1. Last year, Rukmini Callimachi found thousands of al-Qaida documents in Timbuktu in northern Mali when she was the West Africa bureau chief for the Associated Press.
Al-Qaida left behind the pages just after a French-led military intervention drove the jihadi fighters out of the area, where they had imposed a harsh version of Islamic law. The documents include directives and letters from al-Qaida commanders.
In the interview, Callimachi tells Terry Gross about al-Qaida’s highly detailed record-keeping:

"When I came back with these receipts, and we started translating them, these thousands and thousands of receipts for things like onions and a kilo of tomatoes and a receipt for a 60-cent piece of cake that somebody ate — it made us laugh. And I guess it made us laugh because we assumed that terrorists are these bad guys with guns — and violent, et cetera — and we have assumed that’s divorced from these bureaucratic procedures that we see at play here.
In fact, people that have covered al-Qaida and studied the group longer than me, say they’ve found the exact same thing in Afghanistan. It’s partly the DNA of Osama bin Laden, who started out life as a businessman. He was the son of a very wealthy entrepreneur, and he started out as a young man trying to run his own companies. … Even when he ran his own companies, he was obsessed with bureaucracy. People that worked for him in Sidon [in Lebanon] remember having to turn in triplicate receipts with carbon copies for things like replacing bicycle tires or car tires.”


Photo: A road sign written by Islamist rebels is seen at the entrance into Timbuktu January 31, 2013. File photo Image by: BENOIT TESSIER / REUTERS
Sign says, “Timbuktu is founded on Islam and will be judged by Islamic Laws (Charia)” View in High-Res

    Last year, Rukmini Callimachi found thousands of al-Qaida documents in Timbuktu in northern Mali when she was the West Africa bureau chief for the Associated Press.

    Al-Qaida left behind the pages just after a French-led military intervention drove the jihadi fighters out of the area, where they had imposed a harsh version of Islamic law. The documents include directives and letters from al-Qaida commanders.

    In the interview, Callimachi tells Terry Gross about al-Qaida’s highly detailed record-keeping:

    "When I came back with these receipts, and we started translating them, these thousands and thousands of receipts for things like onions and a kilo of tomatoes and a receipt for a 60-cent piece of cake that somebody ate — it made us laugh. And I guess it made us laugh because we assumed that terrorists are these bad guys with guns — and violent, et cetera — and we have assumed that’s divorced from these bureaucratic procedures that we see at play here.

    In fact, people that have covered al-Qaida and studied the group longer than me, say they’ve found the exact same thing in Afghanistan. It’s partly the DNA of Osama bin Laden, who started out life as a businessman. He was the son of a very wealthy entrepreneur, and he started out as a young man trying to run his own companies. … Even when he ran his own companies, he was obsessed with bureaucracy. People that worked for him in Sidon [in Lebanon] remember having to turn in triplicate receipts with carbon copies for things like replacing bicycle tires or car tires.”

    Photo: A road sign written by Islamist rebels is seen at the entrance into Timbuktu January 31, 2013. File photo
    Image by: BENOIT TESSIER / REUTERS

    Sign says, “Timbuktu is founded on Islam and will be judged by Islamic Laws (Charia)”

  2. al-qaida

    terrorism

    mali

    timbuktu

    rukmini callimachi

    interview

    fresh air

  1. Remember comedian Hari Kondabolu? We interviewed him back in April. Here he is talking to PBS Newshour about why he’s “Waiting for 2042.” 

  2. fresh air

    interview

    hari kondabolu

  1. Songster Dom Flemons, formerly of the Carolina Chocolate Drops, joins Fresh Air to play songs from his new solo album, Prospect Hill. 
One of the fun parts of the interview is when he does impressions of Bob Dylan and Dave Van Ronk. 
Terry asked him why he impersonates certain singers:

"The idea that I had in my 16-year-old mind is that I’d hear these songs and no one else knew what these songs were so I’d try my best to replicate them so that people would get a sense of the song as it was performed by the original performer. At that time I didn’t feel like I had any interesting stories. After being in the business for about 15 years, just about now, I have some stories of my own. But at first, I didn’t really have stories so I would tell other people’s stories."


Photo of Flemons by Tim Duffy View in High-Res

    Songster Dom Flemons, formerly of the Carolina Chocolate Drops, joins Fresh Air to play songs from his new solo album, Prospect Hill.

