Archive for the ‘miscellaneous’ Category

The tyke with a toque

Various people today have been wishing me a happy Thanksgiving, though here in France it’s just another day. Thanksgiving is every American’s favorite holiday, though if one is not in America—with family and/or friends, the turkey dinner in the afternoon, and football game (Dallas Cowboys vs. whoever) on in the background—it loses context, so no point in celebrating.

As Thanksgiving is principally about food, I will use the occasion to post a wonderful article in the current issue (November 25th) of The New Yorker by my dear friend Adam Shatz, “The tyke with a toque,” on his life as a child chef, from middle school years through high school, in western Massachusetts—and which took him to France. I’ve known Adam for almost twenty years but he only started to tell me in the last couple about this episode of his early life. He was on track to become a great chef but decided to take the intellectual route instead. I’ve had occasion to taste his cooking and it is indeed that of a gourmet fine gueule. If you read just one article today—or want a break from politics, climate change, and other malheurs—make it this one.

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Karl Marx + 200

Yesterday was the bicentennial of his birth, as everyone no doubt knows. I was aware it was coming up, in view of all the articles on Marx that started to appear on my social media news feeds—and I did remember that he was born in 1818—but only learned that it was yesterday while listening to an interview with Pierre Laurent, the PCF’s no. 1, on France Inter, who was asked the inevitable question about Marx and his legacy (positive, bien évidemment). As I was a Marxist—or called myself one—in my late teens to mid 20s—and with Marxism permanently influencing my way of thinking—I should probably say something about him. But as it’s been a very long time since I’ve read Marx, I won’t, except to say that I was more drawn to his writings on current events than economics, with The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte being one of the more brilliant works of political sociology I read in my intellectually formative years. Marx indeed made his mark as a journalist, as James Ledbetter reminds us in Jacobin. As for the economics stuff, I tried to read volume 1 of Capital in my freshman year of college—in a poorly taught course that I should not have taken (and that should not have been offered in the first place)—but couldn’t get through it or really understand what I was reading. And I did not have the occasion to go back to it. Tant pis pour moi.

As for the interpretive works on Marx, of which I read lots (hasn’t everyone?), Shlomo Avineri’s The Social and Political Thought of Karl Marx stands out.

On the occasion of the bicentennial, Arthur Goldhammer posted on social media a nice essay he wrote in November 2016 in The Chronicle of Higher Education, “Marx as educator.” There are obviously countless articles that have been published on the subject in the past week but I will cite just two—that I’ve actually read—both on the Dissent magazine website. One is by historian Andrew Hartman, “Marx at 200: Just getting started.” The lede: “In our fully globalized world, Marx’s ideas still conform to a deeply felt sense about what capital does to our labor.” The other, by political scientist Sheri Berman, is entitled “Marxism’s fatal flaw.” The lede: “Marx’s social-democratic critics recognized a fundamental point that the great economist missed: that a better world was not inevitable, but achievable, and that their job was to bring that world into being through politics.”

And then there’s the movie, The Young Karl Marx, by the Haitian director Raoul Peck—who co-wrote the screenplay (with Pascal Bonitzer)—which I saw soon after it came out last fall. It’s very well done and with a first-rate cast, August Diehl, Stefan Konarske, Vicky Krieps—who play Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels, and Jenny Marx, respectively—all speaking back-and-forth the three languages of the film: German, English, and French.  Peck is a great director—his film on Patrice Lumumba is one of the best biopics I’ve seen—and probably only he could have pulled this one off, as it took a sophisticated knowledge of history and of Marx himself to make it—and which Peck possesses, having, entre autres, closely read Capital (and in the original) during his studies in economics at Berlin’s Humboldt University. No Hollywood director or screenwriter, it almost goes without saying, could have done so. My friend Guillaume Duval, editor-in-chief of Alternatives Économiques, had this spot-on reaction to the film, posted on Facebook last October

[J]’ai beaucoup aimé : on s’y croit vraiment et on comprend bien l’époque et en particulier le formidable internationalisme qui prévalait alors bien qu’il n’y ait ni téléphone ni internet, ainsi que la dynamique qui a lié Marx et Engels pour la vie. Les personnages de Marx et d’Engels, bien sûr, mais aussi ceux de Jenny et de Mary, la femme d’Engels, ont beaucoup d’épaisseur.

