Gray wolves used to roam most of
before being hunted, trapped and driven out of most of the continental
by the early 1900s. They are native to California.
(Image credit: Michelle Harris, Samantha Winiecki-Love, Ryan Slezak and Colibri Ecological Consulting/via the California Department of Fiash and WIldlife)
While meteors are active from July, Perseids will be most visible in northern hemisphere this Saturday and Sunday
Stargazers will be in for a treat this weekend as the best meteor shower of the year is expected to peak.
The Perseids are named after the Greek hero Perseus because the meteor shower appears to come from the eponymous constellation.Continue reading…
We’ll soon (next couple of weeks) be going live with an r/futurology fediverse site. If you have an hour or two to spare and are interested, could you help us get it ready for launch?
We need people to test the site's functionality by posting, commenting on the site, and using it to interact with other sites within the fediverse. We’d also like your feedback and suggestions on how the site can be improved before launch.
The site is built with software called Lemmy and looks much the same as Reddit. It even uses the r/subreddit naming conventions for different sections, just swapping out ‘r’ and using ‘c’ instead. The biggest difference is that alongside subscribing to these sections (subreddit equivalents) on our site, you can also subscribe to them on other fediverse sites, and their content will show up on your front page on our site, alongside our content.
If you’d like to help either comment here, and we’ll DM you details, or hit the 'Message the Mods' button and we can DM you from there.
- Editor’s Note: Washington Week With The Atlantic is a partnership between NewsHour Productions, WETA, and The Atlantic airing every Friday on PBS stations nationwide.
Editor’s Note: Washington Week With The Atlantic is a partnership between NewsHour Productions, WETA, and The Atlantic airing every Friday on PBS stations nationwide. Check your local listings or watch full episodes here.
After former President Donald Trump was arraigned for trying to overturn the 2020 election results, a strange question looms over the 2024 race: Will the former president and current GOP front-runner win the presidency, go to prison, or both?
The challenges facing Democrats and President Joe Biden’s 2024 reelection campaign include low voter enthusiasm and poor approval ratings. The president also faces unsubstantiated allegations from some in the GOP that he is entangled in his son Hunter’s foreign-business misadventures, and some House Republicans are weighing whether to hold an impeachment inquiry this fall.
Joining the editor in chief of The Atlantic and moderator, Jeffrey Goldberg, this week to discuss this and more are Peter Baker, the chief White House correspondent at The New York Times; Laura Barrón-López, the White House correspondent at PBS NewsHour; and Adam Harris, a staff writer at The Atlantic.
Read the full transcript [here].
Nature Communications, Published online: 12 August 2023; doi:10.1038/s41467-023-40629-8Testing general relativity with optical clocks is important both as a fundamental test and for metrological applications. Here, a vertical linear array of 5 separate ensembles of strontium atoms trapped in a single optical lattice is used to perform a blinded lab-based test of the gravitational redshift at the mm to cm scale.
[ Deleted the previous post because of spelling mistakes & reposting with correction. Sincerely apologise for the mistake. ]
It has taken many generations of observations by the human mind, to process & invent Martial arts.
Can it take AI just a few years to come up with a new martial arts discipline ?
Give it an idea of the human body & all the date of all the martial art forms that have in practice.
Will it be able to generate a new martial art ?
Scientific Reports, Published online: 12 August 2023; doi:10.1038/s41598-023-39438-2Improved fluoroscopy-guided biopsies in the diagnosis of indeterminate biliary
has disbanded a group that utilized artificial intelligence to develop the initial database containing over 600 million protein structures. This move suggests that the company is shifting away from purely scientific endeavors and prioritizing the creation of profitable AI products. Wow. ._.
– ESMFold (Evolutionary Scale Modeling) is a deep learning-based method developed to predict protein structure from its amino acid sequence.
Nature Communications, Published online: 12 August 2023; doi:10.1038/s41467-023-40457-wMetabolic reprogramming is a common indicator of the tumour microenvironment. Here the authors develop the METAflux framework to predict metabolic fluxes from single cell RNA-seq data.
Nature Communications, Published online: 12 August 2023; doi:10.1038/s41467-023-40645-8The search for efficient methods for the enantioselective synthesis of cyano-containing molecules is important but synthesis methods are often limited by the need of toxic cyano salts or reduction with hydrogen gas. Here the authors report the efficient and selective access to β-cyano carboxylic esters which can be easily converted into γ-aminobutyric acid derivatives with high optical purities.
Nature Communications, Published online: 12 August 2023; doi:10.1038/s41467-023-40624-zCLC transporters are regulated by nucleotides and phospholipids. Here cryo-EM structure of Arabidopsis CLCa in complex with ATP and PIP2 and electrophysiological analysis suggests the underlying regulatory mechanisms of both nucleotides and phospholipids.
This is an edition of The Wonder Reader, a newsletter in which our editors recommend a set of stories to spark your curiosity and fill you with delight. Sign up here to get it every Saturday morning.
One of the most wonderful by-products of my colleague Amanda Mull joining The Atlantic a few years back was the introduction of Midge into my life. Over the years, Amanda has often treated her Twitter followers and co-workers on Slack to photos of, and stories about, her “cranky, agoraphobic chihuahua,” as she called Midge in a 2021 article. This might sound a bit strange, but as a person who didn’t grow up with pets, I get a surprising amount of comfort from simply seeing snapshots of my colleagues’ and friends’ daily life with pets like Midge—little beings who have just as many quirks, moods, and worries as humans do (if not more).
Pets are playing a more and more pivotal role in modern life, particularly for Millennials: As Amanda explained in 2021, “For
’s newest adopters, a dog can be many things: a dry run for parenthood, a way of putting down roots when traditional milestones feel out of reach, an enthusiastic housemate for people likely to spend stretches of their 20s and 30s living alone. An even more primary task, though, is helping soothe the psychic wounds of modern life.”
Today’s newsletter is dedicated to pets—how we live alongside them, drive them crazy, and love them to depths they may never fully understand. (And don’t worry; our reading list doesn’t neglect cats.)
By Amanda Mull
The only thing getting me through my 30s is a cranky, agoraphobic chihuahua named Midge.
By Arthur C. Brooks
Three rules to enhance the happiness of those looking to add a nonhuman to the household (From 2021)
By Katherine J. Wu
Cats are a biological marvel. That’s not (the only reason) why I love them.
- Why do humans talk to animals if they can’t understand?: The habit says more about people than about their pets.
- The pet-name trend humans can’t resist: Why would anyone name their dog Kyle?
- The new old dating trend
- An adorable way to study how kids get each other sick
- Aristotle’s 10 rules for a good life
If you’re prepared to cry, I recommend spending a moment with the Atlantic contributing writer Peter Wehner’s love letter to his dog, Romeo, who died a few months ago. “A pet’s devotion, a close friend told me, creates a force field around our home, warding off the unpredictable and frightening realities of daily life,” Wehner writes. “In giving something that’s needed to a family, a pet becomes a part of it, insinuating its life into ours.”
This article was originally published in Knowable Magazine.
Conservationists seeking to restore shark populations off the Atlantic coast of Panama were facing a problem all too familiar to biologists: No records existed to document what pristine shark communities looked like before overfishing decimated the animals over the past few decades. Without that information, how could the restoration workers know what they should be aiming for?
Erin Dillon, a paleoecologist at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama, thought she had the solution. By sampling microfossils—dermal denticles, the “little teeth on the shark’s skin,” as she describes them—deposited on the ocean floor, Dillon was able to reconstruct a picture of shark communities in the region before human disturbance. Shark abundance in the Caribbean reefs has declined by more than 70 percent, she found, with fast-swimming, open-water sharks hit the hardest.
Dillon is one of the rising stars in the new field of conservation paleobiology, which uses the fossil record to inform and assist present-day conservation efforts. “We often need some sense of the way things used to be before there was extensive human impact,” says Karl Flessa, a paleobiologist at the University of Arizona who coined the term conservation paleobiology two decades ago and co-authored an early look at the field in the 2015 Annual Review of Earth and Planetary Sciences.
Conservation paleobiologists are using the past to establish pre-disturbance baselines, as Dillon has done. They are also documenting long-term patterns of habitat use and revealing previously unsuspected changes in ecosystems as a result of human activity. By uncovering how species have responded as past climates changed, they are helping researchers understand how the same species may respond to climate change today. And their results are guiding management plans for some of the world’s most endangered ecosystems.
Often, paleontological data offer the only practical way to understand the long-term ecological patterns that are so crucial to conservation decisions. That’s the case for caribou herds on the Arctic coastal plain of Alaska, which have proved difficult to study in real time. The animals migrate extensively, and they use different parts of their home range each year, so ecologists have a hard time knowing which areas are essential to maintaining caribou populations.
“There’s so much year-to-year variability,” says Joshua Miller, a paleoecologist at the University of Cincinnati. “It can be challenging to make conservation decisions when you don’t know the long-term value of a place.”
So Miller turned to the paleontological record—specifically, accumulations of the antlers the animals shed each year. Unusually for members of the deer family, females as well as males have antlers, which they shed shortly after calving. In the Arctic climate, these antlers remain intact for hundreds or thousands of years, providing a long-term record of where calving occurs. “You really can walk on the landscape today and get some essence of what caribou were doing thousands of years ago,” Miller says.
By counting and radiocarbon-dating these antlers, Miller was able to document that caribou have relied for thousands of years on the same calving grounds along the Arctic coast that a well-known major herd, the Porcupine herd, still uses—including a period 3,100 years ago when summer temperatures were even warmer than today. “That gives us some confidence that the patterns we see today should be maintained over the next period of climatic change,” Miller says.
And that’s not all the information to be gleaned from shed antlers. Miller also measured the ratio of two stable isotopes of the element strontium, which gets deposited in the animals’ antlers each summer because it’s chemically similar to the calcium that builds antler bone. Different habitats contain different ratios of the two strontium isotopes, so the ratio provides a way to track the animals’ summer range.
As with the calving grounds, the summer range of the Porcupine herd has remained stable over time, Miller found. But that’s not the case for the Central Arctic herd, which lives farther to the west. Before there was a lot of human activity, the strontium isotope ratio shows that the caribou spent much of their summer along the coast. But starting about 1980—roughly when oil development began along there—they began avoiding the coast and summering farther inland. While that is not conclusive proof that oil development caused the shift, Miller notes, it does point to the coastal region’s importance for the caribou—a key consideration for conservation.
Occasionally, the fossil record completely changes the way conservationists think about an ecosystem. For example, ecologists had assumed that the muddy seafloor off the coast of Los Angeles had always been that way. But when the sedimentary geologist and paleoecologist Susan Kidwell of the University of Chicago and her colleague Adam Tomašových of the Slovak Academy of Sciences in Bratislava began studying seafloor samples as part of a wastewater-monitoring program, they were surprised to find remains of shelly creatures called brachiopods. These don’t live on muddy seafloors but on hard, sandy, or gravelly bottoms.
Chemical dating of the shells revealed that the youngest remains dated from the late 19th century—about the time when the Los Angeles area was heavily grazed by cattle. Runoff from overgrazed, eroding soil, Kidwell and her colleagues concluded, most likely smothered the hard surfaces the brachiopods needed, resulting in the local extinction of an entire ecosystem. “Despite 50 years of close monitoring on one of the best-known continental shelves in the world, it was utterly unsuspected,” Kidwell says.
The discovery gives local conservationists a new target for their restoration efforts, though it could take years for the mud to wash away. In the meantime, Kidwell notes, it becomes more important to protect gravelly or sandy seafloors that still remain farther offshore, near the Channel Islands.
Fossils aren’t only useful for learning about the past, however. They can also suggest how plants and animals might respond to future events—most pressingly, climate change. For example, Jenny McGuire, a conservation paleobiologist at the Georgia Institute of Technology, and her colleagues studied fossilized pollen grains to see how 16 important plant taxa from
responded to climate change over the past 18,000 years. Did the plants shift their ranges to follow their preferred climate, the researchers wondered, or did they stay put and make the best of things as the climate changed around them?
Twelve of the 16 taxa changed their geographic distribution to maintain similar climate niches, the researchers found—even in periods when the climate was changing rapidly. But such shifts may not be as easy today because of loss and fragmentation of their habitats. The lesson, McGuire says, is that plants that shifted instead of adapting locally could be at the greatest risk today and require extra conservation aid. “It tells you which plant taxa you have to worry about,” she says.
Conservation paleobiology is new enough that its insights are only starting to percolate through to the government agencies that make conservation decisions on the ground. That’s largely because institutional change takes time. “Any of us who actually work with agencies—as well as people who work for agencies—can tell you just how slowly and carefully and thoughtfully agencies change anything about what they do,” Kidwell says.
It is happening in a few places, though, most notably in the Florida Everglades, where decades of water diversions and drainage have significantly altered the natural flows of fresh water that maintain the ecosystem. Federal, state, and local governments are working to return the region’s water regimen closer to its natural state—but no records exist of what flow rates were before drainage began.
So Lynn Wingard, a paleoecologist with
Geological Survey, turned to the fossil record. Wingard knew that each species of mollusk living in the Everglades has its own preferred level of salinity. By making a census of the relative abundance of shells of 68 kinds of mollusks in sediment cores and comparing it with data from living communities, she could estimate the average salinity at each point in time in the past.
Then one day she found herself in a meeting room with a hydrologist who knew how to predict salinity from water flow rates—and they and others in the room realized that they could turn his equations around and use salinity to figure out historic flow rates. “We all had this massive brainstorm: Yes, we can do this, and it would allow us to calculate flow before there was any flow monitoring,” Wingard says. Wingard’s salinity numbers are now the official targets for Florida Bay restoration.
In theory, paleobiologists could apply their techniques to explore ecosystems millions, or tens of millions, of years in the past. By doing so, they could treat the history of life as an enormous experiment—examining, for instance, repeated known periods of rapid climate change to see what characteristics put species at greatest risk of extinction.
