Appropriately trippy 1979 ABC News report about the U.S. government’s attempts across three decades to not just know its citizens’ thoughts but to actually control them. There was a Truth Drug Committee, CIA experimentation with LSD and mushrooms on unwitting Americans and Manchurian Candidate-esque goals. Ultimately it aided the establishment of the 1960s counterculture.
Tags: Paul Altmeyer
Two passages, one from five years ago and one from today, about how the anarchy of the Internet has released the devil inside us all.
In 2009, Jim Windolf of Vanity Fair wrote a good article about Internet trolls even before the term existed, but even though biting blogs have been supplanted by social media, his prediction about the decline of anonymous online hating did not come true–at least not yet–in fact it’s taken on new and even more hurtful forms. An excerpt from his piece:
“Online rudeness probably won’t last forever. I think it’s just a fashion. Things change. Stuff that seems cool gets stale. It feels like it won’t, but it does. So it seems reasonable to guess that online nastiness will fade—not through any enforcement, but just because it will go out of style. There will always be flame wars. There will always be online lunkheads and goons. But in a few years maybe you won’t really want to be the one calling someone else a douche-tard in a comments section.”
From Alex Hern’s Guardian article, Tim Berners-Lee on what he hath wrought, complete unintentionally:
“Tim Berners-Lee has expressed sadness that the web has mirrored the dark side of humanity, as well as enabling its ‘wonderful side’ to flourish.
The developer, who created the web in 1990 while working for the particle collider project Cern in Switzerland, said that the web is a reflection of human nature elsewhere, but that he had hoped ‘that the web would provide tools and fora and new ways of communicating that would break down national barriers and allow us to just get to a better global understanding.
‘Well, maybe it’ll happen in the future … Maybe we will be able to build web-based tools that help us keep people on the path of collaborating rather than fighting.’
Speaking to BBC News, Berners-Lee said that it was ‘staggering’ that people ‘who clearly must have been brought up like anybody else will suddenly become very polarised in their opinions, will suddenly become very hateful rather than very loving.'”
From the July 11, 1901 Brooklyn Daily Eagle:
“James Driscoll, a boy 14 years old, who lives at 84 Lynch Street, when he stays home, eats and chews cigarettes. At least that is what his mother has to say about him. And according to her, he makes a regular diet of them, for he has the tobacco habit in an advanced degree.”
Tags: James Driscoll
An Economist article responds to Lee Gomes’ Slate piece about the difficulty of making driverless vehicles truly autonomous, suggesting that the real impediment to such machines might be the large stock of cheap labor created by the disruptive qualities of other technologies. An excerpt:
“Writing at Slate, for instance, Lee Gomes frets that driverless vehicles struggle in unfamiliar territory when they lack good maps, can make errors when sun blinds their cameras, and are occasionally caught out by the unexpected appearance of new traffic signals. Human drivers, of course, share these weaknesses, and others: like difficulty operating in adverse weather conditions. The big difference between driverless vehicles and humans, in these cases, is that the computer can be programmed to behave cautiously when stumped, while humans often plough ahead heedlessly. When critiquing driverless cars it is often useful to recall that human drivers kill and maim millions of people each year.
Ironically, the biggest obstacle to widespread use of driverless vehicles, over the next decade or two at any rate, may be the effects of rapid technological progress in other parts of the economy. As a recent special report explains, technological change over the last generation has wiped out many middle-skill jobs, pushing millions of workers into competition for low-wage work. That glut has contributed to stagnant wages for most workers, and low pay has in turn reduced the incentive to firms to deploy labour-saving technology. Why automate, when there is an enormous stock of cheap labour available? At the same time firms like Uber are making the use of hired cars cheaper and more convenient, reducing the attraction to many households of owning and driving their own personal vehicles.
The combination of Uber and cheap labour could pose a formidable threat to the driverless car. The cost of the sensors and processors needed to pilot an autonomous vehicle is falling and is likely to fall much more as production ramps up. Yet the technology is still pricey, especially compared with a human, which, after all, is a rather efficient package of sensory and information-processing equipment. At low wages, a smartphone-enabled human driver is formidable competition for a driverless vehicle.
It would be a remarkable irony if the driverless car—in many ways the symbol of the technological revolution that is now reshaping modern economies—fails to materialise as an economic reality thanks to the disemploying power of other technologies.”
