What I've been reading, featuring the atomic bombing of Nagasaki, Hong Kong as a failed neoliberal experiment, and 'immigration as reparations'

I may never get over the role of weather and fuel capacity in the unintended atomic bombing of Nagasaki 74 years ago today. Nagasaki wasn’t even on the target list until a few days prior and apparently was only bombed because more conventional targets were inaccessible after a storm depleted the carrier’s fuel mid-flight. Blindly bombing Nagasakii was deemed preferable to squandering a billion-dollar nuclear weapon on the ocean. Mind-boggling to consider the influence of weather in history; recall that an article in the post from earlier today quoted then-General Eisenhower attributing the Allied victory on the Western Front victory to their superior meteorologists.

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What I've been reading, featuring the remarkable efficiency of the kidnapping industry, the science of suppressing disease-vector mosquitoes, and the monotony of op-eds

Robinson Meyer on the new IPCC report on climate change and land is terrific.

In some ways, this is the most unavoidably political document that the IPCC has ever published. Its report last year, on the dangers of global warming beyond 1.5 degrees Celsius, called for an unprecedented transformation in the globe’s energy system… But talking about the energy system is, in this context, relatively easy… land is different. It is home, and the possibility of home. The relationship between people and land is the most treasured and unresolved idea in global politics.

…“A lot of countries want to make sure that they see themselves, and their specific interests and issues, in every single paragraph. Land is something that’s so local. People come with the land- and food-security issues in their country. You can tell people in the room care really deeply about these questions, but it has made things incredibly slow. There’s also some really complex political issues at the center.”

The biggest of these issues: Land can’t really multitask.

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What I've been reading, featuring the opioid crisis, billionaires and academia, and "Storming the Wall" by Todd Miller

A review by a psychotherapist of “Down Girl: The Logic of Misogyny” by the philosopher Kate Manne. Excerpts below slightly re-arranged for fluency:

There is nothing deep inside us, Richard Rorty once remarked, that we haven’t put there ourselves. So even though, at least for some people, psychoanalysis, and psychology more generally, have interesting things to say about misogyny, they also run the risk of naturalising it (misogyny is deep inside us because our mothers are)

Misogynists, of course, are radical essentialists when it comes to women. They know exactly what they are like, and we should not, Manne intimates, be fighting one essentialism with another.

Once misogyny is essentialised – once it is treated as in some way integral to our nature, or just a part of how we live – it all too easily becomes one of Manne’s exonerating narratives. If there is little justice for women, what is there? If there is no cure for misogyny, what is there? The question then is how to co-exist with it.

Her book is clarifying about misogyny, but it is equally interesting for what it has to say about the issue that has dogged the social sciences virtually since their inception: the relationship of the individual to the systems and structures that seemingly comprise him or her.

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What I've been reading, featuring climate change only: “The Uninhabitable Earth” by David Wallace-Wells, the moral imperative of alarmism, and climate intersectionality

“The Uninhabitable Earth” by David Wallace-Wells

The title serves mostly to make explicit the book’s origin as the author’s 2017 long-form (here’s a version annotated by scientists), which quickly became New York magazine’s most read article ever (though it’s since been unseated by a “Fire and Fury” excerpt). Many called the original article’s focus on and presentation of worst-case scenarios sensationalist, maybe most prominent among them the climatologist and climate science communicator Prof. Michael Mann. In Mann’s words, his problem with the article was “the fact that there were SCIENTIFIC INACCURACIES that PREFERENTIALLY fed a somewhat doomist narrative.” In contrast, with this book adaptation, “David has done his due diligence, vetted the science, and gotten it right.” Since the publication of the original article, Mann and Wallace-Wells have participated in a public conversation hosted by NYU to discuss the communication of climate science and have jointly promoted the book.

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What I've been reading, featuring the abolition of billionaires; music's #MeToo; and "Die, My Love" by Ariana Harwicz

Noticed a funny dichotomy on the frontpage of the international edition of the Feb. 8 New York Times (pdf): two above-the-fold headlines on opposite sides: “It’s high time we abolish billionaires” on the left and “Trump casts socialists as Americans’ new threat” on the right. In between is an article about a growing trend of labor protests in the country with the second-most billionaires.

