October 7, 2018

Posted by orrinj at 6:40 PM


The Yankees (July 1946, Fortune)

It is the last half of the ninth in the 1946 opener at Yankee Stadium and the Washington visitors are leading New York 6 to 5. As the first Yankee batsman, Joe Gordon, steps to the plate, the vibrant rumble of 55,000 voices swells ever so slightly, then scales down sharply to near silence. Everybody is waiting for the pitch. As it thuds into the catcher's glove-a clean strike-the tension breaks momentarily and the crowd finds its voice. The pitcher throws two more like it and Gordon, usually a fine hitter, has struck out. An almighty, communal groan rolls over the Stadium, and Gordon, as if to chastise himself, deliberately holds his ignoble strike-out pose. He scrutinizes his bat reproachfully, and for a moment it looks as if he would fling it away in disgust. Instead, he hands it to the bat boy with exaggerated tenderness and slowly makes his way to the dugout. Over the magpie chorus of the crowd a shrill voice pipes, "Tough luck, Joe!" but from another corner of the stands comes a Bronx objection: "Ahh, that Gawdon-anhh."

Now Stirnweiss is at bat. For a big-leaguer he is short (five feet eight inches) and "hard to pitch to." When he has worked the Washington pitcher for a base on balls, the stands begin to hum and a few spectators heading for the exits pop back from the ramps to see what's up. Henrich, a left-hander, bats next. In trying to throw him a slow, teasing ball-close inside-the pitcher nicks Henrich on the wrist. It doesn't look as though Henrich tried too hard to avoid being struck, but the umpire waves him on to first base over the anguished protests of the Washington players. Then it is that the vocal thunder begins to gather. DiMaggio, greatest of the Yankee sluggers, is coming to bat. DiMaggio! DiMaggio! The name is passed around the Stadium from lip to lip like a password, a prayer-and finally, in one section of the upper tier, it turns into pure incantation: DiMaggio! thump, thump, thump; DiMaggio! thump, thump, thump ...

Amid this melee of shouting, stamping, and gesticulation, DiMaggio appears to be the only sane and poised individual in the park. He walks deliberately, but without swagger, into the batter's box, first pausing to scoop up a handful of dirt, the better to grip his bat. Fifty-five thousand pairs of eyes are fixed now on his ritual. He tugs once-just once-at the peak of his cap; he raps the plate once-just once-with the end of his bat; and he takes three-just three-half swings in the direction of the pitcher. Then he pulls back into his distinctive stance, feet wide apart, arms high, bat in air, cocked for the swing. Utterly immobile, he awaits the pitch.

Posted by orrinj at 6:29 PM


NRA's spending is way down in the 2018 midterms. Does it have 'a popularity problem?' (BEN WIEDER AND GREG GORDON, October 02, 2018, McClatchy)

The National Rifle Association's political spending is sharply down heading into the 2018 midterm elections, a shift that could reflect declining fundraising in the wake of a string of mass shootings and an FBI investigation into the group's Russia ties.

The politically potent gun advocacy group has this year spent one-tenth of what it had spent politically at this point in 2014, according to the most recent filings with the Federal Election Commission.

So far, the NRA's political action committee and political non-profit arm have spent just over $1.6 million in 2018 on outside expenditures, such as political attack ads, and direct campaign contributions to federal candidates and groups, compared to more than $16 million on similar expenses at this point in 2014.

That decline comes as the FBI investigates whether the group illegally received money from Russia to fuel its support of President Donald Trump during the 2016 election and as the group has seen a decline in dues that has deepened the group's operating deficit.

Posted by orrinj at 6:27 PM



McDonald's is a popular tourist drop-in, as exhausted travelers revel in both its Americanness -- everything just where you left it -- and its slight French touches, like macarons for dessert. But French people love their American fast food too. "Metro, boulot, dodo" goes a popular French phrase describing busy city life: subway, job, sleep. But it's not uncommon to hear a slightly different version: Metro, boulot, McDo.

While France has the second-highest number of McDonald's restaurants in Europe (Germany is still No. 1), it's seen a 4 percent growth just since 2016. And it's way out ahead of any other fast-food chain: The Bertrand Group, which owns Burger King, Au Bureau, Quick and Hippopotamus, earned less than $2 billion in 2017.

