A dream-like critique of post-Soviet Russia – Macleans.ca

OBLIVION by Sergei Lebedev.  No Credit.OBLIVION

Sergei Lebedev

There have always been people who refuse to forget, and this is a book for them. The debut novel by a young Russian journalist and poet is about a journey to the Gulag, a search for history that few want to talk about, told through a search for the origins of an old man. Called Grandfather II, he grafts himself onto the narrator’s family and tries to claim the young boy as a replacement for a lost son.

The book is also a long shudder of disgust from a writer born to the decay of the 1980s, and like a Soviet orator who can’t risk being misunderstood, Lebedev likes to pile symbols into evocative paragraphs that end in explanations. The result pushes poetic language to the edge, somewhere between a novel and an essay that pulls along with the single-mindedness of a dream. It is an often pitiless book, animated by the rage of a child who will do anything to avoid falling under someone’s power, even run away into the woods or die in a quarry.

The childhood parts are astonishing. Grandfather II is transparent to the narrator’s young eyes, encountering self-invention for the first time and discovering how habitual deception can replace a person’s true character.

Before there are any facts about Grandfather II, the old man dies (on the day the Soviet Union dissolves) and all his papers are burned. But the narrator, now an adult, finds the trail easily and, like a railroad, it leads to the north. There is no dialogue with the grotesques who pass before his eyes along the way, but every person and scene has a symbolic charge that will be revealed. People will smell of death and their mutilated bodies will be read like the outlines of pointless constructions now receding into the tundra. If there is snow, it first falls black and then red; a cemetery carver will look like a golem made of tombstone dust; a radio operator dreams of receiving a message instructing him to arrest himself.

In this dreamscape it’s not possible to know whether Lebedev is adrift in history or reeling in contemporary Russia, but if you know the country you will recognize the mouldy buildings and tortured landscapes he basks in. You may also ask if every hollow has to be a grave and every river full of corpses. Is excess necessary to make memory speak and to provoke secretive people to explain their faded photographs? The publisher seems to embrace the political angle (I’ve never seen a novel blurbed by so many ambassadors) and certainly this book’s quiet anger is well-timed. Resurgent nationalism in Russia, like everywhere else, requires historical blindness, the desire to forget and a hunger for oblivion.


My 10 Favorite Books: Terence Koh – New York Times


For his bookshop and website One Grand Books, the editor Aaron Hicklin asked people to name the 10 books they’d take with them if they were marooned on a desert island. The next in the series is the artist Terence Koh, who shares his list exclusively with T.

“The Krishnamurti Reader,” J. Krishnamurti

A guide on living. Krishnamurti asks us to question everything, find out the answers ourselves. It’s something that strikes my mind every time I read the news and all the problems we have today. Start with mutating our own mind and then society’s.

“Silence,” John Cage

John Cage sings to me in that calm gentle voice of his every day. Just sitting here while writing this — crick crack of logs burning in woodstove, almost silent sound of a distant wind — I am reminded that the universe is a constantly changing song. The most beautiful music in existence is when we let our minds be silent.

“Four Quartets,” T.S. Eliot

“Time present and time past

Are both perhaps present in time future

And time future contained in time past.

If all time is eternally present

All time is unredeemable.”

I have not read the rest of this little book beyond these first two sentences. The ever-living now: live it fully and awake.

“Walden,” Henry David Thoreau

I glued all the pages of “Walden” shut and it’s the only book that sits by my bed. For me, it’s the idea of this book as a single physical object that matters. A book unopened can be a bed lamp.

“The Spirit of Zen: A Way of Life, Work and Art in the Far East,” Alan Watts

Oh, sparkling Alan Watts. What I remember most clearly from this book is that all words — the book itself — is only a guide, like a boat, to help you cross the river. Don’t mistake the book for the way across. All books are a boat. Zen is life itself sewn into the fabric of daily existence.


Terence Koh

Neilson Barnard/Getty Images

“The World as I See It,” Albert Einstein

On the second page, Einstein outlines the principles that guide his life: “The ideals which have lighted me on my way and time after time given me new courage to face life cheerfully, have been truth, goodness, and beauty.” Three simple words, yet full of mystery and light.

