David Cameron Has Got Religion

The British prime minister’s new public enthusiasm for Christianity is expedient, but also sincere. “Downing Street can have an evangelising effect on its residents. When James Callaghan became chancellor in 1964 he was a lapsed Baptist, but started to pray again when the horrors of his job became clear. Tony Blair’s faith hardened in office to the extent that he set up his Faith Foundation upon leaving it” (1,300 words)

Why Is It Taking So Long To Find MH370?

Because the seas are very big, and a plane is very small. You can lose a large ship in plain view on the surface of the ocean; when the object is under 4.500 metres of water, the task becomes almost impossible. In this case searchers caught what seemed to be the dying pings of the black box, narrowing the hunt to a circle of 115km radius. But that area alone could take almost a year to search completely (1,650 words)

48 Hours With The Scottish National Party

Four findings from the final SNP conference before the independence vote. The party realises it needs to do more to appeal to women voters, and is calling for more women in business and in politics. The Nationalists distrust the English press, and animosity is building. The SNP’s backroom operations are super-efficient. And the party truly believes it will win the referendum (Metered) (975 words)

Global Solar Dominance In Sight

Solar power has “won the global argument” as the fuel of the future. It is cheap enough already to compete with oil, diesel and liquefied natural gas in much of Asia, without subsidies; and prices have further to fall. World fossil-fuel use will peak around 2030; after which coal, oil and gas consumption will decline in absolute terms “because they cannot compete, not because they are running out” (Metered) (1,500 words)

Can We Forget The Man In The IRA Beret?

The presence of Martin McGuinness at a state banquet for the visiting president of Ireland in Windsor Castle this week truly marked the close of a century of conflict between England and Ireland. McGuinness commanded the Provisional IRA through a ruthless campaign of bombings and assassinations. Now he is deputy first minister of Northern Ireland. If he can dine with the Queen, is it time for a general amnesty? (Metered) (1,380 words)

A Load Of Bullocks

Review of Odd Job Man and Language!, by Jonathon Green, Britain’s greatest living lexicographer of slang. “He is the Dr Johnson of slang, its Putin, its Mr Toad, its Dickens”. His predecessors include Francis Grose (1731-91), “who was so fat that his servant had to strap him into bed every night”; and John William Hotten (1832-73), “a workaholic pornographer who died from a surfeit of pork chops” (Metered paywall) (1,500 words)

Obituary: Madeline Gins

Believing that comfort killed people, she “set out to achieve everlasting life through architecture”, designing buildings that made people “disoriented, dizzy, and slightly bilious”. Some of them even got built — with floors that “undulated like sand dunes”; kitchens “positioned at the bottom of steep slopes”; no doors; windows too high or too low; and everything painted in “dozens of clashing colours” (Metered paywall) (1,013 words)

Wes Anderson: “I Stole From Stefan Zweig”

Somewhat vulgar headline for a highly civilised conversation in which Wes Anderson discusses Stefan Zweig’s influence on Anderson’s latest film, Grand Budapest Hotel. “So much of his work is written from the point of view of someone who’s quite innocent and is entering into kind of darker territories. In fact, the truth seems to be completely the opposite. He seems to be somebody who more or less tried everything along the way” (2,925 words)

Bernard Williams: Essays and Reviews 1959-2002

Williams was “lucid, cultivated and entirely serious” as philosopher and critic. He would “perceive and expose the hidden assumptions in every argument, while understanding the goal that the argument was seeking to achieve”. He was a minimalist in the tradition of Hume. “He saw the impossibility of systems and grand narratives, and at the same time wanted to uphold our ordinary ways of thinking” (Metered paywall) (990 words)

William Shakespeare, King Of Infinite Space

Shakespeare wrote his plays in the time between Copernicus and Galileo, when past certainties about the universe were being overturned and new theories advanced. Some of his imagery suggests a close interest in “the new heliocentric astronomy”. The Danish astronomer Tycho Brahe may even get a nod in Hamlet: two of his relatives were called Rosencrans and Guildensteren (1,300 words)

Marcel Proust, Comic Genius

Swann’s Way is one of the greatest novels, and the Remembrance of Things Past one of the greatest of all artistic achievements. But the learning curve is a very steep one. The writing goes “on and on”. You can’t just “nibble” at Proust, you have to go for “total immersion”. The best approach is to read him for the characters, not the story. Do that, and you discover a comic novelist the equal of Jane Austen (Metered paywall) (1,000 words)

Obituary: Sree Uthradom Thirunal Marthanda Varma

Great first paragraph: “Sree Uthradom Thirunal Marthanda Varma , who has died aged 91, was head of the family that once ruled the south Indian kingdom of Travancore and remained largely unknown to the wider world until 2011, when it was revealed that a temple of which he was hereditary custodian contained untold treasures”. The value of the treasures so far recovered: $26bn (Metered paywall) (1,245 words)

