August 13, 2015

The New Yorker - Learning to Speak Lingerie: Chinese merchants and the inroads of globalization. 5-15min

All told, along a three-hundred-mile stretch, I found twenty-six Chinese lingerie dealers: four in Sohag, twelve in Asyut, two in Mallawi, six in Minya, and two in Beni Suef. It was like mapping the territory of large predator cats: in the Nile Valley, clusters of Chinese lingerie dealers tend to appear at intervals of thirty to fifty miles, and the size of each cluster varies according to the local population. Cairo is big enough to support dozens. Dong Weiping, a businessman who owns a lingerie factory in the capital, told me that he has more than forty relatives in Egypt, all of them selling his products. Other Chinese people supply the countless underwear shops that are run by Egyptians. For the Chinese dealers, this is their window into Egypt, and they live on lingerie time. Days start late, and nights run long; they ignore the Spring Festival and sell briskly after sundown during Ramadan. Winter is better than summer. Mother’s Day is made for lingerie. But nothing compares with Valentine’s Day, so this year I celebrated the holiday by saying goodbye to my wife, driving four hours to Asyut, and watching people buy underwear at the China Star shop until almost midnight. ... No Upper Egyptian woman would wear such garments in public, but it’s acceptable at home. This is one reason that the market for clothing is so profitable: Egyptian women need two separate wardrobes, for their public and their private lives. ... In general, Chinese dealers prefer Egyptian Muslims to Christians. This is partly because Muslims are more faithful consumers of lingerie, but it’s also because they’re easier to negotiate with. The Copts are a financially successful minority, and they have a reputation for bargaining aggressively. This is what matters most to Chinese dealers—for them, religion is essentially another business proposition. ... differences seem perfectly matched for the exchange of lingerie. The Chinese dealers are small, and they know little, and they care even less—all of these qualities help put Egyptian customers at ease. ... “Their strategy is to make economic linkages, so if you break these economic linkages it’s going to hurt you as much as it hurts them.” ... In “China’s Second Continent,” published in 2014, Howard French estimates that a million Chinese live on the continent, and China does more than twice as much trade with Africa as the United States does.

Bloomberg - Inside Shell’s Extreme Plan to Drill for Oil in the Arctic 5-15min

A global oil glut has tanked prices and cut profits—so why won’t Shell give up on the north? ... geologists believe that beneath Burger J—70 miles offshore and 800 miles from the Anchorage command center—lie up to 15 billion barrels of oil. An additional 11 billion barrels are thought to be buried due east under the Beaufort Sea. All told, Arctic waters cover about 13 percent of the world’s undiscovered petroleum, or enough to supply the U.S. for more than a decade, according to government estimates. ... Surprise lurks in the Chukchi, whose frigid waters north of the Bering Strait span from Alaska to Siberia. Logistical and legal obstacles have repeatedly delayed the Arctic initiative, on which Shell is spending more than $1 billion a year—more than $7 billion so far and counting. The single well in the Chukchi Shell aims to excavate this summer could be the most expensive on earth, and it hasn’t yielded its first barrel of crude. ... Shell’s Scenarios group, an in-house think tank that management points to as an emblem of its open-mindedness, has done extensive work undergirding the company’s support for government policies encouraging development of renewable energy sources, she says. But the Scenarios research also justifies aggressive exploration for more crude. With the global population rising from 7 billion to more than 9 billion by 2050 and total energy demand nearly doubling ... Most of the world’s “easy oil” has already been pumped or nationalized by resource-rich governments, Pickard says, leaving independent producers such as Shell no choice but to pursue “extreme oil” in dicey places.

Salon - A most brilliant art world con: A near-perfect scheme, barely unraveled, straight from Hollywood < 5min

Without question, attempting to pass off a counterfeit Rembrandt was an incredibly brazen move on Ely Sakhai’s part. But brazen he was, and he did have a certain advantage in his scheme: the legitimate ownership of the authentic painting that he had his artists copy. The authenticity of his Rembrandt, The Apostle James, was not questioned. Nor was the fact that it was purchased by Ely Sakhai from a reputable source. So when he would offer what he purported to be the painting for sale, it didn’t raise questions about authenticity, if only because those interested in the painting perhaps failed to imagine the nefarious scheme of the seller. Thanks in large measure to his travels in the Far East with his wife, Sakhai made it his mission to establish a steady clientele in Tokyo and Taiwan too. and in June 1997, he sold his Rembrandt to the Japanese businessman and art collector Yoichi Takeuchi. ... Call it karma or serendipity, but Sakhai would be undone by circumstances as simple as his scheme was complex. Not content to simply make enormous profits on the fakes he sold to unsuspecting buyers, Sakhai’s greed led him to sell the original authentic works too.

ESPN - Believe in Featherbowling 5-15min

This is a story about the most magical, mystical sport on earth, and the Detroit lifer who improbably became its king. Also, it's about an art heist. ... Featherbowling was born from that medieval family of games that endure in no small part because they can be played with a beverage in the shooter's free hand. It's Belgian shuffleboard. It's horseshoes with a pigeon feather target. It's bocce, except you roll discs that have been slightly weighted to rotate unevenly across the earth, exposing the shooter's secret divine grace. It's pétanque, kubb, mölkky, curling, Cherokee marbles, Irish road bowls -- the variations are endless -- but none has the otherworldly mystery of this thing they play at the Cadieux Cafe on the east side of Detroit. That 60-foot downhill triple breaker Tiger Woods nailed on the 17th hole at TPC Sawgrass in 2001, which sucked every last atom of karma out of the air around it -- that's every sixth shot in featherbowling. You shout op de pluim when your ball snakes through the gantlet of other fallen wheels, wobbling like a wounded buffalo nickel, before settling on the feather. ... Which is to say, it's a game in which tiny prayers are repeatedly answered, accumulating over time, until something is answered that nobody had even known to pray for.