Head Transplant, Russia, Placebo Buttons, Islamic State, Oldchella, Scientology


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The Man With A New Head

Sam Kean | Atlantic | 15th August 2016

Plans advance for the first human head transplant. A cautious Chinese surgeon and a headstrong Italian surgeon have got most of the moves right, at least in animals. And a Ukranian geek with a wasting disease wants to make his head available for transplant, once a body becomes available, probably by means of a car crash. As you would expect, a few paragraphs in here are not for the squeamish, but philosophically and medically this would be a major event in human history (5,900 words)

Grappling With Russia

Svetlana Alexievich | Literary Hub | 22nd August 2016

On the psychology of post-Soviet Russians. “I would divide the Soviets into four generations: the Stalin, the Khrushchev, the Brezhnev, and the Gorbachev. I belong to the last of these. It was easier for my generation to accept the defeat of the communist idea because we hadn’t been born yet when it was still young, strong, and alive with the magic of fatal romanticism and utopian aspirations. Everyone thought of themselves as a victim, never a willing accomplice” (2,100 words)

Placebo Buttons

Kurt Kohlstedt | 99% Invisible | 1st August 2016

Our built world is full of placebo buttons whose purpose is to absorb our impatience and give us an illusory sense of control. Crosswalk buttons to change traffic lights in Manhattan are a prime example: “Citywide, there are 100 crosswalk buttons that still work but close to 1,000 more that do nothing at all.” Around 90% of office thermostats are “non-functional”, there to be fiddled with, sometimes connected to noise generators which simulate the hum of a fan (950 words)

Present At The Creation

Harald Doornbos & Jenan Moussa | Foreign Policy | 16th August 2016

A Syrian soldier of Islamic State tells all. This piece is the first of a three-part series describing in detail the group’s history, leadership and methods. “Over a period of 10 months, we spent more than 100 hours with [Abu Ahmad]. He patiently answered our questions on everything from how he ended up with the Islamic State, how it is organized, the identity of the European foreign fighters within the group. Our interviews would go on for six hours a day, in week-long stretches” (3,800 words)

The Future Of The Concert Business: Old Dudes

Nathan Hubbard | The Ringer | 17th August 2016

October’s Desert Trip festival in California will be the highest-grossing live event of all time, a $150 million sell-out with the Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, Paul McCartney, Neil Young, Roger Waters, The Who. Average age of performer: 72.5. Two lessons. First, the big money in rock now comes from festivals, not from touring. Second, stars are skewing older and older. “The average age of top-50 touring artists this year is 49. Filtering for the top tours in North America, the average age rises to 52” (2,300 words)

A Brief History Of Scientology

Jon Anderson | Jacobin | 17th August 2016

“Scientology emerged from the self-help movement. Books like Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People and Napoleon Hill’s Think and Grow Rich topped the bestseller list when L. Ron Hubbard was a young adult. In the early 1950s Hubbard’s Dianetics competed with Norman Vincent Peale’s The Power of Positive Thinking. Dianetics borrowed freely from Freud’s early therapy, with a large dash of Alfred Korzybski’s ‘general semantics’ and a side helping of hypnosis” (3,100 words)

Video of the day: Lead Me To You

What to expect:

Gorgeous music video, lots of arms and legs and flowers, by Annlin Chao for Tom Rosenthal (3’24”)

Thought for the day

Success has always been a great liar
Friedrich Nietszche

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