But looking into deep time this way brings risks, experts say. Ecosystems do change, so ones indicated by fossil assemblages may differ from modern ones in important ways. “The farther back you go in time, the more difficult it is to predict things directly, because the species are different; the ecosystems function differently,” says Michal Kowalewski, a conservation paleobiologist at the University of Florida who heads a research network of practitioners in the field. “So the last few hundred years give us the most information.”
A further limitation of fossil data is that historic time periods get somewhat blurred. “However carefully you take a sample, it’s going to be a mixture of organisms that lived at different times,” Kowalewski says. That can make it difficult to use the fossil record to track changes that were rapid, especially as you go deeper into the past, where the blurring is often greater.
And practitioners note one more concern: Even if we can correctly identify the way ecosystems were in the past, it may be impractical to try to restore them to that state today. “It’s not as easy as, ‘This is what it used to be; we should bring it back to that,’” says Jonathan Cybulski, a historical ecologist at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute and the University of Rhode Island. Sometimes—as is the case for the ocean floor off Los Angeles—conditions have changed so much that restoration is impractical. But even so, he notes, paleoecological data can help conservationists refine their targets.
Other times, restoration may even be undesirable. Grizzly bears, for example, used to thrive in coastal California, now among the most heavily settled parts of the state. Few would endorse returning grizzlies there.
Despite these concerns, conservation paleobiologists see a bright future in digging into the past to guide the future, because so many plants and animals leave fossils of some sort: pollen, teeth, shells, or other traces, especially from relatively recent times. “These archives are pretty much everywhere, both in terrestrial habitats and marine habitats. We can pretty much go to any region of the world and look at the young fossil record,” Kowalewski says. “In many ways, it’s even easier to do this than to inventory living biodiversity.”
Any time I try to recommend How to With John Wilson to someone who has never heard of the show, I struggle to figure out where to begin. HBO markets it as a docuseries by the filmmaker John Wilson in which he explores the idiosyncratic behavior of New York City’s wackiest residents. But calling it a “docuseries” feels wrong; yes, the program relies on footage and interviews Wilson has collected from wandering through the city, but the material is also presented comedically. And it’s not quite “about” anything: Sometimes an episode will meander from one topic to another so much so that by the end of the half hour, you barely remember where you started.
Describing Wilson himself can be difficult too. He’s ostensibly the show’s star, yet he rarely appears on camera. Instead, he narrates everything the audience sees, using the second-person perspective to refer to his own experiences. (When the building he lives in went through a gut renovation, for instance, he observed that the construction “quickly turned your apartment into one of the noisiest places you’ve ever lived.”) With his Muppet-y voice and awkward throat-clearing, he often sounds nervous to be out and about at all. The camera, it seems, is his shield, his way of making eye contact with a subject without having to look at them directly. In the first season, an interior designer he interviewed gently called him out for the habit. “I would love for you, sometimes in your life, in your head, to be like, ‘I should put the camera down in this situation,’” she said. “‘I should just be John.’”
In the show’s final season, Wilson seems to have absorbed her advice. The filmmaker has offered glimmers of his personal life before by mentioning relationships and his friends, and by incorporating archival footage from his younger days. But Season 3 takes significant strides toward dismantling the layers Wilson has constructed between himself and his show. Friday’s episode, “How to Work Out,” is the first in a string of installments in which Wilson turns the camera to himself and begins regularly venturing outside of the New York City boroughs he’s long explored. The result is Wilson’s most vulnerable and ambitious work yet. If in previous seasons he was using How To to make sense of the world around him, he’s now purposefully trying to make sense of himself—and, in the process, underscoring the limits of his approach. Chronicling reality, the show suggests, always involves some amount of fabrication.
Wilson has cultivated a reputation as a generous documentarian, someone willing to follow his subjects down rabbit holes and spotlight their passions without judgment. Much like The Rehearsal, the similarly unconventional series from the comedian and How To producer Nathan Fielder, Wilson’s work can be somewhat uncomfortable to watch as a result. Both shows mine comedy from how naively open their subjects are about their weirdest obsessions. In Wilson’s case, he deliberately tails people who seem eager to be heard and want to explain their quirks, such as a man he encounters at a grocery store who mentions his fascination with the Mandela Effect, the phenomenon in which people collectively misremember significant events or details. And though Wilson never, in his narration, remarks on the oddness of what he’s filming, the episodes convey his perspective anyway. Earlier this season, he spent time with a man who was trying to move his family into a windowless missile silo; throughout the sequence, Wilson deployed a haunting score that sounded straight out of a conspiracy thriller, as if to underline how ludicrous the man’s compulsion comes off to Wilson.
Yet in the latest episode, Wilson confronts his impulse to turn people’s eccentricities into entertainment. When he heads to a September 11–themed bodybuilding competition—an event with obvious, if jarring, comic potential—he asks multiple contestants for their memories of the attacks they’re supposedly honoring, but grows silent when he instead receives responses about how mentally grueling bodybuilding can be. And after Wilson meets a trainer who claims he once worked with one of the hijackers, he deliberately cuts away following a short Q&A, and instead plays a homemade superhero film he recorded as a kid on 9/11. It’s as if Wilson himself is too distressed to continue letting others overshare, so he steps in as an alternative, following himself down one of those rabbit holes.
It’s an unexpected technique for Wilson to use—and a revealing one, as he examines why he made a movie, of all things, that afternoon. He considers his role as a filmmaker and contemplates how his platform has changed him—and by extension, the work he does. He splices in clips of himself standing around stiffly on the Emmys red carpet. He inserts footage he captured of Elon Musk, Martha Stewart, and Michael Bloomberg—boldface names he’s shared rooms with at fancy fetes. He draws attention to how, because he has an HBO show with his name in the title, his camera has transformed from being his shield to being his weapon; he zooms in on a billboard of himself looming over Times Square. “You like to think that you are just watching all of this stuff from a distance,” he narrates solemnly, “but maybe this is just who you are now.”
The confession reminded me of something Wilson expressed back in the show’s very first episode. “The more you talk to someone,” he mused then, “the harder it is to hide who you really are.” How To, over three seasons, has never really been a docuseries or a comedy, but an exploration of that fine line between storyteller and subject, and of how impossible it is to objectively record reality. Wilson’s curiosity shaped the show, but as much as he tried to keep himself at a remove from what he surveyed, his own peculiarities influenced every second of what aired. “Everything is such a performance these days,” he once said disdainfully in an interview as he explained why he was drawn to filming everyday people and their mundane lives. In this final season, Wilson sounds like he’s coming to terms with being more than a mere documentarian stumbling upon zany personalities. Instead, he’s a character playing a part.
In the summer of 1619, the leaders of the fledgling Jamestown colony came together as the first general assembly to enact “just Laws for the happy guiding and governing of the people there inhabiting.” Consisting of the governor, Sir George Yeardley; his four councillors; and 22 elected “burgesses,” or representatives, the group approved more than 30 measures. Among them was the nation’s first gun law:
That no man do sell or give any Indians any piece, shot, or powder, or any other arms offensive or defensive, upon pain of being held a traitor to the colony and of being hanged as soon as the fact is proved, without all redemption.
After that early example of gun control came many more laws placing restrictions on the ownership and use of firearms. If guns have always been part of American society, so have gun laws.
This fact might come as a surprise to some gun-rights advocates, who seem to believe that America’s past was one of unregulated gun ownership. That view received a big assist in 2022, when the Supreme Court declared in New York State Rifle & Pistol Association Inc. v. Bruen that the constitutionality of modern gun laws depends on whether they are “consistent with this Nation’s historical tradition of firearm regulation.” In other words, the constitutional standard for any modern gun law boils down to whether you can find a good precedent for it back in the 1700s or 1800s.
The advocates’ assumption is that such precedents are few and far between, but thanks to the work of researchers and the digitization of archival material, thousands of old gun laws, of every imaginable variety, are now available for reference. Far from being exceptional in American history, gun-control regulations are the default. If Bruen was designed to nullify the constitutional basis for many gun laws, it ought to fail.
Because of the constant conflict between Indigenous people and European settlers in the early colonial period, virtually every colony enacted laws similar to Jamestown’s to keep firearms out of the hands of “hostiles,” ineffective as the laws generally were. Over the two centuries that followed, and up to the Civil War, the pervasive fear of enslaved persons’ rebellion prompted many colonies and, later, states to enact laws to prevent their obtaining guns. Gun regulations in the antebellum period, however, were not all about bans: At least 11 states enacted licensing laws that allowed—usually under some form of supervision—enslaved people and free Black people to carry weapons.
Throughout this long period in the history of the republic, up until the beginning of the 20th century, gun laws placed conditions or restrictions on weapons access for a wide variety of citizens—in particular, indentured servants, vagrants, non-Protestants, those who refused to swear an oath of loyalty to the government, felons, foreigners, minors, and those under the influence of alcohol. Numerous laws regulated hunting practices, as well as firearms’ carry, use, storage, and transportation; regulated the manufacture, inspection, storage, and sale of firearms; imposed gun licensing; and restricted dangerous or unusual weapons.
Despite the Thomas opinion’s claim that “the historical record yields relatively few 18th- and 19th-century ‘sensitive places’ where weapons were altogether prohibited,” some local authorities outlawed the discharge of firearms in or near towns, buildings, or roads, as well as after dark, on Sundays, at public gatherings, and in cemeteries. In some jurisdictions, any use of a firearm that wasted gunpowder was also an offense.
A typical penalty for violations of these laws was some combination of a fine and imprisonment. In the 1700s and 1800s, the period of principal interest to the justices because of the Second Amendment’s adoption in 1791 and the addition of the Fourteenth Amendment in 1868, a breach of gun-carry and hunting laws could also have resulted in confiscation.
Naturally, some of these laws addressed problems unique to their time. Concerns about conserving gunpowder, for example, were important from the 1600s to the mid-1800s, because its relative scarcity made it a precious substance that was dangerous to keep on hand in any quantity and soon degraded if not properly stored or handled. Other types of laws, though, corresponded much more directly to modern gun regulations.
Take the matter of the carrying of firearms or other dangerous weapons in public. As early as 1686, New Jersey enacted a law against anyone who presumed “privately to wear any pocket pistol, skeines, stilettoes, daggers or dirks, or other unusual or unlawful weapons,” because they induced “great fear and quarrels.” This law also warned the gentry against what we would now call open carry: “No planter shall ride or go armed with sword, pistol or dagger, upon the penalty.” New Hampshire passed a law in 1744 penalizing any unlawful assembly of a dozen or more persons “being armed with clubs, or other weapons,” including firearms, that refused to disperse. Massachusetts followed suit in 1751. Virginia and North Carolina passed similar laws against the open carry of weapons in 1786 and 1792, respectively.
In the post-revolutionary 1800s, as rising violent crime led more people to arm themselves, a total of 42 states (plus the District of Columbia) enacted laws against concealed carry. Three more did so in the early 1900s, so that the total included almost every state in the Union. As many states from the 1700s to 1900s also enacted some form of weapons-licensing law.
That’s not all. Over that same period, at least 22 states restricted any gun carrying, including of long guns. Moreover, across the entire period, three-quarters of the states had laws either against “brandishing”—waving a gun around in a menacing or threatening manner—or merely having a weapon on display in public.
, concealed carry is synonymous with toting a handgun. But in the 1700s and 1800s, a time when single-shot pistols were unreliable and inaccurate, fighting knives were a major concern. The most infamous of these was the bowie knife, named after Jim Bowie, who reputedly killed one man and wounded another using a “big knife” given to him by his brother, Rezin Bowie, in a fight in 1827. Bowie-related mythology was magnified by the adventurer’s death at the Alamo, in Texas, in 1836, which fanned demand for the knife—but also spurred the enactment of laws against its carry. In the 1830s, at least six states passed such laws; by the century’s end, every state but one restricted bowie knives.
Another example of a new technology or design that prompted legislation was the trap gun. This was a contraption intended to deter trespassers, poachers, or thieves that was rigged to cause a firearm to go off, usually triggered by a string or wire. A 1771 New Jersey law criminalized the setting of “any loaded Gun in such Manner as that the same shall be intended to go off or discharge itself, or be discharged by any String, Rope, or other Contrivance.” At least 17 other states enacted anti-trap-gun laws from the 1850s to the early 1900s.
As best I can determine, trap guns’ use was relatively rare, but incidents involving them received considerable press attention. A Bangor, Maine, newspaper reported on October 27, 1870, that a burglar who broke into a New York City shop had “the top of his head blown off” by a trap gun. “A few such ‘accidents’ are needed to teach the thieves who have lately been operating in this city, a lesson,” opined the periodical. But most contemporary commentary supported anti-trap-gun laws because of the risk that innocent people could be injured or killed, and because of a revulsion against such vigilante-style justice.
By the end of the 19th century, America was changing dramatically, becoming a majority-urban nation. That shift to an industrial, metropolitan society coincided with the mass production and increased circulation of ever-cheaper and more reliable handguns, leading to a rise in homicides and other gun crimes. The new century was also marked by the advent of modern policing, with greater capabilities to address these growing problems; this development was reflected in a new generation of gun laws aiming to tackle the challenges of public order and safety in American cities. Thus New York’s Sullivan Act—a major provision of which was struck down in the Bruen ruling—came into force in 1911, the year that gave John Browning’s famous semiautomatic-pistol design its name.
What does this long record amount to? For a start, America’s actual gun-law history collides with its gun mythology: that guns were widely carried and largely unregulated until the rise of the regulatory state in the 20th century. No question, gun ownership is as old as the country—though less widespread and unfettered than our folklore suggests—but so are gun laws.
In addition, even though for much of its history America was an agrarian country, a modern nation-state still in the making, with local governments that possessed few resources and limited power, its lawmakers and enforcers were inventive and determined about ensuring public safety. When they perceived a threat to that order from firearms, they passed laws to restrict or prevent them. And back then, by and large, no court struck those laws down.
