Required Reading

‣ This week in art market shenanigans, a British couple avoids paying millions in inheritance taxes by donating a Renaissance bronze to a museum instead. Harriet Sherwood writes in the Guardian:

The AiL scheme allows people to settle an inheritance tax bill by transferring important cultural, scientific or historic objects to the nation. In the past decade, the scheme has brought £479m worth of artworks and other objects into public ownership.

Antico’s parcel-gilt bronze figure, inlaid with silver eyes, was “the quintessential Italian Renaissance bronze masterpiece”, the Fitzwilliam said. Created around 1520-22, it is just 41.3cm (16 in) high.

‣ A Pennsylvania school board president recently chose to be sworn into her role on a stack of banned books, rather than a religious text. The Philadelphia Inquirer‘s Maddie Hanna has the story:

Smith, who was chosen as the president of the new Democratic-led board Monday, wanted to make a symbolic gesture — setting a new tone after the former GOP-dominated board passed a policy prohibiting “sexualized content” that led to bans of two books and paved the way for challenges of 60 others.

Smith, like the other Democrats who were in the minority, had opposed that policy, which became one of the most contentious measures passed by the board in its tumultuous two years in power.

“I’m not particularly religious. The Bible doesn’t hold significant meaning for me, and given everything that has occurred in the last couple of years, the banned books, they do mean something to me at this point,” Smith said Tuesday. She wanted to make clear “the commitment I’ve had to fighting for the books, and for our students’ freedom to read.”

‣ Journalist Masha Gessen’s New Yorker article on Germany’s antisemitism policies and relationship to Israel cost them a political thought prize named for philosopher Hannah Arendt after the German foundation behind the award denounced the essay. In it, Gessen writes:

Some of the great Jewish thinkers who survived the Holocaust spent the rest of their lives trying to tell the world that the horror, while uniquely deadly, should not be seen as an aberration. That the Holocaust happened meant that it was possible—and remains possible. The sociologist and philosopher Zygmunt Bauman argued that the massive, systematic, and efficient nature of the Holocaust was a function of modernity—that, although it was by no means predetermined, it fell in line with other inventions of the twentieth century. Theodor Adorno studied what makes people inclined to follow authoritarian leaders and sought a moral principle that would prevent another Auschwitz.

In 1948, Hannah Arendt wrote an open letter that began, “Among the most disturbing political phenomena of our times is the emergence in the newly created state of Israel of the ‘Freedom Party’ (Tnuat Haherut), a political party closely akin in its organization, methods, political philosophy, and social appeal to the Nazi and Fascist parties.” Just three years after the Holocaust, Arendt was comparing a Jewish Israeli party to the Nazi Party, an act that today would be a clear violation of the I.H.R.A.’s definition of antisemitism.

‣ In a thought-provoking essay for Jewish Currents, rabbi and activist Lexie Botzum reflects on the history of Hanukkah and how to subvert the colonial dichotomy of light and dark:

We don’t have to look far to find colonial invocations of these tropes. Soon after Israel began waging its genocidal war against Gaza, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu tweeted that what we are witnessing is “a struggle between the children of light and the children of darkness, between humanity and the law of the jungle.” Israeli soldiers have erected menorahs amid the ruins in northern Gaza, which Chabad emissaries insist “will bring light to the darkest places.” At the recent pro-war march in Washington, Republican Speaker of the House Mike Johnson declared, “This is a fight between good and evil, between light and darkness, between civilization and barbarism.”

Given these nefarious deployments of the rhetoric of light “banishing” the darkness, how can we tell a story of Hanukkah that does not capitulate to a narrative of racist domination? In their essay “A Little More Darkness,” rabbinic intern Kendra Saperstein writes: “Taking my own Black existence seriously means that it is not enough to rely on universal metaphors for light during this time [Hanukkah].” How, then, might we heed this call to, in the words of writer bell hooks, “talk about the need to see darkness differently”? If not light as vanquisher of darkness, then what?

