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Talk-show host Stanley Siegel just died, and at one point that would have been huge news in New York City.

Before Howard Stern and Reality TV, venues that encourage emotionally damaged recruits to act out every last pathology to pump up the ratings, television host Siegel and his questionable taste and utter neuroses were considered controversial. During the 1970s, his raucous live morning show on the local ABC affiliate made his name as famous in New York as any politician, athlete or Broadway star.

Siegel invited his therapist to psychoanalyze him each week on the air, allowed a wasted Truman Capote to sit down as a guest when he was clearly in no condition to do so and angered a good number of politicos and entertainers with his brash, often-insulting questions. He was the anti-Carson, and it worked wonderfully well for a while.

In the 1977 New York magazine article,Give Us a Kiss, Stanley,which was written by journalist and playwright Jonathan Reynolds, Siegel was analyzed a little bit more, captured at the height of his entertaining narcissism. An excerpt:

Every day, Siegel wallows guiltlessly in his own persona, exulting in the dust, high jinx and cobwebs he reveals. He is funny, frightened, confused, weepy, sexual, evangelistic, and overbearing right in front of everybody’s eyes. In terms of emotional exhibitionism, Stanley Siegel makes Jack Paar look like Thomas Pynchon.

In the nearly two years he has been on WABC-TV at 9am, he has sextupled the ratings of his dreary predecessors, increased WABC’s rate card from $35 to $100 for every 30-second spot sold, knocked the venerable Not for Women Only and mega-venerable Concentration out of their time slots, and gained a host of admirers from Robert Evans to Eleanor Holmes Norton.

People tune in to the Stanley Siegel Show to see how Stanley feels–for if there is one predictable element in the program, it is that it will always be clear just how Stanley feels — for if there is one predictable element in the program, it is that it will always be clear just how Stanley feels. He has turned famous guests, WABC-TV’s employees and batches of stay-at-homes into an army of psychotherapists, and how can a psychotherapist not tune in to see how the patient is progressing–or deteriorating?•

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Art Linkletter’s daughter Diane plunged to her death from a six-story window in 1969, perhaps influenced to suicide by LSD. Timothy Leary was, of course, the most famous proponent of the drug, so Siegel, that button-pusher, thought it a good idea in 1977 to have Linkletter and the guru speak by phone on live TV.

At the 4:30 mark a passage from one of the most infamous TV interviews ever, Siegel questioning a seriously inebriated Truman Capote in 1978, a time before the commodification of dysfunction was prevalent.

One of my favorite video clips of all time: Smartmouth Siegel interviews labia salesman Al Goldstein and comedian Jerry Lewis in 1976. When not busy composing the world’s finest beaver shots, Goldstein apparently had a newsletter about tech tools. He shows off a $3900 calculator watch and a $2200 portable phone. Lewis, easily the biggest tool on the stage, flaunts his wealth the way only a truly insecure man can.

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For every action, a reaction: Small drones, in addition to all the good they can do, can be used for illicit surveillance and delivering explosives and smuggling, among other nefarious deeds, so Michigan researchers created a concept prototype of an anti-drone tool called “robotic falconry,” which nets the interloping technology and commandeers it to a safe place. What will the countermeasure be when spy drones can fit on the head of a pin? There’ll be a market, so something will emerge.

From Marcia Goodrich at Michigan Tech News:

In January 2015, a Washington, DC, hobbyist accidentally flew his DJI Phantom quadcopter drone over the White House fence and crashed it on the lawn.

Two years earlier, a prankster sent his drone toward German prime minister Angela Merkel during a campaign rally.

Small drones have also proven to be effective tools of mischief that doesn’t make the national news, from spying to smuggling to hacking. So when Mo Rastgaar was watching World Cup soccer and heard about snipers protecting the crowd, he doubted that they’d fully understood a drone’s potential.

“I thought, ‘If the threat is a drone, you really don’t want to shoot it down—it might contain explosives and blow up. What you want to do is catch it and get it out of there.’”

Safe Drone Catcher

So Rastgaar, an associate professor of mechanical engineering at Michigan Technological University, began work on a drone catcher, which could pursue and capture rogue drones that might threaten military installations, air traffic, sporting events—even the White House.•

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Tom Chatfield, an uncommonly thoughtful commenter on the technological world we’ve built for ourselves, is interviewed by Nigel Warburton of Aeon about staying human in a machine age. In the seven-minute piece, Chatfield notes that games in the Digital Age have become more meaningful than work in many instances because the former builds skills in players while the latter looks to replace the messy human component. 

A much more exiting model of human-machine interaction, Chatfield offers, is one where we maximize what people and AI are each good at. That would be great and is doable in the short run if we choose to approach the situation that way, but I do believe that ultimately, whatever tasks that both humans and machines can do will be ceded almost entirely to silicon. A freestyle-chess system to production will have a short shelf life in most applications. We may be left to figure out brand new areas in which we can thrive and define why we exist.

At any rate, smart stuff about automated systems. Watch here.

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Hanna Reitsch would have been a feminist hero, if it weren’t for the Nazism.

Like the equally talented Leni Riefenstahl, politics made her story the thorniest thing. Reitsch was a pioneering, early-20th-century test pilot, an aviatrix as she was called in that era, but her gifts and great daring were used in the service of the Nazi Party beginning in the 1930s. Her importance in the scheme of things was such that she visited Hitler in his bunker in 1945.

Although her reputation always sullied–and, of course, should have been–Reitsch nonetheless did enjoy considerable standing despite her past, becoming a champion glider, and even being invited as a guest of the White House during the Kennedy Administration.

The text of “Girl Rode Robot Bomb To Test It, Nazis Reveal,” the July 27, 1944 Brooklyn Daily Eagle account of her most storied and dangerous mission, for which she received the Iron Cross:

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In 1976, three years before her death, Reitsch was interviewed about her aerial exploits.

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1950s --- Fritz Lang, Austrian-American film director and producer, wearing his habitual monocle. --- Image by © Heinz-Juergen Goettert/dpa/Corbis

Even though he remains one of the pantheon filmmakers, Fritz Lang had mixed feelings about the medium. Talkies initially left him cold and later on he found then Hollywood studio system a discombobulating compromise.

In 1972, Lang was interviewed by two reporters, Lloyd Chesley and Michael Gould, and confided in them that he had tired of directing movies by the advent of talking pictures and decided to recreate himself as a chemist. A disreputable money man dragged him back into the business and gave him the creative freedom to make the chilling classic, M. An excerpt from the interview:

Michael Gould:

Your themes changed from epic to intimate when you began making sound films.

Fritz Lang:

I got tired from the big films. I didn’t want to make films anymore. I wanted to become a chemist. About this time an independent man—not of very good reputation—wanted me to make a film and I said ‘No, I don’t want to make films anymore.’ And he came and came and came, and finally I said ‘Look, I will make a film, but you will have nothing to say for it. You don’t know what it will be, you have no right to cut it, you only can give the money.’ He said ‘Fine, understood.’ And so I made M.

We started to write the script and I talked with my wife, Thea von Harbou, and I said ‘What is the most insidious crime?’ We came to the fact of anonymous poison letters. And then one day I said I had another idea—long before this mass murderer, [Peter] Kurten, in the Rhineland. And if I wouldn’t have the agreement for no one to tell me anything, I would never, never have made M. Nobody knew Peter Lorre.•

In 1975, Lang and William Friedkin, two directors transfixed by extreme evil, engaged in conversation.

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John Cale sometimes seems exhausted talking about The Velvet Underground, and who could blame him? An unlikely rock star to begin with, the Welsh musician was a classically trained violinist with strong avant garde leanings who arrived in New York City just as its rock and art scenes were exploding into one another, collaborating almost immediately with volatile Lou Reed and soon enough vampiric Andy Warhol. Cale lasted two albums with the band, but has never left its reputation. How could he?

Some reminiscences of the group from his 2012 Guardian interview:

“In Chicago, I was singing lead because Lou had hepatitis, no one knew the difference. We turned our faces to the wall and turned up very loud. Paul Morrissey (later the director of Trash) and Danny Williams had different visions of what the light show should be like and one night I looked up to see them fighting, hitting each other in the middle of a song. Danny Williams just disappeared. They found his clothes by the side of a river, with his car nearby … the whole thing. He used to carry this strobe around with him all the time and no one could figure out why till we found out he kept his amphetamine in it.”

“We worked the Masonic Hall in Columbus Ohio. A huge place filled with people drinking and talking. We tuned up for about ten minutes, tuning, fa-da-da, up, da-da-da, down. There’s a tape of it. Played a whole set to no applause, just silences.”

“In San Francisco, we played the Fillmore and no one liked us much. We put the guitars against the amps, turned up, played percussion and then split. Bill Graham came into the dressing room and said, ‘You owe me 20 more minutes’. I’d dropped a cymbal on Lou’s head and he was bleeding. ‘Is he hurt?’ Graham said, ‘We’re not insured.'”

“Severn Darden brought this young chick up to meet me there and he introduced her as one of my ardent admirers. This was a long time ago and I didn’t know about such things, so I said, ‘Pleased to meet you,’ and walked off. Two days later in L.A., here comes Severn again with this girl. I say hello again and leave. We’re all staying at the castle in L.A., and things are very hazy, if you know what I mean. Well, this girl is there too. I smile but I still don’t understand. About two in the morning the door of my room opens and she walks in naked and gets into bed. Went on for five nights. I don’t think I even got her address.”

The Velvets suffered from all kinds of strange troubles. They spent three years on the road away from New York City, their home, playing Houston, Boston, small towns in Pennsylvania, anywhere that would pay them scale.

“We needed someone like Andy,” John says. “He was a genius for getting publicity. Once we were in Providence to play at the Rhode Island School of Design and they sent a TV newsman to talk to us. Andy did the interview lying on the ground with his head propped up on one arm. There were some studded balls with lights shining on them and when the interviewer asked him why he was on the ground, Andy said, “So I can see the stars better.” The interview ended with the TV guy lying flat on his back saying, “Yeah, I see what you mean.”•

A 21-year-old John Cale the year he arrived in NYC and the one before he met Reed, on I’ve Got a Secret.

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When the grounds shift beneath our feet, we tend to hold on for dear life. We try to retreat into the world we knew, even if it’s no longer viable.

Our communications have been reconfigured by the Second Machine Age, and it appears the same is happening to our economic model. That’s scary. It causes fingers to be pointed, blame assigned. Such transitions may be the natural order of things, but to mere mortals they can feel very unnatural. Is the realization of the Global Village that frightened Marshall McLuhan so much what’s behind the ripples of nativism and violent expressions of fundamentalism across the globe? 

Appearing recently at the Royal Geographical Society in London, Israeli historian Yuval Noah Harari, author of the wondrous Sapiens, argues that the ferocious reactions to hierarchal transformation at the outset of the Industrial Revolution in the 19th century are being replayed now in the early Digital Age. Harari feels certain that withdrawals into old orthodoxies will fail today as they did then, with ancient scriptures having no answers to new questions, leaving techno-ideologies to own the future.

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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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Russia in the time of Vladimir Putin, a capo with nuclear capabilities, is the strangest thing. A kleptocracy littered with petro-oligarchs and poisoned journalists, it’s hard to get to the truth even when everyone knows where it lies.

