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From the August 17, 1926 Brooklyn Daily Eagle:

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The Opening Ceremony at the 1896 Athens Olympics.

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Today is the anniversary of the opening ceremony of the first modern Olympiad, the Athens Summer Games of 1896. While Greece would not host the event again for 108 years, this iteration was paramount for establishing a grandeur, truly globalizing the Games and instituting the Marathon as a major event. Photos above show Panathenaic Stadium, as well as competitors in field events, and unheralded Greek water-carrier Spyridon Louis, who won the Marathon. The particulars of latter event had a surprisingly academic source in French proto-semanticist Michel Bréal, who based its course on the legendary trek run by messenger Phidippides after the Battle of Marathon. Sadly, no women were allowed to participate due to the chauvinism of IOC founder Pierre de Coubertin, but one female still made a mark.

The Olympics sparked interest among American athletes in what had been largely unfamiliar activities, and later that year a collection of U.S. competitors convened in New York City to prepare for future Games. The chariot race was probably not necessary. From a report published in the September 6, 1896 Brooklyn Daily Eagle.

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From the December 28, 1921 New York Times:

Pittsburgh, Pa.–The nimble Pirates, minus the tendency to crack in the heat of a National League pennant chase, and a Pitt football team that will display more agility than any trick movie star, are promised for 1922 by A. Lincoln Bowden, a Pittsburgh oil man, who has volunteered to supply both aggregations with dried monkey meat during the coming year. Glands will be included in the menu, according to the Pittsburgher, who has offered his services in the spirit of a devoted gridiron and diamond fan and says he wants Pittsburgh athletes to beat the world.

Mr. Bowden is about to depart for South America to lay in a supply of monkeys of a superior class, which he has frequently observed in Ecuador. The invigorating element of monkey meat and glands, he asserted, will give indomitable power and unlimited aggressiveness to the baseball and football men.

In proof of his assertions, he points to the case of of a Pittsburgher who was in Ecuador with him two months ago. In this case, Mr. Bowden said, although the patient was quite bald, a diet of monkey meat caused new hair to grow on his head, while all pains and aches left him and neither the heat of the jungle nor the cold of high mountain plateaus affected him in the slightest degree.•

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Speaking of Joseph Engelberger, here’s the opening of a 1982 NYT article by Barnaby J. Feder and a video about the recently deceased roboticist’s development of the machine caretaker, ISAAC, which was meant to help astronauts and disabled people alike in completing tasks. It could roll, lift, cook and talk a little. It was a first-phase project done in conjunction with NASA and at the time promised that “when a more svelte Mark II goes into production, it will serve everyday around the clock at a cost of approximately $1.00 per hour.” That was supposed to occur in the 1990s, though the target date was too aggressive.

From Feder:

DANBURY, Conn. — FOUR decades ago, science fiction writer Isaac Asimov’s robot stories caught the imagination of a Columbia University physics student named Joseph F. Engelberger. Sometime in 1985, a robot named in Mr. Asimov’s honor is likely to be serving coffee to Mr. Engelberger and other directors of the nation’s first and largest industrial robot manufacturer.

Now a prototype in the company’s research laboratory, Isaac the Robot is being designed to do more than traverse the board room serving coffee. Mr. Engelberger also wants Isaac to provide snacks prepared in the adjoining kitchen’s microwave oven and wash dishes.

Mr. Engelberger’s company, Unimation Inc., has no plans to market Isaac, or similar robots, but Isaac is more than just a whimsical tribute to Mr. Asimov. Mr. Engelberger envisions Isaac – a mobile, improved version of the programmable manipulator, or PUMA robot, the company already sells – as the forerunner of a new generation of domestic and commercial service robots that Unimation and other robotics companies will begin selling during the 1990’s.

The right to be an out-of-the-closet visionary is one of the relished and hard-won benefits that the 56-year-old Mr. Engelberger has earned for his pivotal role in bringing the robot industry to life, both in the United States and abroad.

Actually, it was George C. Devol, not Mr. Engelberger, who developed and patented the basic technology on which the industry is founded. But since meeting Mr. Devol in 1956, Mr. Engelberger has preached the gospel that ”smart” machines were the key to getting people out of dangerous or tedious production jobs and a key to improving productivity. And his company, a subsidiary of the Condec Corporation of Old Greenwich, Conn., turned out the first robots that industry was willing to buy.

As a result, no robotics gathering today would be considered complete without the presence of the crew-cut, bow-tied Mr. Engelberger and his blunt observations about competitors, customers and robots themselves. ”He is as important to the industry as he is to the company, in some respects more so,” said Laura Conigliaro, the Bache Halsey Stuart Shields analyst who is Wall Street’s best known robotics expert. ”He is a spokesman and a showman, and he is good at it.”

”He was the one that listened,” said Mr. Devol, who now runs a robot leasing and consulting business from his home in Fort Ladderdale, Fla. Mr. Devol recalls numerous efforts to interest established companies in his work, including some, such as I.B.M., that have recently entered the now rapidly growing robotics field.

”George Devol was unable to restrain himself from spilling the whole dream out, which scared most businessmen off,” said Mr. Engelberger during an interview last week at Unimation’s headquarters. ”I kept myself from talking about some of the things that have happened, which he envisioned.”

The ”whole dream” is emerging now that robots have achieved acceptance in an increasing variety of industrial tasks – from materials handling to painting and welding – and are rapidly being improved to the point that more difficult jobs, such as assembly, will be economically feasible. More important, as computer-machine tool hybrids capable of being reprogrammed to adapt to changing conditions, they have been recognized as a key building block in the flexible, highly automated factory of the future.

It took American industry a long time to catch on.•

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“ISSAC, Will You Please Help Me Up?”

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Dr Tanner, as he appeared in the Second Week of his attempted Fast of Forty Days

Hunger artists of more than a century ago, immortalized by Franz Kafka, were athletes and businessmen, not saints. They starved themselves before the public for a sum. Fasting girls almost always had religious underpinnings, but their male counterparts made no bones about making money. Giovanni Succi was likely Kafka’s direct inspiration, but Dr. Henry S. Tanner’s purported forty-day fast in NYC in 1880 may have been singular in the attention it received. A report on the end of the event was published in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle.

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garagiolaplayerjohn.lennon.paul.mccartney.tonight.show.2.1968Joe_Garagiola-Gerald_FordThe former baseball catcher Joe Garagiola, who sadly just died, was thought of as very American and very nice during a flush time in our country when that was more than enough for a minor celebrity to enjoy a long, well-compensated career.

His unspectacular MLB stint concluded in 1954, and the final statistics were not kind, though he enjoyed a remarkably successful second act as a talking head on TV, a business less built in those years on gaudy numbers than on enduring relationships with corporate suits and sponsors. Garagiola was clearly more steady than spectacular behind a microphone, merely showing up and not annoying anyone, unless you were peeved by amiable mediocrity. At any rate, he seemed like a solid guy. Across the years he announced pro wrestling and baseball, hosted game shows, kept the seat warm for Johnny Carson and pitched all manner of products, including President Gerald Ford, another pleasant and middling Midwestern fellow, whom he fervently supported in his failed 1976 bid to retain the White House. Below are three videos from Garagiola’s TV work.

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In 1975, Garagiola hosted a remarkably stupid and wonderful bubble-gum blowing competition among baseball players, which was sponsored by Bazooka, a brand of gum favored by hobos during World War II. They should have used the “specially built calipers” to measure Philadelphia catcher Tim McCarver’s head, which was the size of a medicine ball.

Watch Sally Field wince as she’s introduced as the “Flying Nun” on a 1971 game show hosted by Garagiola.