Obituary: Colin Wilson

A self-proclaimed genius, he shot to fame with The Outsider, “a somewhat portentous overview of existentialism and alienation”, published in 1956 when he was 24. “He established himself as a modish eccentric, dressing in turtleneck sweaters and open-toed sandals and spending his nights in a sleeping bag on Hampstead Heath.” Published at least 100 more books, mainly about crime and the occult (Metered paywall) (1,520 words)

Ukraine, Russia And Europe

“The European Union cares less about Ukraine than it says it does, whereas Moscow cares a lot. When he first took power Vladimir Putin defined his basic objective for Russian policy: To keep what’s ours. Putin’s Moscow has generous definitions of what is theirs, including all former Soviet republics, any sizeable Russian-speaking communities beyond Russia’s borders, and any Slav/Orthodox nations that have yet to join the EU or Nato” (850 words)

Internet Mystery Has World Baffled

Online mystery-solving game, Cicada 3301, has hackers hooked. Nobody admits to knowing who’s behind it, or what it’s for, but it’s crazily difficult and skews all over the place. “Analysis of a 130Mb file containing thousands of prime numbers led to a Twitter account pumping out random numbers, which in turn produced an ancient Hebrew code table, but this time based on Anglo-Saxon runes” (Metered paywall) (2,530 words)

Obituary: Olivia Robertson

Archpriestess and hierophant of the Fellowship of Isis, an “order devoted to the worship of the Divine Feminine”, which she ran with her brother from their haunted castle in Ireland. Visitors included Van Morrison, Hugh Grant and Mick Jagger. The Fellowship of Isis was flexible on doctrinal matters: “The only thing we don’t like is people being boiled alive or burned or having their heads chopped off” (Metered paywall) (1,470 words)

The Mind Of Mark Cavendish

Champion sprint cyclist explains how he uses photographic memory and “genius”-level IQ to win races. “It’s like a calculation, a series of movements, a series of chess moves. Not thinking, not having to react. Just reacting. By the time we start the sprint, my heart rate is probably 20 or 30 beats slower than the other guys. So many cyclists train their bodies. They don’t train their mind” (Metered paywall) (1,300 words)

Obituary: Anca Petrescu

Arguably the world’s worst architect. Her one great project was Nicolae Ceausescu’s People’s Place in Bucharest, for which three historic districts of the city were destroyed and 40,000 people uprooted. Two mountains were levelled for marble. One million Romanians worked on the building site. The project consumed one-third of Romania’s national budget for five years. The result: “One of the world’s worst eyesores” (Metered paywall) (1,400 words)

Terry Pratchett Interview

Discworld creator is clever and charming as ever — but suffering perceptibly from Alzheimer’s. “I start to notice, as the interview progresses, that while he is giving me fascinating answers – long, discursive stories about all sorts of things – they’re not quite answers to the questions I actually asked … He wants to die at a time of his choosing, in his Wiltshire garden, drinking an excellent brandy and listening to his iPod” (Metered paywall) (3,000 words)

We’ll Never Have It So Good Again

“My father went to Eton. I went to Eton. And my son goes to Bishop Luffa Church of England comprehensive”. Reflections on the downward drift of the British upper-middle-classes, priced out of their houses and schools by bankers and foreigners. A London house that cost £8,000 in 1964 would cost £2-3m now. Fees at Eton have risen 40-fold since 1972. This could easily have been an infuriating piece; as done, it’s rather poignant (Metered paywall) (1,640 words)

The Practice Of Practising

Concert pianist’s notes on how to practice, and why to practise often. “It’s not just that pieces need to be kept in the memory (muscle and mind), but the very act of playing the piano is physical and athletic. It involves reflex and endurance … We need to know what might go wrong in a performance and why. There is no such thing as a difficult piece. There are merely moments in pieces which are problematic” (Metered paywall) (1,270 words)

Tom Holland On Herodotus

Historian talks about his new translation of Herodotus, and the problems of piecing together ancient history from scattered fragments. “Herodotus tells us how the Egyptians developed scruples about having sex in temples, and why they shaved their eyebrows when a cat died. He is our best source for the burial process in which the brain was removed through the nostrils with an iron hook” (Metered paywall) (1,300 words)

Fed Recoils As Jobs Evaporate

The Fed has made the correct call, in continuing quantitative easing to stimulate the American economy. “The question is whether the public welfare is best served by popping the bubble and allowing Austro-liquidation to purge the toxins, or whether this would be ruinously destructive. Many readers think it is past time to dynamite this edifice. I have much sympathy with this view. Yet in the end, I prefer magic” (Metered paywall) (1,540 words)

What Do London Underground Stops Taste Like?

President of UK Synaesthesia Association, diagnosed with lexical-gustatory synaesthesia, maps the London underground according to the tastes he associates with each station. Flavours include apple pie, bubble’n squeak, HP Sauce, purple grapes, chicken soup and soft boiled egg. “Baker Street is lovely. The best way to describe it is crusty and sweet, like jam roly-poly but slightly burnt” (Metered paywall) (615 words)

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