Radioactivity, Human Rights, Large Numbers, Travels Through Ukraine, Punishment

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

My Great-Great-Aunt Discovered Francium

Veronique Greenwood | New York Times | 3rd December 2014 | Metered paywall

And it killed her. Marguerite Perey worked in Marie Curie's Radium Institute in Paris. She discovered a new element which she called Francium. But the element was useless, and exposure to it gave her bone cancer. She sacrificed her life to fill "a hole in the periodic table". Which was what Marie Curie demanded. At the Radium Institute, "dedication to science was demonstrated by a willingness to poison yourself" (3,900 words)

The Case Against Human Rights

Eric Posner | Guardian | 4th December 2014

The headline over-reaches. The argument here is against human-rights treaties, rather than human rights as such. But still. "There is little evidence that human rights treaties have improved the wellbeing of people. Human rights were never as universal as hoped, and the belief that they could be forced upon countries was shot through with misguided assumptions from the beginning. It is time for a reckoning" (4,450 words)

From 1,000,000 To Graham’s Number

Tim Urban | Wait But Why | 20th November 2014

How to imagine very large numbers. A quintillion is "the number of cubic meters of water in all the Earth’s oceans and the number of atoms in a grain of salt". To write out all the zeroes in a googolplex you would have to "fill the universe with sand, get a very tiny pen, and write 10 billion zeros on each grain of sand". As for Graham's Number, "the largest number ever used in a serious mathematical proof” — that way madness lies (5,800 words)

The Kid With The Kalashnikov Isn’t Happy

Owen Matthews | Newsweek | 5th December 2014 | Metered paywall

Notes from a journey through Ukraine, one year after the revolution began. The war for the East continues. The economy teeters. Russia has turned "sharply, and in the space of a few short months, into an older, more vicious version of herself". But what remains of Ukraine, without Crimea, Donetsk and Lugansk, has the makings of a coherent pro-Western country. "There will never again be a pro-Moscow government in Kiev" (2,700 words)

What Constitutes Cruel And Unusual Punishment?

G. Ben Cohen & Robert Smith | LA Times | 3rd December 2014

Judges have a constitutional duty to push back against prosecutors who demand extreme prison sentences. "The responsibility of the judiciary is to question whether Americans would tolerate the punishment if it were applied routinely to everyone who commits the offense. Any punishment that is tolerated only because it is applied infrequently and unevenly is not one that the 8th Amendment tolerates" (950 words)

Video of the day: The McGurk Effect

What to expect: An auditory illusion. Like an optical illusion, but for the ears. From the BBC (3'25")

Thought for the day

Immortality can always be assured by spectacular error
J.K. Galbraith (

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