“Soft despotism is a term coined by Alexis de Tocqueville describing the state into which a country overrun by "a network of small complicated rules" might degrade. Soft despotism is different from despotism (also called 'hard despotism') in the sense that it is not obvious to the people."

Monday, April 30, 2012

France v. Germany, take III

Hollande's 'Growth Bloc' spells end of German hegemony in Europe

For two years Germany has had its way in Europe, treating historic nations much as Bismarck treated Bavaria – sovereign only in name.

5:32PM BST 29 Apr 2012

The French-led counter-attack and rumblings of revolt through every branch of the EU institutions last week have brought this aberrant phase of the eurozone crisis to an abrupt end.
"It’s not for Germany to decide for the rest of Europe," said François Hollande, soon to be French leader, unless he trips horribly next week. Strong words even for the hustings.
"If I am elected president, there will be a change in Europe's construction. We’re not just any country: we can change the situation," he said.
European allies are flocking to his cause from left and right, he claims. Not even Austria supports Germany’s austerity drive any longer.
This then is the birth of a Euroland growth bloc with well over 200m people and a commanding majority vote in the European Council, a defining moment in this saga. Mario Draghi at the European Central Bank is quickly bending to the new political dispensation with calls for a "Growth Compact". The Commission - liberated at last - is finding ways to "extend deadlines" on fiscal targets.

