[This fragment is available in an audio version.]
Welcome to the June 2021 issue of Long Links, in which I curate long-form works that I enjoyed last month. Even if you think all these look interesting, you probably don’t have time to read them assuming you have a job, which I don’t. My hope is that one or two will reward your attention.
Has an Old Soviet Mystery at Last Been Solved? — they’re talking about the Dyatlov Pass incident, which has provided fuel for mystery-lovers and conspiracy nuts for a half-century now. If you’ve not heard the Dyatlov story you might want to read this anyhow because it’s colorful and fearful. If you have, then you definitely want to dive into this one because I’m pretty well convinced they’ve figured it out.
Chipotle Is a Criminal Enterprise Built on Exploitation. Tl;dr: New York is suing Chipotle’s ass, looking for a half-billion dollars in penalties for wage theft. Even by the low standards of 21st-century capitalism, Chipotle seems like a terrible citizen of the world. Don’t eat there.
Why Did It Take So Long to Accept the Facts About Covid?. Among the many reasons Covid-19 is interesting (aside from “Will it kill me?”) is as a case study of how science accumulates data, draws conclusions, and communicates them. The specific story is the move from the spring-2020 narrative of “Wash your hands, masks are irrelevant” to 2021’s “Indoor aerosol-based transmission is dominant, so let’s worry about that.” The earlier narrative probably cost us huge numbers of human lives. Nobody suspects anyone of evil motives, but it’s clearly a problem worth thinking about when the official narrative is so slow to update. Masterfully told by Zeynep Tufekci, a sociologist who has become one of the best commentators on Covid public-health issues.
Although I grew up in the Middle East, I’m reluctant to write about it because there’s lots of atrocities to denounce but no good guys to praise. The people who wrote the following are more courageous than I am. The central controversy is, of course, over whether the “Two-state solution” is still possible and if not, what then? Everyone agrees on one thing: The current offical “peace process” is dead and rotting stinkily. The Old Israeli-Palestinian Conflict Is Dead — Long Live the Emerging Israeli-Palestinian Conflict is from Nathan J. Brown at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace; it writes off two-states, acknowledges that one-state is unlikely too, and offers tentative ideas about ways forward.
A Liberal Zionist’s Move to the Left on the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict is about Peter Beinart, a long-time lion of intellectual Judaism. He is a rigorous thinker and that rigor has forced him into a two-states-is-dead position. Now he’s arguing for the Palestinian Right of Return; just thinking this probably puts him at grave risk of assassination. This is a big long piece and although I’ve watched the Mideast closely for decades, I felt I’d learned useful things.
Gorshem Gorenberg has for a long time one of my favorite Israeli voices; sentimental but clear-eyed and really smart. His latest big piece is Israelis and Palestinians can’t go on like this. Weep for us. It’s a profoundly pessimistic piece about how Israel got into its current mindset, which is very hard for people who don’t live there to understand. Such strong writing.
Let’s talk about some cheerful stuff, in particular about recent progress on the climate emergency. Everyone’s already written about Big Oil’s defeats in the courts and boardrooms. So here’s J.P. Morgan’s Energy Outlook.. It’s huge and I haven’t read all of it, but it feels to me like a nice comprehensive summary of the current state of play. The investment community, of course, is trying to figure out how to make money in a post-fossil-fuels world. I wish them the best of luck and if you’re one of them, you should read this.
Staying with the climate emergency, check out Separating Hype from Hydrogen – Part Two: The Demand Side. Anyone who cares about this stuff has to be wondering if a hypothetical Hydrogen Economy is a significant part of our path forward. The question is a little hard to answer because for some reason hydrogen has attracted a cohort of pitchman who want to tell you it’s the best solution for everything. A close clear-eyed look suggests that yes, there is a role for hydrogen, but it’s less important than the enthusiasts want you to think. The conclusions are helpfully pictured in this slide.
More good news from Germany; the courts are starting to kick ass. Germany’s more ambitious climate goals pressure industry to clean up has the details.
Let’s talk about my favorite nontechnical hobby, photography. Hmm, all these pieces are from DPReview. Let’s start with New York Times unveils prototype system aimed at inspiring confidence in photojournalism. I may have mentioned the Content Authenticity Initiative before. On the Internet we say “Pictures or it didn’t happen!” but we should be worrying about “Pictures and it didn’t happen!”. Because photos and video are way too easy to manipulate these days. The Initiative, whose key launch partner was Adobe if I’m reading the history right, tries to use digital signatures to establish a provenance chain from a photographer to the graphic you see on your screen. I’m delighted this is happening, and optimistic that this description will raise consciousnesses about what’s possible these days with modern security technology. No, blockchain is not involved.
Enthusiast photographers tend to obsess about lenses, and one of the standard lenses almost every such person loves is a fast 50mm prime lens, a “nifty fifty”. They make the people you’re taking pictures of look better and have also traditionally also had the virtues of being cheap and simple. No longer. Why are modern 50mm lenses so damned complicated? explains.
Finally, it’s all in the photographer’s wrist. The Best & Worst Ways To Hold Your Camera is a YouTube full of exciting wrist action.
Hey, let’s do politics. These days, my feelings are that occasionally laughing at US “conservatives” is essential therapy, otherwise you might do something crazy, albeit not as crazy as what they’re doing. The G.O.P. Won It All in Texas. Then It Turned on Itself has details. Your eyes will roll.
David Shor, a Democratic-party strategist and number-cruncher impresses me more with everything he produces. For example David Shor on Why Trump Was Good for the GOP and How Dems Can Win in 2022 is a long interview with him, to which I say “Wow”.
Only one science/engineering entry this month. I am delighted every time I discover some obvious part of the human experience for which science doesn’t have a good explanation. We can all use the humility. For example: No One Can Explain Why Planes Stay in the Air.
Stepping across the Pacific, here’s Tired of Running in Place, Young Chinese ‘Lie Down’. Now watch out, this is from Sixth Tone, which is out of Shanghai and thus indirectly an organ of China’s ethnofascist autocracy. Having said that, they regularly manage to be interesting.
Ending the Long Links on a musical note, let me recommend Brent Morrison's Rockin’ Blues Show; an Internet Radio show and exactly what it says. Everybody’s life can benefit from rockin’ blues. And now for something completely different: Lebanese Music From A Millionaires' Playground is a production from 1962, featuring Fairuz, Lebanon’s musical queen, who in writing this I discovered is still living. Her voice has always touched my heart. Finally, something to ease your troubled mind: Holly Bowling, live on a Colorado mountaintop. She’s a pianist with (to me) a Keith Jarrett influence (not a bad thing) whose music is mostly sourced from songs, by the Grateful Dead and Phish. From those songs as performed live, of course.
Hang in there, everyone.