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Africa

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Outbreak.

“The outbreak — the largest in history — has spread across Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria and Sierra Leone and killed at least 672 people, according to the World Health Organization. The disease has no vaccine and no specific treatment. It has a fatality rate of at least 60%.”

Among the most frightening developments in a world full of bad news at the moment: Ebola is running rampant through West Africa, and has reached both Freetown and Lagos, Africa’s largest city (where it was hopefully and quickly contained.) “This epidemic…can only get worse, because it is still spreading, above all in Liberia and Sierra Leone, in some very important hotspots,’ Janssens said…’we have never known such an epidemic.'”

Still, before you seal the locks on the underground shelter, the general scientific consensus seems to be that, even if the virus does reach here by plane — and it may well — ebola isn’t influenza circa 1918: “This is not a highly transmissible disease, where the number of people who can be infected by a single individual is high. You have to come into very close contact with blood, organs, or bodily fluids of infected animals, including people. If you educate people properly and isolate those who are potentially infected, it should be something you can bring under control.”

Also, as far as deadly mutations go, ebola “kill[s] so quickly that I don’t envision there’s going to be a major shift in transmission.” Some small comfort…unless, of course, you’re infected. As it is, per The Onion, a vaccine is “at least 50 white people away.

Over Ghana At Last. | Late Tie with Portugal

“There was a lot of shade being thrown at DaMarcus Beasley on Twitter, as if it was his fault that the Ghanaians kept bombing down his flank in 2-v-1s and whipping in crosses. You see the math, right? When it’s 2-v-1 on the flank, the best thing you can do as a fullback is coax the opposition into hopeful benders, which is exactly what Beasley did…The US can deal with crosses all day, but you don’t want Geoff Cameron, Besler –- most likely John Brooks now –- or especially Omar Gonzalez having to come out and meet attackers wide.”

As the US defeats Ghana 2-1 in their World Cup opener, garnering three critical points in this year’s Group of Death and revenge against the team that knocked us out in 2006 and 2010, MLS Soccer’s Matthew Doyle explains how the US’s risky rope-a-dope strategy worked. (Apparently, hardly ever controlling the ball was our master plan.) “The US invited Ghana forward, and wanted them to play thoughtlessly. Jermaine Jones pushed up the left real high to hunt the ball, and it worked.”

Of course, we also lost critical striker Jozy Altidore, who only broke out of a shooting slump against Nigeria, and whose speed, if nothing else, is needed to stretch the field. Without him, as this article points out, we’re going to have to bunker. And unless we start playing better (looking at you, Michael Bradley), Portugal and especially Germany are going to eviscerate us.

By the way, you’ve probably already figured this out by now, but Univision is streaming all of the games online for free. Accelerate the work day, work on your Spanish, and watch some very exciting futbol so far, all in one fell swoop.

Update “In their last four games – two friendlies and now the two group stage games – the US have conceded four goals after the 80th minute…They are sloppy in possession down the stretch, and even worse in closing down running lanes. All the precision you saw from this team through the first 80 minutes disappeared over the final 10.”

So Bradley did play better in Game 2’s almost-upset of Portugalfor 94 minutes. Sigh…well, we still have four points — hopefully the high-powered Germans will agree to a gentlemanly draw on Thursday.

Feingold Follows Fossey.

“Feingold has undertaken a dizzying round of talks in at least eight different African capitals, cajoling leaders face to face, negotiating with skittish rebels late into the night and strategizing with fellow diplomats, all in a very uphill effort to stop a long-running conflict in a region littered with failed peace deals. ‘Without a doubt,’ he said over coffee a few hours after the gorilla trek, ‘this is one of the favorite things I’ve ever done in my life.’

Stuart Reid checks in with former Wisconsin Senator Russ Feingold at his current job as John Kerry’s special envoy to the Great Lakes region and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. “‘I really wanted him here at the State Department because I saw him operate on the Foreign Relations Committee,’ Kerry told me. ‘He was the Senate’s expert, bar none, on Africa. He knows the region and the players.'”

