Weekend Reading

A nice selection of historical and literary topics for this week’s reading. Bonbons for your mind:

Floating in the Air, The world that made Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment by Jennifer Wilson in the Nation. How St. Petersburg felt in Dostoyevsky’s time.

New jeans, new schools, new worries: North Korean family settles into South Korea by Anna Fifield in the Washington Post. A family adapts.

After The Strongman by Karan Mahajan in the New Republic. Can Zimbabweans hope for a free and open future?

Is the Next Nobel Laureate in Literature Tending Bar in a Dusty Australian Town? by Mark Binelli in the New York Times magazine. Study of an author/bartender from Goroke, Victoria, a former stagecoach stop in southeastern Australia, pop. 200.

When the Heavens Stopped Being Perfect – The advent of the telescope punctured our ideals about the nighttime sky, an excerpt from the book Searching for Stars on an Island in Maine by physicist Alan Lightman

Now I’ll grant you this next one sounds stupefyingly dull. No way I’d read it. But click on through. It’s really interesting. Really. New Ecological Economics: Superorganism and Ultrasociality How the agricultural revolution changed the trajectory of our social and economic evolution Interview by Della Duncan with Economist Lisi Krall in Evonomics

And a couple of new articles about the early history of our species:

In to Asia, New evidence about the ancient humans who occupied Asia is cascading in: the story of our species needs rewriting again by Christopher Bae at Aeon.com, and Raised by Wolves by Tim Flannery, a survey of the latest evidence about when wolves became our dog companions, in the NYRB.

Have a nice weekend.

Weekend Reading

Some suggestions for your leisure time this weekend: on Twitter this week, I have a series of HDR photos, like this photo from the Hoi An, Vietnam market. That’s @BMurrayWriter.

To start, a bit of positive news this week, from George Monbiot:

Monbiot is author most recently of Out of the Wreckage: A New Politics for an Age of Crisis. To get an idea of his general worldview, watch this YouTube video called How Did We Get into This Mess from a book talk with John Lanchester.

Now, gathering clouds:

Incoming National Security Advisor John Bolton wrote an article in 2015 with the headline To Stop Iran’s Bomb, Bomb Iran. He thought then that “only military action like Israel’s 1981 attack on Saddam Hussein’s Osirak reactor in Iraq or its 2007 destruction of a Syrian reactor, designed and built by North Korea, can accomplish what is required. Time is terribly short, but a strike can still succeed.” Here is a piece he wrote in the National Review last summer called How to Get Out of the Iran Nuclear Deal.

Colum Lynch and Elias Groll write at Foreign Policy, “Bolton has explicitly called for a preemptive strike on North Korea, advocates bombing to force regime change in Iran, and wants an open-ended military presence in Afghanistan. He has also called for a much more confrontational stance against China, including stationing U.S. troops in Taiwan.”

At the same time, CNBC reports that Incoming Secretary of State Mike Pompeo “has … expressed disdain for a 2015 nuclear deal aimed at limiting the country’s (Iran’s) nuclear energy program … (saying) I look forward to rolling back this disastrous deal with the world’s largest state sponsor of terrorism.”

An evangelical Christian, Pompeo is “a longtime die-hard opponent of the Islamic Republic, who has for years advocated for a policy of regime change in Tehran,” says CNBC.

It may be a long, hot summer. This morning, moderate punditry is busy trying to convince itself that this team won’t be a disaster. One thing to look forward to: McMaster’s book.

And then there is this:

China’s “Social Credit System” Will Rate How Valuable You Are as a Human by Dom Galeon and Brad Bergan at Futurism

And perhaps a sign of a different set of worries to come: Pakistan Is Racing to Combat the World’s First Extensively Drug-Resistant Typhoid Outbreak by Meher Ahmad at Scientific American

But enough gloom.

Learning about whaling and visiting the defunct Við Áir whaling station in the Faroe Islands for Out in the Cold instructed me about the whalers’ life, about which I knew nothing. The last whalers by Lyndsie Bourgon at Aeon.com describes the winding down of a brutal way of making a living.

And a few more worthwhile articles:

Cows with character: How much can we read into animal behavior by Jennie Erin Smith at the Times Literary Supplement

Grown Men Reading ‘Nancy’ by Dash Shaw on the NYRB blog

Kidnapped Royalty Become Pawns in Iran’s Deadly Plot by Robert W. Worth in the New York Times

In books this week, Red Hangover: Legacies of Twentieth-Century Communism by Kristen Ghodsee in due in the house via Prime tomorrow. It’s kind of specialized, granted, but it’s an area of interest to me. I spent a fair amount of time riding the rails around the newly-freed East Bloc in the early 1990s.