John Lennon later described his 1968 appearance with Paul McCartney on a Tonight Show episode substitute hosted by Garagiola (along with the reliably loopy Tallulah Bankhead) as the “most embarrassing thing I’ve ever been on,” which is saying something, because he’d been on Yoko Ono. (The archival video is pretty much ruined, so it’s just the audio I’ve embedded.)

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In the days before telegraph and Morse code let alone radio, TV and the Internet, reports about events that occurred in Europe wouldn’t reach America for several days. A newspaper in New York came up with a novel (and highly irresponsible) way to bridge the information gap: pay a clairvoyant tell them what happened. A story in the April 19, 1860 Brooklyn Daily Eagle recalls the peculiar stunt which unsurprisingly delivered inaccurate information about one of history’s most pivotal bouts.

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When the world was slower, much slower, a quick gait could produce a huge gate.

Such was the case with pedestrianism, a pre-automobile sensation in which competitors would race-walk cross-country or do ceaseless laps around an arena track as bleary-eyed spectators were mesmerized by the oft-lengthy exhibitions of slow-twitch muscle fiber.

An excerpt from a report in the March 4, 1882 Brooklyn Daily Eagle about one such six-day contest, a blend of footrace and dance marathon, before a large Madison Square Garden audience that alternately yelled and yawned:

Popular interest in the race of the champions touched its highest point to-day. The opening of the last day of the walk was witnessed by over two thousand spectators. Fully one-half of these had lingered in Madison Square Garden all night. Drowsy and unkempt, with grimy faces and dusty apparel, they shivered behind their upturned coat collars, determined to see the battle out. The management’s order of ‘no return checks’ had far more unpleasant significance for them than hours of discomfort in the barnlike building. The permanent lodger in a six days’ match usually makes his bed upon a coal box, in a grocery wagon or beneath the roof of the police lodging room. Accordingly, it is his habit to come to the garden at the beginning of a race and remain for a full week, or until he is removed by the employees to make way for some more profitable customers. This contest had its full share of these persistent individuals. Beside them, many sporting men remained until almost daybreak, attracted by the enormous scores rolled up by the pedestrians and speculations as to what they would do in the way of the beating of the record. It was conceded that Hazael and Fitzgerald would surpass all previous performances. Hazael’s wonderful work was generally regarded as the marvel of the match.

When Hazael, the Londoner of astonishing prowess, retired from the track at 11:37 last night, he had rolled up the enormous record of 540 miles in 120 hours. To his enthusiastic handlers in walker’s row he complained of feeling tired and sleepy. His limbs were sound and apparently tireless as steel. He partook heartily of nourishment and then, throwing himself on his couch, caught a few cat naps. At 1:49:20 he bounded out of his flower covered alcove, and once more took up the thread of his travels. His rest of two hours and twelve minutes had greatly improved him. He had been sponged and rubbed, and grinned all over his quaint face at his enormous score. That he was yet full of vigor and energy was apparent from the work he immediately entered upon. He had not walked more than half a lap when he gave a preliminary wobble. Then he clasped his hands over his ears, pulled his head down until his slender neck was well craned, and shot over the yellow pathway at a rattling pace. The sleepy watcher pricked up their ears at the shout which greeted this performance, and a fusillade of handclapping shook the garden. Fitzgerald was jogging over the tanbark at this time, sharply working to draw nearer to the Englishman’s figures on the scoring sheets. He accelerated his speed as the Londoner resumed the task before him. Within a few minutes both men were running like reindeer. It is doubtful they could have made better time if a pack of famished wolves had been at their heels. Volley after volley of applause thundered after them from the spectators. The runners kept close together. Between the hours of 2 and 8 o’clock this morning, so swift was their movements, that each man had added six miles and seven laps to his score or within one lap of seven miles. The struggle became so intense that the spectators began to realize that something unusual was in progress. A stir was apparent all over the vast interior and wearied humanity pushed itself to the rail to see what was going on.•

From the January 12, 1869 Brooklyn Daily Eagle:

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Hung, quite appropriately, like a horse, American Pharoah, the 2015 Triple Crown winner, is now an expensive trick.

The animal has been retired to a life of studding, earning his owners a cool 200K a pop to impregnate mares. Very interested parties pray he’ll sire the next generation of racers to make a home of the winner’s circle, not a sure thing for even a great champion, genetics still being an inscrutable thing. It’s a sensitive business to coerce the mating process at a specified time between two gigantic beasts, no matter how willing they are, and a stumble could mean a broken leg or some similar disaster. With so much money at stake–both the current payoff and potential ones in the future–steps must be taken to ensure success.

In a Businessweek piece, Monte Reel goes behind the scenes to learn how the delicate balance is struck. The opening:

The verb to use in polite company is “cover.” The stud covers the mare. Or: About 11 months after she was covered, the mare gave birth to a healthy foal.

The deed itself, here in the hills of Kentucky horse country, is governed by strict rules. Section V, paragraph D of The American Stud Book Principal Rules and Requirements is clear: “Any foal resulting from or produced by the processes of Artificial Insemination, Embryo Transfer or Transplant, Cloning or any other form of genetic manipulation not herein specified, shall not be eligible for registration.” No shortcuts, no gimmicks. All thoroughbreds must be the product of live, all-natural, horse-on-horse action.

Herein lurks tension and peril. When one 1,300-pound animal climbs on top of another, both sacrifice their natural sure-footedness for about 20 seconds of knee-buckling magic. Necks can be bitten, causing legs to kick and prompting centers of gravity to shift. An unlucky fall could break a delicate foreleg—a potentially fatal injury for a thoroughbred.

“Things can go wrong,” says Richard Barry, the stallion manager at Ashford Stud, a 2,200-acre farm in Versailles, Ky. “Before any stallion is led into the breeding shed, there’s an awful lot of preparation that has gone on behind the scenes. An awful lot.”

Barry will soon choreograph the most hotly anticipated covering in recent history: American Pharoah’s first coupling with a mare.•

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With all due respect to the Palins and Kardashians, the NFL is America’s main dysfunctional family.

Roger Goodell, currently playing the role of the forlorn father, is the gently lined head sitting atop the league’s monstrously jacked but battered body. With his corporate handsomeness, Goodell seems like any ostensibly decent man in command of something indecent, charged with the burden of making an unconscionable thing look acceptable. He always followed what he was taught was the right path in life, yet he finds himself in the wrong–and it’s too late to unlearn all the lessons. How complicated this world.

The multibillion-dollar league’s PR machine has tangled its limbs so tightly around God and nation and military and sheer Americanness that if you dare to utter the obvious–it’s a brutal, brain-wrecking game that no child should play–you somehow seem an enemy of the state. But the calls have still grown loud, and the commissioner’s response is slow, calculated and cloaked in coached language.

Boxing, once itself the undisputed champion of American athletics, was done in by similar circumstances, but it was a mere collection of banana republics run by dime-store despots. The NFL is American corporatocracy itself, lawyered up and too big to fail. Goodell is its governor of sorts, and the drinking water, he’s been told, is dirty, and can never be clean again. He offers his reassurances.

Mark Leibovich, a wonderful NYT political writer, drops in on another cartoonish party with serious consequences as he takes the measure of the embattled but immensely league, just prior to Super Bowl 50. Many of the power brokers he interviews are, unsurprisingly, caucasian, septuagenarian, politically conservative, driven by greed, desperate for attention and wildly successful. An excerpt:

During my three visits to the N.F.L.’s Park Avenue offices, I was always struck by the thick propaganda of the place. The N.F.L. Network plays at all times on big screens. Every corporate office celebrates itself, to some degree, but the N.F.L.’s is particularly overwhelming, as if it were the sanctum of a highly successful megachurch marrying ESPN and Scientology. I had the strange feeling, as I waited in the lobby, that I was being watched, if not filmed.