Nuthin’ but a ‘G’ Thang.

“‘I kind of had in my stomach that we were going to get Germany,’ U.S. coach Jurgen Klinsmann said. ‘Obviously it’s one of the most difficult groups in the whole draw, having Portugal with Cristiano Ronaldo and then Ghana, who has a history with the United States. It couldn’t get any more difficult or any bigger.'”

The World Cup 2014 groups are announced, and — alongside Germany, Ghana, and Portugal in Group G — the US look to have a tough go of it. The silver lining: “There is actually some evidence that if the group of death doesn’t kill you, it can ultimately make you stronger.”

An Unconquerable Soul.

“I have fought against white domination, and I have fought against black domination. I have cherished the ideal of a democratic and free society in which all persons will live together in harmony and with equal opportunities. It is an ideal for which I hope to live for and to see realized. But my lord, if it needs be, it is an ideal for which I am prepared to die.” Nelson Mandela, the liberator of South Africa, 1918-2013.

Sixty hours, and what do you get?


Just counting work that’s on the books (never mind those 11 p.m. emails), Americans now put in an average of 122 more hours per year than Brits, and 378 hours (nearly 10 weeks!) more than Germans. The differential isn’t solely accounted for by longer hours, of course–worldwide, almost everyone except us has…a right to weekends off, paid vacation time, and paid maternity leave. (The only other countries that don’t mandate paid time off for new moms are Papua New Guinea, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Samoa, and Swaziland. U-S…A?)

It used to be a central tenet of progressivism was working to shorten the work week. Now, even unemployment-soothing innovations like workshare go nowhere, and, as Mother Jones‘s Monika Bauerlein and Claira Jeffrey explain (with handy graphs), we are all victims of the Great Speedup…but not the beneficiaries. “For 90 percent of American workers, incomes have stagnated or fallen for the past three decades, while they’ve ballooned at the top, and exploded at the very tippy-top…In other words, all that extra work you’ve taken on — the late nights, the skipped lunch hours, the missed soccer games — paid off. For them.

The “Worms From Hell.”


“‘This is telling us something brand new,’ said Onstott, whose pioneering work in South Africa over the past decade has revolutionized the understanding of microbial life known generally as extremophiles, which live in places long believed to be uninhabitable. ‘For a relatively complex creature like a nematode to penetrate that deep is simply remarkable.‘”

From a few weeks ago and languishing in the bookmarks, scientists find nematodes a mile below the Earth’s surface, raising the possibility of similar life on other worlds. The spice must flow… “The two lead researchers…said the discovery of creatures so far below ground, with nervous, digestive and reproductive systems, was akin to finding ‘Moby Dick in Lake Ontario.‘”

To the Shores of Tripoli.


Gaddafi is crazy and evil; obviously, he wasn’t going to listen to our advice about democracy. The world would be fortunate to be rid of him. But war in Libya is justifiable only if we are going to hold compliant dictators to the same standard we set for defiant ones. If not, then please spare us all the homilies about universal rights and freedoms. We’ll know this isn’t about justice, it’s about power.” With an eye toward the crackdowns in Yemen and Bahrain, the WP’s Eugene Robinson wonders, why, exactly, we’re getting involved in Libya. (Pic via Boston’s Big Picture.)

For a counterpoint, Juan Cole argues why the Left should back the current military action: “If we just don’t care if the people of Benghazi are subjected to murder and repression on a vast scale, we aren’t people of the Left. We should avoid making ‘foreign intervention’ an absolute taboo the way the Right makes abortion an absolute taboo if doing so makes us heartless (inflexible a priori positions often lead to heartlessness).

And, to complete the trifecta, here’s the president explaining his reasoning for intervention: “Left unchecked, we have every reason to believe that Qaddafi would commit atrocities against his people. Many thousands could die. A humanitarian crisis would ensue. The entire region could be destabilized, endangering many of our allies and partners. The calls of the Libyan people for help would go unanswered. The democratic values that we stand for would be overrun. Moreover, the words of the international community would be rendered hollow.

