Weekend reading

This weekend has been delightfully quiet, and I’ve had a chance to read a few things while I’ve been doing errands, and at the gym. In no particular order:

The Big Hack is a great article on what it would look for an entire city to be immobilised through a cyber attack. I haven’t clicked through all the notes, but it looks well researched. What’s particularly impressive is it takes something that’s already happening, but that we don’t have a mental scenario for; and then by telling a new story, it helps us imagine a possible (bleak) future, or better understand something that’s very close to the present. Worth reading.

The Dark Side of Longform Journalism doesn’t have any answers, but it has questions that send a ripple through you.

… was there a real difference between my wanting to get to the village or hospital where people were dying terrible deaths, and my wanting people to be dying terrible deaths in whatever village or hospital I happened to be going to?

… A truly candid disclaimer would require me to inform the subject that not one of my articles has resulted in a policy change or improved in any meaningful way the lives of the people whom it was about. It would require me to reveal that the Afghan commander I profiled never received the weapons he needed and was killed while on patrol a couple of years later—or that the Honduran man, having failed to get a visa, tried to return to the U.S. illegally and was again arrested and deported before he could reunite with his wife and children. But more importantly, a truly candid disclaimer would require me to inform the subject that helping him is not even my objective to start with. Influencing policy is not my objective. Making any real difference of any sort isn’t my objective, can’t be my objective, because if it were, I would have switched to a different line of work by now.

… By my own standards, if my article has succeeded, if I’ve done what I set out to do, I have to some degree “humanized” a situation—a conflict, a crisis—for the reader. But of course the subject doesn’t feel any more human for the experience; the subject, in most cases, doesn’t even realize he’s been made more human in the eyes of the subscribers to the New Yorker and the New York Times Magazine. Which is fine. Because, believe me, if he did know, he wouldn’t care. If given the choice, he would much prefer to have, say, a hundred dollars, or fifty, or five. (Unfortunately, that would be unethical.)

So why keep doing it? Why do I still feel, instinctively, that this work is urgent and necessary? I think it has to do with the notion of a record. I think I believe that there is some essential purpose and value to adding the lives of individual people to the record, even if the people themselves understand the purpose and value of my work to be something different.

Cheering Le Bron in Jalula is a thoughtful meditation on basketball, Le Bron James, and what it meant for a marine in Iraq:

While deployed, soldiers often spend their long hours on patrol making wishes and plans to fulfill when they get back to the States. One friend made lists of places where he was going to eat; others looked online for the car or motorcycle they hoped to buy. One thing I wanted was to be able to sit on a couch in front of a television and watch LeBron play in the NBA. This daydream — there are so many while being a soldier — was about more than just watching basketball. It was the idea, the promise, to return home to Ohio and to have those things that epitomized the comforts of American domestic life: the couch, the television, sports. I knew returning would be much more complicated than how I envisioned it, but having this simple and achievable goal provided me with some form of solace, something tangible to look forward to. In Iraq, following LeBron helped me keep those parts of myself — athlete, civilian, Ohioan — alive as I lived this other, temporary life as a soldier.

Think Gender is performance? You have Judith Butler to thank for that is a good primer for someone who is aware of the zeitgeist, but not the theory behind it.



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