October 14, 2012

Posted by orrinj at 6:58 PM


Who's 'Politicizing' Benghazi?  : It was Obama who chose to blame a national humiliation on an obscure YouTube video. (Mark Steyn, 10/14/12, National Review)

'The entire reason that this has become the political topic it is is because of Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan."

Thus, Stephanie Cutter, President Obama's deputy campaign manager, speaking on CNN about an armed attack on the 9/11 anniversary that left a U.S. consulate a smoking ruin and killed four diplomatic staff, including the first American ambassador to be murdered in a third of a century. To discuss this event is apparently to "politicize" it and to distract from the real issues the American people are concerned about. For example, Obama spokesperson Jen Psaki, speaking on board Air Force One on Thursday: "There's only one candidate in this race who is going to continue to fight for Big Bird and Elmo, and he is riding on this plane."

She's right! The United States is the first nation in history whose democracy has evolved to the point where its leader is provided with a wide-body transatlantic jet in order to campaign on the vital issue of public funding for sock puppets. Sure, Caligula put his horse in the senate, but it was a real horse. At Ohio State University, the rapper will.i.am introduced the president by playing the Sesame Street theme tune, which oddly enough seems more apt presidential-walk-on music for the Obama era than "Hail to the Chief."

Obviously, Miss Cutter is right: A healthy mature democracy should spend its quadrennial election on critical issues like the Republican party's war on puppets rather than attempting to "politicize" the debate by dragging in stuff like foreign policy, national security, the economy, and other obscure peripheral subjects.

Posted by orrinj at 11:04 AM


What Women Comedians Want (Allison Yarrow, Oct 14, 2012, Daily Beast)

To be funny, like men.

Posted by orrinj at 9:44 AM


Q&A : The Price of Politics: When Bob Woodward Went Looking for a Leader : Bob Woodward went looking for leadership on fiscal issues. He didn't find it. (Billy House, October 11, 2012, National Journal)

NJ The book mentions that, deep down, the president's got a "Blue Dog" streak--that he's kind of a moderate who is locked politically into a fiscal philosophy that really is not his.

WOODWARD Yeah. I thought of calling this book The Divided Man because he's very smart and absorbs the arguments on both sides. Obama understands that we've got to cut things but also is a progressive Democrat, so the Divided Man looms large. And, so you see, he is trying to fix these things in negotiations. But he never carries it over the finish line.

NJ Is that a lack of will or a lack of needed support from the Democratic side of the aisle?

WOODWARD I talked to [Senate Minority Leader] Mitch McConnell about this, and he's saying on the super committee that the leader of the Democratic Party is not [Senate Majority Leader] Harry Reid; it's the president. And the president just stayed away from the super committee. They should have worked that out, and he presumably could have used his leverage. Now, he didn't. He called [committee Chairs] Patty Murray once, and he called Jeb Hensarling once.

NJ Throughout these fiscal discussions, Obama's intensity would vary?

WOODWARD He never kind of called everyone in and said, "We've got to do this. We've got to do something here." It was kind of Nicorettes and merlot with Boehner. But if a president insists on getting something done, it generally will get done. Look at Bush and the invasion of Iraq. Boehner and the Republicans are also responsible. They didn't work with one voice, to say the least. Just like Obama couldn't control Nancy Pelosi and Harry Reid.

Posted by orrinj at 9:37 AM


'We're ready to walk out on Europe': Prime Minister's closest ally Michael Gove sparks EU furore with dramatic admission (SIMON WALTERS, 13 October 2012, Daily Mail)

Education Secretary Michael Gove has told friends that, if there was a referendum today on whether the UK should cut its ties with Brussels, he would vote to leave.

He wants Britain to give other EU nations an ultimatum: 'Give us back our sovereignty or we will walk out.' 

Mr Gove insists the UK could thrive as a free trading nation on its own, like other non-EU nations in Europe such as Norway and Switzerland. He has changed his view partly as a result of his fury at Brussels meddling which has held up his school reforms.

Mr Gove, one of the Prime Minister's closest confidants, has discussed his views in detail with Mr Cameron. In an anti-EU pincer movement by the two Tory allies, Mr Cameron will formally announce later this month the first major step towards grabbing back powers from Brussels.

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Posted by orrinj at 8:54 AM


The Tocquevillean Moment . . . and Ours (Wilfred M. McClay, Summer 2012, Wilson Quarterly)

The Tocquevillean moment involves the ways in which we come to terms, not only as individuals but also as citizens and societies, with whatever fatal circle our times and conditions have drawn around us.

How did Tocqueville believe that the Americans of his day managed to counter the dangerous aspects of democracy and create a free and vibrant society? He located a number of factors. He credited the pervasive influence of religion in American life, noting to his astonishment the ways  in which religion served to support democratic values and free institutions. He applauded Americans for their talent in forming voluntary associations, and for their decentralized federal institutions, both of which tended to disperse power and encourage the involvement of citizens in the activity of governing themselves.

