Web Notables (Feb. 23, 2015)

Lost civilizations, Sherlock Holmes and spiritualism, assisted suicide, etc.

By The Editors Published on February 23, 2015

“Web Notables” is a daily feature that highlights articles readers may want to see but might have missed. It is compiled by senior editor David Mills.

Drones and Satellites Spot lost Civilizations in Unlikely Places, by Lizzie Wade on the Science website. Using pictures taken from above, scientists have learned much more about ancient civilizations in the Sahara and the Amazon basin, not much studied by archaeologists. One possible discovery:

If past cultures “farmed” the rainforest by cultivating helpful crops in specific places, their practices may have shaped which species grow where, even today — which could change the way we think about conservation in the Amazon. “The very biodiversity that we seek to safeguard may itself be a legacy of centuries or millennia of human intervention,” Iriarte [archaeologist José Iriarte] says.

The Danger of Being Neighborly Without a Permit, by Conor Friedsdorf on The Atlantic‘s website. The Little Free Library movement — in which people set out boxes of books and ask people to “give one, take one” — represents a small gesture of community. But they face being shut down by a few cranky neighbors and literalist bureaucrats.

Arthur Conan Doyle Discusses Sherlock Holmes and Psychics, in a filmed interview on the website Open Culture. Interviewed in 1927, three years before he died, Conan Doyle explained how he came to write the stories after observing one of his medical school professors read evidence, and why he believed in spiritualism — “the basis of all religious improvement in the future of the human race” — about which he was easily taken in.

The Real Dodgers are Those Obsessed with Tax Avoiders, by Tim Black on the website Spiked!. In an effort to divert attention from their own responsibility for the economy, politicians blamed bankers and consumers for their greed. “So moralised has the economic crisis become, that politicians can only envisage solutions in moral terms.” But, writes the site’s deputy editor, “if those currently banging on about the tax affairs of the rich really did care about raising tax revenues, they would concentrate on raising the volume of wealth that can be taxed.”

Assisted Suicide: Death is Not “a Part of Life, by Kevin Yuill, also from Spiked!. The Canadian Supreme Court ordering Parliament to allowed assisted suicide “highlights the trend towards an ‘enlightened’ elite imposing what it thinks is right over the heads of political representatives.” Yuill, a prominent secular opponent of assisted suicide, writes that

the SCC has opened up a Pandora’s box. However, it can easily be closed if parliament chooses to invoke the notwithstanding clause, whereby parliament can override a decision made by the SCC. This is not an easy decision to make, but one that is necessary if the Canadian government wishes to uphold the equal value of human life and to ensure that, though suicide is legal, it receives no moral approval or assistance from the state.

Lord of the Permanent Things, by Jay Richards and Jonathan Witt from The Intercollegiate Review. Our executive and managing editors point out that people misread J. R. R. Tolkien as either a lefty or a righty, depending on what part of his writing they notice. “In an age of secularism and the growing leviathan state, he was a conservative Catholic calling for the old virtues, a more vibrant civil society, and smaller, less meddlesome government.”

From the Archives:

No. 1512, by Lillian Ross in The New Yorker. A description of Hollywood in the early fifties and of John Huston directing the The Red Badge of Courage. “Hollywood people are afraid to leave Hollywood,” said the producer Gottfried Reinhardt. “Out in the world, they are frightened. . . . Sam Hoffenstein used to say we are the croupiers in a crooked gambling house. And it’s true. Everyone of us thinks, You know, I really don’t deserve a swimming pool.”

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