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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.



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.


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:


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.”


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.


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. 



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.



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.


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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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.



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.



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.•


Public Service Broadcasting performing “Sputnik” in Ottawa.



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.



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.



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.



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.



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.


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.



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.


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. …


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.


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:



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.


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.


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.


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.

Today there are dual Space Races, the one out there and the one in our heads, and they both have militaristic ramifications. 

On the latter subject: DARPA is using neurotechnologies to try to develop robot soldiers or robot-like human ones, a topic on which Tim Requarth has written a very smart Foreign Policy piece. While these tools hold amazing promise for treating many diseases, they also could be utilized to supercharge the war machine. The U.S. Defense department isn’t investing hundreds of millions of dollars into neuroweaponry research on the off chance it might meet with success, but because it feels the work is doable. Those areas include brain-to-brain communication, exoskeletons and memory augmentation, all areas Requarth addresses.

An excerpt:

There is a potentially dark side to these innovations. Neurotechnologies are “dual-use” tools, which means that in addition to being employed in medical problem-solving, they could also be applied (or misapplied) for military purposes.

The same brain-scanning machines meant to diagnose Alzheimer’s disease or autism could potentially read someone’s private thoughts. Computer systems attached to brain tissue that allow paralyzed patients to control robotic appendages with thought alone could also be used by a state to direct bionic soldiers or pilot aircraft. And devices designed to aid a deteriorating mind could alternatively be used to implant new memories, or to extinguish existing ones, in allies and enemies alike.

Consider [Neuroscientist Miguel] Nicolelis’s brainet idea. Taken to its logical extreme, says bioethicist Jonathan Moreno, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania, merging brain signals from two or more people could create the ultimate superwarrior. “What if you could get the intellectual expertise of, say, Henry Kissinger, who knows all about the history of diplomacy and politics, and then you get all the knowledge of somebody that knows about military strategy, and then you get all the knowledge of a DARPA engineer, and so on,” he says, referring to the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. “You could put them all together.” Such a brainet would create near-military omniscience in high-stakes decisions, with political and human ramifications.

To be clear, such ideas are still firmly in the realm of science fiction. But it’s only a matter of time, some experts say, before they could become realities. Neurotechnologies are swiftly progressing, meaning that eventual breakout capabilities and commercialization are inevitable, and governments are already getting in on the action. DARPA, which executes groundbreaking scientific research and development for the U.S. Defense Department, has invested heavily in brain technologies. In 2014, for example, the agency started developing implants that detect and suppress urges. The stated aim is to treat veterans suffering from conditions such as addiction and depression. It’s conceivable, however, that this kind of technology could also be used as a weapon—or that proliferation could allow it to land in the wrong hands. “It’s not a question of if nonstate actors will use some form of neuroscientific techniques or technologies,” says James Giordano, a neuroethicist at Georgetown University Medical Center, “but when, and which ones they’ll use.”

People have long been fascinated, and terrified, by the idea of mind control. It may be too early to fear the worst—that brains will soon be vulnerable to government hacking, for instance—but the dual-use potential of neurotechnologies looms.•


Miguel Nicolelis’ TED Talk on brain-to-brain communication.

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Who, after all, was Jerzy Kosinski? I wonder, after a while, if even he knew.

Like a lot of people who move to New York to reinvent themselves, Kosinksi was a tangle of fact and fiction that couldn’t easily be unknotted. He was lauded and reviled, labeled as brilliant and a plagiarist, called fascinating and a fraud. The truth, as usual, probably lies somewhere in between. In essence, he was much like the shadowy, misunderstood, paranoid characters from his own literature. One thing known for sure: He was a tormented soul, who ended his life by suicide in 1991, a plastic bag pulled over his face until he suffocated. He was a regular correspondent of sorts for David Letterman none too long before that. Here he is, in 1984, at the 23:35 mark, talking about overcoming his fear of drowning.