But more than anything else, Tocqueville praised Americans for their embrace of the principle of self-interest rightly understood. It was a foregone conclusion, in his view, that self-interest had replaced virtue as the chief force driving human action. To tell an American to do virtuous things for virtue's sake, or at the authoritative direction of priests, prelates, or princes, was futile. But the same request would readily be granted if real benefits could be shown to flow from it. The challenge of moral philosophy in such an environment was to demonstrate how "private interest and public interest meet and amalgamate," and how one's devotion to the general good could also promote one's personal advantage. Belief in that conjunction--that one could do well by doing good--was exactly what was meant by the "right understanding" of self-interest.

Hence, it was imperative to educate democratic citizens in this understanding, to teach them how to reason their own way to acceptance of the greater good. The American example made Tocqueville hopeful that the modern principle of self-interest could be so channeled, hedged about, habituated, and clothed as to produce public order and public good, even in the absence of "aristocratic" sources of authority. But it would not happen of its own accord.

"Enlighten them, therefore, at any price." Or, as another translation expresses it, "Educate them, then." Whatever else we may believe about the applicability of Tocqueville's ideas to the present day, we can be in no doubt that he was right in his emphasis upon education. But not just any kind of education.  He was talking about what we call liberal education, in the strictest sense of the term, an education that makes men and women capable of the exercise of liberty, and equips them for the task of rational self-governance. And the future of that ideal of education is today very much in doubt.

...and why it has nothing to do with preparing kids for jobs.  


Posted by orrinj at 8:41 AM


Inequality and Its Perils : Emerging research suggests that the growing gap between rich and poor harms the U.S. economy by creating instability and suppressing growth. (Jonathan Rauch, September 28, 2012, National Journal)

Different economists suggest different pathways by which inequality at the microeconomic level might cause macroeconomic problems. What follows is a composite story based on common elements.

As with supply-side, the case starts with the two extreme ends of a curve. Supply-siders pointed out that two tax rates produce no revenue: zero percent and 100 percent. Inequality traces an analogous curve. At both extremes of inequality--either perfect inequality, where a single person receives all the income, or perfect equality, where rewards and incentives cannot exist--an economy won't function. So, Moss said, "the question is: Where are the break points in between?"

Suppose various changes (globalization, technology, increased demand for skills, deregulation, financial innovation, the rising premium on superstar talent--take your pick) drove most of the economy's income gains to the few people at the top. The rich save--that is, invest--15 to 25 percent of their income, Stiglitz writes, whereas those on the lower rungs consume most or all of their income and save little or nothing. As the country's earnings migrate toward the highest reaches of the income distribution, therefore, you would expect to see the economy's mix of activity tip away from spending (demand) and toward investment.

That is fine up to a point, but beyond that, imbalances may arise. As Christopher Brown, an economist at Arkansas State University, put it in a pioneering 2004 paper, "Income inequality can exert a significant drag on effective demand." Looking back on the two decades before 1986, Brown found that if the gap between rich and poor hadn't grown wider, consumption spending would have been almost 12 percent higher than it actually was. That was a big enough number to have produced a noticeable macroeconomic impact. Stiglitz, in his book, argues that an inequality-driven shift away from consumption accounts for "the entire shortfall in aggregate demand--and hence in the U.S. economy--today."

True, saving and spending should eventually re-equilibrate. But "eventually" can be a long time. Meanwhile, extreme and growing inequality might depress demand enough to deepen and prolong a downturn, perhaps even turning it into a lost decade--or two.

So inequality might suppress growth. It might also cause instability.

Which is why the Third Way, which defines contributions instead of benefits, and Neoconomics seek to turn even the poor into savers/investors.
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Posted by orrinj at 8:34 AM


Shining Night: A Portrait of Composer Morten Lauridsen (Robert R. Reilly, October 2012, Crisis)

I already knew that Lauridsen was articulate because I had interviewed him by phone several years ago about the stunningly beautiful Hyperion CD of his Lux Aeterna and other choral works.  When he wrote this piece in 1997, Lauridsen was facing his mother's impending death. He told me, "I purposely chose those texts that had the recurring symbol of light." Lux Aeterna is not a liturgical work, strictly speaking, but it is the sacred in sound because beauty of this sort is sacramental.  In style, Lauridsen was inspired by Renaissance master Josquin des Pres.  He not only draws upon Renaissance forms, he remains true to them, albeit with some modern harmonies. "I did try to create a very beautiful piece," he said.  "We try to get to that point beyond words."

Also on this CD is an exquisitely beautiful and moving Ave Maria. I have seldom encountered anything so suffused with love for Mary.  When I asked Lauridsen, a Protestant, about this, he responded, "I don't have to belong to the Catholic Church to be in love with Mary."

In the Wall Street Journal, Lauridsen stated something else that I cherish. He explained what he was trying to achieve in his sublime choral work, O Magnum Mysterium, also contained on the Hyperion CD.  "In composing music to these inspirational words about Christ's birth and the veneration of the Virgin Mary," he said, "I sought to impart ... a transforming spiritual experience within what I call 'a quiet song of profound inner joy.' I wanted this piece to resonate immediately and deeply into the core of the listener, to illumine through sound."  As St. Augustine said, only the lover sings such songs.  If you want to hear what St. Augustine meant, you might also listen to this music.