Tags: Lee Gomes
Wonder-Chicken (Green Township)
Tipsy is a 10 week old Bantam hen that needs to be adopted as a pet. Tipsy suffered and has survived an infection of Mareks disease. To protect the rest of the flock Tipsy cannot return to the flock (she’s quarantined). If you want a bird as a pet she will be great.
The type of buoyant journalism career the late Ben Bradlee enjoyed barely exists anymore, and that’s both a good and bad thing. It’s great that American media is in far more hands now in our decentralized world, the “barbarians” having stormed the gates, though it would be better if more of those thumbing at keypads aspired to greatness. Of course, that’s not so easy with that industry’s currently complicated financial picture.
In David Remnick’s excellent New Yorker post-mortem of his late Washington Post boss, he shares that Jason Robard’s big-screen depiction of Bradlee was more restrained than the reality: “Younger people watching the actor Jason Robards’s portrayal of Bradlee in All the President’s Men can be forgiven for thinking it is a broad caricature, an exaggeration of his cement-mixer voice, his cocky ebullience, his ferocious instinct for a political story, and his astonishing support for his reporters. In fact, Robards underplayed Bradlee.”
Bradlee’s reaction to the film’s D.C. premiere, recorded in an April 19, 1976 People article, was far less revealing. An excerpt about Bradlee and his “chum” Sally Quinn:
“Jason Robards’ portrayal of Washington Post executive editor Ben Bradlee drew raves from Sally Quinn, a Post reporter who is a close Bradlee chum. ‘Amazing,’ she gushed. ‘Robards only met him twice, but he had his mannerisms down to a T.’ Bradlee himself would say only: ‘It was an interesting film.’ (The Post reviewer was less kind—he called the movie ‘absorbing,’ but carped at its lack of drama.)
Washington Post publisher Katherine Graham, who declined to be portrayed in the movie, said she wanted to play down the paper’s role. ‘We just kept the story alive,’ she said, ‘until the process took over and worked.’ Then, asked whether the film would lure hordes of young people into investigative reporting, she gulped, ‘God, I hope not.'”
The Ebola “crisis” in America is an example of more than one bias at play. It’s Availability Bias, with so much media focus on an illness that has killed exactly zero American citizens on U.S. soil, when the flu season will likely claim hundreds as it did last year. It’s also Confirmation Bias, with those opposed to President Obama angling to position this domestic “plague” as a lack of leadership on his part. The more important news of the success of the Affordable Care Act, which raises the threshold for plague in this country, is lost in the hollering.
Ebola and ISIS beheadings and other modern challenges deserve attention, to be sure, but there is a more-hopeful parallel narrative we often ignore. From a New Statesmen article by Matthew Barzun, the U.S. Ambassador to Great Britain:
“We live in challenging, complex, even confusing times. Our world is in constant flux. Charles Dickens’s description of the French Revolution seems just as appropriate today: it is the worst of times. Indeed, it may be even more true now, as the changes are global, rather than confined to one or two countries. Newspaper headlines suggest as much. They are littered with demoralising words such as ‘beheadings,’ ‘aggression,’ ‘hatred’ and ‘fever.’ Of course, ISIL is engaged in barbarity in the Middle East that is reminiscent of some of the most grotesque of the 20th century, while the ebola virus poses a global public health threat on a scale as large as anything we’ve seen in recent decades.
At the same time, the number of refugees and internally displaced people presents a great humanitarian challenge. And human rights violations abound in many parts of the world. But here is an equally valid and, I concede, sweeping narrative that suggests this is also the best of times.
It is a time of levelling. The world has reduced extreme poverty by half since 1990. Global primary education for boys and girls is now equal.
It is a time of enduring. The number of deaths among children under five has been cut in half since 1990, meaning about 17,000 fewer children die each day. And mothers are surviving at a nearly equal rate.
It is a time of flourishing. Deaths from malaria dropped by 42 per cent between 2000 and 2012. HIV infections are declining in most regions.
It is a time of strengthening. Africa is above the poverty line for the first time. Tens of millions have been lifted out of poverty in China. The debt burden on developing countries has dropped 75 per cent since 2000.
It is a time of healing. The ozone layer is showing signs of recovery thanks to global action. And all the while, the technological and communications revolution is making more people better informed than at any time in history.
