Marx Liked Bourgeois Modernity Better than Feudal Despotism

(p. 24) In his early writings and well through the 1860s, Marx propounded a theory of history that extolled the heroic achievements of the bourgeoisie as the collective agent of global change. Before the proletariat could develop into a mature class and become truly conscious of its revolutionary task, he reasoned, it was first necessary for capitalism thoroughly to modernize the world. All remnants of feudalism would dissolve; local custom and tradition would be swept aside, and industrial production would surge, condensing the two remaining classes into radically opposed groups in anticipation of capitalism’s final crisis.
This theory implied a certain inevitability to the gathering processes of historical change. It also left little room for the possibility of independent revolution in less developed regions around the globe, in the east or in the outer reaches of Europe’s empires. Marx’s universalism found its classic expression in “The Communist Manifesto,” which declared that all nations must submit “on pain of extinction” to the forces of bourgeois modernity. Elsewhere, Marx celebrated the introduction of steam power into India and the consequent dissolution of the archaic “village system.” And in the first volume of “Capital,” completed in 1867, he still reserved special disdain for what he called “ancient Asiatic” forms of production, condemning them as symptoms of a despotism that must be swept aside on the way to revolution.

For the full review, see:
PETER E. GORDON. “Call Him Karl.” The New York Times Book Review (Sunday, October 23, 2016): 24.
(Note: the online version of the review has the date OCT. 21, 2016, and has the title “A New Biography Focuses on Karl Instead of Marxism.”)

The book under review, is:
Jones, Gareth Stedman. Karl Marx: Greatness and Illusion. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2016.

Sri Lanka Encourages Poachers to Kill Elephants

In my micro principles class each semester, I recount the argument in a text by Baumol and Blinder, that if governments want to save elephants, they would not crush or burn their ivory, they would supply it to the market, reducing the price, and hence reducing the incentives for poachers to kill elephants.

(p. A4) COLOMBO, Sri Lanka — A group of saffron-robed monks chanted as officials crushed more than 300 elephant tusks in a seaside ceremony on Tuesday [January 26, 2016], as the new government of President Maithripala Sirisena sought to differentiate itself from its predecessor by sending a powerful message of intolerance for elephant poaching.
. . .
The ceremonial crushing of the 359 tusks began with two minutes of silence, after which the group of Buddhist monks chanted prayers for a “rebirth without suffering” for the elephants killed. In a show of religious solidarity, Hindu, Christian and Muslim leaders joined the monks in their prayers.
After the ceremony, the crushed ivory was transported to a factory in Puttalam, a district in the island’s northwest, for incineration, government officials said.

For the full story, see:
DHARISHA BASTIANS and GEETA ANAND. “Sri Lanka Destroys an Illegal Ivory Cache.” The New York Times (Weds., January 27, 2016): A4.
(Note: ellipsis added.)
(Note: the online version of the story has the date JAN. 26, 2016, and has the title “Sri Lanka Destroys Illegal Elephant Tusks.”)

Environmentalists Deprive the Poor of Cool Comfort

(p. A1) DELHI — A thrill goes down Lane 12, C Block, Kamalpur every time another working-class family brings home its first air-conditioner. Switched on for a few hours, usually to cool a room where the whole family sleeps, it transforms life in this suffocating concrete labyrinth where the heat reached 117 degrees in May.
“You wake up totally fresh,” exulted Kaushilya Devi, a housewife, whose husband bought a unit in May. “I wouldn’t say we are middle class,” she said. “But we are closer.”
But 3,700 miles away, in Kigali, Rwanda, negotiators from more than 170 countries gathered this week to complete an accord that would phase out the use of heat-trapping hydrofluorocarbons, or HFCs, worldwide, and with them the cheapest air-conditioners that are just coming within reach of people like Ms. Devi.
. . .
(p. A8) Sandhya Chauhan and her family live in two musty, windowless subterranean rooms, which turn stifling on summer nights, leaving six sweat-soaked adults to fidget, toss and pace until morning. They have lived there for 20 years, unable to find other lodging on the household’s combined earnings of around 30,000 rupees a month, or less than $450.
But it was never as awful as this May, when temperatures crept so high that Ms. Chauhan’s friends speculated that the earth was colliding with the sun. After a doctor warned Mrs. Chauhan that heat exhaustion was affecting their oldest son’s health, her husband bought an air-conditioner on credit. Though they are hardly middle class — “we have never let this thought cross our minds,” Mrs. Chauhan said — the purchase has changed the way they see themselves.
“My children sleep in peace,” she said. “There was a sense of happiness from inside. There was a sense that father has done a great job.”
Among the changes that have come with increasing wealth, Ms. Devi said, is the confidence to spend on the family’s comfort, rather than squirreling every bit of savings away.
“Education is teaching people to take care of themselves,” she said. “Now that we are used to air-conditioners, we will never go back.”

