Weekend Reading: Too Much Controversy

In this weekly roundup, we scour the Web for our favorite long-form magazine and newspaper articles, collecting them here and on Longreads and Twitter. This installment focuses on poaching, the science of processed food, and the history of environmentalism.

Vladimir Putin.

Vladimir Putin.     Photo: World Economic Forum/Flickr

At the very least, the sight of the Russian premier riding shirtless on a horse should be enough to encourage a smile.

If you find the current American political process disheartening and dream of earlier and calmer pre-convention times, there is always Russia to cheer you up. Just imagine Putin bear-hugging a tiger, shooting a polar-bear or leading a flock of geese on their first migration. At the very least, the sight of the Russian premier riding shirtless on a horse should be enough to encourage a smile.

At the moment, cycling appears to be even more dysfunctional than politics and far less attractive than Putin. Rather than marking the end of the Armstrong saga, last week’s USADA ruling has only opened the floodgates to a seemingly never-ending stream of accusations. Between Tyler Hamilton’s new book and Jonathan Vaughters’ “accidental” Internet admission that three current Garmin-Sharp team members (and former Armstrong teammates) doped before joining the squad, it’s pretty clear that cycling was once a very dirty sport. The question is how far has it come and how much more ground does it need to cover.

If cycling isn’t controversial enough for you, organic food or Oscar Pistorius’ complaints should do it. It turns out that organic foods don’t have any special nutritional properties. However, they do carry fewer traces of pesticides, and that has some people claiming the media failed to properly interpret a recent study’s results. Meanwhile, Pistorius lost a race and claims the longer prosthetic legs of a competitor are an unfair advantage. His claims appear to be bogus. Pistorius’ stride length was actually longer than the winner's, Brazilian Alan Oliveira.

Here are four articles you should be reading this weekend:

Rachel Carson’s book, Silent Spring, and the environmental movement by extention are now 50 years old. The campaign waged against her still distorts environmental debates today. William Souder, Slate.

Carson’s critics pushed her to the left end of the political spectrum, to a remote corner of the freaky fringe that at the time included organic farmers, food faddists, and anti-fluoridationists. One pesticide maker, which threatened to sue if Silent Spring was published, was more explicit: Carson, the company claimed, was in league with 'sinister parties' whose goal was to undermine American agriculture and free enterprise in order to further the interests of the Soviet Union and its Eastern European satellites. The word Communist—in 1962 the most potent of insults—wasn’t used, but it was understood. Silent Spring, said its more ardent detractors, was un-American.”

Ivory is the new blood diamond fueling some of Africa’s most notorious criminals and militaries. Jeffrey Gettleman, The New York Times.

Africa is in the midst of an epic elephant slaughter. Conservation groups say poachers are wiping out tens of thousands of elephants a year, more than at any time in the previous two decades, with the underground ivory trade becoming increasingly militarized.”

Imagine a life untouched by the modern world. Sterry Butcher, Texas Monthly.

The notion of living on a ruggedly beautiful ranch, dependent on no one but your own family, working with dogs and horses and cattle, is deeply alluring, a timeless idyll that is peculiarly Texan. The Kleins aren’t recluses who shun modernity—they’ve got cell phones and watch YouTube like anyone else—but there are long stretches of their days where the outside world and its trappings of technology and mechanization are simply absent, their time untouched by a morning commute, Facebook, Starbucks, deadlines.”

Instant mac and cheese is about as far from organic as it gets. It’s also a window into what exactly the food industry is. Sasha Chapman, Walrus Magazine.

From inside the belly of the food-producing beast, one thing becomes clear: this is not a way to make food, but a way to manufacture fuel—for our bodies, and for the hungry consumer market. The food industry, like any empire, depends on expansion for success: to survive, it must continue to increase both its output and its consumer base.”

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