    One of the fun parts of the interview is when he does impressions of Bob Dylan and Dave Van Ronk

    Terry asked him why he impersonates certain singers:

    "The idea that I had in my 16-year-old mind is that I’d hear these songs and no one else knew what these songs were so I’d try my best to replicate them so that people would get a sense of the song as it was performed by the original performer. At that time I didn’t feel like I had any interesting stories. After being in the business for about 15 years, just about now, I have some stories of my own. But at first, I didn’t really have stories so I would tell other people’s stories."

    Photo of Flemons by Tim Duffy

  2. dom flemons

    carolina chocolate drops

    banjo

    folk music

    bob dylan

    dave van ronk

    fresh air

    terry gross

  1. At age 26, Robert Timberg was a handsome young man in uniform. That was before a land mine in Vietnam left him so disfigured that he terrified little children on the street. Dr. Lynn Ketchum, a respected plastic surgeon who did reconstructive surgery on many injured soldiers, wrote in his personal journal that he had many patients in his career with facial burns, but none as bad as Bob Timberg. Timberg’s new memoir, called Blue Eyed Boy, is the story of his long struggle to recover from his wounds and find his place in the civilian world.
Listen to the interview. 

    At age 26, Robert Timberg was a handsome young man in uniform. That was before a land mine in Vietnam left him so disfigured that he terrified little children on the street. Dr. Lynn Ketchum, a respected plastic surgeon who did reconstructive surgery on many injured soldiers, wrote in his personal journal that he had many patients in his career with facial burns, but none as bad as Bob Timberg. Timberg’s new memoir, called Blue Eyed Boy, is the story of his long struggle to recover from his wounds and find his place in the civilian world.

    Listen to the interview. 

  2. vietnam

    war

    veteran

    injury

    memoir

    interview

    fresh air

  1. George Takei became famous for his role in Star Trek as Mr. Sulu, but in the last decade, he’s drawn followers who admire him because of who he is—not just who he has played. The new documentary about his life is called To Be Takei.
He joins Fresh Air to talk about growing up in a Japanese internment camp, avoiding stereotypical roles, and coming out as gay at 68. 
Here he explains why he was closeted for most of his life: 

The thing that affected me in the early part of my career was … there was a very popular box office movie star — blonde, good-looking, good actor — named Tab Hunter. He was in almost every other movie that came out. He was stunningly good-looking and all-American in looks. And then one of the scandals sheets of that time — sort of like The Inquirertoday — exposed him as gay. And suddenly and abruptly, his career came to a stop.That was, to me, chilling and stunning. I was a young no-name actor, aspiring to build this career — and I knew that [if] it were known that I was gay, then there would be no point to my pursuing that career. I desperately and passionately wanted a career as an actor, so I chose to be in the closet. I lived a double life. And that means you always have your guard up. And it’s a very, very difficult and challenging way to live a life.

Photo by Kevin Scanlon via LA Weekly  View in High-Res

    George Takei became famous for his role in Star Trek as Mr. Sulu, but in the last decade, he’s drawn followers who admire him because of who he is—not just who he has played. The new documentary about his life is called To Be Takei.

    He joins Fresh Air to talk about growing up in a Japanese internment camp, avoiding stereotypical roles, and coming out as gay at 68. 

    Here he explains why he was closeted for most of his life: 

    The thing that affected me in the early part of my career was … there was a very popular box office movie star — blonde, good-looking, good actor — named Tab Hunter. He was in almost every other movie that came out. He was stunningly good-looking and all-American in looks. And then one of the scandals sheets of that time — sort of like The Inquirertoday — exposed him as gay. And suddenly and abruptly, his career came to a stop.

    That was, to me, chilling and stunning. I was a young no-name actor, aspiring to build this career — and I knew that [if] it were known that I was gay, then there would be no point to my pursuing that career. I desperately and passionately wanted a career as an actor, so I chose to be in the closet. I lived a double life. And that means you always have your guard up. And it’s a very, very difficult and challenging way to live a life.

