Geography

Lapland: A Prisoner of Geography

Photo of a landscape in Lapland

. . . Laplanders know that geography brings with it vulnerabilities. Finland’s shared border with Russia – which spans more than 1,300 km to the east – has been an increasing concern since Vladimir Putin’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine on 24 February 2022. Three months later Finland applied to join Nato. The Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the move was an “escalation” that “forces us to take countermeasures to ensure our own tactical and strategic security”. Finland became a full member of the defence alliance in April 2023.

Nato membership has not insulated Finland from Russian aggression. In recent weeks, Finnish border guards have reported a large increase in asylum seekers, many of them from Syria, Iraq and elsewhere in the Middle East, attempting to cross the border from Russia. Finnish officials accuse their neighbour of aggressive tactics like those previously employed by Belarus, which since 2021 has been pushing thousands of asylum seekers over the border into Poland. In November alone, more than 900 asylum seekers crossed the Russian border into Finland; prior to November, ten or fewer such crossings took place each month.

On 22 November the Helsinki government, hoping to stem the flow of refugees, announced that it was closing seven of its crossings on the Russian border, leaving just one, Raja-Jooseppi in Lapland, open. (Update: on 28 November the government ordered the entire border closed.) Anxiety over Russian hostility is high. In a low-lit restaurant adorned with reindeer antlers in central Rovaniemi, Antti Kokkonen, the editor-in-chief of Lapin Kansa, Lapland’s largest daily newspaper, told me that “there is a lot of worry that hiding among these migrants are little green men”. This is a reference to the Russian soldiers in unmarked clothing who infiltrated and then helped to annex Crimea in 2014.

Megan Gibson, "Lapland: A Prisoner of Geography," The New Statesman, November 29, 2023.

Some People at UC-Berkeley

Charisma Acey

Christopher Alexander

Michael Burawoy

Manuel Castells

Karen Chapple

Bradford DeLong

David Harding

Martin Sanchez-Jankowski

Michel Laguerre

Clare Cooper Marcus

Carolyn Merchant

John Powell

Robert Reich

Carolina Reid

Harley Shaiken

Neil Smelser

Sandra Susan Smith

Laura D'Andrea Tyson

Kim Voss

Loïc Waquant

Margaret Weir

Moby-Duck

Moby-Duck toys

At the beginning of the war, two British chemists, V. E. Yarsley and E. G. Couzens, prophesied with surprising accuracy and quaintly utopian innocence what middle-class childhood in the 1970s would be like. “Let us try to imagine a dweller in the ‘Plastic Age,’” they wrote in the British magazine Science Digest.

This creature of our imagination, this ‘Plastic Man,’ will come into a world of colour and bright shining surfaces, where childish hands find nothing to break, no sharp edges or corners to cut or graze, no crevices to harbour dirt or germs, because, being a child his parents will see to it that he is surrounded on every side by this tough, safe, clean material which human thought has created. The walls of his nursery, all the articles of his bath and certain other necessities of his small life, all his toys, his cot, the moulded perambulator in which he takes the air, the teething ring he bites, the unbreakable bottle he feeds from . . . all will be plastic, brightly self-coloured and patterned with every design likely to please his childish mind.

Here, then, is one of the meanings of the duck. It represents this vision of childhood—the hygienic childhood, the safe childhood, the brightly colored childhood, in which everything, even bathtub articles, have been designed to please the childish mind, much as the golden fruit in that most famous origin myth of paradise “was pleasant to the eyes” of childish Eve. Yarsley and Couzens go on to imagine the rest of Plastic Man’s life, and it is remarkable how little his adulthood differs from his childhood. When he grows up, Plastic Man will live in a house furnished with “beautiful, transparent, glass-like materials in every imaginable form,” he will play with plastic toys (tennis rackets and fishing tackle), he will, “like a magician,” be able to make “what he wants.” And yet there is one imperfection, one run in this nylon dream. Plastic might make the pleasures of childhood last forever, but it could not make Plastic Man immortal. When he dies, he will sink “into his grave hygienically enclosed in a plastic coffin.” The image must have been unsettling, even in 1941; that hygienically enclosed death too reminiscent of the hygienically enclosed life that preceded it. To banish the image of that plastic coffin from their readers’ thoughts, the utopian chemists inject a little more technicolor resin
into their closing sentences. When “the dust and smoke” of war had cleared, plastic would deliver us “from moth and rust” into a world “full of colour . . . a new, brighter, cleaner, more beautiful world.”