For the full story, see:
ELLEN BARRY and CORAL DAVENPORT. “A Climate Deal Could Push Air-Conditioning Out of India’s Reach.” The New York Times (Thurs., October 13, 2016): A1 & A8.
(Note: ellipsis added.)
(Note: the online version of the story has the date OCT. 12, 2016, and has the title “Emerging Climate Accord Could Push A/C Out of Sweltering India’s Reach.” The online version of the article says that the New York edition had the headline “Accord May Push Air-Conditioning Out of India’s Reach” and appeared on p. A12. In my paper, which is probably the midwest edition, the title was as cited in the main citation above, and appeared on pp. A1 and A8.)

Over-Regulated, Quasi-Governmental Health Sector Is Often Slow in Face of Crisis

The nurse interviewed in the passages quoted below, also appeared at about the same period, on Anderson Cooper’s CNN 360 show. On that she had a wonderful riff on how the hospital was irresponsible in taking so long to get the right protective gear. She says that they could, and should, have gotten it overnight through Amazon Prime.

(p. B4) DALLAS — A nurse who observed and participated in the care of Ebola patients at Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital spoke out publicly on Thursday about what she characterized as inadequate training and infection control there.
. . .
Ms. Aguirre said she and other nurses were “horrified” at the protocols used to care for Ms. Pham. She said they received instruction only once about the proper use of personal protective equipment — gloves, masks, gowns, hoods and shields — before entering Ms. Pham’s room, and then were shown how to remove the potentially contaminated gear while in the room. The garb left a triangle of skin exposed on the front of her neck.
“The very first time I was being instructed to put the stuff on I immediately voiced my concerns,” Ms. Aguirre said. “Why would I be wearing two pairs of gloves, three pairs of bootees, have my entire body covered in plastic, have two hoods on and have an area so close to my mouth and my nose exposed? And they said, ‘We know, we’ve addressed it and basically our verdict on that at this time is we’re taping that area closed.’ “

For the full story, see:
KEVIN SACK. “Controls Poor at Hospital, Nurse Says.” The New York Times (Fri., October 17, 2014): A14.
(Note: ellipsis added.)
(Note: the online version of the story has the date OCT. 16, 2014, and has the title “WHEELS; The Internal Combustion Engine Is Not Dead Yet.” The online version says that the New York print version was on p. A14. My paper, probably the midwest version, was on p. A18.)

How Communism Hurt

(p. 8) In an episode near the end of her thoughtful and eloquent memoir, “Among the Living and the Dead,” Inara Verzemnieks accompanies a cousin on her mail route in rural Latvia. They stop at a crude mailbox nailed to a tree. The mailbox belongs to an old woman who has elected to live alone, deep in the forest. Verzemnieks is drawn to the mystery of this woman and imagines seeking her out to pose the question that infuses her book: “How to live with this hurt?”
. . .
. . . the hurt Verzemnieks refers to is not directly her own; rather it is something she has imbibed and inherited from the paternal grandparents who raised her, ethnic Latvians who settled in America after World War II. It is the pain of their exile, the yearning for family left behind and the burden of memories from the war itself — her grandmother’s long, perilous flight across Europe from the Soviet forces, and her grandfather’s service as a conscript for the German Army, about which he does not speak.
. . .
Her family’s true home was in the region of Gulbene, in the northeast of Latvia, not far from the Russian border. More specifically, it was at her grandmother’s ancestral homestead, called Lembi. When the Soviet Union collapsed, her grandparents succeeded in returning once. After they died, Verzemnieks went as well, spending parts of five consecutive years living with her grandmother’s younger sister, Ausma, one of the last surviving members of her grandparents’ generation. The book interleaves stories from her grandparents’ past and from Ausma’s, along with Verzemnieks’s impressions of life in present-day rural Latvia, governed by its traditional rhythms, intricately and spiritually fused with the natural world. She is there to experience this life, to connect with her family, but also to gain Ausma’s trust so as to elicit her story. That story is the complement to her grandparents’, the two together constituting the Latvian national wartime narrative: those who suffered the pain of leaving and those subjected to the pain of staying — which meant life under the Soviet yoke, collectivization and, often, expulsion to Siberia. Ausma shared this fate. In 1949, she, her mother and her invalid brother were stripped of their beloved farm and sent into the taiga. They survived largely because Ausma withstood grueling physical labor and dreadful privation. For her great-niece’s sake, she recounts this past, even though it often brings her to tears.

