Silk Road to Ruin (1997 Essay)

A slightly shorter version of the following piece originally appeared in P.O.V. magazine in 1997: YOU CAN’T GET THERE FROM HERE: Madness on the Post-Soviet Silk Road by Ted Rall The doors of our cabin flew open after eight hellish hours on the death train. It was the Turkmeni Border Patrol, distinguishable from their Uzbek counterparts only by their green (not red, as in Uzbekistan, or blue, as in Kazakhstan) epaulettes. “Amerikanskis! Passports!” they screamed. A crazy question coursed through my baked brain synapses: How the hell did I get into such a fucked-up situation? It started out, as every half-baked scheme from Columbus scamming the Pinta from Istanbul to cold fusion has, over free drinks. Last June I was working a P.O.V. party, trying to convince editor Randall Lane to send me somewhere distant and dangerous at the magazine’s expense. That’s when I remembered an idea I had discussed with Alan Feuer, an up-and-coming writer for The New York…
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Wart Nation: Upward Mobility Through Excrescence

I first noticed the wart while showering in the Barnard dorm. It didn’t look like much – just a smooth, hard, round bump just to the right of my left nipple – but after twenty years on this earth, I’d never had any warts, moles or other weird skin growths before. I vividly recall being worried enough about it to make an appointment with Columbia’s official university dermatologist for the next day, December 10, 1983. His name was, naturally, Doctor Moley, and for those of you who require documentation of such things, his office was on Amsterdam Avenue at 114th Street. Anyway, people with free medical coverage can’t get finicky about inappropriately-named physicians. Warts are strange. Not to be confused with their darker, hairier cousin the mole, wart viruses are among the oldest life forms on the planet – even pterodactyls probably had to deal with these hard little growths disfiguring their leathery wings. Warts come in tens of thousands…
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Memoirs of a New York City Taxi Driver

It was all I could do to keep myself from fucking up the guy with the Knicks sweatshirt at the restaurant table next to me. “Can you believe these guys want a fare increase?” he asked. “Fucking A!” his friend with the Syracuse baseball cap farted. “None of ’em understand English; they never know where they’re going.” Such brilliance from someone wearing a vinyl “Cats” jacket. I refrained from breaking the Heinz 57 bottle over his head. How could these morons know anything different? They’ve never been held up. They’ve never driven twelve hours through pouring rain – without windows. They’ve never driven a taxi in New York. Some people are blessed with perception, but most people need experience to make them complete. I know I did. In The Beginning I started hacking in 1984, when I was 21. I’d just been expelled from Columbia Engineering for either disciplinary or academic reasons – my dean couldn’t decide which – and…
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Fatal Defenestration: Men Who Love Gravity Too Much

“I want a world without gravity.” -Jim Carroll, 1980 My first time happened in Boston. It was in a double on the 12th floor of the Hotel Essex across a sprawling boulevard from South Station. It was a shitty room in a shitty hotel in an even shittier neighborhood, but the Columbia Marching Band was picking up the tab for this, my first and last football game. I played the kazoo in the game against Harvard. Anyway, directly next door a party out of a Steve Guttenberg movie raged on for hours. I knocked on the door, hoping against all of humanity’s accumulated reason and logic for an invitation. A disheveled cheerleader appeared. Behind her I could see the early planning stages of a standing-room-only orgy. “What?” she squawked, looking through my head at the water fountain in the hall. Back in room 1214, Mike was waiting for me. “Good news,” he said. “The people next door ordered beers by…
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The Last Six Minutes of Doomed Flight 411

You May Have Wondered What Happened – Or It’s Entirely Possible That You Were Preoccupied At The Time, Which Is Perfectly OK Then – In Any Event, Well, Here’s THE LAST SIX MINUTES OF DOOMED FLIGHT 411 As everyone now knows, doomed Flight 411 never made it from Pittsburgh to Dayton on June 3rd. At 5:05 p.m., just 60 miles short of an arrival gate packed with family, friends and hangers-on, the experimental Boeing 797A minijumbo-jet smashed into a large high school near the southwest corner of the I-270 Columbus bypass. Authorities are still mystified by the crash, which claimed the lives of 14 crew members and 206 passengers, for a grand total of 220 innocent victims of whom a great many were as close to innocent as possible during a historical epoch in which ethics are considered arbitrary. Killed virtually instantaneously were an Indiana state representative, a promising starting quarterback for a two-year technical college in Mexico and the…
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White Weddings: Selections from the New York Times Weddings Announcements

Kelly Edwards, Steven Still Kelly Edwards and Steven Joseph Still were married last evening by Cantor Pierre Aronson at the St. Regis in New York. Mrs. Still, 30, is a founding partner in G2 Resources, an exclusive brokerage firm in Greenwich, Conn. owned by the investment bank of Goldman, Sachs & Company in New York. She graduated from the University of Pennsylvania School of Law. Her father is a limited partner in the investment bank of Goldman, Sachs & Company in New York and a former chairman of its international operations. Mr. Still, 31, graduated from Yale University and received an M.B.A. from the Wharton School of Business and a law degree from Villanova University. He is a senior managing director of Lazard Freres & Company, the investment bank in New York. He is also a senior managing director of LazardÕs asset management business, where the bride has recently accepted a position. His father is chairman and chief executive officer…
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Marketing Madness: A Postmortem for Generation X

Dineh Mohajer, if you choose to believe Time magazine, is just like you. Two years ago, the 24-year-old California woman launched her own cosmetics company, Hard Candy, as a lark. Now she’s expecting $25 million in sales for fiscal ‘97. Assuming the quotes are accurate, this CEO-come-lately coasts on mental autopilot: “I function like an average human being of my age. I go to clubs, movies and watch MTV. It’s so fun! I’m a TV junkie. I need to go to Melrose Anonymous! Eating Cap’n Crunch and watching TV – two things I live for. Twice a week we have all-girls’ night. My best friends come over. We watch TV and gossip and scream and yell and do our nails.” Time says this insipid make-up baroness is a typical of the 44.6 million Americans born between 1965 and 1976 denoted as Generation Xers. But Douglas Coupland, the Canadian author who stole either the name of Billy Idol’s old punk band…
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Dubious Liberators: Allied Plans to Occupy France, 1942-1944

Forty-six years ago this June, the largest invasion force in the history of mankind landed at Normandy, initiating a series of bloody confrontations with the occupying German armies that ended ten months later in Berlin. The international press dispatched wire photos of ecstatic French civilians embracing exhausted Allied soldiers. The liberation of France—and of Paris in late August—is perhaps the twentieth century’s giddiest moment. But a perusal of recently declassified American documents suggests that that liberation may have occurred only after martial law and occupation became unfeasible. The German retreat across northern France in the weeks following D-Day transformed the newly liberated country into a vast political power vacuum. Control of the civil administration of France—the day-to-day mechanics of its local and regional financial, police, educational, medical and legal institutions—would assure political control after the liberation of Paris. Three major groups had plotted over three years to ensure that that power would be theirs. Within France, the Communist-dominated Resistance planned…
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