Articles of Interest: Somali Bananas, Bibliophile Americans, and More

Somalia experiences an unlikely resurgence in an unlikely way…

Somalia elected a new president and adopted a constitution in 2012, bringing some stability, and attracting pledges of aid from international donors. Somali pirates, who once threatened international shipping in the Indian Ocean, have largely been contained and the Shabab have lost their grip over many towns.

“By any measure, Somalia today is in a better situation than it has been for the past 23 years,” said Nicholas Kay, the United Nations’ special representative for Somalia.

That stability has allowed farmers like Mr. Nasir, who studied agriculture at Mogadishu University, to return to a business that has been in his family for four generations.

How have Roman monuments endured all these centuries…?

In a new study, researchers drilled down into the chemistry of Roman concrete to find out what makes it so resilient. As suspected, the key ingredient is the specific blend of limestone and volcanic ash used in the mortar, says Gail Silluvan for the Washington Post.

Mixing mortar according to the recipe of 1st century Roman architect Vitruvius, the scientists’ analyses unveiled that the mortar included “dense clusters of a durable mineral called strätlingite.”

“The crystals formed because of a reaction that took place over time between the lime and volcanic matter in the mortar,” says Sullivan, and “helped prevent the spread of microscopic cracks by reinforcing interfacial zones, which researchers called ‘the weakest link of modern cement-based concrete.'”

The reasons why Pakistan and India are in perennial conflict…

Pakistan’s military leaders have known since the 1960s that they cannot take Kashmir by force. Why, then, have they persisted? The answer is simple: political solutions haven’t been forthcoming. India holds the balance of power, and for all its repression in Kashmir, the world sees no evil. For the Pakistani Army, confrontation has become the only way to keep the issue alive, forcing the world’s attention. India’s brutal counterinsurgency might not make news, but a shootout between two nuclear powers gets everyone’s attention. As long as the deadlock over Kashmir remains, Pakistan’s need for confrontation will persist.

Americans love books more than ever despite the Internet…

In 1957, not even a quarter of Americans were reading a book or novel. By 2005, that number had shot up to 47 percent. I couldn’t find a more recent number, but I think it’s fair to say that reading probably hasn’t declined to the horrific levels of the 1950s.

All this to say: our collective memory of past is astoundingly inaccurate. Not only has the number of people reading not declined precipitously, it’s actually gone up since the perceived golden age of American letters.

So, then why is there this widespread perception that we are a fallen literary people? I think, as Marshall Kirkpatrick says, that social media acts as a kind of truth serum. Before, only the literary people had platforms. Now, all the people have platforms. And so we see that not everyone shares our love for Dos Passos. Or any books at all. Or reading in general.

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