The French-led counter-attack and rumblings of revolt through every branch of the EU institutions last week have brought this aberrant phase of the eurozone crisis to an abrupt end.
"It’s not for Germany to decide for the rest of Europe," said François Hollande, soon to be French leader, unless he trips horribly next week. Strong words even for the hustings.
"If I am elected president, there will be a change in Europe's construction. We’re not just any country: we can change the situation," he said.
European allies are flocking to his cause from left and right, he claims. Not even Austria supports Germany’s austerity drive any longer.
This then is the birth of a Euroland growth bloc with well over 200m people and a commanding majority vote in the European Council, a defining moment in this saga. Mario Draghi at the European Central Bank is quickly bending to the new political dispensation with calls for a "Growth Compact". The Commission - liberated at last - is finding ways to "extend deadlines" on fiscal targets.
Mr Hollande plans an EU-wide call for renegotiation of Europe’s punitive pact on his first day in the Elysée. For this he was instantly rebuked by Angela Merkel. Pacta Sunt Servanda. "The treaty cannot be renegotiated," she said, forgetting the Kohl maxim that every German chancellor must bow three times before the Tricoleur.
The unratified treaty can of course be renegotiated, or disappear into the dustbin where such reactionary rubbish belongs. Mrs Merkel cannot push it through the Bundestag in any case without the Social Democrats, who are warming to Mr Hollande.
Mrs Merkel will have to relearn the forgotten art of compromise. Unable to dictate terms, she may struggle to deflect the ruinous implications of monetary union onto other EMU countries for much longer.
It is worth remembering that German taxpayers have not yet bailed out anybody, whatever they may believe. Berlin has rejected all forms of debt pooling, Eurobonds, or fiscal transfers, understandably since full budgetary union would violate Germany’s constitution and eviscerate their democracy.
Chancellor Merkel has agreed only to a "Stability Union", with greater power to police debtor states. The rescues for Greece, Ireland, and Portugal are loan packages at stiff interest, not grants.
I heard an official from the chamber of industry and trade (DIHK) say with disarming candour that the euro has put Germany in an almost perfect position, even if the single currency was thrust upon a reluctant German nation in the first place - and even if 56pc would prefer a return to the D-Mark now. "Imagine how strong the D-mark would be today and how much higher interest rates would be if we weren’t in the euro."
This is true. It is also a surreal state of affairs. Germany cannot ride a perpetual trade surplus with Club Med without blowing up the system (which must balance), nor can it hope to escape the inflationary revenge of such a policy mix on its own internal economy. The advantage is a short-term illusion, a trap.
It is remarkable that Berlin has met so little resistance until now in driving through a fiscal treaty that puts all the burden of resolving EMU imbalances on the weaker states, and that almost no country wants; or in enforcing its lethal doctrine of "expansionary fiscal contraction" on economies trapped in debt-deflation; or in toppling elected leaders in Greece and Italy; or in imposing bondholder haircuts in Greece against warnings from the ECB - warnings soon realised as contagion engulfed Ireland, and now threatens to engulf Spain too, with Italy yoked in tandem, and France yoked in turn through trade and debt exposure.
This catalogue of misjudgement was possible only because Nicolas Sarkozy went along at every stage rather than deploy France’s swing power in the EU system to call a halt. He sacrificed all for the illusion of Franco-German parity.
Let me be clear, fiscal tightening is necessary, but not beyond the therapeutic dose of 1pc of GDP in net cuts each year, not combined with a shrinking money supply and a collapse in loan demand, and not imposed before southern Europe reaches "escape velocity".
The EU’s policy mix ignores a century of economic history and science. The result is an entirely avoidable slide into a double-dip slump across half of Europe, a depression of choice so to speak. As the Spanish foreign minister Jose Manuel Garcia-Margallo said over the weekend, Spain is now in a crisis of "huge proportions".
Premier Mariano Rajoy had hoped to repeat the turn-around 'milagro’ of the mid-1990s when Spain came back from the dead to meet the entry terms for EMU, that cruelly Pyrrhic achievement. But it was a booming world then. The peseta had just been devalued, and nobody was questioning the solvency of EU sovereign states. Mr Rajoy must by now see the error of that comparison. Unemployment has risen by 400,000 to 24.4pc since he took office before Christmas.
Note that Standard & Poor’s did not cite lack of fiscal rigour when it cut Spain’s credit rating two notches to BBB+ last week. It blamed "economic contraction", fragile banks, and the incoherence of EU policies. Will Mr Rajoy really grind his country into collapse with two more years of fiscal squeeze when rating agencies say it will not help anyway?
Neil Mellor from BNY Mellon said the latest blows are pushing Spain "toward a point of no return". We will find out next at Thursday’s auction whether Spanish banks can absorb much more of their own country’s debt. If not, the crisis will quicken since almost nobody else is buying.
It is obvious what must be done. The contraction policies must be halted immediately. Nominal GDP growth must be restored to its trend line by monetary means. The ECB must be given treaty powers to act as a genuine lender of last resort, able to intervene with sufficient force to take all risk of sovereign default off the table in Spain and Italy.
The Latin Bloc might politely tell Berlin: acquiesce in the new landscape, or expect Latin Europe to take matters into its own hands and bring about the fiscal, monetary, and exchange conditions needed to safeguard its societies - entailing a very nasty shock for German banks and exporters.
No such showdown is about to happen of course. Mr Hollande is an Enarque at heart, easily bidable. He may be fobbed off with a bigger role for the European Investment Bank. Italy's Mario Monti is a true-believer in the European Project. He wants "targeted investments" to lift short-term demand, not revolution. The EU elites will try to muddle through. If policy is loosened enough, they may just succeed.
Yet the mood has at least changed. The faintly Petaniste era of Merkozy is over. "There will be no more talk of a virtuous North and a sinner South. There will be a Europe of countries with their history and character, each with their strengths and weaknesses," said Hollande ally Arnaud Montebourg.
As for Germany, we will find out what its pro-European rhetoric means when it no longer calls the shots. Or put another way, the epicentre of Europe's political crisis may soon be Germany itself.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

The White House Correspondent’s Circus

I could stand watching about five minutes of it. Elliot Spitzer, George Clooney, Lindasay Lohan and Kim Kardashian?

Friday, April 27, 2012

According to rape crisis counselors in Japan, over 300 rapes committed by U.S. troops have been reported since 1945.