On my first visit, Greg Aiello, the N.F.L.’s longtime communications director, took me to the cafeteria, known as the Huddle. We passed photo murals celebrating the various Members in their moments of triumph. He brought me an iced tea, sat me down and told me good stuff about the commissioner, good things about the league, big and heady numbers. He handed me positive fact sheets and articles and then, unprompted, summed things up: ‘‘Roger wins.’’

On another visit to the Huddle, I met Tod Leiweke, the league’s chief operating officer, who was hired last summer. Leiweke, a former Seattle Seahawks president, has brushed-back white hair, a sunny and almost New Agey manner and a beakish nose that makes him somewhat resemble an actual sea hawk. He wore a beige sweater with the Shield embroidered across his chest. Leiweke got to know Goodell on a climb up Mount Rainier with other executives. Over lunch, he hurled mountain metaphors at me. ‘‘There are ­challenges to running the most successful league in the world,’’ he told me. ‘‘It’s like clouds on Rainier. Not everything’s perfect, but you fight through it.’’ He continued: ‘‘The league is trying to climb new mountains of its own.’’

He described Goodell as ‘‘convicted,’’ meaning, it seemed, having strong convictions. ‘‘Roger is hard-working, dedicated, convicted, tenacious,’’ he said. ‘‘He is an amazing, convicted guy.’’ He closed on message. ‘‘And he’s a winner.’’

My impression of Goodell, before I met him, was not favorable.•

 

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Everyone marvels at the otherworldly ambition of the outré Arab state of Dubai, but nobody does anything about it. I’d like a full-length book about the emirate from Douglas Coupland or George Saunders, and I’d like it now. One decadent desert dream which may or may not come to fruition: an underwater tennis complex. It could cost $2.5 billion, but who’s counting? Castles carved into the sand by quasi-slave labor in the 21st century should be almost beyond reckoning yet it sadly doesn’t seem an anachronism. From Codelia Mantsebo at Elite Traveler:

After boasting of tennis court high up in the air built atop the 1,000-foot-tall Burj al Arab hotel, plans for the world’s first underwater tennis court in Dubai were revealed in April last year. Today, Kotala has revealed the project has eyed potential US investors to turn this project into a reality while he works on the final designs for the concept.

In April last year, Polish architect Krzysztof Kotala made global headlines when he unveiled initial designs of the Underwater Dubai Tennis Center. According to Kotala, plans for this venture are set to move a step closer to reality as he confirmed he was in talks with US investors. He also confirmed he is currently working on the final designs for the concept.•

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From the January 18, 1955 Brooklyn Daily Eagle.

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The rule changes spearheaded by President Teddy Roosevelt in 1905 to make football a safer game didn’t have the desired impact immediately, and in the long run seem to have done more harm than good. In fact, it’s essentially the gridiron version of the “Drunken Stagger.”

The game’s first existential crisis, with players regularly dying and incurring serious injuries, led to calls for its abolition. Roosevelt, a fan of the rough pastime among other macho endeavors that ran counter to his genteel upbringing, stepped in to reform the sport, imploring influential college officials to reduce brutality and institute the forward pass. No short-range benefit was observed, however, as deaths actually spiked by the end of the decade.

A combination of continued tweaking of rules and improved equipment did eventually make football largely free of fatality, ending the cries for its ban. That, of course, allowed for its continuance and enabled the quiet devastation of brain injuries, something only recently began receiving the necessary attention

An article in the November 21, 1909 New York Times addressed the carnage. An excerpt:

CHICAGO — Twenty-six killed, seventy seriously injured, and scores of others painfully hurt has been the cost of football to the United States thus far this year, according to figures collected by the Chicago Tribune. The list of the dead seems to be a decisive answer, the Chicago paper says, to the assertion of the football experts that the development of the open game would lead to the lessening of the perils of the gridiron.

The number of deaths is the highest it has been in years, and is almost double that of either of the two seasons recently passed. In 1907 there were only fourteen deaths, and in 1908 only thirteen.

It should be noted that The Tribune’s total includes a number of players hurt in games played during the past year or even earlier, who have died during the current twelvemonth. 

The facts also seem to disprove the claim of the game’s supporters that it is the games of untrained boys and the athletic clubs that cause the fatalities. Of this year’s dead the majority were college players, supposed to have been hardened and made fit for the contests on the gridiron by expert coaches and long preparation.

As a result of the numerous fatalities and the agitation which they have stirred up, several colleges have disbanded their teams, and many of the city High Schools in various parts of the country have been forced to give up the sport.

Virginia May Forbid the Game

The State of Virginia will probably be the one which will give the heaviest blow to football. Following the death of one of the State University players and the injury of several of her youths within the State, a bill will be introduced into the Legislature at the next session to forbid such contests in the future. It is expected that this bill will be passed. Already the City Council of Norfolk and Portsmouth have forbidden all the contests within the city limits.

The death which attracted the most attention throughout the country, and which revived to a large extent the movement for the suppression of football, was that of Cadet Byrne, a West Point cadet. Byrne was an upper classman, 22 years old, when he was fatally injured during the contest with Harvard University. His neck was broken during a mass play, and despite the fact that every attempt was made to save his life, he died soon after.•

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We know football is horrible for the game’s players, the head injuries traumatic and unavoidable regardless of the equipment. The question is whether this truth is an existential threat for the most popular team sport in America. It was for boxing, once not that long ago the king of the U.S. athletics. But prizefighting was an ever-changing hodge-podge of crooked promoters and money men, whereas the NFL is a unified–and crooked–billion-dollar corporation. Can it find some way to keep kids playing a game that will ruin them?

Two recent tragic examples underline the seriousness of the crisis: The physical and mental deterioration at 36 of former wide receiver Antwaan Randle-El and the troubling post-mortem of ex-Giant Tyler Sash. In the latter case, a study of brain tissue conducted after the fatal overdose of the increasingly erratic retired safety proved he suffered from CTE (Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy), a degenerative condition caused by repeated concussions and (most likely) sub-concussive impacts. 

CTE has thus far shown up in the tissue of many former football players who’ve died, but the rub is that there’s no way to test for it in the living. That may soon change, and if it does, it could be a game-changer for football and other contact sports. From Jack Encarnacao at the Boston Herald:

As it stands, an athlete has to be dead before he can be diagnosed with Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, the trauma-induced brain disease prominent in ex-football players. The disease manifests in a way that standard scans can’t detect, so there’s no way to advise a player to hang it up before irreversible damage is done.

Leading concussion researcher Dr. Robert Cantu of Boston University sees a day when this will change.

“I think we’re within a fairly short window, I hope no more than a few years, of being able to detect CTE in living people with almost 100 percent certainty,” Cantu told me in a sit-down interview for the second installment of my podcast series “Unfiltered,” which continues this week on Boston Herald Radio.

The key, Cantu said, is identifying a marker specific to CTE that a brain scan can pick up. A radioactive substance in tau — the protein at the heart of CTE — may be that marker, but current tests produce smudgy images that make it hard to discern, he said.

“Images will only get better over time, and hopefully soon it will be ready for prime time,” Cantu said.•

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The odd game of Auto Polo was popularized in the summer of 1912 because of a marketing ploy by a Kansas Ford dealer trying to sell Model T’s. It soon become a craze in New York City, headlining at Madison Square Garden for most of December. Although the activity had initially been devised a decade earlier, it was this moment when the game got (relatively) big. 

