Weekend Reading

It’s chilly and wet in our mountains just now. Suitable for an indoor weekend involving a fireplace, a large pot of slow-cooked food and good reading material.

All you can say to Francis Fukuyama these days is, history is back with a vengeance. In the U.S.:

“How conceivable is this? Trump loses the 2020 US presidential election. But he refuses to concede…. Couldn’t happen, you say. The constitution and all that. To which I would say just two words: Merrick Garland.”

It’s from The Full Machiavelli by Emrys Westacott. As a sidebar on U.S. politics, here is one of the more remarkable articles I can remember, a look at the 2016 Republican alternatives to President Trump: They Could Have Picked.

And in the U.K., is it me, or has commentary turned dark about the prospects for a Brexit deal since the P.M.’s latest scolding from Brussels? I’m talkin’ ’bout headlines like We’re Headed for a Brexit Crashout. My wife and I live in the U.S. where we are all busy looking the fool Making America Great Again, but we traveled to England and Wales the week of the Brexit vote for what we felt sure would be a repudiation of the insular, parochial small-mindedness of the leavers. It didn’t work out that way, and the 28 months since haven’t been pretty:

The U.S., naturally, reserves the right to look the biggest fool of all by affirming its course in elections in just over a week.

Enough of that, though. A few other items:

“if elephants … have all the raw mental material it takes to be persons, a time could come in the near future when we might draw them into a more expansive kind of personhood.”

The article is If elephants aren’t persons yet, could they be one day? One qualification. DO NOT follow the author’s advice to “Stand or walk among a herd of elephants.”

– About that tsunami in Sulawesi.
– How to avoid the Tourism Curse.
How would we recognise an alien if we saw one?
– And one more item for your weekend reading list, from National Geographic, a look at Antarctica’s changing ecosystem.

Have a lovely weekend. See you next week.

Weekend Reading

For your consideration this weekend:

This headline:

confirms that what Saudi rulers are considering is anything but telling the truth.

“The Saudi rulers are expected to say that General Assiri received oral authorization from Prince Mohammed to capture Mr. Khashoggi for an interrogation in Saudi Arabia, but either misunderstood his instructions or overstepped that authorization and took the dissident’s life, according to two of the people familiar with the Saudi plans.”

So, it’s all just choreography, then. A sordid little shimmy with the full, florid frames of both the United States’ secretary of state and president as dance partners. Here is your homework on MBS, as done for you by Dexter Filkins. One of those dauntingly long New Yorker articles.

– 54 University Avenue, Rangoon, may be for sale.

– I completely love this definition: “a person is … a continuum of causally related psychophysical processes that plays a role in the world.” It’s in an article titled Why There Is No Self: A Buddhist Perspective for the West from the Institute of Art and Ideas. Give yourself some time to read it slowly.

– “’You can’t out-Trump Trump,” said Terry Sullivan, a longtime Rubio adviser.’ The problem with that is after you set your hair on fire, you have to be willing to double down and keep adding gasoline to your head. And that’s not a normal human reaction to being on fire.” Here’s what that’s about.

– If you could time travel, would you travel forward or backward? Leanne Ogasawara argues for backward.

– “a glimpse into what the post-American world might look like: a chaotic stage where strongmen find themselves buffeted by Western, Arab, and Chinese forces.” Pakistan looks east.

– And finally, this would be odd: Pope will visit North Korea if officially invited.

– In travel this week, if you’re intrigued by off-the-beaten-path destinations, check out this article about China’s Nujiang valley. And you don’t see a lot of news coverage of Bhutan, but here’s a story from today’s Washington Post: In tiny Bhutan, known for its pursuit of happiness, democracy brings discontent. I’ll leave you with this link to a chapter from my book Common Sense and Whiskey. It’s about travel in Bhutan. That’s Bhutan’s capital, Thimpu, in the photo. Click it for 115 more photos from Bhutan on EarthPhotos.com.

See you next week.

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

This is how it looked here on the farm in late October a few years back. We’re not there yet, but it’s close. Wile E. Coyote has run past the cliff’s edge but has yet to fall. The leaves are set to change, summoning up traffic jams of flatland gawkers, but just now we’re in silent suspension, hanging in the air, waiting for the start of the race to autumn.

I see this morning that larger news organizations have picked up the article I found yesterday in a little website called TheLocal.se. It’s a feel good story. If you skipped over it then, go back and check it out.

That discussion of the post-Cold War world that’s been missing for years is suddenly wide open, so it’s mostly political theory in this weekend’s reading, kind of academic. If you’re deep in an absorbing novel, permission to skip over this week’s list. But given the roiling unease in the Western democracies, the state of our political systems is worth some thought.

The unapologetic American interventionist Robert Kagan has published one of his periodic little books, this one called The Jungle Grows Back, and to support it, here is Kagan’s The World America Made – and Trump Wants to Unmake in Politico. (The American president not falling into any of the academy’s self-defined niches adds a little spice to all the arguments here).

Graham Allison says Kagan’s world was never thus in The Myth of the Liberal Order from Historical Accident to Conventional Wisdom in an ungated article at Foreign Affairs (and Allison has been around just about since the creation of the post WWII order).

David Frum and Stephen M. Walt separately suggest the implausible this week. Frum writes that The Rebublican Party Needs to Embrace Liberalism in The Atlantic, and Walt chimes in with Socialists and Libertarians Need an Alliance Against the Establishment at ForeignPolicy.com.

There’s lots more, across the spectrum. See Peter Beinart’s call for a new Democratic foreign policy (hint: rehabilitate Finlandization), Hal Brands in Bloomberg and Daniel Larison in The American Conservative (who’s not buying Kagan). That ought to get you started.

In case you’re not enamored with political theory, here’s one more thing, completely different. Check out Norwegian Knut Arne Gjertsen’s blog. He has been to the gorgeous Faroe Islands and come back with a bunch of photos and fun tales.

And I’ll leave you with an excerpt from my book Out in the Cold, about the Faroese village of Saksun.

See you next week.

 

Weekend Reading

Only one must-read this weekend from here in soon-to-be-stormy Appalachia:

A Warning From Europe: The Worst Is Yet to Come, an epic, semi-autobiographical article by historian Anne Applebaum in The Atlantic magazine.

Ms. Applebaum has written extensively on the former Soviet Union and East Bloc, including a book that was really seminal for me, called Between East and West: Across the Borderlands of Europe, about a 1991 road trip across just collapsed eastern Europe. A Washington Post columnist married to Radek Sikorsky, a former Polish Foreign Minister, she’s uniquely positioned to write a first-person account of the changes in Poland over the past not quite thirty years.

And there have been astonishing changes. On my first trip to Warsaw, in March and April of 1992, state-owned enterprises, the stores in the buildings that lined the streets, had largely gone bust, and newly private commerce from Gdansk on the Baltic Sea to Tiranë, Albania on the Adriatic, was largely carried out through an ad-hoc system of hastily-assembled kiosks between the storefronts and the streets, Here is an example from near the Warsaw train station, a snapshot from 1992:

Today Warsaw presents as a modern, if still Stalinesque architecture-afflicted city.

But all is not well, in Poland or as Ms. Applebaum describes, Hungary and other parts of eastern Europe as well. Her article is well worth your time as a marker of the state of the region today. Especially if, as we look to be here, you are shut indoors with a storm raging outside.

Next week we return to Africa with a post on 3 Quarks Daily at the beginning of the week. I will repost it here next Wednesday. 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.