Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Readings 5-6-08

The Rise of the Rest

American anxiety springs from something much deeper, a sense that large and disruptive forces are coursing through the world. In almost every industry, in every aspect of life, it feels like the patterns of the past are being scrambled. "Whirl is king, having driven out Zeus," wrote Aristophanes 2,400 years ago. And—for the first time in living memory—the United States does not seem to be leading the charge. Americans see that a new world is coming into being, but fear it is one being shaped in distant lands and by foreign people.

Who cares if America isn't leading the world in everything? This isn't bad news. It's about time the rest of the world caught up and started picking up some of the slack.

I'm very skeptical about all this talk about The Fall of America. You can't compare the U.S. with Rome, or even Great Britain. There's too much momentum and a robust, functioning, interconnected infrastructure that won't blow away with a mere recession. Previous empires had a lot worse to fall back into and at their best, they weren't too far away from chaos. If you think that somehow we're going to wake up in Mad Maxville, you're delusional. Things will have to get a lot worse for that to even have a chance of occurring. At this juncture, anything short of nuclear war or an asteroid strike will not stop all the getting up, sending the kids off to school, going to work, buying stuff and paying the bills. Trains will run, deliveries will be made, governments will screw things up and people will make art, commit crimes, build bridges and log on to the internet.

We've already created a global economy, so we have to live with it. America can't do everything. The rest of the world has to step up and raise the bar. When they get around too it, we all should benefit. Is that something to be afraid of? It will be refreshing to find one day that if America sneezes the rest of the world doesn't drop dead of pneumonia.

I think the root of the problem, perceptually speaking, is that America is locked into some delusion that somehow the "good old days" have passed us by. I have news for you: those "good old days" sucked. I'd much rather be alive now than any other time in history. Americans seem to want to compare everything to the brief time period after World War Two when America lived in a state of almost surreal wealth and prominence. You can't keep that up indefinitely. Adjustments are inevitable. The U.S. economy is still a juggernaut. Look at the numbers. It's not going to crumble into the dust because some greedy idiots made bad loans or investments. If you're seven foot tall and you wake up one morning six foot eleven, you're still pretty freaking big.

Sure, there are problems. Our education system is a farce, people have to work a lot harder and longer to get by and there are all sorts of social, environmental and political issues that need to be addressed, but it's not the end of the world. We have an opportunity to make the entire planet a much better place to live and have a lot of fun along the way. For every time I hear some schmuck spewing doom, I see a thousand amazing things worth living and striving for.

And by the way, when these other countries start rising to the level of the U.S., let's see how they handle it. They may have the biggest building or the largest shopping mall, but I'll be really impressed when they pull their average citizen out of the slums and their poorest out of the Middle Ages. And if and when they do that, let's see how they cope with all the crime, corruption, exploitation, mindless pop-culture and all the other traps and trappings of wealth, prominence and urbanization that we have been vilified for in the last hundred years. Not as easy as you thought, is it?

via Neatorama

Alex Strick van Linschoten - a war reporter on the road
Alex Strick van Linschoten is travelling in Afghanistan, Somalia, Iraq and the north Caucasus over the next 4 years for a book on sufism. He lives in Kabul, but prefers Kandahar.
Talk about cojones. I've been following this guy's weblog on the edge of my seat. He is currently in Somalia and when he makes it through that, I'll follow his subsequent travels. Gripping stuff.

From his post Leaving Nairobi:
MGQ. A complex grouping of consonants represents Mogadishu in its airport 3-letter code. Mogadoxo to the Portuguese, Hamar to the Somalis, the city represents so much of the dashed dreams of the 1990s. Ticket in hand, I’m a little apprehensive about a place that exists more in rumour and myth than in reality.

Godspeed, Alex.

Thanks to War is Boring for the initial tip on this.

Which scifi/fantasy books have the best and worst endings?

Lots of spoilers in there, so tread lightly.

Off the top of my head...

My favorite: Tim Powers - The Anubis Gates

My least favorite: Just about anything by Bruce Sterling

I love Bruce's thoughts, ideas and environments, but his stories often die under their own weight and dissolve into an indeterminate mush. Sorry, Bruce. I still keep reading them, though.

via Bookninja


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