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Fools And Horses

Glorious portrait of Barney Curley, 75-year-old Northern Irishman, former aspiring Jesuit priest, and the most ingenious racetrack gambler of our time. “The template is simple. A horse with proven ability is purchased, often from overseas. It disappears for months or years, perhaps recovering from injury. When it finally competes, its performance is appalling”. But guess what: On its next outing it starts at long odds and it wins (3,100 words)

A Realist Raised From The Dead

What Machiavelli might say, if he were reanimated to advise President Obama: “Caution served you well as an antidote to the rashness of your predecessor but only because fortune also favored you. Just as caution served you once, so the changing times demand assertiveness, perhaps even impetuosity. You must rouse yourself on all fronts and shake off this awful lethargy that seems to afflict you and infect those around you” (1,660 words)

Fundamental Plot Arcs

Lessons from quantitative analysis of film and television scripts. Plot arcs are revealed by the frequent use of significant words and phrases at particular stages in the script. Work and school words occur most in early scenes, as do apologies; body and face words tend to come in the middle; expressions of love come far more often at the end. Law And Order has the most predictable scripts; Doctor Who the least (3,990 words)

The Calm Before The Storm

Robust countries are ones that have learned from experience how to absorb shocks. Their economic and political systems are diversified and decentralised. Centralised regimes may appear more stable, but shatter when hit hard enough. Thus Assad’s Syria shattered in 2011, while Lebanon held steady. “The best indicator of a country’s future stability is not past stability but moderate volatility in the relatively recent past” (3,300 words)

Inside Beijing’s Airpocalypse

Schools erect air-locked domes over their playing fields. Hotels provide gas masks to guests. “It’s as if the 21-million-strong population of the Chinese capital is engaged in a mass city-wide rehearsal for life on an inhospitable planet. Only it’s not a rehearsal: the poisonous atmosphere is already here. Buildings and spaces are being reconfigured and daily routines modified to allow normal life to go on beneath the toxic shroud” (2,800 words)

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