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Death, Justice, And The Talmud

Is death a punishment? If so, why is it handed out to everybody? Perhaps because we all deserve it. The Talmud says that “even those who seem most innocent of sin have done something to deserve punishment”. Where there is error, there is remedy: “If Miriam was supposed to live until 70 and she died at 40, what becomes of those 30 missing years? They are donated as a reward to Torah scholars for meritorious behaviour” (1,400 words)

Ants Can Teach Us Nothing

A great entomologist writes: “I’ll start with the question I’m most often asked: ‘What can I do about the ants in my kitchen?’ My response comes from the heart: Watch your step, be careful of little lives. Another question I hear a lot is: ‘What can we learn of moral value from the ants?’ Here again I will answer definitively: Nothing. Nothing can be learned from ants that our species should even consider imitating” (1,150 words)

Covering The Islamic State

Sensible practice note for writers and editors on how to cover the Islamic State without giving militants the blood-curdling publicity they evidently crave. Rule of thumb: Tell, don’t show. Don’t republish beheading videos, do make use of the information they contain. Preserve the dignity of the victim. “We do not broadcast staged scenes of violence”. Is that censorship? No. People can find the images easily elsewhere (1,880 words)

Their Methods Were Not Gentle

Diary of a visit to Bangui, capital of the Central African Republic, a French invention racked for the past year by ethnic and religious civil war. “In the deserted VIP lounge perched above Bangui M’Poko International Airport’s lone runway, the clock is dead at twenty past two, the bottles are covered in dust, there’s no one present but me and my travel companion and a man behind the bar who stirs up Nescafe” (1,580 words)

How Gangs Took Over Prisons Pick of the day

Jaw-dropping throughout. The political economy of American prison gangs, explained with the help of sociologist David Skarbek, who is rightly described here as “a treasury of horrifying anecdotes about human depravity and ingenuity”. The gangs “impose responsibility on everyone”. They discipline their members. They keep one another in check. “There’s like 30 knives out there right now. Hidden up their rectums” (5,190 words)

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