Dangerous as all fuck, the sport squared off an equal number of teams of vehicles holding two players–the driver and the mallet-wielder–trying to propel a ball between two posts. It thrived in New York and Chicago for most of the 1920s but disappeared before the arrival of the Great Depression. By then, cars were largely stable enough to sell themselves, even if most Americans couldn’t afford them. The photographs above are not from the MSG contests, but an article in the December 8, 1912 New York Times recalls that particular series. An excerpt:

Not a few of the dwellers or toilers along Automobile Row have been predicting a popular future for auto polo, the game from the South and West which gave the public a number of thrills as a game and furnished food for thought for the motor enthusiast at Madison Square Garden for the week that just ended. There had been rumors of the game from time to time, and people heard that the four-wheel “ponies” on which it was played provided as many sensational moments as the four-legged ones of the horse-polo match. But no one was quite prepared for the exhibition which took place in the arena still covered, oddly enough, with the tanbark of the Horse Show. 

As in regulation polo, the mallet is only a factor in the newer game. The horse, or in this case the car, is quite as important to success, if not more so. It was on the performance of the cars that the interest of automobile men naturally centered. Occasionally there was a bit of of engine trouble, but for the most part the little machines, stripped to the bare frames and lacking even bonnets, stood up manfully under conditions that were grueling to say the least. Every canon of good motor car driving, from the viewpoint of the car, was broken time and again as the drivers sought to block the bounding leather ball or fed gas to their motors until the pop of explosions became an almost continuous roar in an effort to be the first “on” the elusive prize. Turns so short that they resulted in turnovers were made several times, but still the motors remained operable, to the surprise of the onlookers. 

Whether the game can ever become general–even as general as polo pony–is a moot question. It involves, in the first place, a deal of expense, for, played in earnest and in the heat of the desire to win, a big repair bill would be inevitable. In other words, it would be an expensive thing to promote in a professional way.

It would be hard to devise a game in which the players took bigger chances of mishap. The factor of danger may prove either a damper or a stimulus. At any rate the game has definitely taken its place as a circus stunt crowded with thrills, and a demonstration of car ability which is a revelation even to the man who has driven his hundreds of miles at a mile-a-minute clip.•

Baseball-projection systems were generally woeful in 2015

Predictions are really difficult in a sport that features athletes hitting a round ball with a round bat, in which small differences in eyesight are so key and a couple of injuries or trades can make all the difference. Despite the statistical revolution, it’s hard to say what will happen. And the things that are pretty evident are known by every franchise. How to get an edge?

There’s no doubt the veritable data arms race between clubs, which Branch Rickey birthed during the Cold War, is becoming even more information-rich as technology and biotech play an increasingly bigger role. Brains as well as elbows are to be X-rayed. The deeper you dig, the more returns may be diminishing, but perhaps you strike gold.

Fangraphs, creator of some of those awful 2015 projections, has an article by Adam Guttridge and David Ogren about next-level data collection, explaining what teams are doing to try to acquire significantly more info than fans or their fellow front offices. An excerpt:

Third-party companies are supplying a wealth of data which previously didn’t exist. The most publicized forms of that have been Trackman and Statcast. The key phrase here is data, as opposed to supplying new analysis. Data is the manna from which new analysis may come, and new types or sources of data expand the curve under which we can operate. That’s a fundamentally good thing.

There’s a wave of companies providing something different than Statcast and Trackman. While Statcast and Trackman are generally providing data that’s a more granular form of information which we already have — i.e. more detailed accounts of hitting, fielding, or pitching — others are aiming to provide information in spaces it hasn’t yet been available. A startup named DeCervo is using brain-scan technology to map the relationship between cognition and athletic performance. Wearable-tech companies like Motus and Zepp aim to provide detailed, data-centric information in the form of bat speed, a pitcher’s arm path, and more. Biometric solutions like Kitman Labs are competing to capture and provide biometric data to teams as well.

The solutions which provide more granular data (Trackman, Statcast, and also ever-evolving developments from Baseball Info Solutions) are of perhaps unknown significance. They offer a massive volume of data, but it’s an open question as to whether it yet offers significant actionable information, whether it has value as a predictive/evaluative tool rather than merely a descriptive one.•

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By the 1960s, Glenn Gould believed the new technologies would allow for the sampling, remixing and democratization of creativity, that erstwhile members of the audience would ultimately ascend and become creators themselves. He hated the hierarchy of live performance and was sure its dominance would end. It was probably partly a rationalization that helped enable his reclusiveness, but rise up the audience did.

From his 1982 New York Times obituary by Edward Rothstein:

Mr. Gould himself seemed to grow out of no particular musical tradition. He stressed, in fact, that his musical goal was to rethink the repertory in a radically different fashion. Though he had a career of nine years as a popular and critical success on the concert stage, after a performance in Chicago in March 1964, he never played in public again; after 1967, he said, he never even attended a concert.

He said he considered the concert form an ”immensely distasteful” musical compromise that leads to ”tremendous conservatism” in musical interpretation. Mr. Gould contended that the concert’s aura of commerce, its performing stage and its listening audience interfere with music, turning the artist into a ”vaudevillian.”

”The concert is dead,” he proclaimed. For him, the recording represented the musical future. Mr. Gould was also among the first classical musicians to treat the recording as a distinct art form, with its own possibilities and requirements. The phonograph record, for Mr. Gould, was no more a ”record” of an actual continuous performance than a movie was a record of actual continuous events. It was a spliced construction, edited from recording tape.

”During the last 15 years,” Mr. Gould said in an interview last year, ”I spent very little time at a recording session actually recording.”

About eight minutes an hour were spent at the piano, he explained, producing perhaps four different versions of two minutes of music. The rest of the hour would be spent editing, choosing aspects of one version to merge with those of another. His recording of Sibelius’s works, for example, experiments with different aural atmospheres in each musical section. In his most recent recordings, he acted as producer, working in his own studio.

The musical result could be a concentrated interpretation, put together with as much care as a film editor might put together a movie. Mr. Gould believed such pastiche no more detracted from spontaneity and energy than editing would detract from a well-paced film.

The results, though, have been controversial.•

“I detest audiences,” Gould tells that magnificent bastard Alex Trebek (unseen) in 1966. 

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From a 1969 Life piece in which Oriana Fallaci recalls her misbegotten interview with Muhammad Ali:

Question:

Has anyone actually threatened to break your nose off for something you wrote?

Oriana Fallaci:

Something like it happened with Cassius Clay. I had seen him a couple of times, and I went back to his house in Miami to finish the interview. He was eating a melon. I said, Good Morning, Mr. Clay. He keeps on eating the melon and suddenly belches very loud. I think he is just being impolite and I sit down with my tape recorder. And then oooaaagh. He belches again. A big one. Well, I said, let’s go on anyway. And just at that moment, buurp, buurp, whoops, whoops. I turned to him and shouted, I am not going to stay with an animal like you. And I was undoing my recorder, when he took the microphone and threw it against the wall. My microphone! I saw it flying past my head and I took my fists and bam, bam. Went against him. He stood there. So enormous. So tall. And he watched me in a way an elephant watches a mosquito. Black Muslims suddenly came out of all the doors into the room. Evil. Evil. They began to chant. You came for evil. It was like a nightmare. I backed out to my cab, trying to keep my dignity, but really afraid, and went straight to the airport. After the interview was published, Cassius Clay said he was going to break my nose if he ever saw me again. I said, we’ll see, if he breaks my nose, he is going to jail and we will have beautiful news in the papers. I saw him later in New York. I passed with my nose in the air, and he went by without looking at me.

