A Considerable Aura: On Adam Shatz’s “Writers and Missionaries”

From The Los Angeles Review of Books:

THE NEW COLLECTION from London Review of Books editor Adam Shatz, jointly published by the LRB and Verso, comprises mostly essays previously published in that magazine. And despite its title—Writers and Missionaries: Essays on the Radical Imagination—it is less the missionary function of writing than the value of that periodical that the book most clearly illuminates. The LRB was founded in 1979 when a lockout at TheTimes put TheTimes Literary Supplement on indefinite hiatus. Frank Kermode, who had written for TheNew York Review of Books since its founding in 1963, published an article in TheObserver calling for something to stop the gap: and in due turn, the NYRB launched its London counterpart, with NYRB editor Karl Miller at the helm. But more essential still than Miller was his deputy editor, Mary-Kay Wilmers, who would later serve as the magazine’s editor for almost 30 years. From an immensely wealthy family, Wilmers had a childhood so cosmopolitan that for a long time, she’s said, she was more comfortable in French than in English.

Her worldliness was essential to the LRB’s direction, and so, in a very real sense, has been her wealth. The paper has never made a profit, and has been sustained by the Wilmers family trust, managed by Wilmers’s billionaire banker brother until his death in 2017. By January 2010, the LRB was £27 million in debt to the Wilmers trust, as The Times revealed that month; nevertheless, the trust appeared to have “no intention of […] seeking repayment of the loan in the near future.” As such, the LRB has always had money, and the freedom that it confers.

How has it used that freedom? Most obviously, it has no need for clickbait; where even historically respectable literary reviews have often lapsed into political alarmism and frenetic, occasionally pathetic, trend-chasing, the LRB continues to publish multithousand-word essays on real tennis, selfhood in medieval literature, and Victorian pets. It appeals to the idea that one ought to be interested and slightly conversant in, say—to take the most recent issue—the Revolutions of 1848, 16th-century Swiss social history, Epictetus, contemporary curation, and postindependence Nigeria. Scope aside, the pieces are also distinctly more opinionated than those in most book reviews: in one notorious incident of the last decade, the German English poet, critic, and translator Michael Hofmann called beloved Jewish novelist Stefan Zweig—who died by suicide in 1942 after fleeing the Holocaust—“the Pepsi of Austrian writing,” and the suicide note itself boring. Some called Hofmann’s piece offensive; no one, I think, called it boring.

And on a substantial level, the paper’s odd financial position has also conferred a certain political freedom. In the words of frequent contributor Alan Bennett—whom Wilmers has known since her Oxford days—“the LRB has maintained a consistently radical stance on politics and social affairs.” This brings us, happily, back to the title of Adam Shatz’s collection.

To be consistently radical has meant neither to be the most radical nor the most consistent. The LRB is certainly left-of-center, and has suffered the expected blowback for this—recall the uproar over Pankaj Mishra’s review of Niall Ferguson’s Civilization: The West and the Rest (2011), which led Ferguson to threaten a libel suit. But as is evident from the very first page of Shatz’s collection, it is not quite as in thrall to the suffocating pressures of conformity as its peers. This makes, sometimes, for a distinctly skeptical, irreverent attitude toward contemporary politics. Shatz’s introduction consists of a concise and quite touching defense of biographical criticism—and criticism itself—which appropriately begins with biography. In 1990, he writes, he arrived at Columbia University “with a vague and yet passionately held idea of becoming a writer.” Yet he soon learned, in his courses on French thought, about Roland Barthes’s 1967 essay “The Death of the Author,” and Michel Foucault’s own disavowal of authorship shortly thereafter. At this point, a small footnote states: “Today, of course, the idea that an author’s identity is irrelevant to an understanding of their work would be unfathomable to young people who are increasingly taught that an author’s identity is almost all that matters; but back then it exerted a considerable aura, at least in critical theory.”

. . . .

And throughout, the book is infused with life—to read it is almost an antidote to the cynicism that indeed does develop from too many book reviews obviously written as favors, or strategic plays on the part of the reviewer. Some of this can certainly be attributed to Shatz’s subjects being largely historical. The book is roughly divided into four sections: “Native Sons,” on Arab figures; “Equal in Paris,” on Black writers in Paris; “Signs Taken for Wonders,” on French figures from Claude Lévi-Strauss to Michel Houellebecq; and “Lessons of Darkness,” about World War II and more French individuals. And yet, only three of his subjects are living: Kamel Daoud, Houellebecq, and, at the time of writing, Fouad Ajami. The criticism, then, is almost entirely biographical, and at some remove (even with Houellebecq—about whom, in arguing that his 2015 novel Submission is not Islamophobic, Shatz has woven an almost mythical psychobiography).

And yet, what is his argument? Nonfiction books, in their quest for a cognizable marketing hook, often concoct a “thesis” in a somewhat limiting, formulaic way. It would be hard to say what the thesis of Shatz’s collection is, or even of one individual essay. As is common with LRB pieces, it is very hard (perhaps impossible) to detect where they shift between common opinion on the subject, an argument made by the reviewed text, and an argument made by Shatz himself; this was my experience even in cases where I had closely studied the authors in question.

But if the collection doesn’t contain a thesis, per se, it certainly displays some consistent tendencies. Politically, all the essays operate under the basic assumption that while “the Right” is hateful, wrong, and so on, “the Left” is certainly far from perfect, and it’s essentially good to poke fun at one’s idols and ideals (indeed, his criticism of giants like Jacques Lacan and Jacques Derrida are virtuosic). And crucially, Shatz’s book adopts the basic assumption that philosophy, theory, and literature are inextricable from the lives and times of their authors, and that any interesting critical reaction is one that combines the two. In other words, it is basically “historicist.” Yet there is a third factor that, while never explicated, is unmistakable: Shatz, while mostly eschewing the “I,” makes little attempt at impartiality.

Link to the rest at The Los Angeles Review of Books

The OP caused PG to wonder whether there is any future for the classic, printed-on-paper literary magazine.

The New Makers of Modern Strategy

From The Wall Street Journal:

A group of generals is called a “glitter”; a group of historians an “argumentation.” There is no colorful group noun for academic analysts of strategy. Perhaps, like owls, they form a “college.” In “The New Makers of Modern Strategy,” Hal Brands, a professor of strategy at the Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies, gathers a college of 45 such experts. All are wise after the facts of their field, and each attempts the historian’s equivalent of the owl’s neck rotation—a sweep that, taking in past and present, looks to the future.

Strategists must prepare for the next war. “The New Makers of Modern Strategy” is the third collection to bear this title. The first was published in 1943, when applied strategy was a matter of life and death and the future of democratic states uncertain. “If strategic studies was a child of hot war,” Mr. Brands writes, “it matured during the Cold War.” The second “Makers of Modern Strategy,” published in 1986, absorbed the “nuclear revolution,” redefined the “relationship between force and diplomacy,” emphasized resources and the long haul, and examined the challenges of the Cold War’s hotter regions, such as irregular warfare and counterinsurgency.

This third edition, “The New Makers of Modern Strategy,” returns to those topics, and adds AI, drones, cyberwarfare and other developments altering the familiar patterns of conflict. America’s post-Cold War “holiday” from history is over, Mr. Brands writes, and great-power political competition is back. China is challenging the U.S. for hegemony, and other “revisionist actors” such as Russia and Iran seek to alter the international order. Strategies of “hybrid” warfare, which mixes civilian and military methods, expand the “gray zone” between peace and war. This collection is a handbook for a crowded, unstable world in which America’s leaders need “strategic discipline and insight.”

Lawrence Freedman opens the first section, “Foundations and Founders,” with a lucid definition of terms. Next, Walter Russell Mead examines the legacies of Thucydides and Polybius: “they integrated strategy, the art of winning wars, and statecraft, the art of building and leading states.” Toshi Yoshihara then pivots to Asia, with an essay on Sun Tzu’s “Art of War.” Sun Tzu, he writes, cannot be identified as “a historical figure in a specific time and setting,’ and “The Art of War” was “not written by one author in a single act.” Sun Tzu is the Homer of Chinese strategy. Mr. Yoshihara surveys Chinese civilization and explains its military ethos, suggesting an underlying universal logic. Even so, it seems impossible to translate Sun Tzu’s elusive elixir of shi (described with kinetic metaphors about water, diving hawks and rolling boulders) into the American anthropology of “strategic culture.”

Machiavelli, the founder of modern political thought, also wrote an “Art of War.” Matthew Koenig asks whether Machiavelli fits best into a “Western tradition” that seeks to use “overwhelming force on the enemy’s center of gravity in a decisive battle of annihilation,” or into the “Eastern tradition” epitomized by Sun Tzu, which “prioritizes deception and winning without fighting.” Mr. Koenig concludes that Machiavelli’s amoral realism “may lean East.”

But the Western tradition includes such deceivers as Odysseus’ Trojan Horse and Joshua’s Hebrew spies. It also includes Machiavelli’s “full-throated defense of democracy” in “The Discourses on Livy”—a proposal to revive the Roman republic’s strategic culture in the modern state. That state-building meant harnessing military means to political ends: If this integration seems obvious to us, that is because modern Western strategy rediscovered the Roman way through the trials of war, and also its errors.

Samuel Huntington, summarizing the ideas of Clausewitz, once wrote that war aspires to be an “autonomous science” but functions as a “subordinate science.” Strategy is too important to be left to soldiers. It is also too complex to be left to politicians. Mr. Brands’s second and third sections examine the professionalization of the military in the age of early modern state-building, the integration of economic and political strategies, and the testing of these full-spectrum theories after 1914.

Veteran armchair strategists will know Napoleon Bonaparte, Alfred Thayer Mahan and J.F.C. Fuller, but they may be caught off-balance by Priya Satia writing about Gandhi’s “consummately coercive” passive aggression and S.C.M. Paine on Mao Zedong’s strategy of “nested war.” Ms. Paine’s account of how Mao fought three wars at once—nesting a Chinese civil war within a war with Japan, and the war with Japan within World War II—suggests parallels to the emerging Western understanding of strategy as multilevel and multidimensional. It also shows that Mao, like Eisenhower, was a largely unsung genius of grand strategy.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal

Gestures are a subtle and vital form of communication

From The Economist:

“Tie an italian’s hands behind his back,” runs an old joke, “and he’ll be speechless.” The gag rests on a national stereotype: Italians are voluble and emotional, and all that arm-waggling supposedly goes to prove it.

Susan Goldin-Meadow of the University of Chicago has a rather different view. Emotions come out in lots of ways: facial expressions, posture, tone of voice and so on. But people are doing something different when they use gestures with speech, which she sums up in the title of her new book, “Thinking With Your Hands”. It is a masterly tour through a lifetime’s research.

Virtually everyone gestures, not just Italians. Experimental subjects, told after a research session that they were being watched for gestures, apologise for not having made any—but were doing so the entire time. Conference interpreters gesture in their little booths, though no one is looking. People born blind gesture when they speak, including to each other. A woman born without arms but with “phantom limb syndrome” describes how she uses her phantom arms when she talks—but not when she walks. All this suggests that cognition is, to some extent, “embodied”; thinking is not all done in your head.

. . . .

The gesture under discussion here is mostly the “co-speech” kind. It is much more abstract than mime (in which exaggerated acting tells a story). Nor are these “emblematic” gestures like a thumbs-up or a finger over the lips for “Silence!” Like words, those are fixed within cultures (but vary between them). Instead, gestures that accompany speech are a second channel of information. Subjects watch a film in which a cat runs but are told to lie and say it jumped. They do so in words—while their hands make a running motion. People who say they believe in sexual equality but gesture with their hands lower when talking about women are not indicating women’s shorter stature; they can be shown to have biases of which they may be unaware.

Gesture is also not sign language. Sign languages have clearly defined words and grammar, and differ from place to place just as spoken ones do. Professor Goldin-Meadow spends a lot of time on homesign—systems of signs typically developed by deaf children in hearing families who are not exposed to (and so never learn) a conventional sign language. Such children are essentially inventing rough but rich languages out of nothing, with features such as fixed word order and hierarchical grammatical structures much like those in fully fledged languages. Such homesign systems far outstrip their parents’ gestures; a parent’s raised finger meaning “Wait” may be adopted by a child to connote events in the future.

Returning to conventional gesture, the author keeps her focus on child development. Some students who fail at a tricky mathematics problem may gesture in a way that indicates they are on the verge of getting it; they should be taught differently from the ones whose gestures suggest that they are entirely at sea. Children who still use only one word at a time may combine a word and a gesture; this successfully predicts that two-word phrases (“Give ball”) are just around the corner. And those taught to move their hands about when discussing a moral quandary with several perspectives soon start to see the problem from different points of view.

. . . .

In “The Crown”, Lady Diana is warned that her hands may betray her real emotions, which could be dangerous; they are tied together so she can learn to speak without gesticulating. No one who reads this book could ever again think that gesturing shows only a lack of control. It is about thinking and communication, and is a sophisticated aid to both.

Link to the rest at The Economist

Comb-Over No More: Why Men’s Hair Transplants Are Flourishing

Nothing to do with books, but many of the visitors to TPV are male.

From The Wall Street Journal:

JAMIE CONNORS’S hairline started betraying him in his mid-20s. Though the Brooklyn video editor, now 36, had flirted with the idea of getting a hair transplant, his follicle fallout never seemed bad enough to warrant such measures. And, besides, how could he take enough time off work to recover away from colleagues’ prying eyes?

That all changed during the pandemic. In early 2021, a photo of Mr. Connors made him realize his scalp situation was getting dire. And with no socializing on the books and WFH in full force, he could recuperate covertly on his sofa without wasting sick days. He booked a consultation with Dr. Benjamin Paul, a Manhattan hair surgeon, who recommended Follicular unit extraction (FUE), a procedure that involves harvesting individual follicles from the back of the head and painstakingly replanting them in the front or the crown. It takes between four and eight hours and costs $11,000-15,000. “I figured I am going to do this right,” said Mr. Connors, who got his new hair several weeks after his initial consultation.

He is among a wave of men who capitalized on Covid-era downtime to acquire fresh shags. Hair transplants—perhaps the male equivalent of women’s pandemic face-lifts—are enjoying a healthy growth spurt. Upon returning to the office, you might find that your colleague has replaced his unconvincing comb-over with a mane that would make Jason Momoa jealous.

“We have seen a big increase in men seeking transplants in the last two years or so,” said Dr. Gary Linkov, a New York plastic surgeon. And many men, he added, are jetting off to medical-tourism spots like Turkey, Portugal and Panama for bushier new ’dos. According to market researcher Fortune Business Insights, the global hair-transplant market is predicted to reach $43.13 billion by 2026, up from 5.94 billion in 2018, a sevenfold surge.

Thinning locks have triggered male anxiety for eons. The Ancient Egyptians painted sparse crowns with a paste concocted from dates, donkey hooves and dog paws in a (charmingly doomed) effort to boost growth. In the 1990s, drugs such as Finasteride and Rogaine started providing hope; more recently, trendy startups like Hims and Nutrafol have launched pills and sprays with purported follicle-enhancing powers.

. . . .

Although transplants have been performed commercially since the ’50s, they were generally considered too extreme by most men. Various factors are shifting that perception. The pandemic was unkind to hairlines: According to the American Academy of Dermatology, Covid—and pandemic-related stress—caused hair shedding in some folks. And any thinning was magnified by the new Zoom routine: It’s harder to ignore those naked temples when you’re staring at yourself all day, said Dr. Paul Jarrod Frank, a New York cosmetic dermatologist.

The stigma associated with transplants—and other cosmetic procedures for men—is also lessening, said Dr. Frank. In 2020, actor Cheyenne Jackson documented his transplant journey on Instagram; designer Marc Jacobs has also discussed his reinvigorated thatch in recent years. But not everyone is happy to open up. Some transplant recipients would only speak to us anonymously. And Dr. Frank referenced A-listers who have seemingly enjoyed miraculous hair recoveries lately but have offered no explanation. Nonetheless, he said, regular guys are becoming inspired by “the results these celebrities are getting.”

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal

The Big Business of the British Empire

From The Wall Street Journal:

Those of us who went to school before our past was rewritten as a catalog of the White Man’s crimes were taught that empire—with all its vices and virtues—was built by monarchs and statesmen. In “Empire, Incorporated,” Philip J. Stern tells us that this picture, while not inaccurate, is quite incomplete.

British colonialism in particular, Mr. Stern says, was conceived by investors, creditors, entrepreneurs and, lest we forget, parvenus and embezzlers. This cast of men-on-the-make flourished alongside sovereigns and their ministers and produced what Mr. Stern calls “venture colonialism”—a form of overseas expansion that was driven by a belief that “the public business of empire was and had always been best done by private enterprise.”

The history of British colonialism is really the history of the joint-stock corporation. A novel strategy in the mid-16th century, this form of enterprise procured capital from an array of investors with ownership shares or profit-sharing and created a single legal entity, often granted special privileges. Among much else, the joint-stock corporation made undertakings on a global scale newly possible.

But what made joint stocks so appealing also made them “unsettling,” Mr. Stern writes, and a faction in Parliament worried about the clout of these companies in far-flung places. There was, no doubt, a class component to the apprehension. The original investors in the East India Co.—the pre-eminent joint stock, from its founding in 1600 to well into the 19th century—were all merchants, with only one aristocrat among them.

By the 1620s, the East India Co.’s demographics had changed, its successes attracting a posher class of investor. But the company ingeniously—and audaciously—refused to admit the king himself, “fearing the loss of independence it would entail,” Mr. Stern explains. The public justification for this apparent irreverence was that it was unseemly for the king to enter into commercial partnerships with his subjects.tells us how the joint-stock corporation shaped British colonialism. As a narrative, the author says, “it is like a novel that places an originally supporting character in the center of the story,” elevating fortune-hunters into fabled men. Robert Clive, that most infamous of the nabobs enriched by the East India Co. in the mid-18th century, and Sir Humphrey Gilbert, a mass killer of rebellious Irishmen who took possession of Newfoundland for the crown in 1583, were both VCs, or venture colonialists. As were Thomas Smythe, the first governor of the East India Co. and later treasurer of the Virginia Co., whose tobacco yielded great riches; and Sir Thomas Roe, who went as the ambassador of James I to the court of the Mughal Emperor Jahangir even as his true purpose was to secure a trade monopoly in India.

England’s “portfolio colonialism” came into existence through royal charters, by which the sovereign doled out juicy commercial advantages to those who petitioned for them. These plums ranged from exemptions from duties and taxes to the prerogative to claim territory overseas in the name of the crown (as Gilbert did in Newfoundland). The terms could be audacious, Mr. Stern observes, allowing companies to run all sorts of enterprises over “ill-defined geographic spaces insouciantly superimposed over indigenous sovereignty.” Breathtaking claims to territory or jurisdiction resulted in assertions of rights to “sacrosanct” private property that were enforceable in British courts. The charters redrew the maps of the world.

The first such charter was granted to the Muscovy Co. in 1555. Mr. Stern writes that the company effectively became “the English government over Anglo-Russian commerce” and, as a conduit of relations between England and Russia, exercised “de facto command over Anglo-Russian diplomacy.”

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal

The Secret History And Strange Future Of Charisma

From Noema:

In 1929, one of Germany’s national newspapers ran a picture story featuring globally influential people who, the headline proclaimed, “have become legends.” It included the former U.S. President Woodrow Wilson, the Russian revolutionary Vladimir Lenin and India’s anti-colonialist leader Mahatma Gandhi. Alongside them was a picture of a long-since-forgotten German poet. His name was Stefan George, but to those under his influence he was known as “Master.”

George was 61 years old that year, had no fixed abode and very little was known of his personal life and past. But that didn’t matter to his followers; to them he was something more than human: “a cosmic ego,” “a mind brooding upon its own being.” Against the backdrop of Weimar Germany — traumatized by postwar humiliation and the collapse of faith in traditional political and cultural institutions — George preached an alternate reality through books of poetry. His words swam in oceans of irrationalism: of pagan gods, ancient destinies and a “spiritual empire” he called “Secret Germany” bubbling beneath the surface of normal life. In essence, George dreamed of that terribly persistent political fantasy: a future inspired by the past. He wanted to make Germany great again.

George dazzled Germans on all sides of the political spectrum (although many, with regret, would later distance themselves). Walter Benjamin loitered for hours around the parks of Heidelberg that he knew the poet frequented, hoping to catch sight of him. “I am converting to Stefan George,” wrote a young Bertolt Brecht in his diary. The economist Kurt Singer declared in a letter to the philosopher Martin Buber: “No man today embodies the divine more purely and creatively than George.”

Max Weber, one of the founding fathers of sociology, met Stefan George in 1910 and immediately became curious. He didn’t buy George’s message — he felt he served “other gods” — but was fascinated by the bizarre hold he seemed to have over his followers. At a conference in Frankfurt, he described the “cult” that was growing around him as a “modern religious sect” that was united by what he described as “artistic world feelings.” In June that year, he wrote a letter to one of his students in which he described George as having “the traits of true greatness with others that almost verge on the grotesque,” and rekindled a particularly rare word to capture what he was witnessing: charisma.

At the time, charisma was an obscure religious concept used mostly in the depths of Christian theology. It had featured almost 2,000 years earlier in the New Testament writings of Paul to describe figures like Jesus and Moses who’d been imbued with God’s power or grace. Paul had borrowed it from the Ancient Greek word “charis,” which more generally denoted someone blessed with the gift of grace. Weber thought charisma shouldn’t be restricted to the early days of Christianity, but rather was a concept that explained a far wider social phenomenon, and he would use it more than a thousand times in his writings. He saw charisma echoing throughout culture and politics, past and present, and especially loudly in the life of Stefan George.

I knew: This man is doing me violence — but I was no longer strong enough. I kissed the hand he offered and with choking voice uttered: ‘Master, what shall I do?’

