The Year in Review (2019)

"The World is a lot Poorer without You": a tribute to the great minds we lost in 2019...


Chinese communist Li Rui, who criticized Xi
Pianist and conductor Andre Previn
Rock drummer Hal Blaine
Rock guitarist Dick Dale
Singer-songwriter Scott Walker
French filmmaker Agnes Varda
Southafrican geneticist Sydney Brenner
William Merwin, one of the greatest poets of the 20th century
Nils Nilsson, pioneer of A.I.
Spanish novelist Rafael Ferlosio
Conceptual artist Carolee Schneemann
Australian poet Les Murray
Chinese architect Ieoh Ming Pei
Opera director Franco Zeffirelli
Bossanova guitarist Joao Gilberto
New Orleans musician Art Neville
US novelist Toni Morrison
Rock singer-songwriters Mark Hollis
Filmmaker and poet Jonas Mekas
Italian writer Nanni Balestrini
Jazz saxophonist Joseph Jarman
Charlie Cole, Tiannamen Square photojournalist
Ric Ocasek of the Cars
Rock drummer Ginger Baker
Art historian Douglas Crimp
Italian cyclist Felice Gimondi
Soviet cosmonaut Alexei Leonov, the first human to walk in space
Opera soprano Jessye Norman
Serbian filmmaker Dusan Makavejev

Recommended Books:
  • Sean Carroll: "Something Deeply Hidden". CalTech physicist Sean Carroll tells the history of quantum discoveries
  • Liam Young: "Machine Landscapes - Architectures of the Post-Anthropocene". Dystopic architecture at its best.
  • Ian Kershaw: The Global Age. A History of Europe from 1950 till 2017, which basically extends the story told by Tony Judt's "Postwar" (2006) to the financial crisis of 2008, the crisis of immigration, the new military rise of Russia, and the anti-democratic movements.
  • Walter Scheidel: "Escape From Rome". It shows that the fall of the Roman Empire (and the fact that it never came back) was beneficial to political progress.
  • David Wallace-Wells: "The Uninhabitable Earth". The ultimate environmentalist book, albeit a bit depressing.
  • David Runciman: "How Democracy Ends". A somber analysis of the decline of democracy that reads like a 21st-century version of Oswald Spengler's "The Decline of the West" (1918) and Alexandre Kojeve's "Introduction to the Reading of Hegel" (1946).
  • Richard McGregor: "Xi Jinping - The Backlash". Over the last few years the world's view of China has worsened dramatically, and not only in the USA.
  • Jude Blanchette: "China's New Red Guards - The Return of Radicalism and the Rebirth of Mao Zedong". This book tracks the neo-Maoist movement in China which was marginalized under Deng but has regained power under Xi.
  • Stephen Platt: "Imperial Twilight". An interesting chronicle of the events leading to the Opium War of 1839 between Britain and China, particularly telling as the USA ramps up propaganda against China in 2019. The similarities between the pretexts invented by the British and the ones invented by Trump are obvious. In both cases the starting point was the same: China was exporting a lot (tea in those days) and importing very little. In both cases the biggest Western power punished them by forcing them to import things they didn't need and didn't want. In 1839 this was done with force.
  • Sheri Berman: "Democracy and Dictatorship in Europe". The political history of Europe as one step forward, one step back.
  • Ezra Vogel: "China and Japan Facing History"
  • Nur Masalha: "Palestine - A Four Thousand Years History". Finally a history written by a Palestinian himself.
  • Sunil Amrith: "Unruly Waters - How Rains, Rivers, Coasts and Seas have Shaped Asia's History". The title says it all.
  • Shoshana Zuboff & James Maxmin: "The Age of Surveillance Capitalism"
  • Gregory Claeys: "Dystopia: A Natural History"
  • Warren Sack: "The Software Arts". An alternative history of computing that places the arts at the very center of software's evolution. Sack argues that programming languages are the offspring of an effort to describe the mechanical arts in the language of the liberal arts.
  • Andy Greenberg: "Sandworm". Written by a Wired magazine's investigative reporter who has followed Russian cyber-attacks over the years, this book chronicles the evolution of cyberwarfare. li>Institute for Policy Analysis of Conflict: "After Ahok". A terrifying picture of how Indonesia is being radicalized after the conviction of a Christian politician for blasphemy against Islamic superstitions.
  • Emmanuel Saez and Gabriel Zucman: "The Triumph of Injustice". These Berkeley economists show that, after Trump's 2017 tax reform, the working class is paying higher tax rates than the richest.
  • Pete Etchells: "Lost in a Good Game". Videogames go beyond traditional art and music because they are creative media.
  • Timothy Winegard: "The Mosquito". A history of how malaria determined the course of human civilization from the Hellenistic world to the rise and fall of the Roman Empire, the Crusades, the Mongol conquests, European colonialism, the slave trade, the US civil war, and World War II. This is one of those books that tell the story of humankind as an extraterrestrial being would, ignoring kings and generals, just focusing on what caused large-scale changes in the lives of humans. Other books of this kind are Hans Zinsser's "Rats, Lice and History" (1935), about the influence of typhus, Alfred Crosby's "The Columbian Exchange" (1972), about the biological effects of Columbus, and William McNeill's "Plagues and Peoples" (1976).
  • Glenn Simpson & Peter Fritsch: "Crime in Progress - Inside the Steele Dossier and the Fusion GPS Investigation of Donald Trump". A catalog of Trump's dealings with corrupt foreign players written by the cofounders of Fusion GPS, the firm that commissioned the Steele Dossier.
  • Byung-Chul Han : "Vom Verschwinden der Rituale/ The Disappearance of Rituals"
Books NOT to read: just like previous years, an impressive number of highly publicized books that talk about machines stealing jobs and machines becoming more intelligent than humans. Yawn...
Tech and Science
  • David Liu's "prime editing" (Broad Inst)
  • Chris Jeynes (University of Surrey) and Michael Parker (University of Essex) showed that information and entropy are linked together in a way exactly analogous to electric and magnetic fields, and just like any field they generate forces, and these forces explain the behavior of the universe without any need for "dark matter" (paper)
  • Two new treatments, REGN-EB3 (made by Regeneron) and mAb-114 (developed by Anthony Fauci's team at the National Institutes of Health and made by Ridgeback), prove 90% effective against ebola
  • Click here for more in Neuroscience