A spate of game-related deaths to high school football players early this season combined with the reported marked decline in youth participation makes me think that Super Bowl C in 2066 will be played, if at all, by robots. (It should be noted that while young people playing football far less is associated with growing knowledge about brain-injury risk, all American youth sports have declined in the time of smartphones.) The game’s partially cloudy tomorrow hasn’t stopped the reporters at Wired and Sports Illustrated from pooling their talents for a mixed-media look at the future of the NFL, wondering what it will be like when America’s most popular single-game sports event reaches the century mark. There are considerations of players using cutting-edge technology, data-driven exercise, even gene editing, though I haven’t yet come across anything on concussion prevention.


Baseball playoff season begins at the same time Henry Kissinger receives a biographical treatment, so here’s a video that mixes those two seemingly disparate subjects.

Like the first President he served, former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger became quite a baseball junkie, especially in his post-Washington career. At the 15:40 mark of this episode of The Baseball of World of Joe Garagiola, we see Kissinger, who could only seem competent when standing alongside that block of wood Bowie Kuhn, being honored at Fenway Park before the second game of the sensational 1975 World Series. During the raucous run by the raffish New York Mets in the second half of 1980s, both Nixon and Kissinger became fixtures at Shea Stadium. Nixon was known to send congratulatory personal notes to the players, including Darryl Strawberry. It was criminals rooting for criminals.

Even in the twentieth century, Philippe Petit was living in the wrong time.

The high-wire artist, a Marcel Marceau of mid-air, practiced a timeless art in an age when the clock had ascended, quantifying human activity, eclipsing slow progress. In scaling the Twin Towers, one of the major symbols of what Industrialization had created, he briefly chastened the new reality with his old-world acrobatics, conferring upon it a dignity and romance it hadn’t previously known.

As The Walk is released, here’s a piece from a 2014 New York Times Magazine interview Petit did with Jessica Gross, explaining his dual feelings about this century’s technology:


You seem to have an ambivalent relationship with your computer. In the book, you call it your “necessary evil tool.”

Philippe Petit:

I hate all electronic things that are supposed to help the human being. You don’t smell, you don’t hear, you don’t touch anymore. All our senses are being controlled. At the same time, I am a total imbecile because to have a little iPhone that can take pictures, that can find the nearest hospital, that can tell you the weather in Jakarta — it’s probably fabulous. I’m supposed to be a man of balance, but my state of mind in those things is very unbalanced. I love or I hate.•


“We observed a type of dancer because you couldn’t call him a walker.”

So many things are at play in the race for the perfected driverless vehicle: economics, environment, geopolitics. There likely won’t be one company or nation that fully wins, though you don’t want to be on the outside looking in. And you need to have ready answers for the what’s likely to be resulting unemployment.

Japan announced it will be testing robo-cabs in 2016, while China reports it has already tested driverless buses. 


From Jun Hongo at the WSJ:

Japan’s cabinet office, Kanagawa prefecture and Robot Taxi Inc. on Thursday said they will start experimenting with unmanned taxi service beginning in 2016. The service will be offered for approximately 50 people in Kanagawa prefecture, just south of Tokyo, with the auto-driving car carrying them from their homes to local grocery stores.

According to the project organizers, the cabs will drive a distance of about three kilometers (two miles), and part of the course will be on major avenues in the city. Crew members will be aboard the car during the experiment in case there is a need to avoid accidents. …

Shinjiro Koizumi, son of former Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi and a vice minister in the current government of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, appeared at an event Thursday afternoon to promote the driverless-taxi effort. “There are a lot of people who say it’s impossible, but I think this will happen faster than people expect,” he said.•


From The Economic Times:

BEIJING: A Chinese bus-maker has claimed that its driverless bus has completed a successful trial operation on an intercity road in central China’s Henan Province, where it automatically changed lanes and stopped at traffic signals.

