Newsletter 970

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

Know Your Gut

31st March 2013 | Bee Wilson | New Republic

Book review, of Gulp, by Mary Roach. Sensibility alert: subject matter includes "chewing, salivating, digesting, excreting". Sample fact: the average person produces two to three pints of saliva a day. Gulp is the opposite of a cook book. It is an eat book. “Yes, men and women eat meals. But they also ingest nutrients. They grind and sculpt them into a moistened bolus that is delivered into a self-kneading sack of hydrochloric acid and then dumped into a tubular leach field, where it is converted into the most powerful taboo in history”.

Can We Patent Life?

1st April 2013 | Michael Specter | New Yorker

Scientists can patent living organisms that they have genetically modified. The US Supreme Court decided that in 1980. But what about human genes that have merely been identified and isolated? Can the company that identifies a gene linked to Alzheimer's charge royalties to anybody who wants to use that gene for medical research? The Supreme Court will hear the arguments on April 15th. "You have to ask, how is it possible that my doctor cannot look at my DNA without being concerned about patent infringement?”

Stupidity: What Makes People Do Dumb Things

31st March 2013 | Sally Adee | New Scientist

Why didn't evolution select for the very highest intelligence? Why aren't we all geniuses? Perhaps because less clever people have other vital strengths and virtues. It may be that evolution does favour the clever, but that modern human societies have become so much more collaborative that lesser thinkers can piggyback on the success of greater ones. If so, someone plucked more at less at random from 1000 BC and placed in modern society would be one of the smartest people in the room, albeit with a learning curve to climb (Free registration required)

For The Supreme Court, Silence Can Be Golden

1st April 2013 | Cass Sunstein | Bloomberg View

Opinion. US Supreme Court may decline to settle the California dispute over same-sex marriage. It has dealt similarly with big social issues in the past: for example, when asked to rule on the constitutionality of contraception, in 1961. "Why does the court opt for silence? First, the justices might be genuinely uncertain about what the Constitution requires, and they might want to learn more before offering their conclusion ... Second, the court might believe that judicial intervention will damage both democratic processes and the judiciary itself"

David Stockman: “We’re Going to Have a Crisis”

1st April 2013 | John Meroney | The Atlantic

Interview. Alarming, or alarmist, according to taste. On Obama: "If you do an honest projection, the deficit over the next decade will be $15 to $20 trillion. He's lost." On Paul Ryan: "He's all hat and no cattle. Beyond that, I think he's intellectually dishonest. His budget plans are bogus." On the Fed: "We've got a rogue central bank that's violating the principle of sound money that mankind accumulated over centuries." On Reagan: "He had a vision of trying to shrink government, but every time some real tough choices came along, he walked away from them"

Irrepressible Moscow

31st March 2013 | Paul Starobin | City Journal

Portrait of a city. After suffering but surviving the physical and moral destruction of the Soviet period, Moscow has re-emerged more extravagantly discordant than ever, an enthralling mess of rich and poor, old and new, high culture and gross kitsch. "If Moscow has lessons to teach other cities, one is that contrast can be good for its own sake ... None of this is an argument for squalor or bad taste or a plea for wickedness and inequity. Rather, it is a recognition that the disparate parts of a great city don’t have to match; sometimes, they merely have to chafe against one another"

Video of the day: Brooklyn Brewery Mash

Thought for the day:

"Humankind was always impressed by the billions of stars shining in the clear night sky - and never was in a panic about their plentitude" — Franco Berardi

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