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.


Weekend Reading

Don’t know about you but the anonymous column in the New York Times doesn’t make me feel better. An unknown group within the executive branch doing unknown things to undermine a presidency that’s doing it best to undermine itself. Not reassuring.

For years I bemoaned the over-long interregnum between the end of the Cold War and whatever came next. Everybody knew the institutions fashioned after the Second World War, the IMF, the UN, NATO, needed restructuring to factor in the rise of players outside North America and Europe and all the other new realities, but nothing seemed to budge.

Change is finally coming hard and fast. My ten-cent theory is that the catalyst was the 2008 sub-prime crisis and the endless austerity pursued after it, coupled with resentment that none of the responsible players in the financial industry was seen to pay. All facilitated by around forty years of dedicated Neoliberal economics.

The “Post-Cold War world” lingered until it didn’t. Now, with changes coming like lightning, most political thinkers trying to come to grips with the new, still unnamed era, gravitate toward the rise of the loosely defined idea of “populism.”

Too loosely defined, says Jason Frank in Populism isn’t the problem in the Boston Review. He writes,

For … prominent advocates of the populist thesis (there is a) common danger posed to democracy by such disparate leaders as Trump and Chavez, Orbán and Morales, Erdoğan and López Obrador, and such disparate political movements and parties as Podemos and the Tea Party, Syriza and Alternative for Germany, the Five Star Movement and the National Front.”

“As Roger Cohen argued in a recent New York Times op-ed, … the term … has “become sloppy to the point of meaninglessness, an overused epithet for multiple manifestations of political anger.”

– Balakris takes a look at one of Neoliberalism’s favorite ideas, privatization, in Italy’s bridge disaster: an inquest into privatisation at ft.com.
– Adam Tooze takes a look at The Forgotten History of the Financial Crisis in Foreign Affairs (You may have to sign up for this one).
– Scooted along by the Euro crisis, European politics took the lead in the phenomenon of vanishing center parties. The U.S. is catching up, writes Gracy Olmstead at The Week, in The vanishing political center.
– In spite of his article’s title, Timothy Shenk is optimistic in Is Democracy Really Dying? in The New Republic.
– And last on the general subject of the shrinking center, the Swedish general election is Sunday. Couple of articles:
So Long, Swedish Welfare State? by Nima Sanandaji in Foreign Policy, and
A Guide to What Could Be the Most Uncertain Swedish Election Yet by Nick Rigillo at Bloomberg

Lighter stuff: August is the hottest month in our part of the world, so two articles about the north:
Vikings Razed the Forests. Can Iceland Regrow Them? by Henry Fountain at the New York Times, and two book reviews in
The Big Melt by Tim Flannery at the NYRB.
– And finally, just for fun, a really well-written article I thoroughly enjoyed, a book excerpt, The Worst Ever First Day on the Job by Finn Murphy at Literary Hub.

Have a good weekend. See you next week.

Weekend Reading

Just a couple of timely articles for you this weekend, one a pocket history of Irish Catholicism on the occasion of the pope’s visit, called It’s too late. Not even Pope Francis can resurrect Catholic Ireland by Fintan O’Toole in the Irish Times, the other Peter Beinart’s explanation of Why Trump Supporters Believe He Is Not Corrupt in The Atlantic. Beinart:

In a forthcoming book titled How Fascism Works, the Yale philosophy professor Jason Stanley makes an intriguing claim. “Corruption, to the fascist politician,” he suggests, “is really about the corruption of purity rather than of the law. Officially, the fascist politician’s denunciations of corruption sound like a denunciation of political corruption. But such talk is intended to evoke corruption in the sense of the usurpation of the traditional order.”

Beinart’s thesis is that

for Trump and many of his supporters, corruption means less the violation of law than the violation of established hierarchies….

and he points to Fox News’s prominent coverage of the Mollie Tibbets story on the morning after the Cohen and Manfort court proceedings:

The Iowa murder … signifies the inversion—the corruption—of that “traditional order.” Throughout American history, few notions have been as sacrosanct as the belief that white women must be protected from nonwhite men.

and to Trump supporters’ revulsion at Hillary Clinton:

Clinton’s candidacy threatened traditional gender roles. For many Americans, female ambition—especially in service of a feminist agenda—in and of itself represents a form of corruption.


