Weekend Reading

Last Friday brought portents of a storm, and this weekend inaugurates autumn in these mountains, cool and crisp and clear as can be. We’ll be spending some quality time out by the creek. That creek up there.

A few items here to consider for your weekend reading list:

– This has to catch your eye:

Britain’s underlying public finances are among the worst in the world, behind the Gambia, Uganda and Kenya, a new study has concluded.

The IMF looked at the assets and liabilities of 31 countries and found the UK was in a worse position than every other country apart from Portugal.

The report in the Independent, goes on:

This surprising conclusion came from using a different approach to the public finances to the one favoured by the government.

No kidding.

– Might as well pile on. I don’t know of Marcel Dirsus, but here, at Politico.eu, he makes good sense: Brexit is embarrassing — for the Brits – You do realize we can understand you when you talk, right?
– I’d like to believe this is a parody, but I’m afraid it’s a genuine article about a genuine thing: Afternoon at the Nap Factory by Sophie Haigney at The Baffler.
– In Why Futurism Has a Cultural Blindspot at Nautil.us, Tom Vanderbilt posits that we tend to overestimate the importance of technological change and underestimate cultural change in predicting the future. For example, “a 1960s film of the ‘office of the future’ made on-par technological predictions (fax machines and the like), but had a glaring omission: The office had no women.”

– Out in the world this week, here’s a feature about a destination on my list, São Tomé and Príncipe from the New York Times.
– When I wrote Asmara and Addis Reconnected three months ago, it was to note a softening of relations on the Ethiopian/Eritrean border. In the spirit of the moment, which included meetings between officials of both governments, it was possible to be hopeful that prospects might improve for ordinary Eritreans. Ruth MacLean writes, in ‘It’s just slavery’: Eritrean conscripts wait in vain for freedom in the Guardian, that things haven’t turned out that way.
– A long story about murder in Iceland: The Reykjavik Confessions from BBC News.
– And finally, this guy’s just gotta go to Malta.

Have a lovely weekend by your local creek, or wherever you choose to spend it, and be sure and check 3 Quarks Daily on Monday for my monthly travel column. See you next week.

 

Wet

The second hurricane of 2018 will come calling across Georgia today. In the run-up, the trees are loud with wind, and clouds barrel in fast and low. It looks a lot like what started out innocently as a long weekend at pretty little Lake Atitlan in Guatemala a few years back (from ATL, this is a shorter flight than to SFO). By the time it was over we’d fled a tropical storm back to the capital, then had to evacuate to El Salvador after a volcanic eruption.

Tropical Storm Agatha crept up from behind, from the Pacific, while nobody was looking, and walloped Guatemala. This bridge collapsed a few hours after we crossed, trapping people on the wrong side of it for several days.

Streets flooded.

This post describes our evacuation from the lake back to Guatemala City, and here is a post titled Mostly Calamity, As It Turns Out, dated May 29, 2010, with more photos.

Meanwhile, and also unknown to us, it turns out that Volcan de Picaya erupted hours after we arrived on a Thursday closing the Guatemala City airport due to volcanic ash until the following Tuesday. Flights backed up and our first shot at leaving wasn’t for several days, so we arranged transportation to El Salvador and managed to fly home just three days late.

Here is wet volcanic ash and storm damage at a construction site adjacent to the hotel in Guatemala City.

It was supposed to be just a quiet weekend getaway at the lake.

 

Quotes: Life in Xinjiang

Many of us are generally aware there is a minority of mostly Muslim ethnic Turkmen in far western China known as Uighurs (pronounced “Wee-gurs”), people more closely related to the population of the Central Asian ‘Stans than to the ruling Han Chinese.

Some will have read about recent and apparently massive, largely arbitrary incarceration of Uighurs in “re-education camps” under local Party Secretary Chen Quanguo. Chen’s previous post was the Tibetan capital Lhasa, where he presided over a spate of Tibetan Buddihst self-immolations under his remit to tame the Tibetan population.

I’ve only just now read some alarming reporting from Ruth Ingram about what life is like among the Xinjiang Uighurs. Some quotes:

“Uyghurs have to keep a notebook detailing visits by not only their friends and relatives, but those of neighbors in their street, the content of the conversations, and the time and date of arrival and departure.”

“They are forced to install satellite navigation in their cars and to install the special Jingwang Weishi app on their phones, which sends the police an identification number for the device, its model, and the telephone number of its owner before monitoring all the information that passes through the telephone, warning the user when it finds content that the government deems dangerous. Failure to carry your phone, refusal to use a smart phone, turning it off completely for long periods, or even restoring your phone to its factory settings can be deemed suspicious.”

“Children who have had both parents taken away are being brought up in state orphanages hurriedly being built for the purpose.”

“‘It’s impossible to tear out weeds one by one,’ said one party official in Kashgar. ‘We need chemicals that can deal with all of them at once.'”

Read the whole article in The Diplomat.

Weekend Reading

This is how it looked here on the farm in late October a few years back. We’re not there yet, but it’s close. Wile E. Coyote has run past the cliff’s edge but has yet to fall. The leaves are set to change, summoning up traffic jams of flatland gawkers, but just now we’re in silent suspension, hanging in the air, waiting for the start of the race to autumn.

I see this morning that larger news organizations have picked up the article I found yesterday in a little website called TheLocal.se. It’s a feel good story. If you skipped over it then, go back and check it out.

That discussion of the post-Cold War world that’s been missing for years is suddenly wide open, so it’s mostly political theory in this weekend’s reading, kind of academic. If you’re deep in an absorbing novel, permission to skip over this week’s list. But given the roiling unease in the Western democracies, the state of our political systems is worth some thought.

The unapologetic American interventionist Robert Kagan has published one of his periodic little books, this one called The Jungle Grows Back, and to support it, here is Kagan’s The World America Made – and Trump Wants to Unmake in Politico. (The American president not falling into any of the academy’s self-defined niches adds a little spice to all the arguments here).

Graham Allison says Kagan’s world was never thus in The Myth of the Liberal Order from Historical Accident to Conventional Wisdom in an ungated article at Foreign Affairs (and Allison has been around just about since the creation of the post WWII order).

David Frum and Stephen M. Walt separately suggest the implausible this week. Frum writes that The Rebublican Party Needs to Embrace Liberalism in The Atlantic, and Walt chimes in with Socialists and Libertarians Need an Alliance Against the Establishment at ForeignPolicy.com.

There’s lots more, across the spectrum. See Peter Beinart’s call for a new Democratic foreign policy (hint: rehabilitate Finlandization), Hal Brands in Bloomberg and Daniel Larison in The American Conservative (who’s not buying Kagan). That ought to get you started.

In case you’re not enamored with political theory, here’s one more thing, completely different. Check out Norwegian Knut Arne Gjertsen’s blog. He has been to the gorgeous Faroe Islands and come back with a bunch of photos and fun tales.

And I’ll leave you with an excerpt from my book Out in the Cold, about the Faroese village of Saksun.

See you next week.

 

Exploring Nordic Lake Pays Off

Fun story here: Exploring the shore around her family’s summer cabin turned out worthwhile for a young girl in Sweden. TheLocal.se reports “Eight-year-old Swedish-American girl pulls pre-Viking era sword from lake.”

Very cute. Museum staff asked the girl to keep the find a secret at first so they could search for more artifacts. She “confirmed to The Local that the only person she told was her best friend, who she really trusts. Thursday was the first day she could reveal her story to her classmates, and her teacher threw a party to celebrate, handing out ice creams and showing Saga’s TV and radio interviews to the class.”