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Cecily Cecily

Writing Worth Reading

World Cup Boom And Bust

Notes from Manaus, Brazil, where one-quarter of houses have no running water and nine-tenths have no mains sewerage. When the river floods, residents “find alligators or snakes swimming in their living rooms”. The 19C opera house, product of a short-lived rubber boom, inspired a Herzog film; but it pales as a folly beside the $350 million, 40,000-seat football stadium built for the World Cup (1,350 words)

Citizen Walmart

From the archives. The world’s biggest supermarket chain reaches out to small American farmers and helps turn them into consistent suppliers. “Walmart gave me three dollars over the price of the market last year,” says a strawberry farmer. It may be a public-relations play, in which case this piece is the return; and/or it may be capitalism at its far-sighted best — co-opting the locavores instead of fighting them (6,480 words)

I Told You When I Came I Was a Stranger

Discussion, with audio, of Leonard Cohen’s first public musical performance, at the 92nd Street Y in New York in 1966. “When, out of nowhere, he picks up a guitar and, for the first time ever before a large audience, delivers a song — a thin, reedy version of The Stranger Song, voice shaky as it never was in reading his prose — you realise that this is a man made to speak to millions” (1,377 words)

The Mercenary Position

Entertaining review of The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon, by Brad Stone, which includes some “truly archaeological digging” into Amazon’s history and ideology. Central question: Is Amazon a missionary company, or a mercenary one? “Missionaries have righteous goals and are trying to make the world a better place. Mercenaries are out for money and power and will run over anyone who gets in the way.” (2,600 words)

Pages From William Vollmann’s FBI File

Vollmann’s account of being a suspect in the Unabomber manhunt is paywalled, but these pages from his FBI profile make compelling reading. “Vollmann has experienced much in his brief life. He reportedly owns many guns and a flame-thrower. He advocates the elimination of television and automobiles. How many challenges remain for William T. Vollmann? Serial bombing, perhaps? As a means to change the world?” (800 words)


“China was driving demand for the gill plates of manta rays and was stealing West Africa’s fish, and Philippine authorities detained a Chinese crew after their ship ran aground on a protected coral reef while carrying eleven tons of illegal pangolin meat. A seal boarded the Royal Navy’s HMS Bulwark, and the Ukrainian Defense Ministry denied reports that three military dolphins had deserted in search of sex” (680 words)

An Exercise In Intimidation

President Kennedy’s assassin was caught without locking down Dallas. Why the over-reaction in Boston? “Governor Patrick has signaled future terrorists that when they attack American targets they will likely get twice the bang for their buck. Not only will they kill and maim innocents in the immediate vicinity of the bombs; they’ll have the added satisfaction of seeing millions of free people cowering far from the scene of the crime” (862 words)

A Letter To Paul Wolfowitz

“Whatever you might choose to say, you’ll be vilified as Robert McNamara was vilified when he admitted he’d been ‘wrong, terribly wrong’, about Vietnam. But help us learn the lessons of Iraq so that we might extract from it something of value in return for all the sacrifices made there. Forgive me for saying so, but you owe it to your country”

Monopoly Is Theft

History of the world’s most popular board game, plus reportage from a tournament. Started life as a public-domain game called The Landlord’s Game, 30 years before Charles Darrow copyrighted it, sold it to Parker Bros, and got rich

Mozart At The Gateway To His Fortune

Interview with musicologist Christopher Wolff about Mozart’s “unusually productive and innovative” four years as court composer in Vienna. “Mozart’s perception of his imperial elevation had a direct impact on his competitive spirit”

Glory Days: A Pundit’s View Of Pax Americana

Against Robert Kagan, and his “Copernican interpretation of contemporary history”: America the sun around which all else orbits. His new book, “The World America Made”, is “a slim volume of mythopoeia decked out in analytic drag”

What Happened In Vegas

Instructive email dialogue between journalist and fact-checker. “Really, Jim, respectfully, you’re worrying about very stupid shit.” “Unfortunately I don’t get to decide which facts are stupid. I have to check all of them”

Monopolies Are Destroying Open Markets

Giant corporations have cartelised American industry. “The equation is simple. In sector after sector of our political economy, there are still many sellers: Many of us. But every day, there are fewer buyers: Fewer of them”

The Accidental Universe: Science’s Crisis Of Faith

“If the multiverse idea is correct, then the historic mission of physics to explain all the properties of our universe in terms of fundamental principles is futile, a beautiful philosophical dream that simply isn’t true”

I Walked With A Zombie

Notes from Haiti. “Zombies are afraid of salt. They are unsociable, and keep their heads hung low. A zombie can be purchased for 15,000 Haitian gourdes ($370). In addition to housekeeping, they can behave as tutors for children”

Last Night

Excerpt from forthcoming novel, Zone One. Subject matter – a zombie plague – strikes out for different ground than Whitehead’s last, widely read, novel Sag Harbor. “I try to have each book be an antidote to one before”

When We Talk About Beauty

Long review of Umberto Eco’s “History of Beauty”. Perhaps too long, but full of insights into the history of art, and the evolution of beauty “from being a property of the Ideal to being an attribute of the Real”

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