Doctors, Addiction, Charles Taylor, Afghanistan, Soviet Computing

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

The Doctor Will See You Now

Amit Majmudar | Granta | 19th September 2012

The political economy of the emergency room. “Efficiency is crucial on a busy night, and medicine’s single most easily conserved resource is face time. Even in the sleepy offices of family practitioners the patient encounter lasts roughly the duration of a haircut. In the Emergency Room, where stranger treats stranger and chitchat is not expected, a physician brings face time as close to zero as possible. The patients who really need seeing are usually unaware they are being seen” (1,700 words)

The Slot Machine in Your Pocket

Tristan Harris | Der Spiegel | 27th July 2016

Smartphones and apps are addictive. You might as well carry a slot machine in your pocket. The business model is the same: to keep you playing, and paying. “Apps and websites sprinkle intermittent variable rewards all over their products. Everyone innately responds to social approval.” We persuade ourselves that technology is bringing us new freedoms, new choices, when in fact we are being “manipulated upstream by menus we didn’t choose in the first place” (2,000 words)

Identity And Morality In A Secular Age

Craig Calhoun | Huffington Post | 14th October 2016

Introduction to the work of Charles Taylor, moral philosopher. “Taylor offers important lessons on how ideas change, emphasising how seldom they simply move from right to wrong but rather tend to resolve certain weaknesses. This can result in overall movement from worse to better, but there are always different possible paths as the meaning of ideas evolves and escapes their originators’ intentions. We face choices. Our strongest commitments put other preferences into perspective” (3,850 words)

The Corleones Of Kabul

Jonah Blank | Rand Corporation | 15th October 2016

Action-packed review of Joshua Partlow’s book, The Family Karzai and the Afghan Disaster. Hamid was the presidential figurehead — “a compromise candidate known for compromising”. His half-brother, Ahmad Wali, was the hard man — “a generous, calculating, charismatic, and brutal power broker who had worked in an Afghan restaurant in Chicago before rising to power in Kandahar Province”. Brother Mahmood presided over the disappearance of $1 billion from the Kabul Bank (2,100 words)

The Soviet Internyet

Benjamin Peters | Aeon | 17th October 2016

In 1962 the Soviet Union almost invented the Internet. The country’s top computer scientists proposed a “real-time, remote-access national computer network built on preexisting and new telephony wires”, connecting every factory and enterprise in the planned economy. Which was all a bit too much for the political leadership. The finance ministry advised the boffins to focus on “simple computers that would flash lights and play music in hen houses to stimulate egg production” (3,000 words)

Video of the day: Brilliant Ideas: Cai Guo-Qiang

What to expect:

Visually thrilling documentary about the man who has raised fireworks to the status of fine art (24’16”)

Thought for the day

I have what passes for an education in this day and time, but I am not deceived by it
Flannery O'Connor

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