So why are we intent on fixing our lens on the chaotic?”
Famed attorney Clarence Darrow was an extremist when it came to criminality, believing in circumstance but not culpability. He saw criminals the way the writer of a naturalist novel views characters, as prisoners of nature and nurture, incapable of circumventing either. Based on the remarks he made as reported in an article in the April 4, 1931 Brooklyn Daily Eagle, Darrow would have treated all misdeeds as maladies, the perpetrators receiving treatment in hospitals rather than stretches in prison.
Tags: Clarence Darrow
In his TED Talk, “New Thoughts on Capital in the Twenty-First Century,” Thomas Piketty has good and bad news. The good: Wealth inequality, although severe now, is not as deep as a century ago. The bad: The shrunken wealth gap post-World War II was an outlier, not a norm that will reestablish itself for any long period under the present system.
Tags: Thomas Piketty
Via Google driverless-car consultant Brad Templeton, a report about Singapore’s limited test run of autonomous public transport:
“In late August, I visited Singapore to give an address at a special conference announcing a government sponsored collaboration involving their Ministry of Transport, the Land Transport Authority and A-STAR, the government funded national R&D centre. I got a chance to meet the minister and sit down with officials and talk about their plans, and 6 months earlier I got the chance to visit A-Star and also the car project at the National University of Singapore. At the conference, there were demos of vehicles, including one from Singapore Technologies, which primarily does military contracting.
Things are moving fast there, and this week, the NUS team announced they will be doing a live public demo of their autonomous golf carts and they have made much progress. They will be running the carts over a course with 10 stops in the Singapore Chinese and Japanese Gardens. The public will be able to book rides online, and then come and summon and direct the vehicles with their phones. The vehicles will have a touch tablet where the steering wheel will go. Rides will be free. Earlier, they demonstrated not just detecting pedestrians but driving around them (if they stay still) but I don’t know if this project includes that.
This is not the first such public demo – the CityMobil2 demonstration in Sardinia ran in August, on a stretch of beachfront road blocked to cars but open to bicycles, service vehicles and pedestrians. This project slowed itself to unacceptably slow speeds and offered a linear route.
The Singapore project will also mix with pedestrians, but the area is closed to cars and bicycles. There will be two safety officers on bicycles riding behind the golf carts, able to shut them down if any problem presents, and speed will also be limited.”
Tags: Brad Templeton
Uber could use all the good publicity it can get right now, its business plan a threat to licensed drivers, its surge pricing unpopular and its own operators prone to screaming headlines for any misdeeds. Even Libertarian Peter Thiel thinks the company may be flouting regulations too much, careering onto a self-destructive Napster path. Perhaps on-demand flu shots, which Uber tried for a day in several U.S. cities, can help. From Dan Diamond at Forbes:
“Uber’s latest one-day promotion kicked off on Thursday: UberHEALTH, the company’s first concerted effort to move into health care delivery.
The company announced that Uber users in Boston, New York City, or Washington, D.C., could order a free flu shot between the hours of 10 a.m. and 3 p.m.
And Flüber’s terms sounded appealing.
‘We’re leveraging the reliability and efficiency of the Uber platform and launching a one-day pilot program — UberHEALTH — in select cities today,’ an Uber blog post reads. ‘Together with our partner Vaccine Finder we will bring flu prevention packs and shots directly to you – at the single touch of a button.’
To be clear, Uber drivers weren’t administering the shots; they’d transport registered nurses to a user’s location, and the nurses could give up to 10 flu shots.”
Tags: Dan Diamond
A fun thing to speculate on which will never happen is Florida, that strange entity, splitting into two distinct states à la the Dakotas, with the politically disparate Texas-ish north and New York-esque South going their separate ways, at least metaphorically. From Allie Conti in Vice:
“Florida is like a parfait. The bottom layer is made up of Miami, gays, and rich people; the middle is basically Disney World, stucco palaces, and suburban sprawl; and the top is more or less South Georgia run-off. In the mind of the average citizen, the state is essentially three different places with distinct cultures—or lack thereof. But what would happen if a man with a vision decided he wanted to make the idea of multiple Floridas a reality?