Posted by orrinj at 6:23 PM


Immigrants' Health Premiums Far Exceed What Plans Pay For Their Care (Carmen Heredia Rodriguez, OCTOBER 1, 2018, Kaiser Health News)\

President Donald Trump has repeatedly condemned U.S. immigration policy, arguing that many immigrants pose a threat to the nation and drain U.S. resources. But a study released Monday about health insurance challenges the president's portrayal.

The study in the journal Health Affairs found that immigrants covered by private health insurance and their employers contributed nearly $25 billion more in premiums in 2014 than was spent on their care. Those in the country without legal status contributed nearly $8 billion toward the surplus.

In contrast, U.S.-born enrollees spent nearly $25 billion more than they paid for in premiums.

Posted by orrinj at 4:48 AM


The Warlike Origins of 'Going Dutch': The term for splitting the bill has its roots in a bitter international rivalry. (ANNE EWBANK SEPTEMBER 25, 2018, AStas Obscura)

The insults came fast and thick. Dutch soldiers, according to the English, needed "Dutch courage," or alcohol-fueled bravado, to fight. A "Dutch uncle" was a stern and authoritative figure, not a kindly uncle. "Dutch feasts" were parties where the host got drunk first, while a "Dutch reckoning" was an unitemized bill with unexpected charges. "Dutch comfort" was the small consolation that a bad situation wasn't worse.

In essence, writes Peter Douglas of the New Netherland Institute, "Dutch" implied anything opposite or inferior to the way it should have been, and often the term was used for everything from crude insults to possibly even cookware. The Dutch oven, a lidded pot that can be used for baking, may or may not be part of this trend: It's not truly an oven, but the Dutch may have simply been good at producing them.

"To go Dutch," though, is an all-American term. As Jonathan Milder writes in Entertaining from Ancient Rome to the Super Bowl, one of the first scornful references to a "Dutch treat"--that is, not really treating someone else at all--appears in a New York Times article from 1877. The term coincides with what Milder calls "the centuries-old British sport of mocking the Dutch," but can also be a reference to the contemporary German-American habit of everyone buying their own drink (Dutch being a confused reference to Deutsch, or "German").

Posted by orrinj at 4:35 AM


Tolkien Speaks: The Secret to a Happy Marriage (SAM GUZMAN, 9/29/18, CERC)

To illustrate Tolkien's profound view of married love, I want to share an excerpt from a letter to his son, Michael Tolkien.  Here is a truncated version of his letter.

Men are not [monogamous].  No good pretending.  Men just ain't, not by their animal nature.  Monogamy (although it has long been fundamental to our inherited ideas) is for us men a piece of 'revealed ethic, according to faith and not the flesh.  The essence of a fallen world is that the best cannot be attained by free enjoyment, or by what is called "self-realization" (usually a nice name for self-indulgence, wholly inimical to the realization of other selves); but by denial, by suffering.  Faithfulness in Christian marriages entails that: great mortification.

For a Christian man there is no escape.  Marriage may help to sanctify and direct to its proper object his sexual desires; its grace may help him in the struggle; but the struggle remains.  It will not satisfy him -- as hunger may be kept off by regular meals.  It will offer as many difficulties to the purity proper to that state as it provides easements.

No man, however truly he loved his betrothed and bride as a young man, has lived faithful to her as a wife in mind and body without deliberate conscious exercise of the will, without self-denial.  Too few are told that -- even those brought up in 'the Church'.  Those outside seem seldom to have heard it.

Posted by orrinj at 4:33 AM


The Right Stuff, and Other Stuff: Tom Wolfe contained multitudes, too--some of them, at least, lasting contributions to American literature. (MICHAEL UPCHURCH, 9/18/18, American Interest)

Wolfe's provocative 1989 Harper's essay, "Stalking the Billion-Footed Beast," made an after-the-fact case for what he was up to in Bonfire. He granted that capturing the teeming multi-ethnic chaos of New York City on the page was a daunting challenge. Still, he thought it was worth a try. And he believed the best way to do it was to bring back "the big realistic novel, with its broad social sweep." Bonfire pulls it off--not that the book is soberly realistic. Instead, it's packed with stylization and artifice galore, full of farcical distorting mirrors that illuminate reality even as they warp it.

