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The Story Of The Anglo-Yugoslav Café

Natasha Tripney | Vittles | 23rd August 2021

On "Yugonostalgia" and how food can keep a national identity alight long after the nation is gone. There are few Yugoslav restaurants now in the UK, but the food survives through home cooking. "Flaky pastry, hot from the oven, seeping grease through its paper bag, accompanied by a drink of yoghurt and, almost inevitably, a cigarette, remains the ex-Yugoslavian breakfast of choice" (2,295 words)


A New Look At The Hobo

Jason Christian | LA Review Of Books | 20th August 2021

The tramping tradition of the American hobo has all but disappeared from popular culture. In the early 20C, these free spirits had their own unseen society, even their own newspaper, and many stayed in motion on the US's rail freight network. The scene then overlapped anarchism and punk. Even when romanticised, the life is hard: "My hunger was my constant companion," one writes (2,581 words)


Drunk And Disorderly

Alexander Lee | Engelsberg Ideas | 11th August 2021

Can a statue be drunk? Can a statue be "too gay"? Michelangelo's Bacchus may have been both — shocking the Cardinal who commissioned the masterpiece, then rejected it. "The god, who has obviously had one too many, is struggling to keep his balance. As he tries to lift his right foot off the ground, his weight slips clumsily onto the left. His mouth flops open and his eyes flash lasciviously" (1,200 words)


Video: The Art Of The Focus Pull | Philip Jozef Brubaker. Succinct visual essay about an under-appreciated technique in cinema — the sudden and skilful change of focus mid shot that a director can use to direct the viewer's gaze (4m 39s)

Podcast: A New Raptor From Tajikistan | I Know Dino. Enthusiastic conversational podcast about dinosaurs, which keeps listeners abreast with all the latest news in the field of palaeontology (53m 17s)

Interview: Jordan Schneider In Conversation With Baiqu Gonkar. Jordan shares the joy of Chinese landscape painting whilst listening to Anna Karenina, learning to dribble like Devin Booker, and staging Hamilton in Beijing (20m 57s, or read the transcript here).


Afterthought:
"We judge ourselves by what we feel capable of doing, while others judge us by what we have already done"
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

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Emotional Support Peacocks

Wesley Yang | Year Zero | 12th August 2021

Notes on the rise and fall of emotional support animals. US airline regulators finally decided in December that all pets, however supportive, must travel as cargo. "The move came after a year of lobbying by the airlines in the wake of zany news stories such as the case of the emotional support peacock that was forbidden entry on to a flight, and the 80-pound pig that defecated in the aisles" (1,630 words)


Tech Industry Idioms

Karina Chow | Gitconnected | 30th July 2021

Glossary. Five tech idioms deserving wider currency. I knew about bikeshedding and dogfooding. Rubber-duck debugging and bus factors were new to me. Yak-shaving had long puzzled me, and now I understand: It means roughly the same as going down a rabbit hole — when one task leads to another, and then to another and another, taking you ever further from your original objective (1,900 words)


The Case For Loud Music

Marc Ribot | LitHub | 13th August 2021

A noise guitarist writes in praise of distortion. He loves to push an amplifier as far as it will go, and then some more. "The truth about playing really loud is this: on a really good night, nothing hurts — not howling volume, not airless rooms at sauna temperatures, not bleeding callouses, not a fever of 103, not a bottle in the head, not a recent divorce. Nothing much. Not till later" (1,940 words)


Book Of The Week: Afghanistan

by Thomas Barfield | Courtesy of Five Books

A cultural and political history of Afghanistan, notable for how accessible and witty it is. Originally published in 2009, this single volume has since become a reference point for Afghanistan both among scholars and among officials in the US Army (408 pages)


Interview Of The Week: Laura McInerney

Browser Interviews | 14th August 2021

Laura McInerney is an education journalist, app founder and former high school teacher. She was once taken to court by the UK government for asking a question. This week Laura and Baiqu discuss teaching teenagers, how the London Olympics brought people together, and tornados in Missouri (32m 18s, or read the transcript here).


Afterthought:
"Life without industry is guilt. Industry without art is brutality"
John Ruskin


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Trotsky After Kolakowski

Branko Milanovic | Global Inequality | 5th August 2021

Trotsky's early life was one of the most brilliant of the 20th century. How many intellectuals might be "sipping coffee in Café Zentral in Zurich on a Friday", then "leading to victory the largest army of workers and peasants in the world next Monday"? So where did it all go so wrong for Trotsky after Lenin's death? What were the weaknesses that made him so helpless against Stalin? (1,000 words)


Inside Pro Bowling Balls

Stan Horaczek | Popular Science | 27th July 2021

I had no idea the inside of a bowling ball looked anything like this, nor of the physics involved. "The rotational forces generated by the asymmetrical chunky green block inside the Intense wouldn’t be able to influence the orb’s trajectory as well if the cover couldn’t firmly grip the lane. Crushed mica mixed into the surface of this ball increases friction once it hits dry boards near the pins" (585 words)