It promises to be a lovely pre-fall weekend in southern Appalachia, low humidity, nighttime lows below 60 (15C). Wherever you are I wish you well and I’ll leave you for the week with one more problem to chew on.

Damrak, Amsterdam.

Too much tourism:

Amsterdam edition.
Venice edition.
Prague edition.
Iceland edition. (I write about the scourge of “Puffin Shops” in Out in the Cold, too.)

And it’s not just Europe. There’s the

Thailand edition.
Philippines edition,
USA edition, even an
Adelaide edition.

See you next week.

Weekend Reading

Some things are just downright imponderable, like these guys. Here are a few entirely more ponderable things to read and enjoy this weekend.

Let’s start with an article with a travel bent – and pictures: Letter from Bishkek: Soviet utopia meets postmodern charm in Kyrgyzstan’s garden city capital by Samuel Goff in the Calvert Journal.

A man and his dog, disappeared in Australia: In a Town of 11 People, Mysterious Disappearance Turns Neighbor Against Neighbor by Jacqueline Williams in the New York Times.

A different mystery, Inside the Poisoning of a Russian Double Agent, a big, long blow-by-blow of the Skripal case by Tom Lamont in GQ.

Marxist World: What Did You Expect From Capitalism? by Robin Varghese in Foreign Affairs (You’ll need to register for a free article a month).

Questioning diversity by David Goodhart and Christian Kjelstrup at Eurozine. Europe. Refugees. Tough questions.

Conservatives Can’t Decide If Nordic Socialism Is a Totalitarian Nightmare or Actually Capitalist by Eric Levitz at New York Magazine.

Last week I recommended an article on global supply chains. In See No Evil, Miriam Posner, in Logic Magazine, asks “Software helps companies coordinate the supply chains that sustain global capitalism. How does the code work—and what does it conceal?”

And I’ve bought another doorstop, just shy of the size of The Transformation of the World: A Global History of the Nineteenth Century from a couple years back (and I admit to not having read all 1192 pages of that one). This one is Adam Tooze’sCrashed: How a Decade of Financial Crises Changed the World, a history of the decade since the collapse of Lehman Brothers. This will surely take the rest of the year. Perhaps you’d prefer just to stick with two reviews.

We’re going to do something a little different next week. Do check back on Monday. For now, enjoy the weekend.

Weekend Reading

Take a day off.

It has been an unusually wet summer in our corner of Appalachia, which makes for foggy, cool mornings. Just the right atmosphere to brew up some coffee and settle in on the back porch with a view of the forest and a batch of enjoyable weekend reading. Some suggestions:

A burst of good stuff from nautil.us yesterday: Strange escapism in Stranger Places, Brief encounters with cuckoos by Adam Petry, and really faraway escapism in Predators, Prey, and Vodka, Surveying muskoxen in the Russian far north by Joel Berger.

What are Chinese authorities up to in the far western Xinjiang region? See Crackdown in Xinjiang: Where have all the people gone? by Emily Feng in Urumqi in the Financial Times.

Two stories about people and whales: We May Never Understand the Ocean-Wide Damage Done by Industrial Whaling by Peter Brannen in The New Yorker, and It’s Tough Being a Right Whale These Days by J. B. McKinnon at The Atlantic.

“To hide in plain sight while on assignment in foreign nations, agents needed precisely tailored clothes made to look local.” Such an obscure topic, the very idea that someone thought to write about it is a pleasure Clothing Britain’s Spies during World War II by Jocelyn Sears at JStor Daily.

Alarming reading from Cynthia Lazaroff, who was in Hawaii when that ballistic missile attack false alarm came in last January: Dawn of a new Armageddon in the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists.

Pertinent as voices in the UK urge stockpiling goods in case of a Brexit-gone-bad, Swedish journalist Elisabeth Braw looks at how Global Supply Chains Are Dangerously Easy to Snap in Foreign Policy.

Quillette calls itself “a platform for free thought.” To use a Finnish saying, I’m not sure yet if it’s a fish or a bird, but it mostly seems to enjoy poking at today’s mainline leftish “correct thinking.” In Britain’s Populist Revolt, the point I think Matthew Goodwin, a young academic, wants to make is that if Leave won because the social contract is broken, the Remainers and the anti-Trumpists have no interest in fixing it.