Bonfire is the tale of Sherman McCoy, a Wall Street bond salesman and self-styled "Master of the Universe," living on swanky Park Avenue. When he and his mistress, Maria Ruskin, accidentally commit a hit-and-run in the Bronx, they go straight into cover-up mode. Sherman has qualms about this; Maria has no doubts at all.

Their victim is Henry Lamb, a mild-mannered black high-school senior who grew up in the projects and had plans to go to college. Lamb, in a coma, can't testify to what happened. There is another witness to the hit-and-run, but he has good reason to avoid the authorities.

With every prismatic twist and turn the book's elaborate plot takes, and with every new piece of hearsay it incorporates, Wolfe throws shifting, conflicting light on its pivotal event: the hit-and-run accident. No one's point of view is to be entirely trusted. No one emerges cleanly from the mess.

By the time Bonfire was published, Wolfe had lived in New York City for 25 years. He had the city in his blood. As a newspaper journalist in the early phase of his career, he was familiar with both the city's high places and its low places--and he was skeptical about them all. His 659-page satire features a sprawling cast of colorfully reprehensible characters: politicians, lawyers, social climbers, journalists, black activists, drug dealers, abusive cops, and people who defy every label we can conjure.

Wolfe's New York is vital, ridiculous, acrimonious, ugly. It's also riddled with greed, and Wolfe is practically a fetishist about indexing the worth of every material object in his protagonist's life. Sherman wears a $1,800 suit ("two-button, single-breasted, with ordinary notched lapels") and $650 shoes ("New & Lingwood of Jermyn Street, London"). He lives in a $2.6 million apartment on Park Avenue and drives a $48,000 two-seat Mercedes roadster. Wolfe's frequent mentions of prestigious brand names ("Sheraton and Chippendale side tables," "a Lalique ashtray with a lion's head sculpted on the rim," "eight hundred dollars' worth of flowered cotton fabric from Laura Ashley") are like a nervous tic. It's as though Wolfe has taken an approach to fiction that Virginia Woolf disdained in her essay "Mr. Bennett and Mrs. Brown" (too much attention to characters' external circumstances, she said of Arnold Bennett, and not enough focus on the interior workings of their minds) and burlesqued it into the stratosphere. Still, even Woolf might have been awed by Bonfire's mastery of stream-of-consciousness technique as it pulls us into the squirming, racing mind of Sherman McCoy as he tries to evade justice.

Wolfe may have thought he was writing a "big realistic novel" but the pure frenzied energy of Bonfire's prose lifts it into the realms of the surreal.Wolfe may have thought he was writing a "big realistic novel" but the pure frenzied energy of Bonfire's prose lifts it into the realms of the surreal. However dismissive Wolfe was in "Stalking the Billion-Footed Beast" about "Absurdist novels, Magic Realist novels and novels of Radical Disjunction," many of Bonfire's touches suit those labels. The book also fits nicely into a lineage of New York-set extravaganzas that includes Robert Coover's The Public Burning, Tony Kushner's Angels in America (which debuted just a few years later), and the New York fiction of Christina Stead, especially her novel A Little Tea, A Little Chat, about war profiteering in 1940s Manhattan. (Stead's great 1938 novel, House of All Nations--about fly-by-night bankers in 1930s Paris making money off the Crash--almost reads like a template for Bonfire, and her arguments in favor of the "many-charactered novel" in which the reader has to "draw his own conclusions from the diverse material, as from life itself," would probably get a hearty "Hallelujah!" from Wolfe).

The animosities powering Bonfire have a starkly contemporary ring in the 2010s. In certain passages, Wolfe even comes close to coining the mantra, "Black Lives Matter." When the clueless, alcoholic British reporter who breaks the McCoy story asks one of his sources what the black community is "exploding over," the man reasonably explains, "They're tired of being treated as if human life in the South Bronx means nothing!"

In a recent interview comedian D.L. Hughley, citing the current flurry of white people calling the cops about African-Americans sitting in a Starbucks, sleeping in a college library and other non-events, remarked, "The most dangerous place for black people to live is in white people's imagination." That's a line that could have come straight out of Bonfire.