That is what is truly consistent with this nation’s historical tradition of firearm regulation. So if we accept the originalist premise of Bruen, the actual result should be to render a broad array of gun regulations constitutional.
History can be found in the strangest places.
Submission Statement: technology such as blockchain and AI is disrupting every sector in the developed world but in turn, the developing countries are left with even less opportunities because of this disadvantage.
I want to discuss if there are any plans, projects, prospects to use emerging tech (in particular blockchain since it’s ’decentralized thus not impacted by powerful authority) t positively impact the underprivilege. Have you personally thought about it? What are the roadblocks around it
scientist on falling in love with the stars, the problems faced by women of colour in her field, and her preventive double mastectomy
Egyptian-American astrophysicist Sarafina El-Badry Nance’s debut memoir, Starstruck, offers a window on what it is like growing up to be a scientist today as a woman of colour. Nance, 30, is a passionate communicator of cosmology, and an advocate for women’s health, after a preventive double mastectomy. The book intertwines her personal story with explanations of what we know about the universe. Nance is completing her PhD at the University of California, Berkeley, where she is studying exploding stars or supernovae.
Isn’t this a young age to be writing a memoir? You still have so much of your personal and professional life ahead of you.
It is, but I don’t think it means it isn’t the right time. It is immensely challenging and scarring to push through educational systems and institutions built for straight white men. There is a value in sharing my experience now. My hope is the book resonates with other young women, but also anyone who has felt othered or sought to belong. It is also for anyone curious about the cosmos.
- Most smartwatches have you swipe on the tiny screen to move around the operating system, but the new Watch6 Classic brings back the famed mechanical rotating bezel you can twist to scroll through the various tiles and apps.
If you feel as if you have interesting thoughts to contribute to the field of psychology please consider completing the following research project! The present study intends to investigate individual thinking styles and how they contribute to the formulation of opinions.
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Nature Communications, Published online: 12 August 2023; doi:10.1038/s41467-023-40551-zBy coupling two quantum dots via a superconductor-semiconductor hybrid region in a 2D electron gas, the authors achieve efficient splitting of Cooper pairs. Further, by applying a magnetic field perpendicular to the spin-orbit field, they can induce and measure large triplet correlations in the Cooper pair splitting process.
Nature Communications, Published online: 12 August 2023; doi:10.1038/s41467-023-40410-x
Nature Communications, Published online: 12 August 2023; doi:10.1038/s41467-023-40646-7Current methods for auto-transfusion often result in disturbances to the patient’s blood homeostasis, leading to an increased bleeding risk. Here, the authors develop heparin-mimicking self-anticoagulant sponges for safe and convenient whole blood auto-transfusion, and study underlying mechanisms.
- In a neat parallel, Conant took on the role after a highly consequential 20-year tenure as president of Harvard University.
A renowned political philosopher, Amy Gutmann was in some ways an inspired choice to serve as President Joe Biden’s ambassador to Germany. Over the course of a long and fruitful academic career, she has made enormous contributions to the theory of deliberative democracy, identity politics, and the role of educational institutions in a pluralistic society, lines of inquiry that are as urgent as ever on both sides of the Atlantic. And in the thick of Russia’s war in Ukraine, there is an undeniable resonance to having the daughter of a German Jewish refugee represent U.S. interests in Berlin.
But I suspect it was not Gutmann’s considerable achievements as a public intellectual or her ancestral ties that won her one of the nation’s most prestigious ambassadorial appointments. A more likely explanation is that the president felt he owed her a debt of gratitude, as she gave him something more precious than even the most eye-wateringly large Super PAC contribution.
Prior to taking on her new role, Gutmann served as president of the University of Pennsylvania for 18 years, where she was celebrated, and well compensated, for her prodigious fundraising and strategic acumen. Notably, she presided over the establishment of the Penn Biden Center for Diplomacy and Global Engagement in February 2017, which was initially led by Joe Biden, who at the same time was named the Benjamin Franklin Presidential Practice Professor at the University of Pennsylvania.
Having a former vice president on your faculty is no small thing, and Gutmann and Biden appear to have developed a strong rapport. And when Biden’s granddaughter Maisy Biden applied for admission to Penn in 2018, he intervened personally to press her case to Gutmann, who seems to have given the former vice president valuable advice about improving her chances. Despite an imperfect academic record, the younger Biden matriculated at Penn in the fall of 2019 and graduated this past spring. By then, Gutmann was comfortably ensconced in Berlin.
I don’t begrudge Biden for doing whatever he could to secure his granddaughter’s admission to a prestigious university, an admirable act of grandfatherly devotion, or Gutmann for having been receptive to his entreaties, as her job was in no small part to add luster to the University of Pennsylvania. The relationship between them is striking nevertheless. One would normally expect a university president to be solicitous toward a former vice president of
, not the other way around.
But Gutmann wasn’t the president of just any university. She was the president of an Ivy League university, and that made all the difference. Her relationship with the Biden family is a perfect distillation of the immense influence of the Ivy League and its peer institutions—and it points to how that influence might come undone.
Armed with billion-dollar endowments, America’s most selective universities have in recent decades transformed themselves into “the makers of manners” for the nation’s mass affluent population. By mixing the children of the rich and powerful with the children of designated disadvantaged groups, they’ve given rise to a new progressive elite that holds enormous sway over the nation’s cultural and political life. Now, as Ivy-plus admissions practices come under intense scrutiny from left and right, this potent alchemy is at risk, opening the door for a new set of elite-making institutions.
One of Gutmann’s distinguished predecessors as U.S. ambassador to Germany is James Bryant Conant, who served as the U.S. high commissioner for Germany and then as the first U.S. ambassador to the Federal Republic at the dawn of the Cold War. In a neat parallel, Conant took on the role after a highly consequential 20-year tenure as president of Harvard University.
Between Conant’s era and Gutmann’s, elite higher education in America reached the zenith of its power. But Conant’s vision for Harvard and Gutmann’s vision for Penn were strikingly different.
The product of a working-class childhood in Boston, Conant famously sought to transform Harvard from a finishing school for the WASP elite into a more meritocratic institution, tasking administrators at the university with finding an aptitude test that would select for the nation’s brightest, most capable young people, which later formed the basis of the SAT. He believed that Harvard could help realize “Jefferson’s ideal,” a nation led by a public-spirited intellectual elite, chosen through a rigorous, evidence-based process. To many Americans, some version of Conant’s thesis is the most compelling justification for the elevated status of Harvard and institutions like it, which is why departures from the meritocratic ideal tend to undermine the legitimacy of Ivy League eliteness.
This brand of meritocratic elitism has never been fully realized in practice, certainly not in the Ivy League. For one, Conant himself presided over Jewish quotas, and he’s been accused of indifference—at a minimum—to the scourge of antisemitism. A long line of university administrators in the decades since have abandoned meritocratic elitism, converging on a different and arguably more robust foundation for eliteness. In lieu of a single-minded focus on academic excellence, elite higher education has taken a more pluralistic approach, one that blends students selected solely on the basis of academic credentials with others whose presence is meant to enrich university life, figuratively and literally. For much of this period, these departures from a meritocratic paradigm were seen as concessions to the imperative of fundraising and other prosaic institutional objectives. In more recent years, however, this brand of admissions pluralism has been given a moral makeover. Call it progressive elitism.
In May 1995, Gutmann, then the Laurance S. Rockefeller University Professor of Politics and dean of the faculty at Princeton, delivered the esteemed Tanner Lectures on Human Values at Stanford. Her remarks were focused on racial injustice, which she referred to as “the most morally and intellectually vexing problem in the public life of this country.”
One of Gutmann’s central arguments is that because “public policies and individual practices that would effectively address racial injustice are collective goods,” it is fair and reasonable “for blacks to criticize other blacks who benefit from their efforts to combat racial injustice but who do nothing to aid this cause or an equally urgent one.” That is, Black Americans “need to unite in order to combat racial injustice” by, for example, supporting affirmative-action policies.
And according to Gutmann, it is not just Black Americans who have a special obligation in this domain. “The fewer burdens of race we have to bear,” she argues, “the greater our obligations are to overcome racial injustice.” Americans who are not Black “have a special obligation to fight racial injustice so as to decrease the likelihood that they will be the beneficiaries of unfair advantages that stem from the racial stereotyping of social offices and other forms of institutionalized injustices that unfairly disadvantage blacks.”
If Gutmann is right that advantaged individuals and groups have a special obligation to eschew unfair advantages that reinforce racial inequality, how should one understand the concerted effort of President Biden to secure his granddaughter’s admission to the University of Pennsylvania—or rather, how should we expect the political philosopher Amy Gutmann to understand it?
One potential resolution is that the end justifies the means. That is, it is reasonable and appropriate for privileged people to leverage their status, relationships, and wealth to secure high-status educational opportunities if doing so serves the larger cause of racial and social justice.
Someone in Gutmann’s position could maintain that because the institution she controls is aligned with causes she and her peers deem worthy, admitting students who can enhance its centrality and prestige is in itself a noble pursuit. A commitment to egalitarianism gives Penn and universities like it not just moral license but moral imperative to fortify their student bodies with the children and grandchildren of the nation’s most privileged families. Doing so gives progressive university presidents like Gutmann a powerful tool to shape the rising generation of the American elite.
Crucially, this project of elite-making needs a more broadly acceptable theory of legitimacy. If meritocratic elitism is justified by the need to inculcate a sense of patriotism and civic duty in the best and brightest, progressive elitism is justified by the need to diversify the American elite. That means increasing the representation of Black Americans and other historically disadvantaged groups in prominent roles in American public life—but it also means protecting and strengthening the role of the Ivy League as an opportunity choke point. Under progressive elitism, the Ivy League isn’t just where dynastic wealth meets the dynamism of first-generation strivers. It is where America’s elite gains its moral imprimatur.
The Students for Fair Admissions v. Harvard case shed light on how this approach to elite-making has worked in practice. Students for Fair Admissions, a nonprofit legal advocacy group opposed to racial preferences, retained the Duke University labor economist Peter Arcidiacono to analyze who was admitted to Harvard and who was not, drawing on years of closely guarded data that the university was obliged to share with the plaintiffs. His expert testimony revealed the extent to which the university’s admissions practices disadvantaged Asian American applicants, which helped galvanize conservative critics of race-conscious admissions. Arcidiacono and his co-authors also drew attention to Harvard’s preferences for recruited athletes, legacies, prospective students on the dean’s interest list, and children of faculty and staff (ALDCs), which were in some cases strikingly large.
Alarmed by Arcidiacono’s findings, critics and champions of race-conscious admissions united in denouncing preferences for ALDCs, a rare instance of cross-ideological agreement. But racial preferences and preferences for ALDCs are fundamentally complementary, and it is this complementarity that serves as the cornerstone of progressive elitism.
Consider the mounting evidence that the chief advantage of an elite education is not the quality of instruction but rather the access it gives to relationships with powerful people. In a recent New York Times op-ed, the Princeton sociologist Shamus Khan described how the social binding together of students from privileged and less privileged backgrounds can redound to the benefit of the latter.
“Graduating from an elite school,” writes Khan, “affiliates you with an illustrious organization, offers you connections to people with friends in high places and acculturates you in the conventions and etiquette of high-status settings.” But while students from privileged backgrounds have access to networks of affluent, educated, professionally accomplished adults even before attending institutions such as Harvard or Penn, less privileged students do not. When these students are brought together, the privileged students gain a sense of validation—of their intellect, accomplishments, and character—and the less privileged gain social and cultural capital that can hasten their post-college professional ascent.
Though Khan is no defender of legacy preferences, he observes that “legacy students, with their deep social and cultural connections, are part of the reason less advantaged students get so much out of elite schools.” This logic applies not just to legacy students but to other privileged students as well, including the children and grandchildren of prominent elected officials, major philanthropists, academic and cultural luminaries, and perhaps even accomplished equestrians and squash players.
And progressive elitism is doing much more than just shaping the manners, mores, and life trajectories of students attending elite universities. It allows admissions officers to engage in soulcraft on a much grander scale.
In 2010, the economists Valerie and Garey Ramey found that intensified competition for prestigious college slots from the mid-1990s on led to a dramatic increase in the time and resources college-educated U.S. parents devoted to their children’s development. In contrast, there was no comparable increase in rivalry among parents in Canada, where the prestige hierarchy in higher education is not nearly as steep. The Rameys conclude that the net result of this intensified competition has been a wasteful, zero-sum “rug rat race.”
Building on this empirical foundation, the essayist Matt Feeney goes further still. In his 2021 book, Little Platoons, he denounces the hubris of selective college admissions, accusing admissions officers of arrogating to themselves extraordinary power over the inner lives of aspirational parents and their children.
Faced with a surge of applications as Millennials came of age, Feeney posits, “admissions people came to grasp that the selection power this competition had given them was also a deep and subtle sort of moral power … They could now tell their applicants which extracurriculars were better, and which sort of personal confessions were more pleasing in admissions essays, which sorts of person, as manifest in these essays and extracurriculars, they liked more.” By signaling these behavioral preferences to parents, teachers, counselors, and anxious young strivers highly susceptible to small gradations of status, admissions officers found that “they could now induce their applicants to become such people.”
A number of scholars and practitioners have called for using selective college admissions to “nudge” parents and students in several ways. In 2017, for example, Thomas Scott-Railton published a provocative article in the Yale Law & Policy Review urging elite colleges to give a substantial admissions bonus to applicants who had attended high-poverty K–12 schools even if they were not from low-income households themselves. “By rewarding applicants for attending socioeconomically integrated schools,” he argued, “colleges would mobilize the resources of private actors across the country towards integration.”
