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At the New Museum, the Empire Strikes Back

At the age of five, John Akomfrah nearly drowned at a beach in Accra, Ghana, where the Atlantic Ocean laps the coast in treacherous tides. The experience bred a healthy respect for the sea. “It almost claimed me, you know,” Akomfrah said when I met him at the New Museum, which hosts this season a major exhibition of his film-based art. “But for the bravery of two fishermen, I wouldn’t be here. So I understand its force.”

Akomfrah was born in Ghana in 1957, the same year that country gained its independence from Britain. But he grew up in London, where his family moved when he was still young; he studied film in Portsmouth, and made his career as an artist in the United Kingdom. His family belonged to that swelling wave of immigrants to Britain from its former colonies who came to supply industrial labor, nursing, and social services, and — though this part would require struggle to get recognized — the feedstock ideas and experiences of a new cultural politics.

Today, Akomfrah is a fundamental figure of that art and politics, as it has evolved from the battle years of Thatcherism to the stitching together — not always easy — of humanist and anti-racist culture work across the Atlantic, putting theories and aesthetics to the test of local particularities. And to the overwhelming global present moment, with its money lust, race panic, and pyromaniacally inflamed tribalisms careening against the backdrop of digital saturation and imminent environmental doom.

Installation views of John Akomfrah’s “Vertigo Sea” at the New Museum

Akomfrah’s body of work includes some forty extended pieces of “lens-based” art: Among these are some features and documentaries, but the bulk are in a personal language of art film that blends original shooting, archival footage, photographic stills, interstitial text, and music in multi-channel composites that unfold like symphonic collages. It all amounts to as solid an oeuvre as exists to chart how our “western” and/or “multicultural” societies got to where we are, and offer clues about a way further.

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But few are those who have seen it all, beyond the artist and his longtime collaborators, the producers David Lawson and Lina Gopaul. These are museum works, mostly shown in exhibitions and screenings, almost none for sale (let alone streaming). They are long, relative to most film and video-based art, often stretching half an hour or twice that. A complete retrospective would be an unwieldy thing.

This season, the New Museum has chosen a different approach — one that works elegantly. It has devoted its entire second floor to Akomfrah’s work, but made a tight selection of four film pieces, each of which shows in a generous space, like its own movie theater. The largest room goes to Vertigo Sea, Akomfrah’s lavish, unabashedly emotional ode to the oceans, to marine creatures, and to the humans who have journeyed at great peril across waters, of their own volition or otherwise, and those who ended at the bottom of the sea. First screened in the 2015 Venice Biennale, and now in its New York premiere, it unfolds on three channels side-by-side across the wide wall.

Rounding out the multiplex are smaller rooms that show Transfigured Night (2013), a less-known two-channel work that meditates on the ambitions and failings of postcolonial states; The Unfinished Conversation (2012), an intimate yet socially capacious three-channel work that tracks the life of the late British-Jamaican scholar and activist Stuart Hall; and, jumping back to the beginning, Signs of Empire (1983), by the Black Audio Film Collective, which Akomfrah and six other Portsmouth Polytechnic students formed in search of a politically and artistically autonomous voice.

Installation view and still from “Transfigured Night” (2013)

The film was made of an ingenious montage of slides from multiple projectors beamed together — a choice dictated by aesthetic and penury, as they could not afford film — fading together sequences of archival images, along with text, radio tape, and original music. It unpacked the tropes of imperialism — the explorers, civilizers, natives. The juxtapositions and repetitions brought out the psychodynamic aspects of colonialism: the delusions, the venality, the anxiety.

The whole exhibition, which the New Museum has built out in a way that nearly eliminates any room-to-room audio bleed, makes a rich experience, worth devoting about three hours to (the works range between roughly twenty to 45 minutes each). It amounts, at this moment in social discourse, to a kind of invigorating cleanse. Akomfrah’s method is creatively satisfying, while his subject matter and the way he applies materials and techniques are profoundly humane. The work is more romantic than didactic; attentive to the idea that a vision of society is as provisional as it is necessary.

I met Akomfrah in late June, soon after the exhibition opened. He was juggling obligations before his flight to London and was apologetic about the short window he had for the interview. A youthful 61, Akomfrah is affable and funny; he speaks at once carefully and casually, nice long sentences that touch on theory and literature, but more like an investigator than an authority.