US to move marines out of Japan

9,000 of the military contingent that is upsetting residents on the island of Okinawa will move to other parts of Asia Pacific region
The US marines Futenma base on Okinawa, Japan
The US marines' Futenma base on Okinawa, Japan. Photograph: Issei Kato/Reuters
Japan and the US have agreed to relocate thousands of US marines from Okinawa in a move aimed at reducing the island's military burden amid lingering anger among residents over pollution, accidents and crime.
Under a deal reached in Washington late on Thursday, about 9,000 marines will move from the southern Japanese island to the US Pacific territory of Guam and other locations in the region, including Hawaii and Australia.
By shifting a large number of the 19,000 marines on Okinawa, leaders in Tokyo and Washington said they hoped to reduce the US militaryfootprint on the island while retaining a strong enough presence to deal with security emergencies in the region.
In a joint statement, the US defence secretary, Leon Panetta, and the secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, said the agreement would honour Washington's commitment to defending Japan and maintaining stability in an "increasingly uncertain security environment".
"Japan is not just a close ally, but also a close friend," Panetta said separately. "And I look forward to deepening that friendship and strengthening our partnership as, together, we address security challenges in the region."
No date has been given for the $8.6bn (£5.3bn) move – of which Japan will pay $3.1 billion – and questions remain over the fate of Futenma, a sprawling marine base located in Ginowan, an Okinawan city of 95,000 people.
Earlier this year, President Obama signalled a shift in US military priorities towards the Asia-Pacific region, after a decade of prioritising expensive wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The potential for volatility in east Asia was underlined by North Korea's recent rocket launch and the prospect of a third nuclear test by the regime.
There is concern, too, over Beijing's military spending and long-standing disputes between China and Japan over territory and energy resources.
"I think we have made some progress and this plan offers specific and forward-looking action," said Japan's foreign minister, Koichiro Gemba, adding that Japan wanted to "reduce the burden on Okinawa".
But the agreement, made days before the Japanese prime minister, Yoshihiko Noda, meets Obama in Washington, is unlikely to satisfy residents living near Futenma, a cause of friction between successive US and Japanese administrations.
Local opposition to the US military presence on Okinawa reached a high point in 1995 after three servicemen abducted and raped a 12-year-old girl.
The crime prompted the US and Japan to look for ways to reduce the military presence on Okinawa, which comprises less than 1% of Japan's total area, yet hosts three-quarters of all US bases and just under half its 47,000 troops.
The talks led to a 2006 agreement under which Futenma was to be relocated to Henoko in a less populated part of Okinawa, and 8,000 troops moved off the island by 2014.
The Futenma question remains unresolved, however, after the government in Tokyo failed to persuade people in Henoko – an ecologically important stretch of coastline – to agree to host the new offshore base. Most residents of Okinawa want the base moved off their island altogether, but the government has failed to find a new host community.
Up to 5,000 troops – about 3,000 fewer than envisaged in the original 2006 agreement – will be sent to Guam, according to a US defence official quoted by Associated Press in Washington. The remainder will move to Hawaii or rotate between Australia and other parts of the region.
Kurt Campbell, the US assistant secretary of state for east Asian and Pacific affairs, said the deal should satisfy congressional critics who had denounced the original plan as confused and expensive.
"We think it breaks a very long stalemate that has plagued our politics, that has clogged both of our systems," he said.

Pvt. Kevin Lee Flippin leaves the Uijeongbu courthouse following the first day of his trial Oct 21, 2011. Flippin confessed to raping, beating and burning a 17-year-old South Korean girl after a night of drinking in Dongducheon on Sept. 24.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

As bad as things are in Syria, it is not our problem to intervene


26 April 2012 Last updated at 02:53 ET Syria:

Massive explosion in Hama 'kills 70’ 

Up to 70 people have been killed in an attack on a house in Hama, according to Syrian activists. 

They said several houses in the Mashaa at-Tayyar district in southern Hama were destroyed by a big explosion.

State media said 16 people died in the blast in a house used as a bomb factory by "armed terrorist groups”.

Meanwhile, a video has emerged which purportedly shows a man being buried alive by security forces, allegedly for sending material to TV stations.

The unnamed man, who is said to be a media activist, is seen pleading for his life as earth is shovelled over his head. He then goes silent.

The security forces are heard cursing him for receiving money for sending material to Arabic satellite TV stations. The video was leaked by sympathisers.

Scud attack? 

Following the blast in Hama, activists posted video on the internet showing a scene of devastation, with bodies being pulled from the rubble.

They said the blast was caused by government shelling or even a Scud missile attack.

State television showed pictures of injured children in hospital.

The reports cannot be independently verified owing to government restrictions on foreign media.

Continuing violence has been reported across Syria since a ceasefire was introduced earlier this month - including in towns where UN observers are present.

France now says the Security Council should consider the use of force in Syria if a UN-backed peace plan proposed by international envoy Kofi Annan fails to stop the violence.

The plan calls on Damascus to withdraw troops and heavy weapons from cities. The UN has sent a small advance team of observers to Syria. Last weekend the Security Council approved the deployment of another 300. The UN says about 9,000 people have died since pro-democracy protests began in March 2011. In February, the Syrian government put the death toll at 3,838 - 2,493 civilians and 1,345 security forces personnel.