For the full review, see:
DAVID BEZMOZGIS. “Homeland.” The New York Times Book Review (Sunday, September 17, 2017): 8.
(Note: ellipses added.)
(Note: the online version of the review has the date SEPT. 15, 2017, and has the title “A Writer Visits Latvia in Search of Her Roots.”)

The book under review, is:
Verzemnieks, Inara. Among the Living and the Dead: A Tale of Exile and Homecoming on the War Roads of Europe. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, Inc., 2017.

Innovations Make Internal Combustion Engines Much More Efficient

(p. B4) . . . gas- and diesel-powered engines are not done yet. Just as electrified cars — whether hybrids or pure battery-powered models — seem headed for market dominance, Mazda announced a breakthrough in gasoline engines that could make them far more efficient. It is the latest plot twist in a century of improvements for internal combustion engines, a power source pronounced dead many times that has persisted nevertheless.
. . .
Mazda said it had made a big advance in a combustion method commonly known as homogeneous charge compression ignition, which would result in gasoline engines that are 20 to 30 percent more efficient than the company’s best existing engines. Researchers around the world have tried to crack this process for years, but it has never really left the laboratory.
Mazda, which now markets no hybrid vehicles, calls the engine Skyactiv-X and says it is scheduled for a 2019 introduction. In simplest terms, the big difference with the new engine is that under certain running conditions, the gasoline is ignited without the use of spark plugs. Instead, combustion is set off by the extreme heat in the cylinder that results from the piston inside the engine traveling upward and compressing air trapped inside, the same method diesel engines use. The efficiency gains come with the ability to operate using a very lean mixture — very little gas for the amount of air — that a typical spark-ignition engine cannot burn cleanly.

For the full story, see:
NORMAN MAYERSOHN. “Advances Mean Plenty of Life Left for Internal Combustion Engine.” The New York Times (Fri., August 18, 2017): B4.
(Note: ellipses added.)
(Note: the online version of the story has the date AUG. 17, 2017, and has the title “WHEELS; The Internal Combustion Engine Is Not Dead Yet.”)

NYC Fee for Plastic Bags Is “a Tax on the Poor and the Middle Class”

(p. A18) The ubiquitous, easily torn, often doubled-up plastic bags from the grocery store — hoarded by dog owners, despised by the environmentally concerned and occasionally caught in trees — will soon cost at least a nickel in New York City.
The City Council voted 28 to 20 on Thursday to require certain retailers to collect a fee on each carryout bag, paper or plastic, with some exceptions. Mayor Bill de Blasio has expressed support for the measure.
. . .
Mr. Bloomberg offered a proposal in 2008 for a 6-cent bag fee — 5 cents for stores; a penny for the city — before dropping it several months later amid strong opposition. At the time, one of the opponents on the Council was Simcha Felder, a Brooklyn Democrat who is now a state senator. Last month, Senator Felder introduced a bill that would prohibit the levying of local fees on bags; it passed a committee this week.
In discussing his opposition this week, Mr. Felder traced the 200-year history of how people have carried their groceries home, progressing from cloth bags to boxes to paper to plastic, and said that reusing bags presented a health hazard. He said he would hold a hearing on his bill in the city next month.
“That’s nothing less than a tax on the poor and the middle class — the most disadvantaged people,” he said.
Opposition to the measure has also come from the plastic bag industry — via its lobbying arm, the American Progressive Bag Alliance — as well as from those who, like Mr. Felder, said the fee amounted to a regressive tax, disproportionately affecting low-income and minority New Yorkers . . . .

For the full story, see:
J. DAVID GOODMAN. “Council Approves a Fee on Checkout Bags.” The New York Times (Fri., May 6, 2016): A18.
(Note: ellipsis added.)
(Note: the online version of the story has the date MAY 5, 2016, and has the title “5ยข Fee on Plastic Bags Is Approved by New York City Council.”)