Caught In An Avalanche Pick of the day

The snow churns like surf, sweeping downhill at 80mph and burying anyone caught up in it. For those who survive the fall, what follows is worse. “Enough air can diffuse through densely packed snow to keep a human alive, but warm breath causes the snow around the face to melt. Inevitably, that melting snow refreezes. This forms a capsule of ice around the climber’s head. The climber, buried alive, slowly asphyxiates” (1,300 words)

Interview: Stalin

Irresistible. The New Statesman reaches into the archives and pulls out a plum. H.G. Wells, in Moscow for a writers’ conference, interviews Stalin: “I am very much obliged to you, Mr Stalin, for agreeing to see me. I was in the United States recently. I had a long conversation with President Roosevelt and tried to ascertain what his leading ideas were. Now I have come to ask you what you are doing to change the world” (6,300 words)

Bonfire Of The Humanities

Good news from Mali. When jihadists lit a bonfire of manuscripts in Timbuktu’s library last year, they had found only a fraction of the treasures. Most had already been spirited out, first by donkeys to safe houses across Timbuktu, then up the Niger river in daily convoys of canoes organised by a lawyer from Seattle. They rest now in Bamako, “the secret history of a continent before Europeans arrived” (6,000 words)

Running

Rude and funny. Notes on taking up running, concluding with a brutal fisking of the advice offered to women by Runners’ World website. “In the changing rooms I discovered two things: 1) that most sports clothing manufacturers hate women and 2) that female runners know of a secret supplier, who fashions magic leggings that hold in your stomach, lift up your arse and make the outline of your knickers disappear” (1,600 words)

Let The Past Collapse On Time

Russia’s lurch towards democracy in 1991 was not so much a revolution as an interlude. With Putin, the Soviet mindset has returned. “The country automatically becomes hostage to the psychosomatic quirks of its leader. All of his fears, passions, weaknesses, and complexes become state policy. If he is paranoid, the whole country must fear enemies and spies; if he has insomnia, all the ministries must work at night” (1,820 words)

The Immortal Horizon Pick of the day

On running the 100-mile Barkley Marathons in northern Tennessee. “What makes it so bad? No trail, for one. A cumulative elevation gain that’s nearly twice the height of Everest. Native flora called saw briars that can turn a man’s legs to raw meat in meters. The hills have names like Rat Jaw, Little Hell, Big Hell, Coffin Springs, Zip Line, and an uphill stretch, new this year, known simply as the Bad Thing” (6,880 words)

Being In Your Twenties Is Actually Great

I never suspected otherwise, but still, it is good to have this confirmed by people on the spot. “You can marry whomever you want, regardless of their gender. You can move anywhere in the EU and be in your twenties there instead. And when it doesn’t work out, you can come home crying and have a complete life rethink and no one will think you’re a failure; they’ll just think you made the most of your youth” (1,230 words)

Gabriel Garcia Marquez, The Art Of Fiction

In memory of Marquez, who died on April 17th, a classic interview from 1981, which begins with a discussion of the differences between literary writing and journalism. The main one, says Marquez, is the productivity: “On a good working day, working from nine o’clock in the morning to two or three in the afternoon, the most I can write is a short paragraph of four or five lines, which I usually tear up the next day” (8,725 words)

Tricks Of The Food Trade

People are getting fatter because they are eating more, rather than because they are exercising less. They are eating more because human bodies require protein for development; cheap, industrialised food contains relatively little protein, but lots of sugars and fats engineered to taste like protein; such food, in effect, tricks the body into consuming more calories in order to maintain a target level of protein (790 words)

Is Poetry Work?

And if it is, how much work should poets do? “Wallace Stevens only wrote five poems, and every one was insured for a million dollars, like a famous pair of legs. The greatest living poet, Nicolas Cage, continues to amaze us by never having written a poem at all. Is a poet who writes short poems working less than a poet who writes long ones? No. The average Rae Armantrout poem is three words long — cut from four thousand” (780 words)

Coming Soon To Your Spanish Class

Discover whether you have a gift for foreign languages before spending years trying to learn one. The High Level Language Aptitude Battery (Hi-LAB) measures the key skills for language acquisition: Working memory, associative memory and implicit learning. The US military used Hi-LAB to spot soldiers who could be taught Arabic in a hurry after 9/11. Now it’s being franchised to IBM for civilian use (2,500 words)

Live And Let Leak

A BROWSER BONUS: Thanks to our new content partnership with Foreign Affairs magazine, we can offer Browser subscribers the full text of selected Foreign Affairs articles. Our first choice is Jack Shafer’s essay on government secrecy, from the March/April issue, in which Shafer argues that whistleblowing and leaking form part of the de facto system of checks and balances in American government (2,800 words)

Russian Diplomats Are Eating America’s Lunch

Russia’s career diplomats run rings around their American rivals, especially America’s political appointees. The US ambassador in Berlin is a business lawyer who speaks no German. “If the White House believes it can achieve its goals by sending TV soap opera producers, hoteliers and other neophytes to face veteran Russian diplomats in key European capitals, it is nothing short of delusional” (1,930 words)