In 1976, when he was already showing the early, subtle signs of Parkinson’s Syndrome, Muhammad Ali sat for a wide-ranging group interview on Face the Nation, in which he was mostly treated as a suspect by a panel of people who enjoyed privileges that were never available to the boxer. Fred Graham, the Arkansas-born correspondent who’s distinguished himself in other ways during his career, doesn’t come across as the most enlightened fellow here, asking at one point, “Is there ever going to be another Great White Hope, a white heavyweight who will come in and whip all you black heavyweights?” Hyper-political earlier in life, Ali dodged election-year questions as much as possible.

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Sailor, fisherman, OSS spy and all-around non-conformist, actor Sterling Hayden was ultimately as interesting just being himself as he was when inhabiting a character. In Kim Morgan’s 2014 LARB roundtable interview with Robert Altman collaborators Elliott Gould, George Segal and screenwriter Joseph Walsh, Hayden was discussed. An excerpt:

Question: 

So you, George, and Elliott were both in movies with Sterling Hayden [Loving and The Long Goodbye].

Joseph Walsh:

I loved Sterling in the movies, but I never met him personally. [To Segal and Gould] Did you love Sterling?

Elliott Gould: 

I loved him. Dan Blocker was supposed to play the part. He was a very good friend of Altman’s. Dan Blocker died and the picture almost went south. And so then we were talking about John Huston, who I loved. Bob cast Sterling Hayden. So Sterling had been in Ireland doing something with R. D. Laing, the poet and philosopher who wrote a book called Knots. And so I asked to spend a little time, a moment alone with Sterling in the house where we shot, where Kathryn and Bob lived, down in Malibu. So we spent that moment alone. And so I knew that Sterling knew that I knew that Sterling knew that I knew that Sterling knew that I understood him. So I just loved him.

Question: 

Did you ever read his book Wanderer?

Elliott Gould: 

Yes. When he kidnapped his kids, right?

Joseph Walsh:

I liked the way he wanted to live his life, Sterling Hayden.

Elliott Gould:

I visited him on his péniche, which is like a barge. He had it in France on the Seine and I saw him there. And then he had it sent to Northern California and I visited him there too. He was a great guy. I think he worked in the Yugoslavian Underground during World War II.

Joseph Walsh:

Did he really? Wow. Okay.

Question: 

And what’s interesting in The Long Goodbye is this modernized Marlowe, from what Bogart or Powell did but …

Elliott Gould:

Oh, Humphrey Bogart was perfect. Our Marlowe was not perfect at all.

Question: 

No, of course. But that’s what I love about it. And that Sterling Hayden, who is now an icon in film noir, he’s really this counterculture type of guy in real life. He fit perfectly in that Altman universe.•

In 1981, Hayden, a restless soul who began looking late in life like Tom Waits’ hobo uncle, visits with Tom Snyder for a long-form interview. In part one, Hayden discusses his failed attempts at writing an article for Rolling Stone about the funeral of Yugoslavia’s late dictator Marshal Tito. 

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I wasn’t familiar with Taffy Brodesser-Akner before 2015, then I read wonderful pieces she wrote about Kris Jenner and Don Lemon, two people I normally wouldn’t care about, and I was hooked, always looking for her byline. In the New York Times Magazine’s annual “The Lives They Lived” issue, she’s penned the postmortem for wrestler Roddy Piper, who could boast like Ali even if he pulled his punches. One of the biggest stars in the history of the business, Roderick George Toombs, as he was christened, was driven to an early death by the industry’s very real toll, dealing with the brutal schedule of slams and falls with cocaine and steroids and painkillers and sleeping pills. The act of constantly living a fantasy also exacted a price, as his public comments were often puzzling, a mix of carny kayfabe and ill-advised opinions. You weren’t sure if his words were a work, and he didn’t seem certain, either.

The short piece doesn’t delve into Piper’s demons but instead focuses on his impact on the boom period of the 1980s, when the pseudo-sport went national. An excerpt:

Piper (né Roderick George Toombs) was hired by the W.W.E. in 1984 as a manager. When he finally made it into the ring a year later, it was as a villain, to engage in vicious rivalries with everyone from Andre to Mr. T (at the height of his A-Team fame). His theatrical loathing for his opponent made the matches magnetic, and he became the most beloved hated man in the W.W.E. universe. And his ability to bring all those crazy feuds to life during his interviews energized story lines in a way the W.W.E. had never before been able to successfully pull off.

With Andre, Piper asks if it’s true that Big John Studd body-slammed him. No, Andre says, it isn’t. Piper, neck veins pulsing, suggests that even he could body-slam him. Interview over. Andre grabs Piper’s shirt, uses it to fling him across the room and walks off the set. Piper, red-hot with rage, screams, ‘‘You think you’re tough?’’ He stares into the camera and does an Incredible Hulk pose that shows off his terrifying trapezius muscles. ‘‘You ain’t nothing!’’ You have never seen a man so committed to seeming to have lost all control.

Piper never won a world championship, but he didn’t need to. He was the W.W.E.’s hero, his energy a shot of adrenaline into wrestling’s weary heart. In 2005, he was inducted into its Hall of Fame. And in July, when he died in his sleep from cardiac arrest at 61, it was hard not to think that he had used up all his energy prematurely, keeping all those other clowns afloat for so many years.•

 

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With all the Ivy League lawyers, MBAs and statistical gurus rattling around the halls of Major League Baseball front offices, it’s difficult to believe teams don’t already have their own proprietary risk-management systems in place, but Sapient Global Markets aims to fill that niche in all sports, providing stress tests or something like them for franchise’s macro and micro decisions. 

From Nick Cafardo at the Boston Globe:

Dave Donovan figures what’s good for banking and the financial industry is good for baseball and sports in general. So the managing general partner of Sapient Global Markets in Boston is bringing risk management to major sports.

Donovan, a Marblehead native and Natick resident, is talking to teams about building financial risk management models to help make better financial decisions and protect their assets — essentially their players.

“Because there’s such an emphasis by teams on acquiring the right players, especially now where you have financial constraints with luxury taxes, etc., we’re looking at it the same way as we do with banks,” Donovan said. “Banks want to make as much money as they possibly can. Their constraint is regulation. They have stress tests they have to do for the government after banks almost took down the world because they weren’t financially compliant. We’ve been working with these banks to measure their risks and you can apply the same concepts in sports.

“Banks have portfolios of securities and they need to have those securities managed in a way that they can understand their risks at all points, 24/7. They measure it against a number of outstanding events that could happen that could potentially affect that portfolio, whether it be oil rising to $100 a barrel or unemployment going up to 10 percent or a nuclear war and a number of other things. We model against that. In baseball, you can do a similar exercise and get a good read on your portfolio.

“Your roster is no different than a portfolio of securities. Those are your assets. That’s what you’ve put your investment in, so it only makes sense that you should monitor your assets.”

Sapient Global Markets can build models for any situation, including individual players, by using formulas and calculations based on the data that is important to each team.•

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Sometimes simpler communications delivery systems can make for more complicated lives for the humans utilizing them. Case in point: baseball reportage. Just a few decades ago, during the Print Era, the information arrived at a glacial pace and was often outdated by the time you read it (e.g., Street & Smith’s annual baseball preview issue). The articles were longer and more contextualized, though it wasn’t perfect since narratives often disagreed with hidden data that had yet to revolutionize the sport. But the job seemed doable, if not easy.

Now Twitter and other channels of instant gratification rule the day, and those working in the industry need to become 24/7 insta-journalists, nearly as robotized and indefatigable as the software they work with. There are tremendous rewards for those who can keep up with the inhuman pace, but there are costs as well. It’s a harbinger, too, of the way many other sectors are developing. You don’t want to sink, but when you can never stop swimming your arms do get awfully tired.

