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Writing Worth Reading

Life In The Bakken Oil Fields

Journal of the fracking boom in North Dakota, as seen from behind the counter of a truck-stop, where the author finds job: “It was so hard to find and keep retail workers that they had to hire nearly everyone who walked in”. Animated by a cast of improbably-named truckers. “Blackneck had the height and build of a loan shark’s enforcer. Fish had screws in his ears and a topless image of his wife tattooed on his leg” (6,000 words)

The Weight Is Almost Over

The reference weight for the kilogram is a platinum block kept in Paris for the past 125 years. But for modern scientific purposes the block is no longer stable; it gains and sheds micrograms. A new standard is needed that defines the kilogram against a universal constant, as the metre is defined against the speed of light. When that happens, probably in 2018, nothing will ever be quite the same weight again (2,440 words)

A Private Tour Of The CIA’s Museum

Here’s what you would see if you got into “one of the most compelling and least visited museums in the United States” — the museum at Langley reserved for CIA employees and their families. It contains a wunderkammer of spy gadgets, weapons and espionage memorabilia. But no breaches of security: in a photograph of an explosives-detection team, even the dog has its face blacked out (3,000 words)

The Rise Of Robots

The optimistic case for the impact of robots and computers on wages and living standards is that productivity will rise and gains will be shared to some extent. But wages will be determined by demand for labour across the economy as a whole. “What matters is whether jobs outside of the robot-computer economy – jobs involving people’s mouths, smiles, and minds – remain valuable and in high demand” (900 words)

Mecca: Reconfigured Utopia

Jaundiced portrait of Mecca as “a city of proliferating bling, a haven of consumerism and opulent tourism”; by extension an indictment of Saudi Arabia as guardian of Islam. “In the midst of garish skyscrapers, and the manic consumption that envelops Mecca, stands the Kaaba, which is intended as a symbol of equality. But equality is conspicuously absent in the Holy City. Mecca is riddled with racism, bigotry and xenophobia” (4,540 words)

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