Britain In Afghanistan, Argument, Free Speech, Winston Churchill, Oligarchs, Jimmy Page, Torture

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Worse Than A Defeat

James Meek | London Review Of Books | 10th December 2014

Magisterial essay on Britain's war in Afghanistan. "The extent of the military and political catastrophe is hard to overstate. It was doomed to fail before it began, and fail it did, at a terrible cost in lives and money. In a way it was worse than a defeat, because to be defeated, an army and its masters must understand the nature of the conflict they are fighting. Britain never did understand, and now we would rather not think about it" (9,200 words)

The Argumentative Jew

Leon Wieseltier | Jewish Review Of Books | 9th December 2014

We tend to understand disagreement as a kind of failure. But Jewish tradition "repudiates the cult of unanimity"; it favours "an almost erotic relationship to controversy". Minority opinions are "preserved alongside majority opinions because their reasoning may one day be useful again". This idea of a "contentious community" is "not as paradoxical as it may seem". To accommodate disagreement is a form of strength (2,050 words)

Tyranny Of Silence

Elizabeth Winkler | New Republic | 9th December 2014

Conversation with Flemming Rose, who as editor of the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten published cartoons of Mohammed which met with violence and anger among Muslims around the world. Rose "sees the democratic state in crisis, unable to contain the internal disparities of a multicultural society. Instead of increasing the diversity of expression, diversity of culture is constraining speech" (1,300 words)

The Churchill Factor

Ian Jack | Guardian | 10th December 2014

Perceptive review of Boris Johnson's biography of Winston Churchill, The Churchill Factor. Johnson writes energetically and amusingly; the book is good, but also self-serving. Johnson wishes to be seen as Churchillian himself — "an equally flawed figure and similarly a loose cannon, just as vivid, amusing and adventurous, a man who, when the time comes, will step up and surprise the country with his sincerity and resolve" (1,220 words)

The Coase Theorem And Russia

Branko Milanovic | Global Inequality | 9th December 2014

Excellent short note on why Western institutions and advisers engineered the post-Soviet privatisation blitz which transferred Russia's resources to a few oligarchs for next to nothing. The experts feared an imminent return of communism; they believed that assets would eventually end up in the most productive hands; and they thought the newly enriched would demand the rule of law. None of which proved to be the case (830 words)

Jimmy Page

Chuck Klosterman | GQ | 9th December 2014

Interview with "the architect of the most important hard-rock band to ever walk the earth", Led Zeppelin. Page is "the second- or the third-best rock guitarist of all time, depending on how seriously you take Eric Clapton". At 70 he "looks fantastic", and still has plenty of edge. "He is, in fact, oddly intimidating, despite his age and unimposing frame. He rarely raises his voice, yet periodically seems on the cusp of yelling" (4,300 words)

I Can’t Be Forgiven For Abu Ghraib

Eric Fair | New York Times | 9th December 2014 | Metered paywall

"I was an interrogator at Abu Ghraib. I tortured. Today, the Senate released its torture report. Many people were surprised by what it contained: accounts of waterboardings far more frequent than what had previously been reported, week-long sleep deprivation, a horrific and humiliating procedure called 'rectal rehydration'. I’m not surprised. I assure you there is more; much remains redacted" (900 words)

Video of the day: Kant's Axe

What to expect: Animation. Why Kant believed one should never, ever tell a lie (1'30")

Thought for the day

Fidelity is for phonographs
Saul Bellow (

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