Best films of 2019:
  • Bong Joon-ho: Gisaengchung/ Parasite
  • Quentin Tarantino: Once Upon a Time in Hollywood
  • Celine Sciamma: Portrait de la Jeune Fille en Feu/ Portrait of a Lady on Fire
  • Mati Diop: Atlantique
  • James Gray: Ad Astra
  • etc
  • See

Best jazz albums of 2019:
  1. Chris Corsano: A View of the Moon (Clean Feed)
  2. Anna Webber: Clockwise (Pi)
  3. Kamasi Washington: Heaven And Earth
  4. Taylor Ho Bynum 9-Tette: The Ambiguity Manifesto (Firehouse 12)
  5. Wadada Leo Smith: Rosa Parks: Pure Love (TUM )
  6. Ralph Alessi: Imaginary Friends (ECM )
  7. Uri Caine: The Passion of Octavius Catto (816 Music)
  8. etc
  9. See

Best classical music recordings:
  1. Charles Ives: Symphonies No. 3 and 4 - San Francisco Symphony & Michael Tilson Thomas (SFS Media)
  2. "The Tchaikovsky Project" - Czech Philharmonic & Semyon Bychkov
  3. Bach: Toccatas - Mahan Esfahani (Hyperion)
  4. Caroline Shaw: Orange; Attacca Quartet (Nonesuch)
  5. Esa-Pekka Salonen: Cello Concerto - Los Angeles Philharmonic & Yo-yo Ma (Sony)

Heroes of the year:
  • Nusrat Jahan Rafi, a 19-year-old Bangladeshi student who was set on fire after she accused her teacher of sexual harassment
  • Saudi human-rights activist Loujain al-Hathloul, tortured and imprisoned by Saudi Arabia for advocating women's rights
  • Russian activist Lyubov Sobol, who led anti-Putin protests despite threats to her life and who has been investigating the corruption around Yevgeny Prigozhin (Putin's close associate who also ran the St Petersburg "troll farm" involved in the Russia-Trump collusion scandal)
  • Pakistani feminist social worker Gulalai Ismail, persecuted by Pakistan's security services

  • Sheng Xue, who fled China for Canada after the Tiananmen Square uprising, and has been the victim of a relentless smearing campaign by the Chinese Communist Party
  • Iran human-rights lawyer Nasrin Sotoudeh, arrested after defending women who remove their headscarves and sentenced to 38 years in prison and 148 lashes
  • Sudanese activist Alaa Salah, who spearheaded the movement to oust Sudan's dictator
  • Serikzhan Bilash, who was instrumental in documenting China's detention camps of Muslims
  • Chinese civil-rights activist Huang Qi, founder of 64 Tianwang, jailed for the third time

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