You also might--no, must--see Shining Night
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Posted by orrinj at 8:28 AM


What Should Children Read? (Russell Kirk, 1979, Crisis)

Were I compelled to name just one book that all children must read, I should reply, Pinocchio--which Collodi (whose real name was Lorenzini) wrote just a century ago. It is readily available in inexpensive editions. Some children will have had this read to them when they were quite small, but it will do them good to read it afresh for themselves at age six or seven. The malicious Fox and Cat are many children's first lesson about evil--and, in our bent world, ignorance of evil is not bliss in this year of Our Lord.

Were I asked what children's books have charmed me longest, I should answer, Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass. Lewis Carroll is as wondrously comical now as he was in Victoria's reign, and his miniature theater of the absurd, so impossible, nevertheless somehow introduces a child to firm knowledge of reality.

Were you to inquire of me what author of children's literature moves me most as an adult, I would tell you, "George MacDonald." He immensely influenced G. K. Chesterton and C. S. Lewis, among many others. Don't fail to give your children At the Back of the North Wind, The Princess and the Goblin, The Princess and Curdle, The Golden Key, and MacDonald's other books for the young, all of which also teach adults.

Were the question put to me, 'What children's author of our century has had the healthiest influence upon the rising generation?" I should tell you, "C.S. Lewis." Get his Chronicles of Narnia, seven volumes, beginning with The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, and ending with The Last Battle. These make up a children's parable of the Christian understanding of the human condition. Incidentally, most of the better books for children have been written by people who ordinarily write for adults.

Should you want to know how to teach courage and fidelity to children through literature, I would commend to you some very old books and some very new ones. Among the old, I would have you turn to the legends of King Arthur and his Table Round, in Sidney Lanier's version or Howard Pyle's.  (And don't forget Pyle's own Book of Pirates and his Jack Ballister's Fortunes).  Among the new books there stand eminent Tolkien's fantasies, beginning with The Hobbit: Frodo does live. Older boys, and some girls, will be ready for Tolkien's three-volume Lord of the Rings, with all its sorcery and derring-do in Middle Earth. When I was in the sixth grade, I took for my models of manliness the heroes of Stevenson's Treasure Island and Kidnapped. The anti-hero may dominate adult fiction in our time, but the hero still strides triumphant in children's books.

Am I forgetting girls? Perish that thought! Our daughters' favorite book, I find, is Frances Hodgson Burnett's The Secret Garden--which I never encountered until my own little girls introduced me to that convincing tale of pathos and triumph in the policies of an English country house. It is written with strong tenderness, and it teaches us how to rise above our vices, especially the ugly vice of self-pity. Another especial favorite with our Monica, Cecilia, Felicia, and Andrea (aged, at this writing, eleven, ten, eight, and three years) is Maurice Maeterlinck's Blue Bird, still available either as a play or a narrative, from which even small children learn that we must find our own ways to happiness, usually by brightening the corner where we are. (It is a pleasure to act out The Blue Bird, with tiny dolls and the Palace of Night constructed of building-blocks: your children will love you always if you work out that play with them).

Am I omitting American authors? Well, let me start with Nathaniel Hawthorne, especially commending for this age-level his Wonder Book and his Tanglewood Tales, which are ancient myths delightfully retold. As for Mark Twain, boys and girls will like The Prince and the Pauper and Tom Sawyer; Huckleberry Finn, grim in part, is not fully appreciated until later years. For a touch of this land south of Mason's and Dixon's line, take Emma Speed Sampson's Miss Minerva and William Green Hill, and its companion volumes; and, of course, Joel Chandler Harris' narratives told by Uncle Remus.

Do I seem too old fangled? Then permit me to offer you some very recent writers. Late did I myself discover the persuasive realism of Mary Norton's The Borrowers (four volumes, and would that there were forty!), all about a race of tiny human folk who live under floors, in old shoes, and behind lath-and-plaster partitions. (Swift's Gulliver's Travels, by the way, distinctly is a mordant work for adults, except in expurgated editions; but Mistress Masham's Repose, by T. H. White of The Once and Future King, gives us twentieth-century descendants of the Lilliputians). Young readers will enjoy Roald Dahl's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and James and the Giant Peach; adults, incidentally, will take to his collection The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar and Six More. The more advanced sixth-graders will understand well Madeleine L'Engle's trilogy (influenced by C. S. Lewis) A Wrinkle in Time, Wind in the Door, and A Swiftly Tilting Planet--science-fiction, but more than science-fiction, for young folk with developing awareness of the marvelous intricacy of existence. Most of Ray Bradbury's readers are in high school or college, but some of our present age-group will relish a number of Bradbury's short stories and his Martian Chronicles.

Am I jumbling together writers of strangely different approaches and times? I must admit that impeachment; but then, all lively children do that in their highly miscellaneous reading. 