In an insightful behind-the-scenes look at MLB’s recent Winter Meetings, Andy Martino of the New York Daily News writes of Fox Sports’ Ken Rosenthal, a Twitter monster who’s the reigning champ of baseball scoops, describing him as “usually winning but always anxious, forever pursuing the next victory.” For many, that’s the new normal.

An excerpt:

As much as any individual, Rosenthal, 53, is the exemplar of the methods and manners in which sports information is now disseminated — though he never expected to be anything of the sort. When he started covering the Orioles for the Baltimore Evening Sun in 1987, Rosenthal imagined a future at Sports Illustrated. He followed a trajectory familiar to talented sportswriters: He started out as a beat writer, became a columnist and got hired by a magazine, in his case the Sporting News. As the number of sports-focused TV outlets grew, he began making appearances. Early in the new century, Rosenthal realized that he had the contacts to begin breaking stories, and he decided to go for it. The news cycle was bending to new technology, and Rosenthal was connected enough to ride the wave. Now, he works on an endless hamster wheel for his 729,000 Twitter followers and millions of viewers, usually winning but always anxious, forever pursuing the next victory.

It is impossible to overstate the impact of Twitter on the baseball business, and not only for the fans and media. Just as execs work the reporters in the lobby, they sit in their Winter Meetings suites, monitoring Twitter. The Mets task a valued team official, Adam Fisher, the director of baseball operations, with watching social media, and relaying the news. Fisher, like Paul DePodesta, is a Harvard graduate with a dual background in scouting and analytics. He has vital responsibilities in both areas for the Mets. But social media is important, and part of Fisher’s job is to stay on top of it.

The first Twitterized Winter Meetings were in 2009, in Indianapolis. During the previous baseball season, beat reporters all over the country were experimenting with the medium, not realizing just how perfectly it would suit the winter months. Like many of us, Rosenthal resisted, preferring to publish full stories and columns on the Fox Sports website. But the creators of MLB Trade Rumors, a wildly successful site that aggregates baseball reporting, told him that he had to tweet to be credited.

“Basically, Trade Rumors said to me, ‘We can’t follow everybody on their website,’ ” Rosenthal says. “(Twitter) is how we follow people. If you want credit for your stories, this is how you’re going to have to do it. I was like, ‘Who are these guys to dictate to me?’ But they were right. I couldn’t argue it.”

The change brought consequences — and not all of them positive.•

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The chess world–and the human race itself, by extension–was famously rocked in 1997 when Garry Kasparov was spooked and conquered by Deep Blue. Not as well known: This rise of the machines had been presaged five years earlier in the less complicated and revered game of checkers when the all-but-undefeatable champion, the mathematician Marion Tinsley, was lucky to escape with a victory after losing twice in his series against an AI known as Chinook, designed by Canadian computer science professor Jonathan Schaefer.

From Gary Belsky’s 1992 Sports Illustrated report:

In the odd world of checkers—a 5,000-year-old game that almost everyone knows how to play but only a few thousand people compete in seriously—Tinsley is a legend. “Dr. Tinsley has taken the game beyond what anybody else ever conceived,” says Charles Walker, the founder and director of the International Checkers Hall of Fame, in Petal, Miss. Tinsley’s edge is his unparalleled knowledge of the game, which originated in Egypt but assumed its modern form some 700 years ago in Scotland. Holder of a doctorate from Ohio State in the mathematical discipline of combinatorial analysis, Tinsley has a better-than-computer-like grasp of the 500 billion billion or so possible moves in a checkers game, an understanding that allows him to see 30 moves ahead, as opposed to the 24-move prescience of Chinook. “I’ve got a better programmer,” he explains. “God.”

Tinsley, who is a lay preacher in the Disciples of Christ church, was born in Ironton, Ohio, to a schoolteacher and a farmer turned sheriff. The boy was reading and memorizing poetry by the age of four. But the precocious youth, who skipped four of his first eight grades, was confounded by elementary school mathematics until he discovered geometry. His family was then living in Columbus, and one day, while researching a math problem in the library at nearby Ohio State, he came across several books about checkers. He studied them, hoping to silence an elderly woman who boarded with his family and who let loose a grating cackle every time she bested him in a game. “I had visions of beating Mrs. Kershaw,” Tinsley recalls.

He never did—Mrs. Kershaw moved away before he mastered checkers—but Tinsley did win the national championship in 1948 at age 21. He won the world title several years later, in 1955, by defeating Walter Hellman of Gary, Ind. Defending his title successfully in 1958, he retired from competition to devote himself to teaching and preaching. After 11 years at Florida State in Tallahassee, he moved across town to Florida A&M, in part because he saw teaching at the predominantly black school as an extension of the preaching he did at the predominantly black St. Augustine Street Church of Christ in Tallahassee. “I had thought of going to Africa as a self-supporting missionary,’ ” he says, “until a sharp-tongued sister pointed out to me that most people who wanted to help blacks in Africa wouldn’t even talk to blacks in America.”

It wasn’t until 1970 that Tinsley was coaxed back into competition by Don Lafferty, one of the many checkers devotees who still make pilgrimages to his home in Tallahassee. He won the U.S. championship that year, and in 1975 he regained the world title from Hellman, as it now seems, for good. Despite Tinsley’s long retirement and Hellman’s having officially held the title during that time, checkers cognoscenti view Tinsley’s championship reign as continuous. “No one presumed to think they could beat him,” says Walker. “When he loses one game, it is an event.”

Small wonder that the 50 or so spectators who gathered each day in London to watch Tinsley’s title defense were stunned when Tinsley found himself down two games to one after 14 games with Chinook. Tinsley, who was hospitalized with phlebitis in Florida after the tournament, blames grueling games and jet lag for the sleeplessness that left him exhausted during the first week of play. “A London fog rolled in on me, and I made mistakes,” he says. The fog lifted in the 18th game. In tournament checkers each player must make 20 moves in an hour. Inexplicably, Chinook froze 27 minutes into the first hour of the 18th game and neither Schaeffer nor his three assistants could thaw out the program. They resigned the game to even the match at 2—all. “I think Dr. Tinsley viewed it as divine intervention,” Schaeffer says ruefully.

The following day, Sunday, Tinsley went to church, and he returned on Monday, in Schaeffer’s eyes, “revitalized.” He won the 25th game two days later, and after 13 more draws, he got his fourth victory, winning the championship in the 39th game. Tinsley was characteristically humble afterward, crediting God with his victory. He said that he was looking forward to beating Chinook again when they rekindle their man-versus-machine rivalry next August outside London. 

Eventually, though, Tinsley will almost certainly fall to the Canadian computer. Schaeffer believes that checkers, like tick-tacktoe, is “solvable”—that is, that it can be played perfectly, so every game ends in a draw at worst. Already Chinook has in its memory every outcome possible with seven or fewer pieces on the board. Within the decade, Schaeffer says, the computer will know how the game will turn out even before it begins. Until then Tinsley expects no serious human challenge. “I’d be surprised if somebody could actually beat me,” he says mildly. “I really hate to lose.”•

A 1994 rematch between Tinsley and Chinook was halted after six games when the champ took ill. Subsequently diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, Tinsley died the following year.

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At the 16:30 mark, Tinsley appears on a 1957 edition of What’s My Line? 

