Triple huh: “Pykrete is a composite material made of approximately 14 percent sawdust or some other form of wood pulp (such as paper) and 86 percent ice by weight. Its use was proposed during World War II by Geoffrey Pyke to the British Royal Navy as a candidate material for making a huge, unsinkable aircraft carrier.”
Double huh: “Strawson goes on to identify two personality types, which he calls the diachronic type, the kind of person disposed to conceive of themselves connected to both their past and future selves, and the episodic type, which is the kind of person who does not tend to conceive of their momentary self as part of a chain of selves stretching into the past and future.”
Huh: “Couvade syndrome, also known as phantom pregnancy, is a condition in which the husband or partner of an expectant mother experiences some of the same symptoms and behavior as the mother. These most often include minor weight gain, altered hormone levels, morning nausea, and disturbed sleep patterns. In more extreme cases they can include labor pains, postpartum depression, and nosebleeds.”
“The happiness books say, ‘Try happiness. You’ll like it a lot more than misery’—which is perfectly true,” he told them. But why, he asked, do people tell psychologists they’d cross the street to avoid someone who had given them a compliment the previous day?
In fact, Vaillant went on, positive emotions make us more vulnerable than negative ones. One reason is that they’re future-oriented. Fear and sadness have immediate payoffs—protecting us from attack or attracting resources at times of distress. Gratitude and joy, over time, will yield better health and deeper connections—but in the short term actually put us at risk. That’s because, while negative emotions tend to be insulating, positive emotions expose us to the common elements of rejection and heartbreak.
To illustrate his point, he told a story about one of his “prize” Study men, a doctor and well-loved husband. “On his 70th birthday,” Vaillant said, “when he retired from the faculty of medicine, his wife got hold of his patient list and secretly wrote to many of his longest-running patients, ‘Would you write a letter of appreciation?’ And back came 100 single-spaced, desperately loving letters—often with pictures attached. And she put them in a lovely presentation box covered with Thai silk, and gave it to him.” Eight years later, Vaillant interviewed the man, who proudly pulled the box down from his shelf. “George, I don’t know what you’re going to make of this,” the man said, as he began to cry, “but I’ve never read it.” “It’s very hard,” Vaillant said, “for most of us to tolerate being loved.”
—Joshua Wolf Shenk, “What Makes Us Happy?,” The Atlantic
One torus is formed as the initial rupture grows. Flung outwards by surface tension, the rim of the rupture folds back onto the main body of the bubble. Meanwhile, the outer parts of the bubble collapse down to the surface, crimping off a second air torus. This structure is unstable and collapses into smaller bubbles, which in turn produce even tinier ones.
—“Why Bubbles Are Forever Bursting,” New Scientist
The chance of success would depend on the circumstances. If both the pilot and co-pilot collapsed during takeoff or landing, a crash would be inevitable. It’s unlikely that the autopilot would be engaged during these maneuvers, and a flight attendant wouldn’t have any time to figure out how to hand-fly the plane. If the pilots went down in mid-flight with the autopilot engaged, the flight attendant would have a chance to ponder her next move: operating the radio.
Sounds easy, right? It isn’t. Pilots usually activate the boom mic on their headset by pressing a button on the back of the yoke (i.e., the plane’s steering wheel). But that button happens to be right next to the one that disengages the autopilot.
