The Monster Next Door

From Boston:

Howe Street on the east side of Manchester, New Hampshire, is part of a tight-knit community of working-class families where neighbors commonly show up unannounced for a favor. So nothing seemed unusual to LoriAnn Silver when her new next-door neighbor walked onto her porch in the summer of 2004 and pressed the buzzer.

The woman at the door wore an African caftan, braided hair extensions, and a friendly smile. “I’m Bea,’’ she said. In a mix of French, Kinyarwandan, and American accents, she explained that she’d just moved into the adjacent home, a three-bedroom ranch with a fenced-in backyard and an above-ground swimming pool that was perfect for her three young daughters: Charlene, then 11, and twins Simbi and Saro, 10. The pool, however, was giving her trouble. LoriAnn happily sent her husband, Scott, over to help.

This first encounter sparked a routine of sorts. LoriAnn seldom saw Bea except when she needed a hand with something, usually the pool, the lawn, or shoveling the driveway. For the most part, Bea and her family kept to themselves. Once, when Bea was outside wearing a tank top, Scott noticed several ribbons of scar tissue running along her back. But Bea didn’t offer much about her past, and LoriAnn didn’t pry. What little their neighbor told them was enough: Bea’s full name was Beatrice Munyenyezi, and she said she had fled to the United States as a political refugee from her native Rwanda.

Jihadism’s Civil War

From The National Interest:

ALMOST OVERNIGHT, the Islamic State sent its enemies reeling—and turned U.S. policy in the Middle East upside down. Islamic State forces carved out a haven in Syria and, in June 2014, routed the Iraqi army, capturing large swathes of territory and prompting the Obama administration to overcome its long-standing aversion to a bigger U.S. military role in Iraq and Syria. Even in many Arab countries where the Islamic State does not have a strong presence, its rise is radicalizing those countries’ populations, fomenting sectarianism and making a bad region even worse.

But there is one person for whom the Islamic State’s rise is even more frightening: Ayman al-Zawahiri. Although the Al Qaeda leader might be expected to rejoice at the emergence of a strong jihadist group that delights in beheading Americans (among other horrors), in reality the Islamic State’s rise risks Al Qaeda’s demise. When Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi rejected Al Qaeda’s authority and later declared a caliphate, he split the fractious jihadist movement. The two are now competing for more than the leadership of the jihadist movement: they are competing for its soul.

Who will emerge triumphant is not clear. However, the implications of one side’s victory or of continuing division are profound for the Middle East and for the United States, shaping the likely targets of the jihadist movement, its ability to achieve its goals and the overall stability of the Middle East. The United States can exploit this split, both to decrease the threat and to weaken the movement as a whole. Washington must also adjust its counterterrorism policies to recognize the implications of this rivalry.

Move Over Mao

From the NYT:

“The sons and daughters of China follow you forward hand in hand,” goes one soft-rock paean to Mr. Xi that has been downloaded thousands of times. “Great general secretary, beloved President Xi, the Chinese nation is sure to rejuvenate because we have you.”

Not since Mao dominated the nation with his masterly blend of populism, fervor and fear has a Chinese leader commanded so much public awe. Deng Xiaoping was a formidable power, but he disavowed the mania of the Mao era. Since then, fawning public displays over political leaders have been taboo. Mr. Xi’s immediate predecessor, Hu Jintao, made a virtue of dull self-effacement.

Not Papa Xi.

Some of his appeal stems from his war on corruption and from feel-good sloganeering like the “Chinese Dream,” his pitch for a rejuvenated, powerful nation. But the adoration has also been primed by relentless propaganda portraying Mr. Xi as an indomitable alloy of Superman and Everyman who holds up his own umbrella, kicks soccer balls and knows how to fire a rifle.

The New Atheists and the Old Empire

From Jacobin:

In explaining his transition from radical polemicist to neoconservative hawk, Christopher Hitchens insisted that his politics had not changed. It was perfectly consistent, he opined, to have opposed the Vietnam War on anti-imperialist grounds and unapologetically supported the invasion of Iraq; perfectly consistent to have abandoned confraternity with the likes of Noam Chomsky and Edward Said and sipped champagne at the White House as a guest of Paul Wolfowitz.

