The Browser
Cecily Cecily

Writing Worth Reading

The Raw Material Of Wealth

Poor countries that export raw materials may think their best way to riches lies with blocking the exports and processing the raw materials themselves, as South Africa has done. But that’s a very narrow view, and may be a trap. Finland didn’t get rich by processing its timber. It got rich by building machines to process the timber, then applying the machine-building skills in new fields of tech and engineering (1,050 words)

Money Talks: The Language Of Finance

Financial language baffles outsiders with its jargon and density. Such opacity is not necessarily sinister: sometimes words are complicated because reality is complicated. But we should make a special effort to understand. “Incomprehension is a form of consent. If we allow ourselves not to understand this language, we are signing off on the prospect of an ever-widening gap between the rich and everyone else” (3,500 words)

You Are Not Too Late

Imagine being an online entrepreneur in 1985, when nothing had been invented and every dotcom name was available for free. Paradise. But come 2044, we’re likely to feel the same about 2014: All the great stuff of the future is still to be invented. Barriers to innovation are lower than ever. “The last 30 years has created a marvellous starting point, a solid platform to build truly great things. You are not too late” (760 words)

Short Stories Everyone Should Read

If an alien beams you up and asks what it’s like to be human, hand it some short stories to read. “Short stories are the deep, encoded crystallizations of all human knowledge. They are rarefied, dense meaning machines, shedding light on the most pressing of life’s dilemmas. By reading a thoughtfully selected set of them, our alien could, in a few hours, learn everything he needs to know about the way we live” (1,200 words)

Wild Speculation On Hamas And Its Rocketry

Rockets are a very inefficient way of killing people, especially when they don’t have effective guidance mechanisms. But rockets can have a powerful disruptive effect: which is why Hamas uses them, and why it has concentrated, at least until now, on range rather than accuracy. “Siege is a fundamentally economic form of warfare; the Israelis are besieging Gaza, and the Gazans are trying to impose a counter-siege” (1,480 words)

Of Maggots And Brain Scans

Brain scans may seem to explain behaviour in biological terms. But what we see so far is loose correlation, not reproducible causation. There is “serious redundancy”. A small group of activated neurons can induce a given behaviour, “but thirty to forty different groups may elicit the same behaviour”. Second, “a given set of neurons may not always produce the same kind of behaviour, even in the same brain” (1,300 words)

If A Cat Could Talk

Dogs confirm us, cats confound us. Our relationship with cats is an “eruption of the wild into the domestic”. Cats blend in; their lethal instincts align with our interests; but they do not assimilate; they belong to the night. Cats are “vehicles for our projections, misrecognition, and primitive recollection”. They are part of our symbolic universe as much as our physical universe. Michel Foucault called his own cat ‘Insanity’ (2,400 words)

The Verbal Dance Around Killing People

“If you want others to avert their gaze while you get down to a bit of your own killing, or you want them to defend your right to kill, make sure they believe that you are ‘at war’. Your job is done. ‘War’ makes us see the violence as bipartisan, as a show put up by two equal protagonists. ‘War’ makes us see violence as purposeful. Naturally, the parties ‘at war’ are entitled to use force to pursue their goals” (1,000 words)

Russia Is Pregnant With Ukraine Pick of the day

Magnificent satire from Russia’s greatest modern novelist. Worthy of Blake or Gogol. “During that hot month, sitting in front of an overheated television set, Russia conceived. A new life stirred in her enormous womb: Free Ukraine. The authorities were horrified, the liberals were jealous, and the nationalists were filled with hatred. Neither the Kremlin nor the people had anticipated such a rapid development of events” (1,120 words)

Public Displays Of Transaction

Old hat to you, no doubt, but new to me: Venmo is a social media app which combines, more or less, the functions of PayPal and Twitter. Other people can watch you making payments. “A lot of people seem unaware of the stories they’re telling in their transactions. This will likely change once it becomes more mainstream, but for now, it’s the Wild West of uninhibited, relatively public commerce” (784 words)

Israel: What’s Different This Time

The assault on Gaza overshadows another event in Israel — Shimon Peres steps down as president. Peres shared the 1994 Nobel Peace Prize with Yasser Arafat and Yitzhak Rabin; but his vision then of “a Palestinian state next to an Israeli one, open borders and regional economic cooperation”, seems today “like a tasteless joke”. The Israeli centre is shifting towards “hyper-nationalism”. Peres’s liberalism is dead (1,600 words)

Guinea Worm Is Almost Eradicated

The guinea worm is a debilitating parasite which infected 3.5 million people in 1986. Last year there were just 148 cases. Eradication is in sight, achieved without a vaccine or a cure. The key was public education — teaching sufferers not to bathe in public water sources, which spread the worms’ larvae. Cost of campaign: $350 million. Huge win for ex-president Jimmy Carter, whose NGO led the effort (960 words)

