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How Stupid Is A Davos Audience?

The definitive piece about the public programme at Davos. “A Davos panel discussion is an opportunity for CEOs to feel important, and for the audience to feel as though they’re learning from top-level thought leaders. The main purpose of the panel is generally simply to exist. The message is: these people are talking about this important issue, and they take it seriously. The actual substance of what is said? Not particularly important” (740 words)

The Dangers Of Saudi Succession

“National leaders do, on occasion, lose the plot when in office. But seldom do they gain top positions when their minds have already gone. The elevation of Crown Prince Salman to the Saudi throne, following the death of King Abdullah on Thursday, could prove a live experiment in whether such a scenario is viable … Still, as a survivor of the world’s first rectal suicide bomb, he at least has luck” (1,200 words)

The Art Of Mental Arithmetic

A.C. Aitken was the most gifted “mental calculator” of the 20C. In this talk he demonstrates and explains his genius: “At the end when all is done, the numbers come into focus. But mostly it is as if they were hidden under some medium, though being moved about with decisive exactness in regard to order and ranging. It is neither seeing nor hearing; it is a compound faculty of which I have nowhere seen an adequate description” (8,100 words)

The Pursuit Of Beauty

Yitang Zhang kept the accounts for a Subway franchise in Kentucky, taught calculus in New Hampshire — and then, at the age of 55, solved a fundamental problem in prime-number theory which had been troubling mathematicians since Euclid. Euclid proved that the sequence of prime numbers was infinite; Zhang showed that there were rules governing the distribution of them. Now he has “some other visions” (6,070 words)

Press Freedom In Egypt

Idealistic Egyptian journalists set up a new online newspaper, Mada Masr. Three days later, the army overthrows President Morsi. Cairo is in turmoil and the future of the country is at stake. It is the best of times and the worst of times to be in the news business: “I ask people to evacuate when there’s live ammunition”. Against the odds, Mada survives. Its writers learn to push back against the new régime, but not too much (6,330 words)

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