This bit of the description got the book into my shopping cart: “Just as the communist ideal has become permanently tainted by its association with the worst excesses of twentieth-century Eastern European regimes, today the democratic ideal is increasingly sullied by its links to the ravages of neoliberalism.” Can’t argue with that.

Here in southern Appalachia we had day-long snowfall at midweek and now we look for springlike conditions over the weekend. Wherever you are, go and have some fun this weekend. Cheers for now.

Weekend Reading

Spring hovers in the wings. In our part of the world, in southern Appalachia, it’s the yearly fight between eager-to-bud trees and determined-to-refreeze cold fronts. If the rain holds off, we’ll head to the creek with an iPad loaded with some of these reading suggestions. Pick and choose what you might like among these fine reads and please enjoy your weekend.

The Sinn Fein question: could the party stop a hard Brexit? by Martin Fletcher at the New Statesman

Operation Gunnerside: The Norwegian attack on heavy water that deprived the Nazis of the atomic bomb by Timothy J Jorgensen at The Conversation (also entertainingly told in Lynne Olsen’s Last Hope Island)

Fat Leonard’s Crimes on the High Seas – The rise and fall of the defense contractor who bought off Navy brass with meals, liquor, women and bribes by Jesse Hyde in Rolling Stone

Disarming the Weapons of Mass Distraction by Madeleine Bunting at the NYRB blog. More on how to reclaim your attention span.

How a Fake Mountain Range Slowed Down Arctic Exploration – The 19th-century naval officer John Ross’s unfortunate imagination by Cara Giaimo at Atlas Obscura.

Headline hyperbole here, but on a longer term horizon, Parag Khanna is onto something: There’s a new secretary of state. Who cares? Sorry, Washington. The world doesn’t need you anymore at Politico.eu.

The Asset, How A Player In The Trump-Russia Scandal Led A Double Life As An American Spy by Anthony Cormier and Jason Leopold at Buzzfeed. Everything about this is remarkable.

And finally, How to change the course of human history (at least, the part that’s already happened) by David Graeber and David Wengrow at Eurozine. This compliments a flurry of books and articles lately on the distant history of humans, including the articles Tools and voyages suggest that Homo erectus invented language by Daniel Everett at Aeon, Tracing the tangled tracks of humankind’s evolutionary journey by Hannah Devlin in The Guardian and How Hunter-Gatherers May Hold the Key to our Economic Future by James Suzman at evonomics, which compliments his new book Affluence Without Abundance.

Another newish book, that sets out to upend most conventional hunter-gatherer history, is Against the Grain, A Deep History of the Earliest States, by James C. Scott. Scott, a contrarian, has gotten approving press, but after all, he is merely the new Colin Tudge. Tudge covered much of Scott’s territory twenty years ago in a tiny little book, Neanderthals, Bandits & Farmers: How Agriculture Really Began.

No doubt more than you were asking about early humans.

Wet but warming up in southern Appalachia this weekend. What about where you are?

Cheers!

Weekend Reading

The village of Tjørnuvik, Streymoy, Faroe Islands (above) has no connection that I can think of to the articles listed here. But it sure is pretty, isn’t it? This weekend, you could set a slideshow of Tjørnuvik and the 580 other photos from all over the world in the HDR Gallery at EarthPhotos.com. Otherwise, here are a few articles worth your attention on your day off this weekend:

How Netflix works: the (hugely simplified) complex stuff that happens every time you hit Play by Mayukh Nair at Medium.com.

The Infinity of the Small by Alan P. Lightman at Harper’s Magazine. Harper’s allows a free article a month. If this is your first this month, you’re good.

The Exhilirating Art of Landing Planes in Crazy Crosswinds by Alex Davis at Wired.com.

When a Reporter Crossed the Kremlin’s Borderline by Shaun Walker at codastory.com.

We Are Living in Parallel Societies by Nick Ottens at Quillette.com

and some entertaining photography at TheAtlantic.com. Alan Taylor takes virtual tours with Google Earth, then shares what he finds. Here are what he calls Human Landscapes of Germany, Mexico, Canada and the American Southwest.

Cheers, everybody.

Weekend Reading

A few intelligent ways to spend the next couple of days:

The Miracle at 14,000 Feet by Ronnie Shuker in Roads and Kingdoms. Ice Hockey in Ladakh.