Leaving aside the merits of this particular proposal, it speaks to the extraordinary power that elite higher education has over the nation’s middle-class-and-up families. Scott-Railton’s proposal could be seen as an exercise in having Ivy League institutions advance a policy objective that Congress would likely reject. Striking legislative bargains in a culturally plural society is hard. Winning over the admissions office is a significantly lighter lift.
This disciplinary power has an ideological character, and it’s not always subtle. In 2018, an admissions officer at Yale University published a note reassuring prospective applicants and admitted students that they wouldn’t be penalized for suspensions or other disciplinary action imposed by their high schools for taking part in gun-control activism. “For those students who come to Yale,” she wrote, “we expect them to be versed in issues of social justice.” Imagine a similar note cheering on prospective applicants to Yale for taking part in the March for Life—and then imagine the opprobrium that would follow for the admissions officer who published it.
The result is that the opportunity choke point of elite college admissions has become, in the hands of progressive administrators and admissions officers, a tool for transforming progressive pieties into elite social norms.
And that leads us to why Ivy League eliteness may have peaked.
If progressive elitism has allowed selective universities to reconcile moralistic progressivism with the elitism that is the source of their desirability, what happens when Ivy League admissions officers’ power to reshape social norms is no longer undergirded by an appeal to racial justice? Since the Supreme Court’s Students for Fair Admissions decision curtailed racial preferences, legacy preferences have come under vigorous attack, not least from the Biden administration, which has launched a civil-rights investigation into Harvard’s use of the practice. Amherst College abandoned legacy admissions in October 2021, and Wesleyan University announced this July that it would follow suit. If Shamus Khan is right, although the symbolic value of an elite education for less advantaged students might persist beyond the end of legacy admissions, its value as a source of social and cultural capital will be greatly diminished.
This in turn could create an opening for a different set of higher-education institutions committed to a different set of values—perhaps even a revival of the midcentury vision of elite institutions that would promote social mobility while instilling patriotism and a sense of civic obligation.
That, at least, seems to be the impetus behind a slew of new higher-education initiatives in red and purple states, where many voters, policy makers, and philanthropists are wary of Ivy League progressivism. The School of Civic and Economic Thought and Leadership at Arizona State University, a public research university that has seen surging enrollment in recent years, is pioneering an approach to civics that welcomes debate and encourages a deep understanding of the nation’s founding principles. In Tennessee, Governor Bill Lee is creating a similar institute, which aims to inculcate an “informed patriotism,” through the state university system.
And then there is the Hamilton Center for Classical and Civic Education at the University of Florida, a new initiative that is being led by Will Inboden, a distinguished scholar of international relations who most recently taught at the University of Texas at Austin. With more than 60,000 students at its Gainesville campus, UF is already one of the nation’s most respected public universities and, in light of the Sunshine State’s rapid economic and demographic expansion, it is well positioned for further growth. The Hamilton Center, aimed at fostering diversity of thought and improving the quality of civic education on campus and throughout the state, represents a bet on UF’s enormous potential. One possibility is that it will serve as the seedbed of a new liberal-arts college that would compete with the likes of Penn and Harvard, attracting bright and capable students from a wide range of social and ethnic backgrounds. To date, UF hasn’t distinguished itself as a beacon of social mobility. But that could soon change.
No one expects these fledgling efforts to dislodge the Ivy League and its peers from their place at the top of America’s higher-education status hierarchy, at least not yet. What we can say is that many young Americans and their families are looking for alternatives to elite education as we’ve come to know it, and a growing number of civic entrepreneurs are hoping to revive something like the still-resonant meritocratic ideal.
Illustrations by Lili Wood
The day was cold, cold even for August in San Francisco. As Lionel walked over the Lefty O’Doul Bridge, the wind seemed to be coming from every direction—the Pacific, the bay, the brackish creek underfoot. And with every step, Lionel’s left shoe squeaked, an especially maddening thing, given that he’d just had them resoled. For years he’d passed a subterranean shoemaker’s shop, thinking it would be old-timey and fun to engage the ancient Romanian proprietor in some project. Finally Lionel had entered the man’s tiny shop and asked him to resole his favorite leather shoes, so soft they felt like moccasins. The whole encounter had been as quaint and satisfying as expected, until Lionel retrieved the shoes a week later and found that the left one now let out a cartoonish squeak with every footfall.
When Lionel went back to the shoemaker, the old man shrugged. “Some shoes squeak,” he said.
Lionel had learned to walk on the edge of his left foot. This decreased the sound, but gave him a worrying gait. People at the stadium had begun asking him about it.
Lionel covered the Giants for the Examiner—the home games at least. The paper didn’t have the budget to send him on the road. The season was effectively over anyway; the team had no chance at the playoffs, and the mood in the clubhouse was dour. Not that the players were so garrulous in winning, either. Sydney Coletti saw to that.
Brought in to head the media-relations department, she’d drilled the players on verbal discipline, and day after day, they dispensed word clusters that made sense but said nothing: “Trying to contribute.” “Just focused on getting the win.” “Great team effort.” “Happy to be here.”
Sydney strode around the stadium in beautiful suits, sunglasses embedded in her raven hair. As if aware of her imperious affect, she often brought in treats—candy, cupcakes, huge bars of artisanal chocolate. She was polished and warm, but had no qualms about limiting access if a reporter crossed her. So Lionel had traded candor for access, and loathed himself for it.
“Nice work, Lionel,” Sydney said when she approved of something he’d written. It was a terrible thing, to be praised this way.
“Get me sticky,” Lionel’s editor, Warren, demanded.
The problem was that when a player said something even vaguely sticky—Warren’s word for memorable, colorful, controversial—the sportswriters pounced, and often the player paid the price. Apologies followed, and lost endorsement deals, diminished love from fickle fans, a requested trade, a new team. That, or a player could just keep his mouth shut.
Squeak, squeak, squeak.
Lionel entered at the stadium’s media gate and made his way through the dim hallways to the locker room, where he showed his lanyard to Gregorio, the security guard.
“Hannah beat you,” he said.
“Beat me how?” Lionel said, thinking it could be any of 10, 12 ways. There she was, interviewing Hector Jiménez.
Hannah Tanaka was technically his competition, in that she wrote for the Chronicle, the larger of the two valiant locals. But from the time he’d started on the Giants beat, she’d done everything humanly possible to help Lionel—introducing him to every staffer at the stadium, sharing every tip and data point—and he’d quickly fallen in love with her. She was so steady, so funny; her laugh was raspy, almost lewd.
Squeak, squeak, squeak.
She turned when she heard him. She had her notebook out, and her phone—she had some transcription app that converted everything a player said to text, instantly—but she looked at Lionel and smirked. That smirk! Good lord.
She was married, though, and had two teenage girls, and so every year Lionel had gotten better at disguising his heartache. During the games, they sat next to each other, bantering, complaining, comparing notes, and with every word she said, in her low, clenched-jaw way, he was stung by the great injustice of finding his favorite person, sitting next to her every day, but heading home each day alone.
Lionel looked around. He could talk to the second baseman, Hollis, who had some kind of problem with his heel, but what was the point? Warren wouldn’t give him space for news of another almost-injury to a player on a losing team.
Hannah finished with Jiménez and sidled up to Lionel. “Behold the new guy,” she said, and nodded to a gangly man in the corner. She handed Lionel the day’s media packet and pointed to the relevant paragraph about a middle reliever, Nathan Couture, being called up from AAA Sacramento. “Get him before Sydney puts the muzzle on,” Hannah said.
The man in the corner was holding the sleeves of his uniform apart, apparently dumbfounded to find his own name, COUTURE, stitched to the back of a Giants jersey.
“Nathan?” Lionel asked.
The pitcher turned around and smiled. His teeth were small, and he was missing his left canine; it gave him a look of youthful incompletion. He had a narrow, pockmarked face and a weak chin. A wispy mustache overhung his stern, chapped lips.
“First time in the majors?” Lionel asked.
“Indeed,” Nathan said.
That word—it wasn’t heard so much in a locker room. Lionel wrote “indeed” in his notebook, and then asked the most inane, and most common, query in sports. “How does it feel?” It hurt to utter the words.
But Nathan nodded and inhaled and exhaled expansively through his nostrils, as if this was the most provocative question he’d ever heard.
“When I got the call, just yesterday, I was elated,” Nathan said.
Lionel heard an accent. Rural. Southeastern maybe. Georgia? He wrote down “Elated” and underlined it.
“The drive from Sacramento was a fever dream,” Nathan continued. “The scenery rushed by like meltwater. And then to get here, to this cathedral, to warm up, and to meet these men at the top of their craft”—he swept his arm around the room, now filled with a dozen or so players in towels and jockstraps; one was jiggling his leg, as if to awaken it—“and to be welcomed by them without condition, and now to see my name on this shirt … I have to say, it’s sublime.”
Lionel wrote and underlined “sublime.” He looked around to see if he was being pranked. But no one was listening; no one was near.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t get your name,” Nathan said, and extended his hand. Lionel introduced himself, and found that Nathan was examining his face with a friendly but jarring intensity. He rested his eyes on Lionel’s notebook. “Do you take shorthand?” he asked.
Lionel’s handwriting was a chaotic mix of cursive and all caps—a madman’s scrawl. “No, no,” he said. “This is just my personal code, I guess.”
In four years, no player had ever asked even the vaguest question about Lionel’s process or profession.
“I assume you’ll call me a journeyman,” Nathan said.
Lionel had just written that exact word. He quickly crossed it out.
“Don’t, don’t,” Nathan said. “I like the word, and for me it’s apt. And removed from baseball, it’s a good word, don’t you think? Journey-man. I know not everyone loves it, since it implies a kind of purgatory just below success, but in isolation, the word has a simple beauty to it, right? How could you not want to be called a journey-man?”
Lionel looked at the word he’d obliterated. “I guess so.” He circled it. When he glanced up again, Nathan was looking down at him with priestly interest.
“Did you dream of this work as a boy?” he asked.
Lionel couldn’t speak. He returned to the assumption that this was a prank. He looked around. No one looked back.
“I’m sorry. I shouldn’t probe like that,” Nathan said, and laid a hand on Lionel’s shoulder. “I just had the sudden awareness that the two of us are in the enviable, even surreal position of living out our most impossible dreams. The fact that we aren’t digging ditches or mining coal—that I’m paid to play a game and you’re paid to watch a game and tell people what you see—it seems, in a world of sadness and misfortune, to be a thing of great luck. Don’t you think?”
Lionel watched the game in a daze. He sat in the press box, Hannah on his right. On his left was Marco DaSilva, in his mid-20s, round-shouldered and stat-obsessed, and for some reason doing AM radio, where the average listener was 76. Lionel read, and reread, his notes, while hoping Nathan Couture would be called in to pitch.
“Interesting guy?” Hannah asked.
“His numbers are shit,” Marco said.
It was not right to withhold anything from them, but Lionel kept the strange interview to himself. The Giants lost badly and Nathan didn’t play, and somewhere along the way, Hannah, bored by Lionel’s distracted state, moved to sit next to Marco, and made a show of having an especially good time with this new seating arrangement.
Lionel wrote up the game, but because Nathan hadn’t been a factor, it made no sense to include him. He’d play sooner or later, Lionel figured, at which point he could get him into a story. Maybe Warren would let him do a profile. Or maybe not. Warren didn’t generally like human-interest stories.
That night, Lionel went online, searching for Nathan Couture. His hometown was Thomasville, Alabama. He was 28 and had never been to college. His statistics were unremarkable in every way, which meant he was unlikely to remain in the majors for any stretch of time. He was both average and old. A mediocre pitcher who was happy to be in the bigs, and who asked about Lionel’s work and method? What was he thinking?
Nathan was sent back to Sacramento the next day.
Lionel wrote up his summaries of the games that week, printing the players’ inanities, and Sydney baked white-chocolate brownies, which were exceptional.
“I don’t like her baking, actually,” Marco said. He and Hannah and Lionel were watching batting practice on another cool August afternoon.
“Her cookies are brittle,” Hannah said. Lionel hadn’t thought about Sydney’s cookies that way before, but they were definitely on the crumbly side. Soon the three of them had turned on all the food in the stadium. The garlic fries, which had been so crisp last season, were now less crisp, and the little pepperonis on the pizzas had dropped a few notches.
“Remember when they were sort of curly?” Lionel asked.
The gates of complaint were now open. The architects of the park, they agreed, had not allotted enough elevators, so the writers often had to wait—sometimes many minutes—to get from the field to the press box.
“And the paper towels!” Marco said suddenly, tragically.
In the bathrooms closest to the press box, the paper-towel dispensers had been replaced by air dryers, which they all agreed were too loud.
“Well,” Marco said, his voice weary, “I guess we should go inside and get the lineup for tonight.”
Lionel grabbed the copy Sydney had put in his cubby and saw Nathan’s name. He felt a flutter of excitement that embarrassed him.
“Couture is back,” Hannah said, and Lionel nodded, giving away nothing.
The game began, and by the sixth inning, with the Giants up 5–0, it was highly unlikely they would need Nathan. He was the third or fourth middle reliever on the roster, and the starter was still soaring.
But the Padres hacked a series of singles into shallow left and right, and suddenly it was 5–3, then 5–4. The manager made his way to the mound and took the ball, and the starter walked to the dugout, head low and muttering. Lionel looked to the bullpen to see who would emerge.
When Nathan stepped out, he waited on the warning track, taking a long breath. He walked onto the grass like it was the first step of a royal staircase, and then broke into a steady trot. The rest of his entrance and preparations were routine. He kicked the dirt and took his warm-up pitches. His face appeared on the massive outfield screen, in a goofy photo, and 20,000 fans wondered, idly, who he was. Then, without fuss, he struck out the first batter with three pitches.
“Damn,” Marco said, and typed feverishly for a while. Lionel assumed he was looking for some numerical context for what had just happened.
The next batter hit a rope toward left. Winebrenner, the third baseman, knocked it down but bobbled it, and there was a runner on first.
