The Jewish Nose, GMOs, Margaret Drabble, Cartoons, Enigma, Containing Russia, Posthumous Rock, Peter

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

The Invention Of The Jewish Nose

Sara Lipton | New York Review Of Books | 14th November 2014

Until the early middle ages "there were no easily distinguishable Jews of any kind in Western imagery". Jewish characters in early manuscripts "required labels to identify them as Jewish". The caricature of the Jewish nose seems to date from an image popular with late-12C artists, of Jews looking away from Christ's suffering, in which "the Jew’s prominent nose serves primarily to draw attention to the angle of his head" (1,700 words)

The Genetically Modified Future

Mark Buchanan | Bloomberg View | 16th November 2014

Digest of Nicholas Nassim Taleb's argument against genetically modified crops, which account for 80% of the corn grown in the US. The benefits of GMOs are well-known; but the potential for catastrophe is immense. Modified genes can "spread uncontrollably through the genetic ecosystem". If GMOs turn out to do harm in ways that we cannot yet foresee, there is "no obvious mechanism to localize the damage" (580 words)

Interview: Margaret Drabble

Lydia Perović | Believer | 14th November 2014

Delightfully uninhibited conversation about feminism, motherhood, writing and other writers. On Iris Murdoch: "She wasn’t really a woman; she wasn’t a man, but she wasn’t a woman. She was married to this elderly professor ... he’s still alive, actually. The untidiness of their lives was indescribable. Neither had the faintest idea how to Hoover the carpet or clean the sink. They lived on meals out of packets." (3,290 words)


Cody Walker | Kenyon Review | 16th November 2014

Entertaining short review of How About Never — Is Never Good for You?, a memoir by Bob Mankoff, cartoon editor of the New Yorker. Mankoff reports looking at 1,000 cartoons a week, half from regular contributors and half from outsiders, passing 50 on to David Remnick for the final cut. When David Mamet sent in a cartoon, Mankoff "sent a note back to him, thanking him and saying I had taken the liberty of sending him a play” (820 words)

How Did The Enigma Machine Work?

Alex Hern | Guardian | 14th November 2014

Short explainer with useful graphics. The Nazi encoding machine looked like a big typewriter, with three rotors inside for scrambling the letters as they were keyed in. Unscrambling required a similar machine set to the same rotor-positions. Alan Turing's initial breakthrough was to deduce that no letter could be encrypted as itself, which simplified the job of reverse-engineering the rotors (530 words)

The Sources Of Russian Conduct

Alexander Motyl | Foreign Affairs | 16th November 2014

When George Kennan argued for "containment" of the Soviet Union, he was talking in effect about policy towards Russia; and his advice holds good for making policy towards Russia today. America "should remain at all times cool and collected and that its demands on Russian policy should be put forward in such a manner as to leave the way open for a compliance not too detrimental to Russian prestige” (1,480 words)

Frontiers Of Posthumous Rock

Kate Mossman | New Statesman | 14th November 2014

Within the next two decades all the founding geniuses of rock music will be dead. But great bands can live on by adding new members when old ones retire. And when no original members remain, the band-as-brand can have any number of equally authentic line-ups. "It is tempting to imagine a future in which, at any one point, there will be a 'Queen' playing in a town near you, their set-list controlled by the band’s estate" (1,542 words)

Inside Peter Thiel’s Mind

Ezra Klein | Vox | 14th November 2014

Conversation with Silicon Valley technology investor about innovation, education, work, Snowden, Facebook, Bitcoin. "There are a lot of different reasons why the focus has been on bits and not on atoms for the last 40 years. It costs $100,000 to start a new software company. It costs maybe $1,000,000,000 to get a drug through the FDA. So you're obviously going to have more video game companies than real drugs. That's the world" (4,380 words)

Video of the day: Himalayan Bus Ride

What to expect: Minibus ride along a mountain precipice and through a waterfall (3')

Thought for the day

Explanations are, in effect, predictions about what has happened
John Searle (

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