Prison, Catastrophe, Doubt, Bavaria, Infinity

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

The Death Row Basketball League

Lyle May | Marshall Project | 16th March 2017

Notes from the prison exercise yard: “North Carolina’s death row is nothing like the movies. When I first arrived over a decade ago, I was shocked to see men playing cards, dominoes, and Scrabble at the steel tables, or holding quiet conversations while they smoked. It was more like a county jail. I would do my time just like any other lifer, except that maybe someday I would be put to death”. Do read to the end for perspective: The writer was convicted of murdering a mother and child (1,090 words)

If A Nuclear Bomb Goes Off In Manhattan

Kaveh Waddell | Atlantic | 15th March 2017

Sociologists model the aftermath of a small nuclear attack on New York. “People seem to be reasonably well behaved and do what they’ve been trained to, or are asked or told to do by local authorities. Reports from 9/11 show that people walked down many tens of flights of stairs, relatively quietly, sometimes carrying each other, to escape buildings”. But much depends on trust in government. When trust breaks down, as in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, so does law and order (2,700 words)

The Problem With Facts

Tim Harford | Undercover Economist | 17th March 2017

As Big Tobacco showed when disputing the link between smoking and cancer in the 1950s, the skilled publicist or politician can always sow doubt, however strong the evidence. “A simple untruth can beat off a complicated set of facts simply by being easier to understand and remember”. When we feel ourselves under pressure we align with friends rather than experts. “Groups with opposing values often become more polarised, not less, when exposed to scientifically sound information” (4,100 words)

The Restless Ghosts Of Baiersdorf

Sabine Heinlein | Longreads | 15th March 2017

A German émigré explores the rise of the Nazis and the persecution of Jews in her Bavarian home town of Baiersdorf; and the part played by her family. “I continued to probe my paternal grandmother. A typical conversation would go something like this: ‘How come you supported Hitler?’ ‘It was simply the best time of my life!’ ‘But what about the millions of Jews who were killed?’ ‘We didn’t know what they did with the Jews! There were no Jews in Baiersdorf! Besides, they had it coming'” (6,240 words)

Infinity And Beyond

A.W. Moore | Aeon | 8th March 2017

Accessible introduction to the work of 19C German mathematician Georg Cantor, who produced “the first rigorous, systematic, mathematical theory of the infinite”. Cantor showed that some infinities are bigger than others; that we can devise precise mathematical tools for measuring these different infinite sizes; and that we can perform calculations with them. “In general, there are always more sets of things of any given kind than there are individual things of that kind. This is Cantor’s theorem” (3,100 words)

Video of the day: The Economics Of Airline Class

What to expect:

Explainer. How airline revenues break down between economy, premium economy, business and first classes (11’34”)

Thought for the day

All power tends to co-opt, and absolute power co-opts absolutely
Alasdair MacIntyre

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