Hitchens liked to claim that a single intellectual thread united his positions, namely opposition to “totalitarianism”: “The totalitarian, to me, is the enemy — the one that’s absolute, the one that wants control over the inside of your head, not just your actions and your taxes.”

But for all his pro-imperial bluster, it was Hitchens’ attacks on religion that finally garnered him international fame. These, too, he claimed, were fundamentally “anti-totalitarian,” analogous to resisting North Korea or Joseph Stalin. A leading light of the “New Atheist” movement, the former socialist spent his final decade at war with religion and at peace with imperialism.

Cowen on the End of Pax Americana

Tyler Cowen:

It is possible that we are still living inside the biggest bubble of them all and that is called “the peace bubble.” I’ve also heard this described as the bubble of “Pax Americana,” although that is a more partisan take on the role of America in global peace. You might think the chance of this being a “peace bubble” is say only five or ten percent. Maybe so, but still in expected value terms that is still the most important issue to worry about. The breaking of that peace bubble on a larger scale could endanger all of the progress and accumulated well-being of the human race, including the United States.

Let’s not forget that over the next one hundred years, if the world remains relatively peaceful, it is unlikely that most global innovation will come from the United States. China in particular may assume a major role as a generator of new ideas, just as the United States supplied a wide variety of useful innovations to Great Britain starting in the mid to late 19th century. Even if a “Fortress America” could survive geopolitical turmoil in the broader world, it would be a much poorer place. We rely on the rest of the world for inspiration, for creation, for appreciation, for increasing market size and thus the spurring of American innovations, and of course we rely on the rest of the world for innovations more directly. A future America in a chaotic world is much, much poorer and riskier than a future America in a peaceful world.

Sea of Crises

Brian Phillips:

When he comes into the ring, Hakuho, the greatest sumotori in the world, perhaps the greatest in the history of the world, dances like a tropical bird, like a bird of paradise. Flanked by two attendants — his tachimochi, who carries his sword, and his tsuyuharai, or dew sweeper, who keeps the way clear for him — and wearing his embroidered apron, the kesho-mawashi, with its braided cords and intricate loops of rope, Hakuho climbs onto the trapezoidal block of clay, two feet high and nearly 22 feet across, where he will be fighting. Here, marked off by rice-straw bales, is the circle, the dohyo, which he has been trained to imagine as the top of a skyscraper: One step over the line and he is dead. A Shinto priest purified the dohyo before the tournament; above, a six-ton canopy suspended from the arena’s ceiling, a kind of floating temple roof, marks it as a sacred space. Colored tassels hang from the canopy’s corners, representing the Four Divine Beasts of the Chinese 1 constellations: the azure dragon of the east, the vermilion sparrow of the south, the white tiger of the west, the black tortoise of the north. Over the canopy, off-center and lit with spotlights, flies the white-and-red flag of Japan.Japanese mythology, like many aspects of early Japanese culture, was heavily influenced by China.

Hakuho bends into a deep squat. He claps twice, then rubs his hands together. He turns his palms slowly upward. He is bare-chested, 6-foot-4 and 350 pounds. His hair is pulled up in a topknot. His smooth stomach strains against the coiled belt at his waist, the literal referent of his rank:yokozuna, horizontal rope. Rising, he lifts his right arm diagonally, palm down to show he is unarmed. He repeats the gesture with his left. He lifts his right leg high into the air, tipping his torso to the left like a watering can, then slams his foot onto the clay. When it strikes, the crowd of 13,000 souls inside the Ryogoku Kokugikan, Japan’s national sumo stadium, shouts in unison: “Yoisho!” — Come on! Do it! He slams down his other foot: “Yoisho!” It’s as if the force of his weight is striking the crowd in the stomach. Then he squats again, arms held out winglike at his sides, and bends forward at the waist until his back is near parallel with the floor. Imagine someone playing airplane with a small child. With weird, sliding thrusts of his feet, he inches forward, gliding across the ring’s sand, raising and lowering his head in a way that’s vaguely serpentine while slowly straightening his back. By the time he’s upright again, the crowd is roaring.

