Required Reading

‣ The Maya Train, a highly contentious project, has officially opened in Mexico. Andrea Sachs explains the railway’s threats to the local landscape and uncertain future for the Washington Post:

Environmentalists, archaeologists and Indigenous people, among others, have voiced their opposition to the railway because of the harm it could cause to a number of archaeological sites and ecological features, such as ancient Maya ruins; the Great Maya Aquifer, which provides drinking water to millions of residents; and cenotes, or underwater caves. Wildlife conservationists also worry about how deforestation and habitat destruction will affect such endangered animals as the jaguar and multiple bird species.

“There’s been allegations that the project has been rushed. It’s disregarded environmental concerns, archaeological concerns, scientific concerns and sociological concerns,” Rabinor said. “One of the ramifications is that they’ve built this in especially sensitive places.”

‣  I think the title says it all, “Chinese chess champion stripped of title after defecating in hotel bathtub,” but let’s take a closer look at this news specimen in the Guardian:

Yan allegedly clenched and unclenched rhythmically to communicate information about the chess board via code to a computer, which then sent back instructions on what moves to make in the form of vibrations, according to reports circulating on the Chinese social site Weibo.

“Based on our understanding of the situation, it is currently impossible to prove that Yan engaged in cheating via ‘anal beads’ as speculated on social media,” the CXA said.

But he was still stripped of his title and banned from playing for a year after his celebrations went wayward.

‣ Palestinian poet Mosab Abu Toha writes a must-read essay for the New Yorker about his detainment by the Israeli army in November. In it, he recalls:

I join a long queue of young men on their knees. A soldier is ordering two elderly women, who seem to be waiting for men who have been detained, to keep walking. “If you don’t move, we will shoot you,” the soldier says. Behind me, a young man is sobbing. “Why have they picked me? I’m a farmer,” he says. Don’t worry, I tell him. They will question and then release us.

After half an hour, I hear my full name, twice: “Mosab Mostafa Hasan Abu Toha.” I’m puzzled. I didn’t show anyone my I.D. when I was pulled out of line. How do they know my name?

‣ New York Magazine‘s Andrea Long Chu reflects on the censorship of pro-Palestinian voices in the literary community and the trap of the free-speech debate:

We should call this what it is: a one-sided, McCarthyist crackdown on pro-Palestine speech. But it is not an ironic new phase of cancel culture, as a score of commentators have already claimed. “Far from being a culture-war canard, cancellation turns out to be a weapon that many people on both the left and the right are willing to wield to silence anyone who violates their orthodoxies,” wrote the pundit Yascha Mounk for the Atlantic last month. In this view, it is the left which has created a climate of censoriousness by recklessly pursuing the firing and deplatforming of those whose views it deems ideologically unacceptable; now those same tactics are being employed against the pro-Palestine left, which yearns too late for the guard rails it helped remove. It is as if the worst fears of the infamous Harper’s letter from a few years ago, in which a number of very serious people admonished the left for abandoning liberal norms of open debate and good-faith disagreement, have come true. To the liberal mind, the only solution to this crisis is for both sides of the aisle to recommit to, as Mounk put it, a “principled defense of free speech” regardless of political content.

‣ Isabel Cristo dissects the mainstream gravitation toward girlhood in 2023 for the Cut:

Instead of politics, can I interest you in some blissful, childlike ignorance? In Vanity Fair, the writer Delia Cai asks, “Is it reactionary or radical … to don the pink dress and beribbon ourselves in spite of what we know?” The answer is: Neither, and that’s exactly the point. Finding an answer to that question is the purview of womanhood. Girlhood, instead, is an opting out of the whole calculation, a low-risk way to participate in mass cultural femininity.

So girlhood was prettily packaged up, all tied up in a bow, and sold to us. And we were eager to buy — no more so than in the summer of Barbie. But despite all the endless litigation over Barbie’s feminist bona fides, the line that got the most laughs was deeply telling: When she’s confronted by a crabby Zoomer who calls her a fascist, Barbie sobs that she couldn’t possibly be one because she doesn’t “control the railways or the flow of commerce.” The joke here is the absurdity of bringing politics into this context, where we all know it doesn’t actually belong. The world Greta Gerwig built for Barbie is too ill-equipped for all that.

‣ Writer Matthew Hutson explains the art of board game design and its political undercurrents in a piece for the New Yorker:

Over the next few years, Amabel designed and published about thirty games through various companies. Then, in 2016, she and Mary created their own publisher, Hollandspiele. It’s since published more than seventy games, roughly half designed by Amabel; she is widely considered one of today’s most innovative game designers. Her work, which is part of a larger turn toward complexity in the industry, often tackles historical and social subjects—death, religion, misinformation—using surprising “mechanics,” or building blocks of game play, to immerse players in an experience. “I’m interested in games’ ability to engage with difficult topics,” she told me. “And I’m interested in the way that mechanics can be used to do that.”

‣ Japan’s obsession with KFC during Christmas is wild:

‣ Show us your charcuterie boards after the party!

‣ A fascinating take by an American therapist on the trauma being faced by Israeli Jewish Zionist (in this case White) women as a result of the events of October 7, and how it may be impacted by the politics of race and whiteness. I find this to be a very kind way to engage with a very difficult topic, and we hope you find it useful to start or continue conversations around pain with the people around you:

‣ Henna isn’t just a South Asian tradition — West African henna, which employs a completely different technique, is absolutely stunning and mesmerizing to watch unfold:

Required Reading is published every Thursday afternoon, and it is comprised of a short list of art-related links to long-form articles, videos, blog posts, or photo essays worth a second look.

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