‣ TikTokers have are quitting vaping en masse, but it’s not for the reasons you might expect. Wedaeli Chibelushi explains for BBC how increased awareness around trafficking in Congolese cobalt mines is driving the online movement:

Videos of TikTokers like Ms Ndango pledging to quit vaping have indeed gained widespread attention. One of the most watched – by creator @itskristinamf – has been viewed more than 1.7 million times.

On Ms Ndango’s own videos, dozens of TikTok users have responded with comments like: “You aren’t alone. Just started the same thing” and “GIRL I QUIT TODAY TOO WE IN THIS TOGETHER”.

However, Christoph Vogel, author of Conflict Minerals, Inc.: War, Profit and White Saviourism in Eastern Congo, believes such digital activism is a “double-edged sword”.

It can draw mass attention to important issues, but can often only do so through “massive simplification”, he tells the BBC.

‣ Homeschooling in the US has a fraught past propped up by spotty studies, and Laura Meckler took a deep dive into one researcher’s outsized influence over its endurance for the Washington Post:

But Ray’s research is nowhere near as definitive as his evangelism makes it sound. His samples are not randomly selected. Much of his research has been funded by a powerful home-schooling lobby group. When talking to legislators, reporters and the general public, he typically dispenses with essential cautions and overstates the success of the instruction he champions. Critics say his work is driven more by dogma than scholarly detachment.

“You see this in a lot of areas,” said Jim Dwyer, a professor at William & Mary Law School who wrote a book about home schooling. “Someone with an ideological agenda can concoct bad social science and convince naive researchers and naive audiences to accept some position. It’s clearly true of Ray. … The research he relies on is not scientifically valid.”

‣ Penguins — they’re just like us! For National Geographic, Carrie Arnold reports on a recent study on the penguin parents who take four-second naps so they can still keep an eye on their babies:

Anyone who has ever nodded off briefly while on the subway or watching TV has experienced a microsleep, says Chiara Cirelli, a neuroscientist at the University of Wisconsin who wasn’t involved in the study.

In both humans and penguins, microsleeps occur during times of fatigue and exhaustion, yet nesting chinstrap penguins seem to have a near-exclusive reliance on it, Cirelli says. Studying sleep in natural environments is difficult, so “the simple fact that they were able to record data in these conditions is incredible.”

‣ Moira Donegan reviews journalist Allison Yarrow’s new book on contemporary birthing practices for the Nation, examining its flawed claims about gender and womanhood:

Giving birth isn’t dangerous, Yarrow tells us, and you don’t need a doctor to help you do it. If you’re scared, it’s because you’ve been brainwashed; if it hurts, it’s because you’re rushing things and don’t trust your own body. Your body knows what to do—not your mind. In this way, Birth Control not only offers a critique of the troubling history of sexism in the medical profession; it also partakes of the subtler and more insidious mythology of biological destiny advanced by the natural childbirth movement—one in which the story of pregnancy, birth, and motherhood carries with it clear prescriptions about what women and their bodies should do and be.

‣ Last week, the Israeli military killed Palestinian poet Refaat Alareer. His friend and fellow poet Mosab Abu Toha, who was abducted by Israeli forces in November, reads Alareer’s poem “If I Must Die” aloud in his honor:

‣ Fashion historian and YouTuber Mina Le dropped a longform video essay titled “In Defense of Wearing Hats,” and it’s a fascinating watch on the garment’s history, especially as we head into oversized puffball hat season (guilty).

‣ Garrison Harrison out here bravely giving a voice to the voiceless, aka White men who wear their traditional cultural garb of salmon shorts and Patagonia vests:

‣ Cartoonist Edith Pritchett parodies the British Museum’s collecting habits:

‣ And lastly, a peek into this glorious canine holiday gathering for my fellow Bernese mountain dog lovers:

Required Reading is published every Thursday afternoon, and it is comprised of a short list of art-related links to long-form articles, videos, blog posts, or photo essays worth a second look.

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