What Kind Of Country Do We Want?

Marilynne Robinson | New York Review Of Books | 21st May 2020

Breathe deeply before reading. Shed a tear afterwards. A great writer’s recalibration of American life, looking back through the prism of the pandemic. “In my odd solitude I stream the America of recent memory. The pretext for drama seems always to be a homicide, but around and beyond the forensic stichomythia that introduces character and circumstance there is a magnificent country, a virtual heaven. In a dystopian future, children would surely ask what it was like to live in such a country” (5,090 words)

Lockdown And Cocaine Traffickers

Cecilia Anesi et al | OCCRP | 20th May 2020

How global drug cartels maintain supply chains during the pandemic; they hold strategic reserves against just such a shock. “There has always been a stock, it’s a very organised chain. It’s the way to control everything, especially the price. The stocks are on beaches such as Tarena [near the border with Panama], banana plantations, in the jungle. The stashes are everywhere”. Deliveries are little affected, since drugs are mostly concealed in legal cargoes that move even during lockdown (2,800 words)

Text For Proofing Fonts

Jonathan Hoefler | Typography | 19th May 2020

Farewell to the quick brown fox and the lazy dog, no longer equal to the job of modelling a typeface. Typography is about the spaces between the letters as much as it is about the letters; to optimise the spaces you need more and better-fitted “pangrams”, which is what typographers call the test sentences, frequently invoking foxes and dogs and lynxes, used to evaluate fonts. “The seven most visually awkward letters are among the nine rarest in English, but pangrams force them into every sentence” (3,070 words)

Disraeli Or Churchill

John Charmley | History Today | 21st May 2020

Only three British prime ministers have “earned a living from their pen” — Benjamin Disraeli, Winston Churchill, and, most recently, Boris Johnson. Johnson likes to keep imaginary company with Churchill, but measuring him against Disraeli is arguably more illuminating and more plausible. “It would be wrong to say that Johnson, like Disraeli before him, is without principles; but he understands that political realism will dictate what is possible – and determining the latter is the art of the leader” (1,600 words)

Paul Romer On Science And Work

Tyler Cowen | Conversations | 20th May 2020

Interview. Interesting throughout. Topics include: Bad economics, Amazon, monopolies, ethics, litter, Alan Greenspan, deregulation, baseball. On testing for C19: “Testing one person per day throughout the year would free up nine people who could go back to doing what they were doing before, get out of the shelter-in-place rules, and have no net effect on the reproduction number because the tests depress it. Nine active people is worth a lot more than it costs to provide one test a day for a year” (10,300 words)

Video: Fire/Pozar | David Lynch. From the YouTube comments: “It genuinely looked like the worm had bursted through my screen and was edging itself closer to me” (10m 30s)

Audio: Detection Of Deception | The Last Archive. A young man accused of murder in 1922 trusts his fate to a new gadget — the lie detector. Jill Lepore, of Harvard and the New Yorker, tells the story (51m 41s)

“On the Internet of Things, people are the things”
— Douglas Rushkoff

An Interview With Kraftwerk

Lester Bangs | Big Shot | 30th January 2014

In memory of Florian Schneider; a classic 1975 glimpse of Kraftwerk. “In the beginning was feedback: the machines speaking on their own. Gradually, the humans learned to control the feedback, and the next step was the synthesiser, which the humans also sought to control. In the music of Kraftwerk we see at last the fitting culmination of this revolution. The machines not merely overpower and play the human beings, but absorb them, until the scientist and his technology are one and the same” (1,400 words)

The Origins Of Greyhound Racing

Michael LaPointe | Paris Review | 5th May 2020

Two golden rules for sport with animals: Less blood, more speed. “Coursing was a brutal forerunner. A live hare would be given a head start, and greyhounds would be set loose to chase it. Whoever tracked down the rabbit won the race. The sport was not for everyone. When the dog caught the hare, a spectator said, ‘It really sounds quite a bit like a child’s scream’. Smith heard the call of destiny. He set about devising a mechanical hare that would bring greyhounds out of the blood, into the light” (2,400 words)

Aztec Rules For Plague

David Bowles | Zocalo | 10th May 2020

The Aztecs knew enough to fear disease. They prepared for it. But when the Spaniards arrived, the plan failed, and the Aztec empire failed with it. “The Aztecs’ principal collective tool for fending off epidemics was a humble appeal to [the god] Tezcatlipoca. Their first text of philosophy was a supplication to destroy plague. After recognising the divine right of Tezcatlipoca to punish them however he saw fit, the Aztecs tried to get their powerful god to reconsider the worst-case outcome of his vengeance” (1,700 words)

The Last Act Of Leon Czolgosz

Susan Berfield | Lapham’s Quarterly | 5th May 2020

On the assassination of President McKinley, by the radical Leon Czolgosz, in Buffalo, at the Pan-American Exposition of 1901. “The trial lasted two days. The jury deliberated for thirty minutes. On the morning of October 29th prison guards brought Czolgosz into the execution chamber. He was ashen, dressed in a gray shirt, prepared to speak his final words. ‘I shot the president because I thought it would help the working people and for the sake of the common people. I am not sorry for my crime,’ he said” (2,020 words)

Defender Of Differences

Kwame Anthony Appiah | New York Review Of Books | 10th May 2020

Appreciation of Franz Boas, pioneer of anthropology and mentor of Margaret Meade. “Boas taught generations to think about human diversity without hierarchy. ‘Culture’ was once regarded as something that one group might have more of than another. Boas and his students demonstrated how to use the word in the plural: different peoples had different cultures, and while the idiosyncrasies of a foreign culture were patent to us, we’d do well to recognise the arbitrary aspects of our own” (4,700 words)

Video: Sea You | Ben Brand. A journey back through time with a woman, a fish, and a bicycle (2m 25s)

Audio: A Good Walk Spoiled | Revisionist History. Malcolm Gladwell explores the golf courses of Los Angeles, and asks: What is it about rich people and golf? (40m 35s)

“A true friend is one who likes you despite your achievements”
— Arnold Bennett

Editor’s note: My apologies again to Browser subscribers who were unable to reach Tim Harford’s FT piece about crisis preparation, recommended a couple of weeks ago; it is now on the author's website: http://timharford.com/2020/05/why-we-fail-to-prepare-for-disasters/ 

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