A selection from the past week's editions of The Browser

Handel And The Bank

Ellen Harris | Bank Underground | 8th November 2019

What the records of Handel’s bank account, preserved in the archives of the Bank Of England, tell us about his life. He was an active investor, and seemingly quite a good one: He punted heavily on the South Sea Company, but sold down his holdings before the crash. He had a small lifetime pension from the Crown; his earnings from opera were patchy at best; the Messiah made his fortune. “Handel died holding £17,500 in 3% annuities at the Bank of England, just under £2.2 million at today’s prices” (1,700 words)


How To Buy Drugs

Misha Glenny & Callum Lang | LRB | 7th November 2019

Post-mortem on Dream Market, the Internet’s “biggest and most dependable source of illegal drugs” until it shuttered earlier this year. The story pieced together here is that American and European police tried and failed to hack into Dream Market’s database; so they organised a denial-of-service attack which effectively closed Dream Market’s website to buyers for months, causing vendors to migrate to punier rival sites, where they became sitting ducks for the huge police raid which soon followed (2,900 words)


Melting With Tenderness

Vladimir Nabokov & Bernard Pivot | TLS | 5th November 2019

Transcript of Nabokov’s appearance on Apostrophes in 1975. Topics include Lolita, butterflies, chess, Freud (“the Viennese charlatan”), and the Moon. “I don’t care at all for the writer who does not see the wonders of this century. I remember with what delight, envy and anguish I watched on the television screen Man’s first floating steps on the talcum powder of our satellite, and how I despised all those who maintained it was not worth the expense of billions of dollars to walk in the dust of a dead world” (4,700 words)


Quantum Computing For The Very Curious

Andy Matuschak & Michael Nielsen | Quantum Country | 18th March 2019

Superb explainer; part of a series; marvel at the overview of computing in the first couple of sections, even if you surrender when you reach the denser algebra. “This essay explains how quantum computers work. It’s not a survey essay, or a popularisation based on hand-wavy analogies. We’re going to dig down deep so you understand the details of quantum computing. Along the way, we’ll also learn the basic principles of quantum mechanics, since those are required to understand quantum computation” (26,300 words)


I Bought An Elephant

Paul Kvinta | Outside | 12th November 2019

Undercover reporter masquerades as a middleman to investigate the trafficking of Laotian elephants to Chinese zoos, and ends up being drawn into a real-life deal to buy a pair of elephants himself. “It’s one thing to pretend to want to buy an elephant. It’s quite another to actually execute the purchase. And two elephants? How would I explain this to my wife? I really didn’t think Khammoung would go for it. But after the last Chinese partier straggles off, I propose the acquisition” (7,300 words)


Poem Of The Week: They Eat Out, by Margaret Atwood, at the Poetry Foundation

The other diners regard you
some with awe, some only with boredom:
they cannot decide if you are a new weapon
or only a new advertisement


Video Of The Week: Like Watching Ghosts. Swirling, shifting, opulent, tantalising imagery produced by a generative adversarial network. Beautiful — and, when you think about it, deeply unsettling (2m 05s)


A Note To Readers In London:

Please come to an evening of argument with The Browser at 6.30pm on Wednesday 20th November in the House of St Barnabas, 1 Greek Street, Soho. What to expect: friends, drinks, discussion of thought-provoking pieces from The Browser. To attend, RSVP uri@thebrowser.com  

How To Buy Drugs

Misha Glenny & Callum Lang | LRB | 7th November 2019

Post-mortem on Dream Market, the Internet’s “biggest and most dependable source of illegal drugs” until it shuttered earlier this year. The story pieced together here is that American and European police tried and failed to hack into Dream Market’s database; so they organised a denial-of-service attack which effectively closed Dream Market’s website to buyers for months, causing vendors to migrate to punier rival sites, where they became sitting ducks for the huge police raid which soon followed (2,900 words)


On My Decision To Change Gender

Deirdre McCloskey | Quillette | 10th November 2019

Libertarian economist takes stock of her life since changing gender 20 years ago; Donald became Deirdre. “Becoming Deirdre has evoked not the slightest passing instant of regret. Not once. Nada. Without the change I would have become by now a quite horribly miserable old man”. But there was a price to pay: Donald’s wife and children refused all contact with Deirdre. “My son lives not too far from me. He won’t speak. None of my marriage-family is permitted to speak to any of my birth-family” (4,700 words)


Poetry And Prophecy, Dust And Ashes

Phil Christman | Plough | 11th November 2019

Perceptive appreciation of Robert Alter’s translation of the Hebrew Bible. The clarity of Alter’s translation has the perverse effect of restoring the incomprehensibility of the original text. “We are left with an engagingly, frustratingly, horrifyingly human book, full of misery and violence, chauvinism and misogyny, idealism and generosity, genealogies and blueprints; and, running through it all, a character too weird to be represented by the text, who taunts us, makes us, kills us, and invites us to respond” (2,750 words)


Who Needs Literature?

