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)

The Most Dangerous Sentence In US History

A not-so-short history of the Authorization For The Use of Military Force (“AUMF”), which provides the legal foundation for America’s “war on terror”. Drafted and passed by Congress in the aftermath of 9/11, it authorises Presidents to use “all necessary and appropriate force” to hunt down the 9/11 terrorists and to “prevent any future acts of international terrorism”. In effect: Anything, anywhere (10,800 words)

The Notorious MSG’s Unlikely Formula For Success

In praise of monosodium glutamate. It makes food taste great. So why is it demonised? Partly because of the “Chinese restaurant syndrome” scare 40 years ago; partly because MSG is heavily used in cheap industrial foods. But the “syndrome” is probably bogus; and the umami taste of MSG is the height of food fashion. Top chefs are using it again — even if “Everyone’s so afraid of being outed that nobody wants to talk about it.” (5,800 words)

Wildcatting: A Stripper’s Guide To The American Boomtown

On the culture and economics of striptease clubs, in particular a club called “Whispers” in the oil-boom-town of Williston, North Dakota. “I knew I’d found the right place, even if the stage was just a corner of linoleum-tiled floor. You could tell that this was the kind of club where dancers might occasionally wear flip-flops or cowboy boots on stage and where an ankle monitor or extra pounds wouldn’t keep a friendly dancer off the schedule” (7,600 words)

Your Free Trial Of The Internet Has Expired

Useful wrap. Nothing new, but everything brought into focus. The era of free online content and services is coming to an end. The turning point was the successful launch of iTunes in 2003, which showed how many people were willing to pay for digital content if the price was right, the payment system was secure, and the transaction was low in friction. Now paywalls are rising everywhere: one-third of US newspapers are using or building them (1,500 words)

David Lee Roth Will Not Go Quietly

Long and loving profile. If you are of a certain age and disposition, prepare for a treat. “Roth is the ur-rock star, the embodiment of everything splendorous and stupid about that term, as responsible as anyone for establishing, defining, and cementing the debauched libertine, hotel room-trashing, groupie-defiling caricature.” He is also an emergency medical technician and a student of Japanese. “I’m the drunk who won the lottery” (6,400 words)

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