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Friday’s Reading List

By Taylor Marvin

A. Kurkin ,Tale of the Golden Cockerel, Alexander Pushkin tale illustration, 1968. Via Soviet Postcards.

A. Kurkin, Tale of the Golden Cockerel, Alexander Pushkin tale illustration, 1968. Via Soviet Postcards.

Stories I enjoyed this week:

Bernardo Aparicio García reflects on Netflix’s new series Narcos and growing up in Colombia during the violence-racked 1980s and early 1990s.

At Americas Quarterly, Matias Spektor reviews how diplomacy and personal trust amongst national leaders helped shutter Argentina and Brazil’s nuclear weapons programs.

Economic challenges and frustrated electorates are ending an era where Latin American leaders and their anointed successors were reelected again and again, Brian Winter argues.

Miriam Berger reports from Dushanbe, Tajikistan, where government-funded American students travel to learn Persian. The Tajik language is similar to Persian – “except after 60 years under Russian rule, Tajiks pepper their talk with Russian and write using Cyrillic letters instead of Arabic” – but the city offers students few opportunities to interact with Iranians. However, studying in Iran is off limits for many students: ““At some point I’m going to have to get a security clearance, so going to Iran wasn’t still too much of an option,” says one.

From a security standpoint these concerns may be justified, but are also a barrier to building deep regional expertise within US agencies. “Organizations like the Foreign Service and the Central Intelligence Agency have a deep institutional prejudice against their employees ‘going native,’ rotating officers every two or three years to avoid someone’s becoming too identified with local interests and cultures,” CIA veteran Philip Giraldi wrote in a 2013 American Conservative piece. This bias against deep regional knowledge is compounded by an institutional wariness of potential recruits “who possess the language skills and cultural awareness that would enable them to operate in areas where most CIA case officers dare not tread, which means they are mostly first- and second-generation Muslim Americans.”

Relatedly, Berger looks at the food scene among the Afghan diaspora in Dushanbe.

Hilary Matfess challenges a recent Bloomberg feature on the “ungoverned world” (via Kevin Baron). This framing, Matfess writes, “ignores the extant order–however perverse it may be–that communities under rebel control are subjected to. These spaces are not ‘ungoverned,’ they are ‘alternatively governed.'” José C. Contreras has a similar critique.

Marc Parry profiles economists Dani Rodrik and Pinar Dogan’s investigation into an aborted coup the Turkish government of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan alleges was planned by Turkey’s military elite. Given Turkey’s history of military coups many Turkish liberals refused to accept the possibility that the plot, and subsequent high-profile trials and convictions of leading officers, was a fraud – an allegation that Erdoğan’s increasingly blatant authoritarianism makes difficult to ignore. (Via Yelena Nana.)

Relatedly, Borzou Daragahi reports on People’s Democratic Party (HDP) leader Selahattin Demirtaş, days before key elections in Turkey.

Lant Pritchett discusses how the UN’s Millennium Development Goals don’t, in Rachel Strohm’s words, ” match the policy priorities of people from low income countries.”

From June, Owen Hatherley visits Moscow’s industrial housing – “where homes would become mass-produced commodities like cars, fridges and TVs” – which offers a fascinating history of Soviet urban planning. Opulent construction ordered by Stalin was totally insufficient to meet the USSR’s housing crisis, and later industrial housing project ranged from a flagship “instant prefabricated community” to mass-produced “sleeping districts.”

An older Tyler Rogoway piece examines the Soviet Union’s ambitious Alfa-class fast attack submarine, and a 1993 report by Gerhardt Thamm sheds light on how American intelligence analysts investigated puzzling reports of the highly advanced, unorthodox Soviet submarine. In particular, the Alfa’s crew escape pod challenged Western assumptions that the Soviets had a low regard for human life.

Thomas F. Schaller examines the structural factors in the American political system that favor Republicans, including the overrepresentation of small states in Congress, the geographic concentration of Democratic voters, and certain procedural rules, as well as how majority of state and local elections are scheduled off the presidential election cycle (via Ed Kilgore).

Bethany Allen-Ebrahimian collects Chinese citizens’ reactions to the move to end the country’s brutal one-child policy (latter via Garance Franke-Ruta).

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