    Photo by Kevin Scanlon via LA Weekly 

  2. george takei

    to be takei

    star trek

    lgbt

    hollywood

    fresh air

    terry gross

    interview

  1. Project Runway’s Tim Gunn spoke to Terry Gross about being gay in the ’60s and ’70s vs. being gay today: 

"[In] the late 1960s going into the early ’70s, [being gay] was considered to be something you ‘fixed.’ This was an adolescent psychiatric hospital, so people were teens into early 20s, and there were some people there who were there to have their gayness ‘fixed.’ So for me, it was like treating a disease — you have to do something about it. … I remember thinking, ‘I have enough issues without adding this to the list.’ I thought, ‘Oh, God, but for the grace of God, there go I.’
On the one hand, I’m not envious of any young person who is going through a struggle with their sexual identity, I’m not envious at all — but on the other hand, there’s so many more and more positive role models these days. When I was kid, who were the gay people? They were the decorators in the Doris Day movies, they’re the fashion designers, they’re flitting about. I mean, I think about Paul Lynde on Bewitched, I mean, he was a caricature. And today, we recognize that every flavor of humanity comes in every possible size, and color, and shape, and we have so much more awareness of the diversity of everyone. Whenever anyone tries to stereotype gay men, it’s like, ‘Wait a minute, there’s just as many who live like slobs!’”


The premiere of season 13 of Project Runway aired last night.  View in High-Res

    Project Runway’s Tim Gunn spoke to Terry Gross about being gay in the ’60s and ’70s vs. being gay today: 

    "[In] the late 1960s going into the early ’70s, [being gay] was considered to be something you ‘fixed.’ This was an adolescent psychiatric hospital, so people were teens into early 20s, and there were some people there who were there to have their gayness ‘fixed.’ So for me, it was like treating a disease — you have to do something about it. … I remember thinking, ‘I have enough issues without adding this to the list.’ I thought, ‘Oh, God, but for the grace of God, there go I.’

    On the one hand, I’m not envious of any young person who is going through a struggle with their sexual identity, I’m not envious at all — but on the other hand, there’s so many more and more positive role models these days. When I was kid, who were the gay people? They were the decorators in the Doris Day movies, they’re the fashion designers, they’re flitting about. I mean, I think about Paul Lynde on Bewitched, I mean, he was a caricature. And today, we recognize that every flavor of humanity comes in every possible size, and color, and shape, and we have so much more awareness of the diversity of everyone. Whenever anyone tries to stereotype gay men, it’s like, ‘Wait a minute, there’s just as many who live like slobs!’”

    The premiere of season 13 of Project Runway aired last night. 

  2. tim gunn

    fashion

    LGBT

    project runway

    fresh air

    interview

  1. David Edelstein reviews A Most Wanted Man, starring the late Philip Seymour Hoffman: 


Part of me wishes that Philip Seymour Hoffman’s final lead performance, in A Most Wanted Man, wasn’t very good. I know that sounds perverse. But if he’d been flailing as an actor at the end, it would make his loss easier to bear from an artistic—if not a human—perspective. The thing is, though, the actor we see in this movie is at his absolute peak. This might even be my favorite Hoffman performance of all, damn it. 


  View in High-Res

    David Edelstein reviews A Most Wanted Man, starring the late Philip Seymour Hoffman:

    Part of me wishes that Philip Seymour Hoffman’s final lead performance, in A Most Wanted Man, wasn’t very good. I know that sounds perverse. But if he’d been flailing as an actor at the end, it would make his loss easier to bear from an artistic—if not a human—perspective. The thing is, though, the actor we see in this movie is at his absolute peak. This might even be my favorite Hoffman performance of all, damn it.

     

  2. philip seymour hoffman

    a most wanted man

    david edelstein

    movie review

    fresh air

  1. Human Rights Watch researcher Letta Tayler  just got back from Iraq where she documented tales of ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) forcing mass expulsions and murders of Christians and ethnic minorities who are told to convert. Tayler explains the recent edict ISIS issued for Christians in the city of Mosul: 

"ISIS issued an edict around mid-July and it said, "You’ve got three choices: convert, pay us a jihad tax, get out of town—and if you don’t do those, you’ll face the sword."
This was, of course, an absolutely chilling message. It was disseminated throughout the city and on the Internet as well, and at that point most of the Christians had already fled Mosul, but the few remaining families, and we’re still talking several hundred, apparently, just packed up and left. Some left with nothing but the clothes on backs, others piled whatever precious possessions they could into their cars and some of them then found at ISIS checkpoints that they were robbed of those few precious possessions that they had hoped to bring out with them. So it has been an absolutely terrifying part of a broader campaign to “cleanse” … Mosul and surrounding areas, of anyone who does not espouse this strict interpretation of Sharia that ISIS espouses.” 

