On Joi And MIT

Lawrence Lessig | Medium | 8th September 2019

The particulars of the Epstein horror show aside, this is a terrific insider account of how “philanthropy” — we really must start using that word in inverted commas — operates in the upper reaches of American academia. “I think that universities should not be the launderers of reputation. I think that they should not accept blood money. Or more precisely, I believe that if they are going to accept blood money, or the money from people convicted of a crime, they should only ever accept that money anonymously” (2,700 words)

Twelve Words

Brian Trapp | Kenyon Review | 2nd September 2019

Astonishing, unbearable, heartbreaking, unflinching memoir of the life and death of a severely disabled twin brother. You would need a heart of stone to read this through without shedding a tear. “I closed my eyes and held him to my chest. I pretended it was twenty-nine years ago, that we weren’t even born, still sealed in the womb. Where were our bodies? Where did I end and my brother begin? There wasn’t even language yet. Our cells were still blooming, getting ready. We would do it all over again” (7,260 words)

You Cannot Keep Your Parents’ Skulls

Caitlin Doughty | Atlantic | 4th September 2019

I have never read anything like this before, and I hope never to read anything like it again. Still, I am glad it has been written. “As a funeral professional, I frankly have no idea what equipment a proper decapitation requires. The de-fleshing would probably involve dermestid beetles, used in museums and forensic labs to delicately eat the dead flesh off a skeleton without destroying the bones. There is currently no way in the United States to skeletonise human remains for private ownership” (1,044 words)

Artists & Lovers

Donald Rayfield | Literary Review | 2nd September 2019

I had not previously known that Tolstoy thought false teeth immoral — one of many pearls let slip by Rayfield in an apparent attempt to show that he knows more about the subject at hand (19th century Russian culture) than does the author of the book under review (Orlando Figes). And all is grist to the mill. Figes’s book, The Europeans is about Turgenev’s ménage with mezzo-soprano Pauline Viardot, who also took Berlioz and Gounod as lovers while her husband was busy translating Don Quixote (1,380 words)

Writer Of The Future

Ann Kjellberg | Book Post | 25th August 2019

The first sentence of this piece goes straight into my lede-writers’ Hall Of Fame: “In 1996, I was working in my off hours as a secretary for the poet Joseph Brodsky when he died of a heart attack at the age of fifty-five, leaving me as his literary executor”. If only Umberto Eco were still here to write the novel that begs to follow from this beginning. What does follow is a gently dazzling essay from a revered literary editor about the perilous economics of reading well and writing well. The Browser applauds (1,300 words)

Video: A Scale Model Of The Solar System. Conventional maps and models of the solar system give no sense of the vast distances between the planets. Here is what a true scale model looks like (7m 06s)

Audio: Is It Ever Okay To Be A Cannibal? | Short & Curly Ethics podcast for children. Eating people sounds disgusting. It is disgusting. But does that mean it is wrong? (25m 18s)

“People cannot forgive what they cannot punish”
— Hannah Arendt

Golden Giraffe Award For Article Of The Month

Each day The Browser recommends outstanding writing of lasting value. Each month we celebrate the best of the best, the pieces that delight the mind and dazzle the senses ...

Winner of the Golden Giraffe for August 2019:


Robert Macfarlane | Emergence | 25th August 2019

Set aside half an hour to lose yourself in this gorgeous adventure among the roots and fungi of the forest floor, to whose very existence you might never have given a thought, but which, refracted through the eyes and imagination of Robert Macfarlane and his forest guide, Merlin Sheldrake, offer intellectual, emotional, and spiritual riches equal to anything in our animal universe. With digressions touching on, inter alia, the shaving of bees, the urine of monkeys, and apples from Newton’s tree (9,100 words)

also brilliant:

Baseball’s Secret Sauce

Emma Baccellieri | Sports Illustrated | 7th August 2019

The biggest spectator sport in the world relies on buckets of mud from a man in New Jersey. The sport is Major League Baseball; the man is Jim Bintliff, who sells the mud needed to rub new balls so that pitchers can grip them securely. The MLB rule-book says that only Bintliff’s mud can be used; only Bintliff knows exactly where the mud can be found. “It’s mud, but it’s an essential piece of a multibillion-dollar business, a feature without which an official baseball game cannot be played” (2,400 words)

also brilliant:

