Monday, May 31, 2010

The Path to Recovery

The Path to Recovery
May 7 2010
Richard Florida

Economic peaks and valleys are part of the life cycle of any society. They can be difficult, sometimes horribly painful, but just as trees shed their leaves in the fall to make room for the new growth of spring, economies reset themselves. Times of crisis reveal what is and isn't working. These are the times when obsolete and dysfunctional systems and practices collapse or fall by the wayside. They are the times when the seeds of innovation and invention, of creativity and entrepreneurship, burst into full flower, enabling recovery by remaking both the economy and society. Major periods of economic transformation, such as the Great Depression or the Long Depression of the 1870s before it, unfold over long stretches of time, like motion pictures rather than snapshots. Likewise, the path to recovery can be long and twisted--the better part of three decades in the case of those two previous crises. Seen in the greater context of history, economic crises inevitably give rise to critical periods in which an economy is remade in ways that allow it to recover and begin growing again. These are periods I call Great Resets.

We're still very early on in the current economic Reset, so it's difficult to fully grasp how it will ultimately play out. But we can all sense that our way of life is changing and our economic landscape is too. This emerging new way of life will be less oriented around cars, houses, and suburbs. We'll be spending relatively less on the things that defined the old way of life. We'll have to, if we expect to have money left over to sustain the new industries that will emerge in the Great Reset and usher in an age of renewed prosperity. Before we can nurture the new industries of the future, develop new forms of health care and biotechnologies, or even explore new forms of education or more experiential forms of entertainment and recreation, we first have to free up capital by producing the goods of the old industrial order more cheaply and efficiently.

We've reached the limits of what George W. Bush used to call the "ownership society." Owning your own home made sense when people could hope to hold a job for most or all of their lives. But in an economy that revolves around mobility and flexibility, a house that can't be sold becomes an economic trap, preventing people from moving freely to economic opportunity. Not only has that piece of the American Dream grown dark, but it's also clear that financial excess in the housing sector was one of the central causes of the economic crisis. Housing sucked up far too much of the nation's and the world's capital, and too many people--already overextended by the purchase of outsized houses--used those homes like virtual ATMs to finance carefree consumption. Every Great Reset has seen our system of housing change, and this one is no different. The rate of home ownership has been on the decline for some time now. Many of those who still choose to buy homes will choose smaller ones, while many more will opt for rental housing.

Our new way of life is likely to depend a whole lot less on the car. In October 2009, The New York Times reported, "The recession and a growing awareness of the environment are causing many people to reassess their automobile ownership. After more than a century in which an automobile represented the American dream, car enthusiasm may no longer be a part of Americans' DNA." Car culture no longer exerts the powerful pull it once did. More and more families are deciding to share cars, and young people are putting off buying them and using public transit, bikes, their feet or Zipcars (membership-based, easy-access short-term car rentals) instead. It's not just that oil and gas have become expensive, it's that traffic and gridlock have become a deadweight time cost on us and our economy.

One constant in the history of capitalism is the ever-more-intensive use of land, as mercantile towns replaced agricultural villages, major industrial cities replaced those towns, and massive complexes of suburbs, exurbs, and edge cites expanded the boundaries of those cities. The change we are living through is much more than a movement from suburbs to denser urban communities. What we are seeing is the rise of a new, bigger, and denser economic landscape than ever before--the rise of vast megaregions such as the corridors stretching from Boston to New York and Washington, D.C., around greater London, and from Shanghai to Beijing. These concentrations of population, which encompass several cities and their surrounding suburban rings, have grown swiftly in recent years.

The largest megaregion in North America is the great "Bos-Wash" corridor, initially identified by the geographer Jean Gottmann. Strecthing down the East Coast, it includes Boston, New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Washington, D.C., and is home to more than 50 million people while producing more than $2 trillion in economic activity. Its economic output is greater than that of either the United Kingdom or France and more than double that of India or Canada. The second biggest, which Gottman dubbed "Chi-Pitts," covers more than 100,000 square miles and is home to 46 million people, producing $1.6 trillion in economic output. Other megaregions in North America include:

•Char-lanta: Atlanta, Charlotte, and Raleigh-Durham, 22 million people
•So-Cal: Around Los Angeles, 21 million people
•Tor-Mon-tawa: 22 million people
•Nor-Cal: Around San Francisco, 12.8 million people
•So-Flo: Miami, Orlando, and Tampa, 15 million people
•Dal-Austin: Dallas and Austin, 10 million people
•Hou-Orleans: Houston and New Orleans, 9.7 million people
•Cascadia: Seattle, Portland, and Vancouver, 9 million people
•Pho-Tus: Phoenix and Tucson, 4.7 million people
•Den-Bo: Denver and Boulder, 3.7 million people

Around the world, London, Amsterdam, Tokyo, Shanghai, and Mumbai are hubs of giant megaregions. Each of these is a financial and commercial center with tens of millions of people and hundreds of billions of dollars in output.

These megaregions, not nations, really power the global economy. Taken together, the world's 40 largest megaregions account for two-thirds of all global economic activity and 85 percent of the world's technological innovation while housing just 18 percent of its population. Megaregions are the strategic power centers of the economy, housing 85 percent of all corporate headquarters in the United States and Canada.

Though many analysts have predicted that the importance of cities--and that of location--would fade with globalization, the reality is that cities and megaregions have become more important economically than ever before. Even as globalization has spread factories, businesses, and laboratories to places such as India, China, Brazil, and beyond, these activities are being concentrated in the megaregions of those countries. Contrary to the notion that the world is flat, the most successful megaregions, in fact, are becoming economically stronger and spikier, not flatter.

Megaregions are to our time what suburbanization was to the postwar era. They provide the seeds of a new spatial fix. They expand and intensify our use of land and space the way that the industrial city did during the First Reset and suburbia did in the Second. As people pour into the world's great megaregions, inner cities and close-in suburbs are being reclaimed and rebuilt. Older suburbs, especially those on transit routes, are being reorganized and rebuilt into denser communities offering more condos and town houses as well as single-family homes. Suburban malls and office complexes are being retrofitted and turned into walkable areas with a mixture of housing, shops, and restaurants and in some cases even new parks. Subways and rail transit are being expanded as highways clog.

The location decisions made by new college grads have interested me for years. Their choices involve evaluating not just the company they'll work for but the labor market it's located in and what the surrounding area has to offer. Because they are both highly skilled and highly mobile--three to five times as likely to move than, say, a 45-year-old--the decisions they make about where to live are likely to leave a lasting imprint on our economic geography.

To get at the factors that attract and keep young Gen Y members, those born between the years 1979 and 1990, in certain places, my colleague Charlotta Mellander and I analyzed the results of a Gallup survey of some 28,000 Americans. Jobs are clearly important. Gen Y members ranked the availability of jobs second when asked what would keep them in their current location and fourth in terms of their overall satisfaction with their community. From this perspective, big cities make sense for them, as they offer more robust labor markets with more and better job opportunities in a wide number of fields. In an age in which corporate commitment has dwindled, job tenure has grown far shorter, and people switch jobs with much greater frequency, career success involves a great deal more than simply finding the right first job. In these highly mobile and economically tumultuous times, career success for young people depends on locating themselves in a thick labor market that offers diverse and abundant job opportunities. Picking an economically vibrant location is an important hedge against economic uncertainty and the risk of layoff.

But remember that jobs were not the highest-ranked factor. Across the board, the survey respondents said that the ability to meet people and make friends was of paramount importance. These young people intuitively understand what economic sociologists have documented: that vibrant social networks are key to landing jobs, moving forward in your career, and securing personal happiness. They not only desire a thick labor market but also seek what I have come to call a thick mating market, where they can meet new people, go out on dates, and eventually find a life partner. And whereas older Americans see high-quality schools and safe streets for their children as key, Gen Y understandably ranks the availability of outstanding colleges and universities higher. Many are likely to go back to graduate school and want to have good programs nearby. For all these reasons, big cities at the heart of megaregions top the list of their choices.

The auto-dependent transportation system has reached its limit in most major cities and megaregions. Commuting by car is among the least efficient of all our activities--not to mention among the least enjoyable, according to detailed research by the Nobel Prize-winning economist Daniel Kahneman and his colleagues. Though one might think that the crisis would have reduced traffic (high unemployment means fewer workers traveling to and from work), the opposite has been true. Average commutes have lengthened, and congestion has gotten worse, if anything. The average commute rose in 2008 to 25.5 minutes, "erasing years of decreases to stand at the level of 2000, as people had to leave home earlier in the morning to pick up friends for their ride to work or to catch a bus or subway train," according to the U.S. Census Bureau, which collects the figures. And those are average figures. Commutes are far longer in the big West Coast cities of Los Angeles and San Francisco and the East Coast cities of New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore, and D.C. In many of these cities, gridlock has become the norm, not just at rush hour but all day, every day.

Just about the only remedy for traffic congestion anyone ever suggests is building more roads and highways, which of course only makes the problem worse. New roads generate higher levels of "induced traffic," that is, new roads just invite drivers to drive more and lure people who take mass transit back to their cars. Eventually, we end up with more clogged roads rather than a long-term improvement in traffic flow

More and more people are choosing to take the subway, train, or bus or even walk or bike to work and go about their daily business--providing they live in an environment that allows for such choices. In Manhattan, 82 percent of workers get to work by public transit or bicycle or on foot. That's ten times the rate for Americans in general, eight times the rate for workers in Los Angeles County, and 16 times the rate for residents of metropolitan Atlanta. The New York City subway is a remarkably effective technology for moving masses of people around quickly and efficiently. Between 8 and 9 in the morning on a typical workday, more than 385,000 people use its subway system to commute into the central business district.

