My Top 20 Reads of 2018

For the second year running, I’ve compiled a list of my best reads of the year. During 2018, I’ve read hundreds of articles on a range of themes – from culture, to politics, to technology – which have challenged me, and in many cases, shaped my thinking on particular topics. So here goes, in no particular order … my list of 2018’s top 20 reads. Enjoy!

The Profound Presence of Doria Ragland, by Doreen St. Félix (The New Yorker) 
“A millennium of world-shifting encounters — of violence and of romance and of acts in between — produced this scene: the sixty-one-year-old Ragland, an American who teaches yoga and does social work sitting in the opposite and equivalent seat to Queen Elizabeth II. One is a descendant of the enslaved, a child of the Great Migration and Jim Crow and seventies New Age spirituality; the other, the heir to and keeper of empire. Blood had long ago decided what life would be like for both. But love barges in and finds a way.”

LOSING MY RELIGION: The cross, the lynching tree and Kenya’s post-colonial enterprise, by Christine Mungai (The Elephant)
“The fact that white colonisers would use the symbol of a Nazarene anti-colonialist to enforce and entrench the very project of colonisation is a testament to the twisted genius of white supremacy. But Jesus of Nazareth was no coloniser.”

Music’s ‘Moneyball’ moment: why data is the new talent scout, by Michael Hann (FT Magazine) *paywall*
“The Talent AI dashboard enables users to apply a series of filters to either tracks or artists. Eventually you can apply filters so far you can narrow down on any kind of artist you want: if you want unsigned German folk singers on more than 10 playlists with at least 20,000 Spotify followers, you can find them.”

What losing (then winning) an election taught me about God and politics, by Kayode Adeniran (Salt London)
“While politics can be powerful in shaping the environments in which we live, changing our human behaviour and habits, it cannot and never has dealt with the deepest problem that human beings have faced since the beginning of time – ourselves.”

Glencore: an audacious business model in the dock, by Neil Hume, David Sheppard and Henry Sanderson (The Financial Times) *paywall*
“As well as being a major miner, it is the ultimate middleman, moving millions of tonnes of commodities across the globe, linking the suppliers of raw materials — often in developing countries — with consumers in wealthy and fast-growing ones, earning wafer-thin margins on large volumes along the way. But what sets Glencore apart from its peers is its appetite for risk, at times pushing the limits of what is allowed in the modern global economy.”

Why Facts Don’t Change Our Minds, by James Clear (James Clear blog)
“It is not difference, but distance that breeds tribalism and hostility. As proximity increases, so does understanding. I am reminded of Abraham Lincoln’s quote, “I don’t like that man. I must get to know him better.” Facts don’t change our minds. Friendship does.”

The post-truth Gospel, by Marcel Theroux (The Times Literary Supplement)
“Like many unverifiable but seductive claims, the theory that Jesus was a Buddhist has thrived in the glassy twilight of the internet and resurfaces in books such as Holger Kersten’s loopy and unreliable Jesus Lived in India. Like Nazca lines and alien sightings, there’s something weirdly compelling about Notovitch’s tale. It answers a need in all of us to smooth the rough edges of our reality: in this case, to turn the biblical Christian Jesus into a more unifying figure.”

A slave in your place, by Rupert Shortt (The Times Literary Supplement)
“Perhaps the most important reference to ideas of atonement in the earliest strands of the New Testament is Mark 10:45 – “the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many”. The Greek word translated as “ransom” is lutron. It designates the payment made to liberate a prisoner or slave. So in indicating that he would make his life a ransom for others, Jesus meant that he was placing himself totally at their disposal – in other words saying “I will be a slave in your place”. There are echoes of Isaiah’s Suffering Servant here, but also of Exodus 30 and 34, which speak of a need to redeem one’s own life or that of one’s firstborn through sacrifice. Something too weighty is owing to God, so a gift is offered in its place.”

Developers’ hoardings deconstructed, by Edwin Heathcote (FT Magazine) *paywall*
“The images used by property companies to promote their developments have been a constant irritant and a needling reminder of the churn, the commodification, gentrification and architectural homogenisation of the city. Swaths of cities and their pavements have been given over to a property-porn reimagining of an idealised, globalised city, but mostly, this is a story about London and its reinvention as a safe-deposit box for the spare change rattling around in the pockets of the global super-rich. Of course, there is always going to be top-end property speculation — the city’s economy, in large part, depends on it — but to push it in peoples’ faces, often those whose families are being displaced, is deeply uncool.”