Et qu’est-ce que cet hymne à la révolte contre l’ordre établi et l’injustice fait comme bien en ces temps où Guizot-Macron nous saoule de nouveau sur le thème “enrichissez-vous”…

The New Statesman’s Suzanne Moore got it right in her review of the pic, “The Young Karl Marx is a sparky retelling of the build up to The Communist Manifesto.” Trailer is here.

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On neoliberalism

[update below]

Everyone is against neoliberalism. If there is anyone with the slightest politically progressive inclination who is not, I would like to know his or her name. If one is for neoliberalism, that makes one ipso facto not progressive. On the other side of the barricade. De l’autre bord. The term is tossed around a lot, though—a little too much, in fact—and particularly the further left on the spectrum one travels. It lacks precision. Gauchistes will censoriously label as “neoliberal” the most modest, tentative reform of a totally Étatiste economy. This is not right IMHO. Now Dani Rodrik, who requires no identification for AWAV readers, has a terrific “long read” essay in The Guardian, dated November 14th, that clears up the matter, “The fatal flaw of neoliberalism: it’s bad economics.” The lede: “Neoliberalism and its usual prescriptions—always more markets, always less government—are in fact a perversion of mainstream economics.”

Voilà, c’est tout.

UPDATE: Kemal Derviş has a typically smart piece (Nov. 14th) in Project Syndicate, “Democracy beyond the nation state,” that takes off from Dani Rodrik’s latest book, Straight Talk on Trade: Ideas for a Sane World Economy.

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With the Olympics Games underway, those watching will be hearing numerous national anthems. Having followed the games myself over the decades, plus other international sporting events (World Cup, etc), I’ve heard a lot of anthems. Most make no impression on me but a few are really nice, even beautiful. So on the occasion of the Olympics here’s my personal Top 10, with the best renditions I found on the Internet. I can see why patriotic sentiments are stirred in nationals of the listed countries when hearing their anthem. Even I’m moved by most of them. Voilà:

10. SPAIN: Marcha Real


9. ITALY: Il Canto degli Italiani


8: NETHERLANDS: Het Wilhelmus


7. ISRAEL: Hatikva


6: UNITED KINGDOM: God Save the Queen


5. INDIA: Jana Gana Mana


4: RUSSIA: Gosudarstvenný gimn Rossijskoj Federací


3. SOUTH AFRICA: Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika—Die Stem van Suid-Afrika


2. GERMANY: Deutschlandlied


1. FRANCE: La Marseillaise


I’ve said it countless times and will say it again: La Marseillaise is the greatest national anthem in the world. The version linked to above—with the first three stanzas, sung at the end of last month’s Bastille Day parade, at the Place de la Concorde—may be the best I’ve ever heard (and with accompanying video). Here’s another version, which people will be familiar with. N.B. The version of the German anthem linked to includes the now taboo first stanza (only the third is officially sung), but the video is great. As for the Indian anthem, one will almost never hear it at an international sporting event—cricket and field hockey excepted—which is too bad, as it’s beautiful. The great Russian anthem: the video I linked to is a tad kitschy, as one will note. The South African: this one really moves me (the first part at least).

If the European Union were a nation, its anthem, Ode to Joy, would definitely make the Top 10.

Likewise with L’Internationale, which, if it were the anthem of a nation, would also be near the top.

Algeria’s Kassaman: the score and cadence are too martial for my taste.

And The Star-Spangled Banner? It’s okay. Doesn’t particularly move me, though. I am not filled with frissons patriotiques when I hear it. It would probably make my Top 20 but definitely doesn’t the Top 10.

