China's Rise, Moscow 1992, Mali, Grothendieck, Afghan Opium, Shimer College, Saskia Sassen

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The Chinese Century

Joseph Stiglitz | Vanity Fair | 8th December 2014

"America’s real strength lies in its soft power — the example it provides to others and the influence of its ideas, including ideas about economic and political life. The rise of China to No 1 brings new prominence to that country’s political and economic model—and to its own forms of soft power. The rise of China shines a harsh spotlight on the American model. That model has not been delivering for large portions of its own population" (2,650 words)

Moscow 1992

Hendrik Hertzberg | New Republic | 8th December 2014

An American visits Moscow soon after the collapse of the Soviet Union. The communist carapace has cracked: "This exotically gray planet has begun to be colonized by earthlings". Prices are dizzyingly low: "Lunch for three at a cooperative restaurant (pickled veggies, not-bad pizza, cognac) costs about 38 cents". Did the Soviet system leave behind anything of lasting value? "Everyone gives the same answer: the Metro" (1,170 words)

The Men Who Planted Trees

Anna Badkhen | Nautilus | 4th December 2014

Letter from Mali, where villagers are replanting the banks of the Bani river with acacia trees to halt erosion. "Even after the introduction of modern tools, weapons, and livestock vaccinations have enabled a voracious draining of the land, there still exists in Mali a level of conservation ethic that for millennia had prevented the people from destroying their environment. The central premise of that ethic stems from a myth" (3,200 words)

Grothendieck Was A Picasso From Jupiter

Jonathan Kujawa | 3 Quarks Daily | 8th December 2014

More on Alexander Grothendieck, who "rebuilt vast amounts of mathematics from the ground up ... You'll have it about right if you imagine him as a visiting scholar from an alien civilization whose mathematics is to ours as ours is to one of those Amazonian tribes who can only count to three". He saw problems as things to be understood, rather than solved: "If you truly and deeply understood, then the solution came without effort" (1,250 words)

Afghanistan: Making Of A Narco State

Matthieu Aikins | Rolling Stone | 4th December 2014

Since America routed the Taliban in 2001, the opium trade has taken effective control of Afghan government and society. Opium accounts for at least 15% of the Afghan economy; Afghanistan supplies 90% of world opium. "In pursuit of the War on Terror, [America] lost the War on Drugs in Afghanistan by allying with many of the same people who turned the country into the world's biggest source of heroin" (6,380 words)

The Worst School In America?

Jon Ronson | Guardian | 6th December 2014

A tiny, eccentric college in Chicago has been ranked the worst place to study in America; it may be the best. Shimer College has no frat houses nor sports teams. Nor lectures nor textbooks. The students read the great primary works of the Western canon — Aristotle, Freud, Marx, Machiavelli — and argue about them. "Each class takes the form of Socratic dialogue between the students, guided by a professor if necessary" (2,580 words)

Saskia Sassen’s Missing Chapter

Marc Parry | Chronicle Review | 5th December 2014

Confused but haunting piece about the sociologist Saskia Sassen and her refusal to accept that her father Willem was a loyal Nazi propagandist and a close friend in exile of the Holocaust mastermind Adolf Eichmann. "Willem Sassen, in his daughter’s description, is is a more palatable figure. A bit of a fanatic, yes. A journalist aligned with the Nazis, yes. But a man whose great passions were theater and journalism" (3,410 words)

Video of the day: Steve Wozniak On The Apple I

What to expect: Documentary. Apple co-founder remembers designing the Apple 1 computer (5'20")

Thought for the day

Anyone can lie. Faking, however, is an achievement
Roger Scruton (

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