The Life And Times Of Kiss Pick of the day

“There’s never been a band inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame whose output has been critically contemplated less than the music of Kiss. Part of what makes the band so culturally durable is the assumption that you can know everything about their aesthetic without consuming any of it”. As for the music: “A few of these records are great, most are OK, several are bad, and some should be buried in sulphur” (10,400 words)

Dark Joys Of Bengalcore

Exploring the extreme-metal scene in Bangladesh with Adnan, a Dhaka lawyer who performs as Loki Nihilluminatus. The name of his band, Jahiliyyah, means “the state of religious ignorance before the Qur’anic revelation in the Arab world”. Epitaph of Plassey, a concept album from Severe Dementia, “retraces the 1757 defeat of the last independent Nawab of Bengal at the hands of the British East India Company” (1,500 words)

Looking For Tom Lehrer

He was a maths prodigy; entered Harvard at 15 in 1943; “stood out for his wit and brilliance”; kept a stand-up piano in his room; joined the National Security Agency; invented vodka Jell-O shots; and sold 370,000 LPs of his privately-recorded songs by mail-order in the 1950s. But stardom bored him. In the 1960s he stopped performing. Went to teach at UC Santa Cruz. “His entire body of work topped out at 37 songs” (5,500 words)

Hook Of Mormon

Mormon church lifts ban social media, discovers that internet chat rooms are great places to recruit. People like the anonymity. It’s easier than having “a couple of gangly teenagers” in your living room. “Whereas traditional Mormon missionaries convert, on average, six people during their 18-to-24-month service, the online apostles in Provo have averaged around 30 converts per missionary per year” (4,100 words)

Pimco’s Bill Gross Picks Up The Pieces

Vivid snapshot of the eccentric, embattled head of the world’s biggest bond fund: Difficult boss, great trader, driven man. He gets up each morning at 4.30, kisses his still-sleeping wife goodbye, “and prepares a to-go box of Special K with blueberries, which he consumes as he drives himself to work along the Pacific Coast Highway in a black Mercedes, controlling the steering wheel with his knees” (3,950 words)

On Kate Bush

If Wuthering Heights makes you think of Kate Bush before Emily Bronte, read on: “She’s someone you might have known at sixth-form college, or at your Saturday job (the artier kind, obviously: knick-knack stall at the local market); definitely a scream down the pub, with her packet of Silk Cut and pint of scrumpy. She has the soul of a Manic Pixie Dream Girl, but the robust mien of Mrs Thatcher at a cabinet meeting” (2,767 words)

Accidents In Architecture

Shigeru Ban, winner of the 2014 Pritzker prize for architecture, creates “emergency structures from improbable materials in crisis zones”. For disaster victims in Japan he has designed shelters made from beer crates and shipping containers. His “masterpiece to date” is a cardboard cathedral in Christchurch, New Zealand, built after an earthquake. “Whereas most buildings start on paper, many of Ban’s end in it” (860 words)

How Western Is Germany? Pick of the day

Germany’s ties to Russia go deep; deeper than Germany could acknowledge in the post-war decades while it was anchoring itself into the European Union. But even the Second World War now counts as shared history binding Germany and Russia. A new East-West crisis may find Germany choosing, if not Russia’s side, then a position somewhere in the middle. Because, whatever happens, Germany will never attack Russia again (2,390 words)

Ukraine, Putin And The West

If you have read nothing about Ukraine and Russia in the past six months, and would like to be brought up to date, this is a piece you should read. And if, per contra, you have read everything, but have trouble fitting the bits together, then again, this is a piece you should read. It argues, in brief, that America helped bring about the crisis in Ukraine by thoughtlessly caricaturing and humiliating Vladimir Putin (3,880 words)

The New Gilded Age

Review of Thomas Piketty’s “truly superb book”, Capital In The Twenty-First Century, which “will change the way we think about society and the way we do economics”. It “melds grand historical sweep with painstaking data analysis”. Piketty argues that we are heading for “patrimonial capitalism,” in which “the commanding heights of the economy are controlled not by talented individuals but by family dynasties” (4,320 words)

Mathematical Model For The Decay Of A Shower Curtain Pick of the day

Proof that there is poetry in the simplest of things. “In our house, we seem to average about two years between shower curtain re-hangings. When we first moved in, my wife was still my girlfriend. We were engaged by the end of the first shower curtain cycle, married by the second, and entered the third cycle as we had our first kid. Will we have a second child before I change the curtains again?” (1,620 words)

John McAfee Answers Your Questions

Software pioneer and self-confessed former drug trafficker tells all. What to do when caught with contraband at a Central American police checkpoint: “Smile. There is no circumstance under which a smile will handicap you when dealing with authorities. Be friendly in your speech and immediately and fully acknowledge your situation, and theirs. This puts them at ease and sets the framework for negotiation” (7,500 words)

Life After Death

Bruno Frohlich specialises in “the noninvasive study of just about anything nonliving”. He runs the Smithsonian Institution’s computed tomography laboratory, scanning whatever his colleagues care to bring him from dead gorillas to Stradivarius violins. By training he is a forensic anthropologist: He solved the gruesome murder, involving a frozen and minced corpse, that inspired the Coen Brothers’ Fargo (1,560 words)

Why Hasn’t Democracy Saved Us From Inequality?