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Posted by orrinj at 8:14 AM


The Greatest Fake-Art Scam in History? : One of his forgeries hung in a show at the Met. Steve Martin bought another of his fake paintings. Still others have sold at auction for multi-million-dollar prices. So how did a self-described German hippie pull off one of the biggest, most lucrative cons in art-world history? And how did he get nailed? (Joshua Hammer, October 2012, Vanity Fair)

Helene Beltracchi tells me that she discovered the truth about Wolfgang's secret career "the first or second day" of their relationship. They were at his home in Viersen, and she noticed the paintings of a number of famous 20th-century artists hanging on the walls. "I asked him, 'Are these all actually real?' . . . . And he said, 'They're all mine . . . I made them.' I said, 'So you're an art counterfeiter?' And he said, 'Exactly. That's my work. That's my métier.'"

Shortly after the revelation, Wolfgang asked Helene to become his accomplice. It was 1992, and after three years of art-market stagnation, prices were rising again, fueled by an influx of money from Japan. Wolfgang had decided to sell some fakes, and--having fallen out "over business matters" with his former partner Schulte-Kellinghaus--he needed a new go-between. "My husband said to me, 'Do you want to do something?'" Helene recalls. "I thought, Wow. Let me think about it. I knew what it was, that it was illegal." But she said yes. Soon afterward, she notified Lempertz, a high-end auction house in Cologne, that she had a painting for sale by the early-20th-century French Cubist Georges Valmier. "It was hanging on the wall [in Viersen], and they sent their expert," Helene remembers. "She looked for a few minutes, said it was wonderful, and then asked 'How much do you want for it?'" They settled on 20,000 deutsch marks. It was a modest amount, but as the art market heated up, the Beltracchis watched the pseudo-Valmier's value soar; a few years later it sold at auction in New York for $1 million.

Helene found her foray to the dark side exciting, and craved more. "The first time, it was like being in a movie," she says. "It was like it had nothing to do with me. It was another person--an art dealer, whom I was playing." She couldn't believe how easy it had been to dupe the auction house. "Normally, a person would think that these experts would study the painting and look for proof of its provenance. [The authenticator] asked two or three questions. She was gone in 10 minutes." (An attorney for Lempertz disputes Helene's version of events, but confirms that the auction house did indeed sell the painting.

Three years later, Helene introduced the art world to the "collection" she claimed to have inherited from her recently deceased industrialist grandfather, Werner Jägers, who had been born in Belgium but made his fortune in Cologne. Jägers was indeed Helene's maternal grandfather; he had abandoned her grandmother after World War II, Helene says, and she had only a single brief encounter with him, shortly before his death in 1992 at age 80. The story she told gallery owners and collectors was that one of Jägers's friends in the 1920s and 30s had been a well-known Jewish art dealer and collector named Alfred Flechtheim. In 1933, months after Adolf Hitler came to power, Flechtheim fled into exile in Paris, and the Nazis seized his galleries in Düsseldorf and Berlin. But just before this, according to Helene, Flechtheim sold many works at bargain-basement prices to Jägers, who hid them in his country home in the Eifel mountains, near Cologne, safe from Nazi plundering.

In fact, though Jägers and Flechtheim were prewar neighbors in Cologne, their paths almost certainly never crossed; Jägers was 34 years younger than Flechtheim and would have been just out of his teens when he allegedly amassed his art collection; moreover, according to Helene, he was a member of the Nazi Party in the 1930s and was thus unlikely to have been an admirer of "degenerate" art and good friends with a Jewish art dealer. But those details were never questioned by art-world experts. Helene says that she came up with the fake history on the spot after a Christie's expert asked her to explain the provenance of Girl with Swan, purportedly by Heinrich Campendonk. "I hadn't planned anything," she insists. But the Jägers story "made sense. My grandfather had his business in Cologne. Flechtheim had a gallery in Cologne. My grandfather lived in Krefeld, and so did the artist. So I could easily say they were all connected." To lend her account credibility, Wolfgang staged a black-and-white photograph of Helene impersonating her grandmother, Josefine Jägers. Wearing a black dress and a strand of pearls, "Josefine" posed in front of several paintings from the "Jägers collection." The photo was slightly out of focus, and printed on prewar developing paper.

Girl with Swan featured prominently in a Christie's auction of German and Austrian art in October 1995. In the catalogue, Campendonk expert Andrea Firmenich praised the artist's use of color and Christie's notified its customers that Firmenich had confirmed the work's authenticity. To bolster his hoax, Wolfgang Beltracchi had pasted on the back of the frame, for the first time, a label from the "Sammlung Flechtheim"--the Flechtheim Collection. The label displayed a caricature of Alfred Flechtheim, the Jewish collector who had supposedly provided Jägers with so many paintings. Christie's dutifully identified in its auction catalogue the provenance of Girl with Swan as "Alfred Flechtheim, Düsseldorf; Werner Jägers, Cologne." It was sold for £67,500--at the time, more than $100,000. "This was a highly unusal case," Christie's responded when asked about this incident and the Beltracchi case more broadly, adding "We have taken all appropriate steps to resolve this matter."'

In 1995, the past threatened to catch up to Wolfgang Beltracchi. As subsequently reported in the German newsmagazine Der Spiegel, a scientific investigation initiated in Munich by the buyer of a purported Molzahn called Erigone und Maira had determined that that painting, and two others, were counterfeit; one, called Linear Color Composition, supposedly painted in the early 1920s, contained a pigment invented only in 1957. Police suspected that Beltracchi and Schulte-Kellinghaus had been involved in selling those fraudulent works. Because the five-year statute of limitations had run out, however, they could summon them only as material witnesses in an investigation that focused instead on the Berlin art dealer who had handled the sales of the bogus Molzahns. In mid-1996, the police brought Schulte-Kellinghaus in for questioning, and began looking for Beltracchi.