Even beyond the Kremlin, the deaths can be shockingly violent and the crimes baffling and awful. Case in point: the Bolshoi Ballet, that grand thing, became a lurid headline after a sulfuric acid attack on its artistic director, Sergei Filin, at the outset of 2013. 

As HBO prepares to screen Bolshoi Babylon, the New York Times’ Gia Kourlas (an excellent person I worked with once) has scored an interview with the Bolshoi’s usually reticent longtime principal dancer, Maria Alexandrova. It speaks to the opaqueness of the company and the wider culture.

The opening:

New York Times:

Do you have much contact with Sergei Filin? 

Maria Alexandrova:

We practically have no relationship. He just basically publishes on the board what performances he wants me to dance, and I dance them. We say hello to each other as civilized people, but we have no relationship whatsoever. I’m not outside his office begging for parts. He gives me the parts. I dance them. And what he gives me, I use the opportunity and what he doesn’t, I use that opportunity to be involved in other projects.

New York Times:

Was it like that before the acid attack too?

Maria Alexandrova:

Before that, when he was dancing, he was my main partner for eight years. [Nikolai] Tsiskaridze and Filin were my main two partners. You don’t necessarily have to love or hate someone; you just get on with it. There was no conflict. In Russian ballet, there are no easy people. We’re all difficult characters. Some are more intelligent and some are less intelligent, but you don’t have any people in Russian ballet who are angelic with easy characters. We live in a difficult country; we work in a difficult theater; we depend only on ourselves or you find whichever other way you want.

New York Times:

Within the Bolshoi, people took sides after the acid attack: Filin’s or Dmitrichenko’s? [The dancer Pavel Dmitrichenko was found guilty of arranging the attack and sentenced to five and a half years in prison.] Which were you on?

Maria Alexandrova:

I chose the theater. I chose my profession. The hardest thing is to explain to people within the company, yes, a terrible tragedy has happened, but it’s part of life, and we should not take sides and divide people between good and bad and black and white. That was always my position. We should think of our profession; we should think of our theater. Even now, I am absolutely deeply convinced that we still don’t know the truth of what really happened and why it happened.•

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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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Engineers have dreamed of driverless for almost as long as there have been cars. The first demo I’ve come across is one by Westinghouse in 1930, which utilized telephone instructions, electric eyes and beams of light to maneuver a robocar. It appears to have been merely a novelty, with no actual plans to commercialize the technology. In the 1970s, the efforts were much more earnest, with long-term hopes of monetization. This 1971 video about work being done by the Road Research Laboratory has been released by the Associated Press.

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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Fallaci

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.

For a 1975 “Talk of the Town” piece in the New Yorker, Anthony Hiss toured Los Angeles, that strange and fascinating turf, enjoying near journey’s end an audience with Philip K. Dick, whose visions weren’t fully appreciated during his abbreviated lifetime and were even sort of undersold in this article. An excerpt:

In the afternoon, we drove over to Fullerton to see Philip K. Dick, my favorite science-fiction writer, author of 33 novels and 170 short stories. Past the House of Egg Roll, past Moy’s Coffee Shop (Chop Suey, Hot Cakes), past Bowser Beautiful, through Bel Air. We drove to the end of Sunset Boulevard, where we saw seagulls, 18 surfers in wet suits, a blue suggestion of Catalina to the southwest, and an Indian girl in a green-and-gold sari on the beach. Then south, past a concrete wall painted ‘TOMMY SURKO SAYS FOR MY KIND OF GIRL THERE’S ONLY ONE! TOMMY SURKO!’ Behind the tall palms on Venice we could see snow on the mountains. Kids were skateboarding down a hill on Lincoln. Past Woody’s Smorgasburger, onto a freeway to Fullerton.

Philip K. Dick lives in an apartment full of books and records and photographs with his wife, Tessa; his small son, Christopher; and two cats, Harvey Wallbanger and Sasha. He is jolly and tubby and bearded. His books, which are hilarious, are popular in France, because the French think they are about how grim everything is. Dick showed us a French newspaper piece about him—the subtitles were ‘Le Chaos,’ ‘L’Acide,’ ‘Le Suicide,’ ‘Les Machines’ ‘La Société Totalitaire,’ ‘La Paranoïa.’ Dick has just finished a book about Tim Leary and the LSD crowd, and what happened to them.

We had stopped in to make a short call of homage, and wound up talking along for hours, drinking wine, and Tessa going out for some Chinese food, and then talking about cosmologies until it was almost time for our plane back to N.Y. The apartment also contains a two-foot-high metal rocket ship on a wooden base—this is his Hugo Award, the highest award in science fiction. The plaque is missing, though, because Dick once used the award to break up a fight. ‘It grabs good,’ he says. As for the cosmologies, this is what emerged from our discussions: cosmologies all seem to be based on repetition—you know, first the universe expands, then it contracts, then it expands again, etc.—but maybe that’s not so. Maybe this whole expansion business that the universe is currently embarked upon is going to happen only once. That would mean that every day really is a new day, right? Also, maybe it’s not true that Einstein was smarter than Newton. Maybe Newton’s laws accurately described the universe as it then existed. But since then it’s expanded and got more complicated, and can be accurately described only by Einstein physics. Which will eventually become outdated, maybe.•

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In 1977, PKD described tangential, alternative worlds which he felt may have existed in reality–or perhaps just his mind.

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The world is ending, eventually.

One who sees the curtain coming down sooner than later is the Christian evangelist and dapper apocalypse salesman Hal Lindsey, co-author with Carole C. Carlson of the meshuganah 1970 bestseller, The Late Great Planet Earth, which estimated 1988 as the Judgement Day. Missed by that much. Lindsey, who’s still alive as are many of us, spends his dotage accusing President Obama of being “the Antichrist.” Whatever.

In 1979, when the batshit book had been made into a film–with Orson Welles picking up late-life wine-and-bullfight money for handling the narration–Lindsey was profiled in a People piece by Lucretia Marmon. The opening:

In 1938 Orson Welles terrified radio listeners with War of the Worlds, an imaginative report of a Martian invasion. Now Welles, as gloomy-voiced narrator of a film, The Late Great Planet Earth, out this fall, tells another frightening tale. This time it is a movie version of the end of the world, based on a scenario by evangelist-author Hal Lindsey. The script, claims Lindsey, really isn’t his. It’s all in the Scriptures.

Lindsey’s book Earth, published in 1970, has been translated into 31 languages and 10 million copies have been sold. The public also snapped up five subsequent Lindsey books on the same subject, running his sales total to over 14 million.

Thus Lindsey, 47, may now be the foremost modern-day Jeremiah. ‘If I had been writing 15 years ago I wouldn’t have had an audience,’ he concedes. ‘But a tremendous number of people are worried about the future. I’m just part of that phenomenon.’

Lindsey splices Bible prophecies of doom with contemporary signs. For instance, he says the Bible pinpoints Israel’s rebirth as a nation as the catalyst to Judgment Day, which will probably occur by 1988. The intervening years will see the emergence of a 10-nation confederacy (prophet Daniel’s dreadful 10-horned beast) or, as Lindsey sees it, the European Common Market. Eventually Russia (biblical Magog) will attack Israel and precipitate a global nuclear war. Only Jesus’ followers will be spared. Hence, Lindsey advises, “the only thing you need to understand is that God offers you in Jesus Christ a full pardon.”

Meanwhile, is Lindsey cowering in his fallout shelter? Not at all. Sporting a gold Star of David around his neck and another on his pinky (‘After all, Jesus was a Jew’), Lindsey zips around Southern California in a Mercedes 450 SL. He conducts services on the beach and indulges in his hobbies of photography and surfing.•

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“This was a prophet–a false prophet”:

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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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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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In an interesting Guardian article, Nicola Davis and Rachel David survey a large number of the smart-home technologies currently gestating in the hopes that they may one day quantify you within an inch of your life. The home of the future, even if a few of these tools should come to fruition, is a very helpful and very invasive thing. An excerpt about the bathroom of tomorrow:

Morning ablutions might seem a private affair, but that could all change as technology finds its way into the smallest room in the house.

Among those vying to keep an eye on your vital statistics is Withings, whoseSmart Body Analyzermakes your old nemesis – the bathroom scales – look positively friendly. Claiming to measure your weight, body fat, heart rate and BMI, it will not only terrorise your tiled floor, but take to your phone: an accompanying app tracks your activity and adjusts your calorie budget for the day to meet your health goals. Think that teatime biscuit looks good? Think again.

Even that most benign of bathroom essentials, the humble loo, is in for an upgrade. Smart toilets have already hit the stores, with American firm DXV anticipating what it somewhat alarmingly terms a “contemporary movement” through its heated seats, night lights and remote controls. But alternatives are already in the offing that can monitor your bodily extrusions better than an over-competitive parent. Japanese company Toto has unveiled its Flowsky toilet that keeps tabs on your rate of gush, while MIT SENSEeable City Lab is working on a loo that can not only recognise the be-throned, but analyse their excrement to shed light on the state of their health and microbiome.

The bathroom might well become the domain of Big Mother. Water-wasters will be chivvied by warning lights thanks to devices like Drop from Qonserve Technologies that displays a red light when the taps have been left running, while bathroom hoggers will be ousted by water pebbles” that can be programmed to flash red when bathtime’s up. Baths and showers too will be cleaning up their act, with Orbital Systems developing filters to recycle water as it is used and Nebia offering a water-saving shower based on an intense mist of water rather than a traditional deluge. And our towels might even be cleaned without H2O: designer Leobardo Armenta envisages a nifty device that eschews the washing machine for a doughnut-like contraption with a fan to dry the towel and UV light to kill bacteria.•

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In 1967, Walter Cronkite looks at the living room, kitchen and home office of the future.

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Werner Erhard, the shouting est salesman, is still working it, though opinions will vary on what it is.

When you’re born John Rosenberg, rechristen yourself after a Nazi rocketeer (misspelling it!), and unabashedly tell people that you’re a hero, you may be questionable. Nonetheless, the profane self-help peddler who came to wide prominence in the 1970s, with the aid of apostles in entertainment and intellectual circles, from John Denver to Buckminster Fuller, continues apace at 80 and has reinvented himself yet again, after nearly being permanently knocked from his pedestal by health issues, an IRS imbroglio, a shattering 60 Minutes profile and ongoing gamesmanship with Scientologists.

A really fun New York Times piece by Peter Haldeman looks at the latest Erhard iteration, while offering an alternative version of how the Dale Carnegie of sleep deprivation came to rename himself. The opening:

The silver-haired man dressed like a waiter (dark vest, dark slacks) paced the aisle between rows of desks in a Toronto conference room. “If you’re going to be a leader, you’re going to have to have a very loose relationship with this thing you call ‘I’ or ‘me,’” he shouted. “Maybe that whole thing in me around which the universe revolves isn’t so central!”

He paused to wipe his brow with a wad of paper towels. An assistant stood by with a microphone, but he waved her off. “Maybe life is not about the self but about self-transcendence! You got a problem with that?”