The 10.5-metre hybrid bus by Yutong Bus Co. Ltd. ran around 32.6 kilometres on the intercity road linking Zhengzhou City with Kaifeng City in late August, state-run Xinhua news agency reported today.

The driverless bus has passed all tests, including identifying all 26 traffic lights on the road, automatically changing lanes and overtaking vehicles in neighboring lanes, the company said.

The bus is installed with two cameras, four laser radars, one set of millimetre wave radar and integrated navigation system.•



In this 1960 clip, Arthur C. Clarke acknowledges the “only thing that is sure about the future is that it will be absolutely fantastic,” before promising by the year 2000 we would genetically engineer servant monkeys, abolish cities and utilize instant-communication devices.

He was right, of course, in believing the transistor would allow us to immediately reach one another at all times as well as telecommute, though he felt these changes might mean the end of city living, which, of course, was far off the mark. He was too bold in his predictions about bioengineering, though he’ll likely be right should Homo sapiens survive potential climate-change disaster. (I don’t, however, think that “servant monkeys” will be the direction we go.) Clarke further thought we would tinker with the human brain so that we could learn Chinese overnight and erase bad memories. Unsurprisingly, the co-creator of HAL-9000 envisioned conscious machines zooming past our intelligence, biological evolution reaching its endgame and organic life having served its purpose as a stepping stone to greater knowledge. 


In this clip, philosopher, LSD guru and countercultural icon Dr. Timothy Leary and his wife Rosemary deplane in Algeria and, after a few words with reporters, walk into the waiting of arms of fugitive Black Panther Eldridge Cleaver.

The backstory: During his 1970 gubernatorial race against Ronald Reagan in California, Leary was railroaded into a 20-year prison sentence for the dubious charge of possession of two joints. He escaped from the penitentiary, spent time in Algeria with Cleaver before the two had a falling out and was finally recaptured at an airport in Afghanistan. Leary was returned to the states to continue his sentence at Folsom Prison.

California Governor Jerry Brown released Leary in 1976 and the controversial figure spent the last two decades of his life encouraging the construction of space colonies and being an early Internet enthusiast.


Below is a trailer for Lord of the Universe, a 1974 documentary about adolescent guru Maharaj Ji, who came to some fame in those days for promising to levitate the Houston Astrodome, a plot that never got off the ground. More than any other holy-ish person of the time, the Indian tennager would have fit in quite nicely in Silicon Valley of 2015. He was a technocrat who believed he could disrupt and improve the world. Sound familiar?

The former child preacher Marjoe Gortner was hired by OUI, a middling vagina periodical of the Magazine Age, to write a deservedly mocking article about the American visit of the self-appointed messiah. Two excerpts from the resulting report.

The guru’s people do the same thing the Pentecostal Church does. They say you can believe in guru Maharaj Ji and that’s fantastic and good, but if you receive light and get it all within, if you become a real devotee-that is the ultimate. In the Pentecostal Church you can be saved from your sins and have Jesus Christ as your Saviour, but the ultimate is the baptism of the Holy Ghost. This is where you get four or five people around and they begin to talk and more or less chant in tongues until sooner or later the person wanting the baptismal experience so much-well, it’s like joining a country club: once you’re in, you’ll be like everyone – else in the club.

The people who’ve been chanting say, “Speak it out, speak it out,” and everything becomes so frenzied that the baptismalee will finally speak a few words in tongues himself, and the people around him say, “Oh, you’ve got it.” And the joy that comes over everybody’s faces! It’s incredible. It’s beautiful. They feel they have got the Holy Spirit like all their friends, and once they’ve got it, it’s forever. It’s quite an experience.

