Recommended reading / viewing / listening

This week: How China eclipsed the U.S. / 2018’s best books / The library of and for the future / Death in the Atacama Desert / Histories of historians

This week: How China eclipsed the U.S. / 2018’s best books / The library of and for the future / Death in the Atacama Desert / Histories of historians

Most of these great items come from my social media networks. Follow me on Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, LinkedIn, and Facebook for more fascinating videos, photos, articles, essays, and criticism.

1. China Rules: A special report
By Philip Pan, Amy Qin, Javier C. Hernandez, Peter Goodman, Jane Perlez, Keith Bradsher, Li Yuan and Mark Landler | The New York Times | November 2018
Part 1: The Land That Failed to Fail
Part 2: How China’s Rulers Control Society: Opportunity, Nationalism, Fear Part 3: Money and Muscle Pave China’s Way to Global Power
Part 4: China’s Economy Became No. 2 by Defying No. 1
Part 5: The Road to Confrontation

2. Five Classic American Novels That I Enjoy Teaching
By Andrew Delbanco | LitHub | November 2018
“I’ve been teaching classic American literature to college students for almost 40 years, and while some books have been banished from the category of ‘classic’ and others have been invited in, certain works continue year after year to disturb, confuse, delight, or devastate my students — or, more likely, all of the above.”

3. 100 Notable Books of 2018
The New York Times Book Review | November 2018
“The year’s notable fiction, poetry and nonfiction, selected by the editors of The New York Times Book Review.”

4. From There to Here
Not Even Past :: Department of History, UT Austin | November 2018
“UT History faculty come from all over the world. Here are their stories.”

5. Pretentious, impenetrable, hard work … better? Why we need difficult books
By Sam Leith | The Guardian | November 2018
“This year’s Booker-winner Milkman has been criticized for being challenging. But are we confusing readability with literary value?”

6. This Library Has New Books by Major Authors, but They Can’t Be Read Until 2114
By Merve Emre | The New York Times Style Magazine | November 2018
“The Scottish artist Katie Paterson is collecting 100 unpublished works that won’t be released in their writers’ lifetimes.”

7. Rains bring death to the Atacama Desert
By David Szondy | New Atlas | November 2018
“Studying the effects of once-in-a-century rainfall in the hyper-arid core of the desert, a team of astrobiologists led by Cornell University found that instead of causing a bloom of growth, the unexpected abundance of water killed off three quarters to seven/eighths of the microbe species present.”

8. 70 Philosophy Books Everyone Should Read
IAI News | November 2018
“Last year, we spoke to a number of leading philosophers to ask them why philosophy matters and what it has meant to them in their personal and professional lives (which you can read here, alongside a poem by Kwame Anthony Appiah). This year, we have tried to do something special, asking experts across the discipline to put together a list of their recommended philosophy books that everyone should read.”

9. In Lagos, Space For My Thoughts To Fly
By Allyn Gaestel | Guernica | November 2018
“On nomadism, toxicity, and the question of home.”

10. She’s 15 in Brazil. These are her dreams.
By Masuma Ahuja | Girlhood Around the World :: The Lily | October 2018
“Kaylane is studying sanitation at a public technical school in Recife. Outside of school, she’s part of her church choir and loves sports, with several athletic awards to her name.”

Amerikan Rambler: Podcast 48: Dr. Mehdi Aminrazavi

From April 2017: “He and Colin talk about Islam: how it developed, its central beliefs and practices, and how it has evolved since the time of Mohammad.”

Mehdi Aminrazavi is Professor of Philosophy and Religion and Co-Director of the Leidecker Center for Asian Studies at the University of Mary Washington in Fredericksburg. A native of Iran, he received his education in the United States and has lived and taught in Virginia for decades.

via Podcast 48: Dr. Mehdi Aminrazavi — Amerikan Rambler: Everybody Has a Story

Recommended reading / viewing / listening

This week: The Democrats’ future / James Webb Telescope / The Internet Archive / Lincoln’s legacy in Mexico / 10 Arab philosophers we need

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This week: The Democrats’ future / James Webb Telescope / The Internet Archive / Lincoln’s legacy in Mexico / 10 Arab philosophers we need

Most of these great items come from my social media networks. Follow me on Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, LinkedIn, and Facebook for more fascinating videos, photos, articles, essays, and criticism.

1. Liberal activists, new DNC chief face a Trump-era reckoning
By Bill Barrow | Associated Press | Feb. 26
“Perez has embraced the idea of a more aggressive, populist identity for the party, even if he hasn’t convinced activists he can deliver on it. He said throughout the three-day DNC meeting ahead of the vote that he would work to align party resources with the energy of groups from Black Lives Matter and Swing Left to Indivisible, Resist Trump Tuesdays, Knock Every Door, Rise Stronger and Sister District.”

2. How the baby boomers destroyed everything
By Bruce Cannon Gibney | The Boston Globe | Feb. 26
“In 1971, Alan Shepard was playing golf on the moon. Today, America can’t put a man into orbit (or, allegedly, the Oval Office) without Russian assistance. Something changed, and that something was the boomers and the sociopathic agenda they emplaced.”