This querying, humble mode echoes the humanistic thinking of Hall, a mentor whom Akomfrah first sought out in 1981 while making a film about the Handsworth riots in Birmingham. Hall had arrived from Jamaica to study in Britain in the 1950s, and went on to become a founder of the New Left Review and a progenitor of the field of cultural studies. He was instrumental in expanding British progressive thinking beyond a hide-bound Marxism, in ways that accounted for race and ethnicity, as well as media and representation, without losing sight of economic struggle.

Hall once defined identity as “the different ways we are positioned by, and position ourselves within, the narratives of the past.” It follows not only that knowing ourselves requires thinking about the past, but also, since the present is constantly accruing, that we can reliably self-define only in the unstable now, while our sense of becoming is provisional.

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When we met, Akomfrah was still taking in the particular juxtaposition that the New Museum assembled. “The weird thing in making long-form pieces that in a way feel like they sit somewhere between the gallery and the cinema, is that when you conceive them, they are — in potential — isolated pieces,” he said. “I never thought that The Unfinished Conversation and Vertigo Sea would play together. It never entered my head that someone would go, ‘OK, let me survey what you’ve been doing in the past decade.’ It seems just daunting enough to make them.”

Still from “Signs of Empire” (1983)

Over the years, Akomfrah has been able to access resources he could not imagine as a scrappy oppositional artist in the Thatcher era. The BBC’s nature film production unit collaborated on Vertigo Sea, affording Akomfrah the use of spectacular ocean footage — schools of fishes, marine mammals, scenes from the Arctic, and the like. From these and other sources, he weaves into the work narratives that surge and mingle like currents. There is whale-hunting, which supplies some of the toughest scenes. There is sea travel and migration — the refugee crisis is heavily evoked, but in visually indirect ways (no migrant porn of overcrowded capsizing rafts), and through sampled news narrations. There is ecological depletion, the melting ice caps, the inexorable waters rising. There is also pure beauty: fish in shimmery dance, frothy wave caps out to infinity.

It makes for a kind of heavily augmented, highly problematized take on the nature film. “I love nature films, natural history films,” Akomfrah told me. “I watch them religiously. But at some point you are struck with the question of what keeps that natural history at bay and offstage, which is our complicity in the drama of our own making. Lions eat zebras, but we on the whole don’t spend time talking about how we kill lions.”

What he has reached, from his starting point addressing immigrant and working-class life in industrial England and struggles for dignity amid the rise of neoliberalism, is not so much an abrupt turn to environmentalism as it is an integration of fates. Understanding our threats to nature should help us understand how we threaten each other, and ourselves.

“The approach is to involve a broad range of subject positions, human and non-human,” Akomfrah said. “That’s a very important point for me. Ethically, part of the reason I have to do what I have to do is, once you’ve accepted the implications, that the theater of being is a stage where humans have held pretty much all the space, it becomes incumbent to find ways in which discreet subject positions can have conversations.”

“It is as important to me that you care about the fate of the enslaved African, thrown overboard, as you do about the sperm whales that are harpooned to death in the most gruesome fashion, essentially drowning in the sea.” These things are not the same, of course; different audiences might come in with different priorities, but that isn’t the point. “There may be hierarchies — but not ones that I’m insisting are important for perception.”

Installation views from “The Unfinished Conversation” (2012)

Woven into Vertigo Sea, per Akomfrah’s habit, are original passages he shot, plus archival texts in written and spoken form. Short readings from Moby-Dick and To the Lighthouse appear, as do old drawings. Akomfrah shot some parts in a chilly-looking waterfront setting that turns out to be the Scottish Hebrides. Some of the archival art shows a distinguished Black man in eighteenth-century garb; in the Hebrides sections, we see a lone actor, looking out to the water. These are references to the remarkable historical figure Olaudah Equiano, the enslaved Igbo man who bought his freedom and became an abolitionist in England. But Akomfrah also evokes a migrant archetype that could be any African currently crossing the Mediterranean — or the artist himself.