When the third man up hit a dribbler to second, Hollis fielded it—clumsily—and flipped it to the shortstop, who stepped on second and threw to first for a double play.
“Okay,” Hannah said. “Okay.” For Hannah, this was high praise.
Next inning, Nathan took care of the first three batters in much the same way—with crafty pitch selection and pinpoint placement. When the third hitter fouled a ball high, Nathan ran after it, briefly confusing the first baseman, who waved him off and caught it.
Between innings, Hannah took a cryptic call.
“Huh,” she said. Apparently Hollis, the second baseman, was getting an MRI. The heel that had been bothering him was now shot. Something had happened during that double play.
More experienced pitchers closed out the eighth and ninth, and that was that. The Giants won, 5–4. Down in the locker room, the early word on Hollis’s heel was bad. Warren would not want the story of Nathan Couture, not on the night the starting second baseman got injured. Lionel wandered over to Nathan anyway. Most of the players had showered already, but Nathan was still in his uniform.
“Is that corny?” Nathan asked. “I wanted to savor it a bit longer.”
Hollis seesawed into the room on crutches and the reporters swarmed. The professional thing to do would be to go over and hear from the player who’d won four Gold Gloves and was being paid $12 million. But Lionel stayed with Nathan.
“I noticed you paused when you first stepped out,” he said.
“I did,” Nathan said. “I assume you want to know how it felt?”
Lionel smiled and licked the tip of his pen theatrically.
“It was big,” Nathan said.
Lionel wrote down “It’s big” and for a moment, he wondered if Nathan’s earlier eloquence had been a fluke.
“Kidding, Lionel. Truly, I think it’s a happy, wholly irrational spectacle,” he said. “Don’t you think? I mean—”
“Hold on,” Lionel said, and scrambled for his tape recorder.
Nathan took a deep breath. “I mean, those upper-deck seats are probably 200 feet up. Think of it. Twenty-five thousand people were here tonight, some of them sitting 200 feet in the air, to see men play as silly a game as has ever been conjured. Balls and bats and bases—all of it perfected and professionalized, sure, but essentially childish and irrelevant. And to serve it, to celebrate it, this billion-dollar coliseum is built. People come 100 miles to watch it under 1,000 lights. When you and I first met, it was a day game, a completely different atmosphere. At night the stadium takes on the look of deep space. The sky is so black, the lights so white, illuminating a surreal sea of green. When you jog out there, as I did, in the dark, it feels, briefly, like you’re in a spaceship, approaching a new planet.”
Hector Jiménez, the catcher whose locker was next to Nathan’s, had begun listening, and was giving Nathan a disapproving look.
“There was some confusion over that foul ball,” Lionel said, and already Nathan was nodding.
“First of all,” he said, “that ball was rightfully Gutierrez’s, but it started out over my head, and that northeast wind took it toward the first-base line. So I had it in my sights, but then it evaporated. I mean, it ceased to be!”
Lionel caught Jiménez’s eye. He looked alarmed, horrified.
“And for a long moment,” Nathan continued, “as I searched the void for the ball, I thought, I’ve caught a million balls. How could I lose this one? And then I thought, Why am I here? Where are my legs? Are my arms still raised? Why can’t I see? The sky was so black, and this solid thing, this baseball, had utterly disappeared in it! So I wondered if the ball had been real, and if I was real, if anything was real.”
Jiménez tossed his gear into his duffel and zipped it loudly.
“Then I smelled roast beef!” Nathan said, and laughed loudly, placing his hand on Lionel’s shoulder. “I thought, Is that roast beef I smell? Who brought roast beef to the ballpark? Then Gutierrez yelled, ‘Move, kid, I got it!’ and my eyes swung toward him. As they did, I saw the blur of 1,000 faces in the stands beyond first. Then he caught the ball.”
Jiménez walked away. Seconds later, Sydney appeared. She always grew suspicious when interviews ran long.
“Everything good over here?” she asked.
“Fine,” Lionel said, but the interview was over.
Lionel had to wait a few days for the drama of Hollis’s injury to play out before asking Warren for some space in the paper to profile Nathan. Warren had zero interest in it, especially since Nathan hadn’t played again. But then one day an ad dropped out, so on page 23, Lionel was allotted six column inches to introduce “Nathan Couture, Pitcher With Unique Outlook.” He did little more than print the two long quotes he’d gotten from Nathan before Sydney had hustled him away, but the article made an impression.
“You have to play me that tape,” Hannah said, clearly dubious.
All the reporters wanted to talk to Nathan, but Nathan was suddenly unavailable. Sydney felt they’d dodged a bullet in having this eccentric Alabaman talk and talk and somehow avoid a catastrophic mistake. She would not risk it again. But then she said she would.
“The owner insisted on it,” Warren said.
The octogenarian owner of the team had evidently read Lionel’s article, and was an immediate fan of Nathan’s. He wanted Nathan in games, and wanted Nathan to talk, as much as he could, before and after games. The owner, viewed as an eccentric himself (though from Kansas), was assumed to be not long for this world. Three days after Nathan’s first outing, he pitched the eighth inning of another tight game, and again he held his own, and the Giants won. This time, he had to bat, and actually stroked a line drive into Triples Alley. Against the wishes of the first-base coach, Nathan rounded first base and was easily tagged out at second. It made for a comical and eventful inning, and the home crowd went berserk.
Afterward, a scrum of reporters surrounded him, and Lionel, who had unwisely waited for the elevator, found himself in the third ring. He felt oddly proprietary, even jilted. He wanted, to a degree that filled him with shame, some kind of acknowledgment from Nathan that he was different, that he had been first.
Nathan looked around and smiled broadly. “Well, this is extraordinary.”
Hannah was closest. “General thoughts, Mr. Couture?”
Nathan stared at the ceiling for a while, as if peeling back the many layers of the query, then rested his eyes upon her.
“First I thought about the smell of the grass,” he said. “They cut it today, so the smell was fresh and just a bit sour, as newly cut grass is. There’s something both wet and dry at the same time, both dead and alive. I inhaled a bit longer than usual, wanting to take everything in, and I saw four men, all gray-haired, arm in arm in the stands, posing for a picture. Then the Jumbotron showed a picture of the same men, as teenagers, at a ball game. Same four guys, same pose, just 50-odd years ago. And I had the feeling that the four of them, whenever they stand side by side like that, probably feel invincible.”
Another reporter broke in, thinking Nathan was finished. But Lionel knew he wasn’t.
“Then I saw a seagull. Maybe you did too? It hovered over home plate for a moment, maybe 20 feet up. Under the lights it looked like a tiny angel. I wondered what brought this bird, alone, to the ballpark. No doubt he hoped he might come across some discarded chips or fries, but the risk is considerable, too. Wouldn’t the lights, and 30,000 people, be daunting? But then again, he can fly. Is anything daunting when you can fly? And briefly I thought about the nature of flight. I do think there will come a time when humans can fly more or less as birds do, and I wondered how that would affect our idea of freedom. Will anyone ever feel constrained, spiritually or materially, if they can fly?”
Lionel wrote down “If we can fly.”
“And then it was time to pitch,” Nathan said. There was scattered laughter, and the exchange of looks. Nathan was stranger in person than he had been in Lionel’s article. A dozen hands went up.
“Oh jeez,” Nathan said. “I just went on and on. And you probably have so many other players to talk to. Why don’t we do a speed round? Deal?”
Someone in front asked, “What was it like to get your first hit?”
“If you remember,” Nathan said, “I fouled off the first two pitches. And fouling a ball off is like every mistake you make in life: You put everything you’ve got into a task, and if it’s just a little wrong, it’s wrong enough to make the whole effort a waste of time. The ball goes nowhere, or worse than nowhere. But when the barrel of the wooden bat hits the ball just so—you feel nothing. There’s no resistance. Nothing at all. The ball leaps into the sky. The struggle is gone.”
Marco edged in. “Nathan, the average spin rate of your four-seamer is solid, at 2320, putting you ninth among middle relievers, but tonight, your average for the last three batters was 2090. Do you have a plan to address that?”
As Marco talked, Nathan’s face slackened, his eyes glazed, and when Marco was finished, he said, “Honestly, Marco, I have no ever-loving idea.”
A balding man in a baby-blue sweat suit raised his hand. It was Tom Verlo, from the L.A. Times. He’d likely come upstate to throw a bit of cold water on San Francisco’s new attraction.
“Can you tell us about running?” he asked. “You looked a bit rusty.”
“Was it as bad as I’m thinking it was?” Nathan said, and flashed an enormous and spectacularly awkward smile. “You know, as natural as it was when I hit that ball, running was the opposite. I felt like I was running in 1,000-year-old armor. By the time I got to second, the ball was in the second baseman’s glove. He was waiting for me like a groom would a bride. When he tagged me out, I was so relieved, I wanted to fall into his arms.”
Tom smiled. “On the broadcast, it looked like he said something to you.”
“He did. He said, ‘Mijo, now you can rest.’ ” Nathan looked at the clock on the wall. “We should hurry. Superspeed round now.”
“What does it sound like when a ball is caught?” a young web reporter asked.
“When I was a kid in Alabama, my grandfather lived in the backyard, in a little cottage. Every night after dinner, I would walk back to his place with him, and he would kiss me on the crown of my head and say, ‘Adieu.’ Then he would close the door, and the sound of his door closing would be a muffled, wet, and decisive click. That’s what it sounds like when a ball is caught. Like the click of the door to my grandfather’s home.”
Nathan looked at the clock. “Okay, one last one? I see you, Lionel.”
Lionel, standing in the back, was happy for Nathan, and for the moment felt unnecessary. He shook his head.
That was the game, and the interview, that broke Nathan Couture into the national media. The next day, and for the following week, he was everywhere. ESPN did a segment, and Jimmy Kimmel had him on his show. With Sydney offering Nathan freely to all, the only thing Lionel could do was go to Phoenix.
Nathan’s parents, though they’d raised Nathan in Alabama, had moved to Arizona, and Warren green-lit a longer profile. In a stolen moment before a game, Lionel told Nathan he was thinking of going, and Nathan gave his blessing. “I trust you,” he said.
“Thank you,” Lionel said.
“You report accurately and you listen carefully,” he said.
“I try,” Lionel said.
“They are tremendous people,” Nathan said. “Immeasurably charming. You’ll love them, and they you. I’m envious that you get to see them. I’ll call ahead and let them know I vouch for you.”
Lionel arrived at a comfortable ranch house 20 minutes from downtown Phoenix. A pickup truck was out front, and next to it, a small fishing boat rested on a trailer. Lionel rang the bell, and when the door opened, a thin couple in their late 60s stood before him, arms around each other’s waists. Jim and Dot, short for Dorothy.
“Lionel,” Jim said.
“I took the liberty of pouring you a glass of ice water,” Dot said.
Lionel followed them in. He walked on the side of his left foot, but the squeaking was clearly audible. Lionel guessed, correctly, that they would be too polite to mention it.
“Come sit,” Jim said, and indicated a plush leather recliner in the living room. It was almost surely Jim’s TV chair, and Lionel took the honor given. Nathan’s parents sat to his right, on a matching couch.
“Nathan speaks highly of you,” Dot said.
“He does,” Jim agreed.
Lionel got his notebook out and looked around the room. He’d expected a house full of books, but saw few. There were no trophies, either—no shrine to their son, the professional baseball player. An enormous TV dominated one wall. Next to it were two photos, from middle school, he guessed. One was clearly Nathan. The other was a girl, younger by a year or two, who shared a version of Nathan’s goofy smile. But there was something knowing, even sardonic, in her eyes.
“So how does it feel,” Lionel asked, “with Nathan becoming this …” He almost said “curiosity” but instead chose “phenomenon.”
“Oh, it’s been so nice,” Dot said.
“He worked hard,” Jim said. “Deserves it.”
Lionel smiled, thinking they were warming up. But they were done. Dot held her glass of water with two hands and smiled at Lionel in a motherly way. Lionel looked down at his notebook.
“So outside his skill as a pitcher,” he said, “one of the things that’s gotten Nathan noticed is his way with words. Was he always loquacious?”
Dot winced. She looked to Jim. Jim chewed his cheek.
“I read your first article,” Dot said. “When you had him saying ‘Indeed,’ right away I thought, That’s the
.” She pointed to her temple.
“He was never, you know, book smart,” Jim added. “That was his sister.”
“Never read a book unless you tied him down,” Dot said.
“He didn’t talk a whole lot,” Jim said, “and when he did, he did it in a regular way. He was all laser-focused. That’s how his coaches described him.”
“Single-minded. Then the comebacker happened,” Dot said.
“I’m sorry. The comebacker?” Lionel asked.
“Well, he was hit by a comebacker,” Jim said, sounding surprised that Lionel didn’t know. “In Sacramento. It was on the radio up there.”
“We were at the game,” Dot said. “It was awful. Nathan threw a fastball to a very big guy, I think he was from Nevada, and this guy hit the ball right back at him a million miles an hour. Hit him right here.” Again she pointed to her temple.
“From our angle, it looked awful,” Jim amended. “But later we saw it on tape, and it was more of a … It sorta grazed his head. The doctor checked him out and said he was okay. Nathan felt okay too. He pitched the rest of the inning and did fine. But then he took us out for dinner afterward, and it was like talking to some other person.”
“He had a $10 word for everything,” Jim said. “He said the wine was ‘unafraid.’ I remember that. The wine was ‘unafraid.’ That was new.”
“He did say that. He said a lot of things,” Dot said.
“He talked a lot that night,” Jim added. “We flew home the next morning, and a few days later, he gets called up to the Giants. Which is when you met him.”
“We figured the new way of talking was some temporary thing,” Dot said. “But then your article comes out, and he’s still talking this way—‘indeed’ this and ‘glorious’ that.”
“His sister talked like that. She was the reader.”