— Ernst Glöckner

It certainly helped that George was striking to look at: eerily tall with pale blueish-white skin and a strong, bony face. His sunken eyes held deep blue irises and his hair, a big white mop, was always combed backward. He often dressed in long priest-like frock coats, and not one photo ever shows him smiling. At dimly lit and exclusive readings, he recited his poems in a chant-like style with a deep and commanding voice. He despised the democracy of Weimar Germany, cursed the rationality and soullessness of modernity and blamed capitalism for the destruction of social and private life. Instead, years before Adolf Hitler and the Nazis came to power, he foresaw a violent reckoning that would result in the rise of a messianic “fuhrer” and a “new reich.”

Many were immediately entranced by George, others unnerved. As the Notre Dame historian Robert Norton described in his book “Secret Germany,” Ernst Bertram was left haunted by their meeting — “a werewolf!” he wrote. Bertram’s partner, Ernst Glöckner, on the other hand, described his first encounter with George as “terrible, indescribable, blissful, vile … with many fine shivers of happiness, with as many glances into an infinite abyss.” Reflecting on how he was overcome by George’s force of personality, Glöckner wrote: “I knew: This man is doing me violence — but I was no longer strong enough. I kissed the hand he offered and with choking voice uttered: ‘Master, what shall I do?’”

As German democracy began to crumble under the pressure of rebellions and hyperinflation, George’s prophecy increased in potency. He became a craze among the educated youth, and a select few were chosen to join his inner circle of “disciples.” The George-Kreis or George Circle, as it came to be known, included eminent writers, poets and historians like Friedrich Gundolf, Ernst Kantorowicz, Max Kommerell, Ernst Morwitz and Friedrich Wolters; aristocrats like brothers Berthold, Alexander and Claus von Stauffenberg; and the pharmaceutical tycoon Robert Boehringer. These were some of the country’s most intellectually gifted young men. They were always young men, and attractive too — partly due to George’s misogynistic views, his homosexuality and his valorization of the male-bonding culture of Ancient Greece. 

Between 1916 and 1934, the George Circle published 18 books, many of which became national bestsellers. Most of them were carefully selected historical biographies of Germanic figures like Kaiser Frederick II, Goethe, Nietzsche and Leibniz, as well as others that George believed were part of the same spiritual empire: Shakespeare, Napoleon and Caesar. The books ditched the usual objectivity of historical biographies of the era in favor of scintillating depictions and ideological mythmaking. Their not-so-secret intention was to sculpt the future by peddling a revision of Germany’s history as one in which salvation and meaning were delivered to the people by the actions of heroic individuals.

In 1928, he published his final book of poetry, “Das Neue Reich” (“The New Reich,”) and its vision established him as some kind of oracle for the German far-right. Hitler and Heinrich Himmler pored over George Circle books, and Hermann Göring gave one as a present to Benito Mussolini. At book burnings, George’s work was cited as an example of literature worth holding onto; there was even talk of making him a poet laureate. 

Link to the rest at Noema

‘The Forgotten Girls’ Review: The Friend Who Was Left Behind

From The Wall Street Journal:

When journalist Monica Potts came across research detailing a striking drop in life expectancy among the least-educated white Americans, she returned to her depressed rural hometown of Clinton, Ark., to investigate. She was especially interested in understanding the rise in midlife deaths among white women, but her focus promptly narrowed to one woman in particular: her childhood best friend, Darci Brawner.

In the years after high school, Ms. Potts had attended Bryn Mawr College, earned a master’s degree in journalism from Columbia University, and established a successful career as a reporter. (She currently covers politics for the website FiveThirtyEight.) Ms. Brawner, on the other hand, had failed to complete high school and developed addictions to methamphetamines and methadone, cycling in and out of prison and rehab while her mother and stepfather raised her two children.

The question driving Ms. Potts’s clear-eyed and tender debut, “The Forgotten Girls,” is why, given that she and her friend were both smart and ambitious and hell-bent on escaping their blighted hometown, did one succeed and the other fail? The author hopes that determining how their paths diverged will illuminate the drop in life expectancy, which is widely attributed to suicide, drug overdoses and alcohol-related fatalities—the so-called “deaths of despair” identified by economists Anne Case and Angus Deaton after their 2015 study of rising mortality. While Ms. Brawner does not belong to that sad demographic—hers is rather a life of despair—Ms. Potts wonders whether her repeated attempts to turn her life around are “just delaying the inevitable.”

Ms. Potts is well-positioned to explain her insular birthplace to outsiders. She retains strong ties to the community in the foothills of the Ozarks, and she didn’t merely helicopter in to report the book: She left the Washington, D.C., suburbs to move back permanently in 2017. People there trust her and speak to her candidly. They include not only Ms. Brawner, but other friends from the ’80s and ’90s, along with their parents and former teachers.

As its subtitle, “A Memoir of Friendship and Lost Promise in Rural America,” suggests, this book is as much the author’s story as a piece of reportage. Ms. Potts reconstructs events with the help of her teenage journals (she’s granted access to Ms. Brawner’s as well), and she considers ways she might have failed her friend. “When I began my investigation into what was happening to women like Darci,” she writes, “I didn’t realize how personal and emotional this journey would become.”

While “The Forgotten Girls” glancingly addresses larger forces like the disappearance of solid blue-collar jobs in Clinton and the desertion of the downtown business district, the narrative is rooted in the two women’s experiences. Readers might feel that the solution to the riddle of why one girl grew up to succeed and one to fail is hiding in plain sight: Ms. Potts, though poor like Ms. Brawner, came from a relatively stable family that prioritized education.

Though the author hesitates to assign blame to Ms. Brawner’s mother and stepfather, their parenting appears lax by any definition. Ms. Brawner’s home had a den with its own entrance to the street, and she and her older brother turned it into, in the author’s words, “a twenty-four-hour teenage clubhouse, complete with alcohol and, later, drugs.” Meth, in fact, was more easily accessible than alcohol.

In a town without much to do, and where smart kids were unlikely to be challenged by their schoolwork, Ms. Brawner began drinking and taking drugs in her early teens; she became sexually active at 14 and essentially had a live-in boyfriend by 16. Ms. Potts is critical of the town’s dominant evangelical churches, which stressed trust in God’s plan above all else. This, she argues, encouraged people to surrender control of their own lives. Ms. Brawner’s mother seemed to be a mere spectator to her daughter’s slow derailment. When Ms. Potts asks her how she handles problems, she replies, “Oh you know, I just give it up to God.”

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal

This story resonated with PG because he grew up under somewhat similar circumstances. Fortunately, there were no drug problems, but there were more than a few problems with alcoholism.

PG graduated as the valedictorian of a class of 22 students. His high school girlfriend was the salutatorian. PG and his high school girlfriend were the only ones who graduated from college. The #3 graduate went to nursing school for a couple of years. Most of the others didn’t apply to college and the two or three who did dropped out well before completing a degree.

The schools in that tiny town closed for good a few years after PG graduated. The students from the town and adjoining farmland were bussed to a larger town nearby. The town’s population is about two-thirds its size when PG left for good. Based on what PG has been able to determine from online research, there are a lot of abandoned houses in the town. The house where PG lived was torn down a few years after he left.

Some parts of rural America are thriving due to improvements in agricultural practices, but a great many of the towns are in stasis.

PG’s younger brother was a successful real estate broker in Iowa prior to a premature death. Iowa farmland is right at the top of the most productive farmland in the world, due to a combination of very good soil and a good climate for growing corn, soy beans and similar midwestern staples.

PG’s brother recounted a typical conversation he had frequently with some of the older farmers who had spent their entire lives farming. When he asked them what would happen to the farm after they were unable to handle the hard work of fertilizing, planting, cultivating, harvesting, etc., they would often respond that their children would take over the family farm which had remained in the family for 75-100 years.

“Well,” my brother would say something like, “Is your daughter who’s an ophthalmologist in Los Angeles going to come back to take over the farm or will it be your son who’s a stockbroker in Manhattan?”

The farm provided for a good life for the family, but the kids found something that interested them more than farming.

On one such occasion, my brother sold a large family farm to Goldman Sachs, a large stockbroker and financial firm headquartered in New York City, who recognized the asset value of the farmland, but which hired a farm manager to oversee its large Iowa land holdings, but the land was unlikely to ever revert to a family farm.


From The Wall Street Journal:

“Every generation blames the one before,” sang Mike + the Mechanics in their chart-topping 1988 song “The Living Years.” There’s a certain truth to that. It’s also true that every generation can’t help blaming the one that comes after. They’re lazy. They don’t know how to dress. They speak in strange slang. They’ve never heard of groups like Mike + the Mechanics.

In America, the generations seem to be engaged in a low-intensity forever war: Baby Boomers vs. the Silent Generation, Gen X vs. Gen Z, Millennials vs. Everybody. Jean Twenge, a psychology professor at San Diego State University, wants to broker a truce. She has made it her mission to spread peace and understanding among cohorts she likens to “squabbling siblings.” In books like “iGen” (2017) and “Generation Me” (2006), she has tracked the development of generational gaps and tried her best to bridge them. “The more we understand the perspective of different generations,” she writes, “the easier it is to see we’re all in this together.”

Are we though? An old theory has it that each generation adopts its group characteristics by way of the shared experience of “major events at impressionable ages,” as Ms. Twenge puts it in “Generations,” her latest book. The privation of the Great Depression and the national sacrifice of World War II instilled in the Silents, born in 1925-45, an urge to live stable, frugal lives. The idealism of the Baby Boomers (1946-64) was the product of the 1960s youth culture and the era-defining achievements of the civil-rights movement. The end of the Cold War gave Gen X (1965-79) its insouciant self-confidence. The 9/11 attacks and the financial collapse of 2007-09 shaped the fatalism common to Millennials (1980-94). The personality of Gen Z (1995-2012) isn’t fully developed yet, but the pandemic and digital media loom over everything they do.

Ms. Twenge doesn’t buy this theory. “History is not just a series of events,” she writes. “It’s also the ebb and flow of a culture and all that entails: technology, attitudes, beliefs, behavioral norms, diversity, prejudice, time use, education, family size, divorce.” She has her own theory: Technological change is the main driver of generational differences. Unlike wars, pandemics and economic cycles, she notes, “technological change is linear.” It moves toward ever more sophistication and convenience. It has the power to change things completely, making our lives “strikingly different from the lives of those in decades past.”

By “technology” she doesn’t just mean microchips and satellites. She means everything from air-conditioning to sanitation to birth control to architecture. The progressive development of technology shapes us, she writes, primarily by nudging us toward a greater degree of self-reliance—Ms. Twenge calls it “individualism”—and a “slower life trajectory.” Every generation has had the privilege of living “longer lives with less drudgery” than the lives of their parents and grandparents.

The “slow life” thesis may do more to explain the friction between the generations than anything else. Baby Boomers and Gen X’ers have a hard time understanding why Millennials and Gen Z’ers have so enthusiastically refused to grow up. Ms. Twenge’s explanation is that technology has arranged it so that they don’t have to. Young people can put off education, career, marriage and child-rearing in ways their parents and grandparents couldn’t. Labor-saving devices and longer life spans have given Millennials and Gen Z’ers the “priceless gift of time.” Why so many of them choose to use it watching cat videos and filming themselves dancing is one of life’s great riddles.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal

An Extraordinary Mission to Find an American WWII Bomber Crew at the Bottom of the Pacific

Not necessarily about books and writing, but an interesting story about the credo of those who fight our wars.

Tennyson crew photo taking during stateside training, fall 1943. The pilot, 1st Lt. Herbert G. Tennyson, is second from left on the front row. The bombardier, 2nd Lt. Thomas V. Kelly Jr., is in the front row on the far right. Photographer S/Sgt. John W. Emmer, who wasn’t part of the crew but was assigned to their aircraft to document the mission, isn’t pictured. Credit: Courtesy of the Kelly family.

From The Wall Street Journal:

In the spring of 1944, Second Lt. Thomas V. Kelly Jr.’s mother received a one-page letter at her home in Livermore, Calif., informing her that her son was killed in action. His plane was hit by antiaircraft fire and disintegrated midair during a mission in New Guinea, his commander wrote.

“Unfortunately this is the only information we can furnish,” the letter read. 

Lt. Kelly and 10 other men were aboard the B-24 bomber when it was downed over the Pacific Ocean. Nearly eight decades later, remains recovered from a remote seabed more than 200 feet deep have arrived in the U.S., the result of an extraordinary effort by relatives, scientists and the American military.

Their journey spanned 10 years. Elite Navy divers lived inside a pressurized cabin for weeks so they could stay underwater longer and work at greater depths. About 250 tons of equipment was carried to the site in 17 shipping containers.

More than 81,500 Americans remain missing from past conflicts, according to the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency, part of the U.S. Defense Department that is tasked with finding them. About 75% were last seen somewhere in the Indo-Pacific, and most of them perished during World War II. 

Lt. Kelly and most of his fellow airmen were in their 20s when they died. Their bomber, with the words “Heaven Can Wait” painted across its nose, lay shattered on the ocean floor for decades. An unlikely spark ignited a quest to find it.  

A photo of the B-24 Bomber Heaven Can Wait provided by the family of Col. Harry Bullis. Heaven Can Wait was struck by anti-aircraft fire and crashed during a mission in Papua New Guinea on March 11, 1944, with 11 men on board. Credit: Courtesy of the family of Col. Harry Bullis.

A Name

On Memorial Day weekend in 2013, Scott Althaus reflected on a fuzzy childhood memory. When he was about 10 years old, his mother took him to visit the family plot at a cemetery in Livermore. He couldn’t remember the name etched on a small gray stone that they went to see, but he did recall the shape of an airplane carved beneath it.

Mr. Althaus, now 56 years old, is a political scientist at the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign, where he specializes in public perceptions of war. While he knew he had two relatives who died in World War II, he didn’t know much about them.

He asked his mother if she knew their names, and she emailed him a photograph of Lt. Kelly, her first cousin. Surviving relatives said he grew up on the family ranch in Livermore and dreamed of becoming a cowboy. After his death at age 21, his mother kept his boyhood bedroom almost as he left it, but with a folded American flag on top of the dresser.

Mr. Althaus did some more research. Lt. Kelly enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Forces in August 1942, trained as a bombardier and was assigned to what became known as the Tennyson Crew, named after its pilot, First Lt. Herbert G. Tennyson.

. . . .

On Dec. 7, 1943, they landed on an island north of Australia where Allied forces were fighting the Japanese, in what is now the nation of Papua New Guinea.

Mr. Althaus gathered as many details as he could about the 11 men who died. Ten of them were the plane’s crew. One was a photographer assigned to document their mission. At least two were married.

The Tennyson Crew was part of the 90th Bombardment Group, known as the “Jolly Rogers.” Fortuitously, a unit historian named Wiley O. Woods had meticulously documented their deployment in a book and a 64-volume set of records housed in a library at the University of Memphis.

In 2015, Mr. Althaus recruited four relatives to travel to Memphis. They spent two days scouring the archives and returned with nearly 800 photographs of documents—diary entries, maps, official army records.

“We learned so many things about that final mission that we never, ever thought we could learn,” Mr. Althaus said. He stitched together a chronology.

Heaven Can Wait took off from an airfield called Nadzab on March 11, 1944, loaded with eight 1,000-pound bombs. It was part of a group assigned to weaken Japanese antiaircraft batteries at several positions along the coast of the island of New Guinea.  

They came under fire as they neared their first target of Boram airfield and dropped some of their bombs. The Tennyson Crew was one of three that were assigned a second target on the island. They peeled off and veered toward an area called Awar Point at the northern edge of Hansa Bay. Visibility was good as they approached. Then came the sudden roar of enemy fire. 

The crew of another aircraft had a clear view of what happened next. Heaven Can Wait was struck near its middle and caught fire. Three men were seen falling but none of their parachutes opened. Part of the tail broke off. The plane and its remaining passengers also plunged into the water.

One eyewitness, identified as “Red” Tonder, said in a 1992 account that just before Heaven Can Wait went down, its co-pilot looked over and gave a final salute.

. . . .

In mid-2017, Eric Terrill and Andrew Pietruszka were planning an expedition to Papua New Guinea when they received a pivotal email from Mr. Althaus. The two work for a nonprofit, now called Project Recover, which was founded 30 years ago to find and repatriate Americans missing in action. 

Mr. Althaus had sent over a 32-page report that was essentially a treasure map leading them to the wreckage. Mr. Althaus had compiled the serial numbers of the aircraft’s engines and weapons, as well as landmark features of the local terrain that helped narrow down the search field. 

Heaven Can Wait was likely resting a quarter of a mile from Awar Point, his report said. The location is so remote that, at the time, it wasn’t searchable using Google Maps.

Messrs. Terrill and Pietruszka, an underwater archaeologist who used to work for the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency, rounded up a team of about a dozen experts and set off in October 2017 to find it. They scoured the seabed with underwater robots, working 16-hour days for almost two weeks. 

. . . .

Two days before their mission was due to end, one of the robots equipped with sonar sensors hovered over an area about a mile east of where Mr. Althaus predicted the plane would be. It detected jagged shapes that looked like they could be part of an engine and wing.

The next day, they sent down a remotely-operated vehicle outfitted with a high-definition camera for a closer look. In May 2018, they announced that Heaven Can Wait had been found. They had located the plane’s tail assembly, fuselage and wing debris—and identified probable crew positions.

. . . .

There were setbacks: An initial dive team sent to sweep for unexploded ordnance and survey the crash had to be pulled out when a nearby volcano erupted in December 2018. The Covid-19 pandemic delayed them again in 2020 and 2021. This year, it was go-time.

Members of the Navy Experimental Diving Unit trained for two months at a base on the Florida panhandle. For the first time, they would deploy what they call SAT FADS—the Saturation Fly-Away Diving System, developed by the U.S. military.

The system uses a custom-fitted ship that houses a small airtight habitat. It connects to a capsule called a diving bell, which is tethered to the ship and transports divers to the seabed. Once they enter the pressurized habitat, they stay inside for weeks.

The divers said the environment distorts their senses. The sound of teeth brushing seems to echo in their heads. Certain foods like fish and bread suddenly smell and taste repulsive. They breathe a mixture of helium and oxygen that makes them talk like Mickey Mouse.

Unable to use electronic devices inside, they passed the time mostly by reading. One diver devoured the book “A Higher Call,” the true story of a German fighter ace who guided a damaged American aircraft out of enemy airspace during World War II.

Eventually, someone had the idea to use a bed sheet as a movie screen. Crew outside the sealed habitat propped a projector in front of their tiny porthole so they could watch the “John Wick” series. The soundtrack crackled through the vessel’s built-in communications system.

. . . .

Each diver carried about 80 pounds of gear, with extra weights strapped to their waists and ankles to ground them to the seabed. They maneuvered slowly through strong currents.

“It felt like you were walking into a windstorm at times,” said Lt. Cmdr. Daniel Kinney, the diver officer in-charge. 

The wreckage was well preserved, with different parts of the plane visible. Six divers alternated on four-hour shifts in teams of three, using a hose that gently vacuumed up whatever they could find. Large pieces were placed in baskets and reeled to the surface.

Each night, the mission’s lead scientist, Greg Stratton, hunched over trays to examine their haul with a jeweler’s loop in search of bits of bones and teeth.

After five weeks of diving, they came ashore with hundreds of pieces of evidence. The Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency said it includes “osseous material,” which could be bone.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal

The fun and the fury of a rattlesnake derby

On occasion, PG posts items that are not strictly about books, but which may show visitors to TPV from outside the US aspects of culture and folkways in the strange land sometimes referred to as the United States.

From The Economist:

Shayne Naylor has some advice for people who want to hunt rattlesnakes: “Be vigilant” and watch “where you’re putting your hands and feet.” Every spring he leads people into the countryside of Oklahoma to seek out snakes. Wielding tongs, hooks and a bucket for stashing their catch, a few dozen hunters look under rocks and into crevices to track down their prey.

The hunt is part of the Mangum Rattlesnake Derby, held on the last weekend in April. Some 30,000 people visit the town, which is normally home to only 2,800. In a snake-pit tent wranglers perform among the rattlers. At a butchery show snakes are killed and skinned in a gory display. Their meat is fried and served up at a café. Hunters can sell their catch for $10 a pound, and win a prize for the longest snake, overseen by a newly crowned Miss Derby Princess.

The first organised roundup took place in Okeene, Oklahoma, in 1939. Ranch owners banded together to stop the reptiles from harming cattle and people. The events spread to other states. They have drawn the ire of herpetologists and others, who say they are cruel.

Link to the rest at The Economist

Some of the time when PG was a wee lad, he lived where rattlesnakes could be found, intentionally or unintentionally. PG never encountered any, but does recall seeing a cow which had been bitten by a rattlesnake. It was not an edifying sight.

The Soviet Century

From The Wall Street Journal:

We have had reason of late to think anew about the Soviet Union and the legacy of the Cold War—the fighting in Ukraine reverberates with the ruthless geopolitics of an earlier era. In “The Soviet Century,” Karl Schlögel takes us on a tour of the Soviet past in all its materiality, a tour that puts on display, as he puts it, the “archaeology of a lost world.”

He begins with a visit to the vast outdoor flea market at Moscow’s Izmailovsky Park, where, as the Soviet Union began to collapse in the early 1990s, “an entire world-historical era was being sold off on the cheap.” A modern-day refuse heap, the bazaar showcased the offerings of hundreds of individual households eager to turn their once-cherished tchotchkes into much-needed cash.

It wasn’t only in Moscow that such a selling-off was attempted. Haphazard bazaars, Mr. Schlögel says, sprang up across the country. Using blankets or folding tables, people displayed samovars, cups and saucers, Red Army hats, insignia pins, captured German military uniforms, pennants, Communist Party membership cards—“the debris and the fragments of the world of objects belonging to the empire that has ceased to exist,” as he writes. Anything that might attract a buyer.