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“I’m exactly the figure who, if they came now, might be separated from their parents,” Akomfrah said, now alluding to the harsh practices in effect on the U.S. border. “Like most people who migrate, my parents did it for a reason; and the reasons, it seems to me, are always utopian. No one leaves to go anywhere with the hope of causing trouble or being a burden.”

While Vertigo Sea is the centerpiece, and Signs of Empire the foundation, the show is worth absorbing in full for the connections it sparks. Transfigured Night builds off newsreels of visits by Félix Houphouët-Boigny, the first president of independent Côte d’Ivoire, and Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, the first prime minister of Nigeria, to John F. Kennedy in the White House. There is pomp, parades, and a palpable sense of pride in the new leaders and solicitousness from their American hosts. Akomfrah then uses past and present vistas of the Lincoln Memorial and shots of individuals in lonely settings — a room high up in a glass-and-steel downtown, for instance — to offer a meditation on hopes and alienation that is ambiguous but emotionally charged.

The Unfinished Conversation, another three-channel work, functions as an art piece but also a biographical sketch of Hall’s life, augmented by generous archival material — Hall gave Akomfrah broad access — and audio of Hall speaking. (Akomfrah also made a television documentary about the thinker, The Stuart Hall Project.) The images, from the Jamaica of Hall’s childhood memories and adult visits to the hulking factories and gray northern English towns that he visited as a young activist, present less a theory than an ethos.

Akomfrah derives his own method from Hall’s teachings, which he sees as healthy for any period, and certainly today’s atmosphere of great flux and political tensions. “He was always in this space of, ‘I worry about the moment,’ ” Akomfrah says. “His value still lies in that ability to say to people: Think about the new times you’re living in. Think about how the baggage of critical reflection that you’ve inherited from the past can be applied to that. And when new times and a theory don’t fit, rethink the theory.”

John Akomfrah: Signs of Empire
New Museum
235 Bowery
newmuseum.org

Through September 2

 

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SURROUND SOUND

Earplugs will be furnished at the door for Massive Attack v Adam Curtis, a post-apocalyptic multimedia supercollider of bass-heavy trip-hop beats provided by the Bristol band and resonant archival imagery electronically quilted to ideology-undermining perfection by Curtis, the BBC’s most brilliant documentarian (The Century of the Self, All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace). The message may be depressingly familiar—we are oblivious consuming machines duped by the most insidious velvet-glove manipulations capitalism can conjure—but the medium is a thriller: Ten screens surround the audience on three sides, with Massive Attack drifting in and out of focus while performing their own material along with Burt Bacharach, Shirelles, and Siberian punk-rock covers sung by former Cocteau Twins siren Liz Fraser.

Sat., Sept. 28, 8 p.m.; Sun., Sept. 29, 8 p.m.; Wed., Oct. 2, 8 p.m.; Fri., Oct. 4, 8 p.m., 2013

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JUNIOR MAFIA

Like all good blockbusters and brands, Swedish House Mafia have a bankable 
tagline: Goosebumps never lie. Of course, that old truism “numbers never lie” would be just as apt. Since first collaborating in 2007, the trio has sold millions of records and crossed six continents to play for 
millions of people at hundreds of festivals. Tonight at Madison Square Garden, they play for 20,000 more, with Pete Tong, the longtime host of BBC’s Essential Mix, and Armand Van Helden, the ’90s house and hip-hop fuser who converted a few generations of fans with his A-Trak collaboration Duck Sauce.

Fri., March 1, 8 p.m., 2013

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Microwaves Can Prolong the Life of Bread

Aside from simply eating them really fast, how can you keep loaves of bread from getting moldy?

How much bread do you toss out? We’ve all had the experience of buying a beautiful loaf of fresh-baked bread at the farmers’ market or in one of the city’s excellent boutique bakeries, seduced by its golden crust and craving its artisanal qualities and fundamental goodness. Yet, there it sits on the kitchen counter for days. First, you make a sandwich, and a day or two later eat some toast. Then either it goes stale and becomes hard as a rock, or you wrap it up in plastic to retain the moisture, but then mold appears and inevitably half the loaf gets thrown out. But a solution on how to keep bread fresh has appeared.

