzer’s behavior as “various rendezvous with consenting adults.”  I suppose I should familiarize myself with scholarship like that of somebody’s mother, but it strikes me that this phrase doesn’t capture what goes on with prostitution- mutual consent means that both parties consent to the same thing.  When men like Spitzer consent to a sex act, women like “Kristen” consent to sleeping indoors, having enough to eat, and not being so badly beaten by their pimps that they need reconstructive surgery to breathe.   

An editorial points out that it used to be routine in the USA for botched elections to be redone.  Several articles document the economic cost of the Iraq war, both in terms of lost wealth and of increased income inequality.  Christopher Cerf and Victor Navasky collect statements powerful Washington types made in 2002-2004 predicting that the Iraq War would pay for itself. 

 Three reviews treat the work of Chilean writer Roberto Bolano.  Carmen Bullosa analyzes the assemblage of pseudo-biographical vignettes known as Nazi Literature in the Americas; Marcela Valdes surveys Bolano’s life and work; and Forrest Gander tries to decide which of Bolano’s works is best.  Catching my attention, Valdes quotes Nicanor Parra’s remark:

The four great poets of Chile

Are three

Alonso de Ercilla and Ruben Dario.

While Gander mentions that “Bolano considered Tres (Three), a book of poems published in 2000, to be ‘one of my two best works.'”  So the two best works of Bolano/ Are one/ Three.

Garfield without Garfield

Thanks to vthunderlad!