So essentially they’re the same thing pressing on your eyes while your ears are corked, and standing around the altar speaking in tongues. They’re both illuminating experiences. The guru’s path is interesting, though. Once you’ve seen the light and decided you want to join his movement, you give over everything you have–all material possessions. Sometimes you even give your job. Now, depending on what your job is, you may be told to leave it or to stay. If you stay, generally you turn your pay checks over to the Divine Light Mission, and they see that you are housed and clothed and fed. They have their U. S. headquarters in Denver. You don’t have to worry about anything. That’s their hook. They take care of it all. They have houses all over the country for which they supposedly paid cash on the line. First class. Some of them are quite plush. At least Maharaj Ji’s quarters are. Some of the followers live in those houses, too, but in the dormitory-type atmosphere with straw mats for beds. It’s a large operation. It seems to be a lot like the organization Father Divine had back in the Thirties. He did it with the black people at the Peace Mission in Philadelphia. He took care of his people-mostly domestics and other low-wage earners–and put them up in his own hotel with three meals a day.

The guru is much more technologically oriented, though. He spreads a lot of word and keeps tabs on who needs what through a very sophisticated Telex system that reaches out to all the communes or ashrams around the country. He can keep count of who needs how many T-shirts, pairs of socks–stuff like that. And his own people run this system; it’s free labor for the corporation.

· · · · · · · · · ·

The morning of the third day I was feeling blessed and refreshed, and I was looking forward to the guru’s plans for the Divine City, which was soon going to be built somewhere in the U. S. I wanted to hear what that was all about.

It was unbelievable. The city was to consist of ‘modular units adaptable to any desired shape.’ The structures would have waste-recycling devices so that water could be drunk over and over. They even planned to have toothbrushes with handles you could squeeze to have the proper amount of paste pop up (the crowd was agog at this). There would be a computer in each communal house so that with just a touch of the hand you could check to see if a book you wanted was available, and if it was, it would be hand-messengered to you. A complete modern city of robots. I was thinking: whatever happened to mountains and waterfalls and streams and fresh air? This was going to be a technological, computerized nightmare! It repulsed me. Computer cards to buy essentials at a central storeroom! And no cheating, of course. If you flashed your card for an item you already had, the computer would reject it. The perfect turn-off. The spokesman for this city announced that the blueprints had already been drawn up and actual construction would be the next step. Controlled rain, light, and space. Bubble power! It was all beginning to be very frightening.•


I admire Jack Kerouac for not accepting the pretty version of things but could have withstood his self-seriousness, smoking and drinking for about five minutes without screaming. That being said, the embedded 1959 clip of him on Steve Allen’s show is fun. Before reading from On the Road, he defines the word “Beat” as meaning “sympathetic.” 

In a 1952 New York Times Magazine piece, “This Is the Beat Generation,” which explained the movement to the masses, John Clellon Holmes also attempted to demystify the term:

Any attempt to label an entire generation is unrewarding, and yet the generation which went through the last war, or at least could get a drink easily once it was over, seems to possess a uniform, general quality which demands an adjective … The origins of the word “beat” are obscure, but the meaning is only too clear to most Americans. More than mere weariness, it implies the feeling of having been used, of being raw. It involves a sort of nakedness of mind, and, ultimately, of soul; a feeling of being reduced to the bedrock of consciousness. In short, it means being undramatically pushed up against the wall of oneself. A man is beat whenever he goes for broke and wagers the sum of his resources on a single number; and the young generation has done that continually from early youth.•


The Olivier of oral, Harry Reems saw his work on the landmark 1972 skin-flick Deep Throat lead to years of prosecution on obscenity charges. Reems ultimately was victorious, and converted to Christianity in later life. An excerpt from Margalit Fox’s 2013 obituary of him in the New York Times:

Mr. Reems, who began his career in the 1960s as a struggling stage actor, had already made dozens of pornographic films when he starred opposite Ms. Lovelace in Deep Throat.

But where his previous movies were mostly the obscure, short, grainy, plotless stag films known as loops, Deep Throat, which had set design, occasional costumes, dialogue punctuated by borscht-belt humor and an actual plot of sorts, was Cinema.

Mr. Reems played Dr. Young, a physician whose diagnostic brilliance — he locates the rare anatomical quirk that makes Ms. Lovelace’s character vastly prefer oral sex to intercourse — is matched by his capacity for tireless ministration.