Now, the BBC reports that a new process that utilizes technology found in microwave ovens can be used to kill the mold spores on bread, prolonging its life to as long as two months. An American company, known as Microzap, has developed the process (equipment is shown at left), which can be extended to other foods as well. The process was developed on the campus of Texas Tech University in Lubbock, and originally intended to prevent bacteria-borne diseases like salmonella. It would replace radiation-based processes in this regard.

The process uses a system for delivering the microwaves that distributes them more evenly than a conventional household microwave oven, but is much more expensive to use, meaning that at this point only large-scale commercial bakeries will consider using it. And what if you don’t want your bread zapped? Well, this process can supplant the preservatives that manufacturers usually use to prolong the life of bread. And microwaves are probalby preferable to chemicals.

Does this mean you should try using a microwave at home to prolong the life of your Bien Cuit loaf? Why not? I’d try it myself – except I don’t own a microwave.

[Thanks to Scott Pellegrino for the link]

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Cobra Bites Man. Man Bites Cobra. Man Wins

According to a “snake charmer,” if you get bit by a snake, the best thing to do is bite it back until it’s dead, which will apparently prevent you from dying — and is exactly what a man in Nepal did after getting bit by a deadly cobra earlier this week.

In this case, the snake charmer was right — the snake is dead. Mohammed Salmodin, a farmer who lives in a village about 125 miles from Nepal’s capital of Katmandu, is very much alive.

The story first appeared on the BBC’s website this morning, and describes the biting(s), as well as Salmodin’s ill-advised faith in the advice of a snake charmer.

From the BBC:

“When I realised that a snake had bit me, I went home to get a torch
and saw that it was a cobra. So I bit it to death,” he told BBC Nepali’s
Bikram Niraula in Biratnagar.

After he bit the snake to death, Mr Salmodin said that he
went about his daily business as if nothing had happened. He says he
finally agreed to go to hospital after pressure from family, neighbours
and police.

He went on to say that he decided to bite the snake to death because “a snake charmer told me that if a snake bites you, bite it until it is dead and nothing will happen to you.”

Salmodin has been discharged from the hospital and is
expected to survive. We’ll go out on a limb and assume that anti-venom played more of a role in his recovery than his biting a cobra to death.

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THURSDAY = YOUTH

In their early days, European indie duo M83 looked back to shoegaze, with Anthony Gonzalez’s vocals lying in a feathery bed of guitars and keys. Now closer to a solo project, the band continues to succeed at bedroom ambiance but also crafts danceable singles that sound just as good in the park or at the party: “Midnight City,” the first track off last year’s Hurry Up, We’re Dreaming, has appeared everywhere from Victoria’s Secret commercials to the BBC’s pre-coverage of the 2012 Olympic Games and, perhaps most importantly, “Top 10 Songs of the Year” lists from some of the biggest music magazines and websites in the world. Tonight, it will sound even better pumping out of the massive sound system at midtown’s Terminal 5.

Thu., May 10, 8 p.m., 2012

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GOLDEN GIRL

Lana Del Rey’s meteoric rise from indie unknown to global bestseller can be charted by the shows she played on her way to a top far higher than anyone would have predicted even in late September. First, there was a secret show at the GlassLands, where the city’s tastemakers got their initial glimpse of the 25-year-old singer-songwriter. Then there was the sold-out and cancelled gig at Soho’s the Box, and then the October 11 TV debut on BBC’s Later With Jools Holland. And now this, a New York homecoming show at Bowery Ballroom, where she’ll play “Video Games” and “Blue Jeans,” the only two songs she has actually released, alongside a handful of newer tunes.

Mon., Dec. 5, 8 p.m., 2011

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Daily Flog: Future heads toward a sharp loss; robot monkeys mesmerized by TV

The only market in New York City still functioning is the farmers’ market in Union Square — at least it’d better be when I stop by later this morning to buy something from Apple Mary.

Wall Street? Don’t even go there. Yesterday was its worst day since 1987 or 1937 or 1934, or 1642, depending on which panic-stricken “expert” you listen to.

Things continue to be “unprecedented” — a word that, as I’ve noted, pops up everywhere but unfortunately is not overused. What could be scarier than that? The Wall Street Journal trumpets one of its excellent stories this morning this way:

“U.S. Weighs Backing All Bank Deposits”

U.S. officials are discussing temporarily backing all U.S. bank deposits if economic conditions continue to worsen, a move that would mark another unprecedented step.