No one in the room had a problem with that. The desks were occupied by 27 name-tagged academics from around the world. And in the course of the day, a number of them would take the mike to pose what their instructor referred to as “yeah buts, how ’bouts or what ifs” in response to his pronouncements — but no one had a problem with them.

In some ways, the three-day workshop, “Creating Class Leaders,” recalled an EST training session. As with that cultural touchstone of the 1970s, there was “sharing” and applause. There were confrontations and hugs. Gnomic declarations hovered in the air like mist: “We need to distinguish distinction”; “There’s no seeing, there’s only the seer”; “There isn’t any is.”

But the event was much more civilized than EST. There were bathroom breaks. No one was called an expletive by the teacher.

This is significant because the teacher was none other than the creator of EST, Werner Erhard.•

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In 1973, Denver, substitute host on the Tonight Show, invited his guru to chat.

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Ron

Ron Popeil, the American inventor and TV pitchman behind the Pocket Fisherman and so much more crap you never knew you wanted, just did an Ask Me Anything at Reddit, providing ample opportunity to underemployed smartasses to sass the Ronco entrepreneur. One example:

Question:

It is true you invented the technology to keep heads alive in jars, but just haven’t released it yet?

The Real Ron Popeil:

Still working on it! Send me your address so I can have someone come pick up your head.•

An excerpt fromThe Pitchman,” Malcolm Gladwell’s thoroughly enjoyable 2000 New Yorker profile of a guy who is always fishing:

In the last thirty years, Ron has invented a succession of kitchen gadgets, among them the Ronco Electric Food Dehydrator and the Popeil Automatic Pasta and Sausage Maker, which featured a thrust bearing made of the same material used in bulletproof glass. He works steadily, guided by flashes of inspiration. This past August, for instance, he suddenly realized what product should follow the Showtime Rotisserie. He and his right-hand man, Alan Backus, had been working on a bread-and-batter machine, which would take up to ten pounds of chicken wings or scallops or shrimp or fish fillets and do all the work–combining the eggs, the flour, the breadcrumbs–in a few minutes, without dirtying either the cook’s hands or the machine. “Alan goes to Korea, where we have some big orders coming through,” Ron explained recently over lunch–a hamburger, medium-well, with fries–in the V.I.P. booth by the door in the Polo Lounge, at the Beverly Hills Hotel. ‘I call Alan on the phone. I wake him up. It was two in the morning there. And these are my exact words: “Stop. Do not pursue the bread-and-batter machine. I will pick it up later. This other project needs to come first.” The other project, his inspiration, was a device capable of smoking meats indoors without creating odors that can suffuse the air and permeate furniture. Ron had a version of the indoor smoker on his porch–”a Rube Goldberg kind of thing” that he’d worked on a year earlier–and, on a whim, he cooked a chicken in it. “That chicken was so good that I said to myself”–and with his left hand Ron began to pound on the table–”This is the best chicken sandwich I have ever had in my life.” He turned to me: “How many times have you had a smoked-turkey sandwich? Maybe you have a smoked- turkey or a smoked-chicken sandwich once every six months. Once! How many times have you had smoked salmon? Aah. More. I’m going to say you come across smoked salmon as an hors d’oeuvre or an entrée once every three months. Baby-back ribs? Depends on which restaurant you order ribs at. Smoked sausage, same thing. You touch on smoked food”–he leaned in and poked my arm for emphasis–”but I know one thing, Malcolm. You don’t have a smoker.”•

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“As seen on TV.”

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I wondered last week what type of “PEDs” terrorists were hopped up on when conducting suicide missions. Despite the oft-dark nature of humans, that’s just not a natural state and fanaticism or brainwashing or pharmaceuticals (or all three) are necessary to induce it.

If CNN is to be believed–and it almost never is–Syrian jihadists are dosing themselves with Captagon

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A couple months before its historic eruption on May 18, 1980, Mount St. Helens began to slowly awaken. Tourists toting binoculars went to the mountain to get a better look, but some experts warned them to not expect too much, predicting it very unlikely to be a major geological event. The experts were wrong. From the April 21, 1980 People magazine:

It was hardly Vesuvius or Krakatoa, but when Mount St. Helens—near Washington’s border with Oregon—began to gurgle seriously last month, geologists and thrill-seekers gathered from all over the world. They hoped to see one of the rarest and most spectacular of nature’s performances: a volcanic eruption. Not since Mount Lassen in California began seven years of activity in 1914 has a volcano in the lower 48 states put on such a show. Still, some watchers may be disappointed by Mount St. Helens. “People have this idea about lava from old South Sea movies,” says Donal Mullineaux, a volcanologist in the U.S. Geological Survey, “with everybody in sarongs hotfooting it away from this smoky, glowing stuff that comes oozing out of the crater and down the mountain like cake batter. Lava can be dangerous, sure, but that’s only a part of it.”

The rest of it—clouds of poisonous gas, searing hot winds and cascades of mud and rock—now seems unlikely at Mount St. Helens. Mullineaux, who had predicted an eruption in a scholarly 1975 article, is maintaining a vigilant calm. “The probability of a big, big eruption is very low,” he says. Asked if the gases already escaped pose a pollution threat, he smiles and says, “Any comment I could make would be facetious. I grew up in a paper-mill town.”•

The CBS News report three days after the volcano blew, with Dan Rather and his folksy whatthefuck subbing for Walter Cronkite.

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Most men (and women) lead lives of quite desperation, but from Brooklyn to Big Sur Henry Miller hollered. That resulted in some genius writing and some considerably lesser material. In 1961, the author explained in a Paris Review interview how he believed his tools shaped his writing:

Paris Review:

Do you edit or change much?

Henry Miller:

That too varies a great deal. I never do any correcting or revising while in the process of writing. Let’s say I write a thing out any old way, and then, after it’s cooled off—I let it rest for a while, a month or two maybe—I see it with a fresh eye. Then I have a wonderful time of it. I just go to work on it with the ax. But not always. Sometimes it comes out almost like I wanted it.

Paris Review:

How do you go about revising?

Henry Miller:

When I’m revising, I use a pen and ink to make changes, cross out, insert. The manuscript looks wonderful afterwards, like a Balzac. Then I retype, and in the process of retyping I make more changes. I prefer to retype everything myself, because even when I think I’ve made all the changes I want, the mere mechanical business of touching the keys sharpens my thoughts, and I find myself revising while doing the finished thing. 

Paris Review:

You mean there is something going on between you and the machine?

Henry Miller:

Yes, in a way the machine acts as a stimulus; it’s a cooperative thing.•

Robert Snyder’s deeply enjoyable 1969 documentary of Miller in his middle years, when he had befriended, among many others, astrologer Sydney Omarr, a relationship which helped the author indulge his curiosity in the occult.

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Wilt Chamberlain was a hybrid of topdog and underdog, fully aware that all his greatness could never make the public quite love a Goliath. To merely be himself was to be unfair. In Allen Barra’s 2012 Atlantic appreciation of the late NBA, volleyball and track & field star, the writer compares the legendary basketball player favorably with Babe Ruth, and recalls the humble environs in which he recorded the NBA’s only triple-digit scoring performance. An excerpt:

The celebration of Wilt Chamberlain’s career that accompanied the 50th anniversary of his 100-point game last weekend was too short and passed too quickly.

Wilt Chamberlain was the Babe Ruth of pro basketball. Like Ruth, he was by far the most dominant force in his time, and quite possibly of all time. Like the Babe, Wilt was the lightning rod for interest in the sport in a time when it was badly needed. In Chamberlain’s case, he was more important to basketball than Ruth was to baseball.

Contrary to popular opinion, baseball was doing quite well at the turnstiles when Ruth came along and would have survived the stink of the Black Sox gambling scandal with or without him (though the recovery certainly would have taken longer). But without Wilt, who knows if the NBA would have made it from the 1960s—when it was scarcely one of the big three pro sports behind baseball and football—to the Magic Johnson-Larry Bird boom of the late 1970s and the Michael Jordan tidal wave a few years later?

If you doubt this, consider one extraordinary fact: Wilt played his 100-point game not in New York or even in the Warriors’ home city of Philadelphia but in an odd-looking, plain concrete barn-like structure with an arched roof in Hershey, Pennsylvania, where the Warriors played several games a year in order to increase a fan base that wasn’t showing them overwhelming support in Philly.

Try and imagine the equivalent in baseball: Babe Ruth hitting his 60th home run in, say, Newark, New Jersey, at a Yankees “secondary” park in front of a handful of fans. If not for an unknown student listening to a late night rebroadcast of the game who thought to tape the fourth quarter on a reel-to-reel, we’d have no live coverage of the game at all.

Chamberlain’s triumph came at the Hershey Sports Arena. Today the HersheyPark Arena looks virtually the same, a practice facility for the AHL’s Hershey Bears and home ice for a local college that is also open for public skating. It’s easy to miss the notices that here Chamberlain played his landmark game: a small sign on a pole outside the main gates and a copy of the photo of Wilt holding up the handmade “100” in the back side of the lobby.

There is one primary difference between the careers of Babe Ruth and Wilt Chamberlain: Ruth was—and is—regarded by most baseball analysts as the greatest player in his game. But basketball people have never quite been able to make up their minds about Wilt.•

Ed Sullivan interviews Chamberlain soon after his heroics in Hershey.

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In a 1968 Playboy Interview, Eric Nordern tried to extract a definitive statement about the meaning of 2001: A Space Odyssey directly from the mouth of the horse, but Stanley Kubrick wasn’t having it. The director was happy, however, to expound on the potential existence of extraterrestrials of advanced intelligence and what it would mean for us relatively lowly earthlings. An excerpt:

Playboy:

Speaking of what it’s all about—if you’ll allow us to return to the philosophical interpretation of 2001—would you agree with those critics who call it a profoundly religious film?

Stanley Kubrick:

I will say that the God concept is at the heart of 2001—but not any traditional, anthropomorphic image of God. I don’t believe in any of Earth’s monotheistic religions, but I do believe that one can construct an intriguingscientific definition of God, once you accept the fact that there are approximately 100 billion stars in our galaxy alone, that its star is a life-giving sun and that there are approximately 100 billion galaxies in just the visibleuniverse. Given a planet in stable orbit, not too hot and not too cold, and given a few billion years of chance chemical reactions created by the interaction of sun’s energy on the planet’s chemicals, it’s fairly certain that life in one form or another will eventually emerge. It’s reasonable to assume that there must be, in fact, countless billions of such planets where biological life has arisen, and the odds of some proportion of such life developing intelligence are high. Now, the sun is by no means an old star, and its planets are mere children in cosmic age, so it seems likely that there are billions of planets in the universe not only where intelligent life is on a lower scale than man but other billions where it is approximately equal and others still where it is hundreds of thousands of years in advance of us. When you think of the giant technological strides that man has made in a few millennia—less than a microsecond in the cosmology of the universe—can you imagine the evolutionary development that much older life forms have taken? They may have progressed from biological species, which are fragile shells for the mind at best, into immortal machine entities—and then, over innumerable eons, they could emerge from the chrysalis of matter transformed into beings of pure energy and spirit. Their potentialities would be limitless and their intelligence ungraspable by humans.

Playboy:

Even assuming the cosmic evolutionary path you suggest, what has this to do with the nature of God?