Mr. Schlögel doesn’t mention the avoyska—a “just in case” knitted bag—that Soviet citizens routinely carried with them on the chance they would happen upon tomatoes or melons for sale on a street corner (something I used to see for myself on my visits to the Soviet Union in the 1980s). He does note that when urban dwellers lined up for goods—not only at bazaars but at the entrances to subway stations, where people sold loaves of bread and articles of clothing—they often did so without knowing what everyone else was waiting for and just assumed it would be for something they needed.

For Mr. Schlögel, an esteemed historian based in Frankfurt, such improvised markets are an emblem of a broader theme. His focus is not on the foreign relations or domestic crises of Soviet rule but on outward appearances: the look, the smell, the sounds of everyday life. Based on decades of research and an intimate knowledge of history and culture, “The Soviet Century” is a fascinating chronicle of a not-so-distant era.

Among much else, we learn about life in a typical communal apartment, where several families had to share a space that was now divided into single rooms for each multigenerational family. As late as the 1970s, 40% of Moscow’s population “enjoyed” such accommodations, with all of its inevitable tensions, petty disputes and invasions of privacy. We learn about the system of door bells: “Ring once for Occupant A, twice for Occupant B and so forth.” And about the lavatory as a semipublic space. “A toilet for over thirty people . . . was not untypical,” Mr. Schlögel writes. A gallery of toilet seats would hang on the lavatory wall.

Other stories in “The Soviet Century” (translated from the German by Rodney Livingstone) capture unique and surprising moments in cultural history. Who would have guessed that the original formula for the Soviet perfume Red Moscow—developed before the Revolution but introduced to the public in 1927—led to the creation of Chanel No. 5? Or that when the special archive of banned books and periodicals was finally made available to researchers during the time of Mikhail Gorbachev’s reforms in 1987, it included “300,000 book titles, 560,000 journals, and a million newspapers”? Of course, the Soviet century included bannings of another sort. As Mr. Schlögel reminds us, more than 200 “philosophers, writers, university teachers, and agronomists” were personally chosen by Lenin and banished to Western Europe in 1922. Others were simply shot.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal

PG suggests that, while some details have changed, Putin’s Russia still seems a lot like Stalin’s Russia.

Americans Abroad

From The Paris Review:

By the time I saw Nixon in China during its 2011 run at the Metropolitan Opera, it had become a classic, if not an entirely undisputed one. It had made it to the Met, at least, with its composer, John Adams, conducting, and James Maddalena, who originated the role of Nixon in the 1987 premiere at the Houston Grand Opera, back at it, now nearly the age Nixon was when he made the trip. A friend of mine, with theatrical élan, bought out a box for a group of us and encouraged formal dress, as if we were in a nineteenth-century novel. He showed up in a tux. I don’t remember my outfit, but I’d be surprised, knowing myself, if I managed anything more presentable than a mildly rumpled off-the-rack suit. At the time, I was working as an assistant to a magazine editor who regularly attended the opera, in full formal dress, with a pair of its major donors, fitting in an elaborate meal on the Grand Tier during intermission. My handling of his invitations gave me a surprising proprietary sense about the place. I didn’t feel that I belonged, of course, but at least I had a narrow help’s-eye-view of its workings. In the upper deck, and even in our box, my friends and I had the sense of superiority that comes from being broke and artistic among the rich and, presumably, untalented.

Not that I had any major insight into the opera at the time, this one specifically or the art form more generally. I’d sat in the cheap seats on a few occasions, trying to rouse myself awake for the end of Tristan und Isolde, once, with a Wagner-loving girlfriend. I’d even stood in the back row of the orchestra for Leoš Janáček’s From the House of the Dead, feeling obligated as a Dostoyevsky loyalist to bear witness. (All I remember is a general brownness and a grim, monochromatic score. It was, after all, a Czech opera about a Russian prison camp.) I did, however, have an abiding interest, bordering on mania, in the pathos of conservative politics, and only a person who has lost interest in the world could fail to be interested in Richard Nixon. The friend who had arranged this outing was, among other things, a news junkie and former Republican, and his relationship to the former president was characterized, like the opera’s relationship to its subject, by a complicated mix of irony and enthusiasm. Dramatic renderings of Nixon tend toward the sweaty and profane (as in Robert Altman’s Secret Honor) or the broadly comic (Philip Roth’s novel Our Gang, or the 1999 film Dick, starring a young Kirsten Dunst and Michelle Williams, an overlooked gem surely due for reappraisal). But Adams’s monumental, hypnotically Glassian score and Alice Goodman’s dense postmodern libretto invest Nixon with a weird if inarticulate dignity that he rarely displayed in life. The striving and paranoia are tamped down, replaced with yearning naïveté and statesmanship.

Though the opera remains true to the publicly known contours of the actual trip, Nixon in China’s Dick and Pat are as much stand-ins for Americans Abroad—hopeful, a bit bumbling, but fundamentally decent, albeit with the power of the world’s wealthiest country at their back—as they are representations of real people. (Nixon, it’s worth noting, was still alive when the opera premiered, and was invited to the opening. A few years later his representative said that he didn’t attend because he “has never liked to see himself on television or other media, and has no interest in opera.” Okay!) In his arias, Nixon delivers a garbled mix of clichés, non sequiturs, impressionistic memories, and Ashberyian koans, the most famous of which, “News has a kind of mystery,” is repeated in dizzying variations soon after Nixon descends from his Boeing 707 and shakes hands with Chou En-lai (as the Chinese premiere’s name is unorthodoxly rendered in the libretto). The song lodges in one’s brain immediately—I’ve been continually exclaiming “News! News! News!” at my four-month-old son—and serves as a kind of motto or benediction for the entire work, simultaneously insistent and ambiguous. It’s the exclamation of a man who is marveling at the mythmaking apparatus that he has been an active beneficiary of and that will ultimately destroy him. It’s the vagueness that makes it transcendent, a half-formed thought one might jot down in a notebook and turn over in one’s head for days. A kind of mystery?

There’s an emptiness at the core of Nixon in China that is appropriate, given that it’s about political pageantry, the kind of nonevents that Joan Didion identified as the stock-in-trade of modern politics in her 1988 essay “Insider Baseball.” One of opera’s chief methods is to turn private emotions into grand spectacle, to give voice to feelings that could never be as beautifully expressed as they are in a duet between two doomed lovers. Nixon in China turns superficial spectacle into another spectacle, a copy of a copy. There is action—Nixon meets with Mao; Nixon and Chou deliver toasts at a banquet; Pat goes on an official sightseeing tour—but there is little dramatic movement. Even when we do get insight into the “private” Nixon, Pat, Mao, et al., in quieter scenes that take place behind closed doors, what is revealed is not fundamentally different from what is presented publicly. Adams’s score ebbs and flows, churning on and on, threatening, but never tipping over into, catharsis. The work steadily resists resolution—it ends with an extended coda, taking up the entire third act, in which the characters prepare for bed.

Link to the rest at The Paris Review

The evolution of watches reflects changing relations with time

From The Economist:

Under fire over his pension reforms, in March President Emmanuel Macron incurred more French ire by surreptitiously slipping off a luxury watch midway through a television interview. More than two centuries ago, another watch embodied France’s power struggles. An anonymous admirer of Marie Antoinette commissioned Breguet, the royal watchmaker, to make her a timepiece on a limitless budget, an object seen as emblematic of the ancien régime’s excesses. Breguet narrowly escaped the guillotine during the Terror, and laboured on the watch for the rest of his life. His workshop finished it four years after he died—and 34 years after its intended owner had lost her head.

The fate of Marie Antoinette’s watch is one of many gripping tales in Rebecca Struthers’s “Hands of Time”. A British historian and watchmaker, she chronicles the development of timekeeping devices from ancient Egyptian water clocks to the Apple Watch. Denis Diderot’s 18th-century encyclopedia stated that mastery of horology required “the theory of science, the skill of handwork and the talent for design”. “Hands of Time” is duly a story of both innovation and aesthetics. Its engaging pages are peopled with engineers and artisans, as well as the kings, revolutionaries, fraudsters and explorers who helped shape the watch’s history.

Its central argument is that the changing nature of the watch has “reflected and developed our relationship with time”. In the medieval era, and for a while afterwards, clocks were found almost solely on church towers. Time was public, not private, and delivered from on high. As watches developed, portable timekeeping was initially a privilege of the wealthy. Ever more elaborate designs were the ultimate status signifiers. In his diary of 1665, Samuel Pepys described his new watch with childlike glee: “I cannot forbear carrying my watch in my hand…and seeing what o’clock it is one hundred times.”

Having access to time meant being able to control it for other people, a power exploited by the 19th-century industrialists who extended working days beyond allocated hours. Yet technological developments—and forgeries—made watchmaking cheaper, so “democratising time”. By the turn of the 20th century you could buy a watch for a dollar. Timekeeping was at last within reach of ordinary folk.

The story of watches is closely intertwined with major historical events. Switzerland can partly thank fleeing French Huguenots for its watch industry. Enhancements to maritime watches enabled longitude to be measured accurately, saving countless lives at sea. But such advances in navigation were also a boon to the transatlantic slave trade and empire-builders. Male wristwatches, rather than the pocket kind, became popular during the first world war, when ready access to the time could be life-saving.

Link to the rest at The Economist

The Last Secret of the Secret Annex

From The Wall Street Journal:

After two years in hiding in Amsterdam, 15-year-old Anne Frank was arrested in August 1944, along with her sister, mother, father and four other Jews. All but Anne’s father, Otto Frank, perished in Nazi concentration camps, along with three-quarters—more than 100,000—of the Netherlands’ Jewish population. Anne’s adolescent diary, first published in 1947, has since become one of the most celebrated and poignant artifacts of the Holocaust. A flood of literature on the Frank family and the Dutch people who helped them survive has followed. Among the nagging questions that remain: Who betrayed the Franks and the others in hiding with them?

The Last Secret of the Secret Annex” is both a fascinating attempt to unlock this mystery and a case study in how Holocaust trauma can ripple through the generations. It comes from the Belgian journalist Jeroen De Bruyn, who confesses a lifelong obsession with Anne’s story, and Joop van Wijk-Voskuijl, whose mother, Elisabeth “Bep” Voskuijl, was, in her early 20s, the youngest of the Franks’ Dutch “helpers.” The authors met when Mr. De Bruyn was just 15, and eventually became partners in the enterprise.

Narrated in Mr. van Wijk-Voskuijl’s voice, “The Last Secret of the Secret Annex” updates and expands an earlier book by the duo, published in 2015 in the Netherlands, and self-published in the United States three years later as “Anne Frank: The Untold Story.” The current volume details the courage of the narrator’s mother, who foraged for food for those in hiding, and his maternal grandfather, Johan, who built the revolving bookcase that concealed the “annex” in which the Frank family lived. It also takes withering aim at the multiyear “cold case” investigation chronicled in Rosemary Sullivan’s 2022 book “The Betrayal of Anne Frank.”

Led by former FBI special agent Vince Pankoke, that inquiry—in which the authors cooperated—concluded that the culprit was likely the notary Arnold van den Bergh, a member of Amsterdam’s Jewish Council. Citing an anonymous accusation and other evidence, it posited that he traded addresses of Jews in hiding to the Gestapo in exchange for his family’s survival. Dutch scholars found that scenario far-fetched, and their criticisms led to the Sullivan book’s withdrawal from circulation in the Netherlands.

Messrs. De Bruyn and van Wijk-Voskuijl propose a different possible informant: Mr. van Wijk-Voskuijl’s maternal aunt, Bep’s younger sister Nelly. During the Occupation, the then-teenage girl was, in the authors’ words, “seduced by everything German.” High-spirited and combative, Nelly had Nazi boyfriends and worked for the German military. Two survivors of that period—another of Bep’s sisters, Diny, and Bep’s wartime fiancé, Bertus Hulsman—attested that Nelly knew her relatives were helping Jews in hiding. Both recalled her angrily saying “Just go to your Jews!”—or words to that effect—to other family members.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal

Knowing What We Know: How Information Was Born

From The Wall Street Journal:

Knowledge is power, Francis Bacon wrote in 1597, using a quill and the Elizabethans’ distinctive “secretary hand.” Thomas Hobbes, who started out as Bacon’s secretary, agreed: Scientia potentia est, Hobbes wrote in the 1668 edition of “Leviathan.” Generations of spymasters, dictators and tax inspectors concurred, and so, as the rubble of the Humanities confirms, did the French theorist Michel Foucault. Yet knowledge is no longer power.

Today digital information is power. The quantity of information debases its value: The printed newspaper is dematerializing before our eyes. The smartphone offers more than a different physical experience from its predecessors, the tablet, scroll, manuscript and printed book. It carries the entire history of information. Writing, Socrates warns in Plato’s “Phaedrus,” “will implant forgetfulness.” If we “cease to exercise memory,” we will be “calling things to remembrance no longer from within themselves, but by means of external marks.” When we outsource the storage of information, we outsource our knowledge of the world and ourselves.

Philosophers agonize over how knowledge is made. Historians are more interested in its circulation and application. In “Knowing What We Know,” Simon Winchester dispenses with the technicalities. Mr. Winchester, a prolific author whose bestsellers include “The Meaning of Everything,” considers knowledge as per the Oxford English Dictionary, meaning no. 4b: “The apprehension of fact or truth with the mind; clear and certain perception of fact or truth; the state or condition of knowing fact or truth.” With his typical fluency and range, Mr. Winchester then traces the intertwined evolution of knowledge, society and the individual, from ancient illiteracy to the wisdom of the hour, artificial intelligence.

The first transmissions of knowledge, Mr. Winchester writes, were “oral or pictorial.” As current indigenous practice shows, the collective cultural inheritance and identity of the tribe is transmitted by “knowledge keepers,” usually “designated elders or specially skilled custodians.” The oldest surviving written transmission, a “small tablet of sunbaked red clay” found recently in what is now Iraq, dates to around 3100 B.C. In the Sumerian city of Uruk, a man named Kushim, who “appears to have been an accountant,” issued a receipt in a Mesopotamian warehouse for a delivery of barley. He had created a piece of movable information. Anyone who could read it was educated: able to acquire information, able to pass it along. As scarcity ensured value, the invention of writing devalued knowledge. It also lowered the tone. When people started to write as they thought, Mr. Winchester argues, they aired the “more vulgar aspects of society.”

Mr. Winchester is adroit at arranging information in pursuit of knowledge, and he has an eye for the anecdote. The familiar prehistory of the Latin alphabet is here, but he emphasizes the simultaneous making of a cross-civilizational consensus on education and its methods.

Innate human curiosity is the engine of knowledge, but the engine runs on two fuels, experience and facts taken on trust. Mr. Winchester’s own experiential curiosity was triggered at the age of two by a wasp sting. For his brain to develop into “some kind of mental context-cabinet,” he needed a mental filing system. Facts and memorization were emphasized in the imperial-minded curricula of ancient Sumeria, Confucian China and Mr. Winchester’s schools in England. The Chinese examination system ran for 1,316 years, until 1905. Mao revived the idea of early testing to identify a future elite in 1952, and the annual gaokao exams remain “an ordeal of the first magnitude,” requiring proof that “one’s degree of acquired knowledge is both immense and of the highest quality.” The American schoolroom may be a kinder place, but the rest of the world thinks that the SAT is “ridiculously easy.”

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal

Reddit, Tell Me Where I Went Wrong

From Electric Lit:

My neighbor (32F) is not speaking to me (44M) because I made some repairs to her home while she was out of town. These were mostly exterior and relatively minor (clearing debris, replacing deck boards, adding a utility sink, installing a rain cap), but I did climb onto her roof. She says I was out of line by not asking permission and that she no longer trusts my judgment.

We live two streets away from each other in a small neighborhood of old houses. We have been friends for a year and hooking up for about three months. I would like more, but she is a relatively new widow and single parent to a four-year-old boy and doesn’t have the capacity right now. She is seriously my ideal woman, though, and I am willing to wait. I am not the most attractive guy and never thought I’d interest a person of her caliber. We’ve gone out a few times when her mom was watching her son or if there was a “Parents’ Night Out” at his daycare, but mostly it’s a couple hours together after her son goes to sleep. She’s invited me along with a larger group to go hiking a couple times, and we get each other’s mail and water each other’s plants if the other person is out of town.  

I bought a house in this neighborhood after my divorce because it was close to my job and to my ex-wife’s house (we share custody of two teenagers), but a lot of people move here because it is one of the few affordable city neighborhoods in a good school district. Then they realize that because the houses are all extremely old repairing them is a hassle. You think about yanking down the wallpaper somebody painted over only to discover lead paint or try to replace a door and realize you’ll have to get one custom made. I’m an engineer and can get into this kind of stuff, but a lot of people don’t. My neighbor told me on more than one occasion that her house stressed her out. She could handle the yard work and minor repairs and outsource the truly big projects, but then there were all of these things in between. Installing a utility sink felt impossible when you had a full-time job and a young child and no spouse, but were you really going to pay someone to do that? “You don’t have to pay me,” I’d tell her. “Get the sink, and I’ll put it in,” but she wouldn’t let me. I figured it was about her son and his father, about not wanting him to see anyone step into that kind of role, and so I dropped it.

The night before she went out of town, we were on her porch drinking beers and watching for the fox that lives in the overgrown lot across the street. Her son had gone to bed about thirty minutes before and was still sleeping lightly. We couldn’t go upstairs yet and so we got to talk. Work, TV shows, a book she almost loved whose ending felt contrived, my daughter’s failing grade in chemistry that brought me and my ex-wife to a moment of real collaboration. We had a fan going to ward off the mosquitos, and the sunset was just beginning to brighten the edges of the summer sky. When the dog walkers passed, we’d wave, and this gave me a good feeling, all of these people seeing me with her. It felt like being claimed.

“This is nice,” I said.


“Being with you. I’m glad we don’t sneak around.”

She made a face. “Why would we do that?”

Her voice had a slight edge to it, and I knew I had to tread lightly. I couldn’t imply she was risking her reputation or trusting a person she barely knew to behave well if whatever it was we had ended.

“That first night you slept with me I was so happy,” I said. “I told myself, she has a kid and we’re neighbors. She isn’t going to hook up with me unless she thinks it could really be something.”

She took a long drink of her beer and seemed to consider her response. I was hoping she would say I was right, but she just shrugged. “We’re both adults. You never struck me as a lunatic.”

Link to the rest at Electric Lit


From The Wall Street Journal:

When he was 28, Burkhard Bilger learned a jarring family secret: Shortly after World War II, his grandfather spent two years in jail while on trial as an accused Nazi war criminal.

The revelation shocked Mr. Bilger. His parents, who moved to the U.S. from Germany in 1962, seldom spoke about their Nazi-era upbringing. Mr. Bilger, who was born in Oklahoma a year and half after his parents’ emigration, similarly avoided calling attention to a heritage that could give pause to new acquaintances. “To be German, it seemed, was always to be one part Nazi,” he writes. “In my case, that part was my grandfather.” Rather than dwell on the past, for the most part he avoided it. Then the past found him.

In 2005, a package arrived from one of Mr. Bilger’s aunts in Germany containing a shoebox filled with letters dating from around World War II. Mostly handwritten, some in an old-fashioned German script difficult for contemporary readers to decipher, the documents propelled Mr. Bilger into a yearslong journey to make sense of how his grandfather, a reserved and seemingly upstanding schoolteacher, had entangled himself and his family in the rise and fall of Hitler’s Third Reich.

The result is Mr. Bilger’s resolutely unflinching and ultimately illuminating book “Fatherland: A Memoir of War, Conscience, and Family Secrets.” In the course of his quest, Mr. Bilger, a staff writer at the New Yorker, interviewed far-flung family members as well as his grandfather’s long-lost neighbors, and scoured government archives in both Germany and France. As he pieces together the memories and documentary evidence, Mr. Bilger makes palpable the tension he feels between the wish to forget the past, in all its discomforting details, and the desire to understand behavior that might be easier to erase from memory than to confront and try to take in, much less forgive.

He begins by wondering how his grandfather Karl Gönner could have been both the father his mother loved and “the monster history suggested.” She was still a schoolgirl when her father finally returned from the war, and she remained too fearful to ever ask him if he was guilty of the crimes for which he was accused. What if Mr. Bilger discovered, now, that the answer was yes?

An authentic reckoning with his grandfather’s past demanded that he find out. Mr. Bilger charts his family’s history, generation by generation, back to the 18th century. Gönner himself had provided the roadmap in his personal “ancestry passport”—the official document laying out his “pure” Aryan genealogy over the centuries, as required for his membership in the Nazi Party as well as for his government-regulated teaching job.

Like his ancestors before him, Gönner was born in the Black Forest village of Herzogenweiler, founded in 1721 by a successful consortium of glassblowers. By the time of Gönner’s birth in 1899, though, the glass business had collapsed and the once-flourishing village had become derelict.

Religious and bookish by nature, Gönner set his sights on the priesthood as his best route to an education and a career away from poverty. Then came World War I. Drafted in 1917, Gönner arrived at the Western Front in time to join the German army’s battered retreat. In late September 1918, beaten down by hunger and the muck of the trenches, his troop arrived at Meuse-Argonne, the site of one of the war’s final and most brutal battles. A land mine blasted Gönner unconscious, its shards piercing his right eye, arm and thigh. Upon his release from the hospital several months later, Mr. Bilger writes, Gönner “came home hobbled and half blind, with a sense that never left him that the world was a shattered thing, in need of radical repair.”

