Quotes: Speeches of the Elite

John Lanchester from his new book, The Wall:

“I fell for a moment into a reverie, a kind of guided dream, in which I imagined baby members of the elite being born from chrysalises, already wearing their shiny suits, their ties pre-knotted, their first clichés already on their lips, being wiped down of cocoon matter and pushed toward a podium, ready to make their first big speech, spout their first platitude, lose their virginity at lying. They’d be made to do that before they were given any food or drink or comfort, just to make sure it was the thingthey knew first and best, the think that came most naturally.”

Appalachian Reckoning

As a twenty-year non-native resident of Appalachia who is about to go on hiatus outside the region, I’m happy to find a robust riposte to J.D. Vance’s unctuous Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis which unfairly takes to task some of the kindest, most welcoming people I have ever known. Mr. Vance wants you to know he followed the approved neo-lib wealth-acquiring path to its venture capitalist reward, and that the hillbilly people he grew up with can count filth, sloth and lack of couth as reasons they’ll never fill his wing-tips. It’s unkind and makes for a mean book. And personal. May I say, I didn’t much like it. Unfortunately, when it came out I’m afraid it ratified the coastal media’s self-esteem and they ate it up on the left, right and center.

The reply comes in the form of Appalachian Reckoning: A Region Responds to ‘Hillbilly Elegy,’ edited by Anthony Harkins and Meredith McCarroll. I’ve yet to read the book. I just became aware of it today, here. But I’m happy the West Virginia University Press has put it together, if for this quote alone, from Dwight B. Billings, a professor emeritus of sociology and Appalachian studies at the University of Kentucky: “It is one thing to write a personal memoir extolling the wisdom of one’s personal choices but quite something else — something extraordinarily audacious — to presume to write the ‘memoir’ of a culture.”

I’d like to think that in the three years since Hillbilly Elegy appeared we’ve begun to collectively reexamine some of the naked striving for unaccountable wealth that has marked the last thirty years.

Appalachia has its challenges. We’ll talk about that later. We’re about to take to the road again for a while and I’ll have valedictory remarks, but I’ll say for now that our home for the last twenty years is a beautiful place, full of wealth of the natural kind, and if my wife, dogs, cat, horses and I ran into a problem here on the farm, I promise I’d trust my neighbors the retired builder, the loggers or the guy who hustles a living with his Bobcat and gravel truck for their help way before a disdainful venture capitalist.

Here’s a little of our Appalachia for you:

Weekend Reading

The possibility of a little wintry weather here across southern Appalachia this weekend will keep us close to the fire with a few interesting articles at hand. Like these:

– Matthew Engel on European train travel.
In the Valley of Fear by Michael Greenberg, from which the quote in the previous post is taken.
First sun-dimming experiment will test a way to cool Earth by Jeff Tollefson.
– This is unfortunate: What Are We Like? 10 Psychology Findings That Reveal The Worst Of Human Nature by Christian Jarrett.
– Now that’s a library: Helsinki’s New Library Has 3-D Printers and Power Tools. (And Some Books, Too.)
– I like Rafael Behr’s notion of “mild tyranny,” in this article:

“It sounds like an oxymoron, and certainly not the kind of thing citizens in a democracy might choose. But when you consider the relationship many of us have with technology there is something gently tyrannical involved.”

– Meanwhile in Mexico
… and in Siberia….

Look for my monthly travel column next Monday at 3 Quarks Daily, and next week here, we’ll excerpt a couple of chapters from my book Common Sense and Whiskey. For now, enjoy the weekend. See you next week.

Weekend Reading

A few more interesting articles for you to sink your teeth into this weekend:

How China Got Sri Lanka to Cough Up a Port by Maria Abi-Habib in the New York Times. Graft and intrigue in the southern resort town of Hambantota, Sri Lanka.
The Strange Brain of the World’s Greatest Solo Climber by J. B. MacKinnon at Nautil.us. Alex Honnold doesn’t experience fear like the rest of us.
The great firewall of China: Xi Jinping’s internet shutdown by Elizabeth C Economy in The Guardian. The largest and most sophisticated online censorship operation in the world.
A Rattle with Death in Yosemite by Kyle Dickman in Outside Magazine. Don’t ever, ever, ever get bitten by a rattlesnake.
After the Fall by John Lanchester in the LRB. Lanchester is such a great writer. Yep, even on the aftermath of the 2008 credit crunch.

I’m compiling a few worrisome quotes by/about our, um, leadership for over the weekend, and we’ll be back to Africa with another vignette on Monday. For now, a good weekend to you.