“The Snow Leopard,” Peter Matthiessen

A book about mountains, loss, death, life, living Zen and everything else in between. Living on a mountain myself, Peter reminds me that the mountains and stones are alive. Friends that I speak to daily. Peter Matthiessen, together with Gary Snyder, Arne Naess and John Cage are my teachers on how to grow older. With vigor, elegance and spark.

“Living the Good Life: Helen and Scott Nearing’s Sixty Years of Self-Sufficient Living,” Helen and Scott Nearing

This was the book that inspired me to move from the city and live on a mountain in the middle of nowhere and everywhere. In 1932, they too moved from New York City to start living off the land deep in the green mountains of Vermont. Living off the land and in the seasons gives one a sense of honest purpose. Art, farming, poetry, architecture, carpentry, accounting, cooking have no boundaries with each other.

“We Were an Island: The Maine Life of Art and Nan Kellam,” Peter Blanchard III

A story about a couple that bought a remote island in Maine to live on for the rest of their lives. A dream of mine, too: to live on an island, physically and spiritually.

“Row, Row, Row Your Boat,” Anonymous

I have been collecting different versions in book form of this simple song:

Row, row, row your boat

Gently down the stream

Merrily, merrily, merrily

Life is but a dream

Live life gently and merrily. Never judging, just observing on this boat ride. Alone at home I sing this song every day and perhaps you will too.

Oxenfree Review – Teenage Dream – Bleeding Cool News


Oxenfree reminds me of my youth. A time when I’d go adventure with my friends, find stupid stuff to do and just be a teenager. It also reminds me of even further back when I had fear of the unknown, the supernatural and ghostly ideas that would haunt me in the night. It feels like a meditation of being young but not necessarily at any one point. Just the adventure, the hopefulness, the fear and the loss that all permeate us as we form into the adult people we become.  I know that sounds very grandiose, but these ruminations are the patch work quilt that come together to create Oxenfree‘s make up.

The debut game from Night School Studios certainly has roots in a new kind of game movement emerging, less about the fierce action that rules AAA game spaces, but rather reflections on youth and the people in the game. This is much more in your Life is Strange and Gone Home pool, and boy oh boy is it a great innings from the game on that front. Much like those two previous games though, the notion of supernatural elements hangs over proceedings like a silky spectre. The game plays like an adventure game of yore, having you explore a large space, find clues, make decisions and solve environmental puzzles to progress.

Oxenfree puts you in the shoes of Alex, a teenaged girl on her way to a rager on an abandoned military island with her newly legally binding step-brother Jonas and dorky-ish best friend Renn, On your way you meet mean girl Clarissa and her friend Nona. These characters serve as the group you’ll social navigate in the game. Things do turn though when you soon find yourself party to some supernatural shenanigans.

These supernatural happenings are one of the key highlights of the experience. The game has a very definite backbone doused in horror, and it is so delightfully strong, it looms over the entire proceedings. The way these entities manifest themselves are genuinely eerie in a way that crawls up your spine, especially as you never quite know their intentions or what they want with you. While the game isn’t necessarily “scary”,  it instead trades more in the “creepy”. This is a campfire spook story, thus again bringing back memories of youthfulness.


The island you explore during your time with Oxenfree is also a real winner. It constantly felt bigger than it actually was, with drop dead gorgeous art work done on the backgrounds. This is a place I could get lost in, looking through every nook and cranny to find more about the islands storied history. The map is still ironed into my mind, and I could get from one place to another from relatively memory. That isn’t the case for most games. This place has left a genuine impression on me, both comforting and ominous at the same time. There is so much to find and do, from straight historical tour guide entries, to deeper secrets about the game’s darker undercurrent. The place, while not feeling alive, since it is mostly abandoned, feels lived in and rich.

The game is also supported again by a truly inspired soundtrack from SCNTFC. A sort of drugged out haze by way of dirty electro fitting neatly with the game’s sleepy dreamlike qualities and utter fascinations with radios. It’s something I can’t wait to get into my hands on it for standalone listening.