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[update below] [2nd update below]

He died on Monday, at age 63, after a three-year battle with pancreatic cancer. He was the longtime executive director (1986-2013) of the Washington/Takoma Park-based Nuclear Information and Resource Service, whose singular issue is the fight against nuclear power—and for which he received a lifetime achievement award from fourteen environmental and anti-nuclear organizations. But that’s not why I am paying tribute to him. Michael was one of my closest friends in college—Antioch College, in Yellow Springs, Ohio—and since my freshman year in 1975. We spent a lot of time hanging out together during those years, not only on campus but also as housemates on internships (co-op jobs, they were called at Antioch), in Washington and Berkeley. He was always good-natured and always had a smile on his face when he saw me, as if he was always happy to see me. One doesn’t forget things like that. And he was a loyal friend in addition to being a good one. After graduation he moved to Washington (his hometown), where I saw him regularly through the 1980s and into the ’90s. His home was always open to me, with him and his first wife, Lynn—also a longtime activist in environmental issues—accommodating me no problem when I was passing through town or needed a place to stay while looking for my own.

Politically, Michael was naturally on the left but had no use for the Marxism—and its Leninist variants—that was in vogue among leftists during our college days—and to which I adhered for a brief period. He was allergic to ideologically driven activism, to anything that reeked of dogmatism, and to hair-splitting polemics over fine points of doctrine. Michael was the eternal soixante-huitard, whose gauchisme was festive and libertaire—and always pragmatic when it came to working within the “system”: electoral politics, supporting Democratic Party candidates, lobbying legislators, working the media, and the like. In his political world-view—and also sunny personality—he bore a striking resemblance to Daniel Cohn-Bendit. And I wouldn’t be surprised if they indeed met, on one of Michael’s anti-nuke organizing campaigns in Europe (mainly in former communist countries; he’s the one person I know who managed to visit Chernobyl).

Michael’s big passion apart from his anti-nuclear activism was music, specifically 1960s-70s (hard) rock. On this, our tastes overlapped though did not always coincide. In the late ’70s he and friends of his founded a punk rock/new wave band, Tru Fax & the Insaniacs, which did weekend gigs, mainly in and around DC (Michael having to give it up after he fell ill). I saw them once, in their very early years. They were a hoot. Michael proudly told me at the time that a local paper had proclaimed Tru Fax to be “the worst band in the Washington metropolitan area” (which Michael thought was hilarious, and with the band using the line in its promotional material). Michael was indeed known to famous musicians for his anti-nuke work, e.g. see this tribute to him from Bonnie Raitt, Jackson Browne, and Graham Nash. He would have been more than thrilled had he also received one from Patti Smith—whom he turned me on to back in ’76—and the Jefferson Airplane’s Grace Slick, who was one of his favorites (and we did see her in concert that same year, at the Capital Centre in Landover MD). With that, I will leave Michael with this cool Arabic rendition of ‘White Rabbit’, by the Lebanese singer Mayssa Karaa.

For anyone in the DC area who knew Michael, there will be a party to celebrate his life tomorrow, May 19th, at Busboys and Poets in Hyattsville MD, from 4 to 8 PM.

UPDATE: The Washington Post and New York Times have obituaries of Michael here and here.

2nd UPDATE: The Progressive magazine has a tribute in Michael’s memory here.

Tru Fax & the Insaniacs (circa 1979)

Tru Fax & the Insaniacs (circa 1979)

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Leila Alaoui, R.I.P.