Propaganda image of ISIS via NBC news  View in High-Res

    Human Rights Watch researcher Letta Tayler  just got back from Iraq where she documented tales of ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) forcing mass expulsions and murders of Christians and ethnic minorities who are told to convert. Tayler explains the recent edict ISIS issued for Christians in the city of Mosul: 

    "ISIS issued an edict around mid-July and it said, "You’ve got three choices: convert, pay us a jihad tax, get out of town—and if you don’t do those, you’ll face the sword."

    This was, of course, an absolutely chilling message. It was disseminated throughout the city and on the Internet as well, and at that point most of the Christians had already fled Mosul, but the few remaining families, and we’re still talking several hundred, apparently, just packed up and left. Some left with nothing but the clothes on backs, others piled whatever precious possessions they could into their cars and some of them then found at ISIS checkpoints that they were robbed of those few precious possessions that they had hoped to bring out with them. So it has been an absolutely terrifying part of a broader campaign to “cleanse” … Mosul and surrounding areas, of anyone who does not espouse this strict interpretation of Sharia that ISIS espouses.”
     

    Propaganda image of ISIS via NBC news 

  2. ISIS

    iraq

    terrorism

    human rights watch

    letta tayler

    interview

    fresh air

  1. A debut novel by Yelena Akhtiorskaya puts a fresh, comic spin on the age-old coming to America story. Her novel is called Panic in a Suitcase and Fresh Air book critic Maureen Corrigan has a review: 

I can’t tell you the names of my great-grandparents, left behind in Poland and Ireland, because nobody ever mentioned them.  The break was that final.  
These days of course, it’s different.  Within the space of a few hours, people can fly across oceans; through skyping and e-mail, they can electronically commute between Old World and New.  Three cheers for The March of Progress, right?  Except, if you want to make a definitive break how can you when the Old World is always calling you on the phone, texting, and crashing on your living room couch for extended visits? That’s the crucial question Yelena Akhtiorskaya mulls over in her sharply observed and very funny debut novel, Panic in a Suitcase.  Akhtiorskaya, who was born in Odessa and emigrated to the Russian immigrant enclave of Brighton Beach, Brooklyn at the age of seven, writes of the fictional Nasmertov family, whose move from Old World to New imitates her own.  
View in High-Res

    A debut novel by Yelena Akhtiorskaya puts a fresh, comic spin on the age-old coming to America story. Her novel is called Panic in a Suitcase and Fresh Air book critic Maureen Corrigan has a review: 

    I can’t tell you the names of my great-grandparents, left behind in Poland and Ireland, because nobody ever mentioned them.  The break was that final. 

    These days of course, it’s different.  Within the space of a few hours, people can fly across oceans; through skyping and e-mail, they can electronically commute between Old World and New.  Three cheers for The March of Progress, right?  Except, if you want to make a definitive break how can you when the Old World is always calling you on the phone, texting, and crashing on your living room couch for extended visits? That’s the crucial question Yelena Akhtiorskaya mulls over in her sharply observed and very funny debut novel, Panic in a Suitcase.  Akhtiorskaya, who was born in Odessa and emigrated to the Russian immigrant enclave of Brighton Beach, Brooklyn at the age of seven, writes of the fictional Nasmertov family, whose move from Old World to New imitates her own.  

  2. fresh air

    maureen corrigan

    panic in a suitcase

    book review

    yelena akhtiorskaya

  1. As a veterinarian who specializes in behavioral medicine, Dr. Vint Virga has treated many household pets in his clinic. But for the past five years he has been working mostly with leopards, wolves, bears, zebras and other animals living in zoos and wildlife parks. He deals with such issues as appetites, anxiety and obsessive behavior.
In the interview he discusses how zoos have changed to improve the animals’ well being:

