Onomastics, Tulsa Massacre, DNA, Lost In Africa, Russia, Bridges

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

The Art Of The Minor Character

Chi Luu | JSTOR Daily | 5th May 2016

Mr Plornishmaroontigoonter, Lord Podsnap, Count Smorltork, Sir Clupkins Clogwog … The pages of Charles Dickens throng with names no literary author would risk today. Dickens used extreme naming to fix his characters and their dispositions in the minds of his readers. A Mr Pecksniff required no further introduction. Writers place a higher value nowadays on realism in narrative, at some cost in onomastics. Names are expected to be neutral, or subtly loaded at most; contrivance is a fault (1,450 words)

The Tulsa Race Massacre Of 1921

Allison Keyes | Smithsonian | 27th May 2016

A rediscovered eye-witness account tells how white mobs with machine guns and fire-bombs killed 300 black people and burned down black neighbourhoods in Tulsa 95 years ago. The trigger for the rampage was a newspaper report of an assault; the underlying cause was white anger at the prosperity of the African-American business community, thanks to oil wells. The riots “aren’t mentioned in most American history textbooks, and many people don’t know that they happened” (1,770 words)

The Beautiful Experiment

H. Allen Orr | New York Review of Books | 23rd May 2016

An excellent primer on DNA and its surrounding biology within a review of Life’s Greatest Secret, Matthew Cobb’s book about the cracking of the genetic code. After Crick and Watson discovered the double-helix structure of DNA in 1953, scientists raced to discover how DNA issued its intructions to the rest of the organism. The code, cracked in 1961, proved common to almost all forms of life — strong evidence that all life, from people to bacteria, descends from a common ancestor (4,250 words)

The Lost Explorer

Jamie Maddison | Love Nature | 26th May 2016

If the early paragraphs retelling Chris Velten’s childhood test your patience, skip to the one beginning “Bloody Bamako” and prepare to be gripped. Velten disappeared 13 years ago while retracing Mungo Park’s travels. Anecdotal evidence suggests he is still wandering or working or begging somewhere in western Africa with occasional access to Facebook. From a possible sighting near Timbuktu: “He goes into the nearest market town to buy tins of sardines and then acts strangely” (5,100 words)

Russia’s Long Road To The Middle East

Yaroslav Trofimov | Wall Street Journal | 27th May 2016

If Westerners had known more about Russia’s long history of military and diplomatic involvement in the Middle East, they would have been less surprised by Vladimir Putin’s expert intervention in Syria last year. Russia’s forceful return forms a logical part of its broader push to regain status as a world power. It wants to be respected as an actor in the Middle East, but not necessarily to displace America as the main foreign power; it knows too well the dangers of getting in deep (2,600 words)

A Lesson On Infrastructure

Larry Summers & Rachel Lipson | Washington Post | 25th May 2016

A century ago construction of the 232-foot Anderson Memorial Bridge over the Charles River took just eleven months. The bridge is now shut for repairs that began in 2012 and have no end in sight. “How has our society regressed to the point where a bridge that could be built in less than a year one century ago takes five times as long to repair today?” America’s infrastructure is falling apart. Huge investment is indicated. But first cut the red tape that stops things getting done (Metered paywall) (990 words)

Video of the day: George Saunders On Story

What to expect:

George Saunders explains how to construct a compelling story. Produced by Ken Burns (7’02”)

Thought for the day

There is always some madness in love, and some reason in madness
Friedrich Nietzsche

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