Leila Alaoui

I didn’t know of her until last Friday, when I learned via social media that she had been one of the victims of the Al-Qaida terrorist attack in Ouagadougou. She was in front of the café facing the hotel that was the terrorists’ target, that they raked with machine gun fire, just as the ISIS terrorists did at the cafés and restaurants in Paris’ 10th and 11th arrondissements last November 13th. Massacring people because they happened to be there. It was reported that Leila had survived, been rushed to a hospital in the city, and was out of danger. But yesterday it was announced that she had died. She was 33-years-old, Franco-Moroccan, and an accomplished professional photographer (see here and her website here). She was in Burkina Faso to do photography for Amnesty International. At least five friends and persons with whom I am friendly knew her personally—were friends of hers—and there are no doubt more. This has been all over my social media news feed today. People are shattered by her death and, though I didn’t know her myself, I am quite affected by it myself. What a loss. And a crime. I was already affected by the Ouagadougou attack before learning about Leila—as a terrorist outrage of this nature hits close to home for me—and am now that much more so. And with my sentiments—shared by countless others—reinforced that ISIS, Al-Qaida in all its forms, and others of the ilk (Boko Haram, Somali Al-Shabaab, etc, etc) need to be exterminated. Eradicated from the face of the earth. The New York Times has an obituary of Leila here. Thanks to Ammar Abd Rabbo for the photo of Leila below.

UPDATE: Le Monde’s obituary has more information on Leila, who lived between Paris, Marrakesh, and Beirut. The Amnesty International project that she was in Burkina Faso for was a documentary on violence against women. As fate would have it, she was in Paris last November 13th and in New York City on 9/11. She could have possibly survived had she been tended to in a more advanced medical facility than exists in Burkina Faso.


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Susanne Hoeber Rudolph & Lloyd I. Rudolph

Susanne Hoeber Rudolph & Lloyd I. Rudolph

[update below]

It is with sadness that I learned of the death, on December 23rd, of Susanne Hoeber Rudolph, professor emerita of political science at the University of Chicago, one of my main professors there as a graduate student, and a member of my dissertation committee. Susanne and her husband Lloyd—who survives her—were a pillar of the U. of Chicago’s political science department, where they taught for almost forty years before retiring early in the last decade. They were major political scientists—Susanne was a past president of APSA and the Association for Asian Studies—and among the world’s leading academic specialists of India (politics, history, civilization, everything). Their 1967 The Modernity of Tradition: Political Development in India is one of the most important books in political science published on that country. They knew India better than anyone one will meet in the academy, spending every fourth year there—Jaipur was their base—throughout their careers.

I speak of Susanne and Lloyd together and in the plural by reflex, as they were lifelong partners in scholarship, as in just about everything else (and they looked, at least by others, to be the perfect married couple); to know one was to know the other and equally. Almost all of their numerous books and countless articles were authored together (one that was widely read outside the academic world was their March 22nd 1993 essay in The New Republic, “Modern Hate: How Ancient Animosities Get Invented,” written at the height of the civil war in the ex-Yugoslavia). Their personalities were different, as were their professorial styles—they did not co-teach courses—but were complementary (and obviously perfectly compatible). And they were such nice people, and so appreciated by their students, colleagues, and everyone else who knew them. And so cultivated; intellectuals of their breadth, depth, and caliber are rare in my generation, not to mention the younger ones.

The last book the Rudolphs published, in 2014, Destination India: From London Overland to India, is one that will interest those who are not specialists of India or inclined to read a book about it. They tell the story of their 1956 overland trip to India in a Land Rover (she was 26, he 29), starting in Germany and driving through Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. Paved roads ended soon after crossing the Bosphorus and did not resume until the Grand Trunk Road east of Kabul. Now I have not yet read the book but heard the story in detail from them one evening at their second home in Bernard, Vermont, where I visited them with my wife in 1993. It sounded like an amazing trip indeed.

Jenny Rudolph has a tribute to her mother on the website of the Indian weekly magazine Outlook and Ananya Vajpeyi, of the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies in Delhi, has authored the obituary of Susanne in The Hindu.

UPDATE: On January 16th—twenty-four days after Susanne’s death—Lloyd Rudolph passed away. Here’s his obituary in UChicago News.


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