Yet he was told he was lucky. After all, his brother Josef, who had been killed in Flanders, never returned from the war at all. But what kind of a life could Gönner have back in the impoverished villages of the Black Forest? The war cost him his religious faith and replaced his right eye with a sightless glass prosthetic. Eventually he married and started a family, became a teacher and, in 1933, joined the Nazi Party.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal

Why Beethoven

From The Wall Street Journal:

In 2010 the British music critic Norman Lebrecht published “Why Mahler?” The book was an attempt to explain why the symphonies of Gustav Mahler (1860-1911) inspired both hatred and adoration in his lifetime, were forgotten for a half-century after his death, and now dominate the concert repertoire. “Why Beethoven”—no question mark—explains why no such thing happened in the case of that composer.

“Johann Sebastian Bach’s oratorios lay untouched for a hundred years,” Mr. Lebrecht writes. “The operas of Handel were hardly seen for two centuries. Mozart, popular as his operas may have been, had his symphonies and concertos used as kindling. . . . Schubert’s piano sonatas gathered dust for generations. Schumann’s symphonies were discarded, as were several Verdi operas. Beethoven, alone among classical and romantic composers, was embraced first to last, his time to ours. Why is that?”

I take Mr. Lebrecht’s point that Beethoven’s greatness has never been disputed by serious people, but his comparisons are trite. Bach and Handel lived a century before Beethoven, and their music had to endure the 1760s and ’70s, when European musical authorities were fools and there was no concertgoing public in the 19th-century sense. Schumann’s symphonies are very fine but the loss of them would not amount to a civilizational tragedy. And maybe Schubert’s sonatas gathered dust, but his songs did not, whereas Beethoven’s songs might be forgotten at no great cost.

The putative aim of the book, in any case—this is also true of the book on Mahler—is a conceit, a framing device that allows Mr. Lebrecht to write as he likes about Beethoven and his works. In this case Mr. Lebrecht has written 100 chapters on 100 compositions by Beethoven. These chapters treat not only the well-known works—the symphonies, the violin concerto, the string quartets, the piano sonatas, the cello and violin sonatas, “Fidelio,” “Missa Solemnis”—but also many works casual listeners will not have heard: various songs, the horn sonata, the sextet for two clarinets, two horns and two bassoons, and so on. In most of these chapters, he judges the merits of assorted recordings of the works.

Mr. Lebrecht’s reflections are as predictable as Beethoven’s music: which is to say, not at all. Some are autobiographical. The chapter on the sixth symphony, the “Pastoral”—possibly one of the most beautiful symphonic works ever written—is titled “Hell on Earth.” Huh? Mr. Lebrecht could not enjoy this work for many years, he tells us, because his cruel and abusive German stepmother would force him to listen to a recording of it with her, over and over. She idolized the German conductor Bruno Walter and took young Norman to concerts at the Royal Festival Hall. But her behavior to him was so appalling that for years after leaving home he stopped listening to music altogether. She urged him to call her “Mother” and hit him when he refused, and forced him to go on long Sunday-morning treks across the countryside.

Was she so terrible? He says yes, and who are we to doubt it? “Her voice squeaked like an unoiled gate,” he writes. “Her cooking was tasteless, her outlook joyless, her rare smiles menacing. She got me a piano teacher and hit me if I skimped on practice. She hit me for many other sins, and for none.” Still, I wonder. Mr. Lebrecht has made a brilliant career in music criticism. His stepmother had him listen to Bruno Walter recordings and took him to concerts as a teenager. Hitting aside, it’s not obvious that he owes her nothing more than the vitriol recorded here.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal

Parfit: A Philosopher and His Mission to Save Morality

From The Wall Street Journal:

Chances are, unless you’re a philosopher, you’ve never heard of Derek Parfit. A philosopher’s philosopher, he spent most of his career far from the madding crowd in the cloisters of All Souls College, Oxford, determined to demonstrate that there was an objective basis for secular morality rooted in rational foundations. He produced just two books—“Reasons and Persons” (1984) and the multi-volume “On What Matters” (2011, 2017)—but, as David Edmonds makes clear in his wonderful biography, “Parfit: A Philosopher and His Mission to Save Morality,” they were outsize in both length and influence.

Mr. Edmonds, co-author (with John Eidinow) of “Wittgenstein’s Poker” (2001), one of my all-time favorite books of philosophy for non-academics, is ideally suited to write about Parfit. His Oxford BPhil and PhD dissertations in the late 1980s and early ’90s—both on ethical issues—were supervised, respectively, by Parfit and his longtime partner (and eventual wife), Janet Radcliffe Richards.

As in “Wittgenstein’s Poker,” Mr. Edmonds exhibits an impressive ability to explain complex philosophical arguments to the lay reader. He takes us into the nitty-gritty of Parfit’s reasoning, breakthroughs and responses to critics. He also locates Parfit in the context of his predecessors and contemporaries in the philosophical pantheon.

Most of this exegesis is remarkably accessible, though my mind balked at Mr. Edmonds’s three-point summary of Parfit’s conclusions and knotty ethical conundrums such as the Asymmetry Problem, the Non-Identity Problem and the wonderfully named Repugnant Conclusion. Offering more than a thinker’s life and career, “Parfit” is a crash course in the evolution of moral philosophy, and the best account I have read of what “doing philosophy” entails.

For Parfit, this entailed devising ingenious scenarios to tease out the ramifications of his ideas—about subjects ranging from the continuity of personal identity and our moral duties to future persons to questions about ideal population size and the intrinsic value of principles like equality. Many of his ideas involved issues concerning Immanuel Kant’s categorical imperative and Henry Sidgwick’s utilitarianism. He addressed these via thought experiments that were often variants of the famous Trolley Problem, which involved “individuals endangered in unfortunate circumstances, where there is the option to help, but at the cost of harming others.” In one, you could use a lifeboat to save either a single person stuck on a rock threatened by rising tide, or five people on a second rock. In another, the only way to divert a train from a track that will kill five people is to activate a trap door which will cause a person standing on a bridge above to fall to his death in front of the train. In both cases, Parfit shows how different principles all indicate that choosing to save the five rather than the one is the preferable option.

. . . .

Parfit supplemented his All Souls income (for which he was not required to teach) and broadened his reach with regular half-term stints at American universities, mainly Harvard, NYU and Rutgers. But he was a perfectionist whose name has apt roots in the French parfait, or “perfect,” and he suffered from what Mr. Edmonds calls “chronic publishing constipation.” He tested and retested his theories, circulating draft after draft among dozens of fellow philosophers and graduate students. Spurred by a publish-or-perish ultimatum from All Souls, he became maniacally focused on completing “Reasons and Persons” in the early ’80s, causing him to further cut all social activity, prepare instant coffee with tap water to save time, and read even while brushing his teeth.

Such personal details—and splashes of humor—provide plenty of relief from the book’s abstruse material. Parfit’s succinct summary of the history of ethics is especially delightful:

1. Forbidden by God.

2. Forbidden by God, therefore wrong.

3. Wrong, therefore forbidden by God.

4. Wrong.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal

The Death of a Firefighter

Nothing to do with books, but as PG was driving about this morning, he came upon two fire trucks with their ladders fully extended so as to create something like an arch across the street. There was no smoke or fire in view.

PG snapped a photo with his phone.

He was curious about what was going on, so he pulled over to the curb, got out of his car and walked over to an older firefighter who was standing nearby.

The man explained that a retired firefighter had recently died and his funeral would be held today.

The route from the location of the funeral to the cemetery where the deceased firefighter would be buried went up this street.

The hearse and all those traveling to the gravesite would pass under the two extended ladders that honored the decedent and his long service to the community.

La Fabrique’s Moret released from police custody

FromThe Bookseller:

La Fabrique’s foreign rights manager Ernest Moret has been released from police custody, after being arrested and detained by British anti-terrorist police upon his arrival at London St Pancras station, ahead of London Book Fair. 

The Metropolitan Police confirmed to The Bookseller that Ernest was bailed on the evening of 19th April.

His phone and work computer were seized by officers for interrogation, according to the French publisher and its collaborator Verso Books. Moret’s lawyer, Richard Parry from Saunders Solicitors, said that the rights manager will be required to return to London in May. 

Pension reform demonstrations have rocked France over the past three months, with the French interior minister, Gérald Darmanin, attributing any violence on those on the Left. Police were allegedly interested in Moret’s writing on recent events, and any participation he may have had in the protests, according to Parry.  

The publishers said in a statement: “Ernest was interrogated for several hours and asked some very disturbing questions: his point of view on the pension reform in France, on the French government, on Emmanuel Macron, his opinion on the Covid crisis… Perhaps most seriously, during his interrogation, he was asked to name the ’anti-government’ authors in the catalogue of the publishing house La Fabrique, for which he works.”

The Metropolitan Police refused to provide any comment regarding what was raised during police interviews.

Link to the rest at The Bookseller

An easily-overlooked foreign rights manager by day, but . . . .

Dentologia: A Poem on the Diseases of the Teeth (1833)

From The Public Domain Review:

Dentologia begins seemingly far away from the world of teeth. Invoking Juno and Apollo, the first canto ruminates on how “angelic natures” are revealed “when purified from the stains of mortality”. We gradually realize that the “stains” in question have little to do with divinity or sin. The poet is talking about plaque.

The next five sections of this remarkable (and remarkably long) poem prove to be a crash course in dental hygiene and disease prevention — loosely tracking the stages of health from birth unto death. Canto Second is pediatric, concerned with the lifecycle of milk teeth: “Some struggling tooth, just bursting into day / Obtuse and vigorous, urges on its way”. Canto Third is a critique of luxury, laziness, and neglect: “If sloth or negligence the task forbear / Of making cleanliness a daily care”, then “insidious tartar comes / Incrusts the teeth and irritates the gums”. Canto Fourth is all about cavities and implants: the latter being fashioned from the “lordly elephant”, who, “in hoary pride”, toils “through successive ages to provide / The ivory tusk”. Finally, Canto Fifth begins with an apostrophe to health (“Gay, blushing Health!”), and develops into a discussion of how diseases of the mouth affect a body’s general condition. Brown’s poem closes on the image of a woman named Seraphina, a singer whose voice, once “so sweet, the labouring bees might stop to sip”, now only sounds “discordant notes”. Her “premature decay” is caused by a disease of her “dental pearls”. Seraphina’s prescription (and Dentologia’s general argument) can be distilled into four lines — a variation of the message delivered by today’s dentists and hygienists at every appointment’s end:

Let each successive day unfailing bring
The brush, the dentifrice, and, from the spring,
The cleansing flood : — the labor will be small,
And blooming health will soon reward it all.

Published in 1833, Dentologia was written by Solyman Brown, who helped found the first dental journal, society, and school in the United States. Known in his lifetime as “the poet laureate of dentistry”, Brown had sent a draft of Dentologia to Eleazar Parmly, another titan of American toothcare, who showed it to two gentlemen “distinguished for their fine taste in literature”. Overwhelmed by nameless critics’ positive response to the poem, Parmly wrote its preface and furnished the eighty pages of cantos with fifty more pages of erudite footnotes, crammed with citations to contemporary dentistry manuals.

Link to the rest at The Public Domain Review

PG notes that the OP embeds an ebook version of this seminal work, praising the mouth and its inhabitants.

Paying attention to numbers can open up meaning in books

From The Economist:

The members of Oulipo—an abbreviation of ouvroir de littérature potentielle, or “workshop of potential literature”—gathered in a café in Paris in November 1960. The avant-garde group sought new ways to tell stories; they revelled in constraint. In 1947 Raymond Queneau, the collective’s co-founder, had imagined a single short story in 99 different ways in his “Exercises in Style”. In 1969 Georges Perec wrote a novel that omitted the letter “e”. Three years later he produced a novella in which “e” was the only vowel used.

Sarah Hart describes the work of Oulipo in “Once Upon a Prime” as part of a wide-ranging analysis of the links between maths and literature. The author—who in 2020 became the first woman to hold the position of Gresham Professor of Geometry, thought to be the oldest maths professorship in Britain—seeks to prove that the disciplines are profoundly intertwined. “The perceived boundary between them is a very recent idea,” she says.

Professor Hart argues, convincingly, that paying attention to numbers can open up meaning in novels and poems; she explores the role maths plays in literary works such as “Jurassic Park”, “Life of Pi” and “Moby Dick”. Mathematical allusions can provide insight into a writer’s psyche, too. In “War and Peace” Tolstoy “uses calculus as a metaphor for understanding the whole of human history”.

Some novelists make maths the theme of their work. Lewis Carroll, a lecturer at Oxford University, combined fantastical escapades with references to puzzles, sums and numerical games in “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland”. Alice uses a “proof by contradiction” to expose the Mock Turtle’s lies about studying arithmetic. The theme of “Through the Looking-Glass”, the sequel, was chess; Carroll included descriptive notation as part of the front matter. His abiding interest was in “the power and possibilities of logic”, Professor Hart writes.

Amor Towles, a banker turned bestselling author, gave his novel “A Gentleman in Moscow” a unique, “accordion-like” structure inspired by the power of two. The book covers a period of 32 years. The story starts on a summer solstice—the midpoint of a year—and returns to the characters in roughly doubling time spans (one day after, two days, five days, ten days, and so on) until the midpoint of the story. From there, the time frames grow shorter again: from eight years to four years, two years, and beyond. The effect, Professor Hart avers, is to mimic “the way human memory works, and how we experience the passage of time”.

Once Upon a Prime” analyses the “counting, pattern, and therefore mathematics” involved in rhyme schemes and points out writers’ love of prime numbers. (Consider the three witches in “Macbeth” and Snow White’s seven dwarves.) The book shows how seemingly random dates or figures can contain hidden clues for the reader or hint at the theme of a story. It makes for illuminating prose and the reader may feel better equipped to tackle the books on their nightstand afterwards.

Link to the rest at The Economist

A thrilling account of a shipwreck in the Pacific in 1741

From The Economist:

A largely forgotten chapter of a little-remembered war between England and Spain provides the setting for this gripping study of human nature in extremis. Wager, a British frigate, crashed onto rocks off the coast of Patagonia while pursuing the enemy into the Pacific in 1741. The seas in that remote part of the world are infamous. “Below forty degrees latitude, there is no law,” went a sailors’ adage. “Below fifty degrees, there is no God.”

A non-fiction account of the chase, the wreck and what followed might have been told as a typical maritime adventure. Those who love yarns involving cannon fire, sea-chests, plum duff and mainmasts will find “The Wager” riveting, as will those less intrigued by the age of sail. In the hands of David Grann, the story transcends its naval setting. The author, whose previous bestsellers include “The Lost City of Z” and “The White Darkness”, is a master of exciting tales in far-flung places. He has produced a volume so dramatic and engrossing that it may surpass his previous books.

The tale revolves around three complex figures. Wager’s captain, David Cheap, began to lose sway over the men as soon as the ship foundered. The crew became castaways on a small island in the Golfo de Penas (“Gulf of Pain”). Just over half the original complement of 250 had survived outbreaks of typhus and scurvy onboard. Aloof and slow to adapt, Cheap derived his authority from the chain of command rather than natural charisma. But he was also physically brave and loyal to the mission, at one point single-handedly facing down a band of armed mutineers without a weapon of his own.

By contrast, John Bulkeley “emerged as a leader on his own merits”. A working seaman whose job, as gunner, was to oversee the ship’s cannon, he started foraging food, constructing shelter and bartering supplies from the moment his feet touched land. Others began looking to him for answers. Mr Grann writes that little is known about Bulkeley except that he was a devout Christian who swung hard in a fight. Yet he was no brute: he kept a detailed journal of Wager’s travails, peppered with verse.

John Byron, a midshipman, bore witness to the ensuing power struggle. Sixteen years old when he volunteered for naval service, the young gentleman came from one of the oldest noble families in Britain. (His grandson would be the poet Lord Byron.) Mr Grann deftly shows how the trainee officer’s allegiance shifted between the captain and the gunner, swayed by notions of pragmatism, duty, survival and, above all, decency. Like Bulkeley, Byron kept a journal that proved an important source for Mr Grann’s book.

The marooned crew feuded over where to assign fault and how to get home. They soon split into bitter factions. An indelible scene portrays Cheap and Bulkeley shaking hands as they part ways, never again to reunite. The privations that the men endured over the following months and years are almost unimaginable. After the ravages of shipbound disease and a desperate rounding of Cape Horn, they faced starvation, cannibalism, exposure, abandonment and return journeys to civilisation in small, unseaworthy boats. Only a fraction survived. “I believe no mortals have experienced more difficulties and miseries than we have,” wrote one of their number.

Link to the rest at The Economist

Thoreau’s Axe

From The Wall Street Journal:

Ours is an age of distraction. The pings, buzzes and chimes from our phones, tablets, laptops, watches and earbuds distract us from giving our undivided attention to whatever task is at hand. So, when writing the first draft of this review, I experimented by turning off all my device notifications and staying in the groove for hours. The experience was like being deep in prayer at the altar of the keyboard.

Last year, journalist Johann Hari described our 21st-century plague of distractibility in “Stolen Focus: Why You Can’t Pay Attention.” This year, Caleb Smith, a professor of English and American studies at Yale, gives us “Thoreau’s Axe: Distraction and Discipline in American Culture.” It’s a fascinating prequel to Hari from the era of the telegraph and steam locomotive, a time when America’s slower, rural, agricultural culture was transitioning into a faster, urban, industrial one. Lessons learned from the mid-19th century can help us make the transition to an attention economy in which electronic algorithms and artificial intelligence increasingly run the show.

The title “Thoreau’s Axe,” like the book’s serpentine jacket illustration and opening pages, was inspired by an anecdote in “Walden” by Henry D. Thoreau, America’s patron saint of paying attention.

The dateline is March 1845, in the woods of Concord, Mass. Thoreau, a hopeful 20-something, was felling pines for a small house he was building near Walden Pond to distance himself from distraction. Mornings were frosty, the lake was ice-covered, and snow fell in flurries. When the handle of his borrowed axe came off, he repaired it by inserting a new wedge, driving it with a stone, and soaking the head in a small pond. Suddenly, a striped snake slithered into the water and lay motionless for more than a quarter hour.
Thoreau finds in the motionless snake a triple metaphor that zooms outward: from the snake’s “torpid state” of winter hibernation to spring activity; from a man’s “low and primitive condition” to a “more ethereal life”; and from a society numb with distraction to one attentively engaged in more important things. In Mr. Smith’s phrase, he is “combining scientific concepts and Christian symbols to diagnose a state of mind.”

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal

The Dust

From The Paris Review:

Where I live is about twenty minutes from anywhere else in Los Angeles. What this actually means is that I live ten minutes from anything when there’s no traffic, and forty-five minutes when there is. In reality, there’s no given instance during the day when I actually live twenty minutes from any geographical point in LA, but it’s an easy way to say I live in the middle of town. The area lacks the socioeconomic and demographic cohesion common to most LA neighborhoods, so it’s not particularly cool or uncool, it’s just twenty minutes from places that are. It’s a neighborhood that’s special in the same way a local laundromat is special—you get people from all walks of life.

The building itself is a small, charming holdover from when old Hollywood was just called Hollywood. I park on the street, and I live in one of fourteen modest units, where I am very happy. I’ve lived in old buildings for most of my adult life, and it is my preference to do so. Of course, there are costs associated with living in an old building. You might have an occasional leak or wonky electrical wiring, but these are small problems that can be solved. As with any formative experience, part of the joy in fixing them is the skill gained, or the longevity of the solution. If you fix a leak and you did it right, it’ll take a second for the leak to come back. Once you’ve dealt with something once, it is not such a tragedy the next time. I think that’s what it is to get older: you get softer with age because you’ve experienced a lot of things once, and you’re equipped to do them again if you have to. Remember that first sip of alcohol, or the first cigarette? You turned your back on your innocence, but you didn’t die, so you did it again. However, when a task requires constant maintenance, there is no finish line, so there is no small victory. You never feel done, and it becomes the bane of your existence. The great scourge of my little life, twenty minutes from everywhere else in Los Angeles, is the dust.

LA is a dusty town, and in the century that my building has been around, it has only gathered more of it. The once airtight caulk around the windows has loosened its grip, and the drywall has eroded into Swiss cheese. It doesn’t help that I’m two blocks from an especially busy intersection, and it definitely doesn’t help that I have filled my home with secondhand objects that bring with them their own histories of dust. I clean constantly, with nightly touch-ups and a deep clean that eats up half of an honest weekend. I sweep, Swiffer (dry and wet), and vacuum, but really I am just displacing the dust. As I clean, I kick up more dust, and, betrayed by my own body, I make even more new dust by shedding dead skin cells throughout the process. There is no end in sight, because there is no end to the dust.

I encourage the dust even further by leaving my windows wide open during the day. This is an attempt to cycle out the stale air for fresh air, but who am I kidding? LA is famous for having some of the worst air in the world. But to me it smells good. It smells like everything it has ever touched. It smells like the elements and it smells like argan oil. Sometimes it smells like jasmine, sometimes like wildfires, and, if you try hard enough, it smells like nickels, and the dream of a sweaty handshake from some producer that made moving across the country all worth it, because that handshake is going to change your life. I have knowingly created ideal conditions in which dust thrives, but what’s the point of California if you’re not going to blur the line between indoor and out?

Link to the rest at The Paris Review

PG notes that, although LA is often criticized for its sameness, it has a
much wider variety of neighborhoods than Chicago, which is (or was) noted for
its ethnic neighborhoods.

Although there are a lot of different ethnicities in the Los Angeles area,
there are fewer neighborhoods where you feel like you might be in a foreign
land that doesn’t speak Spanish. Instead of growing up, LA grew by spreading in
all directions except the Western parts, which bumped into the Pacific.

LA grew so rapidly during the 50s through the 70s that more than a few
buildings were put up cheap. With no winter weather to worry about, a great
many houses and commercial structures were built quickly with no insulation.
Urban sprawl was invented in LA.

