The Sunday Post for December 17, 2016

My President Was Black: A history of the first African American White House — and of what came next

Few Seattle Review of Books readers will have missed Ta-Nehisi Coates’ epic, admiring, furious essay on Barack Obama’s presidency and the choice our country made just one eternal month ago:

The election of Donald Trump confirmed everything I knew of my country and none of what I could accept. The idea that America would follow its first black president with Donald Trump accorded with its history. I was shocked at my own shock. I had wanted Obama to be right.

I still want Obama to be right. I still would like to fold myself into the dream. This will not be possible.

Kudos to The Atlantic for continuing with a set of articles responding to Coates — frankly and with open eyes. Installations by Tressie McMillan Cottom and David Dayen launch the series.

Trump, Putin and the Pipelines to Nowhere

The climate change conversation is dominated by catastrophic weather patterns, extinction events, and photos of folorn polar bears. Behind the scenes, powerful economic forces are in play: deep investment around the world in the industries that support and rely the use of fossil fuels, and the risk of financial catastrophe on a global scale.

Alex Steffan argues that we already have the tools we need to meet the carbon restriction goals set in Paris last December, and with immense economic benefits. So whose interests, exactly, are served by keeping the carbon bubble full of hot air?

Scores of experts warn that the Carbon Bubble is one of the biggest threats to the global economy. The way to increase the resilience of global markets, they say, is to act on climate, but to do so with bold-yet-predictable pacing. If we do that — they say — we will still see the Carbon Bubble deflate, but markets should be able to adjust, and panic can be avoided. Climate action will stave off financial disaster as well ecological catastrophe.

This is a win-win for everyone, except those heavily invested in those Carbon Bubble assets now ... For them, the larger the Carbon Bubble swells, the more money they make.

Finding North America’s lost medieval city

An archeological dig revearls an ancient city under a quiet field in southern Illinois. Fearless reporter Annalee Newitz took shovel in hand to search for the cause of Cahokia’s demise.

The bones were the worst, because there were so many of them that it halted our digging dozens of times. We had to be careful to determine that these weren't human bones, because human remains must be reported immediately. Though we'd already identified these as deer bones, archaeologists will sometimes do a lick check to be sure. Lick check? I stared at Baires in bewilderment. “Do you want to lick it?” she asked.

A Short History Of The Most Important Economic Theory In Tech

On the 20th anniversary of the seminal article by economist W. Brian Arthur, Rick Tetzeli revisits the theory of increasing returns and how it’s fueled the success of tech giants from Microsoft to Amazon to Uber. With a cameo by Cormac McCarthy:

"I mailed the draft down to Cormac, who was in El Paso or somewhere like that. When I didn’t hear from him, I called him up and said, ‘Did you like my increasing returns article? It’s for the Harvard Business Review.’ There was kind of a silence on the line. And then he said, ‘Would you be interested in some editing help on that?’"

John Luther Adams on Translating Birdsong and Paying Attention to the World’s Immensity

A week after Patti Smith performs “A Hard Rain’s a Gonna Fall” at the Nobel Prize ceremony in Stockholm, two short takes — barely a mouthful each — on music, joy, and protest:

Composer John Luther Adams has built his life’s work on what he hears through an open window.

I began sketching on my first trips in Alaska. That summer of 1975, I began sketching immediately, writing down birdsongs as best as I could and trying to capture, to translate, to evoke something of the feeling of the air and the light and the wind. Initially, I began with a kind of landscape painting in music and immediately I thought, “Well, this is what I’m going to do for the rest of my life.”

And a sketch in the margins of a circa 1500 folio of the Consolation of Philosophy captures the constancy — over centuries — of delight as an act of defiance.

As if to remind us of the necessity not only of philosophy, but also of song in dark times, our anonymous reader drew a “rockstar lady,” whose pose connotes nothing but pure joy. We could juxtapose her with the joyful guitar poses of any number of modern blues and rock stars, who have played through any number of dark times.