ZeitgenossenLast night I found myself running from event to event, to hear two of my college classmates talk on very different topics. I've hardly seen either of these guys in all those years, but I could quickly see that, like a lot of the guys (and gals) I went to college with, they're still pretty smart.
Renato Rosaldo, with whom I worked on a couple of theater projects in college (he directed Odets' "Waiting For Lefty" and I directed Brecht's "The Measures Taken" in a double-bill), has grown up to be an anthropologist, now teaching at NYU. I went to hear him and other friends on a panel organized by PRLDEF on two atrocious new books, Samuel Huntington's Who Are We? The Challenges to America's National Identity, and Nicolás Vaca's The Presumed Alliance: The Unspoken Conflict Between Latinos and Blacks and What It Means for America. I haven't read the latter, mainly because the assumption in the title is so ridiculous -- as though tensions between African Americans and Hispanic Americans had come as a big surprise. For my comments on Huntington's latest screed, see my blog note It's not the Mexicans, it's the world economy, stupid! from February 26 (you'll have to scroll down the page a bit). Renato's take on Huntington's academically-couched racism was angry and witty -- but you had to be there. Maybe he's writing something about it.
Rick Wolff and I were sort of ideological comrades in college, though he always seemed to have fewer doubts about his radicalism. Always a forceful and quick speaker, and a I think a generous man, he became an economist and is now a professor at the U. of Massachusetts. At the Brecht Forum, where a panel on "The Changing Structure of Capitalism" that had started at 7:30 was still going on when I got there at 9, I heard his remarks on the housing "bubble," the great over extension of credit stimulated by lenders of mortgages, most of them variable rate. All it will take for the bubble to burst -- that is, for people to stop borrowing to buy houses, which is currently one of busiest engines of our economy -- will be a small rise in interest rates. And, according to Rick (he credited a student of his for digging this information out) the capital that makes all that lending possible is coming mainly -- almost 50% of it -- from China and Japan, which are buying Fannie Mae bonds and thus becoming (if they aren't already) our homeowners' biggest ultimate creditors. So I suppose that if either the Japanese or the Chinese decide they'd rather put their money in euros than dollars, or for any other reason diminsh their investments, poof! There goes the bubble, and lots of people's hopes for home ownership.
"Zeitgenossen" is a word I picked up from Henrich Böll, who I think invented it. He meant "epochal comrades," people who had lived through the same world events. Renato, Rick and I graduated the same year Kennedy was shot. It was a change of epoch.