Stanley Kubrick:

Everything—because these beings would be gods to the billions of less advanced races in the universe, just as man would appear a god to an ant that somehow comprehended man’s existence. They would possess the twin attributes of all deities—omniscience and omnipotence. These entities might be in telepathic communication throughout the cosmos and thus be aware of everything that occurs, tapping every intelligent mind as effortlessly as we switch on the radio; they might not be limited by the speed of light and their presence could penetrate to the farthest corners of the universe; they might possess complete mastery over matter and energy; and in their final evolutionary stage, they might develop into an integrated collective immortal consciousness. They would be incomprehensible to us except as gods; and if the tendrils of their consciousness ever brushed men’s minds, it is only the hand of God we could grasp as an explanation.

Playboy:

If such creatures do exist, why should they be interested in man?

Stanley Kubrick:

They may not be. But why should man be interested in microbes? The motives of such beings would be as alien to us as their intelligence.

Playboy:

In 2001, such incorporeal creatures seem to manipulate our destinies and control our evolution, though whether for good or evil—or both, or neither—remains unclear. Do you really believe it’s possible that man is a cosmic plaything of such entities?

Stanley Kubrick:

I don’t really believe anything about them; how can I? Mere speculation on the possibility of their existence is sufficiently overwhelming, without attempting to decipher the motives. The important point is that all the standard attributes assigned to God in our history could equally well be the characteristics of biological entities who billions of years ago were at a stage of development similar to man’s own and evolved into something as remote from man as man is remote from the primordial ooze from which he first emerged.

Playboy:

In this cosmic phylogeny you’ve described, isn’t it possible that there might be forms of intelligent life on an even higher scale than these entities of pure energy—perhaps as far removed from them as they are from us?

Stanley Kubrick:

Of course there could be; in an infinite, eternal universe, the point is that anything is possible, and it’s unlikely that we can even begin to scratch the surface of the full range of possibilities. But at a time when man is preparing to set foot on the Moon, I think it’s necessary to open up our Earth bound minds to such speculation. No one knows what’s waiting for us in our universe. I think it was a prominent astronomer who wrote recently, “Sometimes I think we are alone, and sometimes I think we’re not. In either case, the idea is quite staggering.”

Playboy:

You said that there must be billions of planets sustaining life that is considerably more advanced than man but has not yet evolved into non- or suprabiological forms. What do you believe would be the effect on humanity if the Earth were contacted by a race of such ungodlike but technologically superior beings?

Stanley Kubrick:

There’s a considerable difference of opinion on this subject among scientists and philosophers. Some contend that encountering a highly advanced civilization—even one whose technology is essentially comprehensible to us—would produce a traumatic cultural shock effect on man by divesting him of his smug ethnocentrism and shattering the delusion that he is the center of the universe. Carl Jung summed up this position when he wrote of contact with advanced extraterrestrial life that “reins would be torn from our hands and we would, as a tearful old medicine man once said to me, find ourselves ‘without dreams’ … we would find our intellectual and spiritual aspirations so outmoded as to leave us completely paralyzed.” I personally don’t accept this position, but it’s one that’s widely held and can’t be summarily dismissed.

In 1960, for example, the Committee for Long Range Studies of the Brookings Institution prepared a report for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration warning that even indirect contact—i.e., alien artifacts that might possibly be discovered through our space activities on the Moon, Mars, or Venus or via radio contact with an interstellar civilization—could cause severe psychological dislocations. The study cautioned that “Anthropological files contain many examples of societies, sure of their place in the universe, which have disintegrated when they have had to associate with previously unfamiliar societies espousing different ideas and different life ways; others that survived such an experience usually did so by paying the price of changes in values and attitudes and behaviour.” It concluded that since the consequences of any such discovery are “presently unpredictable,” it was advisable that the government initiate continuing studies on the psychological and intellectual impact of confrontation with extra-terrestrial life. What action was taken on this report I don’t know, but I assume that such studies are now under way. However, while not discounting the possible adverse emotional impact on some people, I would personally tend to view such contact with a tremendous amount of excitement and enthusiasm. Rather than shattering our society, I think it could immeasurably enrich it.

Another positive point is that it’s a virtual certainty that all intelligent life at one stage in its technological development must have discovered nuclear energy. This is obviously the watershed of any civilization; does it find a way to use nuclear power without destruction and harness it for peaceful purposes, or does it annihilate itself? I would guess that any civilization that has existed for a few thousand years after its discovery of atomic energy has devised a means of accommodating itself to the bomb, and this could prove tremendously reassuring to us—as well as give us specific guidelines for our own survival. In any case, as far as cultural shock is concerned, my impression is that the attention span of most people is quite brief; after a week or two of great excitement and over-saturation in the newspapers and on television, the public’s interest would drop off and the United Nations, or whatever world body we had then, would settle down to discussions with the aliens.

Playboy:

You’re assuming that extraterrestrials would be benevolent. Why?

Stanley Kubrick:

Why should a vastly superior race bother to harm or destroy us? If an intelligent ant suddenly traced a message in the sand at my feet reading, “I am sentient; let’s talk things over,” I doubt very much that I would rush to grind him under my heel. Even if they weren’t superintelligent, though, but merely more advanced than mankind, I would tend to lean more toward the benevolence, or at least indifference, theory. Since it’s most unlikely that we would be visited from within our own solar system, any society capable of traversing light-years of space would have to have an extremely high degree of control over matter and energy. Therefore, what possible motivation for hostility would they have? To steal our gold or oil or coal? It’s hard to think of any nasty intention that would justify the long and arduous journey from another star.•

Introduced by Vernon Myers, the publisher of Look, the 1966 short film, “A Look Behind the Future,” focuses on the magazine’s former photographer Kubrick, who was then in the process of making 2001: A Space Odyssey at London’s MGM studios. It’s a nice companion piece to Jeremy Bernstein’s two great New Yorker articles about the movie during its long gestation (here and here).

Mentioned or seen in this video: Mobile phones, laptop computers, Wernher Von Braun, memory helmets, a 38-ton centrifuge, Arthur C. Clarke at the Long Island warehouse where the NASA L.E.M. (Lunar Excursion Module) was being constructed, Keir Dullea meeting the press, etc. 

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I would think I’m in the small minority of Don DeLillo readers who feel that his best novel is White Noise, a book about an airborne toxic event and other looming threats. From Nathaniel Rich’s just-published Daily Beast piece:

How did the novel that Don DeLillo originally titled Panasonic become the phenomenon that was, and still is, White Noise? Canonized at birth by rhapsodic critics and instantly ubiquitous on college syllabi, the novel won the National Book Award and journalists hailed its publicity-shy author as a prophet.

But White Noise was not different in kind from Don DeLillo’s previous seven novels. He had been writing about the same paranoiac themes for 15 years: nuclear age anomie, the tyranny and mind control of American commercial excess, the dread of mass terror and the perverse longing for it, the aphasic cacophony of mass information, and even Hitler obsession. In those earlier novels DeLillo had written in the same clipped, oracular prose, borrowing sardonically from bureaucratic officialese, scientific jargon, and tabloid headlines. Some of White Noise’s main insights—“All plots tend to move deathward,” declares the narrator, Jack Gladney—were recycled from the earlier novels, too. White Noise was more conventionally plotted than End Zone, Great Jones Street, or Players, and the characters more conflicted, more human. But something else had changed.

“The greater the scientific advance,” says Jack Gladney, “the more primitive the fear.” White Noise is bathed in the glare and hum of personal computers and refrigerators and color televisions. Like bulletins from the subconscious, the text is intermittently interrupted by litanies of brand names designed to be pronounceable in a hundred languages: Tegrin, Denorex, Selsun Blue. At one point Jack observes his daughter talking in her sleep, uttering the words Toyota Celica. “It was like the name of an ancient power in the sky, tablet-carved in cuneiform. It made me feel that something hovered.”

Something is hovering all right.•

The 1991 BBC program, Don DeLillo: The Word, The Image, and The Gun, was originally aired the same year the author published that strange thing Mao II, a novel with wooden characters and plotting, but one so eerily correct about the coming escalation of terrorism, how guns would become bombs and airplanes would not just be redirected but repurposed. It’s like DeLillo tried to alert us to targets drawn in chalk on all sides of the Twin Towers, but we never really fully noticed. This program is a great portrait of DeLillo and his “dangerous secrets” about technology, surveillance, film, news, the novel, art and the apocalypse.

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The 1980 killing of Scarsdale Diet creator, Dr. Henry Tarnower, by his longtime companion, Jean Harris, was a slaying that awakened all sorts of emotions about the dynamics between men and women. FromMurder with Intent to Love,” a 1981 Time article by Walter Isaacson and James Wilde about the sensational trial:

Prosecutor George Bolen, 34, was cold and indignant in his summation, insisting that jealousy over Tarnower‘s affair with his lab assistant, Lynne Tryforos, 38, was the motivating factor for murder. Argued Bolen: ‘There was dual intent, to take her own life, but also an intent to do something else . . . to punish Herman Tarnower . . . to kill him and keep him from Lynne Tryforos.’ Bolen ridiculed the notion that Harris fired her .32-cal. revolver by accident. He urged the jury to examine the gun while deliberating. Said he: ‘Try pulling the trigger. It has 14 pounds of pull. Just see how difficult it would be to pull, double action, four times by accident.’ Bolen, who was thought by his superiors to be too gentle when he cross-examined Harris earlier in the trial, showed little mercy as he painted a vivid picture of what he claims happened that night. He dramatically raised his hand in the defensive stance he says Tarnower used when Harris pointed the gun at him. When the judge sustained an objection by Aurnou that Bolen‘s version went beyond the evidence presented, the taut Harris applauded until her body shook.•

In 1991, the year before her sentence was commuted, Harris sat for a jailhouse interview with Jane Pauley, who has somehow managed to not murder Garry Trudeau.

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Years before he was to become a Hollywood heavyweight, Ivan Reitman helped launch the career of affable, parody-ready illusionist Doug Henning, who came to attention in Canada with the stage performance Spellbound. Relocated to Broadway in the mid-1970s and rechristened The Magic Show, it was a long-running sensation. After a break from the NYC boards and some permutations in his personal life, Henning tried, with disastrous results, to recapture the old magic with his 1983 creation, Merlin. Before it was delivered a death blow to the stomach, à la Houdini, by indifferent audiences, Henning was profiled by Mary Vespa of People. The opening:

Doug Henning learned one of his most valuable tricks not from another magician but from the manager of the famous mime Marcel Marceau: “Keep yourself scarce.” He has. Though he’s been doing his annual NBC-TV specials for eight years now, and frequently takes his act on the road, he hasn’t set foot on Broadway since The Magic Show, the popular revue that established him as big box office when he starred in it from 1974 to 1977. Now he’s back, this time with Merlin, a musical with a $4 million budget, lavish sets, stunning effects and stunts on a scale that, he says, “staggers the imagination.”

Indeed, the Mark Hellinger Theater has never seen quite such goings-on. There is exotic music. Beautiful women emerge from fire, burst into a constellation of stars, disappear into thin air. Chita Rivera, as the evil queen intent on doing in the young Merlin (Henning) before he meets the future King Arthur, changes a black panther into a temptress who tries to distract him from his magic. But Henning survives this and other hazards—at one point he disappears from a flaming cage being lifted above the stage—to triumph in the end.

