This Week in “Read and Burn”

A digest of links found interesting, then lost in the blur of unfinished reflections.

For the Pensive Type…

“Those unable to decipher the hidden meaning know nevertheless that it is there, for it is felt in all wolf country, and distinguishes that country from all other land. It tingles in the spine of all who hear wolves by night, or who scan their tracks by day. Even without sight or sound of wolf, it is implicit in a hundred small events: the midnight whinny of a pack horse, the rattle of rolling rocks, the bound of a fleeing deer, the way shadows lie under the spruces. Only the ineducable tyro can fail to sense the presence or absence of wolves, or the fact that mountains have a secret opinion of them.”

Read More: Aldo Leopold, “Thinking Like a Mountain” and other excerpts from A Sand County Almanac and Sketches Here and There (1949)

Prescriptive Forgetting

“In [403 BC], the Athenian democrats, after having suffered defeat at the hands of the dictatorship, re-entered the city of Athens and proclaimed a general reconciliation. Their decree contained an explicit interdiction: it was forbidden to remember all the crimes and wrongdoing perpetrated during the immediately preceding period of civil strife. This interdict was to apply to all Athenians, to democrats, to oligarchs and to all those who had remained in the city as non-combatants during the period of the dictatorship. Perhaps more remarkable still is the fact that the Athenians erected on the acropolis, in their most important temple, an altar dedicated to Lethe, that is, to forgetting. The installation of this altar meant that the injunction to forget, and the eradication of civil confl ict that this was thought to engender, was seen as the very foundation of the life of the polis…”

Read More: Paul Connerton, “Seven Types of Forgetting” (2008)

Update: Impeachment Proceedings Against Dilma Rousseff

“In all of this, it’s worth recalling that 137 did vote “no” (with 9 more abstentions/absences counting toward “no”). Many voting “no” against impeachment pointed out Cunha [President of the Chamber of Deputies] is directly tied to/named in Lava Jato. Indeed, there is fear among some sectors that Congress will impeach Dilma and pretend it has “solved” corruption without actually dealing with the branch of government where corruption is most endemic – namely, Congress itself. Indeed, many in the opposition celebrated Cunha yesterday, and it’s increasingly looking like his move to break with the PT government and impeach Dilma was intended to redirect attention and anger away from his own corruption scandals. While he’s not out of the woods himself, he’s definitely managed to take a major step toward taking Dilma, who’s not connected to any of those scandals, with him.”

Read More: Colin M. Snider, “Thoughts on Brazil’s Impeachment Vote Yesterday,” Americas South and North, April 8, 2016

File Under: Arranged Marriages in Circumpolar Colonial America 

During the 19th century, the circumpolar region was the meeting of frontiers – British, American, Russian, even Austro-Hungarian. Just as the northwest passage drew Cabots and Corteses out of port and across the world; the northeast passage brought upstart Austria-Hungary to the most remote corners of the Arctic. (The quest for a northnortheast passage fell exclusively to pseudo-Chechen shamkals, who would have preferred to engage solely in their local form of matrilinear psychic chess.)

Here, Susan Smith-Peter considers the double role of business enterprise and state organization in the creation of a legal structure for a “creole estate” in Russian America:

“On February 4, 1816, the Main Board of the Russian-American Company (RAC) ordered the return to Russian America [Alaska] of the creole Kondratii Ivanovich Burtsov and the creole woman Matrëna Semënovna Kuznetsova, who had both been sent to St. Petersburg for schooling. Due to the length of the journey, they stated that Burtsov, 26, and Kuznetsova, 17, should marry: “And so that the maiden will not return here alone, with their mutual agreement they are being united in matrimony and from its side the Company is providing them, as is decent, with all that is necessary in terms of clothes, shoes and so on.” This seems like less of a concession to the feelings of the young pair than an order motivated by the needs of the company.  This was typical of the RAC’s attitude toward creoles, who were the offspring of Russian men and native women living in Russian America and were given the status of a separate estate in 1821. The Company saw them as a group that would be trained to serve the RAC both in their work and in their family life by having children who would be future employees, thus increasing the population in Russian America and spreading the Russian way of life.”

Read More:


The Weight of Evidence

“Moving documents to the international borders is by far the most dangerous step in the CIJA’s operation. Paper is heavy and incriminating for the carrier; on the other hand, photographs, while more portable, can be difficult to authenticate in court. Bundles of up to fifty pounds typically arrive “in a dizzying array of crappy suitcases” smuggled across borders, Wiley told me, while large loads demand more intricate planning. “Think in terms of a box of paper that sits next to the photocopier,” he explained. “That box has five bricks, each with five hundred pages in it,” weighing a total of about twenty pounds. “And that’s only twenty-five hundred pages. We’ve extracted from Syria approximately six hundred thousand pages”—several tons. “So you need vehicles. Those vehicles need to get through checkpoints. You need to do reconnaissance. You need to know what kind of checkpoints you’re going to run into.” The commission pays rebel groups and couriers for logistical support. “We burn enormous sums of money moving this stuff,” he said.