“I was always the doctor,” he told New York magazine in 2005, “because I was the one that had an acting background. I would say: ‘You’re having trouble with oral sex? Well, here’s how to do it.’ Cut to a 20-minute oral-sex scene.”•

In 1976, William F. Buckley “welcomes” Reems and his attorney, a wild-haired Alan Dershowitz.


Barbra Streisand chats up Golda Meir in 1978 as part of The Stars Salute Israel at 30, which is amusing, despite the atrocious canned laughter. Probably the best Meir inquisition was conducted by Oriana Fallaci, who had an affinity for the Israeli leader, who reminded her of her mother, despite not agreeing with all of the Prime Minister’s politics. An excerpt:

Oriana Fallaci:

Shall we talk about the woman Ben-Gurion called ‘the ablest man in my cabinet?’

Golda Meir:

That’s one of the legends that have grown up around me. It’s also a legend I’ve always found irritating, though men use it as a great compliment. Is it? I wouldn’t say so. Because what does it really mean? That it’s better to be a man than a woman, a principle on which I don’t agree at all. So here’s what I’d like to say to those who make me such a compliment. And what if Ben-Gurion had said, ‘The men in my cabinet are as able as a woman’? Men always feel so superior. I’ll never forget what happened at a congress of my party in New York in the 1930s. I made a speech and in the audience there was a writer friend of mine. An honest person, a man of great culture and refinement. When it was over he came up to me and exclaimed, ‘Congratulations! You’ve made a wonderful speech! And to think you’re only a woman!’ That’s just what he said in such a spontaneous, instinctive way. It’s a good thing I have a sense of humor….

Oriana Fallaci:

The Women’s Liberation Movement will like that, Mrs. Meir.

Golda Meir:

Do you mean those crazy women who burn their bras and go around all disheveled and hate men? They’re crazy. Crazy. But how can one accept such crazy women who think that it’s a misfortune to get pregnant and a disaster to bring children into the world? And when it’s the greatest privilege we women have over men.•


Ken Kesey knew the truth could kill you just as easily as it could set you free, but he saw no other way. In 1966, the novelist and fellow Merry Prankster Mountain Girl met with the press after an arrest. In defending misfits hectored by police and government for refusing to try to fit in, he paraphrases a line from his novel of two years earlier, Sometimes A Great Notion: “A person should have the right to try to be as big as he believes it is in him to be.”


In 2010, the last year of Benoit Mandelbrot’s life, Errol Morris pointed his Interrotron at the mathematician who recognized patterns in nature that nobody else did and gave us fractals. Morris himself often deals in fractals, chipping away pieces of his subject’s minds that perfectly represent the greater self.


If someone was going to make a feature film about the lurid 2009 true-life story about two mini-luchadore brothers being accidentally drugged to death in Mexico City by female thieves posing as prostitutes, it’s probably good that it’s Arturo Ripstein, who has sociological and psychological curiosity and whose Deep Crimson covered similar terrain. The movie, titled (in English) Bleak Street, screened at Toronto and Venice, and has thus far received mixed reviews.

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Alan Whicker’s great 1971 profile of the wet-dream merchant Harold Robbins opens with the trashy author making his way through his childhood neighborhood, Hell’s Kitchen, during New York City’s bad old days. Robbins, who was the best-selling novelist in the world at the time as well as a dedicated orgiast, specialized in literature that was most suitable for the beach or masturbation, though preferably not both at the same time.


Linda Blair, Ellen Burstyn, Max von Sydow, Jason Miller and writer William Peter Blatty, collaborators on the 1973 horror classic The Exorcist, reconvened in 1984 for Good Morning America. According to legend, Blatty pretended to be an Arabian prince in the 1950s to get booked on the game show You Bet Your Life. He didn’t fool Groucho but did win $10,000, which helped him jump-start his writing career.