Annan's six-point peace plan 

  1. Syrian-led political process to address the aspirations and concerns of the Syrian people 
  2. UN-supervised cessation of armed violence in all its forms by all parties to protect civilians 
  3. All parties to ensure provision of humanitarian assistance to all areas affected by the fighting, and implement a daily two-hour humanitarian pause 
  4. Authorities to intensify the pace and scale of release of arbitrarily detained persons 
  5. Authorities to ensure freedom of movement throughout the country for journalists 
  6. Authorities to respect freedom of association and the right to demonstrate peacefully

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

The Mother of all Short Squeezes

Apple is up $50 a share in after markets. How sweet it is. The jackals in the media with CNBC in the forefront did their best to trash the stock and the company in the last week and they were so deliciously wrong.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Counting on Social Security and Medicare for all of your financial needs could be the worst mistake you'll ever make.

More Bad News on Social Security and Medicare Trust Funds

Posted 6:00AM 04/24/12Posted under: RetirementEconomy

For years, people have worried about whether Social Security and Medicare would be around when they needed the benefits that those two programs provide. On Monday, worriers got bad news: The programs are closer to running out of money.

The government released the latest versions of the annual Social Security and Medicare Trustees Reports on Monday, and the results were troubling:
  • The combined trust fund that holds funding reserves for the overall Social Security program is now expected to run out of money in 2033 -- three years earlier than trustees expected last year.
  • The news for Medicare is even more dire. Its trust fund will run out of money in 2024 under current projections. That's the same as it was last year, but fully five years earlier than estimates from two years ago.
  • Breaking down Social Security into its component parts, the retirement part of the program will use up its trust fund in 2035. But for its disability program, the news is worse still -- its trust fund will go dry in 2016, two years earlier than last year's prediction.
The reduction in Social Security payroll taxes in 2011 and 2012 has led to steep declines in payroll taxes going to the Social Security trust fund. However, the legislation creating the tax cuts provided for reimbursements to the trust fund for any lost revenue, and it appears that the Trustees Reports treat those reimbursements as money available to the trust fund.
What's Next

As DailyFinance contributor Chuck Saletta has detailed previously, demographics are largely to blame for the current crisis. As baby boomers approach retirement age, there are fewer workers in the younger generations to pay taxes to support their monthly benefits. Unless something's done to address the problem, the trustees expect that Social Security will have to cut benefits by about a quarter across the board when the trust fund assets run out.
Medicare's problems are even more potentially catastrophic for retirees. Social Security may provide regular income, but Medicare pays a big chunk of the huge unexpected expenses that medical problems bring to many retirees. Any reduction in benefits to Medicare would leave retirees dangerously exposed to financial disaster.

Regardless of what action lawmakers take to address the problem, the Trustees Reports emphasize how important it is for you to have your own retirement nest egg. Counting on Social Security and Medicare for all of your financial needs could be the worst mistake you'll ever make.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Libertarian Nationalism?

I love what this guy is doing in England. I can dream that it can happen here.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

What is wrong with this story?

Iran says it is building copy of captured U.S. drone

TEHRAN, Iran (AP) – A senior Iranian commander says the country has reverse-engineered an American spy drone captured by Tehran's armed forces last year and has begun building a copy. Gen. Amir Ali Hajizadeh, who is chief of the aerospace division of the powerful Revolutionary Guards, was quoted Sunday by the semi-official Mehr news agency as saying that experts are also recovering data from the U.S. RQ-170 Sentinel captured in December in eastern Iran. U.S. officials have acknowledged losing the drone. They have said Iran will find it hard to exploit any data and technology aboard it because of measures taken to limit the intelligence value of drones operating over hostile territory.
Now watch this video, in Farsi, with English sub-titles:

Saturday, April 21, 2012

"The party is going on but you have to leave."

Christopher Hitchens Is Memorialized With an Irreverence That Would Please Him 

Apr 20, 2012 7:55 PM EDT THE DAILY BEAST

Notables from Salman Rushdie and Martin Amis to Sean Penn and Olivia Wilde gathered at a New York memorial service to honor the contrarian wit and indefatigable lifestyle of the late author, Lloyd Grove reports.

Polemicist and journalist Christopher Hitchens, who died in December at 62 after a battle with esophageal cancer, was celebrated Friday as an incorrigible contrarian, dazzling public intellectual, obdurate justice seeker, and passionate bon vivant in a star-studded memorial service at New York’s Cooper Union.

