The Latest Betting Line on the Next Pope

via Jack Norton

The Extraordinary Science of Addictive Junk Food

The food industry’s fight for “stomach share” — the amount of digestive space that any one company’s brand can grab from the competition. “As a culture, we’ve become upset by the tobacco companies advertising to children, but we sit idly by while the food companies do the very same thing. And we could make a claim that the toll taken on the public health by a poor diet rivals that taken by tobacco”, Kelly Brownell, Professor of Pscyhology and Public Health, Yale University.

‘Royal Bodies’, Hilary Mantel’s LRB lecture at the British Museum

Don’t miss this beautifully crafted — learned, witty, funny, ironic, wise — meditation on what royalty, past and present, has meant to the wider public. From Ann Boleyn through Marie Antoinette to Diana and Kate, the Duchess of Cambridge, the finest living exponent of the historical novel has their measure. The podcast and the edited text of the lecture are freely accessible at the London Review of Books website:

‘Hilary Mantel v the Duchess of Cambridge: a story of lazy journalism and raging hypocrisy’, Hadley Freeman in The Guardian

On the banality of the latest tabloid outrage and David Cameron, in a Pavlovian response from India, ‘putting in his tuppence’ against a lecture he has probably not read. 

‘Hilary Mantel: why novelists are deliberately misunderstood’, Sam Leith in The Guardian

On how irony is incomprehensible or worse to tabloids & others who ‘deal in templates and received ideas…pretty princesses, snooty highbrow authors, smirking fiends and tragic tots’:

‘The Disastrous Influence of Pope Benedict XVI’, John Cassidy and Jane Kramer in The New Yorker

‘By setting its face against the modern world in general, and by dragging its feet in response to one of the worst scandals since the Reformation, Benedict’s Vatican has called the Church’s future into question, needlessly alienating countless people around the world who were brought up in its teachings.’

‘The Disastrous Influence of Pope Benedict XVI’, John Cassidy:

‘What The Pope Can Pray For’, Jane Kramer:

Behind the ‘Pre-meditated Murder’ of Reeva Steenkamp: The Dark Side of Oscar Pistorius and Celebrity Worship

‘The Fast Life of Oscar Pistorius’, Michael Sokolove in The New York Times:

‘Oscar Pistorius: South Africa’s symbol of hope shattered’, Donald McRae in The Guardian:

‘Reeva Steenkamp’s corpse was in the morgue, her body was on the Sun’s front page’, Marina Hyde in The Guardian:

‘Pistorius, His Girlfriend, and His Gun’, Amy Davidson in The New Yorker:

Sylvia Plath: Jillian Becker on the poet’s last days, BBC News

In February 1963, American poet Sylvia Plath, struggling to cope with her abandonment by Ted Hughes, killed herself in her flat in London. Writer Jillian Becker, whom Sylvia befriended during the last months of her life, relives their last days together.

Modern Times: The Exploitation of Amazon’s Work Force

An excellent, deeply disturbing piece by Sarah O’Connor in the Financial Times about the future of the labour process and workplace under contemporary capitalism.

“If you could slice the world in half right here, you could read the history of this town called Rugeley in the layers. Below the ground are the shafts and tunnels of the coal mine that fed the power station and was once the local economy’s beating heart. Above the ground are the trolleys and computers of Amazon, the global online retailer that has taken its place.”

Inside the factory, “hundreds of people in orange vests are pushing trolleys around a space the size of nine football pitches, glancing down at the screens of their handheld satnav computers for directions on where to walk next and what to pick up when they get there. They do not dawdle – the devices in their hands are also measuring their productivity in real time. They might each walk between seven and 15 miles (11 to 24 km) today.

One new Rugeley worker “lost almost half a stone in his first three shifts. ‘You’re sort of like a robot, but in human form,’ said the Amazon manager. ‘It’s human automation, if you like.’”

The basic wage is only 0.10 pounds above the legal minimum wage of 6.19 pounds per hour.



Randomise This! On Poor Economics | Sanjay G. Reddy | Review of Agrarian Studies

A critical and insightful review of “Poor Economics: A Radical Rethinking of the Way to Fight Global Poverty” by Abhijit Banerjee and Esther Duflo in Review of Agrarian Studies.

“Few volumes in contemporary economics have been more lauded, and have summarised a zeitgeist, as much as Abhijit Banerjee and Esther Duflo’s Poor Economics.1 The book has received prominent international prizes (The Financial Times and Goldman Sachs Business Book of the Year, for example), and been widely read, reviewed, and praised, including by leading economists and philanthropists.”

“It is, perhaps, not too difficult to understand why the prescription of Poor Economics has enjoyed as much circulation as it has, in particular among metropolitan development policy-making elites, although increasingly also elsewhere.10 It appeals to powerful but flawed metropolitan predispositions: a desire to “fix” things with simpleminded mono-causal reasoning, allied with the conviction that technology, through the analysis of data using randomised trials, makes it possible to do so. Its technocratic premises, its naïve view of politics and society, and its unselfconscious do-goodism make for a self-affirming picture of the world.11 It is unfortunate that it does so little to explain it.’

US control is diminishing, but it still thinks it owns the world | Noam Chomsky |

“The very foundation of the international order is that the United States has the right to use violence at will.”

US control is diminishing, but it still thinks it owns the world | Noam Chomsky |

Parking lot fit for a King: Researchers confirm skeletal remains of Richard III

‘In one of Britain’s most dramatic modern archaeological finds, researchers…announced…that skeletal remains found under a parking lot in this English Midlands city [Leicester] were those of King Richard III, for centuries the most widely reviled of English monarchs, paving the way for a possible reassessment of his brief but violent reign.’

Richard III: Play by Shakespeare (‘A horse, a horse, my kingdom for a horse’):

‘My Kingdom for a Corpse’, Gail Collins in NYT (don’t miss the comments at the end of this article):


Qamar Azad Hashmi, 1926-2013


Photograph of Qamar Azad Hashmi as red volunteer, Jama Masjid, Delhi, 1989

(courtesy: Sudhanva Deshpande)