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Lucian Truscott IV, the great, great, great, great grandson of Thomas Jefferson and graduate of the United States Military Academy, began his writing career penning pieces on hippies and heroin addiction, eventually making his mark at the Village Voice and Rolling Stone. In 1972, he was assigned by the former to review Hunter S. Thompson’s genius, drug-fuelled phantasmagoria Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. An excerpt:

Hunter Thompson lived in Aspen then, and his ranch, located outside town about 10 miles, tucked away up a valley with National Forest land on every side, was the first place I stopped. It was late afternoon and Thompson was just getting up, bleary-eyed and beaten, shaded from the sun by a tennis hat, sipping a beer on the front porch.

I got to know him while I was still in the Army in the spring of 1970, when he and a few other local crazies were gearing up for what would become the Aspen Freak Power Uprising, a spectacular which featured Thompson as candidate for sheriff, with his neighbor Billy for coroner. They ran on a platform which promised, among other things, public punishment for drug dealers who burned their customers, and a campaign guaranteed to rid the valley of real estate developers and ‘nazi greedheads’ of every persuasion. In a compromise move toward the end of the campaign, Thompson promised to “eat mescaline only during off-duty hours.” The non-freak segment of the voting public was unmoved and he was eventually defeated by a narrow margin.

In the days before the Freak Power spirit, Thompson’s ranch served as a war room and R&R camp for the Aspen political insurgents. Needless to say there was rarely a dull moment. When I arrived last summer, however, things had changed. Thompson was in the midst of writing a magnum opus, and it was being cranked out at an unnerving rate. I was barely across the threshold when I was informed that he worked (worked?) Monday through Friday and saved the weekends for messing around. As usual, he worked from around midnight until 7 or 8 in the morning and slept all day. There was an edge to his voice that said he meant business. This was it. This was a venture that had no beginning or end, that even Thompson himself was having difficulty controlling.

“I’m sending it off to Random House in 20,000-word bursts,” he said, drawing slowly on his ever-present cigarette holder. “I don’t have any idea what they think of it. Hell, I don’t have any idea what it is.”

“What’s it about?” I asked.

“Searching for The American Dream in Las Vegas,” replied Thompson coolly.•

In 1974, Truscott, again representing the Voice, tagged along with another gonzo character, Evel Knievel, at the time of his Snake River Canyon spacecycle jump, a spectacle promoted (in part) by professional wrestling strongman Vince McMahon Jr. Truscott shows up in this awesome video at 6:22, giving the event all the respect it deserved while simultaneously summing up his reporting career. (Because of privacy settings, you have to click through and watch it on the Vimeo site.)

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Oriana Fallaci did as much serious journalism as anyone during her era, but she wasn’t above the lurid if the story was good and the check likely to clear. Case in point: Her 1967 Look magazine article “The Dead Body and the Living Brain,” about pioneering head-transplant experimentation. In the piece, Fallaci reports on the sci-fi-ish experiments that Prof. Robert White was conducting with rhesus monkeys at a time when consciousness about animal rights was on the rise. The opening:

Libby had eaten her last meal the night before: orange, banana, monkey chow. While eating she had observed us with curiosity. Her hands resembled the hands of a newly born child, her face seemed almost human. Perhaps because of her eyes. They were so sad, so defenseless. We had called her Libby because Dr. Maurice Albin, the anesthetist, had told us she had no name, we could give her the name we liked best, and because she accepted it immediately. You said “Libby!” and she jumped, then she leaned her head on her shoulder. Dr. Albin had also told us that Libby had been born in India and was almost three years, an age comparable to that of a seven-year-old girl. The rhesuses live 30 years and she was a rhesus. Prof. Robert White uses the rhesus because they are not expensive; they cost between $80 and $100. Chimpanzees, larger and easier to experiment with, cost up to $2,000 each. After the meal, a veterinarian had come, and with as much ceremony as they use for the condemned, he had checked to be sure Libby was in good health. It would be a difficult operation and her body should function as perfectly as a rocket going to the moon. A hundred times before, the experiment had ended in failure, and though Professor White became the first man in the entire history of medicine to succeed, the undertaking still bordered on science fiction. Libby was about to die in order to demonstrate that her brain could live isolated from her body and that, so isolated, it could still think.•

Fallaci wasn’t always insightful when assessing her subjects, missing out entirely on Indira Gandhi’s dictatorial leanings and Alfred Hitchcock’s deep seediness, but she was accurate in her judgment of Muammar el-Qaddafi when conversing with that shock jock Charlie Rose in 2003.

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In Fran Lebowitz’s 1993 Paris Review Q&A, the writer’s maternal nature, or something like it, came to the fore. An excerpt:

Question:

Young people are often a target for you.

Fran Lebowitz:

I wouldn’t say that I dislike the young. I’m simply not a fan of naïveté. I mean, unless you have an erotic interest in them, what other interest could you have? What are they going to possibly say that’s of interest? People ask me, Aren’t you interested in what they’re thinking? What could they be thinking? This is not a middle-aged curmudgeonly attitude; I didn’t like people that age even when I was that age.

Question:

Well, what age do you prefer?

Fran Lebowitz:

I always liked people who are older. Of course, every year it gets harder to find them. I like people older than me and children, really little children.

Question:

Out of the mouths of babes comes wisdom?

Fran Lebowitz:

No, I’m just intrigued by them, because, to me, they’re like talking animals. Their consciousness is so different from ours that they constitute a different species. They don’t have to be particularly interesting children; just the fact that they are children is sufficient. They don’t know what anything is, so they have to make it up. No matter how dull they are, they still have to figure things out for themselves. They have a fresh approach.•

In this 1977 Canadian talk show, Lebowitz, selling her book Metropolitan Life, was concerned that digital watches and calculators and other new technologies entitled kids (and adults also) to a sense of power they should not have. She must be pleased with smartphones today.

Perhaps the greatest surprise about heavyweight champion Tyson Fury is that he chose boxing instead of MMA, but then again he’s an old-fashioned guy.

Fury believes the Old Testament is not just a document but documentary. He argues that his pronouncements, equally apocalyptic and bigoted, are supported by the scriptures, and he has a point. Fury is full of rage and hate speech, but then so is the bible. How can such “righteousness,” he asks, be wrong?

A week before beating Vladimir Klitschko, Fury gave a jaw-dropping interview to Oliver Holt of the Daily Mail, one that put every ounce of his lunatic world view on display. Since his victory, he’s been considered by most in his native England (and the few others who still care about his sport) as the Donald Trump of prizefighting, in the lead despite being a crude caricature of evil. 

From Holt:

Tyson Fury is sitting on a sofa in his hotel room. His bed is unmade. A pillow lies on the floor. An empty water bottle sits on the table. Apart from that, the room is bare. The conversation has just started and Fury is talking in a stream of consciousness, fast and freely. Things turn dark very, very quickly.

‘We live in an evil world,’ he says. ‘The devil is very strong at the minute, very strong, and I believe the end is near. The bible tells me the end is near. The world tells me the end is near. Just a short few years, I reckon, away from being finished.

‘Abusing the planet, the wars in the Middle East, the famines, the earthquakes, the natural disasters, all these things are talked about 2000 years ago before they even happened. Prophesised. So now it’s all coming true…’

There is a breathlessness about his speech and an intensity, too. He is an articulate man and his words are littered with references to the scriptures. It feels as if he has taken sections of the Old Testament and swallowed them whole. There is no filter. He begins to make sweeping and repugnant statements about what he interprets as the evils that he says are hurrying us towards the apocalypse. It is hard not to feel worried about his mental well-being. He says that always happens when men are ‘filled up with God’.

‘There are only three things that need to be accomplished before the devil comes home: one of them is homosexuality being legal in countries, one of them is abortion and the other one’s paedophilia. Who would have thought in the 50s and 60s that those first two would be legalised?