If Sapiens Were A Blog Post

Neil Kakkar | 29th June 2019

Yuval Noah Harari’s epic history of human evolution is condensed here into a 30-minute summary — and superbly well. The writing starts off a little scrappily, but soon beds down. Much is gained in the abridgement: The main points of Sapiens are more readily accessible, the arguments appear in sharper relief, the reader saves nine hours to do other things. But how to resolve the free-rider problem, that the long book must first be written in order to make the summary possible and preferable? (6,500 words)

Congratulations to Robert, Emma and Neil! We hope you’ll enjoy their writing as much as we did.

If you’d like to get beautifully-capsuled recommendations for 5 outstanding pieces like these in your inbox each day, you can try out the Browser for free by clicking this link.

The Impossibility Of Refusal

Hasko Von Kriegstein | Daily Nous | 6th September 2019

Delicious conceit. It is logically impossible for an immigrant to Britain not to integrate. The immigrant can adopt British values and attitudes; the immigrant is thus perfectly British. Or, the immigrant can reject British values and attitudes; but moving to another country, and then spurning the host country’s values and attitudes, is the most British of all behaviours; the immigrant is thus perfectly British (780 words)

From Mind Control To Murder

Stephen Kinzer | Guardian | 6th September 2019

Frank Olson was CIA’s chief expert in the airborne distribution of biological germs. He made miniature aerosols that hissed lethal bacteria, cosmetics that killed on contact with skin, and sprays for asthma sufferers that induced pneumonia. But after seeing his handiwork used on prisoners in CIA safe houses in Germany in 1953, he lost heart and talked of leaving the service. So his colleagues dosed him with LSD, concussed him, and threw him to his death from a hotel window, it says here (4,900 words)

The Rights Of Guns

Garry Wills | New York Review Of Books | 5th September 2019

“Gun rights” has generally meant the right of people to own guns. But perhaps it should mean the rights of guns themselves, since guns seem to have more rights in America nowadays than people do. Any person who showed up at so many crime scenes, who had a hand in so many violent deaths, would soon be in jail and probably on death row. Guns enjoy a perpetually successful plea of diminished responsibility. They didn’t do it; they never do it; they just happen to be around when it gets done (820 words)

The Big Show Never Ends

Bryan Curtis | Ringer | 4th September 2019

Keith Olbermann and Dan Patrick turned ESPN’s SportsCenter into one of the great sports shows of all time. They pioneered the merger of news and satire which went mainstream later in the 1990s with Jon Stewart’s Daily Show. Olbermann’s writing was closer to a sports column than a script: It had a beginning, a middle, and an end. He led with a fearsome hook. “It’s official,” he said in a 1997 report on Mike Tyson’s ear-biting. “Boxing is no longer a sport. Now it’s a parody of the life of Vincent van Gogh” (5,300 words)

Cyber Warriors Are Not Warriors

Mark Cancian | War On The Rocks | 5th September 2019

If wars henceforth include cyber-wars and hybrid wars, should military coders and hackers have the same status as fighting soldiers? Should “cyber warriors” wear the insignia of the US Marine Corps without ever training for physical combat? No. Combat fitness will always be the ultimate decider, and should be prized accordingly. “I have this image of cyber warriors in their offices in a future war frantically punching keyboards as enemy infantry break through the door and gun them down” (1,600 words)

Video: Bitcoin Rap Battle. Alexander Hamilton and Satoshi Nakamoto debate the relative merits of central banking and cryptocurrency, with help from Reid Hoffman (6m 01s)

Audio: Sports Gambling | Freakonomics Radio. Stephen Dubner and guests look at the prospects for US sports betting following court decisions favouring legalisation (56m 56s)

”It is more urgent to restrain others than to be free oneself”
— George Santayana

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