October 12, 2014

maptitude1:

These maps show per capita wine (top), beer (bottom, blue), and cider (bottom, red) consumption in France in 1873.

November 12, 2013
"NOW I SAW BRITISH PEOPLE LYING STIFFLY ON THE BEACH like dead insects, or huddled against the canvas windbreaks they hammered into the sand with rented mallets, or standing on cliffs and kicking stones roly-poly into the sea—and I thought: They are symbolically leaving the country. Going to the coast was as far as they could comfortably go. It was the poor person’s way of going abroad—standing at the seaside and staring at the ocean. It took a little imagination. I believed that these people were fantasizing that they were over there on the watery horizon, at sea. Most people on the Promenade walked with their faces averted from the land. Perhaps another of their coastal pleasures was being able to turn their backs on Britain. I seldom saw anyone with his back turned to the sea (it was the rarest posture on the coast). Most people looked seaward with anxious hopeful faces, as if they had just left their native land."

To the Ends of the Earth (Paul Theroux)

November 11, 2013
"All travelers are optimists, I thought. Travel itself was a sort of optimism in action. I always went along thinking: I’ll be all right, I’ll be interested, I’ll discover something, I won’t break a leg or get robbed, and at the end of the day I’ll find a nice old place to sleep. Everything is going to be fine, and even if it isn’t, it will be worthy of note—worth leaving home for."

To the Ends of the Earth (Paul Theroux)

November 10, 2013
"Perhaps it was the effect of the Dashiell Hammett novel I had just read, but I found myself examining her situation with a detective’s skepticism. Nothing could have been more melodramatic, or more like a Bogart film: near midnight in Veracruz, the band playing ironical love songs, the plaza crowded with friendly whores, the woman in the white suit describing the disappearance of her Mexican husband. It is possible that this sort of movie fantasy, which is available to the solitary traveler, is one of the chief reasons for travel. She had cast herself in the role of leading lady in her search drama, and I gladly played my part. We were far from home: we could be anyone we wished. Travel offers a great occasion to the amateur actor."

To the Ends of the Earth (Paul Theroux)

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Filed under: Theroux Travel 
November 9, 2013
"BUT THERE WAS MORE TO THIS MORAL SPELLED OUT IN TRANSPONTINE geography than met the eye. If the Texans had the best of both worlds in decreeing that the fleshpots should remain on the Mexican side of the International Bridge—the river flowing, like the erratic progress of a tricky argument, between vice and virtue—the Mexicans had the sense of tact to keep Boys’ Town camouflaged by decrepitude, on the other side of the tracks, another example of the geography of morality. Divisions everywhere: no one likes to live next door to a whorehouse. And yet both cities existed because of Boys’ Town. Without the whoring and racketeering, Nuevo Laredo would not have had enough municipal funds to plant geraniums around the statue of its madly gesturing patriot in the plaza, much less advertise itself as a bazaar of wickerwork and guitar-twanging folklore—not that anyone ever went to Nuevo Laredo to be sold baskets. And Laredo required the viciousness of its sister city to keep its own churches full. Laredo had the airport and the churches, Nuevo Laredo the brothels and basket factories. Each nationality had seemed to gravitate to its own special area of competence. This was economically sound thinking; it followed to the letter the Theory of Comparative Advantage, outlined by the distinguished economist David Ricardo (1772–1823)."

To the Ends of the Earth (Paul Theroux)

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Filed under: Theroux Texas Mexico 
November 6, 2013
"A little farther on, he said, “What do you think of India?” “It’s a hard question,” I said. I wanted to tell him about the children I had seen that morning pathetically raiding the leftovers of my breakfast, and ask him if he thought there was any truth in Mark Twain’s comment on Indians: “It is a curious people. With them, all life seems to be sacred except human life.” But I added instead, “I haven’t been here very long.”"

To the Ends of the Earth (Paul Theroux)

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Filed under: Paul Theroux India Twain 
November 5, 2013
"P. Lorillard said: ‘The quickest way to failure is to try to please everybody.’"

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Filed under: Failure 
November 4, 2013
"“Tatyana” is a curious, semimythical creature even to those who make paper-trailing their business. Sightings of her are often reported but she has never been successfully tracked, and although Tatyana is always her first name, her last name is different on almost every signature she leaves behind. She is known to turn up wherever a number of traffickers of arms and “gray” cargo, including Bout, are setting up new business operations and to be a lawyer, or at least legal advisor, for Bout. Her birthday always appears as the same date, though on each piece of ID a different year is given according to intelligence officials quoted in a second 2010 intelligence report commissioned by the deposed ruler of Ras al-Khaimah, written by a former member of the U.S. air force’s special forces, and issued by Mercury LLC suggesting the emirate and its Sharjah neighbor may be a “rogue state” possessing terror links with Iran."

Outlaws Inc.: Under the Radar and on the Black Market with the World’s Most Dangerous Smugglers (Matt Potter)

November 3, 2013
"In the mid-1990s, Ukrainian president Leonid Kuchma ordered a parliamentary commission to investigate the rate at which arms went missing from his bases. The report found that of Ukraine’s $89 billion in military stocks in 1992, by 1998 $32 billion had mysteriously evaporated. No sooner was the report ready, however, than the commission was mysteriously closed down. All seventeen volumes of work disappeared. The head of the commission, General Oleksandr Ignatenko, was court-martialed and stripped of his rank. The only publisher willing to go public about the findings, a Kiev newsletter editor named Sehry Odarych, was ambushed one night outside his apartment, shot in the leg as a warning, and told as he writhed in pain against the wall of the block, “Stop getting mixed up in politics, or we’ll eliminate you.” The attackers simply vanished and were never found. The police informed Odarych he’d shot his own leg in a bid for attention, though he didn’t have a gun."