I get the arguments in favor of military action (and, in terms of diplomacy, I get that we also seem to be following the lead of France and England this time — After all, they’ve backed our sketchy plays in the past.) But, since we’re already well-engaged at this point, I’ll just say that (1) my own view of this Libya action leans toward Robinson’s, (2) the Congress-skipping precedent here is yet another extremely dubious call by our purported constitutional-scholar-in-chief, (3) I’m not seeing how getting involved in yet another war in the Middle East/North Africa, while rather obviously ignoring other festering situations in the region, wins Arab hearts and minds, and (4) it’s funny how 99.44% of the Deficit Peacocks in this town completely clam up when it’s time to rain down some million-dollar-a-head Freedom Bombs.

But the die is cast now, so let’s hope we get in and out of this as quickly as the president intimated we would. Oh, hey, look…mission creep. Now, who could’ve expected that?

The World they Made.

When historians look back to the moment when the post-Cold War reign of American power ended, they may well settle on 2010 as a crucial year. Everywhere, it seemed, there were signs that the long-predicted “rise of the rest” had finally occurred, whether in the newfound assertiveness of fast-growing China or the impatient diplomacy of new powers like Brazil and Turkey. Foreign Policy’s second annual list of the Top 100 Global Thinkers fully reflects that new world.

As above, Foreign Policy has picked its Top 100 Global Thinkers of the year. And, while there are some really atrocious choices on here (for example, the man at #33, who much more deservingly made the list in the next entry too), the article is worth a perusing regardless. (FWIW, #65, #68, and #80 seem really iffy to me as well.)

Fifty Years at Gombe.


On the morning of July 14, 1960, she stepped onto a pebble beach along a remote stretch of the east shore of Lake Tanganyika…She had brought a tent, a few tin plates, a cup without a handle, a shoddy pair of binoculars, an African cook named Dominic, and — as a companion, at the insistence of people who feared for her safety in the wilds of pre-independence Tanganyika — her mother. She had come to study chimpanzees. Or anyway, to try.

Fifty years after her studies began, pioneering primatologist Jane Goodall is honored (again) by National Geographic. “She created a research program, a set of protocols and ethics, an intellectual momentum — she created, in fact, a relationship between the scientific world and one community of chimpanzees — that has grown far beyond what one woman could do.

Wait ’till 2014.

As everyone already knows, the US bowed out of the World Cup over the weekend — in front of a record American television audience — by losing to Ghana 2-1, the same team that knocked them out in 2006. While I haven’t been posting much on the Cup (or on anything over the past fortnight), I have been watching what I can, and the US looked shaky from the start. Argentina notwithstanding, that Phoenix Suns style of futbol — great on O, very little D to speak of — doesn’t usually work too well at the World Cup level.

Speaking of that record television audience (which has been a pattern of late), the Cup has also been occasion for the usual litany of “Why Soccer Will Soon/Won’t Ever Work in the US” stories in the press. See, for example, Rolling Stone‘s Matt Taibbi bashing on soccer and its fans in his usual fast-and-loose “it goes to 11″ -style. (On this and all other issues: less heat and more light, please.)

I dunno. At this point, I feel like I’ve heard variations on this soccer-on-the-cusp argument my entire life. Frankly, it’s gotten to the point where I don’t much care anymore. Does it really matter if the US as a nation fully embraces futbol or not? I enjoy soccer, and so do most people whose company I enjoy. That’s good enough. If you don’t like the game, well, that’s ok too.

Rugby > Racism. (Rinse, Repeat.)

I’ve got bad news, folks. It’s nothing personal, I’m sure, but Clint Eastwood apparently thinks we’re stupid. That seems like the best way to account for the ridiculous redundancy built into Invictus, his well-meaning but over-broad account of South Africa’s victory in the 1995 Rugby World Cup. Sadly, this is the type of flick where characters keep intoning the obvious take-away message from the scene you just watched — “This country’s changed. We need to change as well!,” “He’s not a saint! He’s a man, with a man’s problems!” — just in case you’re, y’know, a little slow on the uptake. And every single point here gets hammered on three or four times, when once would’ve usually been quite enough, thanks much. In all honesty, I came out of Invictus feeling like I’d just been trying to guard Jonah Lomu for two hours. In a word, bludgeoned.