Just amazing footage of the late inventor David H. Shepard demonstrating his Optical Character Reader on a 1959 episode of I’ve Got a Secret. From his 2007 New York Times obituary:

David H. Shepard, who in his attic invented one of the first machines that could read, and then, to facilitate its interpreting of credit-card receipts, came up with the near-rectilinear font still used for the cards’ numbers, died on Nov. 24 in San Diego. He was 84. …

Mr. Shepard followed his reading machine, more formally known as an optical-character-recognition device, with one that could listen and talk. It could answer only “yes” or “no,” but each answer led to a deeper level of complexity. A later version could simultaneously handle multiple telephone inquiries. …

In 1964, his “conversation machine” became the first commercial device to give telephone callers access to computer data by means of their own voices.  …

Mr. Shepard apologized many times for his major role in forcing people to converse with a machine instead of with a human being.•

Uber should, of course, not be prevented from becoming a company of driverless taxis when innovation makes that possible. But CEO Travis Kalanick’s part-time pose as a champion of Labor is an infuriatingly dishonest stance. Autonomous vehicles and Uber’s business model may both be great in many ways, but they’re not good for workers. Not in the short and medium term, at least, and likely never.

Kalanick, who recently discussed his company’s robotic tomorrow with Marc Benioff, sees the transition to AI coming in 10 or 15 years or so. In commentary on Bloomberg, Forrester analyst James McQuivey thinks the future is just around the bend and Kalanick too conservative in his estimation of the driverless ETA. He also believes Kalanick’s job itself will likely be a casualty of the autonomous revolution (and other factors).

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Georgia’s Governor Jimmy Carter was so completely unknown on the national stage in 1974 that the panel didn’t need to don blindfolds when he appeared on What’s My Line? A mere two years later he was President of the free world’s most powerful country. That was one helluva Trilateral Commission.


In 1973, Russell Harty spent a weekend at Salvador Dali’s Catalonian home to create an appropriately insane portrait of the 69-year-old artist and his “cybernetic mind.” On display: Al Capone’s Cadillac, General Franco’s granddaughter and an “instantaneous plastic web.” Dali reveals that his two favorite animals are the rhinoceros and a filet of sole. Amazing stuff.


Peter Sellers is interviewed by talk show host/speed reader Steve Allen in 1964 about Dr. Strangelove, revealing he lifted the voice for the titular character from the famed tabloid photographer Weegee. Mixed in are a couple of clips of the protean actor’s former employees recalling how he faked an injury to get out of doing the Major King Kong role

Reassessment–a chastening, even–often attends the publication of a biography, especially in the cases of writers or politicians. Joan Didion’s received a surprising number of calls for impeachment with the publication of Tracy Daugherty’s book about her.

I’ve never been a fan of Play It As It Lays (leave the smut to the professionals, please), but Slouching Towards Bethlehem and The White Album are sensational (in the best sense of the word). Yes, Didion was a fashion-magazine veteran savvy enough to wear cool sunglasses and pose at the wheel of her Stingray, but her efforts at auto-iconography don’t even rate when compared to, say, Hunter S. Thompson’s. Since they both had the chops, who even cares?

A lot of the backlash stems from the then-aphasiac author’s depiction of California as haywire during the ’60s and ’70s. Her home state, that traitor! Sure, a big-picture take of the fantasia that is California can’t completely satisfy, and perhaps her portrait flattered East Coasters, but maybe most disturbing is that she did land on numerous and troubling truths of that place in that time. Although some will argue that these were mere distortions.

From a very well-written Barnes & Noble review of Daugherty’s bio by Tom Carson, a self-described Didion skeptic:

In her prime, she didn’t have casual readers; her gift for imposing her sensibility on events didn’t permit it. The paradox of The Year of Magical Thinking‘s success was that it introduced her to a nonliterary audience largely unaware that she’d been generating intimations of morbidity, desolation, and the existential jitters out of pretty much any topic put in front of her, from 1968’s career-defining essay collection Slouching Towards Bethlehem on. When “California” still blended the worst of heaven and the best of hell in Noo Yawk intellectuals’ minds, no other writer matched native daughter Didion at being the anti−Beach Boys.