On October 7, the city of South Miami’s vice mayor proposed just that. His resolution, which passed 3-2, suggests that the new state of South Florida would start from Orlando and go all the way to the Keys. And although the city of North Lauderdale passed a similar resolution in 2008, that version was largely symbolic. This one, according to its author, Walter Harris, is deadly serious. But Harris’s determination doesn’t make the split any more plausible, and the likelihood of South Florida becoming the 51st state is slim, to say the least. As the Sun Sentinel notes, ‘In order for secession to be enacted… the measure would require electorate approval from the entire state and Congressional approval.’
Nevertheless, one can’t blame Harris—or anyone, for that matter—for at least trying to secede from Florida. And his issues with his northern neighbors are valid. One of the main themes in the resolution is that, despite generating 69% of the state’s revenue, southern Florida doesn’t feel the government in Tallahassee is doing enough to address the unique problems that climate change pose to them. ‘South Florida’s situation is very precarious,’ the resolution reads, ‘and in need of immediate attention. Many of the issues facing south Florida are not political, but are now significant safety issues.’ One of those issues, of course, is the sea-level change that some say will soon cause places like Miami to sink into the ocean.”
My definition of a genius is someone who can creatively make connections among disparate things in a way that others can’t, piecing together a new reality, a new “language,” in art or physics or anything. They see it.
In a Nautilus blog post, Claire Cameron asked for a description of such a person from five members of Mensa, an organization that measures IQ, which is a different thing. The responses:
Can you define ‘genius’ for me, or describe what a genius is?
Richard Hunter (retired finance director): An exceptional ability perhaps? That would satisfy if you were a member of Mensa—you know you have an exceptional ability in IQ if you get in to it. It is one type of genius, but genius takes many forms. An example would be Dave Johnson. He was a famous decathlete in the 80s and 90s. He was clearly a genius athlete: He ran, he could throw javelin, he could do all these things, and he won the Olympic gold decathlon. That must be genius in the sporting field. I am nothing like Dave Johnson—it is far more complicated than one thing or another.
Bikram Rana (director at a business consulting firm): It’s something that you see and you know it when you see it. I think a modern-day genius would be someone like Steve Jobs. It’s someone who has captured the imagination, done something groundbreaking.
Jack Williams (journalist): Oh god. I have no idea. I actually couldn’t. It comes in different forms. I don’t think being a Mensan makes you a genius, as I prove on a weekly basis on a Saturday night. I think there is a creative, innovative element there as well. Genius pushes the boundaries.
John Sheehan (clinical hypnotist): I don’t think you can say there is a ‘typical’ genius. There isn’t a typicalness to it, bar that one exception: Great intellectual ability. Genius has gone from ‘having a [kind of] genius’ to ‘being’ one. I think the word genius now comes from the popular press, it’s easy to say, it’s got a cachet to it. It’s easy, but among the people whose careers are invested in giftedness, high intelligence, then the word ‘genius’ is not often used. It is something I was born with, and that I have had all my life. I don’t think about it until someone asks me, because it is all I know. I think about this a lot though.
LaRae Bakerink (business consultant): It is what you do with your life that defines whether you are a genius. A genius is someone who can create something new.”
From the August 24, 1912 Brooklyn Daily Eagle:
“Denver, Col. — If the strange request of William J. Abrams, a blind man of Denver, is granted, he hopes to see through the eyes of Lewis J. Weichter, condemned to be hanged at Canon City next week for murder. Abrams asks that after the execution the eyes of the condemned man be grafted upon his own.
If the request is granted, surgeons will be in the death chamber when the trap is sprung. Immediately after Weichter has been officially pronounced dead, his eyes will be removed and placed in a saline solution, after which the surgeons will hurry to a hospital nearby where the corneas from Weichter’s eyes will be grafted into the sightless eyes of Abrams.”
A multi-planet humanity is a hedge against an Earth catastrophe eradicating our species, sure, but there are financial considerations as well to interstellar development. From Tim Fernholz’s new Atlantic article about Elon Musk’s SpaceX:
“With 33 commercial launches on its manifest in the next four years, a plan to launch manned missions by 2017, and subsidies from Texas to build its own spaceport there after several years of leasing government facilities, SpaceX is now a serious competitor in the launch industry. That’s a validation for NASA’s public-private partnership, which was focused on developing a business, not a product.
