Browser Daily Newsletter 1269


Hic sunt camelopardus: this historical edition of The Browser is presented for archaeological purposes; links and formatting may be broken.

Sinkhole Of Bureaucracy

David Fahrenthold | Washington Post | 22nd March 2014

Meticulous, surreal, spectacular examination of government dysfunction. Six hundred US civil servants labour underground in a disused Pennsylvania mine doing 21st century work by 19th century methods. They process retirement papers for other civil servants, surrounded by 28,000 filing cabinets. Two attempts to computerise have failed; a third is under way. Each retirement takes three months to process by hand (3,100 words)

Sacred And Profane

Malcolm Gladwell | New Yorker | 24th March 2014

Reflections on the FBI's siege and storming of the Branch Davidian compound at Waco, Texas in 1993, leaving 73 dead. Tragedy could have been avoided if the FBI had taken the religious values of the Davidians seriously. Its negotiators thought they were dealing with a crazy cult, as in Jonestown. But the Davidians were more like 19C Mormons: Fairly regular people with studious habits and deeply-held radical beliefs (6,100 words)

The Reign In Spain

Sid Lowe | Howler | 20th March 2014

Football in the age of Franco. Portrait of Santiago Bernabéu, president of Real Madrid from 1943 to 1978. When he took over Real was Madrid's lesser team (behind Atletico) with average home gates of 16,000. By the mid-1950s it was "the biggest team in the world". Foul-tempered, foul-mouthed, "Bernabéu would know when the most insignificant referee in the lowest division had a birthday and a gift would be sent" (4,300 words)

Interview: Tim Crane On Metaphysics

Nigel Warburton | Five Books | 23rd March 2014

Conversation about the nature of metaphysics. It is "the most general enquiry into the nature of reality"; it pulls apart the ideas underlying science, knowledge and consciousness. "When you say one thing causes something else, so one thing makes something else happen, what is that? What is causation? Is there such a thing, what does it involve? This has been a central question of metaphysics since Aristotle" (7,000 words)

Everything About Me Is Movies

Sam Knight | FT Magazine | 21st March 2014

IMDb, the world's biggest film database, has become "Hollywood's memory". It is also increasingly part of Hollywood's future: Producers, directors, algorithms use IMDb data to plan, approve, cast, sell new films. Col Needham, a "shy computer programmer", started IMDb in 1990 by uploading his personal movie log to an internet bulletin board. Amazon now owns it. Needham — "gap-toothed, shorn-headed and quick to giggle" — still runs it (2,430 words)

New Insights Into The Big Bang

Alan Guth | MIT News | 19th March 2014

Big bang theory assumes the bang and models the aftermath. Inflation theory models the bang itself, using "negative gravity", found at very high energy levels. "It is possible that the total energy of the entire universe is exactly zero, with the positive energy of matter completely canceled by the negative energy of gravity. The universe is the ultimate free lunch, since it actually requires no energy to produce a universe" (1,560 words)

Video of the day:  Tube Of Mystery

What to expect: A magic trick

Thought for the day:

"A secret is something that is only repeated to one person at a time" — Robert McCrum

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