Yet “service,” as in pious activity, is probably the wrong word—for Hitchens was famously an adamant atheist, and his 2007 faith-debunking bestseller God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything was the most successful of his 12 books and five essay collections.

“Shortly after his death, I was interviewed by an annoying interviewer on CNN,” theoretical physicist Lawrence Krauss told the capacity crowd of around 800, which included many of the leading figures in literature, journalism, science, and entertainment that Hitchens counted as friends, notably Hollywood actors Sean Penn and Olivia Wilde (who confided that Hitchens, a close pal of her parents, “was a wonderful babysitter”).

Krauss went on with his story by saying that the unnamed CNN personality introduced the Hitchens segment thusly: “On the one hand, he inspired the ideals of skepticism, free inquiry, and rational thought, but at the same time has been called a bullying, lying, opportunistic, cynical contrarian. She said that as if it were a bad thing.”

Big laugh from the audience—one of many moments of hilarity throughout the two hours of remembrances by friends and family and readings from Hitchens’s prolific body of work. His writings—often dashed off while he sat on a barstool yet informed by amazing erudition—appeared everywhere from The Nation to Newsweek to Vanity Fair, where he spent more than a decade as a marquee columnist.

Vanity Fair editor Graydon Carter, who organized the event, called Hitchens “a man of ferocious appetites—for Scotch, for cigarettes, and for talk. That he had the output to equal what he consumed was the true miracle of the man.” Carter added, “He wrote fast, frequently without benefit of a second draft or even corrections.” He was “an editor’s dream and he was a reader’s dream,” Carter continued, noting that Hitchens possessed “a legendary memory that held up even under the most liquid of late-night conditions.”

Hitchens’ prodigious drinking and smoking—documented by numerous photographs and a tailor-made documentary projected behind the stage—was a leitmotif of the memorial, as was his insistence on leaving “the cozy cocoon of conventional liberal wisdom,” as Carter put it, to back George W. Bush’s war in Iraq, savage the sainted Mother Teresa as a fraud and hypocrite, and pursue Henry Kissinger as an evil war criminal. Richard Nixon’s former national security adviser and secretary of state, generally one of the more sought-after eulogists whenever a VIP passes away, was understandably not in attendance.

Sitting in the invited audience, however, were media mogul Tom Freston, writer and director Nora Ephron, 60 Minutes correspondent Steve Kroft, New Yorker editor David Remnick, Newsweek and The Daily Beast editor Tina Brown, and London lawyer Eleni Meleagrou, Hitchens’ ex-wife and the mother of two of his three children, Alexander and Sophia. Carol Blue, his widow and the mother of his daughter Antonia, joined his son Alexander Meleagrou-Hitchens in reading excerpts from his writing.

Vanity Fair editor Graydon Carter, who organized the event, called Hitchens “a man of ferocious appetites—for Scotch, for cigarettes, and for talk. That he had the output to equal what he consumed was the true miracle of the man.”

Among others who read from Hitchens’s work were playwright Tom Stoppard, novelist Salman Rushdie, and satirist and novelist Christopher Buckley, along with Penn and Wilde. Geneticist Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health, who helped guide Hitchens’s cancer treatment, played a piano piece that he composed in honor of the writer after noting that they became warm friends even though “I am a follower of Jesus Christ.”

Eulogist Martin Amis, the famed novelist and Hitchens’s close friend since their Oxford days, cheekily recalled that his pal was a “self-mythologizer” who “often referred to himself in the third person,” as in “The Hitch.” Whenever an injustice occurred, Hitchens would declare, “The pen of the Hitch will flash from its scabbard.” Once, when they were strolling toward a movie theater in Southampton, N.Y., Amis teased his friend that “no one has recognized The Hitch for at least 10 minutes,” Amis recounted. “And he said, ‘Longer. It’s been at least 15 minutes.’”

British actor and playwright Stephen Fry, memorializing Hitch the hedonist, recalled that he maintained that “the most overrated things in life were champagne, lobster, anal sex, and picnics.” Fry, who is out and proud, waited a beat before adding, “Well, three out of four!” It would have tickled Hitchens that his memorial started and ended with a rousing recording of “The Internationale,” and it probably wouldn't have bothered him excessively that afterward, once the mourners were outside on the sidewalk, clouds of cigarette smoke wafted over their heads.