Whether all this will dazzle the critics won’t be clear until the show, now playing to preview audiences, opens on Jan. 9. But for Henning, at least, Merlin is already a milestone that is not only professional but personal: The show’s water spirit, a lithe brunette dream woman he levitates above a fountain, is in fact a new wife who’s given him a badly needed lift.

Cut to 1981. Henning was trying to bounce back from a busted marriage. Exhausted after doing one of his TV shows, he retreated to a favorite haunt, the Transcendental Meditation Center at Maharishi International University in Fairfield, Iowa. “Doug was just so sad and lonely,” recalls friend Jim Bagnola. “It seemed as though he was achieving all his goals and still remaining unfulfilled.” Call it luck. Timing. Or was it life playing a trick on a superillusionist? There, at a banquet, he met a beauty who would sweep away his woes like, well, magic.

“My friends said there was practically a flash of light,” says Henning, 35. “I had never felt anything like it in my whole life.” The dazzler was Debby Douillard, 27, an abstract painter with bottomless blue eyes who was taking classes at the university and also had just separated from her spouse. She, too, felt Cupid’s bolt: “It was like I blossomed right on the spot.”

They got engaged within the week and wed last December. He still marvels at the sorcery she’s worked on him. “When I perform, I could love a million people,” Henning admits, “but I had trouble loving one person. I would separate love and sex. Debby’s helped me overcome my fear of intimacy.” Her problem was shyness, and Henning’s Rx has been to use her not only in Merlin but also on tour, where she performs as a singer, dancer and his assistant. “I have a tendency to be inward,” says Debby. “Doug’s turning me inside out. Sometimes it’s painful, but it’s a great growing experience.”•

Not content with merely being a magus, Henning also founded a political organization, The Natural Law Party, which helped him lose elections very badly in both the UK and Canada. Sometimes democracy works.

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Wielikowskij (1)

Immanuel Velikovsky was an outsider scientist whose work was impressively elaborate nonsense. “Astronomers at Harvard consider the sensational theory of Dr. Immanuel Velikovsky that the earth stood still a couple of times in Biblical days sheer nonsense,” noted Popular Science in 1950. A charismatic guy, he nonetheless managed to befriend some of the greatest minds of the 20th century, including Albert Einstein, Carl Sagan and Freeman Dyson. In a New York Review of Books piece, Dyson recalled their friendship. An excerpt:

After I came to America, I became a friend of Immanuel Velikovsky, who was my neighbor in Princeton. Velikovsky was a Russian Jew, with an intense interest in Jewish legends and ancient history. He was born into a scholarly family in 1895 and obtained a medical degree at Moscow University in 1921. During the chaos of the Bolshevik Revolution he wrote a long Russian poem with the title “Thirty Days and Nights of Diego Pirez on the Sant Angelo Bridge.” It was published in Paris in 1935. Diego Pirez was a sixteenth-century Portuguese Jewish mystic who came to Rome and sat on the bridge near the Vatican, surrounded by beggars and thieves to whom he told his apocalyptic visions. He was condemned to death by the Inquisition, pardoned by the pope, and later burned as a heretic by the emperor Charles V.

Velikovsky escaped from Russia and settled in Palestine with his wife and daughters. He described to me the joys of practicing medicine on the slopes of Mount Carmel above Haifa, where he rode on a donkey to visit his patients in their homes. He founded and edited a journal, Scripta Universitatis atque Bibliothecae Hierosolymitanarum, which was the official journal of the Hebrew University before the university was established. His work for the Scripta was important for the founding of the Hebrew University. But he had no wish to join the university himself. To fulfill his dreams he needed complete independence. In 1939, after sixteen years in Palestine, he moved to America, where he had no license to practice medicine. To survive in America, he needed to translate his dreams into books.

Eleven years later, Macmillan published Worlds in Collision, and it became a best seller. Like Diego Pirez, Velikovsky told his dreams to the public in language they could understand. His dreams were mythological stories of catastrophic events, gleaned from many cultures, especially from ancient Egypt and Israel. These catastrophes were interwoven with a weird history of planetary collisions. The planets Venus and Mars were supposed to have moved out of their regular orbits and collided with the Earth a few thousand years ago. Electromagnetic forces were invoked to counteract the normal effects of gravity. The human and cosmic events were tied together in a flowing narrative. Velikovsky wrote like an Old Testament prophet, calling down fire and brimstone from heaven, in a style familiar to Americans raised on the King James Bible. More best sellers followed:Ages in Chaos in 1952, Earth in Upheaval in 1955, Oedipus and Akhnaton in 1960. Velikovsky became famous as a writer and as a public speaker.

In 1977 Velikovsky asked me to write a blurb advertising his new book, Peoples of the Sea. I wrote a statement addressed to him personally:

First, as a scientist, I disagree profoundly with many of the statements in your books. Second, as your friend, I disagree even more profoundly with those scientists who have tried to silence your voice. To me, you are no reincarnation of Copernicus or Galileo. You are a prophet in the tradition of William Blake, a man reviled and ridiculed by his contemporaries but now recognized as one of the greatest of English poets. A hundred and seventy years ago, Blake wrote: “The Enquiry in England is not whether a Man has Talents and Genius, but whether he is Passive and Polite and a Virtuous Ass and obedient to Noblemen’s Opinions in Art and Science. If he is, he is a Good Man. If not, he must be starved.” So you stand in good company. Blake, a buffoon to his enemies and an embarrassment to his friends, saw Earth and Heaven more clearly than any of them. Your poetic visions are as large as his and as deeply rooted in human experience. I am proud to be numbered among your friends.

I added the emphatic instruction, “This statement to be printed in its entirety or not at all.” A quick response came from Velikovsky. He said, “How would you like it if I said you were the reincarnation of Jules Verne?” He wanted to be honored as a scientist, not as a poet. My statement was not printed, and Peoples of the Sea became a best seller without my help. We remained friends, and in that same year he gave me a copy of his Diego Pirez poem, which I treasure as the truest expression of his spirit. I hope it will one day be adequately translated into English.•

Here is an amusing 1972 BBC doc about the Velikovsky and his catastrophist claptrap.

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sharontatedoristate

Here’s an oddity: In 1991, Doris Tate, mother of actress Sharon Tate who was among those murdered by the Manson Family, appeared on To Tell the Truth hosted by Alex Trebek. The elder Tate became a campaigner for the rights of crime victims. This short-lived iteration of the venerable game show, which had a harder, more provocative edge than such fare usually has, provided a platform for Tate’s work. She passed away the following year as a result of a brain tumor. Begins at the 8:18 mark.

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laika5Big

Talk about unintended consequences: The success of the Soviet satellite Sputnik in 1957 helped birth the Internet. America’s chagrin over being bested by our Cold War combatants led to the formation of DARPA, and some of that department’s money was used to seed Arpanet. Just three decades later, everyone had convenient access to cat photos and pornography.

The intended consequence of the U.S. spending spree on technology in the late ’50s and ’60s was, of course, for America to surpass the Soviets in space exploration, something that didn’t seem a good bet at the time. The Economist dug into its archives for its reportage about the success of Sputnik 2 and the death of its canine cosmonaut, Laika. The article incorrectly asserted it was almost a sure thing that Russia would reach the moon first. The opening: 

AMID the awed silence in which the world has followed the progress of the second Soviet satellite it has been possible to hear the pounding heartbeats not only of the small dog inside but also of the Western statesmen and scientists left far down below. This is not merely because Sputnik II is six times as big as its pipsqueak predecessor (and fifty times bigger than the first still-to-be-launched American satellite) and therefore so many times more impressive. If the first artificial moon had not been followed into space by a fellow-traveller, it might just conceivably have been a lucky experiment that came off. Now that there are two of them, this is no longer thinkable.

If the Russians can self-confidently throw half a ton of equipment and a living creature into their proper orbit in the sky so soon after the first satellite was despatched, they must hold an even longer lead over the Americans than was first thought. Indeed, there have been hints of new rocket designs and new kinds of missile fuel which suggest that the Americans are not only lagging behind but in certain respects may not yet even be on the same road. If it turns out that the Russians can add to all this the further achievement of ejecting the dog from the satellite and bringing it to earth at a time and (even very roughly) a place of their own choosing, the military implications will be horrendous. In addition to the probability that they will have “ordinary” intercontinental missiles ready for use very soon, some years ahead of the West, they would then be able also to girdle the earth with a fleet of incredibly fast and long-lasting bomb-carriers which, unlike the missile-launching sites, would be quite free from the threat of counter-attacks. 

This vista of a period of majestic Soviet superiority is not confined to the earth and its suburban space. Man is quite probably going to land on the moon before many years are past, to set up observation posts and to establish a jumping-off ground for further ventures among the planets. As The Economist goes to press, there is speculation that the 40th anniversary of the revolution may be further commemorated by the sight of a Russian missile knocking chips off the moon’s face. In any case, at the present rate of progress it is almost certain to be a Russian who first puts foot to ground there—and he looks like doing it a good many years before anyone else. It is this thought that provides the proper context for the protests of animal-lovers against the use of a dog in Sputnik II.•

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Public Service Broadcasting performing “Sputnik” in Ottawa.

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Ten years after Rev. Sun Myung Moon presided over a 1982 mass wedding in Madison Square Garden, New York Times reporter Melinda Henneberger caught up with some of the 4,000 strangers who were consciously coupled. The article’s opening:

When Jonathan and Debby Gullery were married 10 years ago, in a mass wedding of 2,075 couples at Madison Square Garden, they were widely viewed as bit players in a bizarre show produced by the Rev. Sun Myung Moon. Strangers screamed at them as they sold flowers on the street, and Mrs. Gullery’s father said he thought seriously about having her kidnapped and brought home.

But over the last decade, the Gullerys say, both they and their church have grown up and settled down. On a recent evening, amid the chaos of bedtime for their three young children, they took turns coaxing the 4-year-old back to her room while Mrs. Gullery’s father, who was visiting from Vermont, took refuge in the novel he was reading in the living room of their suburban home.

Mr. Gullery now owns his own graphic arts business, and the couple’s oldest child, who is 7, attends the local public school. Their youngest is 2. To celebrate their 10th anniversary, they took the children to Burger King.

“Things change in 10 years,” Mrs. Gullery said. “Our church has changed, we’ve changed, our family has changed. With our neighbors, we didn’t put a sign out and say, ‘Here we are, we’re the neighborhood Moonies,’ but they all have kids and after they got to know us, it was O.K. The last couple of years have been fairly low key.”

Their lives are nonetheless quite different from their neighbors’. They remain completely dedicated to the Unification Church, rising early each morning for family prayer, and offering up all their daily tasks to the service of God and Mr. Moon, who is for them the second Messiah.•

Footage of the blessed event.

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From a 1979 People article about the late-life John Cheever, who was every bit as good at the short-story form as F. Scott Fitzgerald or Flannery O’Connor or Paul Bowles or any American writer:

Instead of whiskey, the traditional tonic of his profession, the tumbler in Cheever’s hand contains dark tea nowadays, and he distastefully yet methodically counts leftover cigarette butts in his ashtray, a requirement of Smokenders. Cheever joined because “there is something humiliating about getting off the plane in a place like Sofia and thinking, ‘Oh, my God, are they going to have my brand?’” Once tormented by phobias, Cheever required a slug of Scotch from the bottle in the glove compartment before he dared drive across a bridge. He was the despair of his publishers’ PR men, an author who disappeared for six weeks after the publication of a book and refused interviews upon returning. When his first novel was finished, he fled to Rome for a full year. Today such quirks have vanished. At 66, John Cheever is a resurrected man.

“Five years ago I was washing down Thorazine with Scotch,” he says candidly. “I felt suicidal; my life and my career were over. I wanted to end it.” Always a hard drinker, Cheever sank into alcoholism after a near-fatal heart attack in 1972. He swore off temporarily but relapsed while teaching at Boston University. Novelist John Updike, an old friend, saw him at his alcoholic nadir and sadly remarked, ‘I keep thinking the John Cheever I know is in there someplace.’ Finally, with the support of his family, Cheever faced the facts of his behavior (“such a loss of dignity”) and agreed to enter Smithers, an exclusive Manhattan clinic for alcoholism. “If you can have it cured,” he says, five years later, “I am cured.” When released after 32 days, he promptly sat down and, in less than a year, wrote his much-acclaimed fourth novel, Falconer, a gothic tale of life in a prison very much like Sing Sing. Cheever knew his subject well: He once taught a writing course to the convicts.

“I don’t know where the blackness in my life comes from,” Cheever says. “There is a great deal of sadness, of melancholy. I have no idea where it originates.” Part of it may stem from Cheever’s seafaring Yankee ancestry, and his grandfather, who, Cheever was told, committed suicide. John was born in Quincy, Mass., the son of a businessman bankrupted by the crash of ’29. His father was often away, and he and his older brother, Fred (also an alcoholic, who died in 1976), were raised by their English mother. She supported the family with a small gift shop, a source of embarrassment to Cheever. He was close to his maternal grandmother “partly because she called my mother a cretin, which is an easy way to endear yourself to a child” and remembers that she insisted French be spoken at meals. “I don’t recall her French was all that good.”

Dick Cavett interviews Cheever and fellow literary light John Updike in 1981. Expect no Mailer-Vidal fireworks.

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Wernher von Braun, Nazi scientist, warranted a hanging for his crimes against humanity, but he had a talent considered crucial during the early stages of the Cold War, so his past was whitewashed, and he was installed as the leader of NASA’s space program, ultimately becoming something of an American hero. So very, very unfair.

But his horrific past in Germany bled over into his new one in the U.S. in his early ’50s plan to send a “baby satellite” into space for two months with a crew of three rhesus monkeys. The mission completed, the rocket would burn up as it reentered the atmosphere. To save the primates from the pain of an inferno, Braun wanted to create an automatic switch which would gas the monkeys to death–yes, a gas chamber in space! “The monkeys will die instantly and painlessly,” he wrote in a 1952 Collier’s article he co-authored with Cornelius Ryan. It staggers the mind.

The article:

WE ARE at the threshold today of our first bold venture into space. Scientists and engineers working toward man’s exploration of the great new frontier know now that they are going to send aloft a robot laboratory as the first step—a baby space station which for 60 days will circle the earth at an altitude of 200 miles and a speed of 17,200 miles an hour, serving as scout for the human pioneers to follow.

We rocket engineers have learned a lot about space by shooting off the high-flying rockets now in existence—so much that right now we know how to build the rocket ships and the big space station we need to put man into space and keep him there comfortably. We know how to train space crews and how to protect them from the hazards which exist above our atmosphere. All that has been reported in previous issues ofCollier’s.

But the rockets which have gathered our data have stayed in space for only a few minutes at a time. The baby satellite will give us 60 days; we’ll learn more in those two months than in 10 years of firing the present instrument rockets.

We can begin work on the new space vehicle immediately. The baby satellite will look like a 30-foot ice-cream cone, topped by a cross of curved mirrors which draw power from the sun. Its tapered casing will contain a complicated maze of measuring instruments, pressure gauges, thermometers, microphones and Geiger counters, all hooked up to a network of radio, radar and television transmitters which will keep watchers on earth informed about what’s going on inside it.

Speeding 30 times faster than today’s best jets, the little satellite will make one circuit around the earth every 91 minutes—nearly 16 round trips a day. At dawn and dusk it will be visible to the naked eye as a bright, unwinking star, reflecting the sun’s rays and traveling from horizon to horizon in about seven minutes. Ninety-one minutes later, it completes the circuit—but if you look for it in the same place, it won’t be there: it travels in a fixed orbit, while the earth, rotating on its own axis, moves under it. An hour and a half from the time you first sighted the speeding robot, it will pass over the earth hundreds of miles to the west. The cone will never be visible in the dark of night, because it will be in the shadow of the earth.

If you live in Philadelphia, one morning you may see the satellite overhead just before sunup, moving on a southeasterly course. Ninety-one minutes later, as dawn breaks over Wichita, Kansas, people there will see it, and after another hour and a half it will be visible over Los Angeles—again, just before the break of dawn.

That evening, Philadelphians—and the people of Wichita and Los Angeles—will see the speeding satellite again, this time traveling in a northeasterly direction. The following morning, it will be in sight again over the same cities, at about the same time, a little farther to the west.

After about ten days, it will no longer appear over those three cities, but will be visible over other areas. Thus, from any one site, it will be seen on successive occasions for about 20 days before disappearing below the western horizon. In another month or so, it will show up again in the east. And while you’re gazing at the little satellite, it will be peering steadily back, through a television camera in its pointed nose. The camera will give official viewers in stations scattered around the globe the first real panoramic picture of our world—a breath-taking view of the land masses, oceans and cities as seen from 200 miles up. More than likely, commercial TV stations will pick up the broadcasts and relay them to your home.

Three more cameras, located inside the cone, will transmit equally exciting pictures: the first sustained view of life in space.

Three rhesus monkeys—rhesus, because that species is small and highly intelligent—will live aboard the satellite in air-conditioned comfort, feeding from automatic food dispensers. Every move they make will be watched, through television, by the observers on earth.

As fast as the robot’s recording instruments gather information, it will be flashed to the ground by the same method used now in rocket-flight experiments. The method is called telemetering, and it works this way: as many as 50 reporting devices are hooked to a single transmitter which sends out a jumble of tonal waves. A receiver on earth picks up the tangled signals, and a decoding machine unscrambles the tones and prints the information automatically on long strips of paper, as a series of spidery wavelike lines. Each line represents the findings of a particular instrument—cabin temperature, air pressure and so on. Together, they’ll provide a complete story of the happenings inside and outside the baby space station.

What kind of scientific data do we hope to get? Confirmation of all space research to date and, most important, new information on weightlessness, cosmic radiation and meteoric dust.

At a high enough speed and a certain altitude, an object will travel in an orbit around the earth. It— and everything in it—will be weightless. Space scientists and engineers know that man can adjust to weightlessness, because pilots have simulated the condition briefly by flying a jet plane in a rollercoaster arc. But will sustained weightlessness raise problems we haven’t foreseen? We must find out—and the monkeys on the satellite will tell us.

The monkeys will live in two chambers of the animal compartment. In the smaller section, one of the creatures will lie strapped to a seat throughout the two-month test. His hands and head will be free, so he can feed himself, but his body will be bound and covered with a jacket to keep him from freeing himself or from tampering with the measuring instruments taped painlessly to his body. The delicate recording devices will provide vital information—body temperature, breathing cycle, pulse rate, heartbeat, blood pressure and so forth.

The other two monkeys, separated from their pinioned companion so they won’t turn him loose, will move about freely in the larger section. During the flight from earth, these two monkeys will be strapped to shock-absorbing rubber couches, under a mild anesthetic to spare them the discomfort of the acceleration pressure. By the time the anesthetic wears off, the robot will have settled in its circular path about the earth, and a simple timing device will release the two monkeys. Suddenly they’ll float weightless, inside the cabin.

What will they do? Succumb to fright? Perhaps cower in a corner for two months and slowly starve to death? I don’t think so. Chances are they’ll adjust quickly to their new condition. We’ll make it easier for them to get around by providing leather handholds along the walls, like subway straps, and by stringing a rope across the chamber.

There’s another problem for the three animals: to survive the 60 days they must eat and drink.

They’ll prepare to cope with that problem on the ground. For months before they take off, the two unbound monkeys will live in a replica of the compartment they’ll occupy in space, learning to operate food and liquid dispensers. In space, each of the two free animals will have his own feeding station. At specific intervals a klaxon horn will sound; the monkeys will respond by rushing to the feeding stations as they’ve been trained to do. Their movement will break an electric-eye beam, and clear plastic doors will snap shut behind them, sealing them off from their living quarters. Then, while they’re eating, an air blower will flush out the living compartment—both for sanitary reasons and to keep weightless refuse from blocking the television lenses. The plastic doors will spring open again when the housecleaning is finished.

The monkeys will drink by sucking plastic bottles. Liquid left free, without gravity to keep it in place, would hang in globules. To get solid food, each of the monkeys—again responding to their training—will press a lever on a dispenser much like a candy or cigarette machine. The lever will open a door, enabling the animals to reach in for their food. They’ll get about half a pound of food a day—a biscuit made of wheat, soybean meal and bone meal, enriched with vitamins. The immobilized monkey will have the same food; his dispensers will be within easy reach.

For the two free monkeys, it will be a somewhat complicated life. The way they react to their ground training under the new conditions posed by lack of gravity will provide invaluable information on how weightlessness will affect them.

While the monkeys are providing physiologists with information on weightlessness, physicists will be learning more about cosmic rays, invisible high-speed atomic particles which act like deep penetrating X rays and were once feared as the major hazard of space flight. Theoretically, in large enough doses cosmic rays could conceivably cause deep burns, damage the eyes, produce malignant growths and even upset the normal hereditary processes. They don’t do much damage to us on earth because the atmosphere dissipates their full strength, but before much was known about the rays people worried about the dangers they might pose to man in space. From recent experiments scientists now know that the risk was mostly exaggerated—that even beyond the atmosphere a human can tolerate the rays for long periods without ill effects. Still, the best figures available have been obtained by high-altitude instrument rocket flights which were too brief to be conclusive. These spot checks must be augmented by a prolonged study, and the baby space station will make that possible.

The concentration of cosmic rays over the earth varies, being greatest over the north and south magnetic poles. The baby space station will follow a circular path that will carry it close to both poles within every hour and a half, so it can determine if cosmic-ray concentration varies that high up.

Geiger counters inside and outside the robot will measure the number of cosmic particle hits. The telemetering apparatus will signal the information to the ground—and for the first time physicists will have an accurate indication of the cosmic-ray concentration in space, above all parts of the globe.

Besides cosmic rays, the baby satellite will be hit by high-speed space bullets—tiny meteors, most of them smaller than a grain of sand, whizzing through space faster than 1,000 miles a minute.

When men enter space, they’ll be protected against these pellets. Their rockets, the big space station, even their space suits, will have an outer skin called a meteor bumper, which will shatter the lightning-fast missiles on impact. But how many grainiike meteors must the bumpers absorb every 24 hours? That’s what we space researchers want to know. So dime-sized microphones will be scattered over the robot’s outer skin to record the number and location of the impacts as they occur.