What does a writer who caught 1980s New York in a 659-page genie bottle do next? Take a crack at another city.

"A Man in Full" is set in an "absolutely sports-crazed Atlanta," and offers everything from real-estate scams and racial vitriol to snake-handling and prayers to Zeus. Via multiple plot strands, Wolfe explores his Urban New South setting from top to bottom. The book, despite its title, is mostly about what it's like to be un-manned. No one--rich, poor, black, white--comes out of the process unscathed.

Wolfe's protagonist Charlie Croker is a badly overextended real-estate developer whose catastrophic finances are about to make headlines in Atlanta. The path by which they become the stuff of media frenzy is extravagantly serpentine, encompassing a rape case that isn't quite a rape case, a mayoral campaign between two black candidates (one of them nicknamed "Roger Too White"), and a Bay Area frozen-food operation owned by Charlie (who, in his only voluntary attempt at economizing, instigates layoffs there). Among the newly jobless is young Conrad Hensley whose life becomes a veritable story of Job once he's let go from Croker Global Foods. Unable to support his family, he is pushed to a point where he lands in jail. There, in the book's most unusual twist, the sayings of Greek Stoic philosopher Epictetus fall into Conrad's hands and become his guiding light.

Stoicism! Wolfe could not have chosen a school of thought more out of fashion in the 1990s--or in the 21st century, for that matter. Charlie, Conrad, and Roger Too White (whose real name is Roger White II) become caught up in questions of how to maintain their integrity of character. Their stories are complemented by thematically related subplots too numerous to name here, all of them woven into a rambunctious symphony of hope and hate, honor and despair.

Wolfe's journalistic prowess lends authority to every milieu he describes, from the swankiest do at Atlanta's High Museum to the deep-freeze operations of the Croker Global Foods warehouse. His Virginia background seems also to have aided him in accurately noting distinctions of class, pedigree, and accent within the South. His portrait of good old boys suddenly "afraid to let it be known that they weren't sophisticated enough to be cosmopolites of the new Atlanta" feels right on-target. His set pieces--a truly gothic horse-breeding scene, a lender-debtor showdown in a bank conference room, a gaffe-ridden dinner party where jokes about gays are offered as witticism to suspected Jewish liberals--are vintage Wolfe. As in Bonfire, he doesn't just capture an entire city but encapsulates a whole era. And in confirming that he could pull off the same trick twice, he established himself as a novelist for the ages. We can look at our own world--at the Kushner family's shady, shaky cash-flow problems with 666 Fifth Avenue, for instance--and say, "It's like something out of a Tom Wolfe novel."

Posted by orrinj at 4:15 AM


The World's First Immigration Economy (SALVATORE BABONES | OCTOBER 3, 2018, Foreign Policy)

[A]ustralia's extraordinary economic statistics mask a more difficult economic reality.But Australia's extraordinary economic statistics mask a more difficult economic reality. At the lowest point in the spring and summer of 2013, Australia's quarterly growth rates fell to 1.7 percent. At the same time, Australia's population was growing at an annualized rate of 1.8 percent. Measured in per capita terms, then, Australia's economy actually shrank for two consecutive quarters.
Australia also experienced a "per capita recession" for four quarters during the global financial crisis and for two quarters during the dot-com bust of 2000. It recorded a quarter of negative per-capita GDP growth in 2003. Viewed this way, Australia's economy has in fact matched every U.S. recession of the last 40 years, with one additional slowdown in the first half of 1986.

Economists don't usually bother to adjust quarterly GDP statistics for population growth. For most developed nations, population growth is so slow and steady as to hardly matter on such a short-term time horizon. Not so for Australia. Australia's population has grown by nearly 45 percent since 1991. No other major developed country even comes close to that rate.

Unlike similarly fast-growing countries in Africa and the Middle East, Australia doesn't have a particularly high fertility rate. In fact, the rate is well below the replacement level required to keep its population stable. The majority of Australia's population growth comes from immigration. In turn, Australia's so-called economic miracle is based on immigration, too.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics reckons that Australia's population passed the 25 million mark "just after 11 p.m." on Aug. 7. That represents a doubling of the country's population in less than 50 years. An equivalent growth rate in the United States since 1970 would have made for two extra Californias on top of the country's actual population growth over the last half-century.