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What I've been reading, featuring climate change, here and now; and identity politics, everywhere and always

With the government shutdown over, NOAA and NASA finally affirm 2018 was the fourth-warmest year in recorded history: “The five warmest years in recorded history have been the last five... 18 of the 19 warmest years have occurred since 2001”

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What I've been reading, featuring how we write about other cultures, how we write about racism, how we write about climate change, and how we write about the Animorphs

When I first watched “Roma”, I wrote here: “reading the responses… revealed a homogeneity in the backgrounds of the cultural intelligentsia. In the face of an obviously intimate film in a very specific setting and depicting a complex familial dynamic, they seem to use technical observations as a crutch for their unfamiliarity—I don’t think that’s good enough.” I then linked to this collection of Latino critical responses.

But this review stands apart and is a prime example of why diversity matters. It’s not enough to make note of the hierarchy or power dynamics of the society depicted. A movie this compassionate calls for more: “Cuarón is not interested in portraying Cleo anthropologically: he wants to show us what she was to him, and to tell the story of Mexico City and what happened to Cleo the year that his own family shattered.” With the attention bestowed upon it by a Best Picture nomination, this film is too rare, important, and (above all) good to not be talked about with the specificity and insight Guillermoprieto provides.

I once interviewed a couple of dozen domestic servants about their work. It was hard to get young empleadas to talk to me, particularly if they were from the countryside… But the older women had plenty to say. A surprising number stated that they were happy with their families… But what I heard most frequently was the rage they felt at previous employers who had fired them with no warning or thought for their feelings. What about the children? they would ask. They fire us, we have to abandon them, and then you have to learn to love a new set of children, and you’re always afraid you’re going to be fired all over again and lose them. One woman cried as she explained this. “They never think about the fact that we love the children,” she said.

…That the women I interviewed could love the children they cared for—and love them, in fact, to the point of heartbreak—was to me nothing short of miraculous."

…So much happens in “Roma”. It is so bursting with life, Mexican life!… When I saw the movie in New York, the entire audience sat in silence as the credits rolled over a long, meditative shot of the staircase and the sky, until the screen blacked out over the title, and they sighed, and moved on.

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What I've been reading, featuring carbon dividends, Robert Caro's research process, and a breakthrough in non-line-of-sight imaging

"The last four people to lead the Federal Reserve, 15 former leaders of the White House Council of Economic Advisers, and 27 Nobel laureates signed a letter endorsing a gradually rising carbon tax whose proceeds would be distributed to consumers as ‘carbon dividends.’"

  • With an emphasis on bipartisanship, WSJ has the statement. If paywalled, see this Bloomberg link.

  • The consensus endorsement of a rising carbon tax is not new, but to me and at least one climate economist, the dividends part was a surprise (Tyler Cowen, for one, is skeptical). He also told me he and other prominent economists had intended to also endorse the letter, but the form would not allow anyone without an American postcode to co-sign.

  • Former Senate majority leader Trent Lott (R): “This is a turning point in Republican climate policy, where the GOP economic brain trust unites behind the Baker-Shultz carbon dividends plan.”

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What I've been reading, featuring les gilets jaunes, notes on trap music, and the revelation that was "Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse"

  • Notes on trap music by a Harvard professor of English and African-American Studies. I’m not convinced of all points, but don’t know enough to disagree. Quick selling point: it pairs quotes from WEB Du Bois with 21 Savage, Young Thug with bell hooks. It compares “Mask Off” to “A Raisin in the Sun”, Migos to Napoleon. Archive of the author’s cultural writing here (h/t Junho)

“Trap is a form of soft power that takes the resources of the black underclass (raw talent, charisma, endurance, persistence, improvisation, dexterity, adaptability, beauty) and uses them to change the attitudes, behaviors, and preferences of others, usually by making them admit they desire and admire those same things and will pay good money to share vicariously in even a collateral showering from below. This allows the trap artist to transition from an environment where raw hard power dominates and life is nasty, brutal, and short to the world of celebrity, the Valhalla of excess, lucre, influence, fame — the only transparently and sincerely valued site of belonging in our culture. It doesn’t hurt, of course, that insofar as you’re interested in having a good time, there’s probably never been a sound so perfectly suited to having every kind of fun disallowed in conservative America.”

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What I've been reading, featuring refugees illustrated, “Roma”, and neural prosthetics

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