Weekend Reading

Good stuff to read this weekend:

The case for invading America by Scott Gilmore in MacLean’s: “Our invasion may be slowed due to the usual congestion at the border crossings, but if we time our attack mid-week, traffic on the Ambassador Bridge should be manageable.”
Watermarks by Donovan Hohn at Lapham’s Quarterly. A meditation on water.
Teddy Roosevelt on How the Blind Cult of Success Unfits Us for Democracy and Liberty by Maria Popova at Brain Pickings.
The Political Path to GPS: How war and peace forged the universal map by Anthony Paletta at New Atlantis
Mexicans Drive Bus to Russia for the World Cup at El Universal

Last Friday I wrote that

“President Trump is not taking the country seriously, but rather playing it as a television show in which he is the star, with teases and cliffhangers, time-worn entertainment industry tactics to keep us tuning in,” and that “This year the United States has become a cartoon country, with either the complicity or inattention of much of its population.”

Here is an article from Monday that elaborates on that theme: Ladies and gentlemen, introducing the kayfabe.

•••••

Birds are strange. Sometimes kind of prehistoric and scary and very unlike humans. But they are not beyond the occasional bad hair day. For one further weekend diversion, I invite you to enjoy 183 entertaining photos of our avian friends at EarthPhotos.com.

Enjoy the weekend.

Weekend Reading

Next week is one to watch, with the Trump/Kim summit in prime time on Monday night in the east of the United States, just as President Trump would have it, then Thursday’s kickoff of the World Cup in Moscow.

This morning the president said that “he wants to meet with NFL players and athletes who kneel during the National Anthem so they can recommend people they think should be pardoned because they were treated unfairly by the justice system.”

President Trump is not taking the country seriously, but rather playing it as a television show in which he is the star, with teases and cliffhangers, time-worn entertainment industry tactics to keep us tuning in. Trouble is, neither are much of the broadcast media playing their traditional role on either side of the partisan divide. Rather they are capitalizing, literally, on our fraught national moment in a frenzy of profit-making.

This year the United States has become a cartoon country, with either the complicity or inattention of much of its population. So perhaps it’s time for a month of World Cup diversion.

Eh. Besides all that, here are a few absorbing reads for your weekend:

500-year-old Leaning Tower of Pisa mystery unveiled by engineers at Phys.org. Why the Leaning Tower doesn’t fall down.
Meet the Economist Behind the One Percent’s Stealth Takeover of America by Lynn Parramore of the Institute for New Economic Thinking. This is just frightening.
Own Goal: The Inside Story of How the USMNT Missed the 2018 World Cup by Andrew Helms and Matt Pentz at theringer.com
All life on Earth, in one staggering chart by Brian Resnick and Javier Zarracina at Vox.com.

And it’s that time of year again. From Mumbai’s weekend forecast: the worst rains since 2005 by Maria Thomas at qz.com:

He explained that this year’s heavy rains are the result of a low pressure system expected to develop over the Bay of Bengal, which will combine with cyclonic circulations over the Konkan coast, Goa, and Andhra Pradesh.

Every year, the monsoon rains bring Mumbai to a standstill…. Because of this, thousands are usually left stranded when it rains heavily, turning railway stations and even arterial roads into filthy swimming pools. The death toll often mounts by the day as residents risk being washed away or losing their lives in landslides.

Monday we’ll continue with this summer’s series of African vignettes with a tiny story from Madagascar (Its capital, Antananarivo, is pictured above). See you then.

Weekend Reading

In the mid-nineteenth century, Walter Bagehot wrote that to preserve the monarchy, “We must not let in daylight upon magic.” If you try to see much other than the royal wedding this weekend on BBC World, you’ll be convinced (resigned?) that the Brits do “the magic” maddeningly well.

So, read, I say, and here are a few worthy articles:

Living in a Cycle of Fear and Danger (in Kabul) by Ali M Latifi in Roads and Kingdoms
The Jaguar Is Made for the Age of Humans by Nadia Drake at The Atlantic
What Can Chimpanzee Calls Tell Us About the Origins of Human Language? by Michael Wilson at Smithsonianmag.org
Neoliberalism is a real economic model – here’s how the left can overturn it by Paul Mason at New Statesman
How Democracy Dies by John Gray at New Statesman
Americans are Being Held Hostage and Terrorized by the Fringes by Tim Alberta at Politico

I mentioned a couple of weeks ago that I’m working through The Road to Unfreedom by Timothy Snyder and that I think he’s pretty brilliant. Sophie Pinkham doesn’t think so. She has written Zombie History – Timothy Snyder’s bleak vision of the past and present in The Nation.

One last note about a column last week: I think The Fall of the German Empire by Ross Douthat in Wednesday’s New York Times is thoughtful. He calls Germany’s economic dominance of Europe the “third German empire,” writing,

“…if the test of Europe’s unity feels like a test for liberal democracy, it’s a mistake to see it only in those terms. It is also a struggle of nations against empire, of the Continent’s smaller countries against German mastery and Northern European interests, in which populist parties are being elected to resist policies the center sought to impose upon the periphery without a vote. And the liberal aspect of the European system wouldn’t be under such strain if the imperial aspect hadn’t been exploited unwisely by leaders in the empire’s German core.”

And finally, if HDR photography entertains you, like these two photos from the Mercado in Addis Ababa, you’ll find 579 more in the HDR Gallery at EarthPhotos.com.

Cheers for now.