CRF Blog

China’s split personality

by Bill Hayes

In China’s split personality, the Los Angeles Times reviews Age of Ambition: Chasing Fortune, Truth, and Faith in the New China by Evan Osnos.

The book traces China’s 35-year journey from poverty and collective dogmatism to a dynamic if cut-throat era of competition, self-promotion and materialism. Part 1 looks at the early days of the boom after China’s leaders started to break down the state-run economy in the late 1970s, sparking a wave of risk-taking (and wealth-making) among millions who until then had led severely constrained lives of conformity. “Age of Ambition” introduces us to high-rollers in the casinos of Macau, evangelical English teachers, Chinese tourists in Europe and nationalist Web whiz-kids. [more]

For a free, related classroom lesson, see Communism, Capitalism, and Democracy in China from our Bill of Rights in Action Archive.

Chart of the Day: The Fear of Ebola

Infographic: So Far, Americans Aren't Panicking About Ebola | Statista

You will find more statistics at Statista

Nixon and Reagan

by David De La Torre

In Purpose and worth, The Economist reviews The Invisible Bridge: The Fall of Nixon and the Rise of Reagan by Rick Perlstein.

Amid the gloom about today’s America, Mr Perlstein offers vivid reminders of the ghastliness of that time, when violence, scandals and failure buffeted the country as rarely before. His book is the third in a series. The first, “Before the Storm”, covered the 1964 presidential run of the harshly doctrinaire Barry Goldwater, whose thumping defeat concealed the swelling power of the New Right. “Nixonland” followed. The new work opens with Nixon’s fall and ends with Reagan’s narrow failure to grab the 1976 Republican presidential nomination from the hapless incumbent, Gerald Ford. [more]

Stuart Dybek’s 6 favorite books

by Bill Hayes

In The Week’s Book List, author Stuart Dybek lists his 6 favorite books:

Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino …. Calvino calls this one-of-a-kind masterpiece a novel. Yet its plot is simply Marco Polo describing to Kublai Khan the cities in his kingdom. The book’s true setting is the border between poetry and prose. It proceeds not by plot but by theme and variation, like a piece of music, and its lyrical beauty can be experienced over and over. [more]

Twitter Grief Is Real Grief

by Bill Hayes

In Twitter Grief Is Real Grief for the New Republic, Meghan O’Rourke argues that there is nothing wrong with mourning celebrities online.

Historically, grief always had a communal element. Until the early twentieth century, private loss and public mourning went hand in hand in the West. Someone died, and the village came to your door with warm food. They stayed to sit shiva or share stories during the at-home wake, paying their respects, supporting the mourners, coming to the funeral. Mourners wore black or a torn ribbon partly so that the community would continue to recognize their loss. Even death was public: The dying speaker in Emily Dickinson’s famous poem “I heard a Fly buzz — when I died” is surrounded by people waiting to bear witness to death. But around the First World War, notes the British anthropologist Geoffrey Gorer, Western mourning practices changed, partly because the sheer numbers of dead made it hard to properly mourn all those who had passed, and partly because psychoanalysis was placing new emphasis on the internal aspects of grief.

Soon Americans came to view grief as a private and a psychological function rather than as a communal one. [more]

Exit Voice

by Bill Hayes

In Exit, Voice for the New York Times Book Review, Justin Fox reviews Worldly Philosopher: The Odyssey of Albert O. Hirschman by Jeremy Adelman.

Five days before his 18th birthday in April 1933, afraid he was about to be arrested, he fled to Paris.