In her home state’s very entertaining transformation from freakish American exotica to the place lit by rockets’ pink glare that the other forty-nine all try to be, she’s a pivotal figure: the last West Coast chronicler to make a career of insisting that where she came from was special, strange, and always latently monstrous. That happened to be precisely the view her culturally unnerved audience wanted endorsed at the time, but Didion also invited derision by treating her perpetually threatened morale as the ultimate gauge of how badly the twentieth century was botching its job. In a memorable hit piece, Barbara Grizzuti Harrison called her “a neurasthenic Cher.” Pauline Kael read Didion’s “ridiculously swank” 1970 novel Play It as It Lays “between bouts of disbelieving giggles.” Maybe not insignificantly, she tends to drive other woman writers up the wall — especially if, like Kael, they’re California gals themselves — more than men, who usually flip for her solemn tension.•


In the 1970s, Tom Brokaw profiled Didion, when she still called California home.

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A little more of Jerry Kaplan and his new book, Humans Need Not Apply, is on display in Anthony Mason’s CBS News report “The Future of Work and Play.” Most of the piece will be familiar to those already thinking about the perplexing question of how a free-market economy can operate if it becomes a highly automated one, with discussion of driverless cars, algorithms thinning the ranks of blue- and white-collar workers alike, etc.

Most interesting is a visit to the Associated Press, which has begun relying on software to rapidly transform raw data into its inverted-triangle pieces, stories that can pass for human-level composition. Both the software makers and the AP say the innovation has complemented workers, not replaced them.

Still, NYU Professor Gary Marcus offers that a guaranteed minimum income from the state to citizens (likely through the taxation of capital) is ultimately the endgame of automation. View here.


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Paddy Chayefsky, that brilliant satirist, holds forth spectacularly on a 1969 episode of the Mike Douglas Show. It starts with polite chatter about the success of his script for Marty but quickly transitions into a much more serious and futuristic discussion. The writer is full of doom and gloom, of course, during the tumult of the Vietnam Era; his best-case scenario for humankind to live more peacefully is a computer-friendly “new society” that yields to globalization and technocracy, one in which citizens are merely producers and consumers, free of nationalism and disparate identity. Well, some of that came true. He joins the show at the 7:45 mark.

Andy Warhol refuses to speak during a 1965 appearance on Merv Griffin’s talk show, allowing a still-healthy-looking Edie Sedgwick to do handle the conversation. Not even the Pop Artist himself could have realized how correct he was in believing that soon just being would be enough to warrant stardom, that it wouldn’t matter what you said or if you said a thing, that traditional content would lose much of its value.

You know you had to have experienced the highest highs and lowest lows to see Preston Tucker in yourself, which is why he made such a perfect subject for Francis Ford Coppola. Below is a fun 1948 PR film that Tucker produced about his then-newest machine, a sedan nicknamed the “Tucker Torpedo,” which revolutionized the American automobile, before the SEC and rumors of wrongdoing forced it off the road.

Parallel to Alex Gibney’s Steve Jobs doc is Danny Boyle’s fictional take on the subject, the mercifully Kutcher-less exploration of the motivations of the Apple founder and his peers in Silicon Valley. In a Guardian piece by Catherine Shoard, the director discusses his movie at Telluride in somewhat though not overwhelmingly hyperbolic terms. The opening:

The director Danny Boyle has called for more films to be made about the creators of influential new technology. Speaking at the Telluride film festival, where his Aaron Sorkin-scripted biopic of Apple co-founder Steve Jobs is winning largely rave reviews, Boyle said that those in the movie industry had a responsibility to examine the import of people such as Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg, the Facebook creator who was the subject of Sorkin’s 2010 hit, The Social Network.