But the question for Musk and his investors now is whether he can be more than just a better rocket builder. They want to unlock something far more challenging: A space economy where humans can vastly increase their productivity in the vacuum around our tiny world and beyond, even if nobody is quite sure how yet. Nolan of Founders Fund compares this hopeful uncertainty to the founding of the internet. ‘It wasn’t clear exactly what kind of business can come out of exchanging information really rapidly,’ he says.
For example, if it weren’t so pricey, investors could imagine putting up hundreds of new satellites in lower orbits than existing ones, making their communications and imaging far more powerful. Because of the high launch costs, current satellites aren’t upgraded frequently and are stationed relatively far from earth so that they can last longer—the closer a satellite flies to earth, the faster its orbit decays, leading to its eventual demise. As a result, the electronics in them are relatively old technology.
Cheap enough launches could also enable terrestrial flights that hop up over the atmosphere, turning a day-long flight around the world into a matter of hours. Space tourism is often cited as a possible source of revenue, as is commercial research, even asteroid mining, but making any of those sustainable will mean—you guessed it—far lower costs, as NASA has found in its failure to drum up much commercial research at the ISS.
Can the $6 million launch—or even cheaper—replace the $60 million launch?”
Understanding today or tomorrow is an almost impossible task, the present being anything but a sitting duck and the future a black swan. Even those who have a better-than-average idea of where things stand and where they’re heading can misread the details, all but neutralizing their knowledge. From “Nothing You Think Matters Today Will Matter the Same Way Tomorrow,” Frank Rich’s New York magazine look at the last 50 years of American history and what it tells us about prognostication:
“It was a time when many in my boomer generation fell in love with the idea that change was something you could believe in—a particularly liberal notion that has taken hold in other generations, too, whether in the age of Roosevelt or Obama. Even as we recognize that the calendar makes for a crude and arbitrary marker, we like to think that history visibly marches on, on a schedule we can codify.
The more I dove back into the weeds of 1964, the more I realized that this is both wishful thinking and an optical illusion. I came away with a new appreciation of how selective our collective memory is, and of just how glacially history moves, despite the can-do optimism of a modern America besotted with the pursuit of instant gratification. Asked at the time of the 1964 World’s Fair to anticipate 2014, Isaac Asimov got some things right (miniaturized computers, online education, flat-screen television, and what we now know as Skype), but many of his utopian predictions were delusional. His wrong calls included not just his interplanetary fantasies but his vision of underground suburbs that would protect mankind from war, rampaging weather, and the tyranny of the automobile. Asimov also thought birth control would find international acceptance. It was no doubt beyond even his imagination that a half-century hence American lawmakers would introduce ‘personhood’ amendments attempting to all but outlaw contraception.
The screenwriter William Goldman famously summed up Hollywood in three words: ‘Nobody knows anything.’ Would that this aphorism were applicable, as he intended, solely to the make-believe of show business. It often seems that nobody knew anything about anything in 1964. Most everyone was certain that the big political developments of the time, epitomized by LBJ’s victories for civil rights and against Goldwater, would be transformational. Many of the same seers saw the year’s cultural upheavals, starting with the Beatles, as ephemera. More often than not, the reverse has turned out to be true. Are we so much smarter in 2014?”
Tags: Frank Rich
In a Slate piece, Lee Gomes wonders whether the Google driverless car will ever be a reality, one impediment being the need for real-time maps able to read constantly shifting infrastructure on a national level. His comparison of the search-giant’s autonomous-vehicle plans to the Apple Newton seems a self-defeating argument, however, since all the elements of that ill-fated invention were realized soon thereafter in other tools. The opening:
“A good technology demonstration so wows you with what the product can do that you might forget to ask about what it can’t. Case in point: Google’s self-driving car. There is a surprisingly long list of the things the car can’t do, like avoid potholes or operate in heavy rain or snow. Yet a consensus has emerged among many technologists, policymakers, and journalists that Google has essentially solved—or is on the verge of solving—all of the major issues involved with robotic driving. The Economist believes that ‘the technology seems likely to be ready before all the questions of regulation and liability have been sorted out.’ The New York Times declared that ‘autonomous vehicles like the one Google is building will be able to pack roads more efficiently’—up to eight times so. Google co-founder Sergey Brin forecast in 2012 that self-driving cars would be ready in five years, and in May, said he still hoped that his original prediction would come true.