New York is not the only place where this kind of change in commuting and local traffic patterns is occurring. In Washington, D.C., 57 percent of commuters get to work by means other than driving a car--more than a third take public transit, 12 percent walk to work, and 2 percent ride their bikes; just four in ten drive to work alone. In Boston and San Francisco, roughly half of workers get to work without their cars--roughly a third of commuters take transit, and 10 to 15 percent walk to work. In Philadelphia, 41 percent commute without cars and 27 percent take transit.

These numbers may seem like a drop in the bucket. But 60 percent of Americans surveyed in 2005 said they want to live in walkable communities with shops, restaurants, movie theaters, schools, and churches nearby. We're already seeing the shift as increasing numbers of people move to walkable communities closer to where they work. That will clearly expand in coming decades.

For the time being, most Americans remain behind the wheel. Today, more than three-quarters of Americans drive to work alone. They have no other choice. There are, however, other things we can do to ease congestion and take more cars off the road. Employers can offer more flexible schedules and the ability to work from home or telecommute. But as we've already seen, in many cities traffic is not just a rush-hour problem. The only alternative left is to price the roads. We pay for everything else: we pay to take the subway, ride the bus, or take the train, we pay to drive through the Lincoln and Holland Tunnels or over the George Washington Bridge. Why should the roads be essentially free? If we want to make traffic better, we have little choice other than to make people pay for the roads they drive on.

Richard Florida is director of the Martin Prosperity Institute at the University of Toronto. Adapted from THE GREAT RESET: How New Ways of Living and Working Drive Post-Crash Prosperity by Richard Florida. Copyright 2010 by Richard Florida. Reprinted by arrangement with Harper, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers.

The Rolling Stones: Exile on Main Street, Times Online Review
Times Online May 14, 2010
The Rolling Stones: Exile on Main Street
Few records by anyone, let alone the Stones, come with more myth attached to them than the Stones’ narcotically abetted tenth album
Pete Paphides

If Mick Jagger’s verdict on 1972’s Exile on Main Street — “It’s overrated, to be honest” — tells us anything, it’s that sometimes the people least well placed to appraise a record’s virtues are the musicians who made it. In recent years there has been a trickle of remastered Stones albums. But few records by anyone, let alone the Stones, come with a greater myth attached to them than the Stones’ narcotically abetted tenth album.

For all that, however, it’s not as if you can’t see what Jagger was getting at. Johnny Marr once couched the same sentiments in more complimentary terms when he said that “the power of what [the Rolling Stones] were doing was about the spirit and the vibe rather than the composition”. For the measure of Marr’s point, you need look no farther than Rocks Off, Rip This Joint and the fantastically falling-apart lead single Tumbling Dice on side one of the original vinyl release. Even if you didn’t know that these clattering bar-room rockers were recorded in the damp basement of Keith Richards’s Villefranche-sur-Mer retreat, you could hazard an educated guess. A horn section that packs all the sonic punch of a comb and tissue paper may account for Jagger’s reluctance to use Richard’s basement in the first place.

But the pleasures of Exile are cumulative. At the time Jagger urged that its four sides were best enjoyed in separate bursts. Forego the CD remaster for the vinyl companion and you’ll find that he’s right. The influence of the renegade country star Gram Parsons is palpable on the songs that comprise the second side of Exile on Main Street. Jim Price’s wild mercury organ flourishes on Torn & Frayed and the slow-build country gospel of Loving Cup capture the Stones puréeing their inspirations with the sort of oblivious abandon that has invariably sounded cringeworthy when other groups — hello, Primal Scream — have tried it.

What follows is, by anyone’s criteria, some of the uneasiest listening to be found on a Stones album. Richards’s contention that Jagger reserves his most soulful expression for his harmonica is borne out by his demonic playing on Turd on the Run. On the skeletal blues-rattle of the I Just Want to See His Face, nothing bearing the Stones imprint has ever sounded quite so pregnant with the spook.

Claim that it’s all that good and you run the risk of inflating the myth to bursting point. Exile’s flaws are no more apparent than on a final side reliant on generic blues workouts such as Stop Breaking Down and All Down the Line. At the same time, what would you have the temerity to remove? Or in view of the extra disc now bolted on to the original set, the question becomes: what would you add?

Good Time Women eliminates itself because it’s Tumbling Dice minus the woozy uplift of its later incarnation; ditto So Divine (Aladdin Story) for a guitar motif that sails too closely to Paint it Black. Plundered My Soul and the panoramic Following the River — both with new Jagger vocals — leave you feeling that, whatever album they belong to, it isn’t this one.

Jagger may have a point about some of the original album’s failings. But at this point, it’s hard not to recall Paul McCartney’s rejoinder when asked if the White Album would have made a better single record. “Look, it’s the bloody Beatles’ White Album — shut up!” If Jagger excuses the impudence, the album may be different, but exactly the same rationale applies.

The Rolling Stones, Exile On Main Street

Album: The Rolling Stones, Exile On Main Street (Polydor)
(Rated 5/ 5 )
Reviewed by Andy Gill
Friday, 14 May 2010

A cornerstone of the classic-rock canon, Exile On Main Street is one of the few Stones albums it's possible to recommend unreservedly, so it's a relief to report that its seamy glamour remains undiluted by the additional 10 outtakes included with this reissue.

Sure, Keith's vocal on the alternative take of "Soul Survivor" is hardly the most compelling, and Mick's vocal leer on the piano blues "I'm Not Signifying" verges on self-parodic, but tracks such as the gospel-rocker "Pass The Wine" and "So Divine", with its Arabic-flavoured guitar motif recalling "Paint It Black", wouldn't disgrace Exile itself. Elsewhere, "Good Time Woman" is an early take of what became "Tumbling Dice", while the short instrumental "Title 5" sounds like a jam on the theme of The Doors' "LA Woman".

The Rolling Stones' Exile on Main Street: hell that spawned a classic

The Rolling Stones' Exile on Main Street: hell that spawned a classic
The making of the Rolling Stones’s Exile on Main Street is a rock legend. But what really happened in those long weeks of 1971? Neil McCormick looks back at a drug-fuelled marathon that still haunts the Côte d’Azur.
Neil McCormick
18 May 2010

Rolling Stones at Villa Nellcote: 'Jam sessions went on for days, with songs that were never finished' The Rolling Stones’s Exile On Main Street is an album so shrouded in myth it practically defines the bohemian, decadent, counter-culture appeal of Seventies rock ’n’ roll. It is wild, electric music played by narcotic demigods with one foot in the 20th century and the other in some ancient, mystic swamp of steamy, primal passion. From the freak show photo montage on the original gatefold cover to the four sides of black vinyl crammed with a weird concoction of ragged r&b, country, soul and gospel, this was a voodoo jam from a band of outlaw rockers on the run.

The myth goes something like this: It was 1971. The greatest rock ’n’ roll band in the world were forced into exile, chased away from Britain by Labour’s 93 per cent tax on the rich (and the revelation that their accountants hadn’t been paying it). Desperate, they decamped to the south of France, where the heroin-addicted Keith Richards set up a studio in the basement of the rented Villa Nellcote.

A dizzying cast of characters passed through the doors and passed out beneath the chandeliers of the 16-bedroom former Nazi stronghold, including film stars (James Caan, Faye Dunaway), musicians (Gram Parsons, Bobby Keys, Nicky Hopkins), cult novelists (William Burroughs, Terry Southern) and an endless parade of local Marseilles groupies, drug dealers and even a troupe of Bengali drummers.

Richards and Mick Jagger weren’t getting on. Jagger was often absent, flitting to Paris with new bride Bianca (they married in May 1971 in Saint Tropez) and their jetset friends. Richards was operating on his own timescale, missing sessions for days on end in smack-addled stupors, or keeping the band jamming through the wee hours while he relentlessly worked over two chords.

Charlie Watts and Bill Wyman dug deep into a well of patience and sent emissaries across the Channel to stock up on PG Tips and HP sauce. Baby-faced guitarist Mick Taylor slid into heroin addiction and alcoholism. The power supply was hot-wired from the national grid. The basement perspired dampness so instruments were constantly going out of tune. Jam sessions went on for days, with hundreds of takes of rambling songs that were never finished. It ended with a drug bust and Richards was banned from France for two years.

But, miraculously, when the Stones decamped to Los Angeles to listen back to the tapes, they discovered they had captured something magical. Out of decadence and adversity came the Rolling Stones’ defining masterpiece.

That is the story, anyway. The truth may or may not be more prosaic. Nobody is really sure, because there are – as in all the best legends – so many conflicting recollections. Jagger has always been a bit baffled by the album’s popularity with fans (perhaps because it is viewed as Richards’s baby) and has cast doubts on how much of the finished album was actually recorded in Nellcote, claiming sessions he oversaw in London and Hollywood were more productive.

Richards stands by the story. “If you believe Mick, you’ll believe anything,” he spluttered in a recent interview. “His recollection is quite honestly bull----… He doesn’t feel he’s under any obligation to tell the truth.”

A new BBC Two documentary, Stones In Exile, attempts to separate fact from fiction in the making of the album, but can chiefly be recommended for lots of pictures of the Stones at their most decadently cool.

Potentially more damaging to the myth is Universal’s imminent release (on Monday) of the remastered album, with a bonus set featuring 10 tracks allegedly recorded during the Exile sessions. Watts claims these were mainly instrumental backing tracks to which Jagger has added new vocals. The result might be hailed as a return to form if billed as a new Stones album but it is far too clean, perfectly separated, bass-boosted and polished to pass muster with the original, with Jagger high and clear in the mix. “Lead singers never think their vocals are loud enough,” as Richards commented.

The bonus disc reeks of 21st century air-conditioned luxury recording facilities, but go back to the original and you can practically smell the damp basement squalor.