Over the next two decades, Otto, in chronological order, (1) got a business degree in Paris; (2) studied at the London School of Economics; (3) fought for the Republicans in the Spanish Civil War; (4) earned a doctorate in economics at the University of Trieste while acting as a courier for the Italian anti-Fascist resistance; (5) served in the French Army during its futile defense against German invasion; (6) biked and walked to the unoccupied Vichy southern France where, under the alias Albert Hermant (and the nickname Beamish, for his ingratiating manner), he helped spirit Hannah Arendt, Marc Chagall and thousands of other refugees from Marseille to the United States; (7) made his own way to New Jersey, where he changed his name to Albert O. Hirschman; (8) continued west to the University of California, Berkeley, where he wrote his first book and met his wife-to-be, a beautiful French-Russian refugee who had been a favorite student of Simone de Beauvoir in Paris; (9) volunteered for the American Army, ending up as a translator for the Office of Strategic Services, the precursor to the C.I.A., and serving as interpreter for a German general in the first Allied war-crimes trial; (10) worked for the Federal Reserve in Washington as a top adviser on the Marshall Plan to rebuild Europe; and, (11) driven from employment in cold war Washington by suspicions about his colorful past, moved with his family to Bogotá in 1952 to advise the Colombian government on behalf of the World Bank. [more]

Fiorello!

by Bill Hayes

In Fiorello! for the New York Times Book Review, Edward Glaeser reviews City of Ambition: FDR, LaGuardia, and the Making of Modern New York by Mason B. Williams.

La Guardia and Roosevelt — Republican and Democrat, gritty urbanite and country squire, immigrant’s son and scion of old Dutch New York — may seem an odd pair, but Williams shows us their similarities. Both were born in 1882; both were New York lawyers; both were hostile to Tammany Hall. Roosevelt’s upstate constituency wanted an antimachine Democrat in the city, while La Guardia had to join the Republican Party because it “seemed the only avenue I could choose at the time in order to carry out my boyhood dreams of going to work against corrupt government.” Supporting the Republican La Guardia eventually enabled Roosevelt to weaken his Democratic Tammany foes.

Each man had a bumpy path to power. [more]

The Biden Agenda

by Bill Hayes

In The Biden Agenda for the New Yorker, Evan Osnos profiles the vice president.

After more than five years in the White House, Obama leans less visibly on Biden for foreign-policy advice than he once did, but Biden remains so closely identified with the Administration’s handling of the most vexing national-security problems that, when militants seized large parts of Iraq, in June, Mitt Romney told a mostly Republican audience that the “Obama-Biden-Hillary Clinton foreign policy” was to blame. The trials facing the President and the Vice-President, who are separated by nineteen years and a canyon in style, have brought them closer than many expected — not least of all themselves. John Marttila, one of Biden’s political advisers, told me, “Joe and Barack were having lunch, and Obama said to Biden, ‘You and I are becoming good friends! I find that very surprising.’ And Joe says, ‘You’re … surprised!’ ”

Last November, Ukraine’s President Viktor Yanukovych scrapped an agreement with the European Union, triggering protests that plunged the country into crisis. Biden had known Yanukovych since 2009 and struck up a towel-snapping rapport. “He was gregarious,” Biden told me earlier this year. “I said, ‘You look like a thug!’ I said, ‘You’re so damn big.’ ” As the crisis escalated, Biden spoke with Yanukovych by phone nine times, urging him to reconcile with the demonstrators. But on February 20th government snipers opened fire on protesters, killing at least eighty-eight people in forty-eight hours. Yanukovych fled, leaving his subjects to pry open his mansion and find the fruits of his kleptocracy: pet peacocks, a fleet of antique cars, a private restaurant in the shape of a pirate ship. In the aftermath, Russian forces swept into Crimea, and Vladimir Putin christened it Russian soil.

On Easter Sunday, Biden boarded Air Force Two, bound for Kiev, the beleaguered Ukrainian capital. Compared with the Commander-in-Chief, the Vice-President flies in restrained splendor. The modified Boeing 757 was well used. An armrest came off in a passenger’s hands. The Vice-President had a private cabin with a foldout bed, a desk, and a guest chair, but if a second visitor arrived a plastic cooler passed as a seat. “If you want the trappings, it’s a hell of a lot better to go into some other line of work,” Biden said.