Don’t get me wrong — The movie has its heart in the right place, and I wholeheartedly agree with many of its basic contentions. I too believe Nelson Mandela is a great man, and that he was just the right man to lead his nation at the delicate hour when apartheid finally fell. I believe that racism is a moral failing that must be overcome, and that forgiveness is a more enlightened path than revenge. (As A.O. Scott aptly pointed out in his more-positive review of this film, Invictus is as committed to examining the issue of vengeance, and its overcoming, as Unforgiven, Gran Torino, Mystic River, and countless other films in Eastwood’s oeuvre.)

And I even think there’s a sophisticated story to be told here about the role of symbols (the Springboks), iconography (green-and-gold), and sports teams in politics and nation-building. (Throughout much of Invictus, I was reminded of a book from gradual school days: In the Midst of Perpetual Fetes, historian David Waldstreicher’s book on the early national period of the United States, when (as the title indicates) our Founders threw galas, parties, and festivities pretty much constantly to help engender a healthy nationalism in newly-minted Americans.)

Both in terms of fostering forgiveness on both sides and as a sheer political play, the basic “human calculation” made here by President Mandela — getting behind a team loathed by blacks and beloved by whites in order to signal good-faith intentions to Afrikaners and to help forge a new national unity — is a very savvy one. (You might even say it’s a Lincolnesque move, and in fact, there’s a good bit of Lincoln’s blend of folk wisdom, bonhomie, and ruthless, clear-eyed political calculation in Mandela as portrayed here.) And, of course, there’s a great underdog sports tale at the actual Cup itself — South Africa versus the mighty All Blacks of New Zealand.

The point being, Eastwood had a lot of good raw material to work with here in Invictus…but the final product, alas, is not so good. The film is competently-made, sure, and everyone from Morgan Freeman (not just being himself) to Matt Damon (great job with the accent) on down does a solid job with what they’re given. But the movie still ends up being more Flags of our Fathers than Letters from Iwo Jima: It’s so ham-fisted so often that it hardly ever gets off the ground. And it just doesn’t trust that the audience will pick up on anything unless it’s spelled out for them and underlined a few times. (I presume this is Eastwood’s fault rather than the source material, John Carlin’s Playing the Enemy — One definitely gets the sense from Invictus that Clint may have watched Idiocracy recently.)

One example should explain the problem. In one scene in the middle going, the all-white Springboks (Chester Williams notwithstanding) venture to a run-down shantytown in Soweto to teach young black South Africans the sport of rugby. (In this case, Invictus is smart to spell one thing out to the audience — the basic rules of play.) The kids generally seem excited by the trip, some of the Afrikaner meatheads who were complaining before start smiling and getting into it, and everybody — white and black — is clearly having a good time. The basic point is obvious from the entire scene: The fun of the game and the day is bringing former adversaries together. But then Clint has to pan over to a sign saying something like “One Team One Nation” or somesuch, and right thereafter some not-very-good pop song blares over the soundtrack with hokey lines like “we are color blind.” Ok, Clint, we get it.

Invictus does this throughout its run. Just in case we somehow miss the racial-reconciliation-through-sport point of the entire movie, there are multiply-redundant systems built into the narrative. There’s a divided Greek chorus of security guards that, like the Springboks, gradually come together as a team. There’s the black maid of Matt Damon’s somewhat haughty white family, who finally gets included as an equal. And there are even cuts to some random once-racist white cops and the black youths they would’ve undoubtedly spent the day harrassing, if it weren’t for the healing benediction of rugby, all jumping up and down together and enjoying the Big Win. After awhile, it all gets to be overkill.

Put simply, Invictus has great and laudable intentions, and I guess I wouldn’t call it an out-and-out fumble. But it definitely should’ve taken some lessons in subtlety from the real Nelson Mandela: Sometimes a quiet word in the right moment speaks louder than the mightiest of trumpets.