The start of the Seventies was a moment when rock paused to take stock, looking backwards after the futuristic charge of the Sixties. It was as if the Stones had time to reflect on all the great cultural waves of American music; all the blues and gospel and country influences they had instinctively absorbed suddenly pouring out in rip roaring jam sessions. At times it sounds like a brawl in a Harlem dance hall, with cheap liquor and twirling skirts, peppered with Bobby Keys’s wild tenor sax and Nicky Hopkins’s barrel house piano. Torn and Frayed is poor-boy white country music, with Gram Parsons filling Richards’s head with lyrical Southern licks.

The influence of other musicians on Exile is profound but at its heart is Richards himself. It rides on his droning, electric mantras. If you want to know what it is that makes him so special, listen to the ever-shifting nuance of his hypnotic playing on Ventilator Blues, in which he bends every possible twist out of a two-chord trick.

If you were to judge each track on its own merits, you might not find a lot to recommend it. But when you tuck into Exile, what you are getting is a flavour. The mixes are gluey and dense, inseparably stuck together, with everybody playing their socks off, solos weaving in and out, and Jagger shouting to be heard above the din.

He has never sounded better, precisely because he is buried in the mix; part of the tapestry of the band rather than its focus. Taken as a piece, it is a hypnotic, gale-force, rock ’n’ roll album, an explosion of joyous abandon that has rarely been equalled. You might, if you look closely enough, be able to unravel the myths of its creation, but you can never unpick the magic of the music.

How 'Exile on Main St.' Killed the Rolling Stones

Jack Hamilton is a writer and student in Boston.
How 'Exile on Main St.' Killed the Rolling Stones
May 25 2010

"Rocks Off," the first track of the Rolling Stones's Exile On Main Street, opens with a scratchy Keith Richards Telecaster riff punctuated by a single Charlie Watts snare hit. Mick Jagger lasciviously intones an "oh yeah," pitched perfectly between earnestness and irony. This sequence lasts all of five seconds, but you'd be hard-pressed to find five seconds that better articulate the brilliance of the Rolling Stones, much in the way that Exile, the band's 1972 shambling sprawl of a double-album that has recently enjoyed a re-issue, perfectly captures a too-brief period during which Rolling Stones were finally and indisputably the Greatest Rock and Roll Band in the World.

Then it all ended nearly as soon as it began. Exile on Main Street may well be, as many claim, the finest album of the Stones's career, but it's also the sound of a slow implosion, of things falling apart, both the end of the Rolling Stones as the world had come to know them and the end of an era of rock and roll music as well. After Exile the band's dual appetite for drugs and infighting grew increasingly consumptive: 1973's Goat's Head Soup had moments of brilliance but also felt disjointed and fragmentary, while 1974's It's Only Rock 'n' Roll seemed half-baked and half-hearted. By the time the forgettable Black and Blue was released in 1976 the Stones were sounding more and more like hucksters, lazily plumbing fans' memories of former glories. It's an image they've never entirely managed to shake since, despite a career of unprecedented longevity. The lineup may have changed—Ron Wood replacing Mick Taylor in the mid-1970s, Darryl Jones supplanting Bill Wyman in the mid-1990s—but the chords remain the same, with returns dwindling artistically just as steadily as they increase financially, the line between song and shtick growing blurrier and blurrier.

None of this had been foretold in 1972, of course, when the Stones were capping off a startling run of creativity that began with the sonic riot of "Jumpin' Jack Flash" in 1968 and culminated in Exile on Main Street. The Damoclean sword under which the band made Exile has since assumed appropriately mythic proportions: recorded in a French villa that had once been a Gestapo headquarters, abetted by nightmarish amounts of drugs, the marathon recording sessions were infused with criminal depravity and an overall air of violence. Attending all this, albeit less spectacularly, was a world-weary exhaustion that had been encroaching upon the band since at least the mid-1960s. From the Redlands drug bust of 1967, through the departure and subsequent death of guitarist Brian Jones, through the murder of Meredith Hunter at Altamont in late 1969 and its renewed controversy via the Maysles' Gimme Shelter in 1970, the Stones had spent their period of creative windfall outrunning forces larger than themselves, and they'd run themselves ragged.

This exhaustion surely wasn't helped by dope, and by the recording of Exile it had grown oppressive and nearly unbearable. It was also the most compelling component of the music the Stones were making with an urgency that verged on a death wish. "The sunshine bores the daylights out of me," drawls Jagger in one of the most beautifully mordant and oft-quoted lines of "Rocks Off," and the snarl in his voice leaves little doubt that he means it. Only once we get past the cheeky pun of the sentiment do we realize the depths of its terror.

Exile found the Stones finally becoming that which they'd always wanted to be, that which they'd always worshipped: existential bluesmen crafting art-for-art's-sake out of nothing more than desperate necessity. For all of their country flirtations in this period the band was always, at its core, a group of rhythm and blues musicians. And during the recording of Exile on Main Street they became, for a small meaningful moment, the greatest R&B band in the world. If this sounds hyperbolic, listen to the uptown din of "All Down the Line," with its raucous out-chorus ("won't you be my little baby / for a while"--the Ronettes with a time limit) and soaring horn lines. Or the heart-stopping ferocity of "Happy," Keith Richards' autobiography distilled into three minutes. Or the glorious, lusty grandeur of "Tumbling Dice," simply the finest soul tune Jagger and Richards (or damn near anyone else) ever wrote and arguably Charlie Watts' finest hour.

It is here, as the apotheosis of the Stones' ambitions as purveyors of African-American music, that the greater significance of Exile on Main Street takes shape. The Stones' relationship to race is perhaps the most endlessly controversial topic surrounding the band, and to a certain degree this is understandable, as the love of black music that floods the Stones' records has often mingled uneasily with the band's racial politics, from the dubious taste of the slavery backdrop of "Brown Sugar" to the racist sexual boasting of "Some Girls" that drew a public rebuke from Jesse Jackson. Even "Sweet Black Angel," an otherwise beautiful paean to Angela Davis on Exile, contains an egregious reference to "ten little niggers / sitting on a wall," a word that no amount of name-checking Slim Harpo grants Jagger such casual access to.

Still, by 1972 the Stones were in an ever-increasing minority of white rock musicians that openly sought to integrate not simply African-American musical influences but flesh-and-blood African American music and musicians into their music. Despite rock and roll's famously interracial origins, and the deserved reputation of the 1960s as a decade of musical crossover—with labels like Motown and Stax and groups like the Beatles and Stones achieving previously unthinkable popularity among both white and black audiences—by the end of the decade popular music had once again become increasingly segregated.

Woodstock boasted a rhetoric of colorblind inclusion but only one act of the more than 30 that performed there—Sly and the Family Stone—had sustained success on the R&B charts. And whispers persist that the bucolic location was partially chosen to preclude the attendance of "urban" audiences. For all of their dubious appropriations of black style and racialized sex fantasies, the Stones' continued proximity to black performers—from Merry Clayton's vocal on "Gimme Shelter," to Ike and Tina Turner's opening slot on the 1969 tour, to the inclusion of Stevie Wonder on the 1972 (the only musician who, with the releases of Music of My Mind and Talking Book, ran creative circles around the Stones that year)—made them the last best hope of a dying interracialism in rock music.

Of course, you can argue that this proximity was little more than a cynical authentication device, a musical version of the "some of my best friends..." protest, and one might probably be at least partially correct. And yet Exile on Main St. reminds us that the ephemeral peculiarities of pop music and racial thinking are rarely so tidily reconciled, and that the messiness of this contradiction can be the source of tremendous power. From "Ventilator Blues" to "Rocks Off" to, good lord, "Tumbling Dice," at their finest the Stones were the bearers of a musical post-racialism that was both ahead of its time and increasingly behind it.

"There is at the heart of this music a deep strain of mysterious insurrection, and the music dies without it," Stanley Booth—the band's most brilliant chronicler—once wrote. If Exile on Main St. isn't the sound of the Rolling Stones dying, it is at least the sound of them going down in flames. But what a sound, and what flames. As Jagger sings on "Shine a Light," the gorgeous, gospel-infused love song that's Exile's penultimate track:

Angels beating all their wings in time
With smiles on their faces
And a gleam right in their eyes
I thought I heard one sigh for you

As epitaphs go, you could certainly do worse.

After keeping us waiting for a century, Mark Twain will finally reveal all

After keeping us waiting for a century, Mark Twain will finally reveal all
The great American writer left instructions not to publish his autobiography until 100 years after his death, which is now
By Guy Adams in Los Angeles
Sunday, 23 May 2010

Exactly a century after rumours of his death turned out to be entirely accurate, one of Mark Twain's dying wishes is at last coming true: an extensive, outspoken and revelatory autobiography which he devoted the last decade of his life to writing is finally going to be published.

The creator of Tom Sawyer, Huckleberry Finn and some of the most frequently misquoted catchphrases in the English language left behind 5,000 unedited pages of memoirs when he died in 1910, together with handwritten notes saying that he did not want them to hit bookshops for at least a century.

That milestone has now been reached, and in November the University of California, Berkeley, where the manuscript is in a vault, will release the first volume of Mark Twain's autobiography. The eventual trilogy will run to half a million words, and shed new light on the quintessentially American novelist.

Scholars are divided as to why Twain wanted the first-hand account of his life kept under wraps for so long. Some believe it was because he wanted to talk freely about issues such as religion and politics. Others argue that the time lag prevented him from having to worry about offending friends.

One thing's for sure: by delaying publication, the author, who was fond of his celebrity status, has ensured that he'll be gossiped about during the 21st century. A section of the memoir will detail his little-known but scandalous relationship with Isabel Van Kleek Lyon, who became his secretary after the death of his wife Olivia in 1904. Twain was so close to Lyon that she once bought him an electric vibrating sex toy. But she was abruptly sacked in 1909, after the author claimed she had "hypnotised" him into giving her power of attorney over his estate.