"I think the most important things that zoos have done in the past 10, 20 years, is that they [have] focused primarily on the animal’s well-being. And, depending on their feedback and responses, looked at their behavior, looked at their overall happiness and contentment and used that as the gauge for what to do for the animal.
They’ve also applied as much [as] science knows about the animals in nature. What that looks like is providing them with a space that’s a lot more rich and full than just a place that is an exhibit. So it’s really shifting from not a cage, because most zoos don’t even have those anymore, but from an exhibit to a habitat. The environment is much richer and more complex rather than flat and uniform, so that we can see them.
[Zoos are] providing [animals with] opportunities to escape from view of the public — and that can be difficult for a zoo. … Visitors complain to the zoo if they can’t see the leopard, the bear or the lion. But on the other hand, if the lion doesn’t have any choice of getting away from the public at times, particularly if there [are] crowds or noisy visitors, then we’re taking away their sense of control over their environment.”
View in High-Res

    As a veterinarian who specializes in behavioral medicine, Dr. Vint Virga has treated many household pets in his clinic. But for the past five years he has been working mostly with leopards, wolves, bears, zebras and other animals living in zoos and wildlife parks. He deals with such issues as appetites, anxiety and obsessive behavior.

    In the interview he discusses how zoos have changed to improve the animals’ well being:

    "I think the most important things that zoos have done in the past 10, 20 years, is that they [have] focused primarily on the animal’s well-being. And, depending on their feedback and responses, looked at their behavior, looked at their overall happiness and contentment and used that as the gauge for what to do for the animal.

    They’ve also applied as much [as] science knows about the animals in nature. What that looks like is providing them with a space that’s a lot more rich and full than just a place that is an exhibit. So it’s really shifting from not a cage, because most zoos don’t even have those anymore, but from an exhibit to a habitat. The environment is much richer and more complex rather than flat and uniform, so that we can see them.

    [Zoos are] providing [animals with] opportunities to escape from view of the public — and that can be difficult for a zoo. … Visitors complain to the zoo if they can’t see the leopard, the bear or the lion. But on the other hand, if the lion doesn’t have any choice of getting away from the public at times, particularly if there [are] crowds or noisy visitors, then we’re taking away their sense of control over their environment.”

  2. animals

    zoo

    polar bear

    vint virga

    fresh air

    interview

  1. Arthur Allen's book, The Fantastic Laboratory of Dr. Weigl, tells the story of two scientists—one Christian and one Jewish—who battled typhus and sabotaged the Nazis during WWII. 
Transmitted by body lice, typhus killed untold numbers of soldiers and civilians during the war. Today’s interview explores the labor-intensive process of making the vaccine and the way the lab sabotaged the Nazis by weakening their vaccines and sneaking doses into Jewish ghettos. 
Allen explains how the Nazis used lice imagery after they invaded Poland: 

"The Nazis … always described the Jews as "vermin" and sometimes used the word "lice." …And this was an ideology that was belittling and obviously also associating Jews with sort of filth and contamination, parasitism — all of these things that you metaphorically can link lice to.
[The Nazis] made it very concrete after they took over the first Polish cities, that there were signs that went up all over Warsaw, for example … that would have a picture of a bearded Jew with a louse that said, “Lice, Jews, typhus,” to make that association in the minds [of] Poles — the idea of keeping them from protecting Jews, [of] seeing Jews as part of this invasive, parasitic, dangerous force that they had to avoid and exterminate.”


German anti-Jewish propaganda: “Jews, lice, typhus.” Poster printed in Warsaw in 1941 and distributed throughout the GG. Courtesy of ŻIH. View in High-Res

    Arthur Allen's book, The Fantastic Laboratory of Dr. Weigl, tells the story of two scientists—one Christian and one Jewish—who battled typhus and sabotaged the Nazis during WWII. 

    Transmitted by body lice, typhus killed untold numbers of soldiers and civilians during the war. Today’s interview explores the labor-intensive process of making the vaccine and the way the lab sabotaged the Nazis by weakening their vaccines and sneaking doses into Jewish ghettos. 

    Allen explains how the Nazis used lice imagery after they invaded Poland: 

    "The Nazis … always described the Jews as "vermin" and sometimes used the word "lice." …And this was an ideology that was belittling and obviously also associating Jews with sort of filth and contamination, parasitism — all of these things that you metaphorically can link lice to.

    [The Nazis] made it very concrete after they took over the first Polish cities, that there were signs that went up all over Warsaw, for example … that would have a picture of a bearded Jew with a louse that said, “Lice, Jews, typhus,” to make that association in the minds [of] Poles — the idea of keeping them from protecting Jews, [of] seeing Jews as part of this invasive, parasitic, dangerous force that they had to avoid and exterminate.”