Where the game does fall down though, is that it feels a little short. This isn’t a complaint I usually level at a game, as I very much enjoy shorter, succinct experiences. Honestly though, these character and this world are a place I wanted to spend more time in. The game clocks in somewhere between four and five hours, which wouldn’t normally be a problem. That’s a great length for an indie adventure title. This does hinder the game a little though, since the ending feels particularly rushed. Things conveniently tie up, the antagonists make a sharp turn (at least in my run) contradicting what they said previously, and I just wished it had all been allowed to breathe a little more. The final points of the game got a little lost and that is a real shame.

I’ve purposefully used a lot of overly descriptive adjectives in this review because, honestly, that is what Oxenfree feels like it’s about. It’s about a time during youth, but not necessarily one time. A lost memory of a great weekend you had when you were 15 that only stirs in the back of your mind. Oxenfree is a great adventure game, mixing Life is Strange and Silent Hill into a hazy cocktail that I wholeheartedly recommend. While it doesn’t stick its landing, this is something that is clearly designed to be played over and over. The beautiful art work, the ominous yet inviting island and the creepy supernatural goings on make for a dazzlingly interesting first outing from Night School Studios.

Buy it if: You enjoy adventure games and want a well-realized, creepy (not scary) campfire story supported by impeccable environmental work and a stellar score.

Avoid if: You need don’t enjoy adventure games or you need a $20 game to be longer than four hours in the first run through.

Score: 8.8/10

Carine Roitfeld Celebrates the American Girl in CR Fashion Book – Observer

Leela Goldkuhl with french fries, shot by Felix Cooper (Photo: Courtesy CR Fashion Book).

Leela Goldkuhl with french fries, shot by Felix Cooper (Photo: Courtesy CR Fashion Book).

Most American girls (or maybe it’s just the New York ones) dream of embodying the chic je ne sais quoi of French girls. But now it seems that French girls harbor similar feelings towards American girls and their undeniable embrace of light wash denim, along with stars and stripes.

Carine Roitfeld expanded on that concept in issue eight of CR Fashion Book, which hits newsstands on February 25. The entire issue focuses on an Americana theme, but is delivered through a French lens; model Leela Goldkuhl holds a box of McDonald’s fries, but smokes one as if it’s a cigarette. The all-American Gigi Hadid also poses for the issue, but is dressed in a vision of black haute design.

Gigi Hadid shot by Sebastian Faena (Photo: Courtesy CR Fashion Book).

Gigi Hadid shot by Sebastian Faena (Photo: Courtesy CR Fashion Book).

Ms. Roitfeld explained her concept in a statement: “In the ’80s, Fashion created a fantasy around the American girl: athletic, toned, smiling, happy, gracious, and perfect…Now suddenly in 2016, we see the comeback of the American girl, and I find myself so excited by this new generation of stars. My dream for this issue was to play with pop culture ideas of the American girl to create something brand-new. It is my interpretation of the American melting pot; beautiful and diverse. ”

This latest issue is served up in three volumes, resulting in over 500 pages of lush U.S.-inspired fashion, as seen through Ms. Roitfeld’s keen eye. But the editrix isn’t stopping there; the second issue of CR Men’s Book will be published in February, in addition to a 48-page book dedicated only to photos of models. Photographed by Sante D’Orazio, CR Girls 2016 will include all of Ms. Roitfeld’s favorite models dressed in the second Yeezy collection by Kanye West and shoes by Gianvito Rossi.

Presley Gerber shot by Bjorn Iooss (Photo: Courtesy CR Fashion Book).

Presley Gerber shot by Bjorn Iooss (Photo: Courtesy CR Fashion Book).

There’s no doubt that Ms. Hadid will be making an appearance in this model-focused book, but we wonder if Kendall Jenner will be present, too.

See the cover for the final book in Laurie Halse Anderson's Seeds of America … – Entertainment Weekly

Laurie Halse Anderson, the award-winning author of Speak, concludes her Seeds of America middle grade series with Ashes, out Oct. 4, 2016.

Following Chains and Forge, Ashes returns to the scene of the American Revolution where Isabel and Curzon, having escaped Valley Forge, are branded runaways. They carry on with their mission, determined to find Isabel’s younger sister, Ruth, an indentured servant in the South — but all the while, Bellingham is on their trail.