Outlaws Inc.: Under the Radar and on the Black Market with the World’s Most Dangerous Smugglers (Matt Potter)

November 2, 2013
"In 2009, for example, 103 sets of refurbishment kits for 53-65KE submarine attack torpedoes were authorized for export by Montenegro to Macedonia for a civilian project in Central Asia. According to the report of the International Peace Investigation Service (IPIS), “the table of exports states that the kits were ultimately for civilian use in Kyrgyzstan—which, one may recall, is at some considerable distance from the nearest ocean.” (In the copious footnotes the monitor’s voice deadpans: “It is also difficult to think of a civilian use for a torpedo.”)"

Outlaws Inc.: Under the Radar and on the Black Market with the World’s Most Dangerous Smugglers (Matt Potter)

November 1, 2013
"Because, according to recent reports by the United Nations and monitoring groups like the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, Amnesty International, and the International Peace Information Service—the world’s elite trafficking detectives—many of these phantom pilots, in their “untraceable, migrating flocks of Ilyushin Il-76 planes,” are also the key channel for the illicit transport of “destabilizing commodities” like narcotics, banned weapons, mysterious diamonds, arms to illegal or terrorist armies, and secret supply lines to rogue regimes looking to bust sanctions. They, and their even more elusive network of business partners, have over the past two decades fueled the growth of the global black market, the rule of warlords, and the rise of the mafia, in Eastern Europe and far beyond."

Outlaws Inc.: Under the Radar and on the Black Market with the World’s Most Dangerous Smugglers (Matt Potter)

October 31, 2013
"The scale of Greek tax cheating was at least as incredible as its scope: an estimated two-thirds of Greek doctors reported incomes under 12,000 euros a year—which meant, because incomes below that amount weren’t taxable, that even plastic surgeons making millions a year paid no tax at all. The problem wasn’t the law—there was a law on the books that made it a jailable offense to cheat the government out of more than 150,000 euros—but its enforcement. “If the law was enforced,” the tax collector said, “every doctor in Greece would be in jail.” I laughed, and he gave me a stare. “I am completely serious.” One reason no one is ever prosecuted—apart from the fact that prosecution would seem arbitrary, as everyone is doing it—is that the Greek courts take up to fifteen years to resolve tax cases. “The one who does not want to pay, and who gets caught, just goes to court,” he says. Somewhere between 30 and 40 percent of the activity in the Greek economy that might be subject to income tax goes officially unrecorded, he says, compared with an average of about 18 percent in the rest of Europe."

— Boomerang: Travels in the New Third World (Michael Lewis)

October 30, 2013
"Among other things turned up were a great number of off-the-books phony job-creation programs. “The Ministry of Agriculture had created an off-the-books unit employing 270 people to digitize the photographs of Greek public lands,” the finance minister tells me. “The trouble was that none of the 270 people had any experience with digital photography. The actual professions of these people were, like, hairdressers.”"

— Boomerang: Travels in the New Third World (Michael Lewis)

October 29, 2013
"Oddly enough, the financiers in Greece remain more or less beyond reproach. They never ceased to be anything but sleepy old commercial bankers. Virtually alone among Europe’s bankers, they did not buy U.S. subprime-backed bonds, or leverage themselves to the hilt, or pay themselves huge sums of money. The biggest problem the banks had was that they had lent roughly 30 billion euros to the Greek government—where it was stolen or squandered. In Greece the banks didn’t sink the country. The country sank the banks."

— Boomerang: Travels in the New Third World (Michael Lewis)

October 28, 2013
"In just the past twelve years the wage bill of the Greek public sector has doubled, in real terms—and that number doesn’t take into account the bribes collected by public officials. The average government job pays almost three times the average private-sector job. The national railroad has annual revenues of 100 million euros against an annual wage bill of 400 million, plus 300 million euros in other expenses. The average state railroad employee earns 65,000 euros a year. Twenty years ago a successful businessman turned minister of finance named Stefanos Manos pointed out that it would be cheaper to put all Greece’s rail passengers into taxicabs: it’s still true. “We have a railroad company which is bankrupt beyond comprehension,” Manos put it to me. “And yet there isn’t a single private company in Greece with that kind of average pay.” The Greek public-school system is the site of breathtaking inefficiency: one of the lowest-ranked systems in Europe, it nonetheless employs four times as many teachers per pupil as the highest-ranked, Finland’s. Greeks who send their children to public schools simply assume that they will need to hire private tutors to make sure they actually learn something. There are three government-owned defense companies: together they have billions of euros in debts, and mounting losses. The retirement age for Greek jobs classified as “arduous” is as early as fifty-five for men and fifty for women. As this is also the moment when the state begins to shovel out generous pensions, more than six hundred Greek professions somehow managed to get themselves classified as arduous: hairdressers, radio announcers, waiters, musicians, and on and on and on. The Greek public health-care system spends far more on supplies than the European average—and it is not uncommon, several Greeks tell me, to see nurses and doctors leaving the job with their arms filled with paper towels and diapers and whatever else they can plunder from the supply closets."

— Boomerang: Travels in the New Third World (Michael Lewis)