All that Glitters

From Demos Quarterly:

London is currently winning all the plaudits, whether it is as top ‘city of opportunity’ (PwC) or global city where most global professionals want to work (Boston Consulting Group). The idea of London as the most popular and successful city in the world is, naturally, a message relentlessly promoted by the London Mayor and the main London media outlets. But for the majority of people who actually live in the city it is at best a half-truth.

London is certainly a phenomenon. It is a city that has partially outgrown its country and sometimes feels more attached to the rest of the world than to its own national hinterland. It is the apotheosis of the transactional, market society—a wonderful place to have as a bolt-hole if you are a rich foreigner, a good place to come and live and work for a few years if you are an ambitious young incomer from provincial Britain or from another country. Yet it is also the most economically, politically and ethnically polarised part of a Britain that has come to regard it as ‘the great wen’ of Willam Cobbett’s famous denunciation.

Italy is Collapsing and No One Knows What to Do

From the Spectator:

The Rome Opera House sacked its entire orchestra and chorus the other day. Financed and managed by the state, and therefore crippled by debt, the opera house — like so much else in Italy — had been a jobs-for-life trade union fiefdom. Its honorary director, Riccardo Muti, became so fed up after dealing with six years of work-to-rule surrealism that he resigned. It’s hard to blame him. The musicians at the opera house — the ‘professori’ — work a 28-hour week (nearly half taken up with ‘study’) and get paid 16 months’ salary a year, plus absurd perks such as double pay for performing in the open air because it is humid and therefore a health risk. Even so, in the summer, Muti was compelled to conduct a performance of La Bohème with only a pianist because the rest of the orchestra had gone on strike.

After Muti’s resignation, the opera house board did something unprece-dented: they sacked about 200 members of the orchestra and chorus, in a country where no one with a long-term contract can be fired. It was a revolutionary — dare one say Thatcherite? — act. If only somebody would have the guts to do something similar across the whole of the Italian state sector. But nobody will. Italy seems doomed.

The latest panic on global stock markets has reminded the world of the vulnerability of the euro, and this week pundits in the British press have been busy speculating about France’s possible collapse. Hardly anyone bothers to fret about Italy any more, even though last week its exchanges took the second biggest hit after Greece. Italy’s irreversible demise is a foregone conclusion. The country is just too much of a basket case even to think about.

The Cost of Fighting ISIS

From Foreign Policy:

On Saturday, Oct. 4, day 58 of the American campaign against the Islamic State, U.S. aircraft carried out nine strikes inside Iraq and Syria, destroying two tanks, three Humvees, one bulldozer, and an unidentified vehicle. The strikes also hit several teams of Islamic State fighters and destroyed six of their firing positions.

At first glance, that might seem like a lot of damage. Leaving aside the significance of killing Islamic State militants and only looking at equipment, the tankswere worth an estimated $4.5 to $6.5 million apiece and each Humvee cost $150,000 to $250,000, bringing the total value of the equipment destroyed to somewhere between $9.5 and $13.8 million.

But that’s less impressive when one considers that each U.S. “strike” against the self-proclaimed Islamic State can involve several aircraft and munitions and cost up to $500,000, according to Todd Harrison, an expert with the Center for Strategic and Budgetary Assessments, a Washington-based defense think tank.

An Apple a Day Keeps Putin Away

From Roads and Kingdoms:

My family has a long history with apples. My 96-year-old paternal grandmother now lives in a Stalinist apartment block in Warsaw’s Mokotow district, but she comes from an apple-growing village outside Grojec. At the end of World War II, after the Germans had killed her husband for being in Poland’s underground Home Army, she moved to the ruined Polish capital as a single mother. With the help of a relative, she set up a fruit stall in a corner of a destroyed school to sell apples to local workers rebuilding the city.

My mother’s father, upon his return from Buchenwald, was a broken man who found solace in growing fruit. He sold nearly all of his possession to buy a plot of land south of Warsaw where he nurtured his hundreds of trees with the reluctant help of his children. Apple profits bought my mother her one-way ticket to London on the eve of the communist declaration of Martial Law in Warsaw in 1981.