Large extractions often depend on friendly countries to negotiate openings in otherwise sealed borders, so captured documents can remain hidden for months. On one occasion, several thousand pages of evidence were left with an old woman in a remote farmhouse in southern Syria, but the investigator didn’t explain the significance of the files. When winter came, Wiley said, “in fairness, she was cold, so she burned the whole lot of it as fuel.”

Read More: Ben Taub, “The Assad Files”, in the April 18, 2016 issue of The New Yorker

Pens and Swords

Future research to be directed towards strategic bombing of ball bearing factories and the fate of the German stationery industry in World War Two:

“Henry “Hap” Arnold, for example, tempted Harry Hopkins with the notion that blasting the German ball bearing industry “would probably wreck all German industry.” At the top of the Allies’ bombing priority list stood ball bearings, without which, they reckoned, German machinery would, quite literally, grind to a halt.”

Peter Galison, “War Against the Center” (2001)

Last year:

“It seemed like an innocuous question: “Why can’t China make a good ballpoint pen?” But it carried a much deeper meaning thanks to the man who asked it: Chinese Premier Li Keqiang. At a seminar in Beijing earlier this month, Li complained to those gathered that Chinese pens felt “rough” compared to pens made in Japan, Germany, and Switzerland. Li said China’s manufacturers at the lowest levels should focus on innovating their technology.

It wasn’t the first time China’s Premier had complained about his country’s shoddy ballpoint pens.

After he grumbled about Chinese pens last June, state-run broadcaster CCTV devoted an hour-long program to the topic, a talk show where three CEOs of China’s most innovative and successful manufacturers sat onstage alongside a host. Sitting nervously at a table in front of the studio audience was Qiu Zhiming, president of one of China’s largest pen manufacturers. Qiu explained to the other CEOs that China supplies 80 percent of the global market for pens.

The core technology of each pen — the stainless steel ball and its casing — is imported from Japan, Germany, or Switzerland, said Qiu. Only Switzerland, he said, has a machine with the precision required to make the best ballpoint pen tips. China, Qiu said sadly, hasn’t developed a machine like this.

Dong Mingzhu, the CEO of Ge li (Gree), a Chinese air conditioner manufacturer, frowned at Qiu from her perch onstage.

“Think about it. How much money have the foreigners made from us because they have better technology?” asked Dong. “You don’t have this technology and they’re taking your profits! You know what I’m going to do? I’ll have my best people make you a machine like the Swiss have! I’ll make it in a year and sell it to you for half the price!””

Rob Schmitz, “Why can’t China make a good ballpoint pen?,” Marketplace, December 14, 2015


Fluidity of frontier spaces, identities, and relations in the 19th century rural west:

“In this sense, our contemporary political mythology built on the family farm is actually founded on a backlash to a much more complicated history. Our political mythology insistently suppresses that rich, if imperfect human history. Rural America — its landscapes and communities both — did not spring from a process of peaceful, orderly, or permanent settlement. Those processes were tumultuous, violent, and chaotic. What was settled needed to be resettled and resettled again — wave after wave of individuals and families crashing against a wall of grueling deprivation.”

Read More: Gabriel Rosenberg, “Fetishizing Family Farms“, Boston Globe, April 10, 2016

Oro En Plomo

“East of Quivira, near present Fort Riley, Kansas, was the “province” of Harahey, which Coronado did not visit, but a delegation from there came to him. These Indians were related to the Wichitas and were possibly Pawnees. Of course there was no gold anywhere, and by this time, Coronado surely saw his future crumbling to dust. The Turk was strangled for lying, but modern scholarship may have vindicated him. When shown gold, he had used the Wichita word meaning metal. The Quivirans did possess native copper from the Great Lakes, and the Turk may not have understood it was different from gold.” The conquistadors returned empty-handed to Mexico. ”

James A Hanson, “Spain on the Plains,” Nebraska History 74 (1993)

The Fugitive Phase

This just in (to this bureau chief) from Royal Holloway, University of London:

“The one exception here was Gavin Bridge, who presented a fascinating paper on the role of liquification in the development of mineral resources.  Gavin discussed how mining companies’ operations are based on transferring minerals between solid, liquid, and gaseous states, with the liquid in most cases being the preferred state for commodification, transport, and combustion (as well as being the state of most persistent risk).  Indeed, this fetishisation of liquidity persists to the point that the value of many minerals is based on their potential liquification (which, in turn, is a proxy for the liquid’s potential gasification which is a measure of the gas’ capacity to generate energy).

From a Geopolitics & Security perspective, this paper was fascinating because it pointed to an underlying geo-political dialectic surrounding the liquidity of resources.   To realize the value of a resource, it must be transformed into (or at least imagined as being transformed into) a liquid, “fugitive” form that resists territorialization.”

Bolding my own. Some imagination of liquidity seems pretty central to Keynesian economics…

In its original context:

Phil Steinberg, “Putting the ‘Geo’ back into geopolitics”, June 22, 2012

Perspective Shift: The View From The Imaziɣen

Some thoughts on a map!

9:01pm – This review’s gone on for so long, it gets its own post. Link here.

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