On living through apocalyptic times, and what comes next.

“What we call the beginning is often the end, and to make an end is the beginning. The end is where we start from.”

T.S. Eliot

This year’s threats and terrors have seemed distinctly biblical. There is plague, of course — the world’s first truly global plague. There are unprecedented storms leaving catastrophic damage in their wake, and unprecedented fires turning the sky blood red. There are even deadly swarms of locusts. All around us, lives and norms and systems are unraveling, or have already come undone.

Unraveling a web of dark money

Photo: cherrybeans/iStock/Getty Images Plus

“Wherever you live in the world, you’ve been robbed. Not by a hidden bandit, but a global kleptocracy: the super-rich who’ve managed to rob the poor blind in every corner of the globe for the past seven decades.” — Michelle Chen

We’re living in a time of global income inequality on a scale never before seen in history. Money is concentrated in the hands of fewer and fewer people around the world, and every year they have more of it than ever before. According to the 2018 World Inequality Report, those belonging to the wealthiest 0.1 percent of the global…

The many faces and farces of Putin’s most notorious political operative.

His tentacles, the web into which he has woven today’s cultural and political world in Russia, affect everyone in one way or another. Few people have such an active, powerful, and strange influence on the present-day context.
— from Vladislav Surkov: Spin Doctor of All Russia

Vladislav Surkov, in the words of one leaked U.S. diplomatic cable, “wears many masks” — and over the course of his nineteen years at the heart of the Russian government, he has worn many titles as well. The man once known as the ‘grey cardinal’ of the Kremlin is also the self-described ‘author’ of…

Putin’s past and Russia’s future

Photo by Sergei Gunayev/TIME & LIFE Images via Getty

History has proven that all dictatorships, all authoritarian forms of government, are transient.

— Vladimir Putin (1999)

Over two decades ago, in the post-Soviet chaos of the mid-1990s, the deputy mayor of St. Petersburg gave a cautionary TV interview. “It sometimes seems to us,” he said, speaking of his fellow Russians, “that if we had a firm hand to bring about order, then we would all live better, more comfortably, and in safety.” He paused, seeming to consider his next words before continuing. “But in fact, this comfort would be very short-lived. …

“I’ll make no bargain with the Nazis.”

Sophie Scholl with her brother Hans and their friend and collaborator Christoph Probst in January 1943

In 1942, anti-Nazi pamphlets titled “Flyers from the White Rose” began appearing overnight in public spaces around the Munich area. Thousands of leaflets distributed across Germany urged the German people to resist the Nazi system, openly denouncing the Führer (“Every word that comes from Hitler’s mouth is a lie!”) and boldly warning the regime: “We will not be silent. We are your bad conscience. The White Rose will not leave you in peace!”

“We have nothing to lose except everything. So let’s go ahead. This is the wager of our generation.”

— Albert Camus, “Resistance, Rebellion and Death”

Eighty-one years ago this year, Franklin D. Roosevelt was running for president a second time — and all across the world, fascism and authoritarianism were on the rise.

A Road Trip Through the Scottish Highlands

This year, I spent my birthday alone — truly alone, in the hills of an ancient, misty isle 5,000 miles from home. My last week of being 25 years old was spent driving solo through the Scottish Highlands to the Isle of Skye: a quarter century of life culminating on an otherworldly island of equal parts harshness and beauty, where every fantasy or fairytale I’d ever seen or read felt real. It was the most breathtaking birthday of my life.

The History and Mystery of Subterranean Edinburgh

For a city full of buried histories, Edinburgh wears its past proudly. Its architectural aesthetic of cobblestone alleys and looming Gothic spires — including the world’s largest memorial to a writer, a towering monument to Sir Walter Scott that overlooks the train station named for his most popular novels — is thick with the sort of mystery-infused Old World ambience that carried down from Arthur Conan Doyle (who counted Edinburgh as his birthplace) to J.K. Rowling (who still counts Edinburgh as home). More literally, Edinburgh’s historical center is also often thick with atmospheric swirling sea fog, to the point that…

We know her today as Mary Elizabeth Bowser, but she went by many different aliases in her time as one of the most daring spies of the Civil War. Born a slave to the Union-sympathizing Van Lew family in Virginia, Mary was freed as a teenager, educated in Philadelphia, acted as a missionary in Liberia, and went on to work for an intricate Union spy ring that succeeded in planting her undercover in the house of Confederate President Jefferson Davis.

Hypatia was the leading mathematician, astronomer, and philosopher of her time, an extraordinary trailblazer whose death symbolized not only the downfall of intellectual life in the city of Alexandria, but the end of the classical world.

Whitney M.

Lover of history, literature, democracy. whitneymilam.com

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