Earthquake-survivable building codes only came into being after construction of a whole lot
of quick and dirty housing developments and commercial buildings, which still
dot the landscape in poor and outlying areas.

Since PG moved away from the Los Angeles area a long time ago, he hasn’t
been back with a lot of frequency and hasn’t driven beyond a few interstates in
the last 20+ years, so his impressions might not be accurate. However, the OP sounded like some parts of the mega-urban sprawl haven’t changed.

Games are a weapon in the war on disinformation

From The Economist:

The mayor of your city has announced a strange new public project: a lavish park especially for cats. It seems like a waste of money so, with the help of some activists you have met online, you campaign against it on social media. You start with rousing posts—“Breaking News: Outrageous! City prioritises elitist pets over our kids!”—and funny memes. You soon move on to doctoring images to make it look like the mayor is part of “an ultra-secret cat-worshipping cult”. You galvanise your followers to take violent action.

In “Cat Park” players learn to become disinformation warriors. The free 15-minute online game explores the dark art of spreading lies online; players get points for the passion of their posts and shareability of their memes. It is good fun, with a witty script and futuristic cyberpunk style. It is also an educational tool, funded by the Global Engagement Centre (gec), a branch of the us State Department which aims to “recognise, understand, expose and counter foreign state and non-state propaganda and disinformation efforts”.

Games such as “Cat Park” are an ingenious response to a widespread problem. Fake news and conspiracy theories are in rich supply; demand for them is high in polarised countries across the world. Many governments are mulling policies to try to limit their spread, since internet users often struggle to discern legitimate sources from nefarious ones. Last year a study by Ofcom, a British regulator, found that 30% of the country’s adults hardly consider the truthfulness of information they read online. About 6% give no thought to the veracity of stories. Around a quarter failed to spot fake social-media accounts.

. . . .

Tilt Studio, the Dutch developer behind “Cat Park”, has also worked with the British government, the European Commission and nato to create games that “help tackle online manipulation head-on”. In 2020 it collaborated with the gec on “Harmony Square”, in which players seek to destabilise an idyllic neighbourhood by using falsehoods to foment disunity. During the pandemic, it released “Go Viral!”, a five-minute game that gets players to scrutinise misleading information about covid-19.

“Rather than simply waiting for lies to spread, and then debunking them with a fact-check, we can leverage games like ‘Cat Park’ to practically educate ourselves about common disinformation techniques,” says Davor Devcic of gec. Aimed primarily at citizens in the West, the games are based on the idea of “active inoculation”: just as individuals build up resistance to a disease after a vaccine, after playing “Cat Park” or “Harmony Square” they are more wary of internet skulduggery. A study by the University of Cambridge found that players of “Harmony Square” were better at spotting dodgy content and less likely to share it. The effect was consistent across right-wing and left-wing players.

. . . .

The Canadian government, meanwhile, helped fund “Lizards and Lies”, a board game about information warfare. It takes the form of a traditional map-based war-game, which you play as one of four characters: an “edgelord”, “conspiracy theorist”, “platform moderator” or “digital literacy educator”. (You are either a “spreader” or a “stopper” of lies.) Cards and tokens help you win over enclaves of supporters. Points are scored for each social-media network you control. It pays to focus on areas of the map that are winnable: as with their real-life counterparts, certain online networks are more amenable to wild conspiracism than others.

Scott DeJong, the designer, says he was partly inspired by the QAnon conspiracy theory, which itself makes use of gaming techniques to acquire and motivate followers. “Disinformation and conspiracy-theory processes are often like puzzles. They draw people in by seeming to ask questions, while really directing the target towards a specific answer,” he says. The originator of the theory, Q, posts “drops”, or cryptic clues, “that the community works together to interpret and resolve”.

Link to the rest at The Economist

Here’s a link to Cat Park, which says is a 15-minute game and Lizards and Lies

Was your degree really worth it?

From The Economist:

Is university worth it? That question once seemed a no-brainer. For decades young adults in rich countries have flocked to higher education. Governments have touted college as a boon for social mobility and economic growth. Yet as fees rise and graduate earnings stagnate, disillusionment is growing. A poll published by the Wall Street Journal on March 31st suggests a crisis of confidence has worsened: 56% of Americans now believe a degree is no longer worth the time and money spent on it.

For an average undergraduate, at least, this is not consistent with the facts. In most places, for most learners, the financial returns to higher education remain extremely healthy. Yet undertaking a degree has become riskier. The rewards for the best performers are increasing, but a troublingly high share of students see negative returns from their studies.

New data sets, such as tax records, are illuminating this dispersion like never before. They can track how much students taking specific courses, at specific institutions, earn in later life. In time that detail will help students avoid the worst pay-offs and seize the best. Choice of subject and timely graduation matter hugely; choice of institution somewhat less so. It could also be useful to governments tempted to crack down on “low-value degrees”.

A boom in graduate earnings began in the 1980s in the rich world. Back then the difference between the salaries of people who gain at least a bachelor’s degree and those who do not—commonly called the “college-wage premium”—began to soar. In the 1970s an American with a university education was earning on average 35% more than a high-school graduate. By 2021 that advantage had risen to 66%.

Recently the wage premium in many countries has either stagnated or begun to fall. And in places that actually charge students for their degrees, costs have gone up (see chart 1). Tuition in England has soared from nothing in the late 1990s to £9,250 ($11,000) a year, the highest in the rich world. In America, the out-of-pocket fee paid by an average bachelor’s-degree student increased from $2,300 a year in the 1970s to some $8,000 in 2018, in real terms, according to Jaison Abel and Richard Deitz at the New York Federal Reserve. (Students at public universities often pay much less; those at private non-profits can pay a lot more.)

Yet the average degree remains valuable. In 2019 Mr Abel and Mr Deitz roughly estimated the annual financial return on the money that a typical American invests in a bachelor’s degree. They conclude that the typical rate of return for a bachelor’s degree is around 14%. That has dropped from a peak of 16% in the early 2000s. But it is still a princely sum. And it is well above the 8-9% that American graduates were recouping in the 1970s, before graduate wages, and tuition fees, began to soar. These calculations include not only fees but also the money individuals might expect to earn if they were working full-time instead.

The average hides a very wide range of outcomes, however. Until recently economists seeking to identify the winners and losers were mostly limited to surveys. The trend now is for governments, such as those of Britain and Norway, to proffer hefty, anonymised databases showing actual earnings for millions of university-goers. That makes it much easier to compare people like-for-like. The disaggregated data reveal that a high share of students graduate with degrees that are not worth their cost.

In England 25% of male graduates and 15% of female ones will take home less money over their careers than peers who do not get a degree, according to the Institute for Fiscal Studies (ifs), a research outfit. America has less comprehensive data but has begun publishing the share of students at thousands of institutions who do not manage to earn more than the average high-school graduate early on. Six years after enrolment, 27% of students at a typical four-year university fail to do so, calculate researchers at Georgetown University in Washington, dc. In the long tail, comprising the worst 30% of America’s two- and four-year institutions, more than half of people who enroll lag this benchmark.

. . . .

Choosing the right subject is crucial to boosting earning power. Negative returns are likeliest for Britons who study creative arts (less than 10% of men make a positive return), social care and agriculture (see chart 2). By far the best-earning degrees in America are in engineering, computer science and business. Negative returns seem especially likely for music and the visual arts. Using America’s available data to guess lifetime earnings by programme is a stretch. But Preston Cooper at freopp, a think-tank, ventures that more than a quarter of bachelor’s-degree programmes in America will lead to negative returns for most enrolled students.

What you study generally matters more than where you do it. That comes with caveats: the worst colleges and universities provide students with little value, whatever they teach. But on average people who enroll in America’s public universities get a better return over their lifetimes than students who go to its more prestigious private non-profit ones, reckon the Georgetown researchers. High fees at the non-profits is one of the reasons why.

Link to the rest at The Economist

PG posted this because the majority of successful authors are college graduates.

As PG has mentioned before, he graduated with an undergraduate major that, in a rational job market, would have been worth very little. Fortunately, PG graduated into a strong job market and got a job for which his undergraduate degree was useless.

The first job lead to a second job for which skills which PG had learned on the first job acted as credentials with more credibility than his undergraduate major, allowing PG to get a second job.

After job #2, PG went to law school. Mrs. PG had come into PG’s life at that time and she soldiered through her own job#2, which she disliked until PG graduated, then she promptly quit.

PG quickly learned that once he had obtained his law degree and passed the bar exam, nobody cared what his undergraduate degree had been.

If I Betray These Words

From The Wall Street Journal:

‘Thou must be like a promontory of the sea,” the Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius wrote in “Meditations,” “against which, though the waves beat continually, yet it both itself stands and about it are those swelling waves stilled and quieted.” Though he intended these words to describe the practitioner of Stoicism, they also define the ideal disposition of a doctor. As the chaos of the hospital reigns, the physician tunes it out and focuses on helping the patient. Alas, this paradigm seems more at home in a bygone era than in our current medical system. Burnout now consumes American physicians, who are overworked, nonautonomous and adrift without help.

Such is the crisis facing physicians, according to the psychiatrist Wendy Dean and the hand surgeon Simon Talbot, co-founders of Moral Injury of Healthcare, a nonprofit focusing on distress in the healthcare workforce. In their new book, “If I Betray These Words: Moral Injury in Medicine and Why It’s So Hard for Clinicians to Put Patients First,” they state that today’s physicians are “seeing more patients, in less time, with fewer support staff,” and are “required to use technology that interfere[s] with rather than facilitate[s] care.” As a result, our healers feel exhausted, cynical, alienated and ineffective. However, the authors argue, “burnout” is a misnomer—it suggests that physicians lack resiliency. They claim physicians suffer from “moral injury” instead. This places the blame on the system, not the physicians.

Drs. Dean and Talbot appropriately fret about the scope of moral injury. Ten percent of doctors have thought about or attempted suicide. One in five U.S. healthcare workers have left the profession since 2020 and close to half of healthcare workers plan to leave their current jobs by 2025. Almost 50% of U.S. physicians experience burnout and there was a dramatic increase in burnout among U.S. physicians between 2020 and 2021. As a result of moral injury, physicians experience poorer physical and mental health, patients suffer from poorer health outcomes, and the medical system loses around $4.6 billion yearly.

The authors illustrate the ill effects of moral injury on individual physicans through a series of riveting and poignant vignettes. One particularly troubling chapter tells the story of Jay Neufeld, a pediatric rehabilitation specialist taking care of disabled children. Neufeld worked for St. Luke’s Hospital and Children’s Specialty Center in Boise, Idaho. To help keep the institution solvent, hospital administrators shortened his appointments and increased patient volume. As the authors describe, “when he overstayed his scheduled time with a patient, assistants would interrupt him and say, ‘Dr. Neufeld, your twenty minutes are up.’ ” Then one of his colleagues quit and Neufeld was the only physician left in his group. His request for more support went unanswered. When his contract came up for renewal, he faced a 30% salary cut. Subsequently, when the hospital’s lack of physician coverage nearly led to the death of a patient, Neufeld further pressed his supervisors. But it was in vain. Trapped, he eventually took his own life.

How did this happen? Each chapter and story emphasizes a similar conclusion: “No matter how [physicians] respond, they are all victims of a profit-generating machine that has taken over healthcare.” Profit and nonprofit hospitals, “motivated largely by revenue,” cut staff, increase physician work hours, hijack physician autonomy and silence any dissent with threats of termination. Caught between the oaths they took as medical students and the crushing pressures of corporate healthcare, doctors suffer moral injury.

While the authors identify an important concern—that current profit-seeking behavior stymies physicians and patients—such au courant criticisms of capitalism are incomplete in explaining moral injury. Profit motives in medicine have existed for decades and will likely always exist to a certain degree. In 1894 an editorial in the journal Medical Record argued that doctors saw hospital growth “critically, not to say coldly,” and resented the motive of hospitals to “get as much out of them with as little return as possible.”

Today, surveys of physicians provide a more comprehensive story. They identify other factors, some of which are mentioned by Drs. Dean and Talbot, as sources of moral injury: increased bureaucracy, lack of respect from staff, lack of respect from patients, and burgeoning government regulations. Not all of this relates to corporate greed; for instance, bureaucracy is always a side effect of government regulation. Indeed, our modern medical system now paradoxically combines the worst excesses of socialism (bureaucracy) and capitalism (greed). This contradictory yet sinewy co-existence is ultimately responsible for physician burnout. And it can only exist in a cultural environment confused about medicine’s purpose.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal

On Mary Wollstonecraft

From The Paris Review:

Around the time I realized I didn’t want to be married anymore, I started visiting Mary Wollstonecraft’s grave. I’d known it was there, behind King’s Cross railway station, for at least a decade. I had read her protofeminist tract from 1792, A Vindication of the Rights of Woman, at university, and I knew Saint Pancras Churchyard was where Wollstonecraft’s daughter, also Mary, had taken the married poet Percy Bysshe Shelley when they were falling in love. When I thought about the place, I thought of death and sex and possibility. I first visited at thirty-four, newly separated, on a cold gray day with a lover, daffodils rising around the squat cubic pillar. “MARY WOLLSTONECRAFT GODWIN,” the stone reads. “Author of A Vindication of the rights of Woman. Born 27th April, 1759. Died 10th September, 1797.” I didn’t tell him why I wanted to go there; I had a sense that Wollstonecraft would understand, and I often felt so lost that I didn’t want to talk to real people, people I wanted to love me rather than pity me, people I didn’t want to scare. I was often scared. I was frequently surprised by my emotions, by the things I suddenly needed to do or say that surged up out of nowhere.

Unexpected events had brought me graveside: when I was thirty-two, my fifty-seven-year-old mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. It wasn’t genetic; no one knew why she got it. We would, the doctors said, have three to nine more years with her. Everything wobbled. This knowledge raised questions against every part of my life: Was this worth it? And this? And this? I was heading for children in the suburbs with the husband I’d met at nineteen, but that life, the one that so many people want, I doubted was right for me. I was trying to find my way as a writer, but I was jumping from genre to genre, not working out what I most wanted to say, and not taking myself seriously enough to discover it, even. Who do you tell when you start to feel these things? Everything seemed immovable. Everything seemed impossible. And yet I knew I had to change my life.

There were a string of discussions with my husband, threading from morning argument to online chat to text to phone to therapy session to dinner, where we floated ideas about open marriage and relationship breaks and moving countries and changing careers and dirty weekends. But we couldn’t agree on what was important, and I began to peel my life away from his. We decided that we could see other people. We were as honest and kind and open as we could manage as we did this, which sometimes wasn’t much. The spring I began visiting Wollstonecraft’s grave, he moved out, dismantling our bed by taking the mattress and leaving me with the frame. I took off my wedding ring—a gold band with half a line of “Morning Song” by Sylvia Plath etched on the inside—and for weeks afterward, my thumb would involuntarily reach across my palm for the warm bright circle that had gone. I didn’t throw the ring into the long grass, like women do in the movies, but a feeling began bubbling up nevertheless, from my stomach to my throat: it could fling my arms out. I was free.

At first, I took my freedom as a seventeen-year-old might: hard and fast and negronied and wild. I was thirty-four and I wanted so much out of this new phase of my life: intense sexual attraction; soulmate-feeling love that would force my life into new shapes; work that felt joyous like play but meaningful like religion; friendships with women that were fusional and sisterly; talk with anyone and everyone about what was worth living for; books that felt like mountains to climb; attempts at writing fiction and poetry and memoir. I wanted to create a life I would be proud of, that I could stand behind. I didn’t want to be ten years down the wrong path before I discovered once more that it was wrong. While I was a girl, waiting for my life to begin, my mother gave me books: The Mill on the Floss when I was ill; Ballet Shoes when I demanded dance lessons; A Little Princess when I felt overlooked. How could I find the books I needed now? I had so many questions: Could you be a feminist and be in love? Did the search for independence mean I would never be at home with anyone, anywhere? Was domesticity a trap? What was worth living for if you lost faith in the traditional goals of a woman’s life? What was worth living for at all—what degree of unhappiness, lostness, chaos was bearable? Could I even do this without my mother beside me? Or approach any of these questions if she was already fading from my life? And if I wanted to write about all this, how could I do it? What forms would I need? What genre could I be most truthful in? How would this not be seen as a problem of privilege, a childish demand for definition, narcissistic self-involvement, when the world was burning? Wouldn’t I be better off giving away all I have and putting down my books, my movies, my headphones, and my pen? When would I get sick of myself?

The questions felt urgent as well as overwhelming. At times I couldn’t face the page—printed or blank—at all. I needed to remind myself that starting out on my own again halfway through life is possible, has been possible for others—and that this sort of life can have beauty in it. And so I went back to the writers I’d loved when I was younger—the poetry of Sylvia Plath, the thought of Simone de Beauvoir and Mary Wollstonecraft, the novels of Virginia Woolf and George Eliot. I read other writers—Elena Ferrante, Zora Neale Hurston, Toni Morrison—for the first time. I watched them try to answer some of the questions I myself had. This book bears the traces of the struggles they had, as well as my own—and some of the things we all found that help. Not all of the solutions they (and I) found worked, and even when they did, they didn’t work all the time: if I’d thought life was a puzzle I could solve once and for all when I was younger, I couldn’t believe that any longer. But the answers might come in time if I could only stay with the questions, as the lover who came with me to Wollstonecraft’s grave would keep reminding me.

. . . .

A Vindication was written in six weeks. On January 3, 1792, the day she gave the last sheet to the printer, Wollstonecraft wrote to Roscoe: “I am dissatisfied with myself for not having done justice to the subject.—Do not suspect me of false modesty—I mean to say that had I allowed myself more time I could have written a better book, in every sense of the word.” Wollstonecraft isn’t in fact being coy: her book isn’t well-made. Her main arguments about education are at the back, the middle is a sarcastic roasting of male conduct-book writers in the style of her attack on Burke, and the parts about marriage and friendship are scattered throughout when they would have more impact in one place. There is a moralizing, bossy tone, noticeably when Wollstonecraft writes about the sorts of women she doesn’t like (flirts and rich women: take a deep breath). It ends with a plea to men, in a faux-religious style that doesn’t play to her strengths as a writer. In this, her book is like many landmark feminist books—The Second Sex, The Feminine Mystique—that are part essay, part argument, part memoir, held together by some force, it seems, that is attributable solely to its writer. It’s as if these books, to be written at all, have to be brought into being by autodidacts who don’t know for sure what they’re doing—just that they have to do it.

On my first reading of A Vindication as a twenty-year-old undergraduate, I looked up the antique words and wrote down their definitions (to vindicate was to “argue by evidence or argument”). I followed Wollstonecraft’s arguments in favor of education. I knew she’d been a teacher, and saw how reasonable her main argument was: you had to educate women, because they have influence as mothers over infant men. I took these notes eighteen months into an undergraduate degree in English and French in the library of an Oxford college that had only begun admitting women twenty-one years before. I’d arrived from an ordinary school, had scraped by in my first-year exams, and barely felt I belonged. The idea that I could think of myself as an intellectual as Mary did was laughable. Yet halfway into my second year, I discovered early women’s writing. I was amazed that there was so much of it—by protonovelists such as Eliza Haywood, aristocratic poets like Lady Mary Wortley Montagu and precursors of the Romantics like Anna Laetitia Barbauld—and I was angry, often, at the way they’d been forgotten, or, even worse, pushed out of the canon. Wollstonecraft stood out, as she’d never been forgotten, was patently unforgettable. I longed to keep up with her, even if I had to do it with the shorter OED at my elbow. I didn’t see myself in her at the time. It wasn’t clear to me when I was younger how hard she had pushed herself.

Later in her life, Wollstonecraft would defend her unlettered style to her more lettered husband:

I am compelled to think that there is something in my writings more valuable, than in the productions of some people on whom you bestow warm elogiums—I mean more mind—denominate it as you will—more of the observations of my own senses, more of the combining of my own imagination—the effusions of my own feelings and passions than the cold workings of the brain on the materials procured by the senses and imagination of other writers—

I wish I had been able to marshal these types of arguments while I was at university. I remember one miserable lesson about Racine, just me and a male student who’d been to Eton. I was baffled by the tutor’s questions. We would notice some sort of pattern or effect in the lines of verse—a character saying “Ô désespoir! Ô crime! Ô déplorable race!”—and the tutor would ask us what that effect was called. Silence. And then the other student would speak up. “Anaphora,” he’d say. “Chiasmus. Zeugma.” I had no idea what he was talking about; I’d never heard these words before. I was relieved when the hour was over. When I asked him afterward how he knew those terms, he said he’d been given a handout at school and he invited me to his room so that I could borrow it and make a photocopy. I must still have it somewhere. I remember feeling a tinge of anger—I could see the patterns in Racine’s verse, I just didn’t know what they were called—but mostly I felt ashamed. I learned the terms on the photocopy by heart.

Mary knew instinctively that what she offered was something more than technical accuracy, an unshakeable structure, or an even tone. Godwin eventually saw this too. “When tried by the hoary and long-established laws of literary composition, [A Vindication of the Rights of Woman] can scarcely maintain its claim to be placed in the first class of human productions,” he wrote after her death. “But when we consider the importance of its doctrines, and the eminence of genius it displays, it seems not very improbable that it will be read as long as the English language endures.” Reading it again, older now, and having read many more of the feminist books that Wollstonecraft’s short one is the ancient foremother of, I can see what he means.

