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Barry Freed -- NYC Meetup?
Posted by LizardBreath on 12.09.18

Barry's around and available until 12/20 -- anyone want to come out for drinks? If so, name an evening and a bar.

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Weekend Longread: Lake Chad
Posted by Heebie-Geebie on 12.08.18

Mokie charassy writes: Interesting but irritating New Yorker piece by Ben Taub. Irritating in that the author decries lots of policies but doesn't consider alternatives at all.

"Déby basically blackmails us, saying, 'If I fall, there's a direct line between ISIS in the north, Boko Haram in the south, and Al Qaeda in the west.' "
True; but one must admit the man has a point, considering
[Boko Haram] fighters terrorized remote villages, tossing grenades into huts and burning down mosques. They raped women, slaughtered men, and kidnapped children, whom they forced to carry out suicide bombings. Shekau pledged his group's allegiance to the Islamic State, but his battlefield tactics were so depraved that ISIS eventually disowned him.
Or:
in a neglected patch of territory, the international community ends up fulfilling the unwanted obligations of statehood. The regime reaps the benefit: the threats that arise from its failure to govern are mitigated, and its leader is left to focus on the task of strengthening the security apparatus that keeps him in power.
Also true, but the alternatives are what? Leaving people to starve? State failure? Not that I expect Taub to lay out a comprehensive policy, but I expect him at least to acknowledge what the alternatives look like. The piece is basically ahistorical and generally ignores local agency.
I have asked many American diplomatic and military officials to define a coherent long-term strategy for the region, but none of them have been able to articulate more than a vague wish
And what do all the local officials think? About, for instance, upstream diversions for irrigation projects in Chad and Nigeria, responsible for about half the shrinkage of the lake? (Taub mentions only climate change.) He gestures at the "complex cruelties of colonialism" without mentioning the complex cruelties of local pre-colonial polities like this -- predatory states heavily involved in slaving (which the colonial powers suppressed); and in which context Boko Haram actions like
kidnapping entire villages, replenishing its military ranks and collecting new wives, children, farmers, and fishermen to sustain its campaigns.
look rather different. Taub talks repeatedly about the arbitrariness of the colonial borders, without even suggesting how redrawing those borders would change anything, nor offering much evidence that they make anything worse. He cites poor cross-border military co-ordination (a problem of organization, not borders); and offers this:
When these nations enforced their borders, the fishermen and cattle herders of Bougourmi, which is in Chad, were cut off from the lake's biggest market, which is in Baga, on the Nigerian shoreline.
But says later
Many islanders were open to Boko Haram. The Boudouma used Nigerian currency
And why were these Chadians using naira? I don't know, but I'm guessing it's because fish are their principal cash income and they sold fish in Nigeria whenever they wanted. By his own evidence, the borders don't matter: Boko Haram crosses them at will; Chad clearly doesn't control its own territory
For two years, the Chadian Army had been telling the U.N. that the islands were empty and off limits, but now, he said, "we realized that there were about forty thousand people living there."
And (elsewhere) neither does Cameroon (70,000 Nigerians migrated there, following the retreating shoreline).
Also, he mentions the Toyota Wars, if you want to talk about that instead.

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ɯᴉɹɹoɹ ʍɹᴉʇᴉuƃ
Posted by Heebie-Geebie on 12.07.18

Somewhere in the archives - probably 2008ish - is a very long, tedious debate on why things are reversed in the mirror left-right but not top-down. IIRC, what made it so tedious is that every person had to explain anew that the mirror reflects the part of the object closest to them, so the stuff on the left makes a beeline to that part of the mirror, while the stuff on the right makes a beeline to that part of the mirror, and voila!

That is true, of course, but not the heart of the question, because it applies equally well to the up-down direction. (The question itself I don't want to re-open, but I think I'm doomed.) The truth is that it's rooted in the biology of our brain, and how our heads swivel in the left-right plane in order to scan the horizon. If our heads swiveled differently - suppose there was a rod through your ears, and whenever you wanted to look behind you, you looked up at the sky and then kept going to look behind you - then your brain would interpret the mirror writing as being upside down.

The new thing I think is interesting is this photo of the sink knobs in our bathroom. In this photo, the "hot" and "cold" writing is upside-down! Neat.

The reason is because (sorryneb) the writing is perpendicular to the mirror, so there actually is a closer part of the font and a further away part of the font, which is then to be actually reversed.

The reason this topic is the worst is because it's so tiring to try to follow each other's comments on this sort of thing. And yet, we're doing this.

Comments (27)