Stalin's Prisoners, Circumcision, Ebola, Micromorts, Al-Qaeda & Islamic State, Michel Houellebecq

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

Comrade Stalin’s Secret Prison (’s-secret-prison)

Ekaterina Loushnikova | Open Democracy | 13th January 2015

Mind-boggling tales of brutality at Sukhanovskaya Prison near Moscow, "the most horrific prison in the whole of the Soviet Union", reserved for Stalin's special enemies. Meyerhold and Babel were tortured and killed there. Between 1938 and 1952 some 35,000 went in, and few came out alive. Beria loved to visit, and to urge the guards to greater violence: “Before he’s off to the other world – smash his face in!” (3,870 words)

Boys And Girls Alike

Brian Earp | Aeon | 13th January 2015

Mutilating a child's genitals does no good, and may do terrible harm. That goes for girls and boys alike. Female genital mutilation is rightly condemned around the world; why do we have such different standards for boys? "In some countries, including in the United States, anyone, with any instrument, and any degree of medical training (including none) can attempt to perform a circumcision" (2,800 words)

Death Of A Hero

Joshua Hammer | Matter | 12th January 2015

Fantastic piece of reporting on the life and death of Dr Sheik Humarr Khan, an expert in tropical diseases who ran a hospital at the heart of Sierra Leone's Ebola epidemic. He caught Ebola himself. He died a gruesome death. Yet close to his bed was a fridge containing three vials of a rare drug which could have saved his life. Why did he not get it? The apparent answer is that the drug was being reserved for Westerners (8,400 words)

A Million Tiny Lives

Tim Harford | 13th January 2015

When governments put a cash value on human life, public anger results. The cry of "death panels" goes up. A better approach would be to cost policy decisions in "micro-lives" and "micro-morts". A micro-life is one-millionth of an adult lifetime, or about half an hour; a micro-mort is a one-in-a-million chance of dying. The outcome will be the same, but the reckoning will feel less brutal. No whole life is at stake (895 words)

Waking Up To The New Al-Qaeda

Ahmed Rashid | New York Review Of Books | 12th January 2015

The West misreads its enemies. Awful as Islamic State may be, its ambitions are limited to the Middle East. Al-Qaeda, by contrast, is dedicated to overthrowing Western capitalism through attacks on Western targets. Al-Qaeda probably ordered the Charlie Hebdo massacre, and its killers got through because France was preoccupied with Islamic State — "a devastating intelligence failure" (1,050 words)

Michel Houellebecq Defends His New Book

Sylvain Bourmeau | Paris Review | 2nd January 2015

Interview. Once prosecuted for calling Islam "the dumbest religion in the world", Houellebecq says he has learned to understand and accept Islam. "The Koran turns out to be much better than I thought, now that I’ve reread it — or rather, read it". His new novel, Submission, imagines a Muslim president of France a decade hence. The article was published before the Charlie Hebdo massacre (4,380 words)

Video of the day: Take Me To The River

What to expect: Documentary film trailer. Veteran blues musicians in Memphis

Thought for the day

Satire is a lesson, parody is a game
Vladimir Nabokov (

Join 150,000+ curious readers who grow with us every day

No spam. No nonsense. Unsubscribe anytime.

Great! Check your inbox and click the link to confirm your subscription
Please enter a valid email address!
You've successfully subscribed to The Browser
Welcome back! You've successfully signed in
Could not sign in! Login link expired. Click here to retry
Cookies must be enabled in your browser to sign in