Depression? How about psychosis? Everywhere but in China, which stands to take over the world economy a lot sooner than expected. Only there are government officials able to step back and watch while Wall Street burns down and the fire spreads elsewhere. See McClatchy’s ‘China sits out global crisis, focusing on own growth.’

Here? Nothing but panic in the financial markets, and the shit’s already rolling downhill. Return to America’s best newspaper chain and see McClatchy’s Kevin G. Hall: ‘American heartland is suffering from Wall Street’s woes.’

As for people who have to wear ties every day, the Washington Post‘s “Fears of Recession Deepen Rout: Stock Decline Sweeps Through All U.S. Sectors and Pummels Asian Markets,” is stuffed full of paragraphs like this one:

“I’ve never seen a panic like this,” said David Wyss, chief economist at Standard & Poor’s. “I’ve seen stock market drops, but not an overall panic.”

Don’t go farther south into lower Manhattan than the Village Pet Store and Charcoal Grill in the Village, where you can see the mysterious artist Banksy‘s exhibit of robotic pet hot dogs.

Read the N.Y. Times piece “Where Fish Sticks Swim Free and Chicken Nuggets Self-Dip,” if you want, but stop by for what might be the most pertinent image: a robot rhesus monkey sitting with headphones on, mesmerized by a TV screen. He’s supposed to be watching porn, but he’s probably watching the BBC.

Perhaps the person who has the best perspective on the situation is Seth Glickenhaus, who was around during the Great Depression’s inception. At 94, he’s still picking stocks for his investment firm.

Exactly two years ago today, Barron‘s Sandra Ward extracted this overall analysis — mostly accurate — from Glickenhaus (read it at seekingalpha.com):

He’s negative on the economy, citing: 1) High oil prices. 2) High insurance costs. 3) People holding adjustable-rate mortgages about to be hit with big increases. 4) Housing market decline. 5) Huge income disparity.
• “We are clearly at the end of [interest] rate increases.”
• Companies are better managed today, and adjust to problems faster.
• Federal spending is dismally distorted toward military; talk of deficit reduction is absurd.
• War spending takes money away from constructive parts of market.
• He thinks the public is fed-up with Bush. • Oil might hit $200—in 2200!
• Japan and Europe will stagnate; India and China will continue to grow.
• He’s more worried about deflation than inflation.

OK, so companies aren’t better managed and they aren’t adjusting faster. But Glickenhaus makes you think: You want to end the war in Iraq? Maybe we’ll be too broke and will have to bring our troops home. Maybe when they get back here, they’ll have to defend D.C. against a new Bonus Army. Maybe they’ll want to stay over there rather than return to the U.S. only to find their families sitting on the curb after losing their homes. No, they’ll surely want to get out of Iraq, even if it means they’ll have to go on guard duty at banks here.

Only slightly less fearful than Iraq is the global panic, because there aren’t any more poorhouses for us to go to. Go back to yesterday’s news and read “Fear Trumps Greed as Market Woes Paralyze Economies,” in which Bloomberg’s Matthew Benjamin and Michael McKee deftly parse the psychology of the horrorshow “feedback loop” (as the BBC and others call it):

Investors are in the grip of a panic that psychologists and historians say isn’t necessarily rational and may intensify. They aren’t buying stocks, and more importantly, suddenly afraid they won’t be repaid, they aren’t making loans by buying bonds. Banks have also tightened credit.

“People are driven by images of the best and worst that can happen,” says George Loewenstein, a professor of psychology and economics at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh. “The image of the worst is much more vivid in their minds right now.” . . .

Normally, a little fear is a good thing, economists say. For decades after the 1930s, memories of the Great Depression tempered optimism and kept asset bubbles from growing too large.

Today’s fears, however, have reached an intensity that magnifies every additional piece of information and creates a vicious circle, according to Hersh Shefrin, professor of behavioral finance at Santa Clara University in California.

There’s plenty more in this adroit story:

Charles Geisst, a finance professor at Manhattan College in Riverdale, New York, sees a parallel to 1932, with credit markets bad and the stock market falling just ahead of the presidential election that put Franklin D. Roosevelt in the White House.