‘This is a funny world we live in and an evil world,’ Fury says. ‘People can say, “Oh, you are against abortions, you are against paedophilia, you are against homosexuality, you’re against whatever”, but my faith and my culture is all based on the bible. The bible was written a long time ago, from the beginning of time until now, and if I follow that and it tells me it’s wrong, then it’s wrong for me. That’s just my opinion.•

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There’s nothing quite like the IBT columns of antisocial antivirus expert John McAfee, pieces that read like PKD-esque fever dreams propelled by acute paranoia, actual knowledge and perhaps pharmaceuticals. In a recent article, he warned that Electromagnetic Pulse generators (or EMPs) could be used to destroy an American city at any moment. An excerpt:

EMPs can be generated in many ways. Much has been said about nuclear EMPs, but that threat concerns me far less than other, more specific means of generating EMPs. The US recently announced our own EMP weapon, which can be carried aboard a missile. Using a technology based on hydraulically compressing and decompressing rods made of specific elements, the device is able to create multiple EMPs very quickly.

The weapon can be focused to take out individual buildings within a city and can take out dozens of individual buildings in a single pass of the missile. I will admit that such technology is beyond the reach of the average individual. But what if the individual is not concerned with precision strikes and merely wants to take out an entire city block or the entire city? Well, that technology is readily available, cheap, and simple to construct.

I am not going to give a course on constructing EMP weapons. I am only trying to raise the awareness of the world to a real and imminent threat.

I also received many questions about how an EMP could kill people. The answer is easy. A large-scale localized attack that involved all of our power stations would leave us all permanently without power. An attack that included our water processing plants would leave us without potable water, except that which we could purchase at the supermarket.

Localized attacks on food processing plants, attacks on mass transportation and attacks on centralized communication organizations would leave us without food and communications. Attacks on oil processing plants would ultimately leave us without individual transportation. What percentage of the population do you think would survive such a catastrophe? And all of this without a single nuclear explosion.•

In our facacta political season, McAfee is, of course, running for President, decrying the cyber illiteracy of the average Washington representative. Despite being an erstwhile murder suspect, he’s not even close to the most deplorable candidate. Here he is in September announcing his campaign to Greta Van Susteren, a Scientologist with an unsustainable face.

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Racing legend Jackie Stewart was king of a sport in which his competitors–his friends–kept dying, one after another on the dangerous-as-can be-courses of the ’60s and early ’70s. The opening of Robert F. Jones 1973 Sport Illustrated article “There Are Two Kinds of Death“:

Contrasted with the current woes of the real world—the new Arab-Israeli war, the old Watergate maunder-ings—it might have seemed a week of minor tragedy on the Grand Prix circuit. But for John Young Stewart, 34, the finest road racer in the game, it was perhaps the most agonizing week of his life. A month earlier, at the Italian Grand Prix at Monza, Stewart had captured his third world driving championship in five years. During the course of this racing season he had become the most successful Formula I driver ever, with 27 Grand Prix victories to his credit (compared with 25 for his late Scottish countryman, Jim Clark, and 24 for his idol, Argentina’s Juan Manuel Fangio). And certainly Stewart had outdone both of them in the main chance of racing: money.

Jackie Stewart is the canniest man ever to don a fireproof balaclava—and certainly the gutsiest ever to con a sponsor. Earning close to $1 million a season in prize money and other emoluments, Stewart seemed to have turned motor racing into some kind of a private treasure trove—and survived to enjoy it. Then why not retire?

That was the first source of his agony last weekend. At Watkins Glen for the 15th running of the U.S. Grand Prix, Stewart played coy with the question. Indeed, even his business agent claimed that the wee Scot was hung on the horns of that old sportsman’s dilemma: quit on a peak of success, or press on to try for even greater rewards? The business agent also was well aware that the timing of a retirement statement by a figure so prominent as Stewart could bring in lots of bucks, and perhaps the coyness was merely a question of timing to suck up more cash. “If Jackie were single,” said his lovely wife Helen, “there would be no question. He would continue to race. I would like to see him retire, but I cannot press him. No, there is nothing that could fill the role of racing for him if he were to quit.”

Stewart himself was brusque on the question. He sidestepped it with every slick word at his command—and they are as many and as evasive as the black grouse of Scotland’s moors. But still it all seemed a game.

Then, on qualifying day before the race, Stewart’s good friend and teammate, Francois Cevert, was killed in a smashup during practice. Stewart had already lost three close friends to the sport: Clark in 1968, Piers Courage and.Jochen Rindt in 1970. In his poignant account of that last tragic season in his recent book, Faster! A Racer’s Diary, Stewart had likened Grand Prix racing to a disease and wondered in painful print if he himself were not a victim. With Cevert’s death last Saturday, it seemed to many that Stewart must at last accept the prognosis. He must—finally—retire and let sad enough alone.•

A 1973 documentary about Formula One racing, known at various times as One by One, Quick and the Dead, and Champions Forever, this interesting period piece with a funked-up score focuses on Stewart, Peter Revson and their peers. Stacy Keach is the cool-as-can-be narrator, but Cévert sums it up simply and best, admitting, “steering is hard.”

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22-HumanEvolution

My favorite book published in the U.S. in 2015 is Sapiens, a brilliant work about our past (and future) by Israeli historian Yuval Noah Harari. In a New Statesman essay, the author argues that if we’re on the precipice of a grand human revolution–in which we commandeer evolutionary forces and create a post-scarcity world–it’s being driven by private-sector technocracy, not politics, that attenuated, polarized thing. The next Lenins, the new visionaries focused on large-scale societal reorganization, Harari argues, live in Silicon Valley, and even if they don’t succeed, their efforts may significantly impact our lives. An excerpt:

Whatever their disagreements about long-term visions, communists, fascists and liberals all combined forces to create a new state-run leviathan. Within a surprisingly short time, they engineered all-encompassing systems of mass education, mass health and mass welfare, which were supposed to realise the utopian aspirations of the ruling party. These mass systems became the main employers in the job market and the main regulators of human life. In this sense, at least, the grand political visions of the past century have succeeded in creating an entirely new world. The society of 1800 was completely destroyed and we are living in a new reality altogether.

In 1900 or 1950 politicians of all hues thought big, talked big and acted even bigger. Today it seems that politicians have a chance to pursue even grander visions than those of Lenin, Hitler or Mao. While the latter tried to create a new society and a new human being with the help of steam engines and typewriters, today’s prophets could rely on biotechnology and supercomputers. In the coming decades, technological breakthroughs are likely to change human society, human bodies and human minds in far more drastic ways than ever before.

Whereas the Nazis sought to create superhumans through selective breeding, we now have an increasing arsenal of bioengineering tools at our disposal. These could be used to redesign the shapes, abilities and even desires of human beings, so as to fulfil this or that political ideal. Bioengineering starts with the understanding that we are far from realising the full potential of organic bodies. For four billion years natural selection has been tinkering and tweaking with these bodies, so that we have gone from amoebae to reptiles to mammals to Homo sapiens. Yet there is no reason to think that sapiens is the last station. Relatively small changes in the genome, the neural system and the skeleton were enough to upgrade Homo erectus – who could produce nothing more impressive than flint knives – to Homo sapiens, who produces spaceships and computers. Who knows what the outcome of a few more changes to our genome, neural system and skeleton might be? Bioengineering is not going to wait patiently for natural selection to work its magic. Instead, bioengineers will take the old sapiens body and intentionally rewrite its genetic code, rewire its brain circuits, alter its biochemical balance and grow entirely new body parts.

On top of that, we are also developing the ability to create cyborgs.•

In a London TED Talk from earlier this year, Harari details why Homo sapiens came to rule the world, and why that development wasn’t always such a sure bet.

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