There are funny autobiographical sketches, as where Mary is having a moment of sublimity at a too-gorgeous sunset only to be interrupted by a fashionable lady asking for her gown to be admired. There is indelible phrasemaking, such as the moment when Mary counters the Margaret Thatcher fallacy—the idea that a woman in power is good in itself—by saying that “it is not empire, but equality” that women should contend for. She asked for things that are commonplace now but were unusual then: for women to be MPs, for girls and boys to be educated together, for friendship to be seen as the source and foundation of romantic love. She linked the way women were understood as property under patriarchy to the way enslaved people were treated, and demanded the abolition of both systems. She was also responding to an indisputably world-historical moment, with all the passion and hurry that that implies. Specifically, she addressed Talleyrand, who had written a pamphlet in support of women’s education, but generally, she applied herself to the ideas about women’s status and worth coming out of the brand-new French republic. In 1791, France gave equal rights to Black citizens, made nonreligious marriage and divorce possible, and emancipated the Jews. What would England give its women? (Wollstonecraft was right that the moment couldn’t wait: Olympe de Gouges, who wrote the Declaration of the Rights of Woman and of the Female Citizen in October 1791 and ironically dedicated it to Marie-Antoinette, was guillotined within two years of its publication.)

Link to the rest at The Paris Review

Putin, Trump, Ukraine: how Timothy Snyder became the leading interpreter of our dark times

From The Guardian:

Last September, seven months after Russia launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine, the Yale historian Timothy Snyder took a 16-hour train ride from Poland to Kyiv. Snyder knew the city well: he’d been visiting since the early 1990s, when he was a graduate student and the newly post-Soviet Ukrainian capital was dark and provincial. In the decades that followed, Kyiv had grown bigger and more interesting, and Snyder, who is now 53, had become an eminent historian of eastern Europe. On disembarking at the Kyiv-Pasazhyrskyi station, he found the city transformed by war. There were sandbags everywhere, concrete roadblocks and steel “hedgehogs” designed to stop Russian tanks. Air raid warnings blared from phones in pockets and handbags.

Not everything was unfamiliar. The first months of the war had gone relatively well for the Ukrainians – a fact that surprised many observers, but not Snyder – and by September, Kyiv was no longer in imminent danger of occupation. Life, while not normal, was regaining some of its prewar rhythms. You could get a haircut at a barbershop, or hear standup at a comedy club, or sunbathe on the shores of the Dnieper River.

Snyder had come to speak at an annual conference, Yalta European Strategy (YES), which was founded in 2004 to promote ties with Europe. Funded by a Ukrainian oligarch, the conference had become an occasional stopover for the gladhanding global elite. Bill and Hillary Clinton, Gordon Brown, Elton John and Richard Branson had all participated in previous years, and the roster for the 2022 meeting included the American national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, and Eric Schmidt, the former CEO of Google.

Though he is not a natural gladhander, Snyder had attended the conference before. His first visit came in 2014, a few years after he published Bloodlands, a provocative and emotionally devastating account of Nazi and Soviet atrocities, which established him, in the words of one reviewer, as “perhaps the most talented younger historian of modern Europe working today”. The book was a crossover success, and in the years that followed Snyder began to write more about contemporary issues, including the climate crisis, healthcare and Ukrainian politics. But it was his writing about two figures, Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin, that turned him into one of the most prominent American intellectuals of the past decade.

Snyder’s mainstream breakthrough, in 2017, was On Tyranny, a bestselling little book that helped make him the house intellectual of the centre-left anti-Trump movement sometimes known as #resistance liberalism. The book earned him regular invitations to appear on television. (“Whether or not you talked to your friends about it, everybody you know has been reading and re-reading On Tyranny,” Rachel Maddow said on her show.) The news Snyder brought his audience was almost unremittingly bleak, yet it also offered a strange kind of reassurance. You are not wrong to feel that the situation is grievous, Snyder told them. Take it from an expert in political barbarism: things are exactly as bad as they seem.

Snyder’s dire warnings were easy to caricature as bourgeois-liberal doomerism, yet Trump’s attempts to overturn the 2020 election allowed him to claim vindication for what his critics had seen as hyperbole. On 9 January 2021, three days after a mob laid siege to the US Capitol, Snyder published an essay in the New York Times that made another prescient prediction. Trump’s failed putsch was more like the beginning than the end of something, Snyder argued. Since Trump’s “big lie” – that he won the election – “was now a sacred cause for which people had sacrificed”, it would remain a potent force in American politics unless a concerted effort was made to stop it.

Snyder’s view of Putin was still more ominous. In Putin’s Russia, Snyder sees a corrupt autocracy that has turned to neo-fascism in an attempt to regain its imperial glory. He was one of the few anglophone commentators to anticipate Russia’s 2014 invasion of Ukraine – a prediction that even his friends scoffed at – and warned in his book Black Earth that “a new Russian colonialism” threatened European stability. In his opinion, the full-scale invasion that started last year was not, as some saw it, a minor regional conflict, but rather an atrocity of epochal significance: “It is about the possibility of a democratic future,” he wrote in Foreign Affairs.

Over the past year, Snyder has been one of the most eloquent interpreters of the war in Ukraine. He writes and speaks frequently about the conflict – including, in mid-March, to the UN security council. He has established a project to document the war, and more controversially, has raised more than $1.2m for an anti-drone defence system. A course on Ukrainian history that he taught at Yale last autumn has had hundreds of thousands of views on YouTube, and he has become one of the most famous western intellectuals within Ukraine itself. “He used to be a celebrity in historical circles and among intellectuals,” his friend, the Ukrainian rock star Sviatoslav Vakarchuk, told me recently, “but now even ordinary people know a lot about him.”

. . . .

It was a sign of Snyder’s standing that the YES conference was only the second-highest-profile stop on his Kyiv itinerary. The main reason for his trip, Snyder told me, during one of three long conversations we had recently, was a private meeting with Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy. The Ukrainians, Snyder said, “think I’m much more important than I actually am”. Zelenskiy, he went on, “thought of me mainly as somebody who had some kind of voice. I’m not under the illusion that … ” Snyder stopped himself. “Well, no, that’s not true. He said: ‘My wife and I have read On Tyranny.’ That’s the first thing he said when I met him.”

Sitting in green leather wingbacks in Zelenskiy’s presidential office, the men talked for more than two hours. They discussed Shakespeare, the Czech playwright and politician Václav Havel, and the Soviet physicist and dissident Andrei Sakharov. They talked about freedom, too, the subject of a new book Snyder is working on, and particularly about Zelenskiy’s decision to stay in Ukraine once the invasion began. Zelenskiy said that while most western observers had expected him to flee, he had never felt as if he had any real choice. “That’s an argument that he helped me to make,” Snyder told me. “Being free means that you actually end up in situations where you won’t actually feel like you have a whole bunch of options.”

Snyder’s fascination with what he has described as Zelenskiy’s “choiceless choice” is not surprising: he had predicted that, too, on the eve of the war. As an academic and a public intellectual, Snyder has long operated on the belief that “there are moments in the world where your actions are magnified. It may be that you can take things that were going to swerve in a particularly bad direction, and you can push them with relatively little effort.” Zelenskiy’s decision, like the Ukrainian resistance writ large, was for him a vivid demonstration that this belief was well justified.

Link to the rest at The Guardian

The age of average

From Alex Murrell:

In the early 1990s, two Russian artists named Vitaly Komar and Alexander Melamid took the unusual step of hiring a market research firm. Their brief was simple. Understand what Americans desire most in a work of art.

Over 11 days the researchers at Marttila & Kiley Inc. asked 1,001 US citizens a series of survey questions.

What’s your favourite colour? Do you prefer sharp angles or soft curves? Do you like smooth canvases or thick brushstrokes? Would you rather figures that are nude or clothed? Should they be at leisure or working? Indoors or outside? In what kind of landscape? 

Komar and Melamid then set about painting a piece that reflected the results. The pair repeated this process in a number of countries including Russia, China, France and Kenya.

Each piece in the series, titled “People’s Choice”, was intended to be a unique a collaboration with the people of a different country and culture.

But it didn’t quite go to plan.

Describing the work in his book Playing to the Gallery, the artist Grayson Perry said:

“In nearly every country all people really wanted was a landscape with a few figures around, animals in the foreground, mainly blue.”

Despite soliciting the opinions of over 11,000 people, from 11 different countries, each of the paintings looked almost exactly the same.

. . . .

After completing the work, Komar quipped:

“We have been travelling to different countries, engaging in dull negotiations with representatives of polling companies, raising money for further polls, receiving more or less the same results, and painting more or less the same blue landscapes. Looking for freedom, we found slavery.” 

This, however, was the point. The art was not the paintings themselves, but the comment they made. We like to think that we are individuals, but we are much more alike that we wish to admit.

30 years after People’s Choice, it seems the landscapes which Komar and Melamid painted have become the landscapes in which we live.

This article argues that from film to fashion and architecture to advertising, creative fields have become dominated and defined by convention and cliché. Distinctiveness has died. In every field we look at, we find that everything looks the same.

Welcome to the age of average.

. . . .

In 2011, Laurel Schwulst was planning to redecorate her New York apartment when she began searching the internet for interior design inspiration.

Before long, the designer had stumbled on the perfect research tool: AirBnB. From the comfort of her home the app gave her a window into thousands of others. She could travel the world, and view hundreds of rooms, without leaving her chair.

Schwulst began sharing images to her Tumblr, “Modern Life Space”. The blog became an ever-expanding gallery of interior design inspiration. But something wasn’t right.

Laurel Schwulst:

“The Airbnb experience is supposed to be about real people and authenticity. But so many of them were similar, whether in Brooklyn, Osaka, Rio de Janeiro, Seoul, or Santiago.”

Schwulst had identified an AirBnB design aesthetic that had organically emerged and was quickly spreading through the platform’s properties. White walls. Raw wood. Nespresso machines. Eames chairs. Bare brick. Open shelving. Edison bulbs. The style combines the rough-hewn rawness of industrialism with the elegant minimalism of mid-century design.

. . . .

But Schwulst wasn’t the only one to identify the trend. Aaron Taylor Harvey, the Executive Creative Director of Environments at Airbnb had spotted something similar:

“You can feel a kind of trend in certain listings. There’s an International Airbnb Style that’s starting to happen. I think that some of it is really a wonderful thing that gives people a sense of comfort and immediate belonging when they travel, and some of it is a little generic. It can go either way.”

This “Modern Life Space” or “International AirBnB Style” goes by a number of other names. It’s known as the Brooklyn Look, or according to the journalist Kyle Chayka, AirSpace:

“I called this style “AirSpace”. It’s marked by an easily recognisable mix of symbols – like reclaimed wood, Edison bulbs, and refurbished industrial lighting – that’s meant to provide familiar, comforting surroundings for a wealthy, mobile elite, who want to feel like they’re visiting somewhere “authentic” while they travel, but who actually just crave more of the same: more rustic interiors and sans-serif logos and splashes of cliche accent colours on rugs and walls.”

Perhaps this seems inevitable. Isn’t it obvious that a global group of hosts all trying to present their properties to a global group of travellers would converge on a single, optimal, appealing yet inoffensive style?

AirSpace, however, isn’t just limited to residential interiors. The same tired tropes have spread beyond the spaces where we live, and taken over the spaces where we work, eat, drink and relax.

In an in-depth investigation for The Guardian, Chayka documents how the AirSpace style of interior decor has become the dominant design style of coffee shops:

“Go to Shoreditch Grind, near a roundabout in the middle of London’s hipster district. It’s a coffee shop with rough-hewn wooden tables, plentiful sunlight from wide windows, and austere pendant lighting. Then head to Takk in Manchester. It’s a coffee shop with a big glass storefront, reclaimed wood furniture, and hanging Edison bulbs. Compare the two: You might not even know you’re in different spaces. It’s no accident that these places look similar. Though they’re not part of a chain and don’t have their interior design directed by a single corporate overlord, these coffee shops have a way of mimicking the same tired style, a hipster reduction obsessed with a superficial sense of history and the remnants of industrial machinery that once occupied the neighbourhoods they take over.”

And this isn’t just a trend that we can see in British coffee culture. The same trend has been identified in cities from Bangkok to Beijing and from Seoul to San Francisco.

Link to the rest at Alex Murrell and thanks to F. for the tip.

PG notes there are lots of images and links at the OP.

Kurkov introduces essay by imprisoned Crimean Tatar leader Dzhelyal

FromThe Bookseller:

International Booker-longlisted Ukrainian author Andrey Kurkov has written the introduction to an essay by imprisoned Crimean Tatar leader Nariman Dzhelyal.

Written by Dzhelyal from jail, the full essay with the title “Dignity cannot be annexed” will appear in the spring 2023 issue of the Index on Censorship magazine, published in early April. A non-profit that campaigns for free expression across the world, Index on Censorship publishes work by censored writers and artists and monitors threats to free speech. 

With his introduction, Kurkov aims to draw attention to the plight faced by the leader of the persecuted Ukranian group, who was sentenced last year to 17 years in prison “for a crime he did not commit”.

In August 2021, Dzhelyal left Crimea for Kyiv for the first meeting of the Crimean Platform, a newly created international organisation whose goal is the de-occupation of Ukrainian Crimea. On 4th September 2021 Dzhelyal was arrested and charged with an attempted terrorist act.

Kurkov wrote: “There is an urgent need to raise the profile of this case before the final judgement of his appeal, after which he could be transferred to one of [the] most remote Russian prisons and we risk losing touch with him.”

Kurkov said he was struck by Dzhelyal’s “determination to act on his principles and beliefs with a calm understanding that this is the only way to fight injustice and create a path for a positive outcome for the Crimean Tatar people”.

Link to the rest at The Bookseller

Ukraine Is Not Dead Yet

From The Wall Street Journal:

Megan Buskey was raised in a middle-class suburb of Cleveland, a place she describes as “emphatically incurious.” We’re lucky that she is the emphatic opposite, not merely curious—about her own world and the world that her Ukrainian grandmother and mother fled from for America—but driven by a kind of spiritual passion to uncover the secrets that her family had left unaddressed for years.

These secrets were dark, many rooted in World War II, when Ukrainian nationalists had the “uncomfortable history” (in Ms. Buskey’s words) of being allied with Nazi Germany. Her people, she says, “had their reasons for staying quiet about their pasts.” This reticence was compounded in the postwar Soviet Union, in which Ukrainians were “schooled in the consequences of revealing too much to the wrong person.”

Born in 1982, Ms. Buskey now lives in New York, where she makes a living as a writer. “Ukraine Is Not Dead Yet,” her first book, is the story, foremost, of her grandmother Anna Mazur. The book’s title is derived from the first line of Ukraine’s national anthem. Although it resonates in the present day, with Ukraine fighting hard to get out from under Vladimir Putin’s jackboot, the title was chosen, Ms. Buskey tells us, well before the Russian invasion. More than just a commentary on the country’s condition, the fragment from the anthem reminds Ms. Buskey of how Ukraine “lived on” in her grandmother’s memory, “often as a site of trauma,” long after she came to the U.S.

It was through her grandmother, and her “foreignness,” that Ms. Buskey became conscious of Ukraine. She and her siblings, ensconced in their Cleveland life of almost embarrassing material excess, were particularly “flush with clothes.” Grandma Anna, who lived nearby, would box up the most neglected of these garments and mail them to family members back in Ukraine. In the months that followed the dispatch of the care packages, Ms. Buskey would find photos of relatives at Anna’s house and feel jolts of recognition: “That was my sweater with the rainbow stripes!”

Growing up, Ms. Buskey wasn’t overly enamored of Ukraine, the land that Grandma Anna and her two daughters (Olga and Nadia, Ms. Buskey’s mother) had left in 1966. Nadia was 12 at the time and integrated quickly into Midwestern America. The more tongue-shy grandmother, by contrast, avoided speaking English in public to her dying day. A resentful Ms. Buskey was made to attend Ukrainian school every Saturday morning and dragged to Ukrainian-language services at an onion-domed church just outside Cleveland’s western boundary.

Church was her grandma’s social highlight, a place where her “small, hobbling friends would flock to her like pigeons spying a bread crust.” It was not until Ms. Buskey went to the University of Chicago that she embraced her own Ukrainian identity with anything approaching enthusiasm. After she graduated, a Fulbright fellowship took her to Ukraine, where she immersed herself in her family’s story and in the history of that “beautiful, imperfect, singular country.”

It is a country we are all now coming to know, so that Ms. Buskey’s personal journey into historical comprehension has a rough parallel with our own fitful attempts to grasp the geopolitical conundrums that beset the Ukrainians. Part of such understanding is an awareness of Ukraine’s long and tangled history with the Russian Empire and, in the modern era, with the Soviet Union, from which Grandma Anna and her daughters had been able to emigrate—a near-impossible feat at the time—only because Anna’s father was an American citizen.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal

Humanly Possible

From The Wall Street Journal:

Humanism was born in Renaissance Italy as an approach to reading Roman literature. It later turned into an Enlightenment philosophy for reorganizing society along rational lines, especially in France. No one called it “humanism” in English until the 19th century. Our humanism is a Euro-American ideology, and its keynotes are progress, liberal individualism, agnosticism or atheism, and trusting the science.

The British historian Sarah Bakewell has previously deciphered the complexities of Montaigne (“How to Live”) and given a droll and chatty account of the Existentialists (“At the Existentialist Café”). Her latest book, “Humanly Possible,” traces the abstract ideal of humanism through the lives of its exponents and the hopes of its adherents, from Petrarch’s Florence to present-day Glasgow, where the Humanists International group recently issued a “Declaration of Modern Humanism.” A book of big and bold ideas, “Humanly Possible” is humane in approach and, more important, readable and worth reading, whether you agree with it or not.

For the Romans, Ms. Bakewell writes, the word humanitas meant being human, “but with added overtones of being refined, knowledgeable, articulate, generous, and well mannered.” Her first humanists are the umanisti of 14th-century Italy, literary scholars specializing in studia humanitatis, or human studies, rather than Christian theology, for instance. Not that religious concerns were ignored: Dante may have been a “cosmic visionary,” but his cosmos was Christian, so much so that he invented a Hell for his enemies and had to leave the pagan Virgil in Limbo.

After Dante came Francesco Petrarca (Petrarch) and Giovanni Boccaccio. Petrarch (1304-1374), a poet and scholar, relished the peripatetic “literary life.” He was a bloodhound in the library, hunting down fragments of Livy’s Roman history, and discovering Cicero’s “Pro Archia,” in which the Roman statesman argued that the Greek poet Archias merited citizenship for his “human and literary studies.” His biggest find was three of Cicero’s letters in the cathedral library of Verona. These showed the private Cicero, the “informal writer and friend who reflected on human dilemmas and emotions,” and mixed observations on current affairs with anecdotes from philosophy and literature. When Petrarch emulated Cicero in his letters, he revived the voice of humanitas.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal

PG notes that, once again, Big Publishing (Penguin in this case) got a positive review in the largest-circulation newspaper in the United States, has posted the book for sale on Amazon but has not enabled Look Inside on Amazon so the millions of ardent readers can examine the book in more detail to decide whether to buy it or not.

Modern intelligent and cultured readers have a huge offering of interesting writing about nearly any subject available online. At least some of these potential customers are like PG, flitting from flower to flower. PG has already read the WSJ review and looked up the book on Amazon.

Between today and the release date, March 28, PG will have scanned hundreds of online pages, read at least two hundred pages of ebooks and forgotten all about the nice review the publisher scored in The Wall Street Journal.

PG is on the verge of emailing the WSJ editors to request that they not publish a book review until the book itself is on sale. His email may or may not have any impact on the WSJ review policies at all, but PG will have let off a bit of steam.

19th Century marketing and promotion is still with us in traditional publishing.

The Angel Makers of Nagyrev

From The Economist:

When the people of Nagyrev had a problem, they went to Auntie Suzy. Though she had no formal training, she was the Hungarian village’s appointed midwife and the closest thing it had to a resident doctor. Men used her homemade tinctures for relief from the aches and pains they sustained toiling in the fields. Women, too, turned to her for help, and not just with the delivery of their babies. Alongside rubs and salves, Auntie Suzy produced another concoction: arsenic, made from boiling flypaper in vinegar.

Some women used the solution out of desperation—to avoid having another mouth to feed or to get rid of a violent spouse or relative. Others, however, dispensed it to deal with less urgent personal inconveniences. One woman had tired of her clingy husband, so fed him contaminated duck soup. Another, weary of her adult son, mixed some of the elixir into his goulash; later, when she suspected her third husband of having an affair, she reprised her technique. The arsenic was an open secret. If a woman complained of her partner’s behaviour, a friend would suggest a visit to the midwife.

Patti McCracken’s new book, “The Angel Makers”, is a detailed account of the killing spree in Nagyrev and other nearby villages in the early 20th century. It took prosecutors several years to grasp its scale. Eventually 29 women and two men were put on trial in 1929 for the murders of 42 men; 16 women were convicted. Scores of bodies were exhumed and examined for traces of arsenic. Some think as many as 300 people could have been killed. “The boldness and utter callousness with which they carried on their criminal activities seems to have been equalled only by the stupidity of the men who were their victims,” the New York Times reported.

The author weaves in character sketches that suggest the perpetrators’ various motives. Her portrait of Auntie Suzy, a buxom woman fond of her pipe and brandy, is particularly evocative. When questioned by the police about a pattern of infant deaths, she described her role in benevolent terms: she helped poor people with family planning. In fact, she was motivated by money and status.

She plundered goods from clients’ homes and charged exorbitant fees for her potions. (From Maria, the woman who killed her son and husband, she hoped to extract a house.) Occasionally Auntie Suzy or one of her helpers would bump someone off unprompted. A baby was killed without the mother’s say-so. A war veteran was dispatched so that Auntie Suzy’s son might marry his wealthy widow.

Ms McCracken also lays out the context in which these misdeeds took place. She describes regional customs and the effects on the village of the first world war and the fall of the Austro-Hungarian empire. 