Check out your first look at the stunning cover below, as well as an exclusive peek at the first chapter:


Chapter 1

Monday,  June 25, 1781

“In short, monarchy and succession have laid… the world in blood and ashes. ‘Tis a form of government which the word of God bears testimony against, and blood will attend it.”

Common Sense, Thomas Paine

Source: Paine, Thomas, Common Sense, Penguin Books reprint, New York, NY, 1986, p 80.


 “Vexation, bother, and blast,” I muttered, trying to blink away the sweat that stung my eyes.

Curzon dug his elbow sharply into my side, scowling, then tapped his finger on his lips. He wanted me to be silent as the grave, even though the British patrol we were hiding from was much too far away to hear us.

“A little closer,” I whispered low, “maybe I could read it then.”

“Any closer and you’ll be gutted by bayonets.” He turned his head so his lips touched my ear. “Patience.”

That foul word again. “Pox on your patience.”

I shifted my gaze to the lobsterbacks gathered at the edge of the woods. If they weren’t a patrol, then they were a foraging party sent to plunder farms. Whatever their purpose, they looked about to expire of the heat. The cool shade of the enormous live oak had so delighted them, that they’d quickly stripped off their sweat-soaked coats and waistcoats, and hung them from branches to dry. Two had even removed their shirts and rinsed them in the stream, showing a shock of white skin paler than any ghost would ever dream of being. ‘Twas a frightful sight, but their desire to cool themselves had allowed Curzon and I to crawl safely to a hollow that was sheltered by tall ferns, and overhanging magnolia and bayberry branches.

We’d had several encounters with patrolling soldiers in the previous weeks. Our course of action had always been to retreat slow and careful, and then circle wide to avoid them. This time we could not. A milestone stood at the crossroads a few paces from their fire. Hidden under their collection of blood-red coats and dingy haversacks was the carving of letters and numbers that showed travelers the direction and distance to Charleston, South Carolina.

After walking more than a thousand miles, after months spent laboring first in Lancaster, then Baltimore, then Richmond, and at whatever mountain farm would have us…. After having been cheated, lied to, near captured twice…. After months lost in worry, waiting to see if Curzon would recover from the wounds inflicted by a falling hemlock, then another half a year wasted as I fought an intermittent fever that gripped my lungs so tight I could barely walk…. After dodging two armies, wild packs of banditti, and armed Loyalists deep in liquor… After sleepless nights haunted by ghosts and endless days of empty bellies…. After all that, I was close to finding my baby sister, Ruth.

The thought of it made my heart pound.

All I needed was the information on that milestone.

'Lois Greenfield: Moving Still' review: Images of momentary magic – Washington Post

“No moment ever comes back,” says Lois Greenfield, in an interview at the end of her beautiful new book of photographs, “Moving Still.” She could be speaking the thoughts of any of us as we Instagram our lives. Pore over her extraordinary photographs of dancers in flight, and wonder: How many moments of magic are we missing, even in this image-rich age? How many wonders unfurl all around us, too quick for the eye to register, and then disappear unnoticed?

Lucky for us, Greenfield gets right to the heart of the matter, right to the magic. As a dance photographer, she’s not concerned with choreography or characters. She’s looking for the expressive potential of the dancer’s body buzzing on freedom. In past book collections and marketing work, her typical photograph freezes a dancer in midair, in flight, or falling or scrambling through space, energized, with muscles firing.

Yet “Moving Still” is a departure. Here, she mostly offers images of ease and equanimity. There is no kamikaze drive. There’s a lot of swirling fabric floating around the dancers’ bodies like smoke or steam. We may glimpse only a shrouded image of a person, or a single leg slicing through. The materials are so delicate and diaphanous — are they custom-created from an angel’s loom? Not at all. At least one photo features a dancer captured in a billowing orange net lit like a flame. (The lighting throughout this book is theatrical perfection.) It turns out that this is an ordinary hammock that Greenfield bought on vacation.

But there is nothing ordinary about the bodies. Greenfield’s human subjects are members of some of the best-known companies — among them, Martha Graham, Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane, Paul Taylor and Shen Wei dance companies. At least one, Ha-Chi Yu , has been working with Greenfield for 20 years.