Biden’s mission was short and specific: two months had passed since Yanukovych fled, and the arrival of America’s second-highest-ranking official was intended to reassure Ukraine’s fragile government, and deter Putin from moving deeper into Ukrainian territory.

Air Force Two touched down in Kiev, a city with gracious boulevards, chestnut trees, and so many domed churches that the Bolsheviks declared it unfit to be a Communist capital. The fighting in the city was finished, but the Maidan encampment, which had been the center of protests, still resembled a set for “Les Misérables”: tall, jagged barricades of metal, timber, and tires marked the battle lines. Sparks rose from open-air fires. In one of the few signs of recovery, the cobblestones that had been pried up to hurl at the police were stacked and ready for repaving.

At the parliament, a Stalin-era building with a colonnaded entrance, Biden was ushered in to see a group of politicians who were vying to lead the new government. After so many years, he has an arsenal of opening lines that he can deploy in Baghdad, Beijing, or Wilmington. One of his favorites: “If I had hair like yours, I’d be President.” He also adapts his routine to fit the circumstances. In Kiev, he approached Vitali Klitschko, a six-foot-seven former heavyweight boxing champion who was known as Dr. Ironfist before he entered politics. Biden peered up and clenched Klitschko’s right biceps. Moving down the table, he met Petro Poroshenko, a Presidential candidate and billionaire who had made his fortune in the candy business. Biden, who is considering a long-shot run for the Presidency in 2016, told the group, “I’ve twice been a Presidential candidate and I hope you do better than I did.” (The next month, Poroshenko won the Presidency.)

Biden took his seat at the head of the table. When he was thirty years old, he became one of the youngest senators in history, and he has parted with youth begrudgingly. His smile has been rejuvenated to such a gleam that it inspired a popular tweet during the last campaign: “Biden’s teeth are so white they’re voting for Romney.” At seventy-one, with his hairline reforested and his forehead looking becalmed, Biden projects the glow of a grandfather just back from the gym, which is often the case. (On Inauguration Day in 2017, Biden will be seventy-four, three months older than Ronald Reagan was at the start of his second term. Hillary Clinton will be sixty-nine.)

For his hosts in Kiev, the Vice-President had only a small aid package to announce: fifty-eight million dollars in election help, energy expertise, and non-lethal security equipment, including radios for the border patrol. More important, Biden wanted to convey a message to the new leaders in Kiev that regaining legitimacy would require changes beyond just resisting Russian interference. On the 2013 corruption index produced by Transparency International, Ukraine was ranked No. 144, tied with the Central African Republic, out of a hundred and seventy-seven countries. Biden told those seated around him, “To be very blunt about it, and this is a delicate thing to say to a group of leaders in their house of parliament, but you have to fight the cancer of corruption that is endemic in your system right now.” Biden likes to be candid in such settings. [more]

Does Islam have a problem?

by Bill Hayes

In Does Islam have a problem?, Fareed Zakaria looks at the controversy stirred up on Bill Maher’s TV show.

See a previous post on this issue.

Recipe for Living: Add Rice. Stir.

by Bill Hayes

In Recipe for Living: Add Rice. Stir for Foreign Policy magazine, war correspondent Anna Badkhen examines the importance of rice in many people’s diets.

First domesticated in the Pearl River valley of what is now China between 8,200 and 13,500 years ago, rice today is grown in at least 113 countries on all continents except Antarctica. “Rice is an essential and beloved ingredient in the Arab kitchen,” writes May Bsisu, author of The Arab Table, a cookbook I consult often in my own kitchen. Mungo Park, the famed Scottish explorer of Africa, described one supper of rice at the end of the 18th century, in what is today Mali, as “the first good meal … I had enjoyed for a long time.” In fact, people in sub-Saharan Africa were eating rice by the year 50 C.E., according to food writer Fran Osseo-Asare.

For almost two decades, my war correspondent’s diet has been heavy on rice. [more]

Cognitive differences

by David De La Torre

In The Mars and Venus question, The Economist reports on studies giving different causes for cognitive differences between the sexes.

