End of September links

September 30, 2021

Last day of September; tomorrow is October!  I love October, one of my favorite months.  Fall is really here!  Actually should probably be called "autumn," which seems like it should mean "serious fall."  October and November in the Blue Ridge: the colors change, the air gets crisp, there is a metallic rattle in the trees when the wind blows, the light in the woods changes--becomes less aquatic, less filtered through green leaves, more prismatically yellow and chrome: a beautiful season.  May we all have a good October, wherever we are.

Whether or not you do, however, there are links.


"Our results suggest that grammar reflects population history more closely than any other cultural data. We found significant correlations between genetics and grammar," explains co-lead author Peter Ranacher of UZH.  A very interesting piece on the deep historical connections between grammar and relatively distinct human groups, as tracked through DNA.


Economy does better under Democrats, it's science.


Powerful (if contestable) analysis of China’s aims in challenging US global hegemony.  This is very much worth your while to read and ponder.  One thing it makes me think: the Chinese leadership does not fully appreciate the way that liberal states compete not only against other states, but also against the free-agency of the market.  This failure to reckon with the power of market realities—corporations and the like, that perhaps cannot be easily reined in—may be the undoing of China’s strategy.  If they fail to achieve an illiberal system under which to subjugate those corporations, as they have done in China, that is. 


This piece is better than its headline.  Also this: “It would be hacky to blame this shift on the internet. But I will be just hacky enough to say that it parallels the internet.”


This op-ed by Fiona Hill, on Trump and Russia, has this bleak quote:

“In the very early years of the post–Cold War era, many analysts and observers had hoped that Russia would slowly but surely converge in some ways with the United States. They predicted that once the Soviet Union and communism had fallen away, Russia would move toward a form of liberal democracy. By the late 1990s, it was clear that such an outcome was not on the horizon. And in more recent years, quite the opposite has happened: the United States has begun to move closer to Russia, as populism, cronyism, and corruption have sapped the strength of American democracy. This is a development that few would have foreseen 20 years ago, but one that American leaders should be doing everything in their power to halt and reverse.”

This is a canny piece, and reveals some of the insight into Trump that can be found by thinking through his resonances with Putin—even if it perhaps goes too far in the comparative direction, making them too familiar.  But stills that passage above, it reminds me of the poignant moment near the end of the podcast Winds of Change, when the Russian translator says to Patrick Radden Keefe, “all these years we thought we (Russia) would eventually become like you; but in fact you have been becoming like us.”  It’s a powerful and poignant moment, and goes some way to justifying the occasionally bro-ish vibe of much of the earlier bits of the podcast.  Still, you should check it out (here https://crooked.com/podcast-series/wind-of-change/ ) because it is so powerful, in the end.  And read Hill’s piece—it’s very smart, I think.


There is something to this:

“The benefit to the corporate university of the new moral turn is that it supports logic of austerity in a way that academics will have even greater difficulty contesting. After all, we told them ourselves: Some scholars are deleterious political reactionaries, not by ballot or even by disposition, but simply through the elective affinities of scholarly engagement. When they cut entire programs for their failure to keep pace with evolving political demands, on what grounds will we resist? We should be wary of providing ideological cover for changes and cuts the material causes of which lie elsewhere.”


Any new piece by Peter Brown is always to be welcomed, and his pieces in the New York Review of Books are often genially learned yet readily accessible.

“In the past thirty years a scholarly revolution has altered our notion of the first thousand years of Christianity. We no longer see it as an exclusively European religion, rooted in the Mediterranean basin and destined to reach its apex in the Latin West. Instead, scholars have turned to Africa and Asia to discover ancient variants of Christianity whose vast, largely forgotten presence once dwarfed the fragile beginnings of the Catholic Church in Europe. We used to think that Christianity spread almost entirely in the Greek and Latin worlds. Now we realize that ancient Christianity was like a great comet: its luminous trail once swept across the globe, from the Horn of Africa to the coast of Tamil Nadu, and from Mesopotamia to the court of the emperor of China.…

Syriac is increasingly taught in the universities of America and Europe; research on Syriac topics has been encouraged among students of the Christian churches and of the early centuries of Islam. Young scholars whose knowledge had hitherto been limited to Latin and Greek have begun to work in the challenging field of Eastern Christianity, drawing on sources in Syriac, Coptic, Armenian, and Georgian.”


Take care, everybody.