Short Cuts: Cambridge Analytica, by William Davies (The London Review of Books)
“Just as environmentalists demand that the fossil fuel industry ‘leave it in the ground,’ the ultimate demand to be levelled at Silicon Valley should be ‘leave it in our heads.’ The real villain here is an expansionary economic logic that insists on inspecting ever more of our thoughts, feelings and relationships. The best way to thwart this is the one Silicon Valley fears the most: anti-trust laws.”

How the BBC Lost the Plot on Brexit, by Nick Cohen (The New York Review of Books)
The BBC’s reporting of the scandals around the Brexit referendum is not biased or unbalanced: it barely exists.”

The Global Financial Crisis: Bait and Switch, by Simon Wren-Lewis (The London Review of Books)
“The implementation of austerity in the wake of the global financial crisis involved denying help to millions of people. To carry that off required politicians and influential parts of the media to ignore or actively suppress expert consensus (as well as the overwhelming evidence on which it is based) that austerity is harmful and unnecessary. In other words, a political deceit with huge costs to the economy was enacted in order to achieve a political or ideological goal.”

Grenfell Tower, June, 2017: a poem, by Ben Okri (FT Weekend Life & Arts) *paywall*
“Those who were living now are dead, those who were breathing are from the living earth fled. If you want to see how the poor die, come see Grenfell Tower. See the tower, and let a world-changing dream flower.”

The dark light of the Presidents Club, by Nick Spencer (Theos Think Tank blog)
“The default argument today is that it’s fine for people to be objectified, groped, abused, hit, dominated, enslaved – just as long as they are OK with it. The view effectively empties any and every act of its moral content, relocating the ethical weight to the realm of personal judgement. Nothing is good or bad.”

Uber is Headed for a Crash, by Yves Smith (New York Magazine)
“Uber is a taxi company with an app attached. It has never presented a case as to why it will ever be profitable, let alone earn an adequate return on capital. Investors are pinning their hopes on a successful IPO, which means finding greater fools in sufficient numbers.”

The Unseeables, by Tariq Ali (The London Review of Books)
“Contrary to the radical slogans of the late 1940s, India’s wasn’t a ‘fake independence’. Self-rule was achieved at a high price and it meant something, but it incorporated many colonial practices. The new masters benefited, but for the untouchables, tribals and others conditions remained the same or got worse. According to recent estimates by India’s National Crime Records Bureau, every 16 minutes a crime is committed by caste Hindus against an untouchable – or Dalit.”

America’s New Religions, by Andrew Sullivan (New York Magazine)
“So what happens when this religious rampart of the entire system is removed? I think what happens is illiberal politics. The need for meaning hasn’t gone away, but without Christianity, this yearning looks to politics for satisfaction. And religious impulses, once anchored in and tamed by Christianity, find expression in various political cults.”

Bristol, the slave trade and a reckoning with the past, by Judith Evans (FT Magazine) *paywall*
“As for the statue of Colston, Rees, the mayor, is firm that something must change. “He can’t sit there labelled as ‘one of the most virtuous and wise sons of the city’. That’s poor.” But for now, campaigners who want Colston toppled do not look set to get their way. Instead, the council has commissioned Dresser [a local historian] to write the text of a new plaque for the statue’s base. The plaque “will definitely talk about [Colston’s] involvement in the slave trade and profiting from slave-produced goods”, Dresser says. “But it will try to be balanced and pose the conundrum [that] he was also a philanthropist, although a sectarian one. And how do we balance these out, and can we balance these out? And to what extent are we ourselves free of moral contradictions?””

Can history help?, by Linda Colley (The London Review of Books)
“Over the centuries both the UK and the US have indeed been almost too successful in their recourse to war, and this has had mixed repercussions for their political systems and democracy. As a result, in the UK even more than in the US, old structures of politics were able to persist. […] Could it be that Britain’s political stability has become too pronounced? That, by not having to adjust and alter its political system as so many other countries have had to do, the UK has stored up unaddressed problems and unhelpful stagnancies? The convulsions and divisions over Brexit might have some tonic effect on Britain. This bitterly divisive and presumably long-lasting change might turn out to be the painful moderniser that military defeats and invasions have sometimes proved to be for other countries.”