That July, the Beltracchis abruptly sold their house in Viersen for $1.7 million, purchased a Winnebago, repainted the interior pink and turquoise, and headed for Spain, then the South of France. Years later, Wolfgang claimed he'd made the move because he and Helene's then two-year-old daughter, Franziska, was ailing and needed a change of air. "We weren't running away," he tells me, although conveniently, they informed hardly anyone of their final destination. A neighbor in Viersen told the police only that they had gone "to travel around the world." As far as the German police were concerned, Beltracchi had vanished.

The Beltracchis parked their Winnebago at a campground in Marseillan, beside the Bay of Thau, famed for its oyster beds, and quickly drew around them a circle of artists, writers, and other creative types. Michel Torres, a teacher in Marseillan, met Wolfgang for the first time at the local school. "He showed up in an enormous camping car, and he said, 'My son doesn't speak a word of French. Can you help him out?'" Torres recalls. "I knew all the painters in the area, and I started introducing him around." Two years later, Beltracchi purchased a dilapidated 1858 farmhouse and hired Pierre Malbos, a carpenter, blacksmith, and furniture restorer, to make doors and windows. Malbos was entranced by Wolfgang's roguish charm. "He had a hat and a flowery shirt and long flowing blond hair. . . . He told me stories about smoking dope, riding around on a Harley, hanging out with the U.S. troops," Malbos says. "He struck me as a person who had always lived . . . on the borderline."

The Beltracchis clearly had a lot of money, though they remained vague about its origins. They spent much of their time browsing in local galleries and antique shops, landscaping their garden, and entertaining in restaurants or on the terrace of their villa. "I think his attitude was, I don't want to work too hard, but I want to be rich," says Malbos. "They knew how to live well, and they were generous. . . . We would take weekend trips to Barcelona, visit museums, buy antique furniture." Michel Torres sometimes joined the family on vacations--including a stay in an 18-room rented villa with an Olympic-size swimming pool, nestled on the slopes of a jungle-covered mountain overlooking the sea, on the Caribbean island of Guadeloupe. The Beltracchis remained there for six months, says Torres, sailing, scuba diving, and sunning themselves on the beach.

Their French estate, Domaine des Rivettes, became the Beltracchis' passion. On a windswept February afternoon, Torres took me around the property, in the heart of the wine country of Languedoc. We wandered through neatly planted rows of cypress trees, vineyards, and olive groves--and stopped to admire a sculpture garden and a pond filled with Japanese koi. "When they moved in here, this was all a swamp, a big mess," Torres said. Beltracchi had installed a small mausoleum on the property because, he told his friend Pierre, "I want to be buried here." We entered the main house through a cobblestone courtyard and walked into the couple's sunlit master bedroom, tiled with pink and beige Burgundian sandstone. Nothing had been disturbed since the Beltracchis' last visit, in the summer of 2010, with German translations of Patricia Highsmith, a Led Zeppelin CD, and DVDs of Ice Age and Ocean's 13 strewn across nightstands beside a four-poster bed. On the walls hung large, colorful canvases by a local artist named André Cervera, whom Beltracchi had helped promote. Two flights up was Beltracchi's atelier, where he painted his forgeries. "I never saw him do any of them," Torres insisted. The wood-beamed studio was dominated by a work in progress, signed by Beltracchi himself: The Fall of the Angels, reminiscent of bad underground comic-book art, which depicted a blood-soaked seraph plummeting to Earth, against a sea of tortured faces. "It's an enormous project; it took him two years to do this," Torres told me, gazing with admiration. I found the painting almost impossible to look at.

The Beltracchis lived like country squires at the Domaine des Rivettes. The art market was booming, and Wolfgang needed to sell only two or three forgeries a year to support the couple's extravagant lifestyle (though sometimes, in a burst of activity, he would dash off five paintings in a week). Beltracchi would typically spend a couple of hours on a painting, he told me; sometimes "two days," if it was a large canvas. Then Helene, her sister, Jeanette Spurzem, or Otto Schulte-Kellinghaus, who had rejoined his old friend, would deliver the paintings to Christie's, Sotheby's, Lempertz, and other houses for the spring and fall auctions.

Wolfgang, says his wife, had an almost "autistic" sense of how to imitate an artist's technique. But he also, she insists, prepared himself. "He reads about the artist, travels to where he lived, steeps himself in the literature. He's like an actor." Wolfgang explains: "You have to know about the artist's past, present, and future. You have to know how the painter moved and how much time it took him to complete a work." However, it seems that Beltracchi sometimes employed a simpler method. Aya Soika, a Berlin-based specialist in the German Expressionist Max Pechstein, says that Beltracchi used a projector to cast images of Pechstein watercolors and ink drawings onto canvas, then traced larger copies, using oil paint. (Beltracchi disputes her claim.) "He altered the size, but the proportions were exactly the same," says Soika, who examined two fake Pechsteins, Seine Bridge with Freight Barges and Reclining Nude with Cat.