Lionel was afraid to ask.
“She passed young,” Dot said, and leaned forward, her hands on her knees. “It was a tumor. When they found it, it was too big.”
Jim cleared his throat. “Anyway. With Nathan, when he was talking like that, we put it together. It had to be the comebacker.”
Dot was nodding steadily, her eyes locked on Lionel. “Like something got knocked loose, and whatever was clogged up in there came pouring out. Sometimes people get hit in the head and start speaking another language.”
Jim nodded enthusiastically. “French, Portuguese, Turkish. But it seems like it’s usually French.”
By the time Lionel left, the impossible heat of paved Arizona had relented. He drove with the windows open, the red sunset behind him. He got back to the hotel and checked his messages. One was from Hannah.
“Sorry about your boy,” she said. “You probably know more than I do. Call if you want to compare notes.”
Lionel looked online and found a short blip about it. Nathan had been pitching in Cleveland when he blew out his arm. He left the park in a sling.
The professional thing for Lionel to do would be to return to Nathan’s parents’ home and get their reaction. But he couldn’t bring himself to bother them, and was so shattered that he sat on the bed and stared at the wall for the better part of an hour. Finally he got to his feet and drove his rental car to the airport.
Back in San Francisco, Lionel waited for news. For two days Nathan wasn’t at the park, and no one had updates. Finally a press conference was called.
The room was full. Lionel sat at the back. The team doctor came out and said they’d done an MRI and consulted with the best specialists in the city. Nathan would need surgery, and even after that, the prognosis was not good. “I can’t promise anything,” the doctor said.
And then Nathan walked in, wearing a coat and tie, his arm in a sling. He sat down. He looked warmly out at the throng of reporters, but before he could begin, Tom from the L.A. Times walked in late. “What’s the prognosis?” he asked.
The room groaned, but as always, Nathan treated the question with great decorum.
“If I were still 18,” he said, “I might be able to get the surgery. Then, in 10 or 12 months, I could return, though with reduced capacity. But I’m almost 30, so there is no way back. Even if I did every last thing right, I’d be, at best, a single-A player. And an old one at that.”
Hannah was in the front row. She raised her hand.
“Hi, Hannah,” Nathan said. “I’m guessing you’d like to know how it feels?”
She laughed and lowered her hand.
“It’s a good question. At the moment, I’m still stunned. Numb. I have to admit my imagination had gotten away from me, and I saw great glory ahead. I was looking forward to the rest of the season, to seasons to come, to the lights, all those people sitting 200 feet in the sky to watch this game. It’s over sooner than I expected, for sure. So for the moment, I’m adrift. Don’t you cry now, Hannah.” He looked around the table for tissues. “All we have up here is water. Here,” he said, and poured her a tall glass from the pitcher. And as he did, time slowed. Every reporter in the room watched closely, as if they’d never before seen water move from one vessel to another.
Nathan sat down again, and called on Lionel.
“Did you have any warning?” Lionel asked.
“You know, my friend, I really didn’t. I felt good that day in Cleveland. But it’s probably like any other thing. How can a sequoia withstand a thousand years of earthquakes and fires and wind, and finally, one day, it just falls? One afternoon, a gust comes and it gives up.” Nathan stood. “I’ll miss you all. Hope I see you here or there or somewhere in between. Goodbye now.”
Lionel walked onto King Street, trying to figure out how to shape the story, or if he should bother. He still hadn’t written about his time with Nathan’s parents; his heart wasn’t in it. When he turned the corner at Third Street, heading home, he felt a presence next to him.
“Caught up to you!” It was Nathan, out of breath. “I tried to find you at the park, and then was wandering around the neighborhood, hoping to run into you. I know you live around here. Then I heard the squeaking.”
They ducked into a burrito place. Lionel tried to order margaritas for them both, but Nathan declined. “I don’t know why my mind is working the way it does now, but I don’t want to mess with it.” He ordered a lemonade.
Lionel ordered a lemonade too, and they sat by the window facing the park. “Your parents told me about the comebacker,” he said.
“Yeah, I figured,” Nathan said. “Funny thing is, I don’t feel different, and I don’t see differently than I ever did before. I’ve always noticed the same things, but I guess that now I have the need, and maybe the words, to describe it.
“My sister was the eloquent one,” he continued after a pause. “My parents mention her?”
“A little bit,” Lionel said.
For a second Nathan smiled, as if thinking of her, of something she’d said. “Anyway,” he said, “I’ll be reading you, making sure you get it right.”
“I can do better,” Lionel said suddenly, and Nathan did not argue the point. It was criminal to sit in that park, Lionel thought, with all that color, all that vaulting joy in a world of sadness and misfortune, and not do better.
“You plan to fix the squeak?” Nathan asked.
“I took it back to the shoe guy,” Lionel said, “but he freed himself of any responsibility.”
“Can I?” Nathan asked, and Lionel took off his shoe and handed it to Nathan.
“It has to be an air pocket, right?” Nathan said. Even with one bum arm, he quickly found the pocket and aimed a fork at it. “Can I?” he asked again. Lionel nodded, and Nathan jabbed a strategic hole. “Try it now.”
Lionel put the shoe back on and walked a few steps. The squeak was gone. His relief was immeasurable. “Thank you,” he said.
They finished their lemonades and stepped back into the city. The lights were on in the stadium. Lionel had forgotten there was a home game that night. He turned to Nathan, thinking he’d be wistful, but his eyes were sharp and happy.
“So what will you do now?” Lionel asked.
“I’ve been thinking about that. Are you walking this way?” Nathan was heading toward the water, his gait loose. Lionel followed.
“Maybe you buy that Romanian shoemaker out.”
Nathan laughed. “You know,” he said, “a few years ago, I was in a high-rise in Guangzhou, visiting a friend at his office. Long story. But anyway, this was 42 floors up, and there was a man outside, cleaning the windows. He had one of those wide T-shaped tools for cleaning the glass—like a blade. You know the tool. So simple. He drenched the window with soap, applying it with such liberality. Just soaked this vast window overlooking this limitless city.”
Nathan turned to the towers of downtown San Francisco.
“And then, with the T-shaped blade, he slashed the surface of the glass with the precision and finality of a guillotine. He got every last white sud. As we watched, the view through the window went from muddy to crystalline.”
Lionel couldn’t figure out what the connection was. Nathan wanted to be a businessman in a Chinese high-rise? And how had this minor-league pitcher from Alabama ended up with a friend in Guangzhou?
“So I thought I’d like to do that job,” Nathan said. He meant cleaning the windows. “Not necessarily in Guangzhou, and not forever, but I’d like to try that for a while. I like being outside.”
They’d arrived at the water, and Lionel thought he should get back to the ballpark. He reached out to shake Nathan’s hand. Nathan lowered his sling and took Lionel’s fingers in his.
“Or babies!” he said, still pumping Lionel’s hand. “You know how after babies are born in hospitals, there are nurses who hold the babies while the moms recover from the birth? How do you get that job?”
Nathan released Lionel’s hand and began backing away, toward the South Beach marina, where hundreds of white masts looked like lances aimed at the night.
“Imagine holding babies all day!” Nathan said. “Wouldn’t that be a worthwhile life? So tomorrow I’m going down to the maternity ward to find out who gets to hold the babies. I want to hold all those babies before they go home.”
This story appears in the September 2023 print edition.
"Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence."
The landmass of Australia could be harboring a massive, subterranean secret.
In a new essay for The Conversation, geologist Andrew Glikson explains his latest research that indicates that an epic asteroid crater could be buried underneath the continent — and all the evidence points to it being the largest known on the planet, by a huge margin.
Known as the Deniliquin structure, Glikson estimates in his study, published in the journal Tectonophysics, that it's over 320 miles in diameter. That would dwarf the largest confirmed impact structure, the approximately 100-mile-wide Vredefort Crater in South Africa, not to mention the similarly sized Chicxulub crater, believed to be from the asteroid that wiped out the dinosaurs.
"The history of Earth's bombardment by asteroids is largely concealed," Gilkson wrote.
The Deniliquin structure's existence was first proposed in the late 90s by Tony Yeates, who co-authored this latest study, based on magnetic patterns. A follow up analysis that wrapped up in 2020 confirmed that there was a large structure underneath a region in southern New South Wales, though without definitive proof it was caused by an impact.
You may ask: how does such a massive structure become buried beneath our feet, unnoticed?
As Glikson explains: "When an asteroid strikes, it creates a crater with an uplifted core. This is similar to how a drop of water splashes upward from a transient crater when you drop a pebble in a pool."
"This central uplifted dome," he adds, can erode over millions of years, becoming less prominent. If the crater isn't simply buried by sediment, a collision between the Earth's tectonic plates could also subsume the structure, as one colliding plate is forced beneath the other.
Along with the discovery of the dome, there are several other strong clues that identify the structure as an asteroid crater, such as symmetrical ripples in the crust that would be caused by the extreme temperatures of an impact, and "radial faults" commonly found in other impact structures.
Regrettably, most of the evidence gathered on the Deniliquin so far is only from the surface, and Glikson stresses the need for deep drilling to obtain "proof of impact."
Nevertheless, his latest research suggests that the asteroid impact that created it occurred roughly 445 million years ago, coinciding with what's known as the Late Ordovician mass extinction event that wiped out 85 percent of all life on Earth.
According to Glikson, it was more than double the scale of the dinosaurs' extinction at the hands of the Chicxulub impact. One shudders to imagine the scale of gargantuan space rock that forged the Deniliquin.
More on geology: Scientists Intrigued by "Gravity Hole" at Bottom of Ocean
The post Scientists Intrigued by Huge Structure Buried Under Australia appeared first on Futurism.
- OpenAI has launched a new web crawler called "GPTBot" that will trawl the internet for content to train its large language models like GPT-4, which power ChatGPT.
has launched a new web crawler called "GPTBot" that will trawl the internet for content to train its large language models like GPT-4, which power ChatGPT.
"Allowing GPTBot to access your site can help AI models become more accurate and improve their general capabilities and safety," reads a post on OpenAI's website.
The AI juggernaut also claims that GPTBot is "filtered" to remove paywalled sources, personally identifiable information, and text that violates its policies.
Fortunately, OpenAI does provide a way to easily block GPTBot by adding an entry to a website's robot.txt, a file that tells web crawlers from search engines like Google what they're allowed to access.
Moreover, administrators can customize which parts of their sites GPTBot can crawl. Its multiple IPs are available, too, for easy blocking.
Until now, the large language models behind ChatGPT were trained on hordes of online data gathered up to September 2021.
There's no way to have data that was scraped before that cutoff date removed retroactively, but blocking its new web crawler will at least future-proof websites that want to keep it out going forward.
And you can bet that many site owners, who probably aren't keen on having their content hoovered up and imitated by an AI, are already taking advantage of this.
One example is popular sci-fi magazine Clarkesworld, which announced on X, formerly known as Twitter, that it was blocking GPTBot.
Tech outlet The Verge has quietly done the same, and countless articles are already circulating that advise on how to block the crawler.
Of course, web crawlers are, for better or for worse, the lifeblood of the modern internet and are nothing new. In many cases, websites are encouraged to let crawlers from Google and other search engines through to help bring them web traffic.
Now, though, many feel that having them scrape data to train generative AI is a bridge too far.
For example, a recent lawsuit against OpenAI argues that, since its chatbot is trained on everyone's writing without permission — everything from books to articles available online — it constitutes theft.
That OpenAI's gone ahead and announced GPTBot despite the lawsuit may suggest that it's not worried about its outcome. On the other hand, by now giving websites the option to block the crawler, it may be covering its tracks, too.
More on OpenAI: Contractors Say OpenAI Psychologically Scarred Them for $2/Hour
The post OpenAI Deploys Crawler to Vacuum Up Your Posts and Train AI With Them appeared first on Futurism.
Effective regulation of AI needs grounded science that investigates real harms, not glorified press releases about existential risks
The week at Retraction Watch featured:
- Author of paper on COVID-19 and jade amulets sues employer for ‘mental anguish,’ discrimination
- Colombia drug regulator halts clinical research at US-funded facility
- Wiley journal editors resign en masse, fired chief editor speaks
- Outcry over ‘terminal anorexia’ response letter prompts retraction
Our list of retracted or withdrawn COVID-19 papers is up to more than 350. There are now 42,000 retractions in our database — which powers retraction alerts in Edifix, EndNote, LibKey, Papers, and Zotero. The Retraction Watch Hijacked Journal Checker now contains 200 titles. And have you seen our leaderboard of authors with the most retractions lately — or our list of top 10 most highly cited retracted papers?
Here’s what was happening elsewhere (some of these items may be paywalled, metered access, or require free registration to read):
- “There’s far more scientific fraud than anyone wants to admit.”
- “How I tried to get a paper that I own retracted.”
- “So, is this fraud or what? Shoveling scientific bullshit into different buckets.”
- “Ethical decision-making and role conflict in managing a scientific laboratory.”
- “Concerns raised over autism prediction paper.”
- “Tessier-Lavigne debacle underlines case for more transparent authorship.”
- “Beware of misinterpreted chemical shifts and misquoted references.”
- “Plagiarism by academics is serious. Any excuses had better be good.”
- “Artificial-intelligence search engines wrangle academic literature.”
- “Publishers seek protection from AI mining of academic research.”
- “Medical advances typically begin with a study. Now, universities are struggling to afford them.”
- “UK needs ‘Institute for Scientific Replicability’, says thinktank.”
- “Authorship Disputes in Scholarly Biomedical Publications and Trust…”
- “Study proposing microbiome-based cancer diagnostic comes under fire.” And “‘Major errors’ alleged in landmark study that used microbes to identify cancers.”
- “Aga Khan University don urges researchers to stick to ethics.”
- “Raising concerns on questionable ethics approvals – a case study of 456 trials” from IHU-Marseille.
- “MIT raised millions for startup it shut down after accusations of research misconduct.
- “ENRIO publishes the Handbook on Whistleblower Protection in Research.”
- “The importance of a good review(er) for educational technology research.”
- How to find and manage “attempted fraud during an online randomised trial.”
- “Winning the war against research misconduct.”
- “How people decide who is correct when groups of scientists disagree.”
- “From Bogus Journals to Predatory Universities: The Evolution of the Russian Academic Sphere Within the Predatory Settings of the State.”
- “Fraud holds back research.”
- “Is it defamation to point out scientific research fraud?”
- “The result is a system that produces sluggish responses to research integrity issues that neither engender trust among the public nor among those skeptical of the ability of these entities to promote research integrity.”
- “AI can crack double blind peer review – should we still use it?”
- “Quality metrics in academia: time to revisit the rules?”
- “AI poses risks to research integrity, universities say.”
- “Push for science watchdog as inquiry finds ‘disincentive’ for self-regulation.”
- A brief history of a journal’s Wall of Shame.
Like Retraction Watch? You can make a tax-deductible contribution to support our work, follow us on Twitter, like us on Facebook, add us to your RSS reader, or subscribe to our daily digest. If you find a retraction that’s not in our database, you can let us know here. For comments or feedback, email us at email@example.com.
Scientific Reports, Published online: 12 August 2023; doi:10.1038/s41598-023-40360-w3DPAFIPN as a halogenated dicyanobenzene-based photosensitizer catalyzed gram-scale photosynthesis of pyrano[2,3-d]pyrimidine scaffolds
Scientific Reports, Published online: 12 August 2023; doi:10.1038/s41598-023-40261-yEffect of temperature on the dynamic parameters of silty clay in a seasonally frozen region
Scientific Reports, Published online: 12 August 2023; doi:10.1038/s41598-023-40429-6Prognostic value of monocyte-to-lymphocyte ratio for 90-day all-cause mortality in
Scientific Reports, Published online: 12 August 2023; doi:10.1038/s41598-023-40462-5An integrated wet-spinning system for continuous fabrication of high-strength nanocellulose long filaments
Scientific Reports, Published online: 12 August 2023; doi:10.1038/s41598-023-39953-2The effects of Selenohomolanthionine supplementation on the rumen eukaryotic diversity of Shaanbei white cashmere wether goats
- As a test, IOactive researchers made a hacking device out of a Raspberry Pi, exploiting, among several vulnerabilities, faulty firmware that let them tamper with the Deckmate's encrypted code without detection.
The house doesn't always win.
Researchers at the security firm IOActive say they've discovered that a card shuffling machine called the Deckmate, widely used by casinos and long thought to be impervious, is actually vulnerable to hacking, Wired reports — an exploit that could give a skilled cheater omniscient knowledge of every player's cards.
The investigation was spurred by a gambling scandal last year, when during a game of poker, a newcomer holding a terrible hand called the bluff of a veteran player — a call so baffling that the commentator thought that the live graphics were displaying the cards incorrectly.
Accusations of cheating followed, along with an official investigation by Hustler Live Casino, the host of the scandalous game. The casino's report concluded there was no evidence of foul play, and averred that the Deckmate used at the game was "secure and cannot be compromised."
Under the Table
That's where the IOActive researchers begged to differ.
"At that point, it's a challenge," Joseph Tartaro, a researcher at the security firm, told Wired.
Presenting at a Las Vegas security conference, Tartaro and his team found that the latest version of the card shuffler, the Deckmate 2, can be hacked through its exposed USB port.
They theorize that a conniving player could pretend to drop something, go under the table where the Deckmate lies, and plug a device into the USB port. And if physically plugging in a hacking device lacks subtlety, the researchers claim that it could also be hacked remotely through the Deckmate's internal modem.
From there, cheaters could access the shuffler's internal camera that watches the cards, and relay that data over Bluetooth to a phone held by a partner nearby who could communicate with a trick like hand signals.
As a test, IOactive researchers made a hacking device out of a Raspberry Pi, exploiting, among several vulnerabilities, faulty firmware that let them tamper with the Deckmate's encrypted code without detection. They paired this with a Bluetooth app that displayed the hands of other players based on the data.
"Basically, it allows us to do more or less whatever we want," Tartaro said.
Although the Deckmate 1 lacks a camera and a USB port, it could still have its computer chip breached by an employee, and be forced to not shuffle after a hand, for example.
"A skilled player with that little bit of an edge would 100 percent clean up," Tartaro said.
Light & Wonder, the company behind Deckmate, asserts that none of its card shufflers "has ever been compromised on a casino floor," the company said in a statement to Wired.
"IOActive's testing was performed in a laboratory setting, under conditions which cannot be replicated in a regulated and monitored casino environment," it added.
Tartaro and his team admit they haven't tested in a real casino. Still, if their hacking method is as undetectable as they claim, then how would the manufacturer know if it's been breached or not?
More on hacking: Someone Has Apparently Hacked the University of Arizona’s Website
The post Hackers Gain Control of Casino Card Shuffling Machine for Godlike Control Over Games appeared first on Futurism.
Oh No You Didn't
Known AI hater and famed singer-songwriter Nick Cave has once again gone off on OpenAI's ChatGPT and its imitators being used to mimic the actual talent to write and record music.
In a "letter to the editor"-style blog post, Cave took questions from two purported music industry folks about songwriters using generative AI to speed up the process.
"I know you’ve talked about ChatGPT before," the letter-writer wrote, "but what’s wrong with making things faster and easier?"
Whether or not they knew it, the purported music industry type who queried the storied troubadour clearly touched a nerve.
"ChatGPT rejects any notions of creative struggle, that our endeavours animate and nurture our lives giving them depth and meaning," Cave seethed. "It rejects that there is a collective, essential and unconscious human spirit underpinning our existence, connecting us all through our mutual striving."
The technology's intent, he continued, "is to eliminate the process of creation and its attendant challenges, viewing it as nothing more than a time-wasting inconvenience that stands in the way of the commodity itself."
"Why bother with the artistic process and its accompanying trials?" he continued. "Why shouldn’t we make it 'faster and easier?"
As the ChatGPT-curious Cave fan noted, the "Red Right Hand" singer had indeed written about the now-notorious chatbot before — and his commentary back then, at the beginning of 2023, feels a bit like prophecy now.
Back in January, when OpenAI was still fairly new to the public psyche and hadn't yet resulted in people losing their jobs by the thousands, another clueless fan wrote into the musician's blog with ChatGPT-generated lyrics that they had instructed the chatbot to write "in the style of Nick Cave."
Boy, was he pissed.
"The apocalypse is well on its way," Cave wrote. "This song sucks."
While waxing prolific in this latest blog post about the many ways ChatGPT is, to his mind, harming the creative process, Cave also touched on something very raw: that by undermining human creativity and transforming it into a cheap imitation meant to be sold, AI may be doing damage to the concept of art — and its importance to the human spirit — as well.
"There are all sorts of temptations in this world that will eat away at your creative spirit," the artist wrote, "but none more fiendish than that boundless machine of artistic demoralisation, ChatGPT."
It's a hard-lined view, to be sure. But considering what we've already seen happen since Cave's first takedown of ChatGPT — the rapid mainstreaming of generative AI, which has rocked academic institutions and led to massive entertainment industry strikes over the existential dangers these technologies pose — it's becoming more and more difficult to disagree with him.
More on AI music: Google and Universal Music Reportedly Want to Monetize Deepfaked Songs
The post Nick Cave Unloads on Musicians Using ChatGPT to Write Songs appeared first on Futurism.
Scientific Reports, Published online: 12 August 2023; doi:10.1038/s41598-023-39987-6Distinction between
Scientific Reports, Published online: 12 August 2023; doi:10.1038/s41598-023-39629-xEcobiology of Haemagogus leucocelaenus arbovirus vector in the golden lion tamarin translocation area of Rio de Janeiro,
Scientific Reports, Published online: 12 August 2023; doi:10.1038/s41598-023-40403-2Physics-informed deep learning to forecast during hydraulic fracturing
Scientific Reports, Published online: 12 August 2023; doi:10.1038/s41598-023-40218-1An artificial intelligence method using FDG PET to predict treatment outcome in
Scientific Reports, Published online: 12 August 2023; doi:10.1038/s41598-023-40050-7Clinical significance of the expression of
Scientific Reports, Published online: 12 August 2023; doi:10.1038/s41598-023-40380-6Sex-dependent differences in the genomic profile of lingual sensory neurons in naïve and tongue-
Scientific Reports, Published online: 12 August 2023; doi:10.1038/s41598-023-39876-yReduced brain connectivity along the autism spectrum controlled for familial confounding by co-twin design
Nature Communications, Published online: 12 August 2023; doi:10.1038/s41467-023-40658-3Multiplexed DNA FISH technologies are powerful tools to reveal chromatin spatial organisation. Here, the authors developed
Nature Communications, Published online: 12 August 2023; doi:10.1038/s41467-023-40619-wThe authors present a generation-elimination framework that correlates the spectra from different frequency bands, where the inaccessible spectra are precisely forecasted without consulting structural information. The spectral correlation will accelerate the unification of all metasurface designs and facilitate versatile applications involving cross-wavelength information correlation.
Fresh dispatch from the eternal search for the fountain of youth!
As Fortune reports, a recent consumer report, conducted by the strategy group A/B Consulting and the VC firm Maveron, shows that 41 percent of America's wealthiest would happily download their consciousness into a computer as a means to live forever. Looks like Mark Zuckerberg's dusty — and multibillion-dollar — metaverse dreams might just have a target audience after all.
Just Another Day
From their fondness for anti-aging "biohacking" therapies to rumored head-freezings and vampiric, youth-obsessed blood-swapping, it's no secret that longevity — and straight-up immortality — are common pursuits among the wealthy. And in their quest to defeat death, some of the world's wealthiest are also looking to cash in on the lucrative market; Amazon founder and cool guy Jeff Bezos, for example, has a lot of money in immortality tech efforts.
Brain downloading, however, represents a very particular type of immortality hunting, at least when compared to these more physical means of staying alive for as long as possible. And considering how much of our lives are already spent in the digital world, it could, in theory, be a feasible way for people to retain their wealth, power, and influence in perpetuity — if, of course, human consciousness could ever actually be distilled into an algorithm.
On that note: per Fortune, only 19 percent of the lower-income
surveyed reported that they would want a tech firm to download their mind into a computer.
And apparently, according to the report, the brain downloading thing is hardly even the tip of the iceberg. Per Fortune, another 41 percent of America's wealthiest admitted that they would be down to gene edit their future children. Meanwhile, only 20 percent of lower-income folks told surveyors that they would consider the same.
So, you know, super normal and definitely non-eugenic things happening over with America's elite. But while brain downloading and gene editing are certainly extreme, the wealthy's apparent willingness to go through with kooky, ethically murky practices and procedures seems to be symptomatic of a larger, wealth-driven divide.
"With rising health care costs and wellness increasingly becoming a privilege of the elite," Anarghya Vardhana, general partner at Maveron, told Fortune, "our study confirmed the idea wealthier populations are willing to invest in more cutting edge and risky therapies, almost all of them associated with out-of-pocket costs."
More on the wealthy and immortality: Youth-obsessed Tech Mogul Now Swapping Blood with His Teenage Son
The post The Wealthy Are Weirdly Psyched to Download Their Brains Into Computers appeared first on Futurism.
Nature Communications, Published online: 12 August 2023; doi:10.1038/s41467-023-40464-xEngineering polyketide synthases can be challenging due to the absence of efficient high-throughput methods. Here, the authors used a solubility biosensor to identify stable variants from libraries of modified polyketide synthases.
It has taken many generations of observations by the human mind to process & invent Martial Arts.
Can it take AI just a few years of processing to come up with a new martial arts discipline ?
Give it an idea of human body & all the data of all the martial art forms that have been in practice.
Will it be able to generate a new martial art ?
Hi. I'm incoming college student soon from the Philippines. I only have 7 days to think about choosing my undergrad program. So in the beginning, I'm already have "curiosity" in brain mind relationship so it would be wiser to take Psychology as my undergrad degree however i also have "passion" in Mathematics since i like critical thinking and logic. I also have "Interest" in compsci because of A.I, data science and algorithms etc. which btw mostly practical course i might've take. In my long term goal i want to be a researcher so it's not gonna be clinical oriented as you might have expected. I'm still thinking whether Cognitive science or Cognitive Neuroscience would be fitted to my Interests. If i take Psychology that means i would completely giving up my passion in Mathematics even like i still wanted to explore other areas of math.
Nature Communications, Published online: 12 August 2023; doi:10.1038/s41467-023-40019-0An ideal holographic camera acquires depth information about an object by measuring the light field. Here, the authors present a reference-free single-shot holographic image sensor that freely focuses the image of real-world objects via reciprocal diffractive imaging.
Two new shows at the festival question senses of hearing and sight in engaging and eccentric ways
Seeing is believing, right? That is a phrase used repeatedly by Mamoru Iriguchi and co-star Gavin Pringle in What You See When Your Eyes Are Closed/What You Don’t See When Your Eyes Are Open (★★★★☆). It is an amusingly hand-stitched investigation into ways of seeing, performed in one of Summerhall’s small basement rooms at the Edinburgh fringe. The production treats the challenges faced by people who are blind or visually impaired as a creative resource. The costumes are bold, the lines distinct, the faces larger than life and, in the most idiosyncratic way, everything is captioned and described. It is surreal and, despite its deliberate repetitions, never predictable.
If seeing really was believing, we would accept that the man in the outsize Mamoru Iriguchi mask, his grey suit outlined in thick black lines, his enormous glasses showing sleeping eyes, was indeed Mamoru Iriguchi. We would also surmise that the giant cyclops standing in the centre of the room, in a bushy coat of orange tassels and a purple head concealing a live video projector behind its gigantic single eye, was his husband, Gavin.Continue reading…
Nature Communications, Published online: 12 August 2023; doi:10.1038/s41467-023-40585-3Stability issues remain a critical challenge for perovskite solar cells towards commercialisation. Here, the authors analyse a large homogeneous dataset of Maximum Power Point Tracking operational ageing data and find a correlation between maximum power conversion efficiency and its relative loss.