3. What will the James Webb Space Telescope reveal about the newly discovered exoplanets?
By Nick Lavars | New Atlas | Feb. 23
“Poised to take the reins from Hubble as NASA’s premier orbiting telescope in 2018, it will boast seven times the light-collecting capacity of its predecessor and will be sensitive enough to spot a single firefly one million kilometers away.”

4. Where to find what’s disappeared online, and a whole lot more: the Internet Archive
By Mary Kay Magistad | Who’s Century Is It? :: PRI | Feb. 23
” Since the Internet Archive started in 1996, its staff — now, about 140 people — have digitized almost 3 million books, and are aiming for 10 million.”

5. When A Woman Deletes A Man’s Comment Online
By Ijeoma Oluo | The Establishment | Feb. 22
“I’m not debating those who show up wedded to bigotry”

6. Could Pluto Regain Its Planethood?
By Mike Wall | Space.com :: Scientific American | Feb. 23
“A proposed new definition for what constitutes a ‘planet’ could reinstate the demoted icy world”

7. Why Abraham Lincoln Was Revered in Mexico
By Jamie Katz | Smithsonian Magazine | Feb. 23
“As a young Congressman and later as the nation’s leader, the first Republican president proved to be a true friend to America’s neighbor to the south”

8. 10 Arabic Philosophers, and Why You Should Know Them
By Scotty Hendricks | Big Think | November 2016
“Of the stars that have proper names in common usage, most of them have the names given to them by Arabic astronomers. We use the numeral system they devised, including the zero. They set the standard for the scientific method for hundreds of years. It is impossible to fully understand western thought without understanding the ideas of these thinkers.”

9. What a Kansas professor learned after interviewing a ‘lost generation’ of journalists
By Deron Lee | Columbia Journalism Review | September 2016
“When Scott Reinardy began studying the state of morale in newspaper newsrooms more than 10 years ago … [he] didn’t know the industry was about to enter a traumatic period of upheaval that would deplete the ranks of journalists around the country and force newspapers to reassess their mission.”

10. The Gang That Always Liked Ike
By Michael Beschloss | HistorySource :: The New York Times | November 2014
“The Gang played bridge, golfed and shot skeet together, ate steaks barbecued by the president, offered advice on politics and the economy and chuckled at his private aphorisms. (He maintained, for example, that the ‘two professions in which amateurs excel’ are ‘prostitution and the military.’)”

My grand strategy

Today I turned 43. In these later years, I perceive a small but steadily growing pool of wisdom fueling a clear philosophical perspective on the increasingly complex calculus of my life.

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Today I turned 43.

The number doesn’t bother me. When I look back on my past accomplishments, both professional and academic, both modest and respectable, I’m comfortably reminded that I’ve always been a late bloomer. The great triumphs — comparatively great — always came right the end of each chapter of my life, just when the time came for me to move on and start over somewhere else. Perhaps for someone like me, with my ambitions, that’s the way it’s supposed to be. Every day begins with two thoughts: “There’s still a little time left. Relax.” and “Pretend this is your last day on earth because one day it will be. Work faster.” I stagger through the days wavering between those two sentiments.

At the end of 2014, I completed a master’s degree in U.S. history at the University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA), topped off with a 190-page thesis — the cherry on the sundae. I never had so much fun — ask the people who know me … “fun” is not a word they ever expect me to use. During that last half of 2014, I attracted the attention of UTSA’s Communications office, which sent a reporter to profile me, perhaps to hold me up as an example to others, perhaps to highlight the interesting and intelligent people enriching and enriched by the UTSA’s wonderful History Department. Perhaps it was just my turn. Nevertheless, I was flattered and honored. I shamelessly shared it throughout social media, as I am now. “We are all very proud of you,” one of my beloved professors wrote me. My heart burst with teary pride — the rarest of my few expressed emotions.

The best part of the article came right at the beginning. The first paragraph captured the grand strategy I set out for my life: “At an early age, [Ortiz] charted the life he wanted to lead: journalist, academic scholar and author.” At some point in my twenties — not sure when, exactly, but probably as I began to seriously study history and biography — I determined to approach life with a larger consideration: “How will I be remembered?” I knew enough to know that a great legacy was constructed with small pieces, carried one small step at a time, and sometimes at first only imperfectly constructed. I held close to my heart a few simple rules. Never turn away from a challenge. Never shrink away from leaping out of your comfort zone into unknown terrain. Never decline the opportunity to fail. Never fail to learn from those failures. All are easy to say and painfully difficult to follow.

In early 2015, I was honored when Dr. Catherine Clinton, a leading Civil War scholar, asked me to assist her with some special research for a few months. Just as that ended, I was honored yet again with an offer to actually teach U.S. history to college undergraduates at Northwest Vista College and then again at UTSA in 2016. Solitary research and writing — annotated bibliographies, briefing memos, etc. — is ideal for someone as shy as me. Teaching and discussing U.S. history with 70 to 80 young men and women is not. I stood in those classrooms and wondered how I could teach these young men and women. My comfort zone was nowhere in sight. Nevertheless, I knew when I accepted the challenge that I was undertaking the most difficult and the most important job of my life. Perhaps someday I might actually be good at it (though student applause is always reassuring). These are a few of those crucial pieces of the larger something I am trying to build, just as the men and women who came before me struggled to build their own lives, faced down their challenges and fears, and took one more step forward.

