Museums, Chinese Maps, Venerable Bede, Rationality, Eugenics

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

The Man Who Sold the Eiffel Tower, Twice

Jeff Maysh | Smithsonian | 9th March 2016

Victor Lustig "dressed like a matinee idol, spoke five languages, and evaded the law like a figure from fiction". He used 47 aliases and carried "dozens" of passports. In Paris he sold the Eiffel Tower twice for scrap. He was sent to Alcatraz in 1935 for running "a counterfeit banknote operation so vast that it threatened the American economy". But who was he? "There is not a scrap of evidence that Lustig was ever born" (2,400 words)

Museums Are Teeming With Undiscovered Species

Ed Yong | Atlantic | 8th February 2016

If you want to discover a new species, go first to the American Museum of Natural History, where advances in DNA extraction are producing floods of new information from previously unregarded specimens. The Nile crocodile turns out to comprise two separate species; the Nile monitor lizard at least three. "I predict that we probably have 100 unrecognized species in these collections, just sitting on the shelves” (3,100 words)

You Can’t Trust GPS In China

Geoff Manaugh | Travel And Leisure | 26th February 2016

It is illegal for foreign individuals or organizations to make maps in China without government permission, and those who do receive permission must use official Chinese co-ordinates, which are deliberately and systematically inaccurate, apparently for reasons of perceived national security. The result is that everything on every digital map of China is 100-600 meters away from its actual terrestrial position (1,290 words)

Loving Books In A Dark Age

Michael Pye | Longreads | 8th March 2016

From a monastery library on the English coast, Venerable Bede kept learning alive in the Dark Ages He invented the modern calendar, wrote the first English history, and computed the flow of tides. "Bede’s method was to do sums on his hands, not on paper, with a system of straight and bent fingers in different combinations that could reach 9,999; after that, he says without explaining, you need other parts of the body" (8,400 words)

Bayesian Brains And Closet Goblins

John Horgan | Scientific American | 1st March 2016

Interview with rationalist thinker Eliezer Yudkowsky about probability, immortality, and artificial intelligence. "The fatal scenario is an AI that neither loves you nor hates you, because you're still made of atoms that it can use for something else. Game theory and cooperation don't emerge when something is sufficiently more powerful than you that it can disassemble you whether you press Cooperate or Defect" (5,500 words)

Imbeciles In America

Scott Porch | Signature | 4th March 2016

Conversation with Adam Cohen about his book Imbeciles, covering the American elite's enthusiasm for eugenics in the 1920s. The president of Harvard was among those who argued that "unfit" people should be prevented from reproducing. The Supreme Court declared forced sterilisation to be legal, a law that still stands. The American enthusiasm abated when the Nazis took up eugenics and gave it a bad name (1,780 words)

Video of the day: How To Break Up With Your Therapist

What to expect: John Turturro and Charles Grodin in a comic New Yorker short about quitting therapy (2'30")

Thought for the day

The wicked are always surprised to find that the good can be clever
Marquis Vauvenargues

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