By the early 2000s, Beltracchi's fakes were selling at auction to collectors for the high six figures, sometimes more. Steve Martin paid $860,000 in 2004 for a counterfeit Campendonk called Landscape with Horses, then sold it through Christie's 18 months later at a $240,000 loss, still unaware that he'd been in possession of a fake. In 2007, a French gallery sold Portrait of a Woman with Hat, a semi-nude allegedly by the Dutch Fauvist painter Kees van Dongen, to a wealthy Dutch collector, Willem Cordia, for $3.8 million. Other forgeries wound up in the hands of galleries, museums, and private collectors in places as far flung as Tokyo and Montevideo, Uruguay. In addition to imitating the works of second-tier Expressionists and Cubists such as Louis Marcoussis, Oskar Moll, and Moïse Kisling Laurencin, Beltracchi embarked on a more dangerous business: forging the works of great artists such as Fernand Léger, Georges Braque, and Max Ernst. While they would command higher prices, these paintings also ran the risk of inviting closer scrutiny. Beltracchi says he was especially drawn to Ernst, because "physically, he resembled my father."

Despite the higher stakes, or perhaps because of them, art experts eagerly jumped on the bandwagon. Indeed, the Beltracchis often prophylactically secured statements of authenticity from leading authorities to quell potential doubts before offering the paintings to auction houses and galleries. Werner Spies, now 75, the former director of the modern-art museum at the Pompidou Center in Paris and the world's leading Max Ernst authority, made a pilgrimage to Domaine des Rivettes in early 2004 to inspect The Forest (2). The large canvas depicted a sun of concentric circles of red, blue, white, and yellow, rising over a coppice of cypress trees. Beltracchi had painted the large work in two days, employing the same method that Ernst often used: rubbing a spatula over blocks of rough wood, seashells, and other found objects that he had placed beneath the painted canvas. With Wolfgang making himself scarce--he never revealed himself to potential buyers or experts, he says--Helene escorted Spies into the couple's bedroom. The phony Ernst hung on the wall behind the bed. "Spies came in, took one look, and was overcome with excitement," Helene says. He declared that there was no doubt The Forest (2) was authentic.

Spies--who did not return e-mails or phone calls asking for comment--quickly put Helene in touch with a Swiss art dealer, who triumphantly sold Max Ernst's long-lost The Forest (2) to a company called Salomon Trading, for about €1.8 million, or $2.3 million. The painting passed to a Paris gallery, Cazeau-Béraudière, which sold it in 2006 to Daniel Filipacchi for $7 million. "The widow of Max Ernst [Dorothea Tanning, who died this past January] saw the painting and said that it was the most beautiful picture that Max Ernst had ever painted," Helene gloats today. She and Wolfgang were amazed by the gullibility of those they had duped, says Helene. "We're still laughing about it."

Posted by orrinj at 8:09 AM


Castles in Space : Much more than mere escape (Michael Dirda, American Scholar)

The other day, while roaming through the book-sale room at a local library, I spotted eight or nine issues of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. All of them were from the early 1960s, with the muted, matte covers of that era, most of them with illustrations by the late Ed Emsh (whose wife, Carol Emshwiller, is one of the greatest living writers of fantasy and sf). Each digest originally cost 40 cents, but now--50 years later--they were only a quarter apiece, and I bought them all.

For me, such magazines resemble Proust's madeleines: they are vehicles of sweet memory, bibliophilic time machines. An old joke goes: What is the golden age of science fiction? Answer: 12. Back in 1960, when the earliest of these newly acquired issues of F&SF first appeared, I would have been 12.

The early 1960s weren't just the heyday of science fiction digests. Corner drugstore racks were crowded with weekly or monthly issues of Life, True, Mad, 16, The Saturday Review, The Saturday Evening Post, Modern Romance, True Confessions, Reader's Digest, Popular Mechanics, and Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, among many others. People read a lot of periodicals in those days. Not anymore. For genre fiction these are especially tough times, even though the short story has always been its best showcase.

Presented for your consideration, as Rod Serling used to say in his introduction to that era's The Twilight Zone, these eight issues of F&SF. I count at least four modern classics: Theodore Sturgeon's novella "When You Care, When You Love," Avram Davidson's "The Sources of the Nile," Ray Bradbury's "Death and the Maiden," and Joanna Russ's "My Dear Emily." The incomparable John Collier--best known for his collection Fancies and Goodnights, currently available as a New York Review Books paperback--is represented by a novelette "Man Overboard" and Robert Sheckley--whose funniest and most imaginative stories are also available in a volume from NYRB--contributes "The Girls and Nugent Miller."