Nature Communications, Published online: 12 August 2023; doi:10.1038/s41467-023-40587-1Antibiotic resistance is a risk for human and pig health. Here, the authors profile the antibiotic resistome of the pig lower respiratory tract and evaluate potential mobile genetic elements mediating antibiotic resistance gene transfer.
I’ve been thinking about this a lot, actually. Printed organs, AGI, Miracle stem cell cures, CRISPR gene therapy, nanobots, precision, personalised, and regenerative medicine, self driving cars, etc are all constantly hyped.
But then I take a look at reality, and honestly? Things seem to be moving quite slowly.
- Printed organs are still hype, the best we can do is grow a few scraps of tissue and maybe some organoids the size of a large grape. And yes, i am aware of the lab grown bladders and vaginas. These are not good points to make as they are by far the simplest organs to grow. The other, more complex organs are still decades and decades away at best, just like they were 30+ years ago
- AGI is still as distant as ever, just like It was a decade ago. And no, LLM’s will not bring us anywhere close to AGI, unfortunately.
- Stem cell cures are nowhere to be seen. The best we have is basically just “we can give you a transplant to minimise the effects a bit” or “this may help to alleviate your symptoms for a short time”. We are simply nowhere close to all the miracle headlines and the hype.
- CRISPR is likely just going to be used as a research tool. It is prone to off site errors and is likely to cause cancer.
- Nanobots have proven to be pure hype, the best we can do (and may ever be able to do) is DNA robots with limited functionality.
- Precision / personalised / regenerative medicine? What’s that? No seriously, when has anyone ever mentioned it in a serious capacity? It is nothing but vaporwave, currently.
- Self driving cars are just starting to be used, and they still are very primitive. They also can’t even drive in the rain, let alone live up to all the grand promises.
So Yeah, this is just a few things and you can see that pretty much all of them are still “5-10“ years away, just like they have been for decades. Things are moving very very slowly.
Ngl, only real things I see changing in the next decade or so is maybe some more self driving cars, better chatbots, a larger share of renewable energy… and, that’s about it. But no one seems to realise it. They all think we are on the brink of massive and radical changes for some reason, even though there is basically 0 evidence to support that.
As generative AI now able to produce top notch content, visual and textual (including NSFW), I wonder what is the future of OF adult content creators.
Apparently, there are several girlfriend experience services already exists, which leverage AI to generate very realistic photos and to support a meaningful dialogue with user.
It seems no way any
(and Instagram?) models can compete with that.
Nature, Published online: 11 August 2023; doi:10.1038/d41586-023-02527-3An organic material makes a solid electrolyte in lithium-ion batteries.
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I was skeptical of music festivals. Then I went to Newport.
First, here are four new stories from The Atlantic:
- Is Trump daring a judge to jail him?
- The new old dating trend
- Is Ben Wikler the most important Democrat in America?
- The seven social-media commandments
The Music Goes Gently
I had always assumed that music festivals were not for me.
Music festivals, I thought, were for hot people who like electronic dance music and pulling all-nighters. They’re for rolling on cool new recreational drugs with strange names. They’re for wearing bras as shirts.
But there was something nice about Newport.
Two weekends ago, against the backdrop of Narragansett Bay, Folk Festival–goers sat on picnic blankets and slathered themselves with mineral sunscreen. They were dorky dads in Life Is Good T-shirts, old ladies wearing wide-brimmed hats, and babies sleeping peacefully in strollers. Sure, some people were probably on drugs—but they were chill drugs, the kind that I’d heard of.
The vibes? They were excellent.
All of this is likely common knowledge among festival-knowers and New Englanders, but for this Midwesterner, the Newport Folk Festival was a pleasant surprise. Yes, at first I cringed at the warm-and-fuzzy signage demanding that all guests “Be present. Be kind. Be open. Be together.” But then I thought, “Okay, sure.” And I let it all in.
The Newport Folk Festival happens every summer at Fort Adams State Park, the home of a pentagonal fort that was an active Army post for 100 years—but, according to its director of visitor experience, “never once had to fire a shot in anger.” Of course it didn’t. Because, you see, Newport is peaceful and kind. That’s it’s whole thing. Even the music goes gently.
Performances start a little before noon and end at dusk, which means you have plenty of time for dinner and a good night’s sleep, a shockingly important priority for me these days. I got to hear Maggie Rogers belt “Alaska” and watch Lana Del Rey dance in front of a set of gilded mirrors—but I also saw a dozen smaller bands, whose names I didn’t recognize and who performed tight sets a little under an hour each, tickling banjo strings and warbling tender ballads. One of the stages was powered by bikes and the sun.
“It’s just so wholesome,” I texted my boyfriend one night. I had just witnessed an entire crowd of people clapping as a dog floated by on a boat.
The crowds were intense, but nobody pushed. The food is expensive, but you can bring your own if you want. At one point, a toddler with no pants chased seagulls away from our picnic spot. The only all-nighter pulled was by one of my friends, who stole away to a yacht one night with its handsome captain. That story could have had a sinister ending, but it didn’t. It’s Newport!
Last year, Folk Fest–goers were delighted by an unscheduled appearance from Joni Mitchell, who sang on the main stage with the artist Brandi Carlile. Surprise showings like these have happened so regularly over the past several years that attendees have come to expect them: Paul Simon, Bon Iver, Mumford and Sons, Dolly Parton. This year, though, save for a few quick songs by James Taylor, who stopped by a small stage one afternoon with his wife and son, there was no major unexpected guest. What happened? attendees wondered online and in real life.
Maybe the festival organizers didn’t arrange for a celebrity drop-in on purpose, one Redditor posited, as a way to reset expectations. After all, some regulars are worried that the Newport Folk Festival has gotten too big—that the promise of a surprise appearance is making things feel busier, less low-key. “Maybe,” another Redditor suggested, “the crowd who just wants to see the big names will think twice next year.”
Fighting to safeguard the vital essence of a music festival seems a little pretentious. But maybe there’s something to it. Newport is a gem of an experience; its charm feels well worth protecting.
Newport wasn’t perfect. The ticket prices are way too high to go every year. My patience wore thin on the days when the sun beat down and I couldn’t find shade. And using a port-a potty with 10,000 other people for three consecutive days has taken something from me spiritually that I’ll never get back.
I still wouldn’t call myself a music-festival person. But I can say that my first festival won’t be my last. Sometimes it’s nice to be wrong.
- Attorney General Merrick Garland has appointed a special counsel for the ongoing Hunter Biden investigation.
- At least 55 people have died from wildfires in Maui as the death toll continues to rise.
- President Volodymyr Zelensky has fired all of the Ukrainian army’s heads of regional recruitment centers in a battle against wartime corruption.
- The Books Briefing: James McBride’s radical approach to fiction reminds us that novels don’t have to be about an individual, Gal Beckerman writes.
- Up for Debate: The role of taboos in liberal democracies is complex, Conor Friedersdorf notes. How should taboos be utilized?
Earlier this month, the Uyghur poet Tahir Hamut Izgil published his memoir, Waiting to Be Arrested at Night. The book is a chronicle of Izgil and his family’s escape from China in 2017, during the ongoing Uyghur genocide in the country. Izgil first published an account of his experience in The Atlantic in 2021, in a series of essays titled “One by One, My Friends Were Sent to the Camps.” Spend time with Izgil’s essays this weekend.
When I spoke with Izgil recently, he described the book, and his work in The Atlantic, as a way to “raise awareness as much as possible about the crisis in my homeland”—but also to explore “what it means for an individual to go through the kinds of things that we had to go through.” That personal element, as well as what his translator, Joshua L. Freeman, has called “a poet’s power of expression,” is perhaps why Izgil’s writing has resonated with so many readers.
— Isabel Fattal, senior editor
More From The Atlantic
- There’s no shame in flaking.
- Before a bot steals your job, it will steal your name.
- An adorable way to study how kids get each other sick
Watch. The Atlantic’s new partnership with PBS, Washington Week With The Atlantic, will be moderated by editor in chief Jeffrey Goldberg and premieres on PBS tonight at 8 p.m. ET.
Fellow Atlantic writer Tom Nichols here, sneaking into Elaine’s appreciation of the Newport Folk Festival to make a confession: I have lived in and around Newport for going on 30 years … and yet I’ve never gone to the festival.
Like so many residents of destination spots and beach towns, I have perfected grousing about tourists—and yes, I know, it’s unseemly, especially when the Folk folks are so nice (and contribute so much to the local economy). But we’re an island, you see: Newport is the “island” part of “Rhode Island.” Our local roads were laid out when this area was mostly farms surrounding a big Navy base. So when people come to “be present and be kind,” I growl and mutter about restaurant crowds and the traffic bottleneck on Thames Street and how I love it here—in October.
The thing is, I’m also kind of lying. The people who come here for the music, as Elaine found, are lovely, and these events (we have a jazz festival, too) really do add a sparkle to a place that’s pretty quiet most of the year. So ignore my grumbling—but could you not park near the post office? I have some errands to run.
Katherine Hu contributed to this newsletter.
When you buy a book using a link in this newsletter, we receive a commission. Thank you for supporting The Atlantic.
Direct Air Capture
President Joe Biden's administration will fund a massive carbon removal project to suck the greenhouse gas straight out of the atmosphere using what's known as direct air capture — the first time
has made a major investment in the controversial technology.
White House senior advisor Mitch Landrieu called it "the largest investment in engineered carbon removal in history," as quoted by The Washington Post.
To commence the project, the US Department of Energy will spend a formidable $1.2 billion to construct two direct air capture plants, the agency announced on Friday, adding to a total of around 130 of these facilities in the works worldwide.
"These projects are going to help us prove out the potential of these next-generation technologies so that we can add them to our climate crisis fighting arsenal," energy secretary Jennifer Granholm told reporters, per WaPo.
One plant will be built in Texas by Occidental Petroleum, and another by research and development nonprofit Battelle in Louisiana. Once completed, they'll be the largest direct air capture plants in the world, according to the Energy Department.
The real question, though, is whether the tech will ever be able to scale up enough to make a difference.
Many environmentalists aren't convinced that direct air capture will be an effective way to combat climate change, and some argue that it will only distract from more important issues.
"It's useful to give them an excuse for not ever stopping oil," said former Vice President and noted climate activist Al Gore at a recent Ted Talk, as quoted by The New York Times. "That gives them a license to continue producing more and more oil and gas."
But desperate times call for desperate measures, and the tech has gained significant momentum in recent years; a 2022 report from the International Energy Agency identified direct air capture as a "key technology" for achieving net zero carbon emissions.
Others don't necessarily disagree with Gore's stance, but argue that both approaches can still work hand in hand — and that we're going to need all the solutions we can get.
"There is no scenario for meeting our climate goals that does not involve both the phaseout of fossil fuels and carbon dioxide removal on a massive scale," Michael Gerrard, an environmental law expert at Columbia University, told the NYT.
"The technologies are still in their relatively early stage, but we're going to need a lot of them, and we have to get going."
It's unclear what the direct air capture plants will do with the removed carbon, or even how much carbon they will remove, though energy officials promised it wouldn't be injected back into the ground to extract more oil.
WaPo notes that a similar facility in Iceland vacuums up around 4,000 tons of carbon per year — a drop in the pond compared to the nearly 37 billion metric tons emitted last year.
More on climate change: Ocean Hits Highest Recorded Temperature, Still Rising
The post White House
Scientists at NASA's Jet Propulsion Lab have built lightweight Moon rovers that are about the size of a carry-on. And in one video of them demonstrating their prowess here on Earth, that lightness helps one of them pull off a pretty sweet off-road stunt.
According to a press release, these dexterous little dudes were built as part of the Cooperative Autonomous Distributed Robotic Exploration (CADRE) set, an effort to eventually take a trio of them up to the Moon next year.
Along with describing these cute little bots' specs — they'll even autonomously elect the "leader" of their pack — JPL included a GIF of one of the prototypes hitting a bump on a test track.
By the looks of it, that bump causes the lightweight robot to get some gnarly air — at least temporarily. And we can only guess what such a stunt will look like at a sixth of the Earth's gravity.
The autonomous nature of these diminutive bots will be such that mission controllers back on Earth only need to give them a vague command for them to go about their jobs, rather than needing to remote-control their every movement.
"The only instruction is, for example, 'Go explore this region,' and the rovers figure out everything else: when they’ll do the driving, what path they’ll take, how they’ll maneuver around local hazards," said Jean-Pierre de la Croix, CADRE’s principal investigator at the JPL, in the statement. "You only tell them the high-level goal, and they have to determine how to accomplish it."
That level of autonomy, however cool, does take a lot of computer power which, in turn, makes these funny little guys burn hot. Luckily, the humans behind CADRE have a plan for that, too.
"To prevent the rovers from cooking, the CADRE team came up with a creative solution: 30-minute wake-sleep cycles," the press release explains. "Every half-hour, the rovers will shut down, cooling off via radiators and recharging their batteries."
It gets even cooler, if you will: once they all awake simultaneously, the rovers will "share their health status with one another" via Wi-Fi-like mesh radio networking. After that, they'll again elect which of them will be the leader "based on which is fittest for the task at hand" and then trawl off "for another round of lunar exploration."
It's clear that the CADRE robots are not your momma's lunar rovers — and their autonomy will be a lesson in robotic cooperation and off-planet off-roading, too.
More on the Moon: NASA Head Concerned That China Will Steal Lunar Resources
The post Watch NASA's New Moon Rover Yeet Itself Over a Boulder appeared first on Futurism.