June 20, 2024

We were traveling once again last weekend, and that plus various work obligations proved to be too much for me to get recommendations up last week. But, back on the wagon this week.

Song: “Sunshine on My Back” by The National

When I saw that The National had released a new song, I immediately thought to myself: “Oh, I’ll have to put that in this week’s recommendations.” I though this, understand, before I had actually heard the song. That’s probably not best practice for this kind of thing, but they just keep being good.

This is on iTunes and Spotify, but you can also get a free copy if you buy the movie Mistaken for Strangers, a documentary about their most recent tour; you can get that here.



Article: “Burma’s Bizarre Capital: A Super-Sized Slice of Post-Apocalypse Suburbia” by Matt Kennard and Claire Provost

As this piece notes, many countries have decided to build new capitals for themselves from scratch, or almost from scratch: Brasilia, Canberra, and (for the most part) Abuja are examples in which this is done for mostly nationalistic reasons, to illustrate the modernity or greatness of the country. This is a strategy that has also appealed to many authoritarian regimes for some of the same reasons, but often also out of megalomania and the desire to aggrandize themselves. Mobutu Sese Seko’s “Versailles of the Jungle” is one example. To that list we can now add Naypyidaw, the shiny (for the moment) new capital of Burma, carved out of a huge patch of jungle and built on a monumental scale (six times as big as New York City!) for reasons that are still mostly unclear. The most striking thing about the city, in this piece, is that it is basically empty: streets 20 lanes wide with no traffic, malls that nobody has the money to shop in, etc. That aspect immediately made me think of China’s “ghost cities”, but where those were primarily economic failures, Naypyidaw’s emptiness is to a large extent a consequence of its politics: to live there is to be pretty continually under surveillance, and the space is built to be easily controlled.


Article: “Pygmalion and Supersymmetry” by Tasneem Zehra Husain

People who understand— really understand, not just have a working knowledge of— science and math will often describe things n those fields as “beautiful” or “elegant,” but mostly the rest of us just have to take their word for it. This piece won’t make you really understand particle physics (though it should help you understand some aspect better), but it does give one some idea of how the collision of infinitesimally small particle in a massive coil of electromagnets buried under the ground in Switzerland could lead to something reasonably called “beauty.”

Also, as a big proponent of the liberal arts education and breadth of knowledge more generally, I can’t help but point out that the reason this is so good is because Husain knows about more than just physics.

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