Sorry about missing last week. The reason for that is the same reason this week's issue is a bit unusual...I've had a reasonably bad case of the flu, which has meant I haven't had much of an attention span for long and/or thoughtful pieces. So there are a ton of fairly mindless videos this week, but fear not: the top link -- by Robert Caro -- is spectacular. One of the best pieces I've read in the last few years.
----- 4 stars -----
The Secrets of Lyndon Johnson’s Archives / New Yorker
Robert Caro is a legend (as Conan O'Brien would attest), and several of you have told me to read his books, which I confess I haven't done yet. I have extra motivation to do so after reading his reflections on his research process. This is a superb read:
I ran into June just as I entered the city room; motioning to Alan’s office, she told me to go right in. Walking across the room, I saw, through the glass window, the big red head bent over something he was reading, and as I entered his office I saw that it was my memo. He didn’t look up. After a while, I said tentatively, “Mr. Hathway.” I couldn’t get the “Alan” out. He motioned for me to sit down, and went on reading. Finally, he raised his head. “I didn’t know someone from Princeton could do digging like this,” he said. “From now on, you do investigative work.” I responded with my usual savoir faire: “But I don’t know anything about investigative reporting.” Alan looked at me for what I remember as a very long time. “Just remember,” he said. “Turn every page. Never assume anything. Turn every goddam page.” He turned to some other papers on his desk, and after a while I got up and left. [...] I didn’t sit down at the table. I sat instead behind Sam Houston, in a chair against the wall, and it was sitting there that I opened my notebook. I didn’t want anyone at that table who was not one of the Johnsons of Johnson City. It was about the same time as dinnertime in Johnson City long ago. Rays of the low evening sun came into the dining room and cast shadows, the same shadows the sun would have cast when Sam Houston sat there as a boy. “Now, Sam Houston,” I said, “I’d like you to tell me about those arguments that your father and Lyndon used to have at dinