Letters To The Editor

Letters from subscribers about the editorial content of The Browser should be sent by email to editor@thebrowser.com. We will ordinarily publish a letter without the writer's name; if you would like to have your letter attributed, please say so when writing. We may edit letters for relevance and clarity — Robert

The Naming of Numbers

12th December 2021

Editors - Regarding the Sunday Supplement puzzle, 12th December 2021 -

If you were to put all the numbers from zero to infinity in alphabetical order what number would come second? — from Difficult Logic Puzzles by M Prefontaine (solution available in supplement)

"If you list all the number from zero to infinity in alphabetical order, what would be the second number..." is interesting because it automatically leads you to assume something when you look at the answer: that you mean whole numbers and whole numbers only. Then the answer makes sense. Unless...

If you THEN start to think about how whole numbers are named, especially around the world, it means you need to include "billiard" when talking about either the long-scale trillion or short-scale quadrillion. I acknowledge it is only used in English very rarely, but it's still worth considering if you love numbers. So "eight billiard" comes before "eight billion".

But what if you start to include fractions? Well, then I believe you have to think again. Depending on how you write a number, with, for example, "two and a half", "a third" or "a hundred" being fairly standard, you instantly have a number of numbers that fit between eight and eight billion (or indeed eight and eight billiard). "Eight and a..." will be after "eight", and I feel that "eight and a billionth" (if you are going to discard "billiard") comes next.

Of course NOW we have to consider the fractions between zero and one and the way they are written, e.g. "a half", in which case we move rapidly away from anything to do with "eight" - being "an eighth", "an eighteenth", an "eightieth" and so on - and shift to some very small numbers such as "a billionth" or indeed "a billiardth". If you allow both of these then I think "a billiardth" is first and "a billionth" is next (even I am going to bypass phrases such as "a billionth billionth" as there is a correct word for it).

However (and at this point you'll be VERY glad to hear, almost finally) if anything to do with "billiard" is out of bounds but fractions ARE included, then I think (but am happy to be proved wrong, as are all good scientists) that "a billionth" is first and "a centillionth" is second.

I do have to accept all of this is academic if you write fractions as, say, "two and one half" or "one third" (i.e. "one" in place of "a"), in which case we are back to "eight" and "eight billion", which I am pretty sure why "billion" isn't the first number as it is classed as "one billion" rather than "a billion" or just "billion" on its own. Indeed if you happen to post this, I can already imagine the snorts of derision at me assuming "a" can be used instead of "one" in numbers of any kind.

-  Stephen Yeardley

Global Capitalism

15th November 2021

Editors -  Ajay Singh Chaudhary’s polemic against global capitalism seems to me a bit unbalanced. As a one-time professional economist, I would agree that capitalism was in the room when many of the social, economic and ecological problems we face today were coming to the boil, but as in any who-done-it, being in the room is hardly enough to prove guilt.

Besides, it was also in the room when a number of positive developments were playing out. The fall in global poverty rates over the past 40 or 50 years as noted many times by the World Bank and the fall in global violence over a longer period as noted by Stephen Pinker.

And there are some inherent positive characteristics to global capitalism, or “free markets,” as its less harsh critics sometimes refer to it. It is diverse and decentralized. It allows for variety and individual choice.

That is not to say that inequality and the other problems Chaudhary lights upon aren’t real. But what is his solution? I really couldn’t figure that out. Some capitalists are quite powerful, but nothing like as powerful as state actors can be: witness Xi’s recent crackdown. In fact, capitalism has been a counterweight to tyranny as often as it has been its bedfellow.

The conventional economist’s response to our current global woes may be less eye-catching than a lusty polemic — more like keyhole surgery and less like decapitation. It is a combination of regulation, and taxes that address inequality and externalities. A modified capitalism; what you might call free markets with guard rails; freedom constrained by politics and policy to the minimum extent needed to address inequality, environmental degradation and our other ills. That involves a massive change agenda with many hurdles to be overcome, but it also offers a more positive vision of our destiny than simply ranting against the world and implying that the way forward is to destroy everything we have.

  – Charles Taylor


5th September 2021

Editors - Regarding the Sunday supplement quiz, 5th September 2021 - Sorry, but it's not in Normandy.  Proust’s Illiers, now officially known as Illiers-Combray, is about 20 miles from Chartres, in the Eure-et-Loir department, about 70 miles SW of Paris. He did write a good deal about a town in Normandy he called Balbec, based on Cabourg—which is (thank you, Google) 166 miles west of Illiers-Combray.

 - Laurel Wilson

Marc Ribot

18th August 2021

Editors - Whist certainly one to make some incredibly noisy music (Yo! I Killed Your God) calling Marc Ribot a noise guitarist (Poet, Place, Noise, Mars, Rays) is a great disservice to his incomparable contributions to jazz and avant garde music.

From Los Cubanos Postizos to The Lounge Lizards to his Shoe String Symphonettes he's continually shown that his guitar playing is extremely versatile and among the best around. Pigeon holing him as a noise guitarist serves to diminish his incredible musicality and technical ability.

Bringing Up Baby

18th July 2021

Editors - I am enjoying the latest developments to the Sunday edition of The Browser, and note with some delight that I am able to make a slight factual emendation to the second of the week’s quiz questions (The Sunday Supplement, 18th July): by the dialogue in Bringing Up Baby, it seems that three days have passed with Susan following the dog around her aunt’s estate before she is able to retrieve the missing ‘intercostal clavicle,’ which ended with the dog presenting Susan the bone in question as a gift. Only then does she come to the workplace to deliver the news that a) the bone has been found, and b) the million dollar gift to the museum will be made after all. Declarations of love are then exchanged, and only then does the brontosaurus skeleton collapse, leaving our leads in the scaffolding.

Hay bales

14th July 2021

Editors - I'm a regular reader and just wanted to check the provenance of the Romanian hay article. I ask because cone shaped hay bales are common across northern Europe, and it's not clear from the article what the special significance of the Romanian approach is? See for example, http://katewritesandreads.blogspot.com/2016/07/a-time-to-reap-2-how-to-make-haystack.html?m=1 or http://deborahheal.com/making-hay-1788/

- Amit Kamal

Battle of Talas

27th June 2021

Editors - Regarding The Sunday Supplement quiz, 27th June -  Sorry to point this out but it was the Abbasids who won at Talas, their general (probably not an Arab) had helped oust the Ummayids shortly before.

Their army was largely composed of Persians and Turkic groups. They were allied with the Tibetans against Tang expansionism.

Violent crime vs. Murder

28th June 2021

Editors – The homicide/crime graph below is an example of misleading statistical presentation. In the form of an annualized line chart, the reader is led to believe that the prior year there was 10% Homicide but in 2020 there was 25% — that’s 2.5x the amount of murder and we should be terrified! In fact, the chart represents that in 2020, the annual change from the year prior was +10%. In 2021 it is +25% from the year before, but drawing a progression line between the two does not show the change in rate of homicide, but rather the 2nd derivative of homicide rates (the rate at which the rate of change is changing)… it’s useful or statistical analysis but 2nd derivatives are designed to grossly exaggerated a trend for analysis.

Futhermore, the chart is ambiguous as how the 2021 figure is determined. Is it a projection based on current rates? Is it where we already are in 2021? Or some other formulation?  We can’t actually answer these questions because the original source linked to for the chart does not cite its own methodology or link to a data set beyond broadly crediting “FBI”.

– Andrew Cafourek


2nd May 2021

Editors – In your reference to the podcast “Little Boots” (Rhodes, Punk, Caligula, Strike, Pox) the emperor in question is not Nero, but Caligula, a name that translates as little boots.

Thanks for a most useful and informative service.

– Barry Bedrick

Nuclear Energy

30th April 2021

Editors — As a reader working in the energy industry, I always love to see related content coming through in your excellent curation. I also enjoy that you don't hesitate to recommend non-mainstream viewpoints.

The nuclear viewpoint in the article you listed is common (popularised by Freakonomics) where typically non-energy experts make the case for nuclear in a variety of ways, but start by glossing over the assumption that we need it. In this article it was done with the following sentence:

"Nuclear power is the sword that can cut it: a scalable source of dispatchable (i.e., on-demand), virtually emissions-free energy. It takes up very little land, consumes very little fuel, and produces very little waste. It‘s the technology the world needs to solve both energy poverty and climate change"

This is not really true. The short answer to why we don't have lots of new-build nuclear power is that we now have alternatives that are cheaper and do the job better.

It would be great to see that opposing viewpoint come through in a counterpoint to help inform other readers, since it's commonly misunderstood (understandably - a lot of energy content out there is written by entrenched interests and it's not easy to find good analysis from objective viewpoints). Let me know if you would like specific recommendations on articles. Otherwise, the clues to look for are "dispatchable renewables" and "why baseload generation is a myth".

– Andrew Payne

Economic Freedom In China

5th March 2021

Editors — Matt Ridley's take on innovation in China (Discourse) is astonishingly bad. The author claims that:

— China no longer copies intellectual property (no nation or company outside China would agree);
— that China leads the world in Internet use (sure, as long as you’re happy to use the domestic Internet, because the prominent non-Chinese apps and websites and services are all blocked inside China);
— that Chinese infrastructure development is the envy of the world (if so, that is a by-product of complete state control and the unfettered use of eminent domain);
— that there is general acceptance of a work ethic in which entrepreneurs flog their employees 9:9:6 (ask the workers about that);
— that a Chinese entrepreneur "faces almost none of the delays and restrictions that a Western one does. He is not required to get permits, licences and go-aheads from multiple beadles and bureaucrats of the state. He just gets on with it: hires new researchers, builds a new production line, sets up a new company".

This last claim is ludicrous. The enormous Chinese bureaucracy and the administrators of its well-developed legal system would surely disagree.

America And China

2nd February 2021

Editors — The Longer Telegram (Atlantic Council) was a fascinating article. Thank you for including it. However, it also left me thinking: "As a non-expert, I could easily be swayed by this forcefully and authoritatively stated argument. I need to find a counter argument". Daniel Larison, in American Conservative, provides a thought-provoking counterpoint.

The Limits Of Cynicism

25th January 2021

Editors — A different editorial direction seems to be needed if you have reached the point of including someone like Curtis Yarvin (Gray Mirror) as deserving of a hearing. Yarvin is a fairly standard-issue neo-fascist. His supposed "cynicism" that "allows no place for the possibility of virtue or sincerity in others" is the least of his offenses, and makes him sound merely misguided or mistaken.

The world is becoming a tinderbox in which forces gathered by Yarvin and people like him are exceptionally dangerous. With irreparable and catastrophic damage from climate change looming along with the need for collective action, there is no remaining room for error or lost time. Writing like Yarvin's should not be indulged and platformed just because it seems amusing or clever, which it isn't. It is time for writing that is serious, not for writing that merely seems novel, fresh, clever or even eloquent.

Britain And Europe

17th September 2020

Editors — Edward White (Paris Review) is incorrect to say that the British people voted in 1975 to enter the EEC. In fact they voted to stay in the EEC. Prime Minister Edward Heath had taken the UK into the EEC in January 1973. When Labour won the 1974 General Election Prime Minister Harold Wilson held a referendum to decide whether to remain in the EEC or leave. The majority of people voted to stay in the UK. Hope someone can inform Mr White of his error!

Siege Of The Third Precinct

25th June 2020

Editors — Seizing a police station (Crimethinc) isn't "protest" or civil disobedience. It's a needless act of violence that easily could cause substantial loss of life. I doubt you'd be glorifying such behavior if it spread to your neighborhood. Too bad we forgot how effective non-violence can be. MLK and Gandhi managed to lead two of the most significant revolutions in human history.

Truth And Bellingcat

7th June 2020

Editors — Despite being a lawyer of [many] years experience and having lots of other Establishment-type background, I now find myself much more aligned on the weightier issues from the same kind of perspective as Pilger, Chomsky et al. I am not a conspiracy theorist, and I try to start from basic principles on every question.

So, as to Bellingcat (Guardian) I start from their reportage itself. Much of it on Syria I found wholly unbelievable and simply flying in the face of facts. When I began to dig deeper into the likes of Media Lens, Craig Murray, Ben Norton, Mark Curtis, Ray McGovern, Consortium News, David Graeber etc etc I began to see a broader picture of state interference all over the place.

Consider, for example, the alleged chemical attack by Assad at Douma in April 2018. The Media Lens report on it is telling. Towards the end of Part 1 you can see a trail of points about Bellingcat and Elliot Higgins. Even the Bellingcat website asserts that it works in partnership with the National Endowment for Democracy, which touts itself as “a keystone of President Ronald Reagan’s legacy”.

I could refer you to more pieces, but it seems to me a matter of whether it seems convincing to you at all. If you dismiss such criticisms as part of the “loony left” or “David Icke-type” flat-earthism, then probably not much I can say will persuade you to the contrary. Have a look for yourself and see what you think. The writers I cite above are all worth checking out—they are all serious journalists, academics or ex-government. A quick Google (or DuckDuckGo) search will take you there.

For my part, I see nothing particularly wrong in directing readers to a Bellingcat site, but I think it worth pointing out to them that his views are “contested”, along the lines one sees in Wikipedia articles that are especially disputed.

(Letters concerning Dave Grossman’s “sheep and wolves” theory of policing have their own page here)

Join 90,000+ curious readers who grow with us every day

No spam. No nonsense. Unsubscribe anytime.

Great! Check your inbox and click the link to confirm your subscription
Please enter a valid email address!
You've successfully subscribed to The Browser
Welcome back! You've successfully signed in
Could not sign in! Login link expired. Click here to retry
Cookies must be enabled in your browser to sign in