-- Donovan Hohn, "Moby-Duck, or, the Synthetic Wilderness of Childhood," Harper's Magazine, January 2007.

The Point of No Return

Eric Holthaus, "The Point of No Return: Climate Change Nightmares Are Already Here," Rolling Stone, August 5, 2013.

On July 20th, James Hansen, the former NASA climatologist who brought climate change to the public's attention in the summer of 1988, issued a bombshell: He and a team of climate scientists had identified a newly important feedback mechanism off the coast of Antarctica that suggests mean sea levels could rise 10 times faster than previously predicted: 10 feet by 2065. The authors included this chilling warning: If emissions aren't cut, "We conclude that multi-meter sea-level rise would become practically unavoidable. Social disruption and economic consequences of such large sea-level rise could be devastating. It is not difficult to imagine that conflicts arising from forced migrations and economic collapse might make the planet ungovernable, threatening the fabric of civilization" . . . .

James Hansen, the dean of climate scientists, retired from NASA in 2013 to become a climate activist. But for all the gloom of the report he just put his name to, Hansen is actually somewhat hopeful. That's because he knows that climate change has a straightforward solution: End fossil-fuel use as quickly as possible. If tomorrow, the leaders of the United States and China would agree to a sufficiently strong, coordinated carbon tax that's also applied to imports, the rest of the world would have no choice but to sign up. This idea has already been pitched to Congress several times, with tepid bipartisan support. Even though a carbon tax is probably a long shot, for Hansen, even the slim possibility that bold action like this might happen is enough for him to devote the rest of his life to working to achieve it. On a conference call with reporters in July, Hansen said a potential joint U.S.-China carbon tax is more important than whatever happens at the United Nations climate talks in Paris.

One group Hansen is helping is Our Children's Trust, a legal advocacy organization that's filed a number of novel challenges on behalf of minors under the idea that climate change is a violation of intergenerational equity — children, the group argues, are lawfully entitled to inherit a healthy planet.

A separate challenge to U.S. law is being brought by a former EPA scientist arguing that carbon dioxide isn't just a pollutant (which, under the Clean Air Act, can dissipate on its own), it's also a toxic substance. In general, these substances have exceptionally long life spans in the environment, cause an unreasonable risk, and therefore require remediation. In this case, remediation may involve planting vast numbers of trees or restoring wetlands to bury excess carbon underground.

Trump Supporters

Trump supporters' truck in Ohio

Fire! Clouds of teargas! Mass arrests! Armed black power militants facing off with assault rifle-wielding white supremacists! Unprepared and nervous police!

This was what I was supposedly walking towards when I decided to wander on foot the 170 miles or so from my home in Detroit to the Republican national convention in Cleveland, where the GOP would be nominating Donald Trump as their party representative – one of the most divisive political candidates since Lincoln.

I’ve lived in the industrial – now post-industrial – midwest my whole life, and much of my family has worked in the industrial economy. I set out walking to hear what my neighbors and fellow regional residents had to say about this man. I wanted to walk because walking is slow and the slowness would give me time to understand. With our ever-churning news cycle spewing quick polls and conjecture, I wanted to get a broader portrait about what it means to vote in the upper midwest in 2016.

I went alone as there’s something about the solitary traveler that brings out the maternal instinct in America, that makes people talk and share in an unpoliticized way. I slept on the side of the road and in the gracious homes of those I interviewed, many found through the Couchsurfing website. In my daily life I didn’t know many Trump supporters, but I wanted to hear what they had to say, to see if their values aligned with that of the candidate who said Mexico is bringing “drugs, crime and rapists” to the US. So I conducted dozens of formal interviews, many of them with Trump supporters.

What I found surprised me.

Marx Madness

Marx Madness

Marx Madness is the ultimate war of all against all. We start with 64 Marxists competing one-on-one in 32 match-ups. These elimination rounds continue every week throughout March until only one thinker is left. Voting opens now, and closes Friday, March 13. From then on, voting will open every Monday morning, and close the following Friday at midnight.

-- Marx-Madness.com