The Nation, July 2008

7 July– Alexander Cockburn points out the shortcomings of the late Tim Russert; Jon Wiener derides efforts to depict the University of California at Irvine as a hotbed of anti-semitism.

14 July– In “The Subprime Swindle” Kai Wright shows that many of those now facing foreclosure because of exotic mortgages are African-American, and argues that those mortgages have had the effect of siphoning away a tremendous share of the accumulated wealth of black America.  Stuart Klawans recommends the film Full Battle Rattle, a documentary about a military training exercise in California meant to simulate conditions in Iraq.   

21/28 July– Naomi Klein labels the current state of our political economy “disaster capitalism” and identifies its main instrument of persuasion as extortion.  The rise of private firefighting firms enables the rich to threaten to shut down public fire departments that serve the rest of us; the deal the big oil companies have made in Iraq, apparently giving them right of first refusal on future drilling, puts them in a position to threaten to shut down oil supplies; genetic modification gives seed producers the power to starve the world.  Klein doesn’t have much faith in the power of market mechanisms to rein in the rich, but then why should she.  

In the same issue, U Penn classicist Emily Wilson reviews John Tipton’s translation of Sophocles’ Ajax.  The play puts her in mind of war’s psychological effects.  “[B]y denying the opposition any humanity, and therefore making them killable, we risk making ourselves something less than human.”  When Ajax responds to a slight by setting out to kill his fellow Greek warriors at Troy, the gods delude him into mistaking a herd of sheep for his companions.  He slaughters them with great efficiency.  Classicists used to call this slaughter “the Ovicide” (from the Latin ovis, meaning “sheep.”)  The Ovicide (Wilson doesn’t mention the term, and it is extremely old-fashioned, but I’m rather fond of it)  occurs before the play, which focuses on Ajax’ attempt to come to terms with the fact that he has made a fool of himself.  In Ajax’ torment, Wilson sees a symbol of every warrior whose training and formation have stripped him of the ability to distinguish between human and not-human.

Gottfried Helnwein

Here are illustrations of some works by Gottfried Helnwein

This one is mixed media on canvas.  The Donald Duck figurine is in lots of Helnwein’s pieces:

American Prayer

American Prayer

Here are two selfportraits:

Self Portrait, 1977

Self Portrait, 1977

Self Portrait #2

Self Portrait #2


The American Conservative, 19 May 08

This issue‘s highlights include:

Bill Kauffman praises Students for a Democratic Society Founder Carl Oglesby as a leader of “a humane, decentralist, thoroughly American New Left that regarded socialism as ‘a way to bury social problems under a federal bureaucracy,'” in Oglesby’s words.  Called upon to name the corrupt system that needed to be smashed in order to create a democratic society, Oglesby chose the name “corporate liberalism.”  In Oglesby, Kauffman finds a fellow admirer of the localist, traditionalist, anti-statist Old Right, one who saw virtues in the contemporary libertarian right but who warned those of that tendency that they might well “remain hypnotically charmed by the authoritarian imperialists whose only love is Power, the subhuman brownshirted power of the jingo state militant, the state rampant, the iron state possessed of its own clanking glory.”  Kauffman goes on to argue that another 60’s leader matched Oglesby in his understanding of the importance of rootedness and community, and that leader was George Wallace.  “If you can get beyond Wallace’s reprehensible race-baiting… certain of his policies overlapped with the humane Left.”  “If you can get beyond Wallace’s reprehensible race-baiting” you will have gone further than any of his supporters ever did.  The Guvnah’s whole national career consisted of race-baiting.  Still, anybody William F. Buckley saw fit to attack as a “country and western Marxist” must have had something going for him.  Kauffman does not mention one highly pertinent fact about Oglesby’s standing as a critic of corporate liberalism and bureaucratization, a fact which emerged in an interview Kauffman himself conducted with Oglesby this year.  Oglesby endorsed the presidential campaign of H. R. Clinton, an avatar of corporate liberalism if ever there was one.

Michael Brendan Dougherty reports on the formation of J Street, a lobbying organization that intends to give a voice to American Jews who do not support the hawkish policies of groups like AIPAC, the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, etc.  Dougherty devotes some space to the prominent Israelis who have declared their support for J Street and its program.

Margaret Liu McConnell argues against institutionalizing same-sex marriage on the grounds that a same-sex couple can become parents to a child only if one or both of that child’s biological parents relinquishes his or her parental role.  She doesn’t argue that same-sexers should be prohibited from adopting children or from using donated genetic material.  Her last sentence: “To those who ask how reserving marriage for one man and one woman is any different from yesterday’s vile prohibition against interracial marriage, the answer is evident in the faces of the… children of mixed-race couples, belonging to and loved by both parents, relinquished by neither.”  Liu McConnell’s argument doesn’t convince me, but it is the first conservative argument against gay marriage I’ve ever seen that actually has any substance at all.  I did see a radical argument against it 10-15 years ago in a law review, but I haven’t been able to track the article down.