Good question, provoked by a reading of Thomas Picketty. If more equality of wealth reinforces democracy, why doesn’t democracy arrange itself to produce more equality? Four possible answers: The rich can buy the policies they want even in a democracy; we don’t understand how inequality is generated; we believe that inequality is vital to growth; we care more about fairness in taxation than about equality of wealth (1,160 words)

Is There A Wonk Bubble?

Eggheads win the media. Nate Silver’s 538 and Ezra Klein’s Vox lead the way. Coming soon: David Leonhardt’s Upshot, and Jonathan Cohn’s policy site at New Republic. Is it a bubble? No, it’s the internet: “People who are interested in the minutiae of policy can talk to each other without having to worry about why the average reader should care. On the Internet, there’s no such thing as the average reader” (2,330 words)

Shoot The Dogs Early

How to fire people. Advice from real-estate broker who made it a rule to fire 25% of her sales staff each year. Have another manager with you. Call in the victim casually. Skip the small talk. Start by saying: “Do you mind if I’m honest with you?” Then say: “I’m sorry, the job is not working out”. Give a truthful account of the reasons, starting with what the person did right, before telling them why they don’t fit (640 words)

The Keys To His Heart

British pianist Stephen Hough talks about the difference between playing and composing, and why composing is more satisfying: “It’s the difference, I suppose, between being a foster parent and having your own flesh and blood child. There is no less love — some foster parents are the most heroic and wonderful possible. But I imagine it is different for a woman to see the actual child coming out of her body. You can’t match that” (1,140 words)

Death And Identity In Rwanda

Short, lucid explainer of the Rwandan genocide clarifying the nature of the Hutu-Tutsi divide, the part played by Belgian colonialism, and, not least, the reason Western media didn’t pay much attention at the time. “The big event in Africa was the first democratic election in South Africa. All the world’s top journalists were there. The world’s media could not cope with two stories from Africa at the same time” (750 words)

The Long-Term Unemployment Trap

Long-term unemployment used to be a problem mainly for Western Europe; but since the great recession it’s become problem for America too. American employers typically don’t want to hire anyone who has been out of work for more than six months, even with appropriate skills. They pay more, if necessary, to attract workers from the short-term unemployed. Once you’re in the trap, you don’t get out (840 words)

I Watched Russian State Television Pick of the day

If you are wondering what Russians at home make of their country’s adventures in Ukraine, here’s part of the answer: They are hearing a completely different story, one in which Russia rescues decent Ukrainians from marauding Nazis, sacrilegious feminists and scheming Poles. According to Russian television it’s all a bit like 1812, when Russia drove back Napoleon’s army and brought peace to Europe (1,320 words)

How To Be Interesting

What makes great thinkers great is not that their theories are true, but that their theories are interesting — which tends to mean counter-intuitive. They argue that what might seem to be good is, in fact, bad; that disparate things are, in fact, related; that some apparently individual phenomenon is, in fact, collective. Or vice-versa. “It’s unnerving how many thinkers can be pigeonholed this way” (560 words)

Letterman’s Last Great Moment

David Letterman’s announcement of his retirement was one of the great moments in television: “There was stunned silence. Two solid seconds of quiet felt like two hundred. The spiritual king of late night was stepping down.” Jay Leno had the bigger audience, but he never matched Letterman’s mystique. “The old man told a story, then a second story, then a third story, and suddenly, he was gone” (2,550 words)

London’s Super-Prime Housing Market

Enthralling in all sorts of ways. Writer tours properties for sale and to let in London, pretending to be shopping on behalf of a tax-exiled relative. Includes a glimpse inside One Hyde Park, the Qatari-backed block near Harrods, said to contain the most expensive apartments in London, where the walls of the underground gym are covered in eelskin and “each of the building’s four penthouses has its own panic room” (5,300 words)

Amtrak’s Insane Boarding Rules, Explained

Actually, they aren’t explained; they are held up for mockery, and various ways of getting around them are suggested. As to why Amtrak forces passengers in big-city stations to queue in holding areas for a preliminary ticket inspection before proceeding to platforms, the mystery endures. An enjoyable piece in its own right; recommended here also to signal that Ezra Klein’s new platform, Vox, is up and running (1,000 words)

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