Death, Dunkirk, Nuclear Myths, Dinosaurs, Venezuela, Thoreau


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Back From The Underworld

Marina Warner | London Review Of Books | 7th August 2017

In praise of Thomas Laqueur’s “monumental study” of human death and its rituals, The Work of the Dead “I found that I averted my eyes, so to speak, several times as I was reading this book. Not because of the infinite and irreversible sadness of mortality, or because of the grue, the fetor, the decay, the pervasive morbidity – though Laqueur’s gallows humour about scientific successes in the calcination of corpses can be a bit strong – but because the dead present an enigma that can’t be grasped” (4,900 words)

Whose Fault Was Dunkirk?

Lynne Olson | Longreads | 7th August 2017

It suited Churchill and French to blame the Belgians in 1940 for failing to hold off the Germans while the British retreated. But no army was prepared for the German onslaught. “Abandoned and isolated by their allies, lacking everything they needed to keep fighting, the Belgians felt they had held off the Germans for as long as humanly possible. On May 27, the Belgian government, in an official communiqué, informed France and Britain of its imminent surrender to Germany” (3,900 words)

Myths About Nuclear Weapons

Ashutosh Jogalekar | Curious Wavefunction | 6th August 2017

The idea of nuclear weapons as a force for peace derives largely from Japan’s surrender after the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. But the bombings were not the reason for Japan’s surrender. Japan surrendered because it feared invasion by the Soviet Union. “On the ground the [nuclear] bombing looked no different from the relentless pounding that dozens of major Japanese cities had received. The firebombing of Tokyo in March 1945 killed more civilians than the atomic bomb” (2,700 words)

How To Kill A Dinosaur

Paul Braterman | 3 Quarks Daily | 7th August 2017

Inquiry into the asteroid impact which doomed the dinosaurs. The effect was so catastrophic because the asteroid hit the gypsum-rich continental shelf off Mexico. Had it arrived ten minutes earlier or later, dinosaurs would still be alive, thanks to the earth’s rotation. “No gypsum in the impact zone, no sulphuric acid haze, no long deep winter. While things might have been pretty rough for anything living within a couple of thousand miles or so, the rest of the world would hardly have noticed” (3,500 words)

Venezuela Is Collapsing

Isaac Chotiner | Slate | 2nd August 2017

Interview with Stanford political scientist Terry Lynn Karl. “We are witnessing the collapse of a large, modern, wealthy country that has both a democratic and an authoritarian tradition. It’s only a few hours from the United States, and it has the world’s largest supply of crude oil. Venezuela is a powder keg, and the worst-case scenario is now civil war. That scenario would create a refugee crisis. It could spread instability. It would spread even more criminality into Central America and the Caribbean” (1,800 words)

The True American

Robert Pogue Harrison | New York Review Of Books | 3rd August 2017

Reflections on Thoreau and his legacy. “These days the question of what it means to be a ‘true’ American resists rational analysis. Whatever one can say about Americans that is true, the opposite is equally true. We are the most godless and most religious, the most puritanical and most libertine, the most charitable and most heartless of societies. We are outlaws obsessed by the rule of law, individualists devoted to communitarian values” (3,600 words)

Video of the day: Behind The Sun

What to expect:

Surfing in the Arctic Circle under the Northern Lights (5’20”)

Thought for the day

Kant thought things, not because they were true, but because he was Kant
W. Somerset Maugham

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