There are also science articles by Dr. Isaac Asimov, book reviews from Damon Knight and Alfred Bester (author of that most seminal of modern sf novels, The Stars My Destination), even some examples of light verse by Brian Aldiss, not to overlook the silly punning stories of "Ferdinand Feghoot." Yet there are lots of real surprises here too. In the September 1960 issue appears "Goodbye," described as the first published story of Burton Raffel. Raffel would make his name not as a pulp fictioneer but as one of the most versatile and admired translators in the world, with a special interest in epic works such as The Nibelungenlied, The Divine Comedy, and Don Quixote.
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Posted by orrinj at 8:03 AM


Africa next: With investment outpacing aid, is this a new golden age for the poorest continent? (GEOFFREY YORK, 9/22/12, The Globe and Mail)

As investors and traders pour in, some of the poorest corners of the continent are being transformed. "Tomorrow's Africa is going to be an economic force," says a report from Goldman Sachs. KPMG trumpets the Africa story as "the rise of the phoenix."

Many factors have made this possible. After decades of stagnation, in recent years most African countries began to reform their economies. Wars, coups, political instability and disease have declined since the late 1990s. And rising commodity prices have lured investment in African resources.

Mobile technology is leapfrogging ahead (Africa has become one of the fastest-growing markets for Canadian firm Research in Motion's BlackBerry) and a new consumer class has been born. Multinational retailers are leaping in, and even Wal-Mart recently acquired a chain with nearly 300 stores in 14 African countries.

The prosperity of China has been a particular spark, with about 2,000 Chinese companies investing $32-billion in Africa by the end of 2010. Beijing's trade with Africa has soared from $2-billion to an incredible $166-billion in the past dozen years.

But what is the truth behind the hype? The Globe and Mail has spent months investigating the African boom, journeying from Congo and Burkina Faso to Liberia and Botswana, talking to everyone from miners and farmers to factory owners and chief executives.

The rise of Africa is an issue with huge ramifications for Canada, since it could affect how we tailor our foreign aid, how our mining and energy companies choose their next targets and where our manufacturers will find their future markets. Yet the realities are obscured by lingering clichés about Africa and an unwillingness to consider the social costs.

As foreign investment mounts, it often brings with it traumatic social dislocation and a distorted economy. The money often disappears into the pockets of a corrupt elite, while ordinary Africans see fewer benefits. Oil-rich countries such as Nigeria and Angola are the most extreme examples, where billions of dollars in oil revenue have gone into the foreign bank accounts of top officials, leaving most of their citizens poorer than ever.

It does not have to be this way. A few African countries, such as Botswana and Ghana, have carefully managed their resource revenue and transformed themselves into middle-income countries. Botswana has capitalized on its diamond mines by creating a fledgling industry in diamond sorting and processing, and it is increasingly seen as a model for the continent.

The small West African nation of Sierra Leone is seeing both the best and worst of the trend. Just a decade removed from an era of brutal warlords and blood diamonds, it is seeing its hopes rise dramatically. But, as in even the best-performing African countries, the boom threatens to create two solitudes, between the Sierra Leoneans who will be on the winning side and those who risk losing hold of what little security they already had.

Sierra Leone is one of the poorest countries on Earth. Most of its six million people survive on less than a dollar a day. Founded by British traders and freed colonial slaves in the 18th century, its capital, Freetown, is filled with vast slums built on the edge of huge smouldering garbage dumps. Children dodge among the smoke and flash fires to collect metal and plastic scraps for recycling.

Visitors to Freetown's beach restaurants are mobbed by war amputees who beg for a living. The city is plagued by power shortages. To reach it from the airport, visitors must take a rickety speedboat or an overcrowded ferry across an estuary. (Politicians keep promising a bridge and a new airport; nobody knows when they will be built.)

Yet Sierra Leone is also one of the world's fastest-rising economies. Its growth rate is projected to be a world-leading 34 per cent this year, according to the International Monetary Fund.

Posted by orrinj at 7:59 AM


Romney's Go-To Economist (DAVID SEGAL, 10/12/12, NY Times)

Mr. Hubbard received his master's and Ph.D. at Harvard and became a hugely productive scholar with a wide range of interests. Fellow conservatives view his work with pure reverence. From the left, you hear grudging caveats like, "He'll never win the Nobel Prize." He is best known for research in tax policy and government spending programs. One influential study quantified the major role that cash flow plays in driving corporations to invest.

"The lesson," says James Poterba, an economist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and an admirer of Mr. Hubbard, "is that if someone is looking for policy instruments that might raise investment, then lower corporate rates could do it because you change the current availability of cash for firms."

On behalf of the Romney campaign, Mr. Hubbard has argued that the Obama administration has "stuck the economy in a slow growth trap," as it was put in a recent position paper, "The Romney Program for Economic Recovery, Growth and Jobs," of which he was a co-author.

The way out of this trap, he and his co-authors wrote, is to reduce federal spending, cut marginal income tax rates by 20 percent across the board and gradually reduce the growth in Social Security and Medicare benefits for more affluent seniors. He would also like to repeal the Dodd-Frank financial legislation and the Affordable Care Act.

That paper, of course, is a campaign document, but if Mr. Hubbard has any differences with Mr. Romney on economic matters, he won't name them. "I support Governor Romney's economic program," he wrote when asked if his candidate had any taken positions he does not support.

If Mr. Hubbard becomes Treasury secretary, cutting taxes would very likely be his highest priority. Altering the tax code to encourage savings and bolster investment has been one of his favorite causes. While serving under President Bush as chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers, he pushed to reduce dividend taxes to zero. (Ultimately, the top tax rate on dividends was cut by more than half, to 15 percent.)