An Ode To Marmara

Kaya Genç | Eurozine | 5th August 2021

On "sea snot", a suffocating film of organic matter that can develop on the sea's surface. The Marmara Sea in Turkey is badly affected; in a sense, it has stifled the inland lagoon's history. It's a shocking sight. "I first saw it in June, on my way to a ferry: a mirage, as if land began to extend into the sea. All that was liquid had turned solid. It also resembled the skin of a terminally ill patient" (3,315 words)


Podcast Of The Week: The Last Generation To Die

70 Over 70 | Pineapple Street Studios | 6th July 2021

Interview series devoted to people over the age of 70. Although the show resists the impulse to look entirely on the bright side of getting older, there is something uplifting about the way experiences — good and bad — are related without hesitation or fear. This episode features both a Texas barbecue pitmaster and the physicist Michio Kaku, co-founder of string field theory (38m 29s)


Interview Of The Week: Stella Zawistowski In Conversation With Baiqu Gonkar

Browser Interviews | 6th August 2021

Stella is a cryptic-crossword evangelist and puzzle maker for The Browser and the New Yorker. She tells Baiqu how she comes to be "the only person in the world, man or woman, who can say both of those things: that they've solved in New York Times crossword in under five minutes, and can lift 325 pounds"  (19m 22s, or read the transcript here).


Afterthought:
“The chief practical use of history is to deliver us from plausible historical analogies”
— James Bryce

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Lying Eyes

Gayan Samarasinghe | New Humanist | 28th July 2021

We no longer believe that physiognomy can reveal innate criminality, as claimed by Lombroso. But how people look in a court of law can still have a big impact on how they are judged. Jurors and judges may be swayed by defendants' and witnesses' posture, clothing, body language and facial expression. Can demeanour provide useful information, or is it always a dangerous distraction? (2,600 words)


The Four Hours Rule

Oliver Burkeman | 29th July 2021

How to manage your time like Darwin or Dickens. Use the control you have over your schedule not to "maximise your time" or "optimise your day" in some vague way but "specifically to ringfence three or four hours of undisturbed focus" each day to do your best work. "Just focus on protecting four hours – and don't worry if the rest of the day is characterised by the usual scattered chaos" (700 words)


The Bet

Anton Chekhov | Berfrois | 15th Jul 2021

A short story, and a chilling one too, reproduced here in Constance Garnett's translation. A Russian dinner-party conversation about the relative merits of life imprisonment and capital punishment gives rise to a bet between the host and a guest. If the guest can voluntarily endure 15 years of solitary confinement, the host will pay him a great fortune. The experiment begins (2,800 words)


Audio of the Week: The Cost Of Power

Think African | Sound Africa | 18th June 2021

Power is a hot topic on the African continent, as this documentary explains. African countries are grappling with the same environmental pressures to reduce emissions as everywhere else, but in many cases without the same resources. Nuclear is a popular choice, although at the moment the continent's only nuclear plant is in South Africa and is now nearly forty years old (19m 27s)


Interview of the Week: Ian Leslie On Creating The Adversary You Want

Browser Interviews | 1st August 2021

Ian Leslie, author of Conflicted and editor of The Ruffian, talks to The Browser's Baiqu Gonkar about the Darwinian nature of disagreements, how to create the adversary you want, and the joy of small gadgets. (23m 16s, transcript here).


Afterthought:
"Simplicity is the hallmark of truth, but complexity continues to have a morbid attraction"
E.W. Dijkstra


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Two Decades Without Money

Tori Marlan | Capital Daily | 14th July 2021

Conversation with a Canadian man, David Johnston, who claims to have lived relatively comfortably for almost twenty years without using money, and destroying any cash that comes his way. "Johnston throws found change into garbage bins and cuts out serial numbers on bills. Before 2011, when banknotes were made of paper instead of polymer, he could just burn them" (6,690 words)


The Last Black Stage

Harmony Holiday | Believer | 1st June 2021

Joyous and sad, angry and lyrical, the writing ripples outwards from its literal premise that "backstage" is the best place to be at jazz and blues clubs, to its wider argument that the sub-set of Black life performed in a mostly-white public gaze merely hints at an infinitely richer Black life going on "backstage". Illustrated with cameos of John Coltrane, Billie Holiday, Nina Simone et al (2,800 words)


The Leakage Problem

Alon Levy | Pedestrian Observations | 23rd July 2021

Exemplary. A seemingly dull subject made gripping: The difficulties of funding infrastructure efficiently. Even when the money is there, you have to buy off bad actors and rival interest groups to get good things done. A tribute also to the general excellence of Pedestrian Observations, sure to reward the attention of any reader interested in public transport and public choice (1,960 words)


Audio of the Week: Before They Met Their Inevitable Fate

41256 | An Audio Commonplace | 25th November 2018

Short collage made out of snatches overheard on BBC radio. The whole feed functions like an audio commonplace book. Each extract is skilfully reedited, with the originals linked if any pique your interest. This one connects together three different but impassioned monologues. For the ultimate union of medium and message, the last clip is from a programme about editing audio (4m 14s)