Their ill-fated relationship will be recounted in full in a 400-page addendum, which Twain wrote during the last year of his life. It provides a remarkable account of how the dying novelist's final months were overshadowed by personal upheavals.

"Most people think Mark Twain was a sort of genteel Victorian. Well, in this document he calls her a slut and says she tried to seduce him. It's completely at odds with the impression most people have of him," says the historian Laura Trombley, who this year published a book about Lyon called Mark Twain's Other Woman.

"There is a perception that Twain spent his final years basking in the adoration of fans. The autobiography will perhaps show that it wasn't such a happy time. He spent six months of the last year of his life writing a manuscript full of vitriol, saying things that he'd never said about anyone in print before. It really is 400 pages of bile."

Twain, who was born Samuel Langhorne Clemens, had made several attempts to start work on autobiography, beginning in 1870, but only really hit his stride with the work in 1906, when he appointed a stenographer to transcribe his dictated reminiscences.

Another potential motivation for leaving the book to be posthumously published concerns Twain's legacy as a Great American. Michael Shelden, who this year published Man in White, an account of Twain's final years, says that some of his privately held views could have hurt his public image.

"He had doubts about God, and in the autobiography, he questions the imperial mission of the US in Cuba, Puerto Rico and the Philippines. He's also critical of [Theodore] Roosevelt, and takes the view that patriotism was the last refuge of the scoundrel. Twain also disliked sending Christian missionaries to Africa. He said they had enough business to be getting on with at home: with lynching going on in the South, he thought they should try to convert the heathens down there."

In other sections of the autobiography, Twain makes cruel observations about his supposed friends, acquaintances and one of his landladies.

Parts of the book have already seen the light of day in other publications. Small excerpts were run by US magazines before Twain's death (since he needed the money). His estate has allowed parts of it to be adapted for publication in three previous books described as "autobiographies".

However, Robert Hirst, who is leading the team at Berkeley editing the complete text, says that more than half of it has still never appeared in print. Only academics, biographers, and members of the public prepared to travel to the university's Bancroft research library have previously been able to read it in full. "When people ask me 'did Mark Twain really mean it to take 100 years for this to come out', I say 'he was certainly a man who knew how to make people want to buy a book'," Dr Hirst said.

November's publication is authorised by his estate, which in the absence of surviving descendants (a daughter, Clara, died in 1962, and a granddaughter Nina committed suicide in 1966) funds museums and libraries that preserve his legacy.

"There are so many biographies of Twain, and many of them have used bits and pieces of the autobiography," Dr Hirst said. "But biographers pick and choose what bits to quote. By publishing Twain's book in full, we hope that people will be able to come to their own complete conclusions about what sort of a man he was."

Kool Website: Lesbians Who Look Like Justin Bieber

Thanks to Richard Metzger of

Stoner Cooking: Zesty Blue Cheese Burgers

We love the combination of flavors in this classic burger recipe. Beef, rich tomato, and the sharp bite of blue cheese – what could be better than that?

Prep Time: 15 mins
Cook Time: 15 mins
Serves: 4

1/2 cup Heinz® Tomato Ketchup
1/2 cup Crumbled blue cheese
2 tablespoons Finely chopped onion
1 tablespoon Lea & Perrins® Worcestershire Sauce
1 pound Lean ground beef
4 Sandwich buns, split and toasted

1.To prepare sauce, combine Ketchup, blue cheese, onion and Worcestershire sauce.
2.Lightly mix 1/4 cup sauce with meat; shape into 4 patties.
3.Grill or broil to desired doneness.
4.Serve in toasted buns topped with remaining sauce.
Nutrition Information
Serving Size: 1 roll with 6-oz. burger

Amount/serving %DV*
Calories 430
Calories from Fat 120
Total Fat 13g 20%
Sat. Fat 6g 30%
Trans Fat 0g
Cholesterol 75mg 25%
Sodium 1070mg 45%
Carbohydrates 44g 15%
Fiber 1g 4%
Sugar 13g
Protein 36g
Vitamin A 8%
Vitamin C 8%
Calcium 20%
Iron 20%

*Percent Daily Values (DV) are based on 2,000 calorie diet

Humor: Sign That Is Totally Not Gay

Picture courtesy of:

Bolivia launches "Coca-Colla" drink made from medicinal coca plant
Bolivia launches "Coca-Colla" drink made from medicinal coca plant
Saturday, May 22, 2010
David Gutierrez, staff writer

(NaturalNews) The Bolivian government has announced plans to launch a carbonated soft drink called Coca-Colla, to be made with actual coca leaves.

The name (pronounced koka koya) is an allusion to Colla suyu, the quadrant of the Inca empire that contained the modern territory of Bolivia.

The plan for the beverage was submitted by coca farmers from the country's Chapare region as part of a wider initiative to increase production of the plant. President Evo Morales, a former coca grower and head of the Chapare cocalero union, has made increased commercialization of the plant a key part of his plan for the country's economic development.

Coca leaves, chewed or brewed into tea, have been a part of Andean cultures for thousands of years. The plant is considered sacred by indigenous people and is also prized for its nutritional and medicinal benefits. According to Morales, an estimated 10 million people chew the leaves throughout the Andes.

Morales has promised to increase coca cultivation by 20,000 hectares (49,420 acres), and his government has already approved production of coca-based tea, flour, toothpaste and liquor. Bolivian law, which bans cocaine production, currently allows only 12,000 hectares of coca to be cultivated, although the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime estimates that 30,500 hectares are actually in cultivation.

In a deliberate allusion to Coca-Cola, Coca-Colla will also feature a red label with a black swoosh. Coca-Cola still uses coca leaves in its formula, and is the only company authorized to import the leaves under U.S. law.

Because coca leaves are an essential ingredient in the highly industrialized process needed to make cocaine, some governments classify them as narcotics. The official U.S. position is that the plant should be driven extinct, and the International Narcotics Control Board advocates a ban on the traditional religious practice of chewing the leaves.

It is impossible to get a cocaine "high" off of coca leaves, and traditional practitioners and Western scientists have both confirmed that chewing the leaves is not addictive and carries no negative health effects.

Sources for this story include:

King of the Hill on Soccer

As the World Cup is here again, time to quote Hank Hill...

HANK: Bobby, I never thought I'd need to tell you this, but I would be a bad parent if I didn't. Soccer was invented by European ladies to keep them busy while their husbands did the cooking.

BOBBY: Why do you have to hate what you don't understand?

HANK: I don't hate you, Bobby.

BOBBY: I meant soccer.

HANK: Oh. Oh, yeah, I hate soccer. Yes.

BabeWatch: Venus Williams at the French Open


Written by Chuck Palahniuk

Category: Fiction
Format: Trade Paperback, 256 pages
On Sale: April 20, 2010
Price: $14.95
ISBN: 978-0-307-38981-7 (0-307-38981-2)

Also available as an eBook and a hardcover.


A gang of adolescent terrorists, a spelling bee, and a terrible plan masquerading as a science project: This is Operation Havoc.

Pygmy is one of a handful of young adults from a totalitarian state sent to the US disguised as exchange students. Living with American families to blend in, they are planning an unspecified act of massive terrorism that will bring this big dumb country and its fat dumb inhabitants to their knees. Palahniuk depicts Midwestern life through the eyes of this indoctrinated little killer in a cunning double-edged satire of American xenophobia.

“A cunning mix of advertising copy, leftist sloganeering and teen slang…. Pygmy is a dish for those who like their satire well done. And without apology.”
—San Francisco Chronicle

“Palahniuk’s twisted imagination is still in full bloom.”
—The Seattle Times

“[A] hilarious cover-to-cover read.”
—The Baltimore City Paper

“Inventive, hilarious, moving and deeply disturbing.”

“Palahniuk is brilliant.”
—The Washington Post Book World

“Palahniuk’s novels have always been driven by black humor. . . . His minimalist, verb-heavy style propels the narratives through the many bizarre, occasionally shocking events. . . . A full portrait of an unforgettable character. Pygmy is yet another unique direction for an author who continues to challenge and intrigue readers.”
—The Boston Globe

“A rip-roaringly exciting piece of writing, a truly graphic novel. . . . It has moments of poetry within.”
—The Telegraph (London)

“Chuck Palahniuk is William S. Burroughs and David Foster Wallace rolled into one.”
—San Diego Union-Tribune

“Violent, outrageous, and darkly hilarious.”
—National Post

“Palahniuk is brilliant at juxtaposing Pygmy's insane background with the madness of contemporary Western society.”
—The Washington Post Book World

“Give Pygmy to your kid. He'll think you’re rad.”

“A poignant commentary on culture clash with a sinister and violent twist. It’s what one might expect if movie-violence king Quentin Tarantino had written Borat.”
—The London Free Press

“Palahniuk . . . knows all about escalating action to a thrilling finale. More impressively, he starts to make us feel for Pygmy, and introduces a more human side to this previously impenetrable character. . . . Pretty funny.”
—The Independent (London)

“A jarring and evocative narrative culminating in something both cruel and humane. . . . Culture clash with a Palahniuk twist.”

“Think Faulkner writing as a demented Chinese Pinko-Commie youth with a deadly killing stroke and a near constant erection. . . . The apocalypse of the American Dream has never been so entertaining.”
—Death + Taxes magazine

Chuck Palahniuk’s nine previous novels are the bestselling Fight Club, which was made into a film by David Fincher; Survivor; Invisible Monsters; Choke, which was made into a film by director Clark Gregg; Lullaby; Diary; Haunted; Rant; and Snuff. He is also the author of Fugitives and Refugees, a nonfiction profile of Portland, Oregon, published as part of the Crown Journeys series, and the nonfiction collection Stranger Than Fiction. He lives in the Pacific Northwest.