How Restaurants Got So Loud, by Kate Wagner (The Atlantic)
“According to Architectural Digest, mid-century modern and minimalism are both here to stay. That means sparse, modern decor; high, exposed ceilings; and almost no soft goods, such as curtains, upholstery, or carpets. These design features are a feast for the eyes, but a nightmare for the ears. No soft goods and tall ceilings mean nothing is absorbing sound energy, and a room full of hard surfaces serves as a big sonic mirror, reflecting sound around the room.”

That’s it friends!

Best wishes for the New Year!

Chipo.

My Top 20 Reads of 2017

This year, I’ve read hundreds of articles, covering a wide range of themes all linked in some way to global current affairs – from investment and economics, to politics and philosophy. Here’s a list of my top 20 reads of 2017. Enjoy!

Why I left my liberal London tribe, by David Goodhart (FT Weekend Life & Arts) *paywall*
“The value divides in British society that led to Brexit, and may now break up the United Kingdom, stem from the emergence in the past generation of two big value clusters: the educated, mobile people who see the world from “Anywhere” and who value autonomy and fluidity, versus the more rooted, generally less well-educated people who see the world from “Somewhere” and prioritise group attachments and security. There are many subdivisions within both groups, of course, as well as a large “inbetweener” group. Anywheres tend to be more mobile than Somewheres, their careers often sucking them into London for a period. Yet more than 60 per cent of British people still live within 20 miles of where they lived when aged 14.”

From Netflix to rented homes, why are we less interested in ownership?, by Ian Leslie (The New Statesman)
“The Pay-go economy is changing our relationships with each other and with ourselves. Possessions form part of what the marketing academic Russell Belk calls “the extended self”. In Daniel Miller’s book, he describes how objects, however trivial, can embody relationships. Each household’s collection of stuff – tacky souvenirs, CDs we borrowed and never gave back – forms a constellation of personal significance. Post-materialism does not equate with spiritual enrichment. Usually the closer our relationships with objects, the closer our relationships are with people.”

Scandalized Reading, by Jessica Hooten Wilson (Fathom Mag)
“The majority of Christians […] read many more self-help and Christian living books than literature. But if we look at the example of the Son of God himself, we don’t see him speaking on how to make friends and influence people or seven methods of effective discipleship. Rather, he made his ministry about telling stories and living as the hero of a true story. Christ is the Word. The Bible is a story. If Christians are not reading stories, they are neglecting one of the charges of the gospel.”

Overcoming Your Demons, by Morgan Housel (Collaborative Fund blog)
“Stuttering seems uncommon [because] most stutterers don’t talk much. Silence is the perfect disguise. The clenched jaw, the contorted face, the awkward rapid repetitions of sounds as you struggle through words – veteran stutterers will move mountains to avoid these situations, and they’re easily avoided by not talking.”

Artificial intelligence: Silicon Valley’s new deity, by Leslie Hook (FT Magazine) *paywall*
“The quest for immortality is […] taken seriously in the Bay Area, partly because a number of billionaires are investing heavily in research to extend their own lives. Most of the focus is on the question of how to accomplish this (ideas include cloning yourself, then using the blood of the younger clone to nourish your older body). But few discuss the spiritual implications of these projects. If the technology we create surpasses us in intelligence, does it ever have a soul? And if humans live for a very long time, or indeed for ever, do they ever become gods?”

No more water for water-carrier, by Alex Magaisa (The Big Saturday Read blog)
“Mnangagwa doesn’t seem to have the courage to walk away. He is probably waiting for Mugabe to pronounce direct judgment upon him. There is no culture of resigning in [Zimbabwe’s] ZANU PF. Those on the gravy train do not like stepping off. They do not know how to survive outside the party. They are scared of life outside ZANU PF, a fact that Mnangagwa himself has preached before at political rallies.”