Isaac Bashevis Singer | LARB | 11th November 2019

Classic critical essay asking (in 1963) whether readers are losing their appetite for serious fiction because real life has become so much more interesting. “I have reached the point that a newspaper report interests me more than a literary work. I sometimes fear that all of humankind may sooner or later come to my conclusion that reading fiction is a waste of time. Modern readers are connected to all the corners of the world, and nothing invented by the mind can compare with what takes place in reality” (2,650 words)


I Was An Astrologer

Felicity Carter | Guardian | 6th November 2019

A psychic explains her trade. Listen while the client tells you their problems, which may take the full hour, this is the main reason they have come to you. If time remains, cast a horoscope. “Say Saturn, planet of restrictions, is about to transit the First House of self – your life will contract! You’re going to get more responsibilities than usual! Or maybe you’ll be denied the chance to take on more responsibilities! Or a cold, critical person will come into your life! And anyway, it’s a good time to go on a diet” (1,600 words)


Video: Earth Intruders. In which Björk’s face merges with a lava lamp to form a backdrop against which figurines dance like escapees from an early Kara Walker silhouette (3m 53s)

Audio: Devotion | Digital Human. Remembering Terry Davis, the computer programmer who spent ten years building a operating system, Temple OS, on direct orders, he said, from God (28m 45s)

Afterthought:
“Think what has never been thought before about what you see every day”
— Erwin Schrödinger


A note to readers in London:

Please come to an evening of argument with The Browser at 6.30pm on Wednesday 20th November in the House of St Barnabas, 1 Greek Street, Soho. What to expect: friends, drinks, discussion of thought-provoking pieces from The Browser. To attend, RSVP uri@thebrowser.com 


I Wanted To See The Rockies

Melanie Amann & Florian Gathmann | Spiegel | 6th November

Interview with German chancellor Angela Merkel about life in communist East Germany, the fall of the Berlin Wall, the allure of Bruce Springsteen, and the enduring tensions between eastern and western Germany. “German unification was shaped by both the East and the West, and by Helmut Kohl's political skill. But the revolution was the work of the citizens of the GDR. Not everyone in West Germany at the time was brimming with courage. This is something that could be given more recognition” (2,220 words)


Should Trees Have Rights?

Robert Macfarlane | Guardian | 2nd November 2019

Should objects in nature — such as lakes, rivers, mountains — be assigned legal personhood, and thus legal rights, which can be invoked on their behalf to prevent others exploiting or polluting them? Perhaps. But doing so is likely to cause more problems than it solves. “Is it desirable that the Niger Delta might exist in legal affinity with Shell? If a river may bring an action against a factory for polluting it, may a developer in turn sue that river when flood water damages the housing stock?” (2,700 words)


Clash In The Classroom

Paul Musgrave et al | H-Diplo | 6th November 2019

Samuel Huntington’s Clash Of Civilisations is the “most important contemporary political science thesis in US higher education”, a massively assigned text across all disciplines, rivalling the Communist Manifesto. But most international relations professionals consider Huntington’s thesis to be invalid. The world does not divide usefully into civilisations. “Clash appears in scholarly bibliographies only to be trashed, and yet it is ubiquitous in classrooms. Why do scholars assign a text that they do not believe?” (15,700 words)


Some Cloudily Divine Space

Jeffrey Arlo Brown | Van | 6th November 2019

Author Alan Hollinghurst talks about classical music and its place in his novels. “I tend to imagine people responding to music rather as I do, which I can’t properly describe, except that there is some sort of subliminal, spatial dimension to it, which I write about very, very vaguely, like a landscape, it’s part of something, a sense of apprehended, visible expanse, some cloudily divine sort of space. How do you describe this thing, the incredible importance it has in our lives? I do enjoy trying” (2,700 words)


Doomed To Repeat

Steve Rousseau | Outline | 29th October 2019

The latest World Of Warcraft reboot has users flocking back. What has changed? Well, if you want a game that takes over your life, WoW is now optimised to do just that. “Everything takes a very long time. You spend minutes running from one activity to the next, an hour trying to find four other people to run a dungeon; efficient use of time doesn't exist. To reach level 60, which most activities require, you spend over 200 hours playing. If you treat the game as a full-time job, that will take you a month” (1,450 words)


Video: The Starling-Falcon Dance. Mesmerising views of Peregrine Falcons hunting European Starlings across the skies of Northern California (2m 40s)

Audio: Life As Britain’s First Black TV Reporter | Outlook. Trevor Macdonald talks about his childhood in Trinidad, and the career in broadcast journalism which made him Britain’s first black news anchor (40m 33s)

Afterthought:
“A little alarm now and then keeps life from stagnation”
— Fanny Burney

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