Weekend Reading

It often happens here in Appalachia that our dreams turn to spring and our weather turns torrential, and this weekend we are told to expect more than an inch of rain. We do not, however, anticipate rain like in the photo. In that event, our few short days in Guatemala were attacked first by a volcanic eruption that stranded us there for a few missed days of work (the volcano that ate our homework) and then by a tropical storm off the west coast that flooded our little town and required a careful evacuation to Guatemala City.

None of that is on tap for this weekend here. There should be ample time for staying out of the rain with a few good reads.

I have been instantly engaged by this week’s new arrival in hardback, No Friends But the Mountains by Judith Matloff. It looks like a book to be enjoyed slowly, maybe a chapter at a time across a few weeks. Ms. Matloff describes conflict at altitude, the irascible nature of mountain folk in Albania, Central America, the Himalaya and Caucasus regions. In her introduction, Ms. Matloff hits on something I’ve always thought about the Assad Alawites’ peculiar version of Islam up in the Latakia Mountains, when she writes, “Religion imposed by colonial outsiders fails to take firm root, or is incorporated into indigenous beliefs.” My impression is that the Alawites have been up in those hills so long, the outsiders were Arabs bringing the original Islam.

Shorter form, try The Edge of the Petri Dish by Charles Mann at thebreakthrough.org, subtitled “Can Humankind Avoid Its Biological Destiny?” Mann is known for 1491, a survey of the Western Hemisphere world awaiting the Europeans.

I mostly agree with Damir Marusic’s The Dangers of Democratic Determinism at The American Interest (There is a paywall after one article per month). He tries to explain Eastern Europeans’ reluctance to admit refugees, saying “the events of 1989 are best understood not as a casting off of the false god of communism and an embrace of universally true western values” (as Western Europeans and Americans understood them) but rather as “emancipation from crumbling empires.” The last thing you want to do when you get your nation back, Marusic suggests, is dilute it right away with foreigners.

At thebaffler.com, Yasha Levine asks, “Why are internet companies like Google in bed with cops and spies?” in an article titled Surveillance Valley.

And one more: As we peek through our fingers at Cape Town to see what will happen next, consider The African Anthropocene by Gabrielle Hecht at Aeon.com, subtitled “The Anthropocene feels different depending on where you are – too often, the ‘we’ of the world is white and Western.”

Have a lovely weekend. I leave you for now with a couple more photos from that weekend in Guatemala.