The Rise of the Death Café

On the Swiss septuagenarian who started a series of “cafés mortels,” or informal gatherings “where the sole topic of conversation was every living thing’s inevitable demise.” The concept has since caught on, and gone global.

Source: Prospect
Published: Jan 22, 2015
Length: 13 minutes (3,351 words)

James Joyce: You Can’t Ignore the Bastard

The great Irish writer still casts a shadow:

I grew up, the son of an Irish fireman and nurse, in a house with few books. We had a nursing manual, packed with astonishing photographs of extreme, untreated diseases; a Collier’s Encyclopedia, bought from a door-to-door salesman (to educate, by osmosis, me and my brother); and a lot of paperback Dick Francis racing thrillers. But, right beside the encyclopedia (where the Bible would have been, a generation earlier), there was one anomalous, thick, squat, hardback novel.

I grew obsessed with this 1967 Bodley Head edition of Ulysses. And not just because my father had thoughtfully marked “the dirty bits” in the margins in blue biro, so you wouldn’t have to reread the whole book to find them. My father’s considered opinion of James Joyce was, “That man is obsessed with shite.” I disagreed; Joyce simply gave everything equal weight and attention, including what had previously been taboo. He didn’t look away as Bloom entered the backyard jakes, or fade to black as the lads entered the brothel. Shocking. But exciting. Liberating.

Source: Prospect
Published: May 22, 2014
Length: 10 minutes (2,672 words)

Professors Without Borders

How Udacity, Coursera and other online universities are changing the way we learn—and changing who has access to higher education:

“‘It turns out that two-thirds of our students are from outside the United States,’ Stavens, now the CEO of Udacity, said. ‘It’s about a third US, a third from ten other countries you might expect—western Europe, Brazil, east Asia, Canada—and then about a third from 185 other countries. We have 500 students in Latvia. Now that doesn’t sound like a lot, but it actually means more students take our classes in Latvia than take them on Stanford’s campus.’

“And that’s just it: Stavens and his co-founders aren’t evangelists out to convert the unwashed masses. They simply minister to those who show up, looking to be saved. ‘Learning is a process a lot like exercise. It has great results, but takes a lot of effort. And maintaining that effort is really hard.’ If you don’t want to learn Python, or how the smartphone game Angry Birds works, fine. There are 500 Latvians who do.”

Source: Prospect
Published: Jul 5, 2012
Length: 16 minutes (4,129 words)

With My Little Eye

Has political satire in Russia turned Vladimir Putin into a national joke?

“Putin, who says that he does not use the internet, seemed unaware that much of the fear that he generated in his first decade in power has evaporated in the past year. Provoked by allegedly falsified results in the December Duma elections, tens of thousands of Russians took to the streets to protest against Putin’s decision to stand for a third presidential term in the election of 4th March. (He purported to stand aside in 2008 in taking the role of Prime Minister.) If he had been more connected with Russia’s fast-growing online culture, he would have known that by comparing the protestors’ white ribbons to condoms (as he did in the same phone-in), and metaphorically inviting his opponents to come to him to be hypnotised, suffocated and consumed, he was only offering himself up to the ridicule of the satirists who have played such a large role in the nation’s sudden political change of mood.”

Source: Prospect
Published: Feb 22, 2012
Length: 16 minutes (4,082 words)

America’s Right: All at Sea

Mike Huckabee is eating a cheeseburger and fries on the Lido Deck of the Sapphire Princess, a luxury cruise ship bound from Seattle to Alaska across the rough waters of the Queen Charlotte Sound. A 40-knot wind blasting down from the north is causing this floating resort to roll to and fro, sending pallid-faced passengers back to their state rooms and depressing the sales of booze, on which the profits of the Princess rest. The ship is massive: one third the weight of the Empire State Building and as long as the Eiffel Tower is high. Of its 2,600 passengers, 250 have signed up for the Freedom Cruise, a Christian gospel music extravaganza of which Huckabee, the Baptist minister and former governor of Arkansas, is the star guest and attraction.

Source: Prospect
Published: Jun 22, 2011
Length: 15 minutes (3,962 words)

Lot 800: The Bainbridge Vase

The story of an antique Chinese vase, found in a house clearance in Pinner and sold for £43m in a small auction room, was a suburban fairytale. Was it also too good to be true?

Author: Sam Knight
Source: Prospect
Published: Apr 21, 2011
Length: 22 minutes (5,562 words)

The Final Countdown

Some time this year, NASA’s space shuttle will touch down for the last time. Bereft of their jobs and their mission, what will happen to the people of Florida’s Space Coast? “The Space Coast is also facing a less visible but equally unnerving identity crisis. Over the years, the shuttle has not just brought dollars to Brevard County—or to the rest of the US for that matter—but a unifying statement of daring and of America’s capacity to do what no other country can do. ‘Whenever we launch, it is an act of courage. It is an act of risk taking,’ John Shannon, the director of the program, told me. ‘Even though we are reminded after Challenger and Columbia that this is a risky business, we still choose to do that.'”

Author: Sam Knight
Source: Prospect
Published: Jan 26, 2011
Length: 16 minutes (4,016 words)

Why Britain can’t do The Wire

The critically acclaimed US television drama could not be made here. We have writing talent in abundance, but its output is controlled by a stifling monopoly—the BBC. Plus, an interview with “The Wire”‘s creator David Simon

Source: Prospect
Published: Oct 21, 2009
Length: 17 minutes (4,485 words)

Refugees of Diversity

Forget the suburbs. Prosperous white Americans are settling in even more remote — and homogeneous — communities.

Source: Prospect
Published: Oct 12, 2009
Length: 10 minutes (2,656 words)