Interview Of The Week: Dan Wang In Conversation With Baiqu Gonkar

Browser Interviews | 25th July 2021

Dan Wang is a Shanghai-based writer who covers technology at Gavekal Dragonomics. He talks here to The Browser's Baiqu Gonkar about understanding Xi Jinping, the development of cities in China and America, why Cosi Fan Tutte is Mozart's best Italian opera, the joys of Yunnan cooking, and what board games reveal about human nature. (26:14, or read the transcript here)


Afterthought:
"I have never been modest enough to demand less of myself"
— Friedrich Nietzsche


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In Castoria

Justin E. H. Smith | Substack | 18th July 2021

Towards a cultural history of the beaver. "Every mention of beavers is the prelude to a joke", in part because the main association of the animal in antiquity was with male genitalia. Subsequently, as ideas of labour evolved, it began to symbolise the virtues of hard work. Jean-Paul Sartre enjoyed referring to Simone de Beauvoir as le castor, "no doubt because of her remarkable industry" (3,930 words)


The Big Bang: What We Know

Matt von Hippel | 4 Gravitons | 9th July 2021

Brief and highly readable introduction to the "big bang" theory of the origin of the Universe, and to the observations and inferences on which it relies. We may balk intuitively at the proposition that matter could emerge spontaneously from an "empty" universe, but physicists schooled in the equivalence of mass and energy embrace the idea easily. "Mass is just energy you haven’t met yet" (995 words)


Who Wants To Be A Cop?

Lane DeGregory and John Pendygraft | Tampa Bay Times | 11th July 2021

Beginning of a series following new police recruits in Florida. Despite the outcry about policing tactics and violence in the last year, these 30 people still showed up for training. This initial look at their motivation reveals a variety of intentions: several see the job as a way to help people, some want to change the system from the inside, and one former Marine just wants to be a hero (2,134 words)


Audio of the Week: Summer Of Soul

Object Of Sound | Sonos | 9th July 2021

Look-back on the Harlem Cultural Festival, a six-concert series held in New York City in the summer of 1969, when artists including Nina Simone, B.B. King and Gladys Knight played to crowds of up to 300,000. Woodstock, held in the same year, became an instant pop-culture reference. But only now, thanks in part to Questlove, is Harlem's equivalent getting the memory it deserves (26m 51s)


Interview Of The Week: Soumaya Keynes In Conversation With Baiqu Gonkar

Browser Interviews | 18th July 2021

Soumaya Keynes, Europe Economics Editor at The Economist, on the best way to learn economics, how to combine home treadmills with insightfully trashy TV, and the value of cheesy-sounding self-improvement habits  (23m 22s, or read the transcript here).


Afterthought:
“I am not inclined to ruin myself for the sake of hurting my enemies”
Hermocrates


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Quarantined To Room 903

Grace Segran | The Smart Set | 12th July 2021

Writer's account of the 14-day quarantine she spent in a Singapore hotel. Gentle and touching. Despite restrictions on close contact, she forged relationships with the staff who dropped off her food and walked 117 miles around her small space. Rather than feeling shut in, she found the experience liberating. "I felt my burdens dissipate. Like I’d left them outside when I entered the room" (3,347 words)


How To Build A Small Town

Kris de Decker | Wrath Of Gnon | 6th July 2021

The optimal size for a new small town is 80 acres, preferably bounded by a wall or moat, and surrounded by productive agricultural land to a radius of one mile. Such a town can be traversed on foot within 15 minutes and can easily sustain 3,000 residents. A slightly irregular oval shape is to be preferred, "for the simple reason that the best towns and cities seems to be oval to some degree" (4,100 words)


Keeping People Out of Jail

David Byrne | Reasons To Be Cheerful | 12th July 2021

Interview with the authors of a study which suggests that if the state stops automatically prosecuting people for small, non-violent crimes like shoplifting or minor drug possession, the serious crime rate falls too. Cities that tried this during Covid are now adopting it for the long term. Not only does it reduce incarceration, it also frees up police and court time for the remaining cases (2,252 words)


Audio of the Week: Machine Learning

A History of Teaching Machines | EdSurge | 15th June 2021

Technology critic Audrey Watters traces the history of "teaching machines" in early-to-mid 20th century classrooms, before the age of personal computers. The champions of mechanisation included the behavioural psychologist B.F. Skinner, who, when not teaching ping-pong to pigeons, designed a desktop box for generating questions and collecting answers on strips of paper (35m 50s)


Book of the Week: Music Comes Out Of Silence

by Andras Schiff | Courtesy of Tyler Cowen

"A well-written and in fact gripping treatment of what makes classical music so wonderful, life as a touring concert pianist, and defecting from Hungary and later being disillusioned by a resurgent European populism. Zoltan Kocsis was at first the more brilliant pianist, but Andras Schiff was more persistent and ended up with a more successful career" (352 pages)


Afterthought:
"A thing is not necessarily true because a man dies for it"
Oscar Wilde


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