“These films have to be made,” he said. “Benign as they may seem, they have created forces that are more powerful than governments and banks. And they don’t seem motivated by money. I find that extraordinary. It’s a paradigm shift we seem blissfully unaware of. They’re not interested in money but in data. Our data.”

The film is largely an interiors piece, unfolding in real time in the 40 minutes before three key Apple product launches: the Mac in 1984, the NeXT box in 1988, once Jobs has split from Apple, and the iMac in 1998, when he’s back in business with the company. Yet despite the offer of tax breaks from countries such as England and Hungary, Boyle was insistent that the film not be shot far from Silicon Valley. “San Francisco is the Bethlehem of the second industrial revolution,” he said. “It’s where the extraordinary forces emerged that now rule our lives.”•

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Sometimes a truth is hidden for so long that the reveal becomes anticlimax. For many years, Americans would have given anything to know the identity of Watergate’s Deep Throat, but how many could today readily name him as W. Mark Felt, who seemed to mysteriously disappear back into the shadows immediately after acknowledging in 2005 his key role in the Woodward-Bernstein reportage?

Similarly more interesting in his nebulous state was “D.B. Cooper,” who in 1971 hijacked a plane, collected ransom and parachuted into parts unknown. Excited 2011 headlines named Lynn Doyle Cooper as most likely being the daring criminal, but by then it was almost beside the point, the man had become myth.

This original 1971 Walter Cronkite report about the D.B. Cooper hijacking, heist and escape, contains interviews with many members of the shaken flight crew.

Before Mailer and Breslin tried to relocate to New York City’s Gracie Mansion, William F. Buckley made his own quixotic run for the mayor’s office for the Conservative Party. In these 1965 clips on NBC’s Meet the Press, Buckley discusses his candidacy, which, as the New York Times wrote in 2008, “drew much of its support from aggrieved white ethnic voters who were angry over crime, urban unrest and liberal policies on poverty and welfare.”

Gossip really bothers me on a visceral level, but I have to acknowledge its utility. Before news organs with something to lose will touch a story, whispers carry the day. While most of it’s petty and unnecessary, but occasionally it can be an insurgency. Sometimes gossip, the original viral information, is the fastest route to justice. 

In 1973, gossipmonger Rona Barrett and Sigmund Freud’s polymath grandson, Sir Clement Freud, got into a dust-up on a program Jack Paar hosted years after he abandoned the Tonight Show.

I’m mixing my 20th-century sci-fi authors, but like Billy Pilgrim naked in a Tralfamadore zoo, we may be kept as pets by intelligent machines. That’s what Philip K. Dick Android, who can learn new words in real-time, promises his NOVA interlocutors.

Or perhaps they’ll eliminate us. Or maybe by the time they exist, we will be very different. We might become those conscious machines we so fear. We might be them. Nobody knows.

Long before Caitlyn Jenner, there was Christine Jorgensen, a Bronx military veteran who traveled to Denmark in the early 1950s to transition surgically into a woman. It was, as you might expect, a huge sensation at the time, but Jorgensen was always above the fray, whether guesting on ur-shock jock Joe Pyne’s gleefully tasteless talk show in 1966, or visiting with Tom Snyder in 1982, as she revived her cabaret act.

Life is full of inconvenient truths, and one of them is that Theodor Geisel, better known as Dr. Seuss, the wonderful storyteller who continues to teach children to read and think, was responsible for some shockingly racist drawings and ad campaigns early in his career. In 1958, he appeared on To Tell the Truth, at the time The Cat in the Hat, his most popular work, was becoming a huge bestseller.

Col. Harland Sanders was 62 when, as the story goes, he used his first Social Security check to found his bird-slaughter enterprise, Kentucky Fried Chicken. He was 74 in 1964 when he sold the business for $2 million. Sanders appeared directly after the sale on I’ve Got a Secret.

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