New Social Networking Site Changing The Way Oh, Christ, Forget It,17465/
New Social Networking Site Changing The Way Oh, Christ, Forget It
Let Someone Else Report On This Bullshit
May 20, 2010 | ISSUE 46•20

NEW YORK—While millions of young, tech-savvy professionals already use services like Facebook and Twitter to keep in constant touch with friends, a new social networking platform called Foursquare has recently taken the oh, fucking hell, can't some other desperate news outlet cover this crap instead?

Launched last year, Foursquare is unique in that it not only allows users to broadcast their whereabouts, but also offers a number of built-in incentives, including some innovative new crap The New York Times surely has a throbbing hard-on for.

In fact, why don't we just let them report on this garbage and call it a day?

"Foursquare is a little bit of everything—a friend-finder, a local city guide, an interactive mobile game," said company cofounder Dennis Crowley, as if reading from the same tired script used by every one of these Web 2.0 or whatever-the-fuck-they're-called startups. "But more than that, Foursquare is an [endless string of meaningless buzzwords we just couldn't bring ourselves to transcribe]."

Added Crowley, "[Who gives a shit]."

According to sources we feel really, really sorry for, Foursquare works by allowing users to "check in" from their present location, whether it be a bar, restaurant, nearby magazine stand, or man, this piece would be perfect to hand over to that schmuck Dan Fletcher at Time magazine right about now.

By "checking in," users can earn tangible, real-world rewards. For instance, the Foursquare user with the most points at any given venue earns the designation of "mayor" and can receive discounts, free food, or other prizes that, quite honestly, we're thoroughly disgusted with ourselves for having actually researched.

In addition, please, kill us already.

As you've no doubt guessed from reading a dozen similar articles in The Washington Post, now's the part of our "trend piece" where we quote an industry expert like Leonard Steinberg, a Boston University communications professor and specialist in his field who remarks in a rather defeated tone that Foursquare represents a revolutionary new way for businesses and customers to interact.

"Through its competitive elements like badges and points, Foursquare helps generate brand loyalty," said the Ph.D.-holding individual, whose decades in higher education were basically shit upon by our inane questions about various bits of Foursquare ephemera. "It's a unique and transformative social networking tool."

"Can I go now?" he added.

Although it recently hit the million-user mark, Foursquare has yet to approach the vast subscriber base of Facebook and Twitter. But that all could change as people become increasingly reliant on the…okay, here, here, let me sum up this whole "news" story for you: Aging, scared newspapermen throw themselves at the latest mobile technology trend in a humiliatingly futile attempt to remain relevant.

And now that you're all caught up, take it away, final miserable paragraph:

The current mayor of her local coffee shop and the young woman we've selected to represent young people everywhere, Jen Galanos, 26, has so far earned a free cappuccino and two hours of Wi-Fi. But while she likes the rewards, she said they're only a fringe benefit of an application that, as we suspected, The New York Times has already creamed its jeans and tripped all over itself in a rush to cover.

Here's the fucking link:

The Empire Strikes Back Turns 30, As Do Fans’ Psychic Scars

The Empire Strikes Back Turns 30, As Do Fans’ Psychic Scars
Mike Ryan
May 21, 2010

There is an episode of Lost titled “Some Like it Hoth,” in which Hurley, the portly Floridian played by Jorge Garcia, travels back in time to 1977 with the express goal of writing the script for The Empire Strikes Back before George Lucas gets around to it. He figures he can make “a couple of improvements.” I’m not sure what he could be thinking, because, as far as I’m concerned, The Empire Strikes Back is not only the perfect science-fiction movie. It might just be the perfect movie.

Today is the 30th anniversary of the release of The Empire Strikes Back, a film most Star Wars fans consider the best of the franchise’s six films. Just three years after Star Wars revolutionized the blockbuster, Empire redefined it again, proving that a film that took place in outer space and featured light sabers and blasters could also be smart and, yes, depressing. If watching Star Wars was kind of like being on an amusement-park ride—smiles for everyone!—watching The Empire Strikes Back might be more comparable to getting a root-canal. Han Solo would have gladly traded what happened to him in Empire for full set of root-canals. The Empire, seemingly defeated at the end of the first movie when Luke Skywalker blew up the Death Star, struck back in a big way, and it was ugly.

In truth, The Empire Strikes Back had a lot going against it. Being the sequel to the most successful film of all time, Star Wars, raised expectations to an unprecedented level. Sure, there was no Internet to fuel speculation, but there were magazines such as Starlog that sent fans into a frenzy by printing every unsubstantiated rumor about the upcoming sequel’s plot. (Luke, Han, and Leia travel through time to present day Earth? Really, Starlog? Are you sure you’re not thinking of Star TREK?) Meanwhile, the accurate facts were anxiety-inducing enough: the shoot was way over budget, and George Lucas had decided not to direct this installment, handing over the duties to Irvin Kershner.

George Lucas likes to defend his comparatively lame prequels (Episode I, II, and III) by saying that they are kids’ movies. That, he suggests, is why all those thirty-something Star Wars nerds don’t appreciate the new movies. I’m calling bullshit on this. Has Lucas actually seen Empire? Empire is a lot of things, but it’s certainly not a kids’ movie. How do I know? Because I saw that movie when I was five-years-old and it pretty much fucked me up for life.

The Empire Strikes Back was the first film that I ever saw in a movie theater. (The second was Ordinary People, which also fucked me up, but I will not be writing a 30th anniversary story about it.) All I knew about the story of Star Wars was what I had been told by upperclassmen (i.e. second graders) and what I had deduced from playing with my already vast collection of Kenner action figures. Having not seen the film, I wound up forging some pretty strange alliances. In my world, it wasn’t Han, Luke, Chewbacca, and Leia; it was Han and his trusty sidekicks Greedo and Bossk. How ironic is that?

On May 21, 1980, my parents agreed to take me to see The Empire Strikes Back. That day, my innocence died a little. From what I had been told about Star Wars, I expected a fun-filled ride. Yeah, that didn’t happen. What I saw was C-3PO get blown into a million pieces; Luke Skywalker cut off the head of Darth Vader only to see his own face (you think that scene is trippy now, try it as a five-year-old), then, later, get his hand severed by his own father; and Han Solo get frozen in Carbonite and, for all I knew, killed. Actually, my parents got me to the film a little late, so the first piece of action I ever saw on a proper movie screen was Luke Skywalker getting slashed in the face by a Wampa—a Wampa that later got his arm cut off. Again, with all due respect to George Lucas, this is not a fucking kids movie!

All this was especially upsetting because, thanks to Irvin Kershner, I felt genuine concern for these characters. Kershner got absolutely terrific acting performances out of Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, and, yes, even Harrison Ford (who, let’s admit it, completely phoned in his performance in Return of the Jedi). This is the same reason Lost resonates where other shows fail. It’s not about how crazy or weird the setting is; it’s always about the characters. Anyone can do “weird”; not everyone can do “compelling.” Kershner understood this, whereas Lucas either doesn’t understand it or doesn’t care. This is why the Star Wars prequels failed. Empire doesn’t even have that complex of a plot: Heroes get attacked, heroes try to escape and get their asses kicked in the process. The end.

Empire’s plot taught a generation of children that when life gets you down ... it’s probably only going to get worse. The most positive people I know all love Return of the Jedi; the cynics love Empire. When my parents would ask me why I never got too excited about, well, anything, I just wanted to scream back, “Because, when I had an impressionable mind of mush, you took me to see The Empire Strikes Back!” It taught me that, yeah, no matter how hard of a fight you put up, the bad guys will still win. In 1981, I finally saw a re-release of Star Wars. My parents acted as if they had replaced a dead pet goldfish with a new alive version. “See,” they said, “ they’re all O.K.!,” as if Star Wars came chronologically after Empire and as if I had the brainpower of a Taun-Taun. It made it worse; I knew their fate. “Hey, great, you blew up the Death Star. Laugh it up now, guys. You’re about to get your asses kicked.” But that’s what made Empire great. I cared that much.

I recently asked Jorge Garcia what he actually could improve about Empire, and even he admitted he didn’t agree with his character, “I don’t know if I’d want to touch The Empire Strikes Back. It’s definitely risen to the top of the trilogy. I loved how it ended with so much dissonance. It was the tragedy of them all.” The real tragedy are people—Lucas among them—who write off the original Star Wars films as movies for children. Thirty years ago today, a generation of cynical Star Wars fans were born. It’s hard to imagine a “kids’ movie” released today having that much of an impact—about as hard as imagining anyone, in 2032, caring about the 30th anniversary of Attack of the Clones.

Great Quotes: Lost

"We tried to make an ending to the show that was kind of spiritual and I think captured, really, some of the things we were feeling as a community of people who made the show."
Carlton Cuse on the Lost finale

“The Market” is a Reactionary Mystification

“The Market” is a Reactionary Mystification: Reply to the Attack on Economic Populism from Franco Debenedetti and other Italian Economists
Webster G. Tarpley
May 23, 2010

A group of Italian economists led by Franco Debenedetti of the famous financier clan and the banker Paolo Savona, obviously fearful that the Berlusconi-Tremonti government of Italy will join last Tuesday’s successful German ban on the type of toxic derivative known as the naked credit default swap, have sent an alarmed warning to the Corriere della Sera of Milan1. Debenedetti has contributed an article expressing similar sentiments to the Italian business newspaper Il Sole 24 Ore in which he rails at the “Mrs. Merkel market” now in force in Germany2. These economists, obviously inspired by the doctrines of Friedrich von Hayek and the Austrian school, want Italy to remain faithful no matter what to the widely discredited ideas of laissez-faire economics, even as those doctrines are everywhere under attack for having caused the current world economic depression. For these neoliberal and monetarist thinkers, any attempt to ban derivatives or tax speculation must be condemned as “economic populism,” which for these writers is a term of opprobrium.