In the process of unmasking the secrets of space, the baby satellite also will unravel a few riddles of our own earth.

For example, there are numerous islands whose precise position in the oceans has never been accurately established because there is no nearby land to use as a reference point. Some of them—one is Bouvet Island, lying south of the Cape of Good Hope—have been the subject of international disputes which could be quickly settled by fixing the islands’ positions. By tracking the baby space station as it passes over these islands, we’ll accurately pinpoint their locations for the first time.

The satellite will be even more important to meteorologists. The men who study the weather would like to know how much of the earth is covered with cloud in any given period. The robot’s television camera will give them a clue—a start toward sketching in a comprehensive picture of the world’s weather. Moreover, by studying the pattern of cloud movement, particularly over oceans, they may learn how to predict weather fronts with precision months in advance. Most of the weather research must await construction of a man-carrying space station, but the baby satellite will show what’s needed.

To collect this information, of course, we must first establish the little robot in its 200-mile orbit. All the knowledge needed for its construction and operation is already available to experts in the fields of rocketry, television and telemetering.

Before take-off, the satellite vehicle will resemble one of today’s high-altitude rockets, except that it will be about three times as big—150 feet tall, and 30 feet wide at the base. After take-off it will become progressively smaller, because it actually will consist of three rockets—or stages—one atop another, two of which will be cast away after delivering their full thrust. The vehicle will take off vertically and then tilt into a shallow path nearly parallel to the earth. Its course will be over water at first, so the first two stages won’t fall on anyone after they’re dropped, a few minutes after take-off.

When the third stage of the vehicle reaches an altitude of 60 miles and a speed of 17,700 miles an hour, the final bank of motors will shut off automatically. The conical nose section will coast unpowered to the 200-mile orbit, which it will reach at a speed of 17,100 miles an hour, 44 minutes later. The entire flight will take 48 1/2 minutes.

After the satellite reaches its orbit, the automatic pilot will switch on the motors once again to boost the velocity to 17,200 miles an hour—the speed required to balance the earth’s gravity at that altitude. Now the rocket becomes a satellite; it needs no more power but will travel steadily around the earth like a small moon for 60 days, until the slight air drag present at the 200-mile altitude slows it enough to drop.

Once the satellite enters its orbit, gyroscopically controlled flywheels cartwheel the nose until it points toward the earth. At the same time, five little antennas spring out from the cone’s sides and a small explosive charge blasts off the nose cap which has guarded the TV lens during the ascent.

Finally, the satellite’s power plant—a system of mirrors which catch the sun’s rays and turn solar heat into electrical energy—rises into place at the broad end of the cone. A battery-operated electric timer starts a hydraulic pump, which pushes out a telescopic rod. At the end of the rod are the three curved mirrors. When the rod is fully extended, the mirrors unfold, side by side, and from the ends of the central mirror two extensions slip out. Mercury-filled pipes run along the five polished plates; the heated mercury will operate generators providing 12 kilowatts of power. Batteries will take over the power functions while the satellite is passing through the shadow of the earth.

With the power plant in operation, the baby space station buckles down to its 60-day assignment as man’s first listening post in space.

At strategic points over the earth’s surface, 20 or more receiving stations, most of them set up in big trailers, will track the robot by radar as it passes overhead, and record the television and telemetering broadcasts on tape and film. Because the satellite’s radio waves travel in a straight line, the trailers can pick up broadcasts for just a few minutes at a time—only while the robot remains in sight as it zooms from horizon to horizon.

As the satellite passes out of range, the recorded data will be sent to a central station in the United States—some of it transmitted by radio, the rest shipped by plane. There, the information will be evaluated and integrated from day to day.

The monitoring posts will be set up inside the Arctic and Antarctic Circles and at points near the equator. In the polar areas, stations could be at Alaska, southern Greenland and Iceland; and in the south, Shetland Islands, Campbell Island and South Georgia Island. In the Pacific, possible sites are Baker Island, Christmas Island, Hawaii and the Galapagos Islands.

The remaining monitors may be located in Puerto Rico, Bermuda, St. Helena, Liberia, South-West Africa, Ethiopia, Maldive Islands, the Malay Peninsula, the Philippines, northern Australia and New Zealand. These points, all in friendly territory, would form a chain around the earth, catching the satellite’s broadcasts at least once a day.

The monitor stations will be fairly costly, but they’ll come in handy again later, when man is ready to launch the first crew-operated rocket ships for development of a big-manned space station, 1,075 miles from the earth.

The cost of the baby satellite project will be absorbed into the four-billion-dollar 10-year program to establish the bigger satellite. We scientists can have the baby rocket within five to seven years if we begin work now. Five years later, we could have the manned space station.

One of the monitoring posts will view the last moments of the baby space station. As the weeks pass, the satellite, dragging against the thin air, will drop lower and lower in its orbit. When it descends into fairly dense air, its skin will be heated by friction, causing the temperature to rise within the animal compartments. At last, a thermostat will set off an electric relay which triggers a capsule containing a quick-acting lethal gas. The monkeys will die instantly and painlessly. Soon afterward, the telemetering equipment will go silent, as the rush of air rips away the solar mirrors which provide power, and the baby space station will begin to glow cherry red. Then suddenly the satellite will disappear in a long white streak of brilliant light—marking the spectacular finish of man’s first step in the conquest of space.•

Months before America sent its first astronaut into space in 1961 and kicked the race to the moon into another gear, a chimpanzee named Ham departed Earth on a Mercury mission. Thankfully, he wasn’t gassed. Trained beginning in 1959 with behaviorist methods, Ham was not only a passenger but also performed small tasks during his suborbital flight. In the NASA photo above, Ham shakes hands with his rescuer aboard the U.S.S. Donner, after his 16-minute mission was successfully completed and he plunged back to his home. The famous chimp lived until 1983 and is buried at the International Space Hall of Fame in New Mexico. The following video tells his saga.

A piece from Frank Deford’s 1986 SI profile of a most troubling artist, Hitler’s favorite filmmaker Leni Riefenstahl, as an obstinate octogenarian:

Leni Riefenstahl is remarkably hale for 83. Her hair is an ingenue’s strawberry blonde, and she flirts with as much proficiency as ever. Her eyes are clear, a fawn brown with a ring of gray-green fringing the iris. Her mind is a well-lighted room, her will as unyielding as it was down all the interrogations and trials. She will not give an inch, growing testy now, then rude, to snoopers who would dare to trespass on those olden times she shared with evil men.

Only her hip, injured in a skiing accident, troubles her. For therapy she swims, diving with a camera as far as 50 meters down, alone amid the rocks and the coral and the sand. ”Underwater, I
have no pain,” she says.

Above the water she works ceaselessly, carving out her memoirs, to finish them, for they are, she dreams, the one last proof of her innocence. For all the courts that cleared her, American and
French and German alike, there was no public absolution for her and certainly no redemption in the world of film. Still, some consider her the greatest female director who ever lived, the creator of the
greatest sports film ever made. It is 50 summers now since she shot Olympia and, like the athletes, won a gold medal for it. But after that there would be only one more movie, a fairy tale, named
Tiefland. It’s ironic; all Leni Riefenstahl ever wanted was to tell fairy tales.

She looks at a photograph of herself, one taken a half-century ago. In it she is peering over folded arms, her shoulders are bare, her delicately beautiful face luminous–Germany’s Garbo, she was
called–the woman at her most gorgeous. Riefenstahl taps the photograph. ”They killed me then,” she explains. ”I am a ghost.” Before I died. . . .

When World War II ended and the true horror of the Nazi regime–Auschwitz, Buchenwald, Dachau- was revealed to the world, thousands of Germans were called to account for their associations, great or small, with the fascist government: There was execution for some, imprisonment for others, self-exile for a few, living ghosthood for Leni Riefenstahl. Has anyone else ever posed the question of an artist’s justification quite like Riefenstahl? The celluloid artifacts from the ’30s and ’40s cannot tell us for sure how much it was that she served herself or served art or served Adolf Hitler.•

This video is a really interesting 1965 CBC interview with the wonderful, terrible Riefenstahl, before she assumed her petulant late-life posture, still rationalizing but not yet resentful.

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A funny and prescient piece of performance art by the great prankster Alan Abel, a blend of Lenny Bruce and Allen Funt, in which he responded to an ad placed by a 1999 HBO show seeking men willing to discuss their genitalia. Abel presented himself as a 57-year-old musician with a micro-penis. The hoaxer was ridiculing the early days of Reality TV, in which soft-headed pseudo-documentaries were offered to the public by cynical producers who didn’t exactly worry about veracity. Things have gotten only dicier since, as much of our culture, including news, makes no attempt at objective truth, instead encouraging individuals to create the reality that comforts or flatters them. Language is NSFW, unless you work in a gloryhole.

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Alanna Nash’s 1997 NYT article covered the making of the HBO biopic about Gia Carangi, recalling how uncomfortable the model was in the clothes the industry laid out for her. In retrospect, I’m sure the paper wishes it hadn’t referred to her as an “aggressive lesbian.” An excerpt:

In the late 70’s, as the dark-haired, dark-eyed teen-age daughter of a South Philadelphia hoagie shop owner, Gia began modeling almost by accident. A local photographer saw her on the dance floor and asked her to pose. Soon she was sought out as a startling alternative to the blond, blue-eyed standard of the day, and by the time she was 18, when she landed her first major advertisement, for Gianni Versace, she was earning $100,000 a year. In 1980, after she had become the ”top girl” at Wilhelmina Models in New York, she was expected to earn five times that much.

But inside, haute couture’s reigning ideal of feminine beauty felt like a fraud. Away from the camera, she dressed in black leather motorcycle jackets and men’s apparel from vintage clothing stores. She was an aggressive lesbian, coming on to models who roomed with her on faraway photo shoots. And once her drug problem got out of hand, she funneled her anger into frightening macho behavior, jumping through a car windshield when she found a female lover with a male friend, and pulling a knife on anyone she thought had slighted her.

When the track marks on her arms started showing up in pictures (other models called her Sister Morphine), only Mr. Scavullo continued to use her. Toward the end of her life, she was reduced to selling jeans in a Pennsylvania shopping mall and finally to living on the streets of New York.

In her prime, Gia sparked a rough-and-tumble reputation for walking out of sessions when a photographer kept her waiting, or when the hypocrisy of an assignment ticked her off. But to some, her free-spirited attitude was symptomatic of her search for truth, and every bit as seductive as her beauty. It’s that attitude that Ms. Jolie, the 22-year-old daughter of Jon Voight, hoped to get on film.

”When she’s free and just being herself, she’s unbelievable; that’s the tragedy of her story,” Ms. Jolie adds, sitting in her trailer beneath a poster bemoaning the death of Sid Vicious, the heroin-addicted bass player of the Sex Pistols. ”You think, ‘God, she didn’t need drugs — she was a drug.’ ”•

This 1978 video is a fun look inside the studio of legendary fashion and portrait photographer Francesco Scavullo, as he worked with the star-crossed model, a complicated subject to be sure.