Friday, April 20, 2012

"Ophelia, Where have you gone?"

Rolling Stone

Levon Helm, on his second run, burned it out.

Levon Helm, singer and drummer for the Band, died on April 19th in New York of throat cancer. He was 71. 
"He passed away peacefully at 1:30 this afternoon surrounded by his friends and bandmates," Helm's longtime guitarist Larry Campbell tells Rolling Stone. "All his friends were there, and it seemed like Levon was waiting for them. Ten minutes after they left we sat there and he just faded away. He did it with dignity. It was even two days ago they thought it would happen within hours, but he held on. It seems like he was Levon up to the end, doing it the way he wanted to do it. He loved us, we loved him."
In the late Nineties, Helm – whose singing anchored Band classics like "The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down," "Up on Cripple Creek," "Rag Mama Rag," and "The Weight" – was diagnosed with throat cancer and underwent 28 radiation treatments, eventually recovering his voice. In recent weeks, however, Helm had canceled a number of shows, including one at the New Orleans Jazz Fest on April 27th and another in Montclair, New Jersey. A note posted to his website on Tuesday from his daughter Amy and wife Sandy said that Helm was in the "final stages of his battle with cancer. Please send your prayers and love to him as he makes his way through this part of his journey. Thank you fans and music lovers who have made his life so filled with joy and celebration...he has loved nothing more than to play, to fill the room up with music, lay down the back beat, and make the people dance! He did it every time he took the stage." 
Born May 26, 1940 in Arkansas, Helm was literally a witness to the birth of rock & roll; as a teenager, he saw Elvis Presley, Little Richard, Johnny Cash and Jerry Lee Lewis in concert and was inspired to play drums after seeing Lewis' drummer, Jimmy Van Eaton. (Helm went on to play mandolin and other stringed instruments as well). In 1960, Helm joined the backup band of rockabilly wildman Ronnie Hawkins – a group that would eventually include Robbie Robertson, Richard Manuel, Rick Danko and Garth Hudson, all future members of the Band.

The musicians broke from Hawkins to form their own group – their names included the Crackers and Levon and the Hawks – but it was their association with Bob Dylan that cemented their reputation. After Dylan saw the group in a club (either in Canada or New Jersey, depending on the source), he invited Helm and guitarist Robertson to join his electric band. "Bob Dylan was unknown to us," Helm wrote in his 1993 memoir This Wheel's on Fire. "I knew he was a folksinger and songwriter whose hero was Woody Guthrie. And that's it." Robertson and Helm were in Dylan's electric band for his controversial, frequently booed show at New York's Forest Hills Tennis Stadium. Afterward, various members of the Band played on Dylan's Blonde on Blonde and toured with him in 1966. (Helm left temporary in 1965, tired of the ongoing hostility from Dylan's folk fans.)
Recuperating in Woodstock after his 1966 motorcycle accident, Dylan again hooked up with the band that would soon be the Band. Before Helm rejoined them, they recorded the landmark Basement Tapes, and the Band's crackling, homespun take on American roots music began to take shape. Rechristening themselves the Band, they signed to Capitol Records and released two classic albums, Music From Big Pink (1968) and The Band (1969). Although Robertson was the Band's principal songwriter, it was Helm's beautifully gruff and ornery voice that brought the Canadian Robertson's mythic Americana songs to life. He was also one of rock's earliest singing drummers.
In 1976, at Robertson's urging, the Band broke up after its farewell concert, known as "The Last Waltz." In meetings before the concert and as recounted in This Wheel's on Fire, Helm was adamantly opposed to the group disbanding. "I didn't want any part of it," he wrote. "I didn't want to break up the band." He begrudgingly went along, but his relationship with Robertson was never the same. After the show, Helm formed his own band, Levon Helm and the RCO All Stars, featuring fellow legends Dr. John, Steve Cropper, and Booker T. Jones, and recorded several solo albums. Helm also ventured into acting with an acclaimed role in 1980's Coal Miner's Daughter, playing Loretta Lynn (Sissy Spacek's) father. But he couldn't leave the Band behind, and with Danko, Manuel, and Hudson, he formed a new version of the Band in the early Eighties, recording three new studio albums with them.
The Band continued for a while after Manuel's suicide by hanging in 1986, but Danko's death in 1999 of heart failure ended the Band once and for all. By then, Helm was dealing with throat cancer. After his recovery, he began holding intimate concerts in his combination barn and studio in Woodstock, called the "Midnight Ramble," in part to pay his medical bills. The low-key, woodsy performances became must-see shows and attracted a rock who's who; Elvis Costello, Natalie Merchant, the Grateful Dead's Phil Lesh and Donald Fagen were among the many who joined Helm and his band. The Ramble shows led to two acclaimed Helm solo albums – 2007's Dirt Farmer, which won a Grammy in the Best Traditional Folk category, and 2009's Electric Dirt, which resulted in a Grammy for Best Americana album. "This go-round has been a lot more fun," Helm told Rolling Stone in 2009. "Now I know I've got enough voice to do it."
When the Band was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1994, Helm didn't attend, revealing that his feud with Robertson was still on. "I thought Levon was going to show," Robertson told Rolling Stone a few years later. "Then that evening they said he changed his mind and wasn't going to come. And I thought, 'Oh, God, it would have been better if he was here.'"
Helm's throat cancer had taken a toll on his singing voice. On stage and in recent interviews, his voice was sometimes strong but other times was reduced to a low rasp. But at one his last shows, in Ann Arbor on March 19th with a 13-piece band, the audience roared when he sang the Band classic "Ophelia." "I'm not the poster boy of good health," he said in an interview last year. "But I'm not doing too bad. I still got the energy to make music. As long as I can do that, I'm great."