These anti-populist economists need to be reminded of some basic facts about derivatives. The collapse of the Central European banking system in the summer of 1931 was decisively enabled by derivatives – specifically by speculation in wool futures by a north German textile company which brought down the Danat Bank, leading to panic runs on all German banks. Thanks to the American New Deal of Franklin D. Roosevelt, most over-the-counter and exchange-traded derivatives were illegal from 1936 to 1982 under the Commodities Exchange Act, which was repealed by the free-market enthusiast Ronald Reagan. During those years, US rates of economic growth and real wages were far superior to what they have been any time since, and financial panics were much more limited than they had been before or have become since. Presumably, FDR would be dismissed as a mere populist.

In today’s crisis, we are confronted at every turn with the fatal combination of deregulated hedge funds plus these now-rehabilitated derivatives, which in the meantime amount to a world speculative bubble of some $1.5 quadrillion of notional value. Lehman Brothers, Citibank, and Merrill Lynch were destroyed by derivatives in the form of a combination of their issuance of synthetic collateralized debt obligations based on mortgages and consumer debt, together with the credit default swaps used by hedge funds to attack these banks. The insurance company AIG had a hedge fund in London which issued $3 trillion worth of derivatives (more than the GDP of France), featuring a very toxic portfolio of credit default swaps. The failure of AIG caused by these toxic bets has now cost the US taxpayer $180 billion and counting. The attack on Greece, as these economists seem to recognize, was organized during a dinner party in Manhattan on February 8, 2010, leader reported in the headline story of the Wall Street Journal on February 26, 20103. European taxpayers are now on the hook for almost $1 trillion in bailouts as a result of this speculation. That Manhattan hedge fund dinner seems to fulfill the prima facie specifications of an illegal conspiracy in restraint of trade under the terms of the US Sherman Antitrust Act of 1890, a law proposed all those years ago by a very Republican senator and signed by Benjamin Harrison, a very Republican president. Were they populists too?

The May 6, 2010 1,000-point fall of the Dow Jones Industrial Average was the result of a speculative bet using options (i.e., derivatives) against the Standard & Poor’s 500 stock index placed by the Universa Investments hedge fund, advised by “Black Swan” theorist Nassim Taleb – according to the Wall Street Journal of May 11, 2010. That thousand point plunge, it is estimated, wiped out about $1 trillion worth of paper wealth in about 20 minutes. What with a trillion here and a trillion there, derivatives and the regulated hedge funds are becoming a prohibitively expensive luxury.

Debenedetti and his friends wish to save credit default swaps at all costs. In this they face serious problems. On one level, credit default swaps are bets, wagers, and therefore illegal under the gambling laws in many countries. If it is argued that credit default swaps are insurance, then they are also illegal, since most of the issuers are not insurance companies, and have no intention of meeting the legal requirements to underwrite insurance policies, such as legal registration, capital requirements, etc. Are credit default swaps such a glorious benefit to society that they should enjoy exemption from laws and regulations? Recent history indicates that derivatives do not merit such special treatment.

Debenedetti and his friends are also opposed to a Tobin tax, otherwise known as a Wall Street sales tax, financial transaction tax, securities transfer tax, trading tax, or Robin Hood tax, which would be levied on the financial transactions of market players. Debenedetti & Co. therefore want derivatives and other financial instruments to enjoy yet another exemption. In Italy, the vast majority of goods and services must pay a hefty Value Added Tax (VAT or IVA). Parents who want to buy shoes, clothing, and school supplies for their children must pay this tax. But for some strange reason, banks and hedge funds do not pay on their flash trading, program trading, and high-frequency trading. We can guess that the total deficit of governments at all levels in Europe, the United States, and Japan is closely correlated to the total exemption of financial institutions from IVA or sales tax on their turnover. To argue that this de facto public subsidy for speculation should be continued in an era when so many other activities are being heavily taxed or subjected to austerity cuts is reminiscent of the mentality of the French aristocracy under the pre-1789 ancien régime, which claimed that it had the divine right not be taxed under any circumstances. This claim, as we know, did not hold up.

At the heart of the arguments put forward by Debenedetti and his friends is the notion that human reason is very weak indeed, and cannot attain a practical understanding or overview of how political economy works. Only the market, they claim, can do with this by totalizing so many separate facts. But they are not arguing from any empirical observation of how markets really work, but expressing the fetishism of an efficient market which was typical of von Hayek and other Austrians. They tried to portray markets as genuine epistemological tools, which provided knowledge which could not be obtained any other way. Even the Ayn Rand devotee Alan Greenspan has backed away from this extravagant claim in the wake of the catastrophic collapse of the New York banks in October 2008. When asked whether he had been led astray by his market ideology, Greenspan told a Congressional hearing: “Yes, I’ve found a flaw. I don’t know how significant or permanent it is. But I’ve been very distressed by that fact.” (New York Times, October 23, 2008) Debenedetti does not share this distress. At the same time, the successful history of the Bank of the United States under Alexander Hamilton, the French Commissariat du Plan under DeGaulle, and the Japanese Ministry of International Trade and Industry (MITI)) makes clear to human reason is indeed capable of determining the main priorities of national economies.

Market fetishism is radically anti-historical. Everyone is aware of speculative manias, bubbles, panics, and the other recurring psychoses which make the judgment of any market totally unreliable in many critical moments. And what if there are monopolies, duopolies, oligopolies, trusts, combinations, or cartels of the February 8 type? Then the market is permanently distorted, which is what we have been seeing for decades.

Debenedetti wants “the market” to be seen as objective and impersonal, but it is not. “The market” has names and faces. If we find that half a dozen of the largest US banks control about 60% of all assets in the entire United States economy, then we can make that exorbitant control very personal and concrete. The owners of a majority share of the United States are bankers like Jamie Dimon of J.P. Morgan Chase, Vikram Pandit of Citibank, Lloyd Blankfein of Goldman Sachs, John Mack of Morgan Stanley, and Brian Moynihan of Bank of America/Merrill Lynch, and their respective boards. We can even know how many billions each one has been given in the form of bailouts at public expense.

The Austrian school makes the market into a metaphysical abstraction, a force above the rest of history, because it needs this mystification in order to defend the very concrete privileges of some very sleazy individuals who are the speculators. Some early Protestants tried to argue that the success of the speculator had been instituted by God. When this idea lost traction, apologists for speculation tried to argue that the speculators were morally or intellectually superior to the rest of humanity. When that did not work either, the Austrian school hit upon the trick of removing the speculators from consideration altogether by hiding them from view behind the anonymous and impersonal abstraction of “the market.” As the case of Greenspan suggests, this argument has also become untenable, and the entire edifice of Austrian thought is falling to the ground.

Debenedetti and his co-thinkers suggest that “the market” is able to detect the secret financial weaknesses of nations. But surely the shoe is on the other foot. The major US banks listed above were all, without exception, bankrupt and insolvent before US government intervention in the form of the bailout of October 2008. Today, any objective appraisal would conclude that Greece is far more economically viable and solvent then Citibank. Portugal is more viable than Goldman Sachs. Italy has a brighter economic future by far than J.P. Morgan.

The situation today would therefore seem to offer the following alternative. The speculative assault of the zombie banks and hedge fund speculators may succeed in bankrupting the modern nation state at all levels, in which case we will be dealing with the collapse of civilization as we have known it since the first prototype of the modern state emerged in Milan in the late 14th century under Giangaleazzo Visconti, who offered debt relief to strapped farmers. The better alternative is that the nation state will use its inherent sovereign powers to liquidate the bankrupt zombie banks and regulate many of the predatory activities of hedge funds out of existence, while banning the most toxic forms of derivatives and forcing speculators to share in the general tax burden of society.

Those who want the second of these alternatives must get to work here and now. The most obvious way to begin is for the present Italian government of Berlusconi and Tremonti to join the measures instituted by the German government last Tuesday. Italy should also go beyond these tentative initial German measures by banning all forms of credit default swaps, which are already inherently illegal under existing laws. Then there are those extremely dangerous synthetic collateralized debt obligations, which even Blankfein of Goldman Sachs has suggested might be done away with. They should indeed be totally banned at once. Antitrust investigations could be opened against the Feb. 8 hedge fund group by the Italian magistrates, whose independence has become world-famous. The Tobin tax should also be instituted on an emergency measure for financial stability and revenue enhancement on a purely national basis, with the revenue being retained for the benefit of the national budget.

Additional countries may soon join in the German ban. Likely candidates are the nations that were closely associated with the D-Mark in the old “snake in a tunnel” currency bloc starting in the 1970s. These would include Belgium and the Netherlands. The Czech Republic is another possibility, as is Sweden. Soon we may have a pro-derivatives bloc led by the US and the UK confronting an anti-derivatives bloc led by Germany. On the eve of the Washington Economic Conference of November 2008, I wrote: “The best we can hope for … is … dividing the world between a US-UK dominated derivatives bloc and a Brazil-India-Russia-China-South Africa anti-derivatives bloc interested in real physical commodity production, not fictitious capital.” The surprise is that the leadership of the anti-derivatives forces has actually been seized by Germany.
[1] Franco Debenedetti, Oscar Giannin, Antonio Martino, Roberto Perotti, Nicola Rossi, Paolo Savona, Vito Tanzi, Alberto Mingardi, “In difesa del mercato e degli operatori i responsabili veri e presunti della crisi,” Corriere della Sera, May 21, 2010,

[2] Franco Debenedetti, “È il mercato signora Merkel,” Il Sole 24 Ore, May 21, 2010,

[3] See “Financial Warfare Exposed: Soros, Goldman Sachs, Hedge Funds Attack Greece to Smash Euro,”

Landis accuses Armstrong of drug-taking

Landis accuses Armstrong of drug-taking
May 21, 2010
NEW: Lance Armstrong crashes in Tour of California race after denying Landis' claims
Cyclist Floyd Landis has admitted using performance-enhancing drugs, reports say
Landis says he has decided to own up after years of deceit took their toll on him
He also implicates dozens of other athletes in such activities, including Armstrong

(CNN) -- Cyclist Floyd Landis has acknowledged using performance-enhancing drugs for most of his career after disputing for years a positive doping test result that led to his suspension from the sport, two news organizations reported on Thursday.