    German anti-Jewish propaganda: “Jews, lice, typhus.” Poster printed in Warsaw in 1941 and distributed throughout the GG. Courtesy of ŻIH.

  2. typhus

    jewish history

    WWII

    science

    history

    holocaust

    aruthur allen

    fresh air

    terry gross

  1. “I think it’s very important to live in the present. One of the great things that improvising teaches you is the magic of the moment that you’re in … because when you improvise you’re in right now. You’re not in yesterday or tomorrow—you’re right in the moment. Being in that moment really gives you a perspective of life that you never get at any other time as far as learning about your ego… You have to see your unimportance before you can see your importance and your significance to the world.”
-Charlie Haden, jazz bass player 1937 - 2014 

In remembrance of Haden we put together some of his best interview moments. He spoke to Terry five times, beginning in 1983. You can listen to the show and read more quotes here. 




Photo: Charlie Haden, bass, performs at the BIM Huis on May 18, 1989 in Amsterdam, the Netherlands. by Frans Schellekens/Redferns View in High-Res

    I think it’s very important to live in the present. One of the great things that improvising teaches you is the magic of the moment that you’re in … because when you improvise you’re in right now. You’re not in yesterday or tomorrow—you’re right in the moment. Being in that moment really gives you a perspective of life that you never get at any other time as far as learning about your ego… You have to see your unimportance before you can see your importance and your significance to the world.

    -Charlie Haden, jazz bass player 1937 - 2014 

    In remembrance of Haden we put together some of his best interview moments. He spoke to Terry five times, beginning in 1983. You can listen to the show and read more quotes here

    Photo: Charlie Haden, bass, performs at the BIM Huis on May 18, 1989 in Amsterdam, the Netherlands. by Frans Schellekens/Redferns

  2. music

    jazz

    charlie haden

    fresh air

    interview

    terry gross

  1. Angela Ricketts' husband was deployed eight times—four of them to Iraq and Afghanistan. She joined us to talk about the culture at home on the military bases, the responsibilities of being an officer’s wife, and the relationships she formed with other infantry wives. Ricketts’ new memoir is called No Man’s War: Irreverent Confessions of an Infantry Wife: 

"The "black soul" is the numbness that you reach a point after the first few deployments — it just rips your gut out when you say goodbye. And you’re just left in this puddle of tears and emotional and weepy for days. That can only happen so many times. Just like they say you can really only have your heart broken once.
…I’ve become kind of stoic in general. People cry at movies and I look at them and say, “Really? You’re really crying at this movie?” Because I just feel very unfazed by a lot of things that should faze me.”
View in High-Res

    Angela Ricketts' husband was deployed eight times—four of them to Iraq and Afghanistan. She joined us to talk about the culture at home on the military bases, the responsibilities of being an officer’s wife, and the relationships she formed with other infantry wives. Ricketts’ new memoir is called No Man’s War: Irreverent Confessions of an Infantry Wife

    "The "black soul" is the numbness that you reach a point after the first few deployments — it just rips your gut out when you say goodbye. And you’re just left in this puddle of tears and emotional and weepy for days. That can only happen so many times. Just like they say you can really only have your heart broken once.

    …I’ve become kind of stoic in general. People cry at movies and I look at them and say, “Really? You’re really crying at this movie?” Because I just feel very unfazed by a lot of things that should faze me.”

  2. army

    army wives

    interview

    fresh air

    war

    marriage

  1. Our youngest fan is keepin’ it Fresh, listening to Terry’s book, All I Did Was Ask.

Photo: Lisa O’brien and baby Ruby May Berger, from Christine Dempsey, WHYY’s Vice-President, Chief Content Officer

View in High-Res

    Our youngest fan is keepin’ it Fresh, listening to Terry’s book, All I Did Was Ask.