THAT men and women think differently is now widely accepted. Why they do so is another matter. One possible explanation is that in the time of hunting and gathering different skills were required: men spent time away from camp, tracking animals and fighting off intruders, and women needed social skills to bring up children. Yet there are bound to be many other factors at work for this variation to survive into modern times. The latest research suggests that living standards and access to education probably bear more responsibility for cognitive disparity between men and women than genes, nursery colours or the ability to catch a ball. [more]

At 27, He’s Wise to Spying

by Bill Hayes

In At 27, He’s Wise to Spying, the Los Angeles Times profiles grad student, and expert on privacy, Jonathan Mayer.

The data: From his computer science lab in Palo Alto, Mayer has shredded the official spin on government and consumer surveillance. His research showed that the NSA’s bulk collection of telephone metadata is far more invasive than officials let on. He and a research partner found that the seemingly bare-bones data could be used to show with some certainty callers’ religious affiliations, medical conditions and, in one case, a woman seeking an abortion. Before that, Mayer caught four advertising companies, including Google, flouting a Web browser’s privacy feature by installing trackable cookies. He posts his revelations on his blog, a must-read for journalists, activists and policymakers. [more]

Charlie Rose interviews Walter Isaacson

by Bill Hayes

Charlie Rose interviews Walter Isaacson on his latest book about advances in technology, The Innovators: How a Group of Hackers, Geniuses, and Geeks Created the Digital Revolution.

Latvia Looks Good to Russians Unhappy With Putin

by Bill Hayes

In Latvia Looks Good to Russians Unhappy With Putin, Bloomberg Businessweek reports that middle-class Russians are leaving the country.

[T]he latest wave of emigration, which is almost entirely composed of highly skilled middle-class urbanites frustrated by the war in Ukraine and the suppression of the democratic opposition under Putin. They’re heading for European countries such as Latvia, where they can get residence permits in exchange for investment, most typically in property. Hungary, Poland, Finland, Spain, and Greece offer similar deals. [more]

The Songs of Sergei Dovlatov

by Bill Hayes

In The Songs of Sergei Dovlatov for the New York Review of Books, Masha Gessen reviews Pushkin Hills by Sergei Dovlatov, translated from the Russian by Katherine Dovlatov.

Dovlatov was born in 1941 and grew up in Leningrad. By his mid-thirties he had succeeded in having a grand total of two short stories published in Soviet magazines. He worked for a series of obscure newspapers, writing news stories he preferred to sign with a variety of pen names. His first book was finally published by a Russian-language house in the United States in 1977. Having a book published abroad was, from the writer’s point of view, an admission of defeat — he was giving up hope of ever seeing a book or even so much as another short story printed in the USSR — and, from the point of view of the Soviet state, a declaration of war.

A couple of years later, Dovlatov moved to New York, where he had a quick and spectacular success. He launched a weekly newspaper, Novyi amerikanets (The New American), short-lived but popular and influential among Soviet émigrés, tens of thousands of whom landed in the US in the late 1970s. He had roughly a book a year published by the Russian-language émigré presses. But what set him apart from all Soviet émigré writers, except his friend and fellow Leningrad exile Joseph Brodsky, was that Dovlatov was also published extensively, and well, in translation. The New Yorker printed ten of his short stories in the 1980s, and most of his books were translated into English.

Back in the USSR, Dovlatov’s fiction could not be published until the late 1980s, when perestroika and glasnost opened the door to printing both for émigré writers and for writers who did not follow the socialist realist line. The critic who had praised Dovlatov so sparingly, a former classmate and now an editor at a leading literary journal, then published his short stories. Dovlatov’s books started coming out, on gray pulpy paper that frayed at the touch, but with press runs in the hundreds of thousands at first and then in the millions. Just as his work was reaching Russian audiences, in August 1990, he died of a heart attack in New York, ten days before his forty-ninth birthday and one year before the Soviet regime came to an end. [more]