Landis also sent e-mails saying that other cyclists have used performance-enhancing drugs, including Lance Armstrong, the American seven-time Tour de France winner, one of the news outlets reported.

Armstrong has repeatedly denied taking such drugs. Before a Tour of California stage race on Thursday -- where he later crashed, prompting a trip to a hospital -- he told reporters: "We have nothing to hide. We have nothing to run from," and said Landis has been threatening him and others for years. reported that Landis said in an interview that he consistently used the red blood cell booster erythropoietin, commonly known as EPO, along with testosterone and the human growth hormone and that he received frequent blood transfusions.

He also used female hormones and, once, insulin, reported. He is coming forward now because years of deceit have taken a toll on him, the site quoted him as saying.

Pat McQuaid, president of the International Cycling Union, told CNN on Thursday he was "very annoyed and very angry" after hearing of Landis' revelations.

"It just seems to be one last roll of the dice from a very desperate man," McQuaid said.

Landis sent e-mails to cycling and anti-doping officials recently that implicate dozens of other athletes in such activities, and The Wall Street Journal reported.

The Wall Street Journal reported it had seen three of the e-mails, dated between April 30 and May 6, and that officials with USA Cycling and the International Cycling Union were copied on them.

Three people who have seen the e-mails and spoken with Landis about them confirmed their authenticity, according to The Wall Street Journal.

The Journal said Armstrong was among those implicated in the e-mails. But Armstrong said on Thursday, "I would say that I'm a little surprised, but I'm not. In all honesty, this has been going on for a long time."

He said Landis began harassing him a few years ago. "At that time, we largely ignored him ... finally, a year or so ago, I told him, 'Listen, do what you have to do. We have nothing to say.' "

Landis began threatening him and others about a month ago, right before the Tour of California began, Armstrong said.

He added that Landis' specific claims regarding him are "not even worth getting into. I'm not going to waste your time or my time. I think history speaks for itself here."

Asked about Landis pointing the finger at him, Armstrong said, "He pinpointed a lot of people. Let's be honest, I mean, my name will be at the top of the story. My name will be in the headline. But at the end of the day, he pointed the finger at everybody still involved in cycling, everybody that's still enjoying the sport, everybody that still believes in the sport, everybody that's still working in the sport was in the crosshairs."

McQuaid said he had seen copies of e-mails sent to U.S. cycling officials, but would not divulge their contents. "Basically, it's largely along the same accusations that have appeared in the media today," he said.

"Here we have a guy who, you know, for the past four years, has stood in front of a couple of courts in proceedings and denied taking any doping products, denied even seeing evidence of doping activities," McQuaid said, adding that Landis wrote a book saying "authorities were against him" and set up a Web site so fans could help fund his fight to discredit the positive testing result, only to turn around later and acknowledge doping.

"To some extent, you have to question his credibility," McQuaid said.

"This is a man that's been under oath several times and had a very different version," Armstrong said. "This is a man that wrote a book for profit and had a completely different version. This is somebody that took, some would say, close to a million dollars from innocent people for his defense under a different premise, and now that it's all run out, the story changes."

But he said he didn't want to mount a personal attack on Landis. "I don't think he's a good guy or a bad guy," Armstrong said. "I think he certainly has some issues."

Landis spent as much as $90,000 a year on performance-enhancing drugs and consultants to help him build a training regime, reported.

However, he still maintains that the 2006 positive test result for synthetic testosterone at the Tour de France was inaccurate, saying he did not use synthetic testosterone that season, although he did use human growth hormone during that time, reported.

"There must be some other explanation, whether it was done wrong or I don't know what," Landis said, according to

"The problem I have with even bothering to argue it is [that] I have used testosterone in the past and I have used it in other Tours, and it's going to sound kind of foolish to say I didn't."

He told the Web site he has spent an estimated $2 million battling the test result, which caused him to be stripped of his 2006 Tour de France win and to be suspended from cycling for two years.

He told that if he could pay his donors back, he would, but he said he does not have the money.

The Wall Street Journal reported that in an April 30 e-mail to Stephen Johnson, president of USA Cycling, Landis said that one of Armstrong's longtime coaches introduced Landis to using steroid patches, blood doping and human growth hormone in 2002 and 2003, during Landis' first two years on the U.S. Postal Service team.

Armstrong helped him understand the way the drugs worked, Landis wrote, according to The Wall Street Journal.

"He and I had lengthy discussions about it on our training rides, during which time he also explained to me the evolution of EPO testing and how transfusions were now necessary due to the inconvenience of the new test," the Journal quoted the e-mail as saying.

In a statement, USA Cycling reiterated its zero-tolerance stance on doping. "In accordance with the World Anti-Doping Agency's Code of Athlete's Rights, USA Cycling does not and will not discuss doping allegations, investigations or any aspect of an adjudication process," Johnson said in the statement.

"There are many accusations being circulated and we are confident these will be thoroughly investigated by the appropriate authorities."

Landis wrote that Armstrong's coach taught him to use synthetic EPO and steroids and how to carry out blood transfusions that doping officials wouldn't be able to detect, the Wall Street Journal said.

He said that after breaking his hip in 2003, he flew to Spain and had two half-liter units of blood taken from his body in three-week intervals to be used during the Tour de France.

The extractions took place in Armstrong's apartment, Landis wrote, and blood bags belonging to Armstrong and a teammate were kept in a refrigerator in Armstrong's closet, the Wall Street Journal said.

Landis said he was asked to check the temperature of the blood daily, and when Armstrong left for a few weeks, he asked Landis to make sure the electricity didn't go off and ruin the blood, the newspaper said.

Armstrong said that besides being false, the timeline and other details in the e-mails were off.

Landis told that he realizes his credibility is questionable and that he has no documentation for many of the claims he is making about other riders or officials and it is his word against theirs.

"I want to clear my conscience," Landis told the Web site. "I don't want to be part of the problem anymore. With the benefit of hindsight and a somewhat different perspective, I made some misjudgments.

"And of course, I can sit here and say all day long, 'If I could do it again I'd do something different,' but I just don't have that choice."

Armstrong said on Thursday, "For somebody that says, 'I'm here to clear my conscience,' then why are you sending e-mails to people's sponsors, other people's partners, to the organizers of a race, to the sponsors of a race? That has nothing to do with your conscience."

He said he had no plans to take legal action against Landis. "Legal action takes time, takes energy, takes a lot of money. I have sued a few people in my day and been successful there ... I don't need to do that anymore. My energy needs to be devoted to the team, to Livestrong, to my kids. I'm not going to waste my time." also quoted Landis as saying, "I don't feel guilty at all about having doped. I did what I did because that's what we [cyclists] did and it was a choice I had to make after 10 years or 12 years of hard work to get there; and that was a decision I had to make to make the next step. My choices were, do it and see if I can win, or don't do it ... and I decided to do it."

He told he never felt forced or threatened to use performance-enhancing drugs. He said his first use was in June 2002, when he was a member of the U.S. Postal Service team. He said the fact that the World Doping Agency's statute of limitations for doping offenses is eight years factored into his motivation for coming forward.

He said he has saved his records, journals and diaries and has offered, in meetings with U.S. anti-doping authorities, to share them, said.

"Landis has been banned by the sport he's been caught doping and banned from the sport in the past," McQuaid said. "And that's correct, and that's the way it should be."

Cycling, he said, has "moved on a good bit" and is in "a much healthier state today."

In a statement on its Web site, the International Cycling Union said it "regrets that Landis has publicly accused individuals without allowing sufficient time for the relevant U.S. authorities to investigate."

Asked whether there should be an in-depth investigation, McQuaid said no, adding "we've had enough inquiries into individual doping cases ... This seems to be an agenda of one individual who is, to my mind, a very sad case."

In the e-mails, Landis wrote that current anti-doping efforts are "a charade," The Wall Street Journal said.

He also detailed how to use EPO and avoid detection and said he helped other teammates take the substance before a Tour of California race, the newspaper said.

A trying day for Armstrong was to end in more disappointment after he was forced to abandon the fifth stage of the Tour of California after crashing.

Armstrong and Jose Luis "Chechu" Rubiera, a teammate on the Radio Shack squad, crashed during the Amgen Tour of California stage race, said team director Johan Bruyneel. He said on his Twitter account that the riders were involved in "a huge crash" and Armstrong had been taken to a hospital for X-rays.

A photograph Armstrong posted on his Twitter page late Thursday afternoon shows a sutured gash underneath the outside corner of his left eye. Armstrong is sitting in a vehicle and looking at the camera with a serious expression.

"Just when I thought I couldn't get any uglier," the caption reads.

Several other riders from other teams also were involved in the crash.

Photographs taken after the crash show a race official tending to the bloody cut under Armstrong's left eye. The athlete was standing and did not appear to be in any great distress.