    Photo: Lisa O’brien and baby Ruby May Berger, from Christine Dempsey, WHYY’s Vice-President, Chief Content Officer

  2. fresh air

    terry gross

    all i did was ask

    public radio

  1. Journalist Beth Macy documents the collapse of the American furniture industry and its human cost in her new book Factory Man: How One Furniture Maker Battled Offshoring, Stayed Local, and Helped Save an American Town.
She profiles John Bassett III, a determined owner who fought back against the foreign onslaught — both by filing anti-dumping charges with the U.S. International Trade Commission against Chinese firms, and by making his own company more competitive.
When Chinese companies started manufacturing furniture, the Bassett Company, based in Virginia, watched their once vibrant Virginia town become vacant. Thousands of workers lost their jobs.  
In today’s interview Macy tells us how the Bassett family tracked down a Chinese knock-off of their product in China:

There’s a dresser that’s just come on the scene [in 2001] in the American market and it’s a Louis-Philippe [style] dresser. It’s wholesaling for $100 and [John Bassett III] can’t figure out how the heck [the Chinese company is] able to sell it. “They can’t be making money,” he says. He has his engineer take it apart and deconstruct it piece-by-piece and price out the pieces. And he knows they have to be “dumping,” which means selling it for less than the price of the materials.
So he sends his son Wyatt, who is kind of his head business guy, he sends him and a … translator, who is a family friend, to Dalian because the stick on the back only says “Dalian, China.” It doesn’t say exactly which factory it’s from. And he sends them off to do a secret spy mission. They’re pretending that they’re looking to buy — but what they’re really looking for is that one particular dresser.
They find it after days and days of searching. They finally end up in this remote section of the province, almost to the border of North Korea, and they find it there… The gentleman running [the factory] actually meets with them and he has this very chilly one-on-one dialogue with them that’s all translated. But the guy says, basically, “Close your factories.” (Bassett’s got three factories left at the time.) “Close your three factories and let me make all of your furniture for you.”
… The translated word, and John [Bassett III] remembered it very well, was “tuition”… “This is the tuition of [China] being able to capture your market share. We’re going to sell it so cheap and with government subsidies — we’re going to be able to make all of your furniture for you.”
They ended up driving them out to this furniture industrial park, out in the country and there [are] just stacks and stacks of timber… When [Wyatt] saw all that Russian timber laid out they knew [the Chinese] were serious. And they knew they were going to war.


Photo: An abandoned lumber mill in Martinsville, Virginia, 2010. via the New Yorker View in High-Res

    Journalist Beth Macy documents the collapse of the American furniture industry and its human cost in her new book Factory Man: How One Furniture Maker Battled Offshoring, Stayed Local, and Helped Save an American Town.

    She profiles John Bassett III, a determined owner who fought back against the foreign onslaught — both by filing anti-dumping charges with the U.S. International Trade Commission against Chinese firms, and by making his own company more competitive.

    When Chinese companies started manufacturing furniture, the Bassett Company, based in Virginia, watched their once vibrant Virginia town become vacant. Thousands of workers lost their jobs.  

    In today’s interview Macy tells us how the Bassett family tracked down a Chinese knock-off of their product in China:

    There’s a dresser that’s just come on the scene [in 2001] in the American market and it’s a Louis-Philippe [style] dresser. It’s wholesaling for $100 and [John Bassett III] can’t figure out how the heck [the Chinese company is] able to sell it. “They can’t be making money,” he says. He has his engineer take it apart and deconstruct it piece-by-piece and price out the pieces. And he knows they have to be “dumping,” which means selling it for less than the price of the materials.

    So he sends his son Wyatt, who is kind of his head business guy, he sends him and a … translator, who is a family friend, to Dalian because the stick on the back only says “Dalian, China.” It doesn’t say exactly which factory it’s from. And he sends them off to do a secret spy mission. They’re pretending that they’re looking to buy — but what they’re really looking for is that one particular dresser.

    They find it after days and days of searching. They finally end up in this remote section of the province, almost to the border of North Korea, and they find it there… The gentleman running [the factory] actually meets with them and he has this very chilly one-on-one dialogue with them that’s all translated. But the guy says, basically, “Close your factories.” (Bassett’s got three factories left at the time.) “Close your three factories and let me make all of your furniture for you.”

    … The translated word, and John [Bassett III] remembered it very well, was “tuition”… “This is the tuition of [China] being able to capture your market share. We’re going to sell it so cheap and with government subsidies — we’re going to be able to make all of your furniture for you.”

    They ended up driving them out to this furniture industrial park, out in the country and there [are] just stacks and stacks of timber… When [Wyatt] saw all that Russian timber laid out they knew [the Chinese] were serious. And they knew they were going to war.

    Photo: An abandoned lumber mill in Martinsville, Virginia, 2010. via the New Yorker

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