While Mitt Romney is hardly a revolutionary, a transition from taxing income/investment to taxing consumption, so that you force the sort of savings that enable you to reduce social welfare spending, would continue the revolution that W began.

Posted by orrinj at 7:46 AM


Prince Roy of Sealand (The Telegraph, 10/11/12)

Prince Roy of Sealand, who has died aged 91, was plain Roy Bates until, on Christmas Eve 1966, he established his own micro-nation on an abandoned wartime sea fort off the Suffolk coast and declared himself head of state.

A year earlier, on the nearby Knock John fortified tower in the North Sea, Bates had established Radio Essex, claiming it as Britain's first 24-hour pirate pop station, only to see it swiftly closed down by the Labour government.

After taking legal advice, Bates bought HM Fort Roughs, another derelict artillery installation, anchored to a sandbar just outside British territorial waters; but before he could revive his radio transmissions, the Marine Broadcasting (Offences) Act of 1967 outlawed the employment of British citizens by pirate stations. Embracing the ancient legal doctrine of jus gentium, Bates declared independence. Henceforth, he announced, he would be known as Prince Roy and his principality would be Sealand. He refurbished the platform, abandoned by the British military in the 1950s, and moved there with his wife and two children.

It was not long, however, before his bleak windswept hulk, with its twin towers of steel-reinforced concrete spanned by a 5,920 sq ft rusting iron platform some seven miles off Felixstowe, became not only res derelicta but terra nullius -- effectively disputed territory. When the rival Radio Caroline claimed the platform for itself, Bates and his crew repelled a boarding party with Molotov cocktails and warning shots.

In 1967 government ministers sent the military to destroy several other wartime forts that had been abandoned in international waters. Bates and his family watched as explosions sent the huge structures cartwheeling hundreds of feet in the air. Helicopters carrying explosives buzzed overhead, and from a Royal Navy tug carrying a demolition squad came shouts of "You're next!"

A year later, when the Royal Maritime auxiliary vessel Golden Eye passed close by, three warning shots were fired across her bow before she turned and raced for the shore. Bates was summonsed under the Firearms Act and in November 1968 appeared in the dock at Essex Assizes.

Amid much legal argument, statutes dating from the 17th century were cited. Summing up, the judge at Chelmsford remarked on "this swashbuckling incident perhaps more akin to the time of Sir Francis Drake", but decided that, since Sealand lay outside British territorial waters, the courts had no jurisdiction. As far as Bates was concerned, this was Sealand's first de facto recognition.

Posted by orrinj at 7:38 AM


Ohio Now Up for Grabs as Romney Closes the Gap (SAM YOUNGMAN, 10/14/12, Reuters)
Despite pundits and pollsters dismissing Romney's chances in the state in late September, the Republican is now either tied or just barely trailing Obama in Ohio ahead of the next presidential debate on Tuesday night. At an event with thousands of Ohioans on Friday night, Romney boasted of "a growing crescendo of enthusiasm." He has spoken to several large audiences in Ohio this week.

"(Obama's) campaign is about smaller and smaller things, and our campaign is about bigger and bigger crowds fighting for a bright future," he said on Saturday.
No Republican has ever won the presidency without winning Ohio. Romney looks determined to put the state in his win column in the November 6 election after it appeared nearly out of reach last month.

If he were to pick up the same number of seats that Reagan did, the GOP would be very close to the 60 necessary in the modern Senate.

Posted by orrinj at 7:35 AM


That Blurry Line Between Makers and Takers (TYLER COWEN, 10/13/12, NY Times)

People tend to think that they have justice on their side, whether it comes to making or taking.

For example, millions of homeowners have spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on the premise that the tax deduction for mortgages will be continued. If they support a continuation of that deduction they hardly feel like brigands, even though a bipartisan consensus of economists doubts the efficiency of this tax break.

As years and decades pass, recipients of this deduction and other benefits start to see them as deeply and richly deserved. Furthermore, almost all of us reap one or more of these benefits, so few individuals are consistently opposed to all government transfers.

It becomes difficult for a politician to articulate exactly what is wrong with this arrangement when the audience itself is in on the game and perhaps does not want to hear about its own takings.

Tea partiers didn't oppose government spending, just spending on others which might threaten their own welfare checks.

Posted by orrinj at 7:33 AM


Lenders granting more second mortgages as home values rise ( Kenneth R. Harney, October 14, 2012, LA Times)

If you have a pressing need to raise some cash, here's some good news: Rising home values are encouraging lenders to revive a product that imploded during the housing bust years -- second mortgages.

Researchers at Equifax, one of the three national credit bureaus, say total outstanding balances of second home mortgages at banks rose in the latest month for the first time in nearly five years. Though the blip was relatively small -- about three-tenths of a percent -- analysts say any increase in the amount of second mortgages is a bellwether event, indicating that major lenders are showing growing confidence that the real estate market has finally made the turn to recovery. The Federal Reserve recently reported that American homeowners' equity stakes rose $406 billion in the second quarter, a 5.9% increase over the previous quarter and the highest it has been since 2008.