Languages, Timbuktu, Taobao, Naomi Klein, Genetics

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

The Family That Couldn’t Say Hippopotamus

Elizabeth Svoboda | Nautilus | 18th September 2014

Recent genetic research is challenging Chomsky's conjecture that the human brain contains a specific organ configured for using language. The gene which appears to determine competence in language is "relevant to multiple mental abilities and is not strictly a language gene at all". The language instinct is probably linked to a more general development of cognitive capacities, and dependent on culture (1,700 words)

Life In Timbuktu

Alex Duval Smith | Guardian | 16th September 2014

Timbuktu, "city of gold and ancient centre of learning", is returning to dust. The deserts are encroaching, the canals are drying up. There are sand dunes where mango trees once grew. Thousand fled when Islamic rebels occupied the city in 2012-13. Things are scarcely better with rebels gone. The Malian government scarcely functions. Smuggling and trafficking gangs run the economy. "It's like the Wild West here" (2,866 words)

Dude, Where Are My Socks?

Alec Ash | The Anthill | 18th September 2014

All about Taobao, China's super-efficient online marketplace where you can buy or sell just about anything from anywhere — live scorpions, moxibustion kits, a pony, Marmite, a fake Tom Cruise head, snail mucus cosmetics. Taobao picks up from sellers, delivers to buyers, settles payments and rates transactions. Here's how it all works, through the prism of a single order for a pair of tie-dye socks (2,130 words)

Climate Change Is A People’s Shock

Naomi Klein | The Nation | 16th September 2014

We would do more about climate change if we understood it as a political challenge rather than a scientific one. The rich will shield themselves; the poor will pay the human cost. "We know how the system will deal with serial climate-related disasters: with profiteering and escalating barbarism to segregate the losers from the winners. To arrive at that dystopia, all we need to do is keep barreling down the road we are on" (4,850 words)

Random Noise In Biology

Cailin O'Connor | Slate | 12th September 2014

Research into the relative importance of nature versus nurture in shaping human beings takes an unexpected turn. Genetics and environment do play a big part in making us who we are; but so does a third factor — "random noise". Identical genes react to the same environment in different ways. If this variation is indeed random, as opposed to not-yet-understood, it may be an evolutionary strategy to promote diversity (1,017 words)

Video of the day: Billiards Trick Shots

What to expect: Exactly what the title says

Thought for the day

Cooking is a way of listening to the radio
Brian Eno (

A Talk in London

Come and see Browser favourites Felix Salmon (ex-Reuters) and Izabella Kaminska (FT) discuss art, 3D printing and Bitcoin on September 24th. Admission is £5, and includes a glass of wine (or two). Tickets are available here ( .

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