Baseball: Best Of All Games

From the archives. The philosopher John Rawls explains why baseball is the greatest of sports. “The physical layout of the game is perfectly adjusted to the human skills it is meant to display and to call into graceful exercise”. Baseball engages the whole body, and favours no particular physique. Time is not limited; however badly the losing side may be lagging, there is always the possibility of a comeback (1,086 words)

The Big Dig

Most critics recognise Miguel de Cervantes’s Don Quixote, written in 1605, as the first novel. Steven Moore disagrees. His “caustic, learned, witty” work in progress, The Novel: An Alternative History, begins with the Ancient Egyptians. “The novel has been around since at least the fourth century BCE (Xenophon’s Cyropaedia) and flourished in the Mediterranean area until the coming of the Christian Dark Ages” (3,350 words)

Political Hatred In Argentina

Gripping interview with Uki Goñi, who covered the Dirty War of the 1970s for the Buenos Aires Herald. “Argentine historians use the French style to write about something. You lock yourself in your apartment with a bottle of wine and lots of coffee and you think about a subject and then you write whatever your opinion is about the subject. But you don’t do any research or get your hands dirty, except maybe with coffee” (8,760 words)

Notes On Nursery Rhymes

Nursery rhymes seem “spooky” because they make us think of children who have disappeared — into time, into history, into death. “Reading through the Oxford Dictionary of Nursery Rhymes I felt the echoing sounds of the children of history singing, half-singing, laughing or crying. I conjured up the image a little English village boy on a cold February morning in 1650, seven years old, throwing seeds to the birds” (990 words)

Schools And Citizens

Discussion of Diane Ravitch’s Reign Of Error, about American school reforms over the past 25 years. The advertised goals have been admirable: Higher test scores for all students; closing of gaps between black and white, rich and poor. But reformers are “refashioning education as a private commodity rather than a public good”. Their focus on measurable outcomes prepares pupils “not so much for citizenship, but for labor markets” (3,330 words)

Life As Ponzi Scheme

Philosopher Samuel Scheffler argues in Death and the Afterlife that we should care more about the survival of humanity than about our individual, inevitable deaths; if humanity is doomed — for example by climate change or infertility — then individual lives lose their value and meaning. Scheffler overstates his case; we are not merely hostages to the future; but his argument deserves hearing (5,170 words)

Interview: George Scialabba

Essayist and critic talks about radicalism, Jonathan Franzen, feminism, Saul Bellow, the hive mind, Chomsky, and much else. Including the New Republic: “They’re really very smart, all of them, and the whole young generation of people they’ve spawned — Ezra Klein, Jonathan Cohn, Jonathan Chait — they’re all very smart. But their focus is rather narrow. And their moral imagination is really on leave” (3,750 words)

Rodolfo Walsh And The Struggle For Argentina

Amazing life of writer, journalist, activist, who fought with far-left Montoneros militia in 1970s Argentina; was machine-gunned after the military coup; his daughter died in the dirty war. In 1960s Cuba he co-founded Prensa Latina news agency with Gabriel García Márquez; used his “gift for puzzles and word games” to decode an intercepted CIA telex giving Castro advance notice of the Bay of Pigs invasion. “The typewriter is a weapon”, he said (4,900 words)

Censored By Google

How Google AdSense can blacklist your site content as pornographic, and why you can’t do anything to prevent that. “The algorithm scores every page in terms of risk. Some it ranks as perfect and others it wants absolutely no association with its advertisers; they’re clearly obscene. But there’s a problem. If Google let everyone know what exactly its algorithm looks for, people would be able to game the system” (2,770 words)

You Won’t See This On TV

Former public defender on how the American criminal justice system functions: “Given how overbroad most criminal statutes are, most Americans probably have, at some point, technically committed a misdemeanor-level crime, such as simple assault, theft, a driving offense, a trespass, an act of vandalism, or a more esoteric malfeasance such as unsworn falsification, hindering prosecution, or misconduct after a car accident” (4,000 words)

Bosnia And Syria: Intervention Then And Now

America intervened to stop civil war in Bosnia in 1995. Why will it not do the same in Syria now? Partly because there are no clear “good guys” in Syria, pulling America into the conflict, wielding the moral weight that the Bosniaks did in Sarajevo. Partly because the world has changed: America can no longer afford to defy China and Russia, and America is tired. Syria does matter. It just doesn’t matter enough (2,400 words)

The Republic Of Choosing

Review of Simpler, by Cass Sunstein. The behavioural toolkit is useful for addressing some policy issues, but not the biggest or the most difficult ones, where solutions have to go way beyond nudges. “Sunstein’s account of the future of government has nothing to say about unemployment, inequality, or national security, and its contribution to environmental protection is limited to consumer labeling of cars and appliances” (3,750 words)

Lives Of The Moral Saints

Writer Larissa McFarquhar talks about her current work on cases of extreme moral virtue — for example, a person who donates a kidney to a stranger; a Boston couple that give away almost all their money. “To me, the compelling question here was not extremity as such, but whether there is any limit to what can be morally required of us, and whether there’s anything wrong with a life that’s lived according to extreme moral principles” (3,489 words)

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