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Kurt Waldheim had a past, and it caught up to him, if belatedly. The stunning reveal of his Nazi-linked wartime activities was remembered at the time of his death in James Graff’s 2007 Time article “The Skeletons of Kurt Waldheim“:

When I went to visit Waldheim in 1994, he was ensconced in his opulent offices at the Austrian League for the United Nations — but he was still under siege. Freedom of Information Act requests had pried open the 1987 Washington report that put Waldheim on the Justice Department’s “watch list.” The document placed him in Banja Luka in the summer of 1942, when the Nazis had rounded up the city’s Jews and the Wehrmacht was fighting an anti-partisan offensive in the Kozara Mountains to the north. Reprisal killings against civilians were part of the Germans’ brutal efforts to quell armed dissent in the region. The report didn’t prove any direct personal responsibility of Waldheim, who was serving as a quartermaster’s deputy, but its author, Neal Sher, argued that “one doesn’t have to pull the trigger to be implemented in crimes.” Waldheim was having none of that: “unfounded allegations and accusations, with no proof given,” he told me.

The question of guilt in a command structure is no less complex now than it was then; Waldheim was no card-carrying Nazi, but he had been an officer in a unit that had a very dirty war in the Balkans. His clean-vest spiel particularly rankled me because I’d been spending a fair amount of time in Banja Luka myself. Less than a year before my interview with Waldheim, the city’s principal mosque had been totally razed by Serbs, and most of the Muslim population driven out of the city. In the summer of 1992, Serbs in Banja Luka had taken me on a bizarre tour of the camps further west where they held Muslim prisoners. The cruelty of the conflict, the suffering of thousands languishing in refugee camps, had already left a permanent mark on me. Could the conflict have been any less gutting in 1942?•

Before the Waldheim Affair became an international fiasco during the 1980s and he was banned from the United States, the future Austrian president with the Nazi past spoke with PBS talk show host James Day in New York in 1973.

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In a science-centric 1978 issue of Penthouse, a periodical published by the leathery beaver merchant Bob Guccione, there’s an interview by Richard Ballad with the late NASA astronomer Robert Jastrow, who possessed an interesting mix of beliefs. A staunch supporter of the Singularity, he saw computers as a new lifeform, and he was also a denier of human-made climate change. An excerpt:

Robert Jastrow:

I say that computers, as we call them, are a newly emerging form of life, one made out of silicon rather than carbon. Silicon is chemically similar to carbon, but it can enter into a sort of metal structure in which it is relatively invulnerable to damage, is essentially immortal, and can be extended to an arbitrarily large brain size. Such new forms of life will have neither human emotions nor any of the other trappings we associate with human life.

Penthouse:

You use the term life to describe what we usually think of as lifeless creatures. One might call them “computers with delusions of grandeur.” How can you say they are a form of life?

Robert Jastrow:

They are new forms of life. They react to stimuli, they think, they reason, they learn by experience. They don’t, however, procreate by sexual union or die — unless we want them to die. We take care of their reproduction for them. We also take care of their food needs, which are electrical. They are evolving at a dynamite speed. They have increased in capabilities by a power of- ten every seven years since the dawn of the computer age, in 1950. Man, on the other hand, has not changed for a long time. By the end of the twentieth century, the curves of human and computer growth will intersect, and by that time, I am confident, quasi-human intelligences wilt be with us. They will be similar in mentality to a fresh- ly minted Ph.D.: very strong, very narrow, with no human wisdom, but very powerful in brute reasoning strength. They will be working in combination with our managers, who will be providing the human intuition. Silicon entities will be controlling and regulating the complex affairs of our twenty-first-century society. The probability is that this will happen virtually within our own lifetime, What happens in the thirtieth century, or the fortieth? There are 6 billion years left before the sun dies, and over that long period I doubt whether biological intelligence will continue to be the seat of intelligence for the highest forms of life on this planet. Nor do I think that those advanced beings on other planets, who are older than we are, if they exist, are housed in shells of bone on a fish model of carbon chemistry Silicon, I think, is the answer. …

Penthouse:

Will humans as we know them die out like the dodo?

Robert Jastrow:

It may be that a symbiotic union will exist between humans and new forces of life, between biological and nonbiological intelligence — and it may now exist on other planets. We might continue to serve the needs of the silicon brain while it serves ours.

Penthouse:

Do you think that the computer beings will triumph in the end?

Robert Jastrow:

Yes. Not “triumph” in the sense of a war but triumph in the same sense that the mammals triumphed over the dinosaurs. It will be the next stage of perfection.•

Jastrow discussing his ideas about the Big Bang and theology:

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The 1970s video below has comments by Randolph Hearst made to NBC News about his daughter Patty, who was at the time doing a walkabout through the Radical Left. The heiress was kidnapped by the Symbionese Liberation Army, (perhaps) brainwashed, and ultimately joined in the group’s acts of domestic terrorism. “I think she’s staying underground just like a lot of kids stay underground,” her father said, accurately assessing the situation. Before the end of the decade, she was captured, convicted, imprisoned and saw her sentence commuted. In January 2001, Bill Clinton granted her a full pardon.


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Pierre Trudeau, Justin’s dad, was the cool, cosmopolitan Prime Minister of Canada for all but ten months from 1968 to 1984, a relatively hip media sensation, one who would receive visits from John & Yoko as well as heads of state. Part of the fun of his second administration was watching him try to contain his frustration when in close proximity to American President Ronald Reagan. It wasn’t easy. From a 1982 UPI report about an interview David Frost conducted with Trudeau, who spoke of his children:

Trudeau said his political legacy to Canada would be patriation of the constitution, the National Energy Progam and his stand on the relation of rich to poor nations.

He said his greatest professional achievement was political longevity.

“It is an achievement, I think, in this turbulent society and changing world … to have managed to keep our party, with its values hopefully corresponding to the Canadian general will, a long time in office,” he said.

In the interview, Trudeau also spoke reservedly about his own talents.

“I realized that I wasn’t among the geniuses and I’d have to work harder if I wanted to perform with some degree of excellence,” Trudeau said. “I certainly realized I wasn’t very handsome nor very strong physically or strong in a health sense.”

The prime minister, 62, spoke of his ‘joy’ at becoming a father. “I want to see these young boys grow up into pre-teenagers, and then teenagers, and hopefully beyond, and give them the time they deserve,” he said.

“I realize that the longer I wait, the less they will need me, and less I will be able to give them.”•

Trudeau on responding to personal attacks in a 1972 interview.

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In 1969, computer-processing magnate Ross Perot had a McLuhan-ish dream: an electronic town hall in which interactive television and computer punch cards would allow the masses, rather than elected officials, to decide key American policies. In 1992, he held fast to this goal–one that was perhaps more democratic than any society could survive–when he bankrolled his own populist third-party Presidential campaign. The opening ofPerot’s Vision: Consensus By Computer,” a New York Times article from that year by the late Michael Kelly:

WASHINGTON, June 5— Twenty-three years ago, Ross Perot had a simple idea.

The nation was splintered by the great and painful issues of the day. There had been years of disorder and disunity, and lately, terrible riots in Los Angeles and other cities. People talked of an America in crisis. The Government seemed to many to be ineffectual and out of touch.

What this country needed, Mr. Perot thought, was a good, long talk with itself.

The information age was dawning, and Mr. Perot, then building what would become one of the world’s largest computer-processing companies, saw in its glow the answer to everything. One Hour, One Issue

Every week, Mr. Perot proposed, the television networks would broadcast an hourlong program in which one issue would be discussed. Viewers would record their opinions by marking computer cards, which they would mail to regional tabulating centers. Consensus would be reached, and the leaders would know what the people wanted.

Mr. Perot gave his idea a name that draped the old dream of pure democracy with the glossy promise of technology: “the electronic town hall.”

Today, Mr. Perot’s idea, essentially unchanged from 1969, is at the core of his ‘We the People’ drive for the Presidency, and of his theory for governing.

It forms the basis of Mr. Perot’s pitch, in which he presents himself, not as a politician running for President, but as a patriot willing to be drafted ‘as a servant of the people’ to take on the ‘dirty, thankless’ job of rescuing America from “the Establishment,” and running it.

In set speeches and interviews, the Texas billionaire describes the electronic town hall as the principal tool of governance in a Perot Presidency, and he makes grand claims: “If we ever put the people back in charge of this country and make sure they understand the issues, you’ll see the White House and Congress, like a ballet, pirouetting around the stage getting it done in unison.”

Although Mr. Perot has repeatedly said he would not try to use the electronic town hall as a direct decision-making body, he has on other occasions suggested placing a startling degree of power in the hands of the television audience.

He has proposed at least twice — in an interview with David Frost broadcast on April 24 and in a March 18 speech at the National Press Club — passing a constitutional amendment that would strip Congress of its authority to levy taxes, and place that power directly in the hands of the people, in a debate and referendum orchestrated through an electronic town hall.•

A 1992 NBC News report on the unlikely popularity of Perot’s third-party candidacy for the White House.

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In Lauren Weiner’s 2012 New Atlantis article about Ray Bradbury, she provided a tidy description of the Space Age sage’s youthful education:

Bradbury spent his childhood goosing his imagination with the outlandish. Whenever mundane Waukegan was visited by the strange or the offbeat, young Ray was on hand. The vaudevillian magician Harry Blackstone came through the industrial port on Lake Michigan’s shore in the late 1920s. Seeing Blackstone’s show over and over again marked Bradbury deeply, as did going to carnivals and circuses, and watching Hollywood’s earliest horror offerings like Dracula and The Phantom of the Opera. He read heavily in Charles Dickens, George Bernard Shaw, Edgar Allan Poe, H. G. Wells, Arthur Conan Doyle, L. Frank Baum, and Edgar Rice Burroughs; the latter’s inspirational and romantic children’s adventure tales earned him Bradbury’s hyperbolic designation as “probably the most influential writer in the entire history of the world.”

Then there was the contagious enthusiasm of Bradbury’s bohemian, artistic aunt and his grandfather, Samuel, who ran a boardinghouse in Waukegan and instilled in Bradbury a kind of wonder at modern life. He recounted: “When I was two years old I sat on his knee and he had me tickle a crystal with a feathery needle and I heard music from thousands of miles away. I was right then and there introduced to the birth of radio.”

His family’s temporary stay in Arizona in the mid-1920s and permanent relocation to Los Angeles in the 1930s brought Bradbury to the desert places that he would later reimagine as Mars. As a high-schooler he buzzed around movie and radio stars asking for autographs, briefly considered becoming an actor, and wrote and edited science fiction “fanzines” just as tales of robots and rocket ships were gaining in popularity in wartime America. He befriended the staffs of bicoastal pulp magazines like Weird Tales,Thrilling Wonder StoriesDime Mystery, and Captain Future by bombarding them with submissions, and, when those were rejected, with letters to the editor. This precocity was typical. Science fiction and “fantasy” — a catchall term for tales of the supernatural that have few or no fancy machines in them — drew adolescent talent like no other sector of American publishing. Isaac Asimov was in his late teens when he began writing for genre publications; Ursula K. Le Guin claimed to have sent in stories from the age of eleven.•

Groucho Marx sasses Bradbury on You Bet Your Life in 1955.

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