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Chris Dillow | Stumbling And Mumbling | 24th May 2024

Everything is a trade-off between strong and weak links. "A weak-link problem is where success depends upon the quality of the worst component. A strong-link problem is where it depends upon the quality of the best." The US constitution solves "the weak-link problem of protecting Americans from tyranny", but is "not perhaps so good in delivering effective active government" (1,500 words)


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The Logic Of Animal Patterns

Amber Dance | Knowable | 23rd May 2024

Some animal markings, like the spots on a Dalmatian, are generated randomly. Others, such as the stripes of chipmunks and tigers and the speckles on fishes and chickens are the product of complex self-organising genetic systems. Alongside his code-breaking and other work, Alan Turing produced a mathematical theory to explain such patterns, which is still in use today (2,800 words)


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50 Things I Know

Sasha Chapin | 23rd May 2024

List of advice. Braised cabbage is delicious. Silence is under-used in conversation. Cheap lawyers are expensive. Candour is a neglected skill. People cannot read your mind, so tell them what is on it. Peel ginger with a spoon. Don't resist positive emotions. You will never regret money spent on food for friends. Nobody receives enough sincere compliments. Persistence is not always a virtue (2,700 words)


How To Make A Great Government Website

Dave Guarino | Asterisk | 20th May 2024

Interview with a software engineer turned policy wonk. Bad online application forms intensify the already-vast "administrative burden" the state puts on the citizen. Forms should be minimal and decentralised, while still complying with the law. Designs and systems should be built to iterate and improve. And engineers should leave the office and meet the people trying to use their sites (5,500 words)


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Just Live

Galen Strawson | Dublin Review Of Books | 1st February 2024 | U

What is the meaning of life? Centuries of answers to this question suggest that life, existence, itself, is the source of that meaning. "All experience of Meaning, meaning in life, lies in the quality of experience in the present moment. Certainly you can enjoy thinking narratively about yourself; that’s one thing you can do in the living moment of experience. But there are many other things" (4,700 words)


Inequality Without Class

Simon Torracinta | Dissent | 22nd May 2024 | U

The world has never been more interested in the causes and effects of inequality, yet the economists in this field today "have had strikingly little to contribute beyond the merely observational". The book reviewed here offers some satisfaction away from the "perpetual seesawing" between blaming market or society for the great divide, but does so at the expense of clarity (3,000 words)


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Toxic Gaslighting

Sharon Lerner | ProPublica | 20th May 2024

3M, the company of scotch tape and N95 masks, has produced at least 100 million pounds of the chemical PFOS, and has known for decades that it accumulates in humans. Studies have linked PFOS to liver malfunction, increased infectious diseases, and vaccine ineffectiveness. 3M “have not admitted wrong­doing or faced liability for producing forever chemicals or for concealing their harms” (9,000 words)


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Hummingbirds Are Wondrous

Zito Madu | Plough | 17th May 2024

The things we know, and might not know, about hummingbirds: they are the smallest living birds in the world, of which the bee hummingbird is the smallest at two inches. They can fly forward, backward, up, down, and in zigzags. Hummingbird plumage has more colours than all other bird species combined. “They seem as if they were made in an instant, a spark of genius from an extravagant god” (2,200 words)


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Golden Girls

Eman Naseer | Vestoj | 17th May 2024

On the eve of Partition, Nusrat, the author’s great-grandmother, hid all her gold in a makeshift utility belt sewn around her pregnant belly, and took her six children on a perilous journey to Lahore amid looting, pillaging mobs. Eventually, this jewellery was passed down to her daughters and granddaughters — an enduring practice among South Asian women, who own over 11% of the world's gold today (2,200 words)


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Little Seed: A Field Guide To Grieving

Wei Tchou | Virginia Quarterly Review | 14th May 2024

“At the time of my brother’s first psychotic break, I knew nothing about ferns but that I had one and it was dying. The Victorians believed that ferns were a blessing of courage. Modern interpretations are more foreboding. To dream of tracing the fronds of a fern, winding through their fractal divisions, their obsessive symmetry, can indicate a deadening of pleasure: anxiety, a premonition of illness” (8,400 words)


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The full Browser sends five articles, a video and a podcast daily. Today, here's our video and podcast pick.

Podcast: City Gone Crazy | Let The Kids Dance!. Beginning of a series about Seattle’s "Teen Dance Ordinance", a controversial law that between 1985 and 2002 made it very difficult and expensive to legally host a concert or dance for those aged under 21. The effect on teen culture and counterculture in the city was profound (41m 32s)


Video: Come Again By John Dowland | YouTube | Daniel Keene | 2m 45s

A tenor and a luthier perform John Dowland's secretly rather saucy song from 1597. The control and musicianship on display in this recital is wonderful to see — it feels like the nearest thing to time travel that music can offer.


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Five Books features in-depth author interviews recommending five books on a theme. You can read more interviews on the site, or sign up for the newsletter.