—Brian Palmer, “Can someone be ‘talked through’ landing a jumbo jet?” Slate
“What do any of us really know about love?” Mel said. “It seems to me we’re just beginners at love. We say we love each other and we do, I don’t doubt it. I love Terri and Terri loves me, and you guys love each other too. You know the kind of love I’m talking about now. Physical love, that impulse that drives you to someone special, as well as love of the other person’s being, his or her essence, as it were. Carnal love and, well, call it sentimental love, the day-to-day caring about the other person. But sometimes I have a hard time accounting for the fact that I must have loved my first wife too. But I did. I know I did. So I suppose I am like Terri in that regard. Terri and Ed.” He thought about it and then he went on. “There was a time when I thought I loved my first wife more than life itself. But now I hate her guts. I do. How do you explain that? What happened to that love? What happened to it, is what I’d like to know. I wish someone could tell me. Then there’s Ed. Okay,we’re back to Ed. He loves Terri so much he tries to kill her and he winds up killing himself.” Mel stopped talking and swallowed from his glass. “You guys have been together eighteen months and you love each other. It shows all over you. You glow with it. But you both loved other people before you met each other. You’ve both been married before, just like us. And you probably loved other people before that too, even. Terri and I have been together five years, been married for four. And the terrible thing, the terrible thing is, but the good thing too, the saving grace, you might say, is that if something happened to one of us—excuse me for saying this-but if something happened to one of us tomorrow I think the other one, the other person, would grieve for a while, you know, but then the surviving party would go out and love again, have someone else soon enough. All this, all of this love we’re talking about, it would just be a memory. Maybe not even a memory. Am I wrong? Am I way off base? Because I want you to set me straight if you think I’m wrong. I want to know. I mean, I don’t know anything, and I’m the first one to admit it.”
“Mel, for God’s sake,” Terri said. She reached out and took hold of his wrist. “Are you getting drunk? Honey? Are you drunk?”
—Raymond Carver, “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love”
Writing, before it is anything else, is a way of clarifying one’s thoughts. This is obviously true of forms such as the diary, which are inherently solitary. But even those of us who write for publication can conclude, once we have clarified certain thoughts, that these thoughts are not especially valuable, or are not entirely convincing, or perhaps are simply not thoughts we want to share with others, at least not now. For many of us who love the act of writing—even when we are writing against a deadline with an editor waiting for the copy—there is something monastic about the process, a confrontation with one’s thoughts that has a value apart from the proximity or even perhaps the desirability of any other reader. I believe that most writing worth reading is the product, at least to some degree, of this extraordinarily intimate confrontation between the disorderly impressions in the writer’s mind and the more or less orderly procession of words that the writer manages to produce on the page. When I think about the writers I loved to read when I was in high school and college, I know what mattered most to me was the one-on-one relationship I felt I was developing with the writer’s thoughts. It was fantastic to feel I was alone with a writer, engaged in a splendid intellectual or imaginative conversation. (The wonder of reading Henry James’s late prose was in seeing his magnificent, disorderly thoughts achieve their infinitely complex order.)
I am not saying that writers need to be or ought to be isolated, either from other writers or from the reading public at large. But writers must to some degree believe that they are alone with their own words. And writers who are alone with their words will quite naturally, from time to time, conclude that some of those words should remain private. This needs to be emphasized right now, when so few people in the publishing industry understand why anything that has been written, and especially written by a well-known author, should not be published, and not published with the widest possible readership in mind.
—Jed Perl, “Alone, With Words,” The New Republic
Henry James to Lucy Clifford: “We must for dear life make our own counter-realities.”
kalopsia, n. The delusion that things are more beautiful than they really are.
Robert Rauschenberg: “I don’t crop. Photography is like diamond cutting. If you miss you miss. There is no difference with painting. If you don’t cut you have to accept the whole image. You wait until life is in the frame, then you have the permission to click. I like the adventure of waiting until the whole frame is full.”
As a demonstration, Kellogg prepared some of its biggest sellers with most of the salt removed. The Cheez-It fell apart in surprising ways. The golden yellow hue faded. The crackers became sticky when chewed, and the mash packed onto the teeth. The taste was not merely bland but medicinal….
They moved on to Corn Flakes. Without salt the cereal tasted metallic. The Eggo waffles evoked stale straw. The butter flavor in the Keebler Light Buttery Crackers, which have no actual butter, simply disappeared.
—Michael Moss, “Pushed to Lower Salt Use, Food Industry Pushes Back,” The New York Times
In one of Raymond Carver’s stories, “Gazebo,” the main character Duane says of his wife or maybe girlfriend, “Holly was my own true love.” He says it after Holly discovers that he’d been sleeping with a motel maid and confronts him. And he says it without really knowing if he means it. You can just tell. It’s the sort of thing a person says without thinking too hard about it. I love you. Maybe you say it so you can avoid having to think too hard about how you actually feel. I love you. There’s so much wrapped up in that phrase that it gives the illusion of being a big complex thought and lets you feel okay about ignoring all the other big complex things that are really in your heart.