On the big cosmological news of the week, Dark Matter and the Earliest Stars from Sean Carroll’s blog.

Freedom, Private Property, and Public Access by Emrys Westacott at 3QuarksDaily explores an idea that was new to me before researching Out in the Cold – the Nordic notion of allemansrätten, or “Everyman’s rights,” the freedom to walk wherever one pleases.

Algorithms and the Meaning of Explanation by Daniel Ranard, also  at 3Quarks Daily. A primer on machine learning that’s more interesting than it sounds.

“You’re Fake News” The Unfortunate Reality of the Ad Hominem by Elio Martino in Quillette. Depressing quote:

“Lazy and abusive rhetoric is an effective means of silencing of healthy debate. As a result, polarization in Western Society is likely to get far worse before it gets better.”

Hitler Looks Eastward by Henry C. Wolfe in the Atlantic magazine in 1937. A prediction of the Reich’s expansion written two tears before the invasion of Poland.

Sacrifice Revisited by Audrey Borowski in the LARB’s Marginalia. The quote:

“… ethical self-awareness makes it quite clear that there are situations— tragic situations—in which it is impossible to act without burdening oneself with guilt [the famous “trolley dilemma“]. But at the same time it teaches us that, even faced with the choice of two ways of incurring guilt, we should still find that there is a standard attaching to correct and incorrect action. This standard we call sacrifice.”

You can’t read everything. So instead of reading the book Adults in the Room, here are two reviews of the memoir of former Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis about his trials negotiating on behalf of Greece in the Eurozone crisis: Modern Greek Tragedy by Adam Tooze in the NYRB and Austerity by Design by J.W. Mason in the Boston Review (which is itself the length of a small book).

Summary, from Tooze:

“In order to avoid a comprehensive restructuring of their banks, the governments of Northern Europe … funneled funds to Athens, most of which then flowed back out to Greece’s creditor banks in Northern Europe…. It was neither sustainable for Greece nor did it deliver stability for the eurozone. Its ultimate rationale … was to give Northern Europe a roundabout bank bailout.”

 

Enough for now. Happy reading, and a good weekend to you.

 

Weekend Reading

Four articles to help you stand out from the herd this weekend:

America at war by Edith Wharton in the Times Literary Supplement – a speech delivered in French in 1918, on the American wartime character, and the difference between the Americans and the French.

Tulip mania: the classic story of a Dutch financial bubble is mostly wrong by Tim Hartford at theconversation.com

The brutal world of sheep fighting: the illegal sport beloved by Algeria’s ‘lost generation’ by Hannah Rae Armstrong in the Guardian. Who knew sheep fighting was a thing?

The Peculiar Business of Being Russian-American in Trump’s USA by Anastasia Edel at NYR daily “In the age of Trump … if the Russians didn’t exist, it would have been a good idea to invent us.”

 

Weekend Reading

Friday morning, middle of February. I can’t jump to conclusions, but I’d be surprised if this butterfly’s progeny are yet en route from Mexico. There is still time left in the Appalachian winter, so let us remain calm.

There’s no snow on the ground right now, but these hills fill their creeks for summer by rain in winter, and they are busy about doing it just now. If there will be a sunny day in all the month of February no one can say which one it will be.

Two recommendations today for interesting weekend reading:

Above the Treeline about travel along the Northwest Passage by Teva Harrison at Granta.com, and

How Hunter-Gatherers May Hold the Key to our Economic Future by James Suzman at evonomics.com.

•••••

My Finnish ESL (English as a second language) wife once accidentally grafted the portmanteau “grandiotic,” just testing it, not sure if it was a word. I don’t think it is a word, but it’s descriptive. Grandiose and idiotic.

“How Hunter-Gatherers May Hold the Key to our Economic Future” sounds grandiotic, but it shouldn’t. It leads into an interesting field of thought about the fundamental nature of work, how work works, and a question: if we employ people nowadays in soul-shattering jobs just to get their forty hours a week, well, should we?

Suzman’s article compliments the well-reviewed new book Against the Grain by James C. Scott, which proposes a newer theory of the transition from hunter-gatherers to, as the author calls it, sedentism. On the topic of humanity’s deep past, see also The Old Way by Elizabeth Marshall Thomas and Before the Dawn by Nicholas Wade. Together they help frame pre-agricultural society against whatever is coming at us in the age of automation.

Last night I started a clickable collection of articles on this topic under the heading “Future of Work” that you can find in the Categories sidebar. There are more links there that comprise way more than a weekend’s reading.

Enough for now. Have a lovely weekend.