.. and here we have Levon Helm and the Band with Bob Dylan, 1969. For some reason the cameraman does not show Levon till 2:25:

Read more:

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

How Blondes Took Over the World, Except in Afghanistan of Course

How women evolved blond hair to win cavemen's hearts

As the role of women has evolved, men's expectations of women have changed," Professor Ayton said. "They are looking for more intense, equal partnerships and appearance has a large role to play. It is even possible that certain hair colours can indicate wealth and experience.” (except in Afghanistan of course.)

For those who are still considering the debate on whether men prefer blondes, a study may have provided proof in favour of the flaxen-haired, if only because they appeal to the "caveman" within. Academic researchers have discovered that women in northern Europe evolved with light hair and blue eyes at the end of the Ice Age to stand out from the crowd and lure men away from the far more common brunette. Blond hair originated through genetic necessity at a time when there was a shortage of both food and males, leading to a high ratio of women competing for smaller numbers of potential partners, according to the study published this week in the academic journal, Evolution and Human Behaviour. Until these shortages about 10,000 to 11,000 years ago, humans had uniformly dark hair and eyes. The physical ardour required with hunting bison, reindeer and mammoths in some regions meant many male hunters died and left women with a shrinking pool of breeders. Flaxen-haired women arose out of a rare mutation but increased in numbers because their chances of breeding turned out to be better. Peter Frost, a Canadian anthropologist and author of the study, published under the aegis of St Andrews University in Fife, said hair colour became popular as a result of the "pressures of sexual selection on early European women". Human hair and eye colour is unusually diverse in northern and eastern Europe ... [and their] origin over a short span of evolutionary time indicate some kind of selection. Sexual selection is particularly indicated because it is known to favour colour traits," he said. He added that the environment skewed the sex ratio in favour of men "to leave more women than men unmated at any one time". Such an imbalance, he said, would have increased the pressures of sexual selection on early European women, one possible outcome being an unusual complex of colour traits: hair and eye colour diversity and, possibly, extreme skin de-pigmentation. There are at least seven different shades of blond hair in Europe and the question of how such a large variation developed in a relatively short period of time in a geographical region has always remained a mystery. Dr Frost concluded that the lighter shades of blond hair evolved as a response to food shortages in areas where women could not collect food for themselves and were utterly reliant on the male hunters, as they were in some parts of northern Europe. But while blondes may have had more fun at the dawn of time, researchers at City University in London last year found that modern men responded more positively to pictures of brunettes and redheaded women than to their blonde counterparts. Experts said that as relations between men and women have evolved, men may have become more attracted by brains, represented in their psyche by brunettes, than the more physical charms of blond hair. Peter Ayton, professor of psychology at City University, who led the research, said dark hair could now be more a potent symbol than blond. "As the role of women has evolved, men's expectations of women have changed," Professor Ayton said. "They are looking for more intense, equal partnerships and appearance has a large role to play. It is even possible that certain hair colours can indicate wealth and experience.”

Never Underestimate the Underestimation