Like so many things in China, Tumblr is banned. So while I was traveling around the country the last two weeks I ended up just recounting all my adventures and transient enthusiasms in e-mails to friends instead of posting them here on my happy little online diary. And now I don’t feel like retelling everything. Except for this little tale that I never shared.
One obnoxious recurring theme on our China junket was that our government minders and handlers would constantly scold us naïve reporters for only visiting the wealthy parts of China and never seeing the “real” China, the rural China, the poor China—the 600 million subsistence farmers scraping to get by who constitute this massive unavoidable fact if you want to think about China’s status as a rising economic power.
So then us naïve reporters would say, Okay, but you all are running this junket, why don’t you show us the real China? And yet our government minders and handlers didn’t want to do it. Maybe they were ashamed of the horrible destitute parts of China and only wanted to show off the sprouting construction cranes in Xi’an or the bright neon walkways of Shanghai. Who knows? But this led to all sorts of uncomfortable fights and feuds until finally, out in Dunhuang, they took us to meet some local farmers.
Like the mooing herd we were we all took the bus to this place called “Crescent Lake Village” which had an apricot tree hovering over the entry gate (and the apricots were still hard and green and sour) and then this lovely leafy walkway. The homes looked new. There were no fields or orchards in sight. It was drizzling slightly. And we all massed into this one home—with like five different local officials chaperoning us around—and met this farmer named Ding Xiao.
Now, the first thing about Ding Xiao is that his home didn’t’t seem poor at all. Flat-screen TV. Clean, upholstered couches. A VW keychain dangling from his belt. He’s an apricot farmer who supplements his income through some undefined tourist business (the dunes and the Mogao Grotto are both hotspots here—the latter is this dense network of caves with 35-foot Buddha statues and other assorted paintings inside).
So I asked Ding Xiao not just about his current life but also about growing up in the tail end of the Mao era, when homes in this area didn’t have electricity and his parents were poor, illiterate farmers who didn’t even know how to drive a motorbike and about how boy were they ever impressed with him and his VW Passat now. I tried to imagine just the sheer steepness of the line that led from then to now but it was impossible to comprehend. And then off we went with our ever-expanding posse to meet another farmer—this one with an even bigger flat-screen TV—and it was the same story.
Anyway, so through it all I could kind of tell that these probably weren’t representative of China’s dirt poor farmers—especially when I found out that Ding Xiao hired two migrant workers to tend to his apricots, and they sounded legitimately destitute—but really, what did I know? Except then afterward our government translator, Chenzhen, who everyone called “Mr. Wang” because it was too hard to learn his first name, well, he couldn’t take it anymore. On the way back to our bus he was shaking his head and fiddling with his glasses in a sort of agitated way and when I asked him what’s up he said, with the sort of bitterness that’s unmistakable even across cultures, “Those farmers are rich. This isn’t what rural China is like at all.”
It turns out Chenzhen had grown up in this mountain region outside Lanzhou where there was no lucrative tourist trade, where the roads were barely paved and only a few homes even had tractors or any sort of color TV (massive flat screens were just unheard of). Our shy, nerdy translator, who everyone had just dismissed as a government stooge, had been the first one from his miserable village to go off to university; his parents had actually tried to thwart him from going, since the thinking was well they were farmers and he would be a farmer and what was the point of education? But he prevailed and took out a loan and went off to the county boarding school, where he only saw his family once a month and where kids from remote rural parts were rare. After he graduated and came back home people in the village saw it was actually possible to escape and more of them started encouraging their kids to study hard and head off for more schooling.
And just when I’m ready to sell his childhood story to Lifetime as an inspiring after-school special he adds that his brother, who never finished junior high, is now a sofa carpenter and makes three times what Chenzhen does as a local public affairs officials. His family now mocks him for it. So this thin geeky kid with wispy little beard hairs on his chin looks at me and says, totally serious, “I have some regret.” And what could you say to that?