The Great Flood…and a blow to the Annalistes.

“In a period ranging from a few months to two years, the scientists say that 90% of the water was transferred into the basin. ‘This extremely abrupt flood may have involved peak rates of sea level rise in the Mediterranean of more than 10m per day,’ he and his colleagues wrote in the Nature paper.” A new study suggests that, over five million years ago and with an event called the Zanclean flood, the Mediterranean Sea may have been re-formed in as little as two years. “The team estimates the peak flow to have been around 1000 times higher than the present Amazon river at its highest rate.

Coincidentally, two years is about as long as it takes to read Ferdinand Braudel’s seminal two-part history of the Mediterranean. Cut to the chase, man!

Tant Pis, Henri.

“Although this is not yet confirmed, FIFA is expected to use a tried and tested formula for its finals draw for South Africa 2010. The system couples FIFA rankings with performances in the past two finals tournaments to create a group of eight seeds that also includes the hosts.”

With fans of Ireland still smarting after Thierry Henry’s egregious “Main de Dieu” handball last month, ESPN reviews the crop of futbol teams facing off in World Cup 2010. Here’s hoping the unseeded France ends up in this year’s Group of Death…and USA doesn’t!

Mandela and the Madhouses.

As with the other day, I can’t seem to make Quicktime happy at my workstation here. Nonetheless, it appears Matt Damon has gone from exposing his conjoined twin’s involvement in the WMD fiasco to ending apartheid in the new trailer for Clint Eastwood’s Invictus, with Morgan Freeman as Nelson Mandela. Busy fella.

Also in today’s trailer bin, two second looks at worlds gone mad: Mia Wasikowska finds Through the Looking Glass is still crazy after all these years in trailer #2 for Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland, also with Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter, Anne Hathaway, Stephen Fry, Michael Sheen, Crispin Glover, Timothy Spall, and Christopher Lee. To be honest, it looks a little too Burton-y to me, if such a thing is possible for a property like Alice.

And Leonardo di Caprio is still losing his cool on The Island in trailer #2 for Martin Scorsese’s recently kicked-to-2010 Shutter Island, also featuring Ben Kingsley, Mark Ruffalo, Michelle Williams, Patricia Clarkson, Elias Koteas, Jackie Earle Haley, and the eminent Max Von Sydow. Eh, this looks better than most January fare.

Only a Prawn in Their Game.

Neil Blomkamp’s inventive genre mishmash District 9 is a strange and compelling critter alright. On its surface, just as 1988’s Alien Nation was basically a sci-fi revamp of In the Heat of the Night, this is first and foremost the central “E.T.s as undesirables” conceit of Alien Nation as filtered through the sad story of South Africa’s real-life District Six.

Here, the aliens in question — having arrived in a stalled ship under horrifying refugee conditions and been deemed “Prawns” by the disgusted human population — are festering in a slum outside Johannesburg, where they are mostly starving, causing trouble, indulging drug addictions (in their case, cat food), and/or getting exploited by the local (Nigerian) criminal element. Our protagonist in this tale — after you see him at work, you wouldn’t really call him “our hero” — is one Wikus van der Merwe (newcomer Sharlto Copley), a eager-to-please bureaucrat for Multi-National United (MNU), who on account of family connections is tasked with supervising the relocation of District 9 to what amounts to a tented concentration camp, farther away from humankind. (Wikus’ other appointed task: to acquire for the Halliburton-like MNU as much alien-tech as possible for the multinational’s very profitable weapons division.)

But there’s more to District 9 than just a socially-conscious apartheid fable (and describing it as follows will give away some mild spoilers.) The head of the film, its first forty minutes or so, feels like a Paul Greengrass movie such as Bloody Sunday: a grim, gripping tale of social and political injustice (and, as per the Bournes, powerful and sinister multinationals) told in naturalistic, faux-documentary style. But the thorax of District 9 delves deeper into old-school David Cronenberg territory, with all the gooey orifices, transformational anxiety, and throbbing gristle that usually portends. (There’s a touch of Blomkamp’s mentor, the Dead Alive-era Peter Jackson, here as well — particularly in those ruthless energy weapons.) And, by the time we get to the abdomen, we’re suddenly watching a George Miller or Jim Cameron-style actioner, with more than enough visceral excitement to keep the antennae twitching.