“But I’m not sure anyone is FDR this time,” says Geisst, author of Wall Street: a History, who puts the possibility of another Great Depression at 50 percent. “I don’t think either candidate has a clue what they’re dealing with here. This is more than a political problem that’s going to blow over.”

So who should take a stab at trying to be the new FDR? Loudmouth stock expert Jim Cramer, as glib in print as he is on TV, opts for Barack Obama over John McCain. In his recent New York piece “Wall Street, Fall 2009,” Cramer writes:

What will New York look like a year from now? The answer: bad and probably worse, and perhaps downright catastrophic. Three degrees of awful.

The first step was passing the bank-bailout legislation. Now that it’s done — and if it didn’t get done we would have been looking at a guaranteed economic collapse — the critical issue will be presidential leadership.

And while any president will be an improvement over the current one, there is a growing belief on Wall Street that Barack Obama has the capacity to lead us out of this wilderness while John McCain does not.

I’ll go a step further: Obama is a recession. McCain is a depression.

That may well be, but America is a depression, not a recession.

Before the newspaper industry tanks and while I still have my computer, I’ve typed these headlines . . .

NO PARTICULAR ORDER:

OpenSecrets.org: ‘Wall Street’s Favorite Candidates’

Slate: ‘Who Died and Made Bloomberg King of New York?’

N.Y. Post: ‘ “PEOPLE HAVE LOST ALL FAITH’: 678-PT. DOW FALL PUTS YEAR’S LOSS NEAR 40 PERCENT’

Wall Street Journal: ‘Futures Head Toward Sharp Losses’

N.Y. Daily News: ‘With stock market falling, advice on what to do about 401(k)’

Wall Street Journal: ‘U.S. Weighs Backing Bank Debt’

Wall Street Journal: ‘At Morgan Stanley, Outlook Darkens; Stock Tumbles 26 Percent’

CNN: ‘Smoke detected at Japanese nuclear plant’

Wall Street Journal: ‘Finland’s Martti Ahtisaari Wins Nobel Peace Prize’

N.Y. Post: ‘PRAYING FOR ALMIGHTY $$’

Guardian (U.K.): ‘Markets crash: How panic spread around the globe’

Wall Street Journal: ‘Economists Expect Crisis to Deepen’

Guardian (U.K.): ‘Huge bonuses for City high flyers will be hard to rein in’

CongressDaily: ‘Senator urges suspension of Iraq publicity contracts’

Wall Street Journal: ‘McCain Campaign Is at Odds Over Negative Attacks’ Scope’

Wall Street Journal: ‘AIG Increases Borrowings While Racing to Sell Assets’

China Digital Times: ‘China Says it Won’t Torture Guantanamo Detainees’

Detroit News: ‘College students face barriers to voting’

N.Y. Times: ‘States’ Actions to Block Voters Appear Illegal’

N.Y. Post: ‘BAGHDAD GOES BOOM – IN STOX’

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Daily Flog II: Hedge funds to the rescue; kitten-burgers in Peru

In the midst of the global financial crisis caused by Wall Street speculators, don’t sell Wall Street short.

Let the hedge funds do it for you.

Thank you, thank you, thank you to the speculators who have raked billions in profits from Wall Street in just the past decade. Now that the SEC’s three-week ban on short-selling is ending, hedge-fund managers can start gambling again on the planet’s future.

No matter how it goes, they’ll make out big-time. That’s what hedge-fund managers do — they hedge their bets.

This is a good thing. Just listen to Peter Sorrentino, a money manager at Huntington Asset Advisors in Cincinnati, which oversees $16.5 billion. Bloomberg quotes him in “Hedge Funds May Cut Volatility as Short-Sale Ban Ends”:

“Lifting the short ban restores the balance in the marketplace. It should bring liquidity back into the market, which will cap some of the volatility we’ve seen lately.”

Your $700 billion bailout didn’t work, so now the hedge-fund managers will step in with their cash to try to right things. Shouldn’t it have been the other way around?

At least you’re not in Zimbabwe, where the inflation rate has now soared to 231,000,000 percent.

Take a brief break from worrying about your financial future and worry about kittens and other things…

NO PARTICULAR ORDER:

Guardian (U.K.): ‘Pass the cat burgers: Desperate to read a story that’s not about the economy? Welcome to the outrage caused by Peru’s cat-eating festival.’