But what Google is working on may instead result in the automotive equivalent of the Apple Newton, what one Web commenter called a ‘timid, skittish robot car whose inferior level of intelligence becomes a daily annoyance.’ To be able to handle the everyday stresses and strains of the real driving world, the Google car will require a computer with a level of intelligence that machines won’t have for many years, if ever.”
Tags: Lee Gomes
Nelson Bunker Hunt, who sprang from the right-wing nut H.L. Hunt, lived a life as large as Texas. He was born with a silver spoon his mouth and nearly lost everything trying to corner the silver market. Hunt would have been considered just another eccentric oilman if it wasn’t for the anti-Semitism, his boner for the John Birch Society and other unsavory politics. From his lively New York Times obituary by Robert D. McFadden:
“Bunker Hunt was a jovial 275-pound eccentric who looked a bit like the actor Burl Ives. In the 1960s and ’70s, he was one of the world’s richest men, worth up to $16 billion by some estimates. With his five siblings, heirs of the oil billionaire H. L. Hunt, who sired 15 children by three women and died in 1974, he controlled a staggering family fortune whose value was not publicly reported.
In his heyday, Bunker Hunt owned five million acres of grazing land in Australia, 1,000 thoroughbreds on farms from Ireland to New Zealand, eight million acres of oil fields in Libya, offshore wells in the Philippines and Mexico, and an empire of skyscrapers, cattle ranches, mining interests and other holdings. Home was a French provincial mansion in a Dallas suburb and his 2,000-acre Circle T Ranch 30 miles out of town.
Often likened to Jett Rink, the antihero of Edna Ferber’s Giant, or the scheming J. R. Ewing of the long-running CBS television drama Dallas, he was a nonsmoking teetotaler who cultivated a devil-may-care Texas mystique by inhabiting cheap suits, a battered seven-year-old Cadillac, economy-class airline seats, burger and chili joints, and dusty barnyards in the raucous company of ranch hands.
He was an evangelical Christian close to the Rev. Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson and supported right-wing politicians and causes, including the John Birch Society. He loathed the federal government, warned of international communist conspiracies, spouted anti-Semitic sentiments, did business with the Saudi royal family and bankrolled expeditions to salvage the Titanic and to find Noah’s Ark.”
Please! Get this haunted doll out of my home!! – $50
I have a handmade doll made in 1988. It is the only one ever made. Since it came into my home I have had nothing but nightmares and hear strange noises more often…it’s really freaking me out!! Its blank stare always glancing at me while I try to fall asleep has left me with sleepless nights. I’m putting her in a box and locking her in my closet until someone wants to take this creepy girl off my hands!! Please help!
By the time he filed his final patent in 1928, an “Apparatus for aerial transportation,” the 72-year-old inventor Nikola Tesla was a punchline at best and a forgotten man at worst, and he would remain so for the final 15 years of his life, until he died alone and without money in the New Yorker Hotel. His swan song was a small plane which purportedly could rise from an open window like a helicopter and transport two people cheaply and efficiently to their destination. It would revolutionize travel. Alas, unlike a swan, it wouldn’t have been able to fly even if it had been built, which it wasn’t. An article in the February 23, 1928 Brooklyn Daily Eagle reported on the dubious machine.
Tags: Nikola Tesla
An algorithmic miscue worthy of 1999, this book suggestion was on my Amazon home page yesterday. Fucking Bezos.
Prepper’s Pantry: The Survival Guide To Emergency Water & Food Storage
by Ron Johnson (October 6, 2014)
Kindle Price: $2.99
In the event of an emergency having an adequate supply of food could mean the difference between life and death!
Are you prepared for any disaster that is about to happen? Do you already have emergency supplies? Is it enough to sustain you and your family’s life for an extended period, when help from others would be close to impossible? Have you discussed and implemented the emergency plans with your family?
Because you purchased…
Roughing It [Kindle Edition]
Mark Twain (Author)
The Wild West as Mark Twain lived it
In 1861, Mark Twain joined his older brother Orion, the newly appointed secretary of the Nevada Territory, on a stagecoach journey from Missouri to Carson City, Nevada. Planning to be gone for three months, Twain spent the next “six or seven years” exploring the great American frontier, from the monumental vistas of the Rocky Mountains to the lush landscapes of Hawaii. Along the way, he made and lost a theoretical fortune, danced like a kangaroo in the finest hotels of San Francisco, and came to terms with freezing to death in a snow bank—only to discover, in the light of morning, that he was fifteen steps from a comfortable inn.