What have the Romans ever done for us?

Apparently when the Romans went to Wales, they took leeks.  The BBC reports on research giving the old empire credit for introducing that signature vegetable to Welsh gardens.

Victoria Vox is Gonna Be, is Gonna Be the One to Uke Along With You

Victoria Vox covers the Proclaimers’ greatest hit, and shows us why she did it.

Spoof of William Shatner’s Singing

Proving that nothing is so absurd as to be beyond satire:

The Atlantic Monthly, July/ August 2008

The cover story of this issue asks “Is Google Making Us Stoopid?”  If that article had run in The New Yorker, it would have begun with the sentence that in fact opens its 11th paragraph:  “Sometime in 1882, Friedrich Nietzsche bought a typewriter- A Malling-Hansen Writing Ball, to be precise.”  That story closes with Nietzsche observing that “Our writing equipment takes part in the forming of our thoughts.”  The article draws on recent neurological findings about the malleability of the adult brain to expand on Nietzsche’s insight, suggesting that just as those findings suggest that literacy triggers a large-scale rewiring of brain circuitry, so the web can be expected to give rise, not just to a new kind of research method, but to a new kind of human mind.  Homo Googlieticus, perhaps.  

Hanna Rosin’s “American Murder Mystery” notes the changes in the geographic distribution of crime reports in American cities in recent years and suggests a correlation between these changes and the breaking up of the big housing projects of the Great Society era.  As the poor have spread out through Section 8 housing programs, not only have the criminally-inclined among them come along; the old gangs that terrorized the projects have been dispersed and ambitious young thugs have seen an opportunity to create new gangs.  Creating a new gang tends to be a hyper-violent process, leading to spikes in homicide rates in midsize cities around the USA. 

Benjamin Schwarz goes to Brazil (home of our old friend Benjamin Swartz, but that’s a different story) and looks at the architecture of Oscar Niemeyer.  In his first sentence, Schwarz declares that Brasilia “was a heroic and inhuman scheme.”  Leaning on Styliane Philippou’s book Oscar Niemeyer: Curves of Irreverence, Schwarz defends Niemeyer as a blithe spirit who “offered a jaunty alternative to the geometric severity of the International Style” and whose “highest achievements are profoundly informed by a Brazilian aesthetic, which has long made sinuous forms a basic element of its vocabulary.”  Such buildings as the presidential palace, the Foreign Ministry, and the Supreme Court move Schwarz and Philippou to heights of lyrical rapture.  Even so, Schwarz describes Brasilia as “an awful city,” an “horrendous error,” “a colossally wrong turn in urban planning,” “soullessly set in immense paved fields that offer few places to sit and little refuge from the blinding sun.”


Thanks to new commenter cymast for this link.  You can type your address or your zip code into a search window and find out how walkable your neighborhood is. 

We tried it last night and came up with some strange results- very walkable spots around our little college town rated 20-30 points lower than places in Seattle where we’ve had great trouble (Queen Anne hill is more walkable than the Quad?)  So I wonder about their methodology, but it’s a fascinating site, well worth a look.

Wall Street Bungles and Bailouts

Here‘s a succinct account of the current difficulties big US financial firms are facing.  It’s from Nuntii Latini, the Latin-language news service from Finnish radio. 

And here is an argument that the bailout the treasury and Federal Reserve have proposed is, in the literal sense of a much-overused term, fascism.

And as usual, Tom Tomorrow has summed it all up quite well.

Solo album from a member of the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain

Will Grove-White has released a solo album, Will Grove-White and the Others.  From an interview with ukulelehunt:

What was the impetus for your solo project?

In recent years, the Ukes has become more of a full-time job, making it harder for all of us to do other work, as the Orchestra’s demands grow and grow. I now find myself, at 35, a full-time Ukulele player – not something I ever thought I’d say, of course – I used to have a proper job. This album was really about seeing what it would sound like if I did something on my own, that could sit happily alongside the Ukes. The impetus was really from my wife, who kept telling me to get on with it.

What can we expect from your solo stuff?

Well, of course there are Ukuleles, but also plenty of other much maligned and overlooked instruments – the Musical Saw, Tuba, Melodica, Clarinet and Cardboard Boxes. I wish more mainstream musicians would cast their nets a bit wider in their choices of instruments. Bass, guitar and drums is a pretty tired formula. I think I can say it’s a good-time album, upbeat and optimistic – sort of Sid James meets Hoagy Carmichael and Tom Waits at a bluegrass concert.