At the same time, 50 years of unparalleled immigration have given Australia the largest foreign-born population of any major developed country in modern times. As of 2016, over 28 percent of people in Australia were not born there. With immigration hitting new records in the 2017 to 2018 fiscal year, that figure is almost certain to breach 30 percent by the end of the decade. Immigration is now adding nearly 1 percent per year to Australia's population. By contrast, in the United States today, nearly 14 percent of the population is foreign-born. For America, that is nearly a record. The American foreign-born population never exceeded 15 percent even in the 1890s heyday of mass immigration.

Australia is, in essence, in the midst of an unprecedented experiment in mass immigration the likes of which the developed world has never seen. And this influx of people feeds into its growth story through several channels. The first is that more people means more demand--for everything, but especially for housing. A typical four-bedroom house in a middle-class suburb about 20 miles west of central Sydney will set you back around 1 million Australian dollars (about $700,000). Mass immigration has also led to a massive building boom that still has not kept pace with population growth in Australia's major metropolitan areas.

The second has to do with labor. In Australia, immigrants are selected based on a points system of the kind that U.S. President Donald Trump has proposed for the United States. More than two-thirds of permanent migrants to Australia are admitted on account of their education and skills. These immigrants often fail to find work that corresponds to their professional qualifications. Nonetheless, they are usually working-age adults in the most productive periods of their lives.

Their presence gives the economy a boost--and saves the government a lot of money. Australia has a universal single-payer health care system called Medicare, which is similar to the U.S. Medicare program but is open to all citizens and permanent residents. With immigration continuously boosting the population of healthy, working-age, taxpaying adults who need little medical care, Australia is able to support its national health system at relatively low cost.

Posted by orrinj at 4:13 AM


Taiwan Can Win a War With China: Beijing boasts it can seize the island easily. The PLA knows better. (TANNER GREER, SEPTEMBER 25, 2018, Foreign Policy)

Two recent studies, one by Michael Beckley, a political scientist at Tufts University, and the other by Ian Easton, a fellow at the Project 2049 Institute, in his book The Chinese Invasion Threat: Taiwan's Defense and American Strategy in Asia, provide us with a clearer picture of what a war between Taiwan and the mainland might look like. Grounded in statistics, training manuals, and planning documents from the PLA itself, and informed by simulations and studies conducted by both the U.S. Defense Department and the Taiwanese Ministry of National Defense, this research presents a very different picture of a cross-strait conflict than that hawked by the party's official announcements. [...]

One of the central hurdles facing the offensive is surprise. The PLA simply will not have it. The invasion will happen in April or October. Because of the challenges posed by the strait's weather, a transport fleet can only make it across the strait in one of these two four-week windows. The scale of the invasion will be so large that strategic surprise will not be possible, especially given the extensive mutual penetration of each side by the other's intelligence agencies.

Easton estimates that Taiwanese, American, and Japanese leaders will know that the PLA is preparing for a cross-strait war more than 60 days before hostilities begin. They will know for certain that an invasion will happen more than 30 days before the first missiles are fired. This will give the Taiwanese ample time to move much of their command and control infrastructure into hardened mountain tunnels, move their fleet out of vulnerable ports, detain suspected agents and intelligence operatives, litter the ocean with sea mines, disperse and camouflage army units across the country, put the economy on war footing, and distribute weapons to Taiwan's 2.5 million reservists.

There are only 13 beaches on Taiwan's western coast that the PLA could possibly land at. Each of these has already been prepared for a potential conflict. Long underground tunnels--complete with hardened, subterranean supply depots--crisscross the landing sites. The berm of each beach has been covered with razor-leaf plants. Chemical treatment plants are common in many beach towns--meaning that invaders must prepare for the clouds of toxic gas any indiscriminate saturation bombing on their part will release. This is how things stand in times of peace.

