The Stinking Middle Ages


Is our reaction to bad odor learned?

I once​ asked the great historian Richard Southern whether he would like to have met any of the medieval saints and churchmen about whom he wrote so eloquently. He gave a cautious reply: ‘I think they probably had very bad breath.’ He may have been right about that, but it would be wrong to infer that this was something which didn’t bother them. The men and women of the Middle Ages may have had a greater aversion to unpleasant body odours than their descendants do now. If so, this was bad luck, for they were much more likely to encounter them than we are in our deodorised world

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Micah Mattix — The American Conservative

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From Now On, I Vow to Read Only Fiction


Notes from a quarantined writer.

I admire those who are stable enough to keep reading essays. From now on, I vow to read only fiction. For me, the well of individual experience has run dry, the mountain been mined, the carcass picked clean. The only one to tell me the truth — about the twin agonies of bodily sickness and mental obsession, and the need to get worse before I got better — was Nathan Zuckerman. Not only does the limitation of the physical being cause depression, but the tension within the mind can make the body sicker.

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Nausicaa Renner — n+1

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While my sitar gently weeps


Who else but Ravi Shankar.

Shankar practised throughout the day. “It was unusual for someone as old as Robu to be starting formal training,” writes Craske, “but he had the zeal of a convert.” An apt word, because the modern Indian arts—and the sitar is as much an emblem of modernity as the past—were often created by outsiders, rather than “natural” inheritors, with a quasi-religious fervour. I say “quasi” because it’s important to understand that the tradition—whatever its spiritual and philosophical moorings—is a secular one. It was called “classical” music to distinguish it from temple or scriptural music.

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Amit Chaudhuri — Prospect

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Ashoka’s moral empire


How an ancient Indian emperor, horrified by the cruelty of war, created an infrastructure of goodness.

In the Khyber valley of Northern Pakistan, three large boulders sit atop a hill commanding a beautiful prospect of the city of Mansehra. A low brick wall surrounds these boulders; a simple roof, mounted on four brick pillars, protects the rock faces from wind and rain. This structure preserves for posterity the words inscribed there: ‘Doing good is hard – Even beginning to do good is hard.’ The words are those of Ashoka Maurya, an Indian emperor who, from 268 to 234 BCE, ruled one of the largest and most cosmopolitan empires in South Asia. These words come from the opening lines of the fifth of 14 of Ashoka’s so-called ‘major rock edicts’, a remarkable anthology of texts, circa 257 BCE, in which Ashoka announced a visionary ethical project. Though the rock faces have eroded in Mansehra and the inscriptions there are now almost illegible, Ashoka’s message can be found on rock across the Indian subcontinent – all along the frontiers of his empire, from Pakistan to South India.

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Sonam Kachru — Aeon

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The rules of coronaspeak


Covidiot.

Start with the coronaverse, which people everywhere now inhabit, or the quarantimes, the era in which they now live. Early fears of the total breakdown of society in a coronapocalypse have proved, thankfully, too pessimistic. But viral anxiety reigns, as do complaints of Zoom fatigue. Participants appear on screen for meetings with a quaransheen of unwashed sweat on their faces. Feelings seem to be on an emotional coronacoaster. Meanwhile, covidiots are spurning lockdown restrictions in ways likely to make the pandemic worse, amid an infodemic of dodgy news and half-informed coronasplaining. At least there is a locktail hour at the end of the week (or, for many, at the end of most days).

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The Economist

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What Are the Most Popular Discontinued Cars?


To see which discontinued cars have been most popular lately, we looked at a full year of CarMax sales, from October 1, 2018 through September 30, 2019. The Jeep Patriot was our top-seller. The compact crossover SUV had a strong 11-year run, and thousands have been rolling off CarMax lots since production ended in 2017. The Chrysler 200 came in second among our best-sellers. The 200 was offered as a four-door sedan or two-door convertible from 2011 to 2014, then as a sedan from 2015 until it was discontinued in 2017.

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Priceonomics

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The Cartoon Picture of Magnets That Has Transformed Science


The Ising model

The mathematical key to cracking “phase transitions” debuted exactly 100 years ago, and it has transformed the natural sciences. The Ising model, as it’s known, was initially proposed as a cartoon picture of magnets. It’s now so commonly used as a simple model of physical systems that physicists liken it to the fruit fly, biology’s model organism. A recently published textbook deemed the Ising model “the system that can be used to model virtually every interesting thermodynamic phenomenon.”

It has also penetrated far-flung disciplines well beyond physics, serving as a model of earthquakesproteinsbrains — and even racial segregation.

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Charlie Wood — Quanta Magazine

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In the Names of the Father and the Son


There were 427 custodial deaths in India between 2016 and 2019. A 2019 survey of 12,000 police personnel across 21 states by Common Cause, a civil society organisation, and the Lokniti Programme of the  Centre for the Study of Developing Societies, an MHRD-supported research institute, noted, among other things, a very high approval rating for police violence towards criminals. Nearly three-fourths of those interviewed thought it was acceptable for police to be violent with criminals for the greater good of society. Four out of five surveyed submitted that there was nothing wrong in beating up criminals to extract a confession.

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V Shoba — OPEN

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A Global Scramble for the Coming Coronavirus Vaccine


SII head Adar Poonawalla, 39, is planning to begin production of a SARS-CoV-2 vaccine now. By autumn, he hopes to have produced 40 million doses, at which time it will become clear if it is granted approval – or not.

If it is approved, Poonawalla intends to make at least half of the doses available to India, with the rest going to countries that don’t have their own vaccine. If approval is not forthcoming, it will all be discarded.

Poonawalla’s company joined the project at its own risk. In the worst-case scenario, he might lose a few million euros of his multi-billion-euro nest egg. But should everything go well, he’ll be a hero by the end of the year – and have the reputation for being a visionary businessman.

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SPIEGEL International

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Why Finnish people tell the truth


Indeed, Finns derive a great deal of pride from the high level of social trust present in the society, which in turn is an indication of the perception that people are believed to be acting honestly. “In Finland the state is a friend, not an enemy,” Kananen said. “The state is perceived as acting for the collective good – so public officials act in everybody’s shared interest. There is a great deal of trust – towards fellow citizens and public office holders, including the police. Finnish people are also happy taxpayers. They know the tax money is used for the common good and they know no-one will cheat when collecting the taxes.”

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Srishti Chaudhary — BBC

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