North Korea, Schopenhauer, D.A. Pennebaker, Fukushima, Trigonometry, Heligoland


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Bombing North Korea

Robert Kelly | National Interest | 8th August 2017

Time to think the unthinkable: North Korea could inflict horrible destruction on America by means of a nuclear first strike. But that does not make North Korea an “existential threat” to America, in the way that China and Russia are. America could “ride out” one, two, even a dozen North Korean nuclear missiles, thanks to a dispersed population and decentralised government. “Horrible, yes. A dramatic reorientation of American life, absolutely. But not the end of America” (939 words)

Arthur Schopenhauer, European Buddhist

Julian Young | TLS | 24th August 2017

The most pessimistic of great philosophers, Schopenhauer saw progress as a “delusion”, life as “suffering”, and concluded that the World “ought not to exist”. He had few admirers — but one of them was Richard Wagner, mid-way through his Ring when a friend sent him Schopenhauer’s masterwork, The World As Will And Representation, in 1854. Wagner declared it the most important work of his lifetime. Nietzsche agreed. Schopenhauer died in 1860 the most famous philosopher in Europe (2,200 words)

Interview: D.A. Pennebaker

Daniel Eagan | Film Comment | 25th August 2017

Enthralling throughout. The director of Don’t Look Back does look back, on 60 years as a self-taught film-maker. Glimpses of Jack Kerouac, Jack Kennedy, Bob Dylan and many others. “Distribution of films has always been a complicated and mysterious process for me. With Don’t Look Back, a porn guy came to see it and he said, ‘It’s just what I’m looking for, it looks like a porn film and it’s not’. He gave us a big theater in San Francisco and I think we had a 16mm print running there for a year” (7,700 words)

Ghosts Of The Tsunami

Yo Zushi | New Statesman | 25th August 2017

The 2011 Japanese earthquake knocked the Earth ten inches off its axis and moved Japan four feet closer to the United States. The tidal wave killed 18,500. In the face of terrible losses, families and communities turned to stoicism and mysticism. “Hauntings were reported at home, in offices and public places, on the beaches and in the ruined towns. Life has no neat ending in Japanese tradition, so the widespread acceptance of ghosts among the Japanese is not as surprising as it may seem” (2,040 words)

Mathematical Secrets Of Ancient Tablet Unlocked

Maev Kennedy | Guardian | 24th August 2017

Australian mathematicians decode a 3,700-year-old Babylonian clay tablet, with spectacular results. “At least 1,000 years before Pythagoras looked at a right angled triangle and worked out that the square of the longest side is always equal to the sum of the squares of the other two, an unknown Babylonian genius took a clay tablet and a reed pen and marked out not just the same theorem, but a series of trigonometry tables which scientists claim are more accurate than any available today” (850 words)

A Swap For Zanzibar

Neal Ascherson | London Review Of Books | 17th August 2017

A short history of Heligoland, “Britain’s smallest colony, an inconvenient island”. Seized from Denmark in 1807, Heligoland served as a resort for mostly German tourists until Britain swapped it with Germany for Zanzibar in 1890; whereupon Germany turned it into a naval base. The 2,000 Frisian-speaking residents were ignored throughout. According to a Colonial Office minute, “Heligoland is a little place inhabited by little people who are doubtless very illiterate and narrow-minded” (3,900 words)

Video of the day: Black Holes in A Nutshell

What to expect:

New explainer from Kurtzgesagt. How black holes may destroy all the information in the universe (10’11”)

Thought for the day

There are always two sides, and one of them is the unsayable
W.S. Merwin

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