Nicholas Carr, Cows, Chess, Miles Davis, Telephones, Nuclear Weapons


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

The World Wide Cage

Nicholas Carr | Aeon | 26th August 2016

We bought into Silicon Valley’s utopian view of digital technology, and now we are paying for our gullibility. “Late in his life, the economist John Kenneth Galbraith coined the term ‘innocent fraud’. He used it to describe a lie or a half-truth that, because it suits the needs or views of those in power, is presented as fact. After much repetition, the fiction becomes common wisdom. The idea of the computer network as an engine of liberation is an innocent fraud” (2,600 words)

Cow Dung Capitalism

Lhendup Bhutia | Open | 16th September 2016

The market for cow products is booming in India; not meat and milk, but dung and urine. A litre of cow urine can fetch three times the price of a litre of milk. “The first discharge of the morning is believed to be especially beneficial to humans.” Dung goes into face packs, shampoos, soap, incense; urine into cough syrups, body oils, energy drinks, floor disinfectants. “A unique marriage is unfolding here, between ancient belief systems and the market forces of capitalism” (3,100 words)

Truth, Beauty And Annihilation

Stephen Moss | Guardian | 14th September 2016

Pondering the fascination of chess. Is it a pleasure or an addiction? “A chess player produces nothing, creates nothing. He only has one aim: the destruction of his opponent. This may be done in a very artistic way. But there is something strange about those perfect games in which deep strategies or brilliant combinations secure victory. They are monologues. A real chess game can only be experienced by two people. Nothing can be said about it. Nothing comes of it” (5,030 words)

The Sorcerer Of Jazz

Adam Shatz | New York Review of Books | 19th September 2016

Remembering Miles Davis — both as he was in life, and as he is portrayed in Don Cheadle’s film, Miles Ahead. “Cheadle captures Davis’s physical grace and vanity, his anger at being forgotten by a world that he himself has shut out. He emerges as a sort of Don Draper of jazz: brooding, seductive, and radiantly opaque, a charismatic loner whose sometimes terrifying behavior can be rationalized, if not forgiven, because it seems somehow connected to his mysterious powers as an innovator” (3,800 words)

The Death Of The Telephone Call

Timothy Noah | Slate | 18th September 2016

Calling a friend or an acquaintance on the phone, just to chat, “used to be a perfectly ordinary thing to do”. Now a phone call is reserved for intimate friends or essential matters. “Today if I want to phone someone just to chat, I first have to consider whether the call will be viewed as intrusive”. The use of text messages overtook the use of telephone calls in 2007. A watershed was crossed. “The primary purpose of most people’s primary telephones was no longer to engage in audible speech” (2,220 words)

How To Find A Nuclear Weapon

Edward Cazalas | National Interest | 20th September 2016

Could police find a nuclear bomb smuggled into an American city? Not using current gamma-ray detectors. Nuclear weapons “emit only a small number of gamma rays that can be overwhelmed by background radiation”. Police could chase down a truck, only to find that it was full of “naturally occurring radioactive materials”, such as bananas, or kitty litter. Cities should invest in neutron detectors, which can find weapons-grade plutonium at 25 yards (980 words)

Video of the day: How To Eradicate A Deadly Enemy

What to expect:

Animated explainer by Kurtzgesagt: How genetic engineering could eradicate the mosquito (7’02”)

Thought for the day

The essential matter of history is not what happened, but what people said about it
Frederic Maitland

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