As war approaches, each beach will be turned into a workshop of horrors. The path from these beaches to the capital has been painstakingly mapped; once a state of emergency has been declared, each step of the journey will be complicated or booby-trapped. PLA war manuals warn soldiers that skyscrapers and rock outcrops will have steel cords strung between them to entangle helicopters; tunnels, bridges, and overpasses will be rigged with munitions (to be destroyed only at the last possible moment); and building after building in Taiwan's dense urban core will be transformed into small redoubts meant to drag Chinese units into drawn-out fights over each city street.

To understand the real strength of these defenses, imagine them as a PLA grunt would experience them. Like most privates, he is a countryside boy from a poor province. He has been told his entire life that Taiwan has been totally and fatally eclipsed by Chinese power. He will be eager to put the separatists in their place. Yet events will not work out as he has imagined. In the weeks leading up to war, he discovers that his older cousin--whose remittances support their grandparents in the Anhui countryside--has lost her job in Shanghai. All wire money transfers from Taipei have stopped, and the millions of Chinese who are employed by Taiwanese companies have had their pay suspended.

Our private celebrates the opening of hostilities in Shanwei, where he is rushed through a three-week training course on fighting in the fetid and unfamiliar jungles of China's south. By now, the PLA has put him in a media blackout, but still rumors creep in: Yesterday it was whispered that the 10-hour delay in their train schedule had nothing to do with an overwhelmed transportation system and everything to do with Taiwanese saboteurs. Today's whispers report that the commander of the 1st Marine Brigade in Zhanjiang was assassinated. Tomorrow, men will wonder if rolling power outages really are just an attempt to save power for the war effort.

But by the time he reaches the staging area in Fuzhou, the myth of China's invincibility has been shattered by more than rumors. The gray ruins of Fuzhou's PLA offices are his first introduction to the terror of missile attack. Perhaps he takes comfort in the fact that the salvos coming from Taiwan do not seem to match the number of salvos streaking toward it--but abstractions like this can only do so much to shore up broken nerves, and he doesn't have the time to acclimate himself to the shock. Blast by terrifying blast, his confidence that the Chinese army can keep him safe is chipped away.

The last, most terrible salvo comes as he embarks--he is one of the lucky few setting foot on a proper amphibious assault boat, not a civilian vessel converted to war use in the eleventh hour--but this is only the first of many horrors on the waters. Some transports are sunk by Taiwanese torpedoes, released by submarines held in reserve for this day. Airborne Harpoon missiles, fired by F-16s leaving the safety of cavernous, nuclear-proof mountain bunkers for the first time in the war, will destroy others. The greatest casualties, however, will be caused by sea mines. Minefield after minefield must be crossed by every ship in the flotilla, some a harrowing eight miles in width. Seasick thanks to the strait's rough waves, our grunt can do nothing but pray his ship safely makes it across.

As he approaches land, the psychological pressure increases. The first craft to cross the shore will be met, as Easton's research shows, with a sudden wall of flame springing up from the water from the miles of oil-filled pipeline sunk underneath. As his ship makes it through the fire (he is lucky; others around it are speared or entangled on sea traps) he faces what Easton describes as a mile's worth of "razor wire nets, hook boards, skin-peeling planks, barbed wire fences, wire obstacles, spike strips, landmines, anti-tank barrier walls, anti-tank obstacles ... bamboo spikes, felled trees, truck shipping containers, and junkyard cars."

At this stage, his safety depends largely on whether the Chinese Air Force has been able to able to distinguish between real artillery pieces from the hundreds of decoy targets and dummy equipment PLA manuals believe the Taiwanese Army has created. The odds are against him: As Beckley notes in a study published last fall, in the 1990 to 1991 Gulf War, the 88,500 tons of ordnance dropped by the U.S.-led coalition did not destroy a single Iraqi road-mobile missile launcher. NATO's 78-day campaign aimed at Serbian air defenses only managed to destroy three of Serbia's 22 mobile-missile batteries. There is no reason to think that the Chinese Air Force will have a higher success rate when targeting Taiwan's mobile artillery and missile defense.

But if our grunt survives the initial barrages on the beach, he still must fight his way through the main Taiwanese Army groups, 2.5 million armed reservists dispersed in the dense cities and jungles of Taiwan, and miles of mines, booby traps, and debris. This is an enormous thing to ask of a private who has no personal experience with war. It is an even great thing to ask it of a private who naively believed in his own army's invincibility.