Things I liked (to read)

The Loneliest Plantest (WSJ)

We are indeed “alone” in the universe, this book argues:

“One leg of Mr. Gribbin’s argument rests on the theorized life expectancy of advanced civilizations, which he claims is much more fleeting, on a cosmic timescale, than we care to admit. Our species has inhabited this planet for about one hundred-thousandth the age of the galaxy, and it was merely a century ago that we began to transmit radio waves. If technological civilizations did arise before ours, they might have succumbed to war or environmental degradation well before our primate ancestors stood upright.”

A daily double from Pico Iyer in the Times this Sunday, including this piece on the virtues of silence:

“ABOUT a year ago, I flew to Singapore to join the writer Malcolm Gladwell, the fashion designer Marc Ecko and the graphic designer Stefan Sagmeister in addressing a group of advertising people on “Marketing to the Child of Tomorrow.” Soon after I arrived, the chief executive of the agency that had invited us took me aside. What he was most interested in, he began — I braced myself for mention of some next-generation stealth campaign — was stillness…”

and a review of his new book, The Man Within My Head, about Graham Greene:

“Wilson sat on the balcony of the Bedford Hotel with his bald pink knees thrust against the ironwork.” Those who love Graham Greene — and their numbers are legion — will recognize this sentence, the first line of his quietly devastating novel “The Heart of the Matter,” published in 1948.

Why didn’t Wilson deserve an honorific? What terseness, scorn or unceremoniousness did the omission of “Mr.” imply? Why was a grown man wearing shorts, and why were his knees pink? Where was the Bedford Hotel and where, to be precise, was Wilson? Was he in England, the country of Greene’s birth? Hardly. Like the author, Wilson was spending a stretch ofWorld War II in West Africa. And who was Wilson? That would take longer to answer. This same aura of enigma-disguised-as-directness hovers over the meditation Pico Iyer has written about his lifelong obsession with Graham Greene, numinously titled “The Man Within My Head” — a nod to Greene’s first novel, “The Man Within.”

A fascinating look at Wang Yang and Chinese politics (NYT) in the runup to selection of new leaders this year:

A Chinese Official Tests a New Approach

In a year of China under lockdown, when dissident writers have received breathtaking prison sentences and the mere whisper of a “Jasmine Revolution” has spurred mass detentions, perhaps the riskiest thing a Chinese politician could do is put his iron glove on the shelf.

Which makes Wang Yang’s gamble this month in Wukan all the more interesting.

Mr. Wang, the up-and-coming Communist Party secretary of the southern Chinese province of Guangdong, faced a political turning point when 13,000 irate residents of Wukan evicted their leaders and barricaded themselves in their coastal village for 13 days in a last-straw uprising against local corruption.

Given a choice of storming the village with armed police officers or conceding that the villagers’ complaints had merit, Mr. Wang chose the latter. And in a single morning, he defused a standoff that had drawn unflattering worldwide news coverage.

The decision won him praise in the Communist Party’s flagship newspaper, People’s Daily, which called it an act of “political courage” in a tense situation. Some analysts said it might have strengthened his already strong prospects to land a seat on China’s elite ruling body, the nine-member Standing Committee of the party’s Politburo, when a wave of mandatory retirements vacates seven of the seats this coming year.”

Tragic Island: Haiti – The Aftershocks of History, a review (NYT) by Adam Hochschild

What’s the Capital of the World? (The Economist),1

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