Disaster must be catalyst for change, says Jean-Michel Cousteau
The Times
May 25, 2010
Disaster must be catalyst for change, says Jean-Michel Cousteau
Jean-Michel Cousteau talks to media after he and his expedition team were turned away by the U.S. Coast Guard after arriving at the Breton Island National Wildlife Sanctuary to document the effects of oil on marine life in the Gulf of Mexico
Jacqui Goddard

Jean-Michel Cousteau, one of the world’s leading ocean explorers, has spoken of his “frustration at the human species” over the Gulf of Mexico oil disaster and called for it to become a catalyst for political, industrial and environmental change.

Describing the slick as “the worst oil accident anywhere on the planet”, the 72-year-old son of Jacques Cousteau, the pioneering underwater ecologist, said that the consequences for Man and nature would be monumental. “The sad side of the human species is that we talk a lot and take very little action until we have a catastrophe on our hands,” he told The Times.

“I don’t want to call this doomsday. I want to believe we can sit down with decision-makers and industry and government and convince them that there’s a better way to manage our life support system. We can do the good thing or we can keep destroying it.”

He added: “I hope that this is the kick in the butt that’s going to make our decision-makers change the way they operate.

“It’s also a kick in the butt for those industries that are making a huge amount of money to invest that money, not just talk about it as they all do, in renewable energy.”

Mr Cousteau’s father, who died in 1997, was a marine conservation trailblazer who raised awareness of the fragility of the planet and its oceans and the devastating effects of pollution, via 120 documentaries and more than 40 books. Jean-Michel Cousteau continues his father’s work through his California-based Ocean Futures Society, whose mission is to explore the seas and fight for their protection.

After witnessing the Exxon Valdez tanker disaster 21 years ago, in which 11 million gallons of oil leaked into the sea off Alaska, he had hoped for change. But a lack of regulation and oversight of the oil and chemical industry meant that a new disaster had been waiting to happen, he said.

Remnants of the slick could ultimately reach Europe by travelling in the Gulf Stream, he believes. “So BP, your oil is coming home,” said Mr Cousteau, who visited Louisiana last week.

Dismissing remarks from BP executives that the scale of the spill was tiny compared with the size of the sea and that the Gulf of Mexico would be cleaned up and “fully recover”, Mr Cousteau said: “To make such a statement is totally unacceptable. We have to see behind the dying bird, we have to understand the consequences of this that we can’t see. Nature is more complex than we can imagine. I know the ocean well enough to know that I don’t know it at all.”

His father once described the sea as a “universal sewer” and Man’s “global garbage can”.

“Towards the end of my father’s life he was telling me that we really need to be punished, we really need an emergency, if we are to get something done,” said his son. “What would my father say now? I think he would say, ‘I told you so’.”

Some in CIA wanted to create fake Saddam Hussein sex video

Crazy: Some in CIA wanted to create fake Saddam Hussein sex video, report asserts
Tuesday, May 25th, 2010

A little-noticed blog post by a veteran intelligence reporter averred Tuesday that the CIA's Iraq Operations Group weighed a plan prior to the 2003 Iraq invasion that sought to discredit Saddam Hussein by portraying him as gay.

According to Jeff Stein, a longtime intelligence reporter who first revealed that FBI officials had eavesdropped on a sitting Democratic congresswoman, the CIA's Iraq Operations Group considered creating a video that would the then-Iraqi leader having intercourse with a teenage boy.

“It would look like it was taken by a hidden camera,” a former CIA official purportedly told Stein. “Very grainy, like it was a secret videotaping of a sex session.”

The CIA would have then “flood[ed] Iraq with the videos,” the official added.

A third former CIA official said that the plan was shot down, in part, because others in the agency thought that claiming Saddam had sex with boys would do little to undermine him.

“Saddam playing with boys would have no resonance in the Middle East -- nobody cares,” another purported CIA official is quoted as saying. “Trying to mount such a campaign would show a total misunderstanding of the target. We always mistake our own taboos as universal when, in fact, they are just our taboos.”

A current U.S. official told Stein he couldn't confirm or deny the former CIA employees' claims.

"While I can't confirm these accounts, if these ideas were ever floated by anyone at any time, they clearly didn't go anywhere," the official told Stein.

Stein notes, however, that the CIA did make a video in which a fake Osama Bin Laden enjoys a campfire and the company of his associates while bragging about their juvenile paramours.

The agency actually did make a video purporting to show Osama bin Laden and his cronies sitting around a campfire swigging bottles of liquor and savoring their conquests with boys, one of the former CIA officers recalled, chuckling at the memory. The actors were drawn from “some of us darker-skinned employees,” he said.

Eventually, “things ground to a halt,” the other former officer said, because no one could come to agreement on the projects.

They also faced strong opposition from James Pavitt, then head of the agency’s Operations Division, and his deputy, Hugh Turner, who “kept throwing darts at it.”

Fundamentalists in Iraq have shown disdain for their gay compatriots since Saddam's fall. In some cases, according to human rights activists, they've resorted to grotesque violence.

The television news agency Al Arabiya reported last year that a prominent Iraqi human rights activist asserted that some men have died after gruesome anal torture.

"A prominent Iraqi human rights activist says that Iraqi militia have deployed a painful form of torture against homosexuals by closing their anuses using "Iranian gum,” the network said. "Yanar Mohammad told that, “Iraqi militias have deployed an unprecedented form of torture against homosexuals by using a very strong glue that will close their anus.”

"According to her," the report added, "the new substance 'is known as the American hum, which is an Iranian-manufactured glue that if applied to the skin, sticks to it and can only be removed by surgery. After they glue the anuses of homosexuals, they give them a drink that causes diarrhea. Since the anus is closed, the diarrhea causes death. Videos of this form of torture are being distributed on mobile cellphones in Iraq.'"

Ex-congressman Cheney wanted to institute ‘coup’

Ex-congressman who allegedly groped staffers claims Cheney wanted to institute ‘coup’
John Byrne
Monday, May 24th, 2010

The same ex-congressman who claimed that there was no sexual intent behind his tickling of a staffer has a new one for ya.

"Gentlemen, what we have here is a constitutional crisis," then-Congressman Eric Massa (D-NY) told editors for Esquire Magazine in January. "If what I've been told is true — and I believe it is — General David Petraeus, a commander with soldiers deployed in two theaters of war, has had multiple meetings with Dick Cheney, the former vice-president of the United States, to discuss Petraeus's candidacy for the Republican nomination for the presidency. And in fact, that's more than a constitutional crisis. That's treason."

The tale is developed by Ryan D'Agostino on Esquire's website as part of a longer profile piece on Massa, who resigned in March after accusations that he had sexually groped multiple male staffers. Massa himself gave conflicting statements about the incidents, telling Fox News' Glenn Beck that "not only did I grope [a staffer], I tickled him until he couldn't breathe," and then later recanting on Larry King, saying "it is not true" he groped anyone he employed. He appears to have a history of serial fabrications.

D'Agostino expands upon Massa's bold claim partway through his piece, writing:

One month before, in early January, Congressman Massa had called me and sketched out the bare bones of the tale he was now propounding. Four retired generals, he said — "three four-stars and one three-star" — had picked up disturbing reports that Petraeus, the commander of United States Central Command, whose portfolio contains the worst trouble spots on the globe, including Iraq and Afghanistan, had recently met with Cheney — twice — and Cheney was trying to recruit him to run in 2012. Were he to be the nominee, Massa said, Petraeus would be in the unprecedented position of a military man running for president against his own commander in chief.

"We have to see this for what it is," Massa said, his voice pleading. "There is a reason that we have in this country civilian leadership of the military. It is, among other things, to avoid something like this. Because in order to succeed electorally, General Petraeus must fail militarily. You understand? In order to succeed electorally, he must fail in his mission. Were he to run and win — and if he were to run, he would win in a landslide — we would be witness to an American coup d'état. It is the functional equivalent of the political overthrow of the commander in chief."

The congressman punctuated his sentence with a snort of indignation, followed by a short, high laugh. He searched the three other faces in the room for affirmation, any sign at all that we understood the gravity of the situation, because he had to that point been living alone with this unseemly knowledge. For a moment, he was met with silence. The story Massa had just told was staggering, and confusing. And just who was this man sitting before us? His eyes were wide and his voice thundered and a couple of times he seemed just short of hyperventilating. But if this story that four generals — "people whose names you know, very prominent military men" — had brought to him had any basis in fact, and if Petraeus were deliberately undermining his commander in chief, shouldn't somebody be bellowing about it?

"Mark my words, as a naval officer of twenty-four years who has looked at our current conflicts from every angle, I believe that having David Petraeus as president is precisely the way for the Dick Cheneys of the world to perpetuate these wars for the rest of our lives, and to start new wars," he later said, according to the piece. "To have endless wars. Endless war is their goal."

Writes D'Agostino: "He also managed to impress upon us something else: Congressman Eric Massa was a little bit crazy."

At Politico, Glenn Thrush blogs:

Petraeus, who is head of the U.S. Central Command, repeatedly and publicly has rebuked Cheney’s criticisms of Obama on torture policy.

“Whenever we have taken expedient measures, they have turned around and bitten us in the backside," Petraeus said on Meet the Press earlier this year.

The Petraeus allegations are among several bizarre moments in the Esquire profile, including Massa's admission that he considered killing himself in March.

D'Agostino catches Massa in lies throughout his piece. One concerns a former staffer who served as Massa's veterans' liason, who he says he has on the phone with him during one of their interviews. The Esquire reporter says he can hear the voice on the line, who says, "I got the impression he didn't want to talk to you, to be honest with you."

In the piece, Massa also says he considered suicide and once wandered through Washington in an Ambien-induced haze.

He even hits on the reporter, saying, "You better watch yourself around gay bars, my friend. It could get interesting."