Weekly newsletter 97

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

Aspiring Africa

Anonymous | Economist | 1 March 2013

"Never in the half-century since it won independence from the colonial powers has Africa been in such good shape. Its economy is flourishing. Most countries are at peace. Ever fewer children bear arms and record numbers go to school. HIV infections have fallen by up to three-quarters. This is a welcome transformation, but it is still incomplete"

Could The Ancient Romans Have Built A Digital Computer?

Hunter Scott | Hunter Scott | 27 February 2013

Yes, though the power supply would have posed a problem. They knew how to make wire, and how to work iron. They knew how to work glass, though not how to make vacuum tubes. They could have built relays, to judge from their jewellery. Lead sulfide would make a good natural semiconductor. Regular iron would do for core memory

Omens: The Future Of Humanity

Ross Andersen | Aeon | 25 February 2013

Portrait of Nick Bostrom, head of Future of Humanity Institute at Oxford University. His field of study: very-long-term trends that may support human flourishing—in outer space, for example—or lead to human extinction. "Bostrom’s intellectual project is to reach into the epistemological fog of the future, to feel around for potential threats"

Was Mancur Olson Wrong?

Jonathan Rauch | American | 15 February 2013

Olson argued that narrow interest groups would eventually capture the policy process in a democracy, because they had strong motivations to pursue their specific goals, whereas the public at large had at best a very diffuse interest in resisting them. Is that still true, now that social media enables diffuse groups to mobilise effectively?

What I Learned On The Island of Pohnpei

Jonathan Gourlay | Bygone Bureau | 26 February 2013

Notes from eleven years' life on a Micronesian island. "It is easier to be a single parent on Pohnpei than it is in America. When you live with an extended family as big as a village, there is always daycare. Your kid may be with a troop of other mostly naked children in the jungle, but she is safe. Just remember to de-worm her regularly"

It's For Your Own Good

Cass Sunstein | New York Review Of Books | 24 February 2013

Mill's harm principle holds that the state should only use power against an individual to prevent him from harming others — not from harming himself. Mill assumes that the individual is the best judge of his own interests. But behavioural science says otherwise: that individuals are bad judges of means, if not ends. Does this justify paternalism?

Assembling The Billing Block

Ben Schott | New York Times | 24 February 2013

"The blurb at the bottom of a movie poster is called the billing block. While it might look like a bar-code of haphazardly packed type, it is in fact the product of detailed legal agreements and intense contract negotiation. Here is the billing block for a fictitious film—All The Presidents—and an explanation of how it was constructed"

The Runner

Jordan Conn | ESPN | 22 February 2013

Fauja Sing was 83 when he saw his son decapitated by a falling roof. Moved from India to England, took up running, completed London marathon at 89. Became first centenarian to complete a marathon last year. Plans to run final race this weekend in Hong Kong, at 102. Only regret: Guinness won't accredit him. No birth certificate

Video of the week: How To Shake A Black Guy's Hand

Thought for the week:

"Everything will be all right in the end. So if it is not all right, it is not yet the end" — Sunny Patel

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