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.

Sweden Swelters, Shrinks

Sweden’s highest peak, a glacier on the southern tip of the Kebnekaise mountain, is melting due to record hot Arctic temperatures and is no longer the nation’s tallest point, scientists said on Wednesday.

Sweden’s two highest points are a mountain with two peaks, one covered by a glacier, the other free of ice.

Last year, according to this story in English and this one in Swedish, the altitude difference between the two peaks was two meters.

Africa Vignette #12: Gorilla Trek

For this week’s vignette, a mostly previously-published review of two day-long gorilla treks in Rwanda’s Parc National des Volcans, including some photography tips:

A silverback

The first day we visited the 12-strong Hirwu (“Good Luck”) group, the second the 18 member Amahoro (“Peace”) group. Here’s a little about how the treks work, and some things we learned about taking gorilla pictures.

Both days started the same way, as all the trekkers mustered at the park headquarters in the 7:00 hour. There were pots of coffee and tea, and it was one of those mildly awkward moments, when a few dozen strangers speaking different languages attempt to mingle, with nothing really to say.

Out front on the grass, a display measured off seven meters, with a pair of boots on one end and a painting of a gorilla on the other, graphically illustrating that we were to go no closer to the gorillas than that. The reality, both days, wasn’t so simple.

ORTPN, the Rwandan tourism body, put on a thoroughly professional operation, and for good reason. From the Kampala Monitor:

“Revenue receipts collected from the tourism industry have increased by 15 per cent with a collection of $80m in just six months. According to officials in Kigali this figure has surpassed the $68m target that was envisaged for the year 2008.

Office Rwandais du Tourisme et des Parcs Nationaux (ORTPN), Rwanda’s agency that regulates the tourism industry and the country’s national parks said last week that the collected revenue now officially makes the tourism industry the number one foreign exchange earner contributing about 3.7 per cent to Rwanda’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP).”

Also from the Kampala Monitor: “Gorilla tourism alone – that has seen vast numbers of tourists heading to northern Rwanda for a view of the rare mountain gorillas – brought in $7million.”

Everyone’s guides/drivers took their permits to meet with the administrators, who put individuals in groups of eight. We all divided into these groups for a brief orientation talk with our respective trackers, then adjourned to our vehicles to ride maybe forty minutes to our respective trek starting points.

The rules mandated that we would have one hour with the gorillas. Once we got to them we would stop a hundred meters or so shy and drop everything except what we could carry, which meant, realistically, a camera and/or a water bottle.

Our first-day tracker, Eugene, explained this is principally for the gorillas’ benefit. One of the reasons was that we weren’t to put anything down, so that the gorillas wouldn’t be tempted to come over and pick it up and potentially get human germs.

The second day one man brought a huge backpack full of both video and SLR camera gear, really way more than he needed, and argued strenuously to be allowed to bring it to the gorillas, but the guides stood absolutely firm. They explained (another reason) that such a big pack made this man, to the gorillas, not the shape of a human to whom they had been habituated.

At the start point, porters were available for ten dollars. They would take in your day pack, water bottle, lunch, anything you might have, and watch your things while you were actually with the gorillas.

Apart from the fact that that was useful, we also felt like it was a good way to leave behind just a little something in the local community, and we hired two porters each day and gave them each $15. You’ve paid to come all this way and then paid $500 for your permit. This is no time to go frugal.

Each group of eight trekkers and their guide and porters was led and trailed by Rwandan soldiers with rifles. They mainly remained discreetly out ahead and back behind the group.

Each gorilla family in Rwanda is tracked dawn to dusk. Trackers, who know the gorillas individually, go in each morning and find their family based on the previous night’s position. As we set out each day, our tracker/guide talked by cell phone with the trackers who were already with the gorillas, and learned where to take us.

The first day’s trek in was as hard as anything I’ve done in maybe ten years. The second day was opposite in every way, and we were in, had our hour and out by 11:30 a.m.

The group adjusts its pace to the slowest person. The first day a substantially unfit woman slowed the group so much that by the time we arrived where the trackers expected us to see them, the gorillas had moved. Unfortunately, they had moved straight down a sheer ravine and back up the opposite size.

Forced to create our own path, one of the trackers walked ahead of us with a panga, a curved, two-sided machete, literally hacking the jungle footstep by footstep, straight down then back up the far side of a ravine. There was nowhere amid the dense vines, really, to put your feet. We let ourselves down and moved upward more by grasping vines hand over hand, and each handful was packed with stinging nettles.

The less fit lady never made it any closer to the gorillas.

But we did, we finally found them, and in doing so saw how the seven meter rule back at the ranger station is really more of a theory than a rule. We came over a small rise and there we were. The gorillas were arrayed before us, some not two feet away, and it wasn’t as if we could assemble in a neat semi-circle around them. Over the course of our hour several gorillas, including the huge 36 year old silverback, walked by within touching distance.

Over the course of the hour each day, members of the group largely ignored the humans. They’d eat, climb trees, get up and walk a short distance and plop back down to eat some more. Once in a while a youngster would jump up and just go rolling and tumbling down the hill. They ate most of the time.


Continue reading

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.

About Those Greek Wildfires

Read When the Fire Comes by Yiannis Baboulias at the LRB blog. It explains a lot. For example,

“Greece doesn’t have a land registry. We don’t really know who owns what. So if a forest burns down and you build on the land, you can claim it. And if you’re a developer with political connections, retrospective planning permission is pretty much guaranteed. There have been 4000 arrests for arson since 2014. Of those, only 700 people were put on trial, of whom only one served a prison sentence. Five people have been arrested in connection with the recent fires.

Mati (the name means ‘eye’ in Greek) was once a forest. Starting in the 1950s, the area was gradually and illegally developed, with no planning, no proper licensing, no supervision. Successive governments (including the current one) rewarded arson and landgrabs by allowing the culprits to hold on to the spoils. But the people living there now are unlikely to be aware of all this.”

Update 27 July, 11:30 U.S. ET: Yanis Varoufakis, former Greek finance minister, agrees, writing

“Greece’s post-war economic model relied on anarchic, unplanned real-estate development anywhere and everywhere (including ravines and pine forests). That has left us, like any developing country, vulnerable to deadly forest fires in the summer and flash floods in winter….”

Read that here.