Probability, Syd Barrett, Magic, Coffee, Isaiah Berlin


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

The 20 Percent World

John Micklethwait | Bloomberg View | 3rd January 2016

Marine Le Pen as French president? Donald Trump as American president? Jeremy Corbyn as British prime minister? Britain leaving the European Union? In our newly volatile world, the triumph of an outlandish idea or a fringe candidate is no longer unthinkable, merely improbable — a one-in-five chance, say. "And as anybody who bets on horse racing will tell you, eventually one of these longshots is going to canter home" (990 words)

Syd Barrett: The Genius Who Almost Was

Nick Kent | Guardian | 6th January 2016

In memory of Syd Barrett, co-founder of Pink Floyd, who would have turned 70 today. For a year or so in the late 1960s he was “one of the three best songwriters in the world", until his extravagant use of psychedelic drugs deranged him. Expelled from the band, he spent most of the next 40 years in his mother's house in Cambridge, painting and gardening. His death certificate in in 2006 described him as a "retired musician" (1,400 words)

Magical Thinking

Rowan Williams | New Statesman | 3rd January 2016

Former Archbishop Of Canterbury on magic, religion, and science: "Christianity created a new set of challenges for the family of activities vaguely referred to as magical. On the one hand, the Christian narratives assumed the reality of preternatural agents, angels and demons; on the other, they left little or no ground on which you could justify attempts to manipulate spiritual agencies through your own skills" (2,200 words)

On Coffee

Harold McGee | Lucky Peach | 5th January 2016

Why coffee tastes and smells the way that it does. "Coffee beans are made of two kinds of material. One part is nourishment. The plant has to have enough energy stored up in its seed to push out its leaves and make chlorophyll. The other part is defensive chemicals, so when an insect or a fungus begins to nibble on the outside of the bean, it gets a hint of astringency or bitterness, and it leaves the bean alone" (1,400 words)

Henry Hardy On Isaiah Berlin

Nigel Warburton | Five Books | 19th October 2015

Sir Isaiah Berlin's editor and literary trustee recommends his favourite writings by and about Berlin. "Berlin was very good at emptying himself of his own preconceptions and standing in the shoes of other people describing the world from their point of view. It makes him an excellent historian of ideas. To understand another thinker fully, you need to deploy this kind of capacity; and his was second to none" (5,500 words)

Video of the day: Philomena Cunk, on femininism

What to expect: Satire. Includes an interview with Prof. Mary Evans of The Gender Institute (5'11")

Thought for the day

Ninety percent of most magic consists of knowing one extra fact
Terry Pratchett

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