My Peruvian great-grandfather was prosperous fisherman who owned a fishing fleet. His son, my grandfather, was an Army general and special forces commander. His son, my father, is a physician. My father’s son — me — is … what? I was blessed with generous, loving, and supportive parents, who always pushed my brother and me to succeed. They trusted us to find our own way within their explicit expectations. It was assumed that we would become productive and honorable men as we kept in mind who built the comfortable world we inhabited. My interests guided me toward history, literature, and psychology. My mind naturally blossomed as historical concepts, literary theory, psychopathology, and the hourly drama of news cycles all caressed, molded, and ignited my growing intellect and imagination. But I realized that some kind of structure was needed. Simply wandering through my interests was not enough — it all had to amount to something in the end, something my descendants would look back on and admire … and perhaps emulate.

In some small way, this blog is an expression of that grand strategy. I’ve written about and shared with my readers my love of podcasts and photography, of the Civil War and fiction writing. I’ve shared with them a plethora of strange stories and documentaries, thoughts about Hemingway, rum cakes, books, and TR. They’ve experienced my passion for “Miami Vice”, Elvis, a Louisiana woman fleeing Union invasion during the Civil War, and a Cuban woman who disguised herself as a man and savored every moment of that same brutal war. Each piece fits into the larger plan.

In these later years, I perceive a small but steadily growing pool of wisdom fueling a clear philosophical perspective on the increasingly complex calculus of my life. Every failure becomes simply the moment when a fresh opportunity is revealed to me. Every hard-earned success merely offers a better vantage point on the harsh terrain ahead. As I move into this new year, from my new vantage point I can take in a horridly-jagged landscape stretching out before my eyes, seemingly endless, on into the horizon. But that far-off horizon is gleaming. The shimmering edges are only now in sight, the barely-perceptible glitter drawing me forward, igniting the ambition filling my heart, and steeling my spirit for the disappointments, setbacks, wrong turns, and frustrations darkening the journey.

My grand strategy, glowing in my soul, burned into my mind, never leaves me. The sweet promise of a final victory — a life well-lived — is my last thought as sleep and dreams wrap their arms around me and carry me away into the silent night.

Recommended reading / viewing / listening

Containing Iran / Romney administration’s first 100 days / Why Clinton’s speeches sparkle / The moment a tank shell strikes

Most of these great items come from my Twitter feed or Facebook news feed. Follow me on Twitter and on Facebook for more fascinating videos, articles, essays and criticism.

1. Afghans use culture guides to cut ‘insider’ attacks
By Amie Ferris-Rolman | Reuters | Sept. 6
“Afghan Defense Ministry officials, trying to stop the alarming increase in ‘insider’ attacks, have given their troops tips on foreign culture, telling them not to be offended by a hearty pat on the back or an American soldier asking after your wife’s health.”

2. Five countries the U.S. is screwing over
By Alex Keane | Salon | Sept. 7
“From the drug war to the war on terror, the United States is wreaking havoc around the globe”

3. The Pentagon Doesn’t Have the Right Stuff
By Robert Haddick | Foreign Policy | Sept. 6
“The Navy can’t ‘contain’ Iran — even if we wanted it to.”

4. Why Bill Clinton’s Speeches Succeed
By James Fallows | The Atlantic | Sept. 6
“Because he treats listeners as if they are smart.”

5. 100 Days
Need To Know :: PBS | Sept. 7
“Need to Know spoke with three experts on what the first 100 days of a Romney administration or an Obama second term might look like.”

6. The Proper Way To Share Your Junk
By J.R. Reed | Sex and the Single Dad :: The Good Men Project | Sept. 7
“As technology advances so does our ability to move the proverbial line further and further away. The unsolicited penis picture crosses that line but fear not because I have some tips to keep you classy-ish with your photography.”

7. Rives: Reinventing the encyclopedia game
TED | April 2012
“Rives takes us on a charming tour through random (and less random) bits of human knowledge: from Chimborazo, the farthest point from the center of the Earth, to Ham the Astrochimp, the first chimpanzee in outer space.”

8. You Are Here: How Astronomical Surveys Are Pinpointing Our Place in the Cosmos
By John Matson | Scientific American | Sept. 6
“Upcoming telescope projects on Earth and in space will map out billions of stars and galaxies all around us”

9. Is Philosophy Literature?
By Jim Holt | The Stone :: The New York Times | June 30
“Is philosophy literature? Do people read philosophy for pleasure? Of course it is, and of course they do.”

10. Incredible Photograph Captures Exact Moment of Tank Shell Hitting Against Syrian Rebels
By Jesus Diaz | Gizmodo | Sept. 7
“This image sequence of a Syrian army tank firing against a group of rebels in a street of Aleppo is beyond stunning. It’s pure insanity.”