McClatchy: ‘Supreme Court shows little sympathy for whales beset by sonar’

L.A. Times: ‘Iraq play is a tragicomedy’

N.Y. Daily News: ‘Sex addiction on the rise, from pop culture to Wall Street’

N.Y. Post: ‘TIN PAN ALLEY’S SAD TUNE’

Guardian (U.K.): ‘Historian says Beatles were just capitalists, and not youth heroes’

Times (U.K.): ‘Picasso is too low-brow for the Louvre’

L.A. Times: ‘Surfers’ spirits sink as artificial reef near LAX is dismantled’

N.Y. Times: ‘NKorea May Be Developing Small Nuclear Warhead’

IRIN: ‘Efforts to fight “black cloud” in Cairo’

BBC: ‘Islamabad police complex attacked’

BBC: ‘Firefox users gain location tool’

Washington Post: ‘Man Finds Wrong House, Wrong Bed, Nice Family’

N.Y. Daily News: ‘Former Hawaiian Tropic Zone creep accused in attacks on four women’

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Collateral damage in Wall Street, Afghan wars

Bankers on Wall Street, babies in Afghanistan.

The Pentagon finally concluded on Wednesday that U.S. troops did not kill seven Afghan civilians in an August air strike.

Actually, it was 33, including babies and toddlers, the U.S. Central Command finally acknowledged after being forced to investigate what it initially called a “successful” raid.

Oops. But the Pentagon got its mimeographs cranking almost immediately to try to contain the damage. An AP story carried by the BBC and other outlets reports:

A US military inquiry has found that an air strike on militants in western Afghanistan on 22 August killed many more civilians than first acknowledged.

US Central Command said 33 civilians, not seven, had died in the village of Azizabad in Herat province. While voicing regret, it said US forces had followed rules of engagement.

Afghan officials and the United Nations feared at the time that up to 90 people had died in the strike on Azizabad, including 60 children.

Video footage, apparently of the aftermath of the raid, showed some 40 dead bodies lined up under sheets and blankets inside a mosque.

The majority of the dead captured on the video were children, babies and toddlers, some burned so badly they were barely recognisable.

US forces had originally said seven civilians were killed in a “successful” US raid targeting a Taleban commander in Azizabad.

Now for the damage control. In a press release today entitled “Official Reaffirms Commitment to Preventing Civilian Casualties,” the Pentagon’s Donna Miles puts this bloodbath through the spin cycle:

As a follow-on investigation into an operation by Afghan National Army and U.S. forces in western Afghanistan that claimed civilian lives nears completion, a senior defense official here emphasized the U.S. military’s strong record of accountability and follow-through.

No doubt.

Working hard to stanch this gaping wound, U.S. military officials fire at will:

Pentagon flack Bryan Whitman: “No other military in the world goes to a greater extent to prevent civilian casualties. This is something that we take very seriously, and when we have allegations of loss of innocent life, we investigate it.”

Defense Secretary Robert Gates: “We’re very concerned about this; it’s a high priority for us. We work at that hard, work at it harder, and then take another look to see what more we can do to limit innocent people who are killed when we go after our enemies.”

Gen. David D. McKiernan, commander of U.S. Forces Afghanistan: “That certainly is one of my top challenges, to try to make sure we have the right measures in place to minimize the possibility of civilian casualties.”

OK, OK, we get the point. But would it kill you to at least use the words “sorry” or “regret”?

At least we know similar tragedies won’t happen again, because at this moment, Gates is in Macedonia trying to drum up some troops for the increasingly grim Afghan War.

The Pentagon story “Gates Urges Southeastern European Nations to Send Troops to Afghanistan” notes:

Macedonia has 135 troops in Afghanistan and 80 in Iraq. It also has participated in many NATO exercises, and is considering augmenting its presence in Afghanistan as its forces end their deployment to Iraq in December, U.S. Ambassador to Macedonia Philip T. Reeker said.

Yes, if you want peacekeepers, you naturally turn to the Balkans.

Or maybe send the Balkans troops to Wall Street and investment bankers to Afghanistan. Nothing’s working in either place.