Link to the rest at The Economist

Fool Me Once

From The Wall Street Journal:

You know the saying: “You can’t cheat an honest man.” It assumes that those who are the target of a cheat asked for it. The investment fund with the suspiciously high returns, the inside racing tip, the stock trade that’s a “sure thing”—the investors knew, or should have known, that something was off. The victims thought they were in on the con, and it turned out they were the marks.

The truth is that honest people can be and are cheated all the time. In “Fool Me Once: Scams, Stories, and Secrets From the Trillion-Dollar Fraud Industry,” Kelly Richmond Pope explores how this happens. Small-business owners are blindsided when their bookkeeper turns out to have been cooking the books; multinational financial institutions find executives funneling out cash; the government of a small city discovers that an official has been skimming from its accounts for decades. Ms. Pope, a professor of forensic accounting at DePaul University, even includes a class of “accidental” perpetrator for those who start out as inadvertent beneficiaries of a mistake but who, rather than confessing, decide to lean into the opportunity.

As Ms. Pope argues: “We all have to understand the cycle of fraud because at one point or another you’re either impacted by it, you did it, or you were in a position to expose it.” She has spent time with fraudsters, interviewing the incarcerated and paroled, to understand why they made the choices they did. She has also spoken to victims, examining how they became vulnerable, and whistleblowers, who reported their co-workers, often at high personal cost.

Some of Ms. Pope’s observations make intuitive sense, like the conclusion that community groups and churches are among the softest of targets: they’re typically run by volunteers, hold lots of cash and apply very little oversight. But any organization can be vulnerable. Most of us ignore the red flags or don’t even know whatto look for. We don’t want to treat our friends andco-workers with suspicion, and keeping a beady eye feels unnatural. That’s why the perp is always the “trusted” employee. (The person everyone thinks is kind of shady is rarely given access to the bank accounts.) In my experience, systems designed to prevent fraud probably make scams more possible: Forcing users to change their passwords every 30 days results in passwords written on Post-it notes and found in obvious locations. Convoluted swipe-card systems end up with doors propped open.

A threat can come from anywhere, given how much of our lives is online. Maybe you’ve seen the Facebook message saying your grandson has been mugged and could you please wire some money. I’ve received emails, purportedly from my boss, asking me to send him some gift cards. Ms. Pope notes how victims often don’t report crimes like this out of shame and embarrassment. The thief didn’t lift their wallet—they willingly handed it over.

But this isn’t a “protect grandma from getting scammed” book. It’s a study of who does it, whom they do it to and who reports it. Ms. Pope’s profiles of fraudsters include the typical corporate swindlers, but there’s also one shocking case of a pharmacist who diluted cancer medicine for profit. (My gut instinct is to call this a homicide rather than fraud.) The diversity of the people in this book reminds us that almost anyone could perpetrate a fraud—or be the victim of one.

“I’m fixated on how people cheat,” Ms. Pope writes. The prevailing answer seems to be by taking advantage of opportunity and impunity. An ATM technician grabs a few handfuls of cash. An insurance-account manager creates fake transactions. If a novice cheater gets away with it the first time, he’ll probably keep doing it.

The biggest fraudster in this book is Rita Crundwell, who stole more than $50 million from the city coffers as the comptroller of Dixon, Ill. She was caught when a colleague looked at some accounts while Crundwell was out of the office. According to Ms. Pope, a high proportion of fraud comes to light this way. We depend on these human monitoring systems as much as any password setup or background check.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal

Decoding the Secrets of Mary, Queen of Scots’ Letters

From Culture.org:

A team of researchers, George Lasry, Norbert Biermann, and Satoshi Tomokiyo, has successfully deciphered 57 encrypted letters written by Mary, Queen of Scots, dating from 1578 to 1584.

This discovery is being hailed as the most significant find regarding Mary in over a century. The letters were found in the French National Library, catalogued as Italian texts from the first half of the 16th century.

Dr. John Guy, a fellow in history at the University of Cambridge and author of a 2004 biography of Mary, Queen of Scots, called the findings a “literary and historical sensation.”

The decryption project involved a combination of manual research and computerized cryptanalysis, which identified the plaintext language as French, not Italian as previously assumed.

. . . .

Mary, Queen of Scots, used more than 100 different ciphers in her correspondence.

Mary’s cipher system often masked individual letters with a single symbol; however, to bolster security, she employed homophones, allowing several symbols to signify frequently used letters.

Additionally, she concealed common words by utilizing symbols designated for months, locations, and names of individuals.

Lastly, to further obscure the content, she incorporated red herrings or “nulls” that knowledgeable recipients would disregard.

. . . .

The decrypted letters reveal a mix of political discussions and personal complaints, reflecting Mary’s shifting strategies during her imprisonment.

She often wrote about her efforts to negotiate her release and her willingness to relinquish her claims to the English throne.

The letters also reveal her distrust of Sir Francis Walsingham and the Puritan faction at the English court.

Mary’s deteriorating personal circumstances, including financial difficulties and recurrent bouts of physical and mental illness, are also evident in her correspondence.

The letters provide valuable insight into how she maintained connections with her supporters despite the intense surveillance during her captivity.

. . . .

The newly deciphered letters have confirmed the long-held suspicion of a mole within the French embassy who successfully passed letters to the English.

The survival of both ciphered letters and contemporary plaintext copies in English archives indicates the mole’s success throughout 1584.

. . . .

According to Dr. Guy, these new documents show Mary as a shrewd and attentive analyst of international affairs and will occupy historians of Britain and Europe and students of the French language and early modern ciphering techniques for years to come.

Link to the rest at Culture.org

Why Marie Antoinette’s Reputation Changes With Each Generation

From The Smithsonian Magazine:

Approximately 230 years after Marie Antoinette’s execution by guillotine at the hands of revolutionaries, the French queen remains one of history’s most recognizable royals. Depicted alternatively as a materialistic, self-absorbed young woman who ignored her people’s suffering; a more benign figure who was simply out of her depth; and a feminist scapegoat for men’s mistakes, she continues to captivate in large part because of her tragic fate.

“[Marie Antoinette] has no official power. She’s just the wife of the king of France, and yet she’s put to death,” says Catriona Seth, a historian and literary scholar at the University of Oxford. “It seems like an almost gratuitous action on the part of the revolutionaries. … [If] they had sent her back to Austria or put her in a convent,” she would be far less famous.

Marie Antoinette’s exploits at the glittering court of Versailles, coupled with her dramatic fall from grace during the French Revolution, have inspired numerous silver screen adaptations, from a 1938 film starring Norma Shearer to Sofia Coppola’s sympathetic 2006 biopic. But “Marie Antoinette,” a new series premiering in the United States on March 19, is the first major English-language television show to tell the queen’s story. Much like Marie Antoinette herself, it’s proving controversial, with biographer Évelyne Lever deeming the production a “grotesque caricature” and a “litany of historic aberrations.”

Here’s what you need to know ahead of the series’ debut on PBS.

Is “Marie Antoinette” based on a true story?

Yes, but with extensive dramatic license. Created by British screenwriter Deborah Davis, who co-wrote the 2018 period drama The Favourite, “Marie Antoinette” originally premiered in Europe in 2022. Featuring Emilia Schüle as the queen and Louis Cunningham as her hapless husband, Louis XVI, the show’s first season (one of three planned installments) covers roughly 1770 to 1781, beginning with Marie Antoinette’s journey to France and ending with the birth of her first son. In between these milestones, she struggles to win the affection of both her husband and her subjects, all while navigating the competing interests of her birth kingdom of Austria and her new home.

In keeping with the recent period drama trend of presenting historical figures and settings through a thoroughly modern lens (see “Bridgerton,” “The Great” and “The Serpent Queen”), “Marie Antoinette” offers a feminist take on the queen’s life. As Schüle told Variety last October, Marie Antoinette was a “rebel” who was “modern, emancipated, and fought for equality and for her personal freedom.”

Link to the rest at The Smithsonian Magazine

Orwell, Camus and truth

From The Critic:

A war still raged in Europe, but the enemy were firmly in retreat. The occupation of Paris had been broken, and France was free, and so were the cafés of the Boulevard St Germain. No longer did the waiters have to serve coffee to SS officers.

One afternoon in April 1945, a dishevelled Englishman walked into one such café. He was a war correspondent for the Observer — fond of shag-tobacco and Indian tea. His pen-name was George Orwell. 

Orwell was meeting Albert Camus – the distinguished writer and intellectual. But even so, I always imagine Orwell taking a seat indoors, among the pale, ornate woodwork, and feeling slightly out of place. Les Deux Magots, and the Café de Flore opposite, were frequented by a kind of intellectual of which Orwell often disapproved. That is, philosopher-types with communist sympathies: the likes of Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone De Beauvoir and Maurice Merleau-Ponty. 

Orwell sat and waited, and waited, for Camus to arrive. He never turned up: he was laid up with an exacerbation of tuberculosis. They would never get the chance to meet again, and Orwell would die five years later, having lost his own battle with the same disease.

My admiration for both of these eminent writers developed in isolation of one another — but I have always unconsciously identified them as the same sort of writer, and indeed, the same sort of person. There are various superficial similarities: the TB diagnosis that prevented both of them from joining the armed forces, the foreign birth, the rampant womanising, the shared hatred of fascism and suspicion of communism. Much more importantly, they seemed to share the same outlook. Both of these writers took the view that truthfulness was more important than ideological allegiance and metaphysics, that the facts should be derived from the real world, rather than the world of ideas. They were similar stylistically too: both wrote candidly, clearly and prolifically. 

Camus seemed to have shared my view. He said as much in a letter to his mistress, Maria Casarès, on the day of Orwell’s death in 1950.

Some bad news: George Orwell is dead. You don’t know him. A very talented English writer, with exactly the same experience as me (although ten years older) and exactly the same ideas. He fought tuberculosis for years. He was one of the very few men with whom I shared something.

For Camus to say that another writer had “exactly the same ideas”, and was “one of the very few men with whom I shared something” was no small thing. 

No correspondence between the two authors seems to exist. In fact, when I searched for personal links between them there was little to go on. But although my hunt for biographical evidence of a relationship was fruitless, the time I have since spent reading and comparing their work yields some rather more intriguing connections. 

Orwell’s best-known novel is undoubtedly Nineteen Eighty-Four. What’s remarkable about this novel — above virtually all other novels in English — is the number of words and expressions it has bequeathed to the English-speaking world. Perhaps this was Orwell’s greatest gift to mankind: an entire language through which to talk about the coming age of state sponsored surveillance, fake news and post-truth politics in which we now live. When someone says a policy or a government’s behaviour is “Orwellian” people know precisely what is meant.

One phrase from Nineteen Eighty-Four should be familiar to us all, even to those who might not have actually read the novel: 

There comes a time in history when the man who dares to say that two and two make four is punished with death.

Except of course, these words are not Orwell’s at all. This is a quote from Albert Camus’ novel La Peste, which was published two years before Nineteen Eighty-Four, in 1947. Of course, the formulation of two and two making five has a history that predates both Orwell and Camus, but Orwell used a very similar version of it as far back as 1939, in a review of a book by Bertrand Russell in Adelphi:

It is quite possible that we are descending into an age in which two plus two will make five when the Leader says so

The similarity between these lines is patent. Is it possible that Camus got the idea from Orwell’s article? Yes, but such things are nearly impossible to prove. Still, it is not important whether Camus was taking influence from Orwell’s writing (although an interesting possibility). What’s important about this example is that it exposes common ground. These quotes embody a foundational principle that united their work: a shared anxiety over the fragility of truth.  

. . . .

Both Camus and Orwell are rightly credited with being “antitotalitarian” writers. And yet their reasons for being so are not wholly political. They were antitotalitarian not just because they opposed totalitarian regimes, but because they both understood that the totalitarian mindset requires you accept that truth comes from ideology. If the ideas say something is true, it becomes true, and is true. For Fascists and Communists, ideology is not merely a set of values or beliefs, but a cohesive explanation of the past, present and future of mankind. This is what Camus referred to in The Rebel as the desire “to make the earth a kingdom where man is God”. Orwell and Camus both understood the dangers of such thinking, and sought to repudiate it in their work.

Link to the rest at The Critic

Are science and religion fated to be adversaries?

From The Economist:

In the late 19th century two books on science and religion were published within a decade of each other. In “The Creed of Science” William Graham tried to reconcile new scientific ideas with faith. In 1881 Charles Darwin, by then an agnostic, told him: “You have expressed my inward conviction, though far more vividly and clearly than I could have done, that the Universe is not the result of chance.”

The other book made a much bigger splash. “History of the Conflict Between Religion and Science” by John William Draper was one of the first post-Darwinian tomes to advance the view that—as its title suggests—science and religion are strongly antithetical. Promoted hard by its publisher, the book went through 50 printings in America and 24 in Britain and was translated into at least ten languages. Draper’s bestseller told a story of antagonism that, ever since, has been the mainstream way to see this relationship.

In “Magisteria”, his illuminating new book, Nicholas Spencer claims that this framing, more recently espoused by Richard Dawkins and others, is misleading. For centuries, he says, science and religion have been “endlessly and fascinatingly entangled”. Even (or especially) those readers inclined to disagree with him will find his narrative refreshing.

Mr Spencer works at Theos, a religious think-tank in London, and is one of Britain’s most astute observers of religious affairs. Some conflict between science and religion is understandable, he argues, but not inevitable. He offers an engaging tour of the intersection of religious and scientific history: from ancient science in which “the divine was everywhere”, to the Abbasid caliphate in Baghdad in the ninth century and Maimonides, an illustrious Jewish thinker of the 12th—and onwards, eventually, to artificial intelligence. Now and again he launches salvoes against ideologues on both sides.

“Medieval science” is not an oxymoron, he writes. Nor is religious rationalism. In the 11th century Berengar of Tours held that “it is by his reason that man resembles God.” As religious dissent spread following the Reformation, Mr Spencer says, theology helped incubate modern science through the propagation of doubt about institutions and the cracking open of orthodoxies. For their part, an emergent tribe of naturalists strove, chisel and hammer in hand, to show that creation pointed towards a creator. Exploration of nature was itself a form of worship.

Mr Spencer insightfully revisits the dust-ups involving Galileo, Darwin and John Scopes (prosecuted in Tennessee in 1925 for teaching evolution). He traces the interaction of the two disciplines in often fascinating detail. Many pioneering scientists lived in times of religious and political strife and found in “natural philosophy”, as pre-modern science was known, a “ministry of reconciliation”. Thomas Sprat, dean of Westminster and biographer of the Royal Society, opined in 1667 that, in their experiments, men “may agree, or dissent, without faction, or fierceness”. That was not always true, as Isaac Newton’s spats with his peers showed. Still, says Mr Spencer, by supplying an arena for calmer debate that was beyond clerical control, “Science saved religion from itself.”

The roll call of scientists who were people of faith runs from Michael Faraday and James Clerk Maxwell to Gregor Mendel and Georges Lemaître, a Belgian priest who, on the basis of mathematical calculations, first proposed that the universe was expanding and therefore had a beginning. In 1933 Lemaître made what, for Mr Spencer, is a key observation: “Neither St Paul nor Moses had the slightest idea of relativity.” The writers of the Bible could see into “the question of salvation. On other questions they were as wise or as ignorant as their generation.” In other words, science and religion are not different attempts to do the same thing. Lemaître warned the pope against drawing any theological conclusions from his work on the cosmos.

Link to the rest at The Economist

The Battle for Your Brain

From The Wall Street Journal:

The fantastical events and strange worlds that our minds concoct as we sleep—our dreams—have long been understood as a mysterious force of creativity, emotional expression and even subconscious desire. But did you know they are a potentially lucrative site for marketing beer?

In “The Battle for Your Brain,” Nita Farahany explores a new era of neurotechnology in which ever more sophisticated devices, for all sorts of reasons, are attempting to discover exactly what we’re thinking and why. The possibilities are both practical and utopian, thrilling and disturbing.

Neurotech, as Ms. Farahany notes, promises a future where drivers never fall asleep at the wheel because their devices alert them to their fatigue; where people who suffer from conditions like epilepsy can be warned of an impending seizure; and where people with neural implants can move objects using only the power of their thoughts.

But there is more to it than that, of course. Ms. Farahany, a professor of philosophy and law at Duke University, takes readers on a tour of companies creating devices—headsets, electrode-enabled earbuds and hats—for tracking the signals that our brains emit. The goal is to decode the signals with software, turning the data into information about everything from our real-time emotions to our unconscious urges. Dream researchers have been approached by companies—including Xbox and Coors—eager to use their findings to pursue “dream incubation” marketing: that is, to use sleep sensor technology to monitor the times when, during sleep, your brain is most suggestible to prompts, such as the brand of beer you should prefer when awake.In one experiment that Ms. Farahany describes, researchers were able to “steal” information from the brains of videogamers using a neural interface. The researchers “inserted subliminal images into the game and probed the players’ unconscious brains for reaction to stimuli—like postal addresses, bank details, or human faces.” By measuring the gamers’ responses, researchers were able to figure out one gamer’s PIN code for a credit card, no doubt opening up new vistas for future brain hackers.

In the here-and-now, however, wearable neurotech is already being used by employers to monitor their employees, enabling a far more granular level of surveillance than was possible before. Ms. Farahany argues that the power of new surveillance tools requires clearer rules about the technologies that serve a public interest—say, by monitoring brain fatigue in long-haul truckers—and those that invade a worker’s privacy, such as mandatory earbuds that measure mood and attention in the guise of promoting “wellness.”

When it comes to governments’ use of such tools, Ms. Farahany warns that a world where consumers embrace wearable neurotech is also one that could allow law enforcement and government agencies to harvest personal data—indeed, our very thoughts. Brain-computer interfaces currently under development by Meta and Elon Musk’s Neuralink, among others, promise to translate the activities of neurons into speech, effectively reading our minds. Should the government have access to those thoughts for the purposes of preventing crime? Are our thoughts considered part of our bodies, or can they be treated as something else?

Likewise, how much mental manipulation should we allow? We are already assaulted by constant advertising online that attempts to guide us to click away from whatever we are reading to purchase products. Is there a point beyond which such prompting and nudging should not go? Ms. Farahany quotes a dream researcher concerned that a lack of regulation might mean a future in which we “become instruments of passive, unconscious overnight advertising, with or without our permission.”

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal

BBC crisis escalates as players and stars rally behind soccer host Gary Lineker

From National Public Radio:

The BBC was forced to scrap much of its weekend sports programming as the network scrambled to stem an escalating crisis over its suspension of soccer host Gary Lineker for comments criticizing the British government’s new asylum policy.

As a growing number of English Premier League players and BBC presenters rallied to Lineker’s support and refused to appear on the airwaves on Saturday, Britain’s national broadcaster faced allegations of political bias and suppressing free speech, as well as praise from some Conservative politicians.

The broadcaster said it would air only “limited sport programming” this weekend after hosts of many of its popular sports shows declined to appear, in solidarity with Lineker. The former England captain was suspended from “Match of the Day,” a popular soccer highlights show, over a Twitter post that compared lawmakers’ language about migrants to that used in Nazi Germany.

British Prime Minister Rishi Sunak made his first comments on the storm, saying: “Gary Lineker was a great footballer and is a talented presenter. I hope that the current situation between Gary Lineker and the BBC can be resolved in a timely manner, but it is rightly a matter for them, not the government.”

Instead of blanket coverage on Saturday of the most popular league in the world, the BBC had no preview shows on radio or TV and no early evening summary of the final scores of Premier League games. Lunchtime TV program “Football Focus” was replaced with a rerun episode of antiques show “Bargain Hunt,” while early evening “Final Score” was swapped for “The Repair Shop.”

Soccer fans tuning in for “Match of the Day” — the late-night program that has been a British institution for 60 years — will be getting a 20-minute show instead of one typically lasting around an hour and a half. There will be no commentary on the matches and no studio punditry from some of the most high-profile stars in the British game who have chosen to support Lineker and not work.

There will not be any post-match player interviews, either. The Professional Footballers’ Association said some players wanted to boycott the show, and as a result “players involved in today’s games will not be asked to participate in interviews with ‘Match of The Day.'”

Link to the rest at National Public Radio

Americans may play on soccer teams in the US and elsewhere, but a great many of us don’t really understand the intense popularity of The Beautiful Game elsewhere.

That said, PG has always viewed the powers that be that control the BBC to be more than a little poncey from time to time. Perhaps it’s because BBC programs in the US run primarily on educational channels, usually non-profits, and more often than not associated with a local college or university.

Plus, there’s no US analog to the British television license fee that Brits must pay to watch or record television on any channel. This means that the stations that carry BBC programs in the US tend to interrupt them with breaks to ask for money “to support good programming such as the show you’ve just been watching for ten minutes since our last pledge break,” sounding more than a little like poncey beggers as well.

Of course, in more than a few US universities, the annual salaries paid to the football coach and the basketball coach would fund the university’s public television activities for several years.

Inspiration for The Guidance Groove

From Women Writers, Women’s Books:

My inspiration for writing The Guidance Groove grew partially from my conversations with the undergraduate students I have the privilege of teaching and learning from as a conservation biology professor at the University of California, San Diego. The young people who attend UCSD are amazing—bright, motivated, hard-working, and the best of the best in a myriad of ways. However, so many of them come to my office hours speaking of their imposter syndrome, uncertainty, unhappiness, and fears. I noticed that the underlying themes of their stories were not that different from those I heard from people in other areas of my life, and I sought to understand why so many outstanding, brilliant, and shiny people had self-doubt, lacked contentment, and were unsettled. 

Publishing research papers is the currency for advancement within academia, so translating complicated scientific findings into simpler stories through writing and teaching has been part of my professional life for 20 years, making the use of words my most comfortable form of expression. Thus, I started writing down what I observed and experienced from my students and others and that process helped me discover potential reasons why we humans move through life with less than ideal levels of ease and contentment. Before long, a draft of The Guidance Groove was born.

