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Weekend Reading: Mid-May Edition

Butchart Gardens, Victoria, British Columbia

"Torching the Modern-Day Library of Alexandria," by James Somers in The Atlantic.

On March 22 of 2011 the legal agreement that would have unlocked a century’s worth of books and peppered the country with access terminals to a universal library was rejected under Rule 23(e)(2) of the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure by the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York. When the library at Alexandria burned it was said to be an “international catastrophe.” When the most significant humanities project of our time was dismantled in court, the scholars, archivists, and librarians who’d had a hand in its undoing breathed a sigh of relief, for they believed, at the time, that they had narrowly averted disaster.

"Accelerationism: How A Fringe Philosophy Predicted The Future We Live In," by Andy Beckett in The Guardian.

Accelerationists argue that technology, particularly computer technology, and capitalism, particularly the most aggressive, global variety, should be massively sped up and intensified – either because this is the best way forward for humanity, or because there is no alternative. Accelerationists favour automation. They favour the further merging of the digital and the human. They often favour the deregulation of business, and drastically scaled-back government. They believe that people should stop deluding themselves that economic and technological progress can be controlled. They often believe that social and political upheaval has a value in itself.

"Margaret Atwood, The Prophet Of Dystopia," by Rebecca Mead in The New Yorker.

Given that her works are a mainstay of women’s-studies curricula, and that she is clearly committed to women’s rights, Atwood’s resistance to a straightforward association with feminism can come as a surprise. But this wariness reflects her bent toward precision, and a scientific sensibility that was ingrained from childhood: Atwood wants the terms defined before she will state her position. Her feminism assumes women’s rights to be human rights, and is born of having been raised with a presumption of absolute equality between the sexes.

"The Holocaust’s Great Escape," by Matthew Shaer in The Smithsonian Magazine.

The digging got underway the first night in February 1944, in a storeroom at the back of the bunker. To disguise their efforts, the prisoners erected a fake wall over the tunnel’s entrance. The men worked in shifts throughout the night, with saws, files and spoons stolen from the burial pits. Under the cover of darkness, they smuggled wood planks into the lengthening tunnel to serve as struts; as they dug, they brought sandy earth back out and spread it across the bunker floor. Any noise was concealed by the singing of the other prisoners, who were frequently forced to perform for the Sturmbannführer—arias from The Gypsy Baron, by the Austrian composer Johann Strauss II, were a favorite.

"How Homeownership Became the Engine of American Inequality," by Matthew Desmond in The New York Times Magazine

Today a majority of first-time home buyers get down-payment help from their parents; many of those parents pitch in by refinancing their own homes. While most white families own a home, a majority of black and Latino families do not. Differences in homeownership rates remain the prime driver of the nation’s racial wealth gap. In 2011, the median white household had a net worth of $111,146, compared with $7,113 for the median black household and $8,348 for the median Hispanic household. If black and Hispanic families owned homes at rates similar to whites, the racial wealth gap would be reduced by almost a third.

“Butchart Gardens, Victoria, British Columbia” by Andrea_44 is licensed under CC BY

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