Granted, this is not for everyone: because of the stir created by an emergent “Democratic Socialist” movement in the U.S. ahead of the fall midterms, my weekend mission is to compare and contrast two articles. The first, in Jacobin, A Time to Be Bold by Mathieu Desan and Michael A. McCarthy, and a reply in The Atlantic called Democratic Socialism Threatens Minorities by Conor Friedersdorf.

Enjoy the weekend. See you next week.


Weekend Reading

Much news today about the extremely hot temperatures across Spain. It’s not just hot in southern Europe. In Finland,

“A branch of the K-Supermarket chain in Helsinki’s Pohjois-Haaga district has invited 100 customers to sleep in its air-conditioned store on Saturday.

Finland’s August average is 19C but temperatures approached 30C this week and few have air-conditioning at home. A store manager told the state broadcaster that beer sales would end at 9 p.m. (2000 GMT) as usual though snacks would be available.”

For everyone who’s sweltering in place this weekend, click on through to EarthPhotos.com for a nice, big, cooling view of this waterfall, just up the road from us here in southern Appalachia.

Meanwhile, here are a few worthy articles for your quality time with your air conditioning this weekend:

Debt traps. First Sri Lanka, with the Chinese-financed port at Hambantota. Next maybe, Pakistan. Then, Will Djibouti Become Latest Country to Fall Into China’s Debt Trap? by Amy Cheng in Foreign Policy.

A tour d’horizon looking at the global urban/rural split: Urban-rural splits have become the great global divider by Gideon Rachman in the FT.

Why don’t people feel like they’re getting anywhere? Annie Lowrey explores the government’s role in The Atlantic with the article Jeff Bezos’s $150 Billion Fortune Is a Policy Failure.

Then there’s the other Somalia, in No pirates allowed: The democratic, pro-Western, successful, totally unrecognized Democratic Republic of Somaliland by Geoffrey Clarfield at the National Post. Consider also the related, and frightening-looking new book The Desert and the Sea: 977 Days Captive on the Somali Pirate Coast by Michael Scott Moore.

Patrick Porter argues that we’re never going back to the world as it was B.T., before Trump. Then he argues that it never was that way, anyway: A World Imagined: Nostalgia and Liberal Order.

It’s a depressing summer in British politics, this second summer since the Brexit vote, just months now before the Big Break. Gaby Hinsliff isn’t out to lift your spirits with Dark forces gather as UK politics heads for rock bottom in The Guardian.

But maybe stuff like that is no way to start a weekend. So how about some travel writing from Coldnoon.com? Sulila Anar writes about a bus trip from the Ecuadorian Sierras to Amazonia in From Mountains to Jungle: A Not-So-Fast-and-Furious Bus Trip in Amazonia.

Good weekend, everybody.

Weekend Reading

Wishing you a couple of days of plenty this weekend. Here’s an abundance of suggestions for absorbing reading:

Trial runs for fascism are in full flow by Fintan O’Toole in the Irish Times. Pretty well sums up the way it feels out there, doesn’t it?
The Battle of Vienna was not a fight between cross and crescent by Dag Herbjørnsrud at aeon.com.
The Untold Story of Otto Warmbier, American Hostage by Doug Bock Clark at GQ. Heartbreaking.
While We Sleep, Our Mind Goes on an Amazing Journey by Michael Finkel at Nat Geo.
In Mozambique, a Living Laboratory for Nature’s Renewal by Natalie Angier in the New York Times.
Survival of the Richest – Future Human by Douglas Rushkoff at Medium. Depressing reading:

“They were not interested in how to avoid a calamity; they’re convinced we are too far gone. For all their wealth and power, they don’t believe they can affect the future. They are simply accepting the darkest of all scenarios and then bringing whatever money and technology they can employ to insulate themselves….”

– And finally, this seems like it must be significant but I confess I can’t understand a bit of it. See if you can figure it out: The Octonian Math That Could Underpin Physics by Natalie Wolchover at Quanta Magazine.

I’ve been working on editing a piece for publication elsewhere this week. I’ll tell you more about that soon. Next Monday’s African Vignette will take you on a gorilla trek in Rwanda. Cheers for now. See you then.