How To Be Good Pick of the day

Another superb profile from the New Yorker’s archive, de-paywalled for the summer. Derek Parfit is perhaps the most original moral philosopher in the English-speaking world. He believes there are true answers to moral questions, as there are to mathematical ones; and that “there is nothing more urgent for him to do in his brief time on earth than discover what these truths are and persuade others of their reality” (10,670 words)

How To Get Paid To Drop Out Of Races

Conversation with Matt Scherer, professional track pacer — or “rabbit” — whose job is to help other people run fast. He leads a race through the first lap or so at a precise speed, set by the race director, before stepping quietly off the track. “Once I established myself, runners were excited when I showed up because then they felt like they didn’t have to think about the first 500 or 600 meters. I got satisfaction from that” (2,139 words)

Shivering In Tolkien’s Shadow

JRR Tolkien completed his prose translation of Beowulf in 1926 at the start of his writing career. He declined to publish it during his lifetime, perhaps fearing for its quality. He need not have worried. It is “a great work of translation”, faithful and deft. “The force of Tolkien’s passion for medieval art occasionally overwhelmed his scholarship, but its sheer strength also explains the lasting power of his work” (1,585 words)

Blacklisted

Account of America’s rules for adding names to its terrorist database, according to the newly leaked March 2013 Watchlisting Guidance. The basic standard is “reasonable suspicion” on the part of a government official. “Concrete facts are not necessary”. Names can be added on the basis of “uncorroborated” social media posts. Family and “associates” of a suspect can be added without further formality. Dead suspects stay on the list (3,488 words)

Indonesia Etc

Entertaining and informative review of Elizabeth Pisani’s book, Indonesia Etc. How can a country of 13,500 to 17,000 islands — counts vary — possibly hold together as a state? Not easily, is the answer, especially since Indonesia’s 260 million people are also divided by five religions, dozens of ethnicities and hundreds of languages. But somehow, the process of national and democratic consolidation continues (1,350 words)

Medical Research: Treat Ageing

Does getting old have to mean getting sick? Not if medicine raises its game and learns to stall the “incremental cellular damage and changes” associated with old age. This would be more efficient and more effective than treating diseases of old age on a case by case basis as we do now. Progress in this direction would be much faster if we broke down the divide between human testing and animal testing (1,970 words)

The EU And An Independent Scotland

Claims that an independent Scotland could remain in the EU are “driven more by advocacy than analysis”. There is “neither precedent nor treaty provision” for a member-state to split and for both parts to stay in. In any event, the question would take time to resolve. The priority for Edinburgh should be agreeing transitional arrangements to maintain EU status for Scottish citizens in any hiatus between leaving the UK and joining the EU (1,850 words)

Behind The Scenes In Putin’s Court Pick of the day

Engrossing, intimate, stylised portrait of the Russian president — daily routine, entourage, travel, meetings, protocol. “There are no stories of extravagance: only of loneliness. The President has no family life. His mother is dead. So is his father. His wife suffered nervous disorders, and after a long separation, there has been a divorce. There are two daughters. But they are a state secret and no longer live in Russia” (3,060 words)

How To Win A Tour De France Sprint

It’s teamwork. You need a ‘leadout train’ of several riders. “The team’s designated sprinter is at the back of this train and is sheltered by the efforts of those riding in front to save his energy. With four cyclists riding in a line, a rider positioned four men back only has to produce 64 per cent of the power of the rider at the very front”. The front runners peel off one by one, leaving the sprinter to win (1,100 words)

Obsessing About Gaza, Ignoring Syria

Far more people are being killed, day by day, in the Syrian civil war, than in the fighting between Israel and Hamas. Yet the attention of the West is focused massively on Israel and Palestine, scarcely at all on Syria. “What happens in Syria should be of first-order interest to the US media. But it is clearly not.” The answer may be that “Muslim killing Muslim or Arab killing Arab seems more acceptable than Israel killing Arabs” (1,520 words)

What Is Wrong With The Grand Nation?

Spiegel travels the route of the Tour de France, talks to locals, and asks, de haut en bas: Why is France doing so much worse than Germany in every way? One common rationale: It’s the foreigners. “We still have values here in the village”. “Why don’t the football players sing the national anthem?” Le Point says: “France under François Hollande is like Cuba, only without the sun but with the extreme right.” (4,900 words)

We hope you are enjoying The Browser

 

Thanks for exploring the Browser

 

Thanks for exploring The Browser

 

Thanks for exploring The Browser

 

Welcome to The Browser

 

Log in to The Browser

 

The Browser Newsletter

 

Sections

 

Share via email

 

Search the Browser

 

Email Sent