How ‘no deal’ could bring Britain to a halt, by Chris Giles (The Financial Times) *paywall*
“David Davis, the UK’s Brexit secretary, has expressed confidence that Britain will strike a deal with the EU which would provide a smooth path to new arrangements with Brussels rather than a disruptive change. However, a no deal scenario would be disruptive because of the laws governing Britain’s relationship with the EU would cease immediately. “Calling it a legal vacuum would be underplaying where we would be,” says Malcolm Barr, economist at JPMorgan. “I think there would be a significant contraction in GDP.””

Syria: a tale of three cities, by Erika Solomon (FT Magazine) *paywall*
“In Assad’s Syria, people are not only divided from the rest of the country, but from within. The war is not yet over, but his presumed victory has sparked fresh reflections on the fight. What did it mean? How will people heal? Can they even come together again? Across the country, you hear a constant exchange of stories about suffering, loss and survival – a national currency for a society grappling with incomprehensible change.”

China missionaries seek converts along the Belt and Road, by Tom Hancock (The Financial Times) *paywall*
“Beijing’s Zion church is one of dozens in the country to have sent missionaries overseas, as evangelical Christians follow their country’s huge infrastructure push into Southeast Asia and the Middle East, creating a dilemma for the officially atheist Communist party. There are about 1,000 Chinese missionaries outside the country, compared with virtually none a decade ago, according to churches and academics. Church leaders hope to increase their number to 20,000 by the end of the next decade. Those leaders say missionary activity is a natural extension of China’s Protestant movement, which has grown rapidly in recent decades and now numbers about 100m.”

To Understand ‘Brexit,’ Look to Britain’s Tabloids, by Katrin Bennhold (The New York Times)
“The campaign was marked by a relentless drip of anti-immigration rhetoric and a couple of big lies that stuck: the 350 million pounds (about $450 million at current rates) that Britain paid to the European Union every week (false) and the prospect of millions of Turks’ making their way to Britain if it stayed in the union (Turkey is not joining the bloc). Two years ago, the United Nations urged Britain to deal with hate speech in its newspapers, specifically citing a column in The Sun that compared migrants to cockroaches and the norovirus. The tabloids say they merely reflect the concerns and fears of their readers. But their critics say they poison the debate by playing to people’s worst instincts and prejudices, distorting facts and creating a propaganda ramp that mainstreams intolerance and shapes policy.”

What kind of liberal society do we want? by Tim Farron (Theos Think Tank blog)
“If you say you favour diversity and pluralism, then you must oppose all attempts at assimilation and forced conformity.  You may like the idea that people will think the same as you, but you must not aim to build a society where you engineer that via legal or social pressure.  And it is especially on this latter point that liberalism is at risk.”

George Osborne’s revenge, by Ed Caesar (Esquire)
“At a little after 6.30, nearly every weekday morning, George Osborne — 46 years old, tall, rich, boyish, tieless — takes the bus from Notting Hill in west London, where he lives, to Kensington High Street, where he works, orders his breakfast to take away from Leon, arrives at the marbled and airy headquarters of the London Evening Standard, takes the lift to the second floor, enters his corner office, and sets about destroying his political enemies.”

Eat, pray, live: The Lagos megachurches building their own cities, by Ruth MacLean (The Guardian)
“Throughout southern Nigeria, the landscape is permeated by Christianity of one kind or another. Billboards showing couples staring lovingly into each other’s eyes, which appear at first glance to be advertising clothes or condoms, turn out to be for a pentecostal church. Taxi drivers play knock-off CDs of their favourite pastor’s sermons on repeat, memorising salient lines. “I’m a Winner,” read the bumper stickers that adorn the fancier cars, declaring their owners’ allegiance to Winners’ Chapel, a grand white megachurch whose base, Canaanland in the Ota region, is all neat fences and manicured lawns. “Where I’m from, people long for tractors to farm with. Here they just use them to cut grass,” exclaims one visitor, driving through Heaven’s Gate. It is a world away from the throng of people, fumes and rubbish outside.”

Who’s afraid of a secular state? by Nick Spencer (Theos Think Tank blog)
“Secularist countries are rarely happy ones; or, more precisely, rarely happy with being secular. The ideological bloodlessness that is its greatest strength is also secularism’s biggest weakness. Fighting for equal fairness for all makes a great street banner. Human nature finds it a harder task. Those of a more naïve humanist bent, whose anthropology recognises only human goodness and dismisses selfishness as skin deep and cultural, often protest at this, but history is not on their side. Humans are tribal animals. They have strong identities. They are not animals instinctively inclined to arbitrate objectively between tribes or to fight for the rights of other tribal members. We can and we do, but it can often feel like hauling yourself up by your moral bootstraps. We are not naturally secular and, as a result, secular societies often struggle with simmering identity issues.”

