Generalization, Tolkien, Appalachia, Baseball, Roosevelt, Language

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

When You Cannot Generalize

Nassim Nicholas Taleb | Medium | 11th September 2016

Understanding averages. “Say your average daily consumption of water needs to be one litre a day, and I give you ten litres one day and none for the remaining nine days, for an average of one litre a day, odds are you won’t survive. From an informational standpoint, someone who tells you, ‘We will supply you with one litre of water per day on average’ is not conveying much information at all; there needs to be a second dimension, the variations around such an average” (1,600 words)

The Fantastic World Of Professor Tolkien

Michael Straight | New Republic | 16th January 1956

Magnificent contemporary review of Lord Of The Rings, admiring the vaulted structure of the trilogy as though it were a Gothic cathedral, and arguing persuasively for Tolkien’s place among the greatest writers of the century: “He possesses elvish craft. He adds to it the scholar’s perspective and the humanist’s faith. And yet he never allows the magical balance of mystery and perception to be lost. There are very few works of genius in recent literature. This is one” (2,400 words)

Albion’s Ashes

Kevin Williamson | Commentary | 14th September 2016

Sympathetic but sceptical review of Hillbilly Elegy, J.D. Vance’s memoir of growing up in Appalachia. “His family was indeed miserable, but theirs wasn’t the misery of poverty and privation. It was the misery of people determined to be miserable at any price. The great American bounty was wheeled out for their enjoyment like room service at the Ritz Carlton, and they decided they preferred OxyContin and desultory sex with strangers from bars. Nothing happened to them — they happened” (1,700 words)

Can The Hitter See The Pitch?

Eno Sarris | Fan Graphs | 15th September 2016

The baseball flies from pitch to plate in 225 milliseconds. What can the hitter usefully see in that time? “At release, hitters might access motor programs for each type of pitch, and then use the release information to stop their swing if it doesn’t line up with what they expected. The info on release is probably mostly velocity, with some movement extrapolated from changes in color (“spin”), but every hitter reported that sensitivity to that information came and went” (2,700 words)

The Heights Of Charm

Russell Baker | New York Review of Books | 14th September 2016

On 10th July 1944 Franklin Roosevelt’s doctor gave him a note saying that he would soon die from acute congestive heart failure; the next day Roosevelt announced that he would run for a fourth presidential term, and told a news conference that he was suffering from “a lingering bronchitis”. Lying about one’s health was acceptable then; doctors went along with it. “Everybody seemed aware that the president had a medical problem of some sort, but nobody knew precisely what it was” (3,100 words)

Morality Changes In A Foreign Language

Julie Sedivy | Scientific American | 14th September 2016

“Volunteers read descriptions of acts that appear to harm no one but that many people find morally reprehensible — for example, someone cooks and eats his dog after it has been killed by a car. Those who read the stories in a foreign language judge these actions to be less wrong than those who read them in their native tongue. Moral judgments made in a foreign language are less laden with the emotional reactions that surface when we use a language learned in childhood” (1,300 words)

Video of the day: Taking Flight

What to expect:

A small boy escapes wild monkeys and battles aliens to save the universe (5’19”)

Thought for the day

In baiting a mouse trap with cheese, always leave room for the mouse

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