The Guidance Groove is my first book and, even though the subject is wholly different from my research, throughout the process of its creation, I drew heavily from my scientific writing experience. As with a science paper, the book is logical, succinct, organized, and easy to flip through to find the parts that are most meaningful for the reader. Much like the figures and tables in a research article, the stories used to illustrate my ideas are contained within boxes, making it simple for readers to find the examples that will help them better understand why we adhere to what I call the Unproductive Grooves of inadequacy, obligation, scarcity, and unworthiness and what it feels like to be stuck in those grooves and escape them. 

The logical progression I describe above was invaluable for the creation of my book, but the writing of and the inspiration for The Guidance Groove has another component that is less tangible, more difficult to explain, and not particularly logical. The process involves finding, paying attention to, trusting, and translating the voice that comes from somewhere that urges us writers to string words together in the hopes that we can relay the message of that voice into something meaningful, useful, and wholly authentic for another human to experience. That is the unknown magic of artistic creation. 

I have known this authentic voice for my whole life, and I long ago learned to pay strong attention when I hear its whispers, murmurs, shouts, and calls. For my writing, I listen to and transcribe the wisdom from that voice. To hear the voice better, I consciously quiet the untrue thought patterns in my mind. Those falsehoods that were long ago programmed into me by my upbringing, society, and my own choices to believe the made-up stories that comprise the bulk of my thoughts. I let go of what my mind tells me I “should” do, say, or be, and instead invite my mysterious and wholly authentic voice to be louder, clearer, and more distinct.

Link to the rest at Women Writers, Women’s Books

PG is not in a position to judge whether today’s college students are more angsty than generations before or not.

He tries to avoid any old geezer attitudes that amount to “You think you have it tough, you have no idea what tough is if you didn’t go through the experiences I did when I was your age.”

He suspects that the days of old when college students just had fun and learned have never really existed for a significant portion of college students of any era. The golden glow observed through a rear-view mirror of distant pasts is probably self-generated rather than the way things actually felt during that period of being grown up without attaining true maturity.

Silicon Valley Bank Closed by Regulators, FDIC Takes Control

From The Wall Street Journal:

Silicon Valley Bank collapsed Friday in the second-biggest bank failure in U.S. history after a run on deposits doomed the tech-focused lender’s plans to raise fresh capital.

The Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. said it has taken control of the bank via a new entity it created called the Deposit Insurance National Bank of Santa Clara. All of the bank’s deposits have been transferred to the new bank, the regulator said.

Insured depositors will have access to their funds by Monday morning, the FDIC said. Depositors with funds exceeding insurance caps will get receivership certificates for their uninsured balances, meaning businesses with big deposits stuck at the bank are unlikely to get their money out soon.

The bank is the 16th largest in the U.S., with some $209 billion in assets as of Dec. 31, according to the Federal Reserve. It is by far the biggest bank to fail since the near collapse of the financial system in 2008, second only to the crisis-era collapse of Washington Mutual Inc.

The bank’s parent company, SVB Financial Group, was racing to find a buyer after scrapping a planned $2.25 billion share sale Friday morning. Regulators weren’t willing to wait. The California Department of Financial Protection and Innovation closed the bank Friday within hours and put it under the control of the FDIC.

Customers tried to withdraw $42 billion—about a quarter of the bank’s total deposits—on Thursday alone, the California regulator said in a filing Friday. The flood of withdrawals destroyed the bank’s finances; at close of business Thursday, it had a negative cash balance of nearly $1 billion and couldn’t cover its outgoing payments at the Fed, according to the filing.

The bank was in sound financial condition on Wednesday, the regulator said. A day later, it was insolvent.

SVB’s troubles have dragged down a wide swath of the industry. Investors dumped the shares of banks big and small on Thursday, shaving $52 billion off the value of the four largest U.S. banks alone. The megabanks recovered Friday but many of their smaller peers continued to plunge. Several were halted for volatility.

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal

The reason this is of note to visitors to TPV is that a great many Northern California tech companies were holding all or a lot of their money in this bank.

Making the next payroll could be a real problem for a whole lot of tech companies.

The FDIC (Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation) covers $250,000 of a customer’s loss when a bank fails, but some tech companies had billions of dollars of deposits in the bank. It’s estimated that roughly 95% of the bank’s deposits were uninsured, according to filings with the SEC.

We Are Electric

From The Wall Street Journal:

The science writer Sally Adee begins “We Are Electric” in a bullish mood, arguing that it’s time for researchers to focus on the electrome—the “electrical dimensions and properties of cells, the tissues they collaborate to form, and the electrical forces that are turning out to be involved in every aspect of life.” Once the secrets of the electrome are unlocked, Ms. Adee claims, we “should all be programmable at the level of the cell.”

The story begins during the Enlightenment, with the dispute between Luigi Galvani and Alessandro Volta over “animal electricity.” Ms. Adee takes us back to 1780, when Galvani set up a home laboratory complete with Leyden jars, electrostatic generators and a host of frogs cut into various grisly configurations. The author describes how a series of experiments with static electricity, lightning and brass hooks convinced Galvani that “the body is animated by a kind of electricity,” and how Volta—keen to “cement his reputation as a brilliant theorist”—attacked Galvani’s theory and buried it with a “world-changing instrument: the battery.” Despite Galvani’s elegant dissections, most electricians “didn’t care about a theory as long as it yielded a tool that helped them do better science,” Ms. Adee suggests. So when Volta demonstrated a device that for the first time produced a steady electric current, it was enough to win the argument, handing the field of electricity in living creatures over to quacks and charlatans for nearly a century.

The broad outlines of this tale, where bioelectrical pioneers struggle to gain recognition for their work but wind up “sidelined” by the scientific establishment, are repeated as Ms. Adee traces the study of bioelectricity over the next 250 years. The inventor of the electroencephalogram, Hans Berger, killed himself in 1941, in part over his despair at the ridicule he endured after introducing his machine in Germany in the 1920s. After Alan Hodgkin and Andrew Huxley discovered in 1952 that neurons fire by swapping sodium and potassium ions, James Watson and Francis Crick “stole the show” with their discovery of DNA, leaving bioelectricity “sidelined by a ‘bigger’ discovery once again.” Despite an experiment that in 2007 helped a man with a crushed spine walk again, Richard Borgens’s innovative oscillating field stimulator, we are told, was “blocked at every turn.”

. . . .

Ms. Adee looks forward to a future in which implants are made of organic material and dispense ions instead of electrons, allowing them to speak to the body “in its own language.” But some studies have proved challenging to replicate, and she admits that treatments are “an extremely long way from your doctor’s consulting room.” Understanding the human electrome well enough that we can manipulate it precisely will require huge trials to establish how these technologies interact with our bioelectricity, Ms. Adee continues, which raises the question: “Who is going to let you open their brain to get that data?”

. . . .

Ms. Adee writes as a reporter, but also an enthusiast who “ended up buying a brain stimulator” herself. It was through her experience with one such wearable device at a U.S. military training facility—where her brain was electrically stimulated from outside her skull, turning her from a novice marksman into a sharpshooter within hours—that her interest in the field was sparked. For the next few days, she writes, “life was so much easier. Who knew you could just, like, do stuff without first performing the elaborate dance of psychological self-recrimination?”

Link to the rest at The Wall Street Journal

PG wants a brain stimulator. He just searched for brain stimulator device and found lots of products on Amazon, including TENS muscle stimulators plus a lot of fishy-looking devices (including some that claimed to include “safety features”) that may or may not work the way the one described in the WSJ article seemed to.

Slavery in the Americas: Separating Fact from Fiction

From The Mises Institute:

The history of transatlantic slavery is riddled with fables and errors. Erroneous claims have been propagated in the media because history is currently perceived as a political project that must justify present sensibilities. History has become so politicized that rigorous research is unable to disabuse activists of inaccuracies. Due to the rampant politicization of academia, noted scholars are usually cajoled into apologizing for defending historical standards.

After chiding fellow scholars for projecting modern sensibilities onto historical realities, historian James H. Sweet was shamed into penning an apology. Sweet was ruthlessly demeaned by his colleagues for noting the fallacy of using the narratives of identity politics to interpret historical events. Because academics are so willing to genuflect to unhinged mobs, propaganda is becoming history, and instead of digesting hard historical truths, many are fed fabrications.

Link to the rest at The Mises Institute

Is History History?

PG trigger warning: PG will include excerpts from the original article that is the subject of this post.

If you go to the OP, you will see that the original piece now has a groveling apology from the author, who evidently is the President of the American Historical Association, apologizing for “the harm that it has caused” and for the OP foreclosing “this conversation for many members, causing harm to colleagues, the discipline, and the Association.” Further down the introductory apology, the author characterizes the piece as “my ham-fisted attempt at provocation” and invites anyone who would like an additional apology to contact him directly.

The author of the OP ends his apology by writing:

“I sincerely regret the way I have alienated some of my Black colleagues and friends. I am deeply sorry. In my clumsy efforts to draw attention to methodological flaws in teleological presentism, I left the impression that questions posed from absence, grief, memory, and resilience somehow matter less than those posed from positions of power. This absolutely is not true. It wasn’t my intention to leave that impression, but my provocation completely missed the mark.

Once again, I apologize for the damage I have caused to my fellow historians, the discipline, and the AHA. I hope to redeem myself in future conversations with you all. I’m listening and learning.”

From the original pre-groveling article published in Perspectives on History, published by the American Historical Association:

Twenty years ago, in these pages, Lynn Hunt argued “against presentism.” She lamented historians’ declining interest in topics prior to the 20th century, as well as our increasing tendency to interpret the past through the lens of the present. Hunt warned that this rising presentism threatened to “put us out of business as historians.” If history was little more than “short-term . . . identity politics defined by present concerns,” wouldn’t students be better served by taking degrees in sociology, political science, or ethnic studies instead?

The discipline did not heed Hunt’s warning. From 2003 to 2013, the number of PhDs awarded to students working on topics post-1800, across all fields, rose 18 percent. Meanwhile, those working on pre-1800 topics declined by 4 percent. During this time, the Wall Street meltdown was followed by plummeting undergraduate enrollments in history courses and increased professional interest in the history of contemporary socioeconomic topics. Then came Obama, and Twitter, and Trump. As the discipline has become more focused on the 20th and 21st centuries, historical analyses are contained within an increasingly constrained temporality. Our interpretations of the recent past collapse into the familiar terms of contemporary debates, leaving little room for the innovative, counterintuitive interpretations.

This trend toward presentism is not confined to historians of the recent past; the entire discipline is lurching in this direction, including a shrinking minority working in premodern fields. If we don’t read the past through the prism of contemporary social justice issues—race, gender, sexuality, nationalism, capitalism—are we doing history that matters? This new history often ignores the values and mores of people in their own times, as well as change over time, neutralizing the expertise that separates historians from those in other disciplines. The allure of political relevance, facilitated by social and other media, encourages a predictable sameness of the present in the past. This sameness is ahistorical, a proposition that might be acceptable if it produced positive political results. But it doesn’t.

In many places, history suffuses everyday life as presentism; America is no exception. We suffer from an overabundance of history, not as method or analysis, but as anachronistic data points for the articulation of competing politics. The consequences of this new history are everywhere. I traveled to Ghana for two months this summer to research and write, and my first assignment was a critical response to The 1619 Project: A New Origin Story for a forthcoming forum in the American Historical Review. Whether or not historians believe that there is anything new in the New York Times project created by Nikole Hannah-Jones, The 1619 Project is a best-selling book that sits at the center of current controversies over how to teach American history. As journalism, the project is powerful and effective, but is it history?

This new history often ignores the values and mores of people in their own times.

When I first read the newspaper series that preceded the book, I thought of it as a synthesis of a tradition of Black nationalist historiography dating to the 19th century with Ta-Nehisi Coates’s recent call for reparations. The project spoke to the political moment, but I never thought of it primarily as a work of history. Ironically, it was professional historians’ engagement with the work that seemed to lend it historical legitimacy. Then the Pulitzer Center, in partnership with the Times, developed a secondary school curriculum around the project. Local school boards protested characterizations of Washington, Jefferson, and Madison as unpatriotic owners of “forced labor camps.” Conservative lawmakers decided that if this was the history of slavery being taught in schools, the topic shouldn’t be taught at all. For them, challenging the Founders’ position as timeless tribunes of liberty was “racially divisive.” At each of these junctures, history was a zero-sum game of heroes and villains viewed through the prism of contemporary racial identity. It was not an analysis of people’s ideas in their own time, nor a process of change over time.

In Ghana, I traveled to Elmina for a wedding. A small seaside fishing village, Elmina was home to one of the largest Atlantic slave-trading depots in West Africa. The morning after the wedding, a small group of us met for breakfast at the hotel. As we waited for several members of our party to show up, a group of African Americans began trickling into the breakfast bar. By the time they all gathered, more than a dozen members of the same family—three generations deep—pulled together the restaurant’s tables to dine. Sitting on the table in front of one of the elders was a dog-eared copy of The 1619 Project.

. . . .

Later that afternoon, my family and I toured Elmina Castle alongside several Ghanaians, a Dane, and a Jamaican family. Our guide gave a well-rehearsed tour geared toward African Americans. American influence was everywhere, from memorial plaques to wreaths and flowers left on the floors of the castle’s dungeons. Arguably, Elmina Castle is now as much an African American shrine as a Ghanaian archaeological or historical site. As I reflected on breakfast earlier that morning, I could only imagine the affirmation and bonding experienced by the large African American family—through the memorialization of ancestors lost to slavery at Elmina Castle, but also through the story of African American resilience, redemption, and the demand for reparations in The 1619 Project.

Yet as a historian of Africa and the African diaspora, I am troubled by the historical erasures and narrow politics that these narratives convey. Less than one percent of the Africans passing through Elmina arrived in North America. The vast majority went to Brazil and the Caribbean. Should the guide’s story differ for a tour with no African Americans? Likewise, would The 1619 Project tell a different history if it took into consideration that the shipboard kin of Jamestown’s “20. and odd” Africans also went to Mexico, Jamaica, and Bermuda? These are questions of historical interpretation, but present-day political ones follow: Do efforts to claim a usable African American past reify elements of American hegemony and exceptionalism such narratives aim to dismantle?

The Elmina tour guide claimed that “Ghanaians” sent their “servants” into chattel slavery unknowingly. The guide made no reference to warfare or Indigenous slavery, histories that interrupt assumptions of ancestral connection between modern-day Ghanaians and visitors from the diaspora. Similarly, the forthcoming film The Woman King seems to suggest that Dahomey’s female warriors and King Ghezo fought the European slave trade. In fact, they promoted it. Historically accurate rendering of Asante or Dahomean greed and enslavement apparently contradict modern-day political imperatives.

Hollywood need not adhere to historians’ methods any more than journalists or tour guides, but bad history yields bad politics. The erasure of slave-trading African empires in the name of political unity is uncomfortably like right-wing conservative attempts to erase slavery from school curricula in the United States, also in the name of unity. These interpretations are two sides of the same coin. If history is only those stories from the past that confirm current political positions, all manner of political hacks can claim historical expertise.

This is not history; it is dilettantism.

Too many Americans have become accustomed to the idea of history as an evidentiary grab bag to articulate their political positions, a trend that can be seen in recent US Supreme Court decisions.

. . . .

Professional historians would do well to pay attention to Breyer’s admonition. The present has been creeping up on our discipline for a long time. Doing history with integrity requires us to interpret elements of the past not through the optics of the present but within the worlds of our historical actors. Historical questions often emanate out of present concerns, but the past interrupts, challenges, and contradicts the present in unpredictable ways. History is not a heuristic tool for the articulation of an ideal imagined future. Rather, it is a way to study the messy, uneven process of change over time. When we foreshorten or shape history to justify rather than inform contemporary political positions, we not only undermine the discipline but threaten its very integrity.

Link to the rest at Perspectives on History, published by the American Historical Association

PG is not an eminent historian, nor is he a member of the American Historical Association, but the original article excerpted above is consistent with other historical accounts of the slave trade that he has read. In short, the trade in African slaves relied upon the active cooperation of Africans themselves, who captured and enslaved their fellow Africans in preparation for selling them to the slave traders that would carry them across the ocean to the New World.

Additionally, in the New World at the time of active slave trading across the Atlantic, a significant number of captives were sold into slavery in nations and colonies other than the United States. The British government forbade slavery in Great Britain, but slave trading was practiced in more than one British colony during this time and some British citizens made a great deal of money from such activities. The descendants of African slaves can be found today across Brazil and elsewhere in South America.

As PG has mentioned before, The 1619 Project is better understood as a 21st-century political polemic than as an accurate history of slavery in the United States and elsewhere in the New World.

Unfortunately, slavery has been widespread during different time periods in many, many places around the world. It was present during the classical period in ancient Greece and during the height of the Roman Empire. There was also slavery in Ancient Israel.

Three stories of collusion during the second world war

From The Economist:

When nations are licking the wounds of war and occupation, they tell and retell the stories of people who resisted heroically. Equally strong is the instinct to anathematise the accursed characters who colluded with the foe. Focusing on both extremes can be a way for ordinary folk to set aside their own behaviour, which was often somewhere in the middle. Yet even seemingly egregious collaborations can have complex motives and results.

That, broadly, is the theme that holds together these three stories of the second world war, told in intricate but fascinating detail by Ian Buruma, a prolific Dutch-born chronicler of modern times. All three of his subjects are elusive, tantalising targets because they were serial myth-makers and encouraged others to weave fantastical tales around them, leaving questions hanging in the air long after their lifetimes. All three grew up in contested environments where the ability to manipulate narratives seemed indispensable.

The one certain thing is that they co-operated with the Axis powers. Felix Kersten was the masseur and confidante of Heinrich Himmler, commander of the ss. Born in tsarist Estonia to Baltic Germans, he was naturalised in Finland and had to negotiate the complex inter-war contests over that country’s future. Friedrich Weinreb came from a modest Jewish family which in 1915 sought security in the sophistication of Vienna—but felt despised by the city’s more prosperous Jews, as well as threatened by the anti-Semitism that was already rising in central Europe. His family settled in the Netherlands.

The third subject, mostly known by her adopted name of Kawashima Yoshiko, was the daughter of a princely Chinese family. Cut adrift by the dynasty’s overthrow in 1912, she moved to Japan and found succour where she could. First she married a Mongolian; later she offered services, sexual and strategic, to a Japanese officer while herself keeping a Japanese woman in servitude. With a penchant for male uniform, she at one point commanded an equestrian army of ruffians for Manchuria’s Japanese occupiers. In Japan’s propaganda, she was a new Joan of Arc.

All three tried to turn vulnerability into power. As the only person who could ease Himmler’s aches and pains, Kersten later claimed that he used this cosy relationship to ward off some horrific possibilities—such as a plan to deport eastwards the entire Dutch population in 1941. As the book shows, the Nazis never had any such intention. But some assertions he made in self-defence have greater standing: for example, that by arranging a meeting between Himmler and a member of the World Jewish Congress in 1945, he saved the lives of many Jews still in Nazi captivity.

Weinreb’s deception was grosser. During the occupation of the Netherlands he took money from thousands of Jews by claiming, falsely, that he could use high-level German contacts to guarantee their escape. He would later maintain that he had kept people’s hopes alive as liberation loomed; an official investigation found his self-justifying arguments to be nonsense.

Yoshiko was captured by the nationalist Chinese government and executed in 1948. Yet by her own peculiar lights, she was not a traitor. Instead her service to the Japanese occupiers of Manchuria was an element in a wider, well-choreographed initiative to restore, at least partly, the fallen Chinese dynasty, which included the re-coronation of the ousted Emperor Puyi, albeit as a Japanese puppet.

Link to the rest at The Economist

Children’s Rights Roundup: ‘Buy Ukrainian Book Rights’

From Publishing Perspectives:

As Publishing Perspectives readers following our Rights Roundups know, the Federation of European Publishers in Brussels today (February 24) is marking the anniversary of Vladimir Putin’s unprovoked and savage invasion of Ukraine with a statement of support for the Voices of Children Foundation, which has published a book, War Through the Voices of Children. Proceeds of all sales go to special programs in psychological and emotional support for kids . . .

. . . .

As festive as the moment normally might be on the approach to Elena Pasoli’s Bologna Children’s Book Fair in its 60th edition, our world industry can do no less than to observe the fact that one year later, the greatest land war in Europe since World War II is going into advanced stages of combat severity and unthinkable casualties; now officially classified crimes against humanity; deepening military complexity and obligations; and—thankfully—intensifying international resolve against Putin and the Russian nation’s unspeakable aggression against the democratic sovereign state of Ukraine.

It’s meaningful to us today that the first of four calls to action described just below is Buy rights to Ukrainian books. We’re particularly mindful of this because in all the many book deals submitted to us for today’s Rights Roundup, not one title was a book originally written in Ukrainian or by a Ukrainian author.

The International Publishers Association (IPA) in Geneva is making a joint statement today with the federation, laying out the two organizations’ concerns about the damage to book publishing and education for Ukrainians under Putin’s violence, which opened on February 24, 2022.

From the IPA, we have these figures:

  • The number of publishers operating in Ukraine has dropped from 1,053 in 2021 to 563 in 2022
  • Educational publishers have been unable to print textbooks for pupils
  • UNICEF reports that more than 2,600 schools have been damaged, affecting 5.3 million children
  • UNESCO has verified damage to 241 cultural sites including museums and libraries

The United States’ secretary of state, Antony Blinken, this morning (February 24) has told the United Nations’ Security Council that in the last year, among Russians’ atrocities have been bombings of more than 2,600 schools and abductions by Russians of at least 6,000 Ukrainian children for relocation to Russia—”some as young as four months old.”

Link to the rest at Publishing Perspectives