The Best Historical Fiction Of 2024

The judges of the Walter Scott Prize aim to highlight the very best new historical novels, and in 2024 they have settled on a varied shortlist featuring a Trinidadian tragedy, a Vatican-based thriller, and a charming coming-of-age tale from 1960s Middle England. We spoke to Katharine Grant, chair of the judging panel, to find out more. Read more


The Best Books On The History Of Physics

In the 20th century, the United States emerged as a leading centre of experimental physics, with a lot more going on than just the Manhattan project and the use of atomic energy in warfare. Science writer Mark Wolverton, author of Splinters of Infinity, recommends some of his favourite books about the history of physics, with a focus on the 20th century and the United States. Read more


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Rushdie, Khomeini And Me

Amir Ahmadi Arian | London Review Of Books | 15th May 2024

“To ordinary people in Iran, the fatwa came out of nowhere. The country had just emerged from the Iran-Iraq War. The 86-year-old Khomeini was close to death. No one had the time to worry about a novel. On 13 February 1989, two British Muslim activists, Kalim and Ghayasuddin Siddiqui, ran into Khatami, Iran’s Minister of Culture and Islamic Guidance. The fatwa was issued the next day” (3,200 words)


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How to discover and consume 6,500+ podcast episodes without subscribing to any podcasts? Wenbin Fang shares his episode-centric listening approach with Listen Notes.

The Natural Selection Of Bad Vibes

Kevin Dorst | Stranger Apologies | 11th May 2024

There is a reason for the perennial gap between pessimistic public discourse and the “chart-wielding optimists” who claim things are better than ever. People — rationally — tend to focus conversations on solving problems, with the unintended side effect of excess pessimism, even when times are largely good. As the information age multiplies the number of conversation topics, excess pessimism would increase (2,400 words)


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‘Plague’ Comes Before The Fall

Colin Elliott | Bulletin Of The Atomic Scientists | 15th May 2024

Estimates for the death toll of the 166AD Antonine plague range between 2 per cent and 35 per cent. We haven't identified the pathogen or the symptoms. We do, however, know that increased storm activity the previous decade altered the Nile, which reduced the grain harvest, so that malnourished Roman bodies were more susceptible to sickness. Historical science is a capricious discipline (1,900 words)


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Science Stories With a Human Touch. Nautilus explores the biggest ideas in science through the lens of humanity. Discover the stories behind the science and how it ripples through our lives and culture in the Nautilus newsletter.

The Raw Milk Black Market

Nicholas Florko | Stat News | 15th May 2024

It is illegal in the US to ship unpasteurised milk between states. Yet the FDA does not seem to enforce the ban, even though tests have found genetic traces of bird flu viruses in 20 per cent of samples. Raw milk fans believe in health benefits the government is trying to keep from them. This reporter is easily able to buy a half-gallon via what feels like "the world’s weirdest drug deal" (1,700 words)


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On English Melancholy

Iris Moon | MIT Press Reader | 9th May 2024

Brief, discursive history of melancholy. In antiquity, it was associated with Saturn, that “ancient devourer of children”. Aristotle believed that the thoughtful ones — poets, artists, philosophers — himself included, were more susceptible. This idea continued into the 17th century: “ponderous thinking” was said to induce melancholy and “commerce with others” was offered as a potential cure (1,400 words)


The Ambling Mind

L.M. Sacasas | Convivial Society | 9th May 2024

Meditations on the virtues of walking. Kierkegaard “walked himself into a state of well-being”; Nietzsche felt that “all truly great thoughts are conceived by walking”. Travel writer Nick Hunt, reflecting on his walk from the Netherlands to Istanbul, noted that walking turned the world into a continuum. “One thing merges into the next: cultures are not separate things but points along a spectrum” (1,800 words)


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Dear Tim Cook

Matt Zoller Seitz | Roger Ebert | 8th May 2024

Outpouring of pure rage about an Apple marketing campaign that depicts a huge press crushing a pile of traditional "creative" objects, such as musical instruments, paints and cameras. The company has now apologised for it. Is this just a harmless piece of imagery to sell a tablet, or a message to artists that "the tech industry will crush you, destroy you; suddenly, violently, all at once"? (1,800 words)


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What Can A Person Wear?

Patricia Marino | The Kramer Is Now | 10th May 2024

Philosopher ponders whether it is possible to dress both ethically and comfortably. Stretchy manmade fabrics are practical, but their plastic fibres "pollute everything from oceans to breast milk". Natural options like cotton use a lot of water and energy to produce, and don't stretch or wash well. "I could dress more sustainably by buying and wearing used, shapeless items, and not looking good" (750 words)


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Five Books features in-depth author interviews recommending five books on a theme. You can read more interviews on the site, or sign up for the newsletter.

Economics and the Environment

If you want to take an economy that's wholly dependent on fossil fuels and turn it into a low-carbon one it's going to be expensive, says economist Dieter Helm—and the sooner we face up to that reality the better. He recommends books to help us think through the relationship between economics and the environment, including one that really shines a spotlight on our own, individual behaviour). Read more


The Best Climate Fiction

As Rudyard Kipling said, "No one in the world knew what truth was till somebody had told a story"—so it's no surprise that some of the most powerful explorations of the challenges we face with climate change have taken the form of novels. Some refer to a new genre: climate fiction or 'cli-fi'—though novelists have been imagining climate change since at least Jules VerneRead more


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