Syndemics, English Kings, David Foster Wallace, GPS, Em-Dashes

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The HIV Capital Of America

Jessica Wapner | Mosaic Science | 3rd May 2016

The jargon in this piece is off-putting, but the underlying reporting is mind-boggling. At least ten per cent of the population of Austin, Indiana, is hooked on crystal meth and other drugs. Last year the rate of HIV infection in Austin matched that of sub-Saharan Africa. “Houses were boarded up. Others had porches filled with junk. There were no sidewalks. Teenage and twenty-something girls walked the streets selling sex. I’ve never felt more scared than I did in Austin” (4,450 words)

King Edward The Nth

John Elledge | New Statesman | 17th May 2016

England’s most recent King Edward was Edward VIII, who abdicated in 1936. So: How many King Edwards has England had? Well, it’s not eight. There were at least three King Edwards before the Norman Conquest of 1066, which Tudor chroniclers chose as year zero for their regnal numbering system. Perhaps they could not reach agreement on any earlier start-date. English history and legend is remarkably uncertain about who the first king of England actually was (950 words)

The Best Commencement Speech Of All Time

Emily Harnett | Literary Hub | 17th May 2016

David Foster Wallace’s 2005 commencement speech at Kenyon College, This Is Water, has gone down in hipster and YouTube history as the best commencement speech of all time. Which very possibly it was. But let us not exaggerate. Foster Wallace delivered what his audience wanted: A Hallmark card writ large. “It is the best commencement speech of all time not because it transcended the formula, flattery, and platitudes that a graduation speech trades in, but because it mastered them” (2,650 words)

Death By GPS

Greg Milner | Ars Technica | 3rd May 2016

The more you use GPS, the less you think about the journey. Which is in some sense the point; but your GPS does not compute that the desert will kill you without water and shade, a syndrome which Death Valley park rangers call “death by GPS”. We are disconcertingly prone to trust the robot voice. “An elderly woman in Belgium tried to use GPS to guide her to her home 90 miles away, but drove hundreds of miles to Zagreb, only realizing her mistake when she noticed the street signs were in Croatian” (2,222 words)

Dashing Through

Anne Curzan | Lingua Franca | 16th May 2016

The em-dash can stand in for a colon, or for parentheses, or for a comma, “or for a semi-colon — and while that use strikes me as a bit less ideal, I am reluctant to call it wrong”. It’s probably happiest when subbing for brackets: “It makes a parenthetical a bit more prominent — a bit less parenthetical — than parentheses”. But too many dashes eat away at coherence. A reasonable upper bound is two dashes in a sentence and one dashed sentence in a paragraph (460 words)

Video of the day: A Solution To The Grandfather Paradox

What to expect:

Not that you should go back in time to kill your grandfather. But if you must, here’s how it resolves logically (2’45”)

Thought for the day

Chaos always defeats order, because it is better organised
Terry Pratchett

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