All stitched together, District 9 is quite a remarkable feat of summer sensation. In the end, I’m pretty sure I enjoyed the more self-contained experiences of Moon and The Hurt Locker more. And I might quibble here and there with Blomkamp’s execution — the lapses back to documentary-style talking heads at times feels like cheap and easy exposition, and cute kid plot-devices are cute kid plot-devices no matter the species involved. But, unlike Terminator: Salvation and (I presume) its Hasbro-minded competition this summer, Blomkamp’s District 9 actually manages to deftly recombine familiar sci-fi elements into something that feels new and original. In short, it’s the clever, gory, mildly thought-provoking, and indisputably kick-ass action thrill-ride genre fans have been waiting for all season.

Ex-Pats United.

It’s not just here at home. Sen. Obama takes the Americans Abroad primary 2-1 (65%-32%), winning most of the countries around the world (Ex-pats in Israel and the Philippines opted for Clinton.) Thanks, Kris, and all the other Obama voters out there across the seas. Update: Clinton did well in the DR as well.

The Neo-Con Hit List.

“‘We screwed up and left Saddam Hussein in power. The president [then George H.W. Bush] believes he’ll be overthrown by his own people, but I rather doubt it,’ he quotes Wolfowitz lamenting [in 1991]. ‘But we did learn one thing that’s very important. With the end of the Cold War, we can now use our military with impunity. The Soviets won’t come in to block us. And we’ve got five, maybe 10, years to clean up these old Soviet surrogate regimes like Iraq and Syria before the next superpower emerges to challenge us … We could have a little more time, but no one really knows.‘” According to Salon‘s Joe Conason, Wesley Clark’s new book suggests the existence of a smoking-gun 2001 memo that outlined in full the neo-cons’ delusional ambitions for the Middle East before the Iraq War. “‘Six weeks later, Clark returned to Washington to see the same general and inquired whether the plan to strike Iraq was still under consideration…”Oh, it’s worse than that,” he said, holding up a memo on his desk. “Here’s the paper from the Office of the Secretary of Defense [then Donald Rumsfeld] outlining the strategy. We’re going to take out seven countries in five years.” And he named them, starting with Iraq and Syria and ending with Iran.’ While Clark doesn’t name the other four countries, he has mentioned in televised interviews that the hit list included Lebanon, Libya, Somalia and Sudan.

Kicked Out.

In a 4-0 rout, Brazil knocks the US out of the Women’s World Cup in the semifinals. Arg, that’s too bad. Despite the time zone issues, I caught several of the round 1 games (including US-Sweden and US-Nigeria, as well as a few random match-ups like Canada-Ghana and Denmark-NZ) and thought we looked pretty solid, give or take an occasionally lackluster offense. But it sounds like we ran into a brick wall here. At any rate, Brazil will face Germany, who beat Norway 3-0 on Wednesday in the Finals.

Unamid to the rescue?

The resolution allows the use of force in self-defense, to ensure freedom of movement for humanitarian workers and to protect civilians under attack.” In a unanimous vote, the UN Security Council agrees to send 26,000 peace-keeping troops and police — a UN-AU hybrid force known as Unamid — to Darfur. “Ban Ki-moon , the UN Secretary-General, called the move a ‘historic and unprecedented operation’ that will send ‘a clear and powerful signal’ of help to the people of Darfur.” That being said, many observers — among them Sen. Russ Feingold — feel this version of the resolution has been excessively watered down to appease the Sudanese government: “If this UN resolution is passed as it currently stands, we can expect the Sudanese government to try to evade its requirements and agreements without a single consequence. Should that happen, the toll of the genocide in Darfur will continue to mount — in lives lost, in persons displaced, and in fundamental human values that the international community has failed to uphold.

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