Ten Reasons You Will Read This Medium Post

Why we love — or, at least, read — listicles. They pander to our heuristic biases. “Maybe you hated this list. Maybe you disagreed with every proposition and found it painful to continue. You could have walked away at any point between 1 and 10. But you didn’t. As you progressed you became increasingly committed to seeing this through to completion — you succumbed to the sunk cost fallacy(1,980 words)

Playing Putin’s Game Pick of the day

Superb big think-piece. Europe may be in for a re-run of the 1930s: Russia re-assembles its lost empire in the east while extremist parties gain ground in the west. America’s mistake was to encourage a post-Cold-War Europe in which Russia had no place. Now we draw the consequences. “Appeasing Putin won’t work; opposing him is going to be difficult and expensive, but ignoring him will be impossible.” (5,000 words)

Lichtenstein Gets Even Smaller

Notes from Lichtenstein, the tiny principality between Switzerland and Austria which just got even smaller thanks to more precise mapping technology which shaved a quarter-acre off the official territory, leaving 62 square miles for 37,000 residents. The Prince invites them all to his medieval castle for a beer once a year, and a “significant portion of the population” shows up. “Key exports include false teeth” (1,020 words)

Why Is It Taking So Long To Find MH370?

Because the seas are very big, and a plane is very small. You can lose a large ship in plain view on the surface of the ocean; when the object is under 4.500 metres of water, the task becomes almost impossible. In this case searchers caught what seemed to be the dying pings of the black box, narrowing the hunt to a circle of 115km radius. But that area alone could take almost a year to search completely (1,650 words)

Joe Stiglitz On High-Frequency Trading

A rather brilliant set of notes by Salmon on a rather brilliant speech by Stiglitz, making the case against market volatility in general and high-frequency trading in particular. Markets should “reward people who find out information about the real economy”. But HFT robots “steal the rents that otherwise would have gone to those who had invested in information”, with the result that “the market will become less informative” (1,650 words)

It’s Adventure Time Pick of the day

In praise of Adventure Time, a “smash hit cartoon” for children aged six to eleven, and also “a serious work of moral philosophy, a rip-roaring comic masterpiece, and a meditation on gender politics and love in the modern world.” The heroes, a boy called Finn and a dog called Jake, “possess a blind optimism that is as clueless as it is comforting”. This is not merely great television, it is great art, and not only for kids (11,340 words)

Life After Aids

Advances in pharmacology have beaten back HIV/Aids, at least in rich countries. Deaths are “incredibly rare” in Britain. “For those diagnosed with HIV now, life expectancy is similar to someone who does not have the virus. The medical profession considers HIV a chronic disease in the same category as, for example, type 2 diabetes. As a doctor I can tell you that, medically speaking, I’d rather have HIV than diabetes” (Metered paywall) (1,130 words)

How To Reset The Climate Change Debate

Scare tactics about climate change have failed to move public opinion and weakened trust in government. Climate change is not “an inevitable cataclysm”, but nor is it a hoax. It is a “relatively straightforward but profound risk”, against which the world needs insurance. Governments should take “practical and economic steps” to “manage the risk”, and present these, like insurance, as a “sensible, even boring, necessity” (760 words)

Sign Warfare

With the Ugandan army hunting the Lord’s Resistance Army in 2011. Joseph Kony’s militia has a jungle the size of Germany to hide in. The hunt continues to this day. Kony has become a byword for inexplicable savagery. “If there is a true enigma about the LRA, it lies in the fact that a political uprising originally brought on by genuine oppression so quickly mutated into a practice of radical violence” (4,900 words)

San Francisco’s Housing Crisis Explained

Housing is expensive because supply is constrained. Local laws deliberately make new construction difficult, slow, rare and expensive. Which suits existing home owners; and tenants in rent-controlled apartments, who don’t want to be evicted by developers. Those categories account for 80% of housing stock in San Francisco, so don’t expect things to change soon, whatever the social and economic pressures (12,900 words)

Review: Capital In The Twenty-First Century

Thomas Piketty’s “extraordinarily important” book incorporates “four remarkable achievements”: Vast historical scope; innovative empirical research; simple explanatory models; bold policy recommendations. Piketty shows that inequality of wealth is rising spectacularly; he does not explain why this matters. The answer is political, rather than economic: people in liberal societies should be equal as citizens (1,211 words)

The Dickens Of Detroit

That’s Elmore Leonard, and no exaggeration. A tribute to his mighty five early Detroit novels, 52 Pickup, Swag, Unknown Man #8, The Switch, and City Primeval: High Noon in Detroit, which stake out Leonard’s lifelong territory of armed robbery, blackmail, kidnapping, alcoholism. “Nobody ever used airport lockers with as much verve and creativity as Elmore Leonard did. The man was the Miles Davis of the airport locker” (4,925 words)

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