As a record of the “variegated vagabondizing” that characterized his early years—before he became a national treasure—Roughing It is an indispensable chapter in the biography of Mark Twain. It is also, a century and a half after it was first published, both a fascinating history of the American West and a laugh-out-loud good time.
“The book is the tale of a great white shark which cruises Long Island’s South Shore, gobbling up unwary swimmers, while a resort town’s police chief, civic leaders and citizens battle angrily over which is more important—the safety of the residents or the tourist-based economy of the swank community in its high season.
Jaws grew out of young Benchley’s fascination with sharks, triggered by family swordfishing expeditions off Nantucket. ‘We couldn’t find any swordfish,” he recalled recently, “but the ocean was littered with sharks, so we started catching them.’
As Benchley became a successful journalist—reporter on the Washington Post, free-lancer for such magazines as Life and The New Yorker, an editor of Newsweek—his shark-watching continued. In the 1960s he capitalized
on his interest with two magazine articles, not long after a 4,500-pound great white shark was taken off Long Island’s Montauk Point. A few years later he was assigned to do a piece about Southampton—Long Island’s tony watering place. Benchley remembers thinking, ‘My God, if that kind of thing can happen around the beaches of Long Island, and I know Southampton, why not put the two together.’
The star attraction of Benchley’s book is the marauding monster whose savage attacks Benchley describes with horrifying clarity. On the fate of a child snatched from a raft, he writes: ‘Nearly half the fish had come clear of the water, and it slid forward and down in a belly-flopping motion, grinding the mass of flesh and bone and rubber. The boy’s legs were severed at the hips, and they sank, spinning slowly, to the bottom.'”
“I wrote a novel about a great white shark”:
Technology Review has published “On Creativity,” a 1959 essay by Isaac Asimov that has never previously run anywhere. The opening:
“How do people get new ideas?
Presumably, the process of creativity, whatever it is, is essentially the same in all its branches and varieties, so that the evolution of a new art form, a new gadget, a new scientific principle, all involve common factors. We are most interested in the ‘creation’ of a new scientific principle or a new application of an old one, but we can be general here.
One way of investigating the problem is to consider the great ideas of the past and see just how they were generated. Unfortunately, the method of generation is never clear even to the ‘generators’ themselves.
But what if the same earth-shaking idea occurred to two men, simultaneously and independently? Perhaps, the common factors involved would be illuminating. Consider the theory of evolution by natural selection, independently created by Charles Darwin and Alfred Wallace.
There is a great deal in common there. Both traveled to far places, observing strange species of plants and animals and the manner in which they varied from place to place. Both were keenly interested in finding an explanation for this, and both failed until each happened to read Malthus’s ‘Essay on Population.’
Both then saw how the notion of overpopulation and weeding out (which Malthus had applied to human beings) would fit into the doctrine of evolution by natural selection (if applied to species generally).
Obviously, then, what is needed is not only people with a good background in a particular field, but also people capable of making a connection between item 1 and item 2 which might not ordinarily seem connected.
Undoubtedly in the first half of the 19th century, a great many naturalists had studied the manner in which species were differentiated among themselves. A great many people had read Malthus. Perhaps some both studied species and read Malthus. But what you needed was someone who studied species, read Malthus, and had the ability to make a cross-connection.
That is the crucial point that is the rare characteristic that must be found.”
Tags: Isaac Asimov
Kate Greene, who wrote an Aeon essay about living on “Mars” in a Hawaiian simulation, has a brief piece in Wired about the domed habitat designed to keep the participants sane during the next 50th state “space mission.” The opening:
“I’d always wanted to visit Mars. Instead I got Hawaii. There, about 8,200 feet above sea level on Mauna Loa, sits a geodesically domed habitat for testing crew psychology and technologies for boldly going. I did a four-month tour at the NASA-funded HI-SEAS—that’s Hawaii Space Exploration Analog and Simulation—in 2013, and a new 8-month mission is scheduled to start in October. It’s a long time to be cooped up, ‘so the psychological impacts are extremely important,’ habitat designer Vincent Paul Ponthieux says. The key to keeping everybody sane? A sense of airiness. Yep—even on Mars, you’re going to need more space.”