Why religion is not going away and science will not destroy it, by Peter Harrison (Aeon blog)
“Global secularisation is not inevitable and, when it does happen, it is not caused by science. Further, when the attempt is made to use science to advance secularism, the results can damage science. The thesis that ‘science causes secularisation’ simply fails the empirical test, and enlisting science as an instrument of secularisation turns out to be poor strategy. The science and secularism pairing is so awkward that it raises the question: why did anyone think otherwise?”

Zambia: Lungu’s state capture is so complete he barely needs to pretend, by Sishuwa Sishuwa (African Arguments blog)
“Lungu has many political and business figures around him, many of whom were marginalised under the late President Sata but have flourished under the new president. This group feels its time in the corridors of power has been too brief thus far and wants more time to accumulate through the state. They can see clearly how those they replaced are now languishing. Senior government and ruling party figures say that this circle has captured virtually all state institutions. The term “state capture” is topical in South Africa, but applies fully to the situation in Zambia too.”

Reflections on the Ten Attributes of Great Investors
, by Michael J. Mauboussin, Dan Callahan, and Darius Majd (Credit Suisse)
“We all walk around with views of the world that we believe are correct. You are compelled to change your mind only when you confront reality that disconfirms your beliefs. The easiest way to avoid the sensation of being wrong is to fall for the confirmation bias. With confirmation bias, you seek information that confirms your view and interpret ambiguous information in a way that is favorable to your belief. Consistency allows you to stop thinking about an issue and to avoid change as a consequence of reason. But great investors do two things that most of us do not. They seek information or views that are different than their own and they update their beliefs when the evidence suggests they should. Neither task is easy.”

How to read Financial News, Morgan Housel (Collaborative Fund blog)
“Every piece of financial news you read should be filtered by asking the question, “Will I still care about this in a year? Five years? Ten years?” The goal of information should be to help you make better decisions between now and the end of your ultimate goals. Read old news and you’ll quickly see that the life expectancy of your goals is higher than that of the vast majority of headlines.”

Protect Africans from unscrupulous auditors, by Jude Fejokwu (The Africa Report)
“Auditors are paid by their clients, but the investing public is meant to believe that audited financial statements meet the required standards of honesty and transparency. History tells us, however, that audit firms’ first loyalty is to the paying client. Africa needs better auditors if its stock exchanges are to become developed markets, attracting substantive local investment.”

The Four Fundamental Skills of All Investing, by Morgan Housel (Collaborative Fund blog)
“If investing were only about numbers, no one would be good at it, because computers would arbitrage away all opportunities. And if it were only about psychology, no one would be good at it, because every investor has different, arbitrary, goals and markets would never coalesce around something objective. Good investing is some part analytical and some part psychological. An art and a science. The trick is knowing when which skill is necessary, and how one affects the other.”

That’s it!

Have a wonderful Christmas and best wishes for the New Year!

Chipo.

Why I Write and Lessons from Five Years of Blogging

This blog post is based on a talk I recently gave to a small group of people from my local church. It was part of an event we run for those in their 20s and 30s. The event is based loosely on the TED Talks format. Each speaker seeks to challenge and encourage those listening to learn something new: a practical skill or some piece of knowledge. We believe that God is Lord over all Creation therefore he doesn’t look down on bike fixing, or gardening, or even writing. In fact, he cares about these things. The big aim of my talk was to encourage my listeners to begin to take the first steps towards writing publicly. I did this by sharing some of the lessons I’ve learnt from my five years of blogging. Continue reading “Why I Write and Lessons from Five Years of Blogging”

Beautiful Zambia

I came across this blog by a gentleman called Nathan Kanema. Thought I’d share some of his amazing photos.

It goes without saying . . . Zambia is beautiful. It’s a country greatly blessed with huge swathes of beautiful, unspoilt scenery. Makes me want to explore it even more! And as a Christian, seeing these images makes me even more in awe of God the Creator.

Glorious.

Thanks for sharing Nathan.