Malcolm Gladwell, Solitude, Evolution, Religion, China, Green Guide, Haircutting, Vaping, Play, Terr

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

A Conversation With Malcolm Gladwell

Tyler Cowen | Conversations | 15th March 2017

Raw transcript, so some initial small talk, but many, many highlights. Here is Gladwell on endowments: “If you have $40 billion and you’re Harvard, how many interesting educational things could you do if you gave yourself a 10-year time horizon? Why for a moment do they think they can’t replace the $40 billion once they run through the existing $40 billion? They have proven over and over again that there’s one thing at which they truly are world class, and that’s raising money” (14,000 words)

Into The Woods

Michael Finkel | Guardian | 15th March 2017

Christopher Knight was 20 when he walked into the New England woods, and 47 when he walked out again under police escort. “It was as if he went camping for the weekend and then didn’t come home for a quarter of a century.” He lived as a hermit, sleeping rough and seeing nobody. The closest he came to civilisation was pilfering food from holiday homes — hence, eventually, the police. “My desires dropped away. I didn’t long for anything. I didn’t even have a name. I was completely free” (4,086 words)

Evolution Runs Faster On Short Timescales

Carrie Arnold | Quanta | 14th March 2017

Or, why evolution is like the stock market. A share price can bounce around from day to day, and still finish little changed over the course of a year. Likewise, bone samples from the same species separated by a few generations can show more differences than bone samples from the same species separated by millions of years. Short-term changes obliterate earlier short-term changes. “Over millions of years, an ‘A’ in the DNA may become a ‘T’, but in the intervening time it may be a ‘C’ or a ‘G’ for a while” (1,800 words)

America’s Empty-Church Problem

Peter Beinart | Atlantic | 14th March 2017

Rising secularism is fuelling rising conservatism in America. Which may sound counter-intuitive; but church-going is a force for moderation in practice; it encourages racial mingling, good-neighbourliness, and optimism. “When cultural conservatives disengage from organised religion, they redraw the boundaries of identity, de-emphasising morality and religion and emphasising race and nation. Trump does best among evangelicals with one key trait: They don’t really go to church” (1,900 words)

Orphans Of Progress

Alec Ash | 1843 | 1st November 2016

Heartbreaking account of Chinese children abandoned in rural villages — sometimes to the care of grandparents, sometimes to no care at all — by parents seeking work in distant cities. “Last summer in Guizhou province, one of China’s poorest, four left-behind siblings aged five to 14 living in squalid conditions killed themselves by drinking pesticide. According to state media they left a note: ‘Thanks for your kindness. I know you mean well for us, but we should go now’” (3,900 words)

The Green Book

Alexander Nazaryan | Newsweek | 9th March 2017

Retracing the hotels and restaurants recommended in The Negro Motorist Green Book, published from 1936 to 1967 when black motorists in America needed a guide of their own to places that were safe and welcoming in states where a simple traffic stop could be fatal. The Green Book was an “overground railroad”. Here, you could fill your gas tank. “The Underground Railroad promised freedom; the Green Book promised something just as fundamentally American: leisure” (4,700 words)

High Fade

Bryan Washington | Paris Review | 13th March 2017

The American male haircut. Field notes from Houston, New Orleans, and elsewhere. “Coming up in Texas, my first barber was a black guy, a veteran and a friend of my father’s, and also a homophobe and an apologist. But he’d fade you up like no one’s business. He cradled my head like a sculptor. I came to associate his art with a brutish, inert, many-armed ignorance. Your hair, he told me, should only ever be done by a black man. No one else will do you justice; they don’t have it in them” (999 words)

Big Tobacco Has Caught Startup Fever

Felix Gillette et al | Bloomberg Businessweek | 8th March 2017

No more smoking; at least, no more cigarettes. The companies formerly known as Big Tobacco are chasing the tech industry model. They want Nicotine 2.0 — a “killer tobacco app that doesn’t kill”. BATS and Reynolds are betting on vaping. Philip Morris is pushing the IQOS, a cigar-like gizmo that heats tobacco without burning. “Once people see everybody around them using these new products, that constantly accelerates the process. It becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy” (4,080 words)

Escape To Another World

Ryan Avent | 1843 | 13th March 2017

Video games are getting so good that less-educated young males seem genuinely happy to play them all day instead of working or socialising, at least while they can live at home and sponge off parents. This arrangement offends traditional ideas about how society should operate; it does seem hard on parents; but perhaps we should see an escape into video-gaming as a benign outcome for unskilled youths growing up in a society which has less and less need for their work (4,100 words)

The Not-So-Secret Life Of Terrence Malick

Eric Benson | Texas Monthly | 13th March 2017

After Days Of Heaven received lukewarm reviews, Terrence Malick vanished for 20 years. The filming had been difficult, his marriage was breaking up. “Rumours circulated around Hollywood that he was living in a garage, that he was teaching philosophy at the Sorbonne, that he was working as a hairdresser.” He was, in fact, spending more time back in his home town of Austin, Texas, where he now seems happily settled. His latest film, Song To Song, is “a raucous love letter” to the city (5,100 words)

Video of the day: Gateways To The Mind

What to expect:

Educational film about optical illusions produced by Bell Laboratories in 1958 (via Aeon) (3’51”)

Thought for the day

The concept of a person is that of a character abstracted from a history
Alasdair MacIntyre

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