Greenfield coaxes from them a seductive balance of wildness and calm. Their bodies float, swim, dive and spiral, but their facial expressions are composed and introspective. In the most intriguing, secretive pictures, it’s as if we’re watching the dancers dream. We’re seeing that moment when the dream whips them around and spins right out of them, and in our minds, perhaps, we catch a little of how that feels.

Life speeds past. In these views of bodies so unlike our own, but also like our own, Greenfield offers a chance to contemplate, as she writes, “the wonder hiding in a split second.”

Sarah L. Kaufman is the dance critic of The Washington Post.

Lois Greenfield

Moving Still

By William A. Ewing

Photographs by Lois Greenfield

Chronicle. 224 pp. $60

Sarah L. Kaufman received the 2010 Pulitzer Prize for Criticism. She is the author of THE ART OF GRACE: On Moving Well Through Life. She has been The Washington Post’s dance critic since 1996, and what moves her most is seeing grace happen where she least expects it. Learn more at http://sarahlkaufman.com/ and Facebook SarahLKaufmanWriter

Ronald Reagan's Disarmament Dream – The Atlantic

After his reelection in 1984, President Ronald Reagan sat for an interview with Time magazine. “I just happen to believe that we cannot go into another generation with the world living under the threat of those weapons and knowing that some madman can push the button some place,” he said. “My hope has been, and my dream, that we can get the Soviet Union to join us in starting verifiable reductions of the weapons. Once you start down that road, they’ve got to see how much better off we would both be if we got rid of them entirely.” In his dealing with the Soviets, Reagan’s two terms were almost those of two different presidents. Both the hard-liner and the peacemaker were present throughout, but the balance shifted so decisively from one to the other as to create a discontinuity. The man who had denounced the nuclear freeze as Soviet propaganda was now suggesting not just reduction but elimination of all nuclear weapons.

What explains Reagan’s remarkable transformation from Cold War hawk to nuclear peacemaker? His nuclear abolitionism had deep roots, going back to a flirtation with pacifism in the early 1930s. His antiwar side was connected to narratives and images that deeply affected him: seeing the British antiwar play Journey’s End in 1929, being shown footage from the liberation of Auschwitz in 1945, and watching the ABC television movie The Day After in 1983. A projection that stuck with him was that at least 150 million Americans—two-thirds of the population in 1980—would be killed in an all-out nuclear war, though he believed for some reason that Soviet losses would be limited to a much smaller percentage. Advisers who “tossed around macabre jargon about ‘throw weights’ and ‘kill ratios’ as if they were talking about baseball scores” appalled him. In his diary and to aides, Reagan even worried that the biblical prophecy of Armageddon was at hand.

With the elevation of Mikhail Gorbachev as the new Soviet leader in March 1985, Reagan’s hopes for a nuclear peace rose. The 54-year-old Gorbachev was well educated and had traveled extensively in the West. He understood English, he wasn’t dying (like his elderly predecessors Leonid Brezhnev, Yuri Andropov, and Konstantin Chernenko), and he even appeared to have a sense of humor. His wife, Raisa, was often at his side, like an American first lady. In his initial months in power, Gorbachev announced a unilateral freeze on deploying intermediate-range missiles in Europe and began speaking in public about the need for perestroika, economic reform. Former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, former President Richard Nixon, and others gave Reagan their opinion that Gorbachev represented no change at all. But British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher disagreed. “I like Mr. Gorbachev. We can do business together,” she told the BBC after meeting him for the first time. Thatcher bolstered Reagan’s optimism about the Soviet leader when she visited him at Camp David and delivered a more detailed assessment, warning him, however, that “the more charming the adversary, the more dangerous.”

Gorbachev’s situation paralleled Reagan’s in several ways. He, too, wanted to serve as an agent of societal and political transformation, taking on the alcoholism rampant in Soviet society as well as its faltering economy. Like Reagan, he relied on his own experience more than on the bureaucratic apparatus beneath him. He shared Reagan’s aversion to the logic of mutually assured destruction. Around the same time that Reagan told Soviet foreign minister Andrei Gromyko he wanted to eliminate nuclear weapons, Gorbachev said the same thing in a speech in London. And where Reagan had Secretary of State George Shultz to encourage his evolution, Gorbachev had Eduard Shevardnadze, whom he selected to replace Gromyko as foreign minister.

The chief obstacle to the relationship Reagan wanted with the new Soviet leader was Reagan’s cherished fantasy of a space-based missile-defense program, the Strategic Defense Initiative. In the run-up to their summit meeting in Geneva in November 1985, the first meeting of American and Soviet leaders in six years, Gorbachev sent Reagan a letter proposing a 50 percent cut in intercontinental ballistic missiles, contingent on a complete ban on space weapons. In negotiating sessions, Gorbachev went even further: If the United States gave up the militarization of space, he would be willing to reduce all nuclear forces to zero. Shultz now realized how frightened the Soviets were of SDI, which depended on technology they didn’t know how to develop and couldn’t afford, and he saw missile defense as a crucial bargaining chip to trade for Soviet concessions.

What Shultz did not yet realize was that Reagan would under no circumstances give up the space initiative. Although missile defense had yet to be successfully invented, Reagan viewed SDI as the key to realizing his dream of eliminating nuclear weapons. “We believe that it is important to explore the technical feasibility of defensive systems which might ultimately give all of us the means to protect our people more safely than do those we have at present, and to provide the means of moving to the total abolition of nuclear weapons, an objective on which we are agreed,” he wrote to Gorbachev on April 30, 1985. “I must ask you, how are we ever practically to achieve that noble aim if nations have no defense against the uncertainty that all nuclear weapons might not have been removed from world arsenals? Life provides no guarantee against some future madman getting his hands on nuclear weapons.”

Over the next year, a remarkable transformation took place as Gorbachev and Reagan became jointly enraptured with the idea of ending the balance of terror, and they pursued that end over near-universal objection inside their own governments. In January 1986, Gorbachev wrote Reagan with a proposal: eliminate all nuclear weapons by 2000. “Why wait until the year 2000?” Reagan responded to aides in the Oval Office. Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger and CIA Director William Casey, who had done their best to sabotage earlier nuclear treaties, were appalled. Few others inside the Reagan administration took the idea of nuclear abolition seriously. But Shultz did. He ordered the State Department’s arms-control group to get to work on the question of “what a world without nuclear weapons would mean to us” and how to get there. “I know that many of you and others around here oppose the objective of eliminating nuclear weapons, but the president of the United States doesn’t agree with you, and he has said so on several very public occasions,” he told his colleagues. After much back-and-forth, Weinberger and Shultz were able to agree on a proposal to eliminate ballistic missiles, which Reagan sent to Gorbachev in July 1986.

Gorbachev’s anti-nuclear feelings only intensified after the calamitous accident at the Chernobyl nuclear reactor in April 1986, which left the Soviet leader all the more eager for an agreement. So, too, did the Soviet Union’s deteriorating economic situation. In the fall of 1985, Saudi Arabia announced plans to increase oil production. By the spring of 1986, the world price of oil plummeted from more than $30 a barrel to less than $10. Without hard-currency oil revenue, there was no way for the Soviets to pay for imports of grain and other basic commodities while servicing their foreign debt and keeping up militarily. “The United States has an interest in keeping the negotiations machine running idle, while the arms race overburdens our economy,” Gorbachev told a colleague. “That is why we need a breakthrough; we need the process to start moving.” In September 1986, Gorbachev wrote Reagan offering a number of unilateral concessions and proposing a meeting ahead of his planned visit to the United States the following year. Shultz encouraged Reagan to meet Gorbachev in Reykjavik, Iceland, the following month.

Gorbachev arrived at Reykjavik intending to put a significant disarmament package on the table, contingent on Reagan’s agreement to slow down the development of space weapons. In fact, Gorbachev’s proposal was essentially the one he had originally proposed in the run-up to the Geneva summit: a 50 percent cut in the ICBMs that were the core of the Soviet nuclear arsenal and the total elimination of intermediate-range missiles in Europe. But now Gorbachev was willing to treat limited research on space-based missile defense as compatible with the Anti-Ballistic Missile Treaty. The United States had only to agree to confine its SDI research to the laboratory for ten years and commit not to withdraw from the ABM Treaty for five years after that.

Over dinner with his advisers, Reagan returned to the even more sweeping idea that he’d raised previously: why not the complete elimination of ballistic missiles? The next day, with Gorbachev, the sky was the limit. When the Americans laid all their ICBMs on the table, Gorbachev called and raised by proposing the elimination of all strategic nuclear weapons, including submarines and bombers, over ten years. His bid was still contingent on ten years of adherence to his narrow interpretation of the ABM Treaty and its limits on missile defense, but he indicated he’d be willing to negotiate on that point. This seemingly minor disagreement about how long SDI research would stay confined to the laboratory blocked what would have been the most sweeping arms-control agreement in history. Knowing his own bottom line and grasping Gorbachev’s, Reagan realized that they could go no further. The meeting, so close to a momentous transformation, ended when the president got up and walked out with Shultz while Gorbachev was still decrying the destabilizing effects of SDI.

“This meeting is over,” he said. “Let’s go, George.”

“Can’t we do something about this?” Gorbachev pleaded.

“It’s too late,” Reagan replied.

This article has been adapted from Jacob Weisberg’s forthcoming book, Ronald Reagan.

In defense of Ernest and Esther Born's 'big dream' for S.F. – San Francisco Chronicle

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Annaly Capital Management: The Road Back To 23% Annual Returns (Part 3) – Seeking Alpha


My ideal scenario is one in which book value is decimated so earnings can thrive.

The potential dividends that could be earned on that smaller book value would be substantially higher and a positive cycle would be created.

The expected returns on shares with a longer time horizon would be excellent.

This kind of scenario (very strong net interest spreads) have been critical to extreme bull markets for mREITs.

In the first part of this series on Annaly Capital Management (NLY), I discussed the dream scenario being one where book value is hammered but the net interest spread is increased. For the long term shareholder, this is the determining factor influencing the level of dividends the mREIT can pay. For an investor with an infinite time line and a “buy and hold” strategy, the income on price would be the only relevant factor.

In the second part of the series I went over the income projections in different scenarios. The most important factor there was the creation of the following table:

(click to enlarge)

The “Available” column demonstrates what an mREIT can potentially earn in the current environment with 50% hedging using the 7 year LIBOR swap and the 30 year Fannie Mae fixed rate MBS. The dream scenario is one where the yield on assets moves up to 4% and the mREIT is able to hedge hard against increasing in future rates on repurchase agreements using the same 7 year swaps.

The final column demonstrates roughly what Annaly Capital Management has been able to do on average over the last two reported quarters. Their lower asset yields is partly driven by including 15 year agency MBS which have less duration risk and consequently a lower yield.

Based on these numbers I found Annaly Capital Management would need to see book value of about $11.99 as of the end of the third quarter get hammered down towards $7.70 if this scenario were to occur.

However, the income that could be generated from the combination of the yield on assets financed through equity and the net spread income would move from around $.98 per share in a year to $1.16 per share.

I may occasionally slip into industry jargon. If you see any terms you don’t recognize, check out this article I wrote with a guide to the industry jargon.

How Much Would You Pay for $1.16 in Dividends Without Risk to Repo Rates?

If an mREIT could hedge out their full cost of funds for 7 years so that there was dramatically less risk to future earnings, how much would you be willing to pay for $1.16 per year? Would it be worth $10? That would be an 11.6% return despite heavy hedging.

The Cycle

If the mREIT were to trade right at book value per share, the return to shareholders each year would be around 15.09%. On the other hand, if investors are happy with 11.6% they would be forced to bid shares up towards $10.00 so that the yield would be fair compensation.

However, if Annaly Capital Management had a book value per share of $7.70 and traded at $10.00 per share, what do you think they would do? I’d bet they would be issuing equity as rapidly as they could. Since mREITs are only one small part of the market for LIBOR swaps and MBS assets, their increasing size would not be expected to shove yields back towards more reasonable levels.

If NLY was able to issue enough new shares at $10.00 to double their share count outstanding, the result would be book value being inflated back to $8.85. This is how I would want the mREIT to gain book value. Because the book value would be increased to $8.85 and it would still be earning 15.09% on equity (including the net spread), the new sustainable dividend would be $1.34.

That new higher dividend forces a higher share price again and the cycle should repeat.

The combination of the first $1.16 in dividends and an increase in book value per share of $1.15 creates a 23% annual return on a purchase price of $10. This is the healthiest way for mREITs to drive book value per share higher. When book value per share gains as a result of MBS values increasing due to lower yields, it creates a situation where book value is higher but future earnings are lower.

This Happens

If you’ve looked at the history of mREITs and seen the years where the mREITs are returning 30% to 50% in a year, then you’ve lived through years where the “dream scenario” was playing out. This is the potential scenario that drives enormous returns on mREITs. To be fair, the hedges that are in place will usually be materially lower. However, the net spread will also be higher as a function of the lower hedges.

In 2009 American Capital Agency Corp. (AGNC) had a return to shareholders (price + dividend) of over 50%. This is how it happens. This is the scenario where I would happily pay over book value for an mREIT and have no reservations about doing it. During 2009 AGNC was running around 20% for their returns from net spread after management costs rather than the 15% used in my example. Of course, issuing equity rapidly enough to double the share count outstanding can be challenging. However equity issuances were occurring at a fairly respectable speed.

Where We Are

The current scenario is one where the Federal Reserve is desperate to shove short term rates higher. On December 16th, they pushed the target Fed Funds Rate from a range of 0BP (Basis Points) to 25BP to a range of 25BP to 50BP. If the entire curve shifts higher we would see book value losses without a huge gain in earnings potential. If they only raise the short term side of the curve we could even see book value gains on swaps while the ability of an mREIT to earn net interest income gets demolished by a flattening yield curve.

For the Other mREITs

This dream scenario is also extremely bullish for the following mREITs and several others that I won’t bother listing because I rarely write on them:

Capstead Mortgage Corporation


CYS Investments


Dynex Capital


Long DX

Javelin Mortgage Investment


New York Mortgage Trust


Orchid Island Capital


Two Harbors Investment Corp


Western Asset Mortgage Capital Corporation


Each of these mREITs would have the potential to gain substantially from such a scenario. However, it would impact some more than others in the process of getting there. Such a hypothetical change would be significantly more damaging for the mREITs that are using more leverage. Generally more leverage is accompanied by more hedging exposure. Since volatility is a problem for mREITs, it would probably best for them if the transition to the dream environment were slower. If the transition were slower, the book value lost could be lower.

The Forest and the Trees

In conclusion I would like to point out that many investors struggle to see the forest because of all the trees. They may focus on factors such as declining book value per share without checking to see if the declining book value is a function if an environment that is becoming more conducive to the operation of mREITs. When the sector becomes more conducive to large net interest spreads, the result is positive for mREITs. When book value is lost without the environment becoming friendlier to future earnings, it is a negative development.

Looking For the Latest Book Value?

Check out this piece on Annaly Capital Management’s Book Value.

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Extra Disclosure

I’ve indicated that I’m long DX. However it is possible that I might go long any stock in this article over the next few days if the share prices move to create a highly compelling opportunity.

“Agent Carter's” Lyndsy Fonseca to Return in a Dream Sequence This Season – Comic Book Resources

Credit: ABC/Marvel Television

Even Lyndsy Fonseca herself wasn’t sure if she’d come back for “Agent Carter” Season 2, but we’ve finally got confirmation that the Angie Martinelli actress will indeed return.

The catch? It’s only for a dream sequence. Speaking to Entertainment Weekly, EP Michele Fazekas confirmed that Angie will return in the ninth episode of the second season, and in this particular dream sequence — which is described as an epic choreographed dance number — she’ll be “speaking the things that Peggy maybe can’t say to herself.”

On the dance sequence, Fazekas said, “It ties things back together from the first season and it’s connecting all of these things in a way that only a dream can do.”

Whether or not Angie appears in the series beyond that is a mystery, but who knows, maybe she’ll make the trip with Peggy to the left coast someday…

Starring Hayley Atwell as the title character, “Agent Carter” returns with its second season on Tuesday, January 19 at 9 p.m. ET on ABC.

Discuss this story in CBR’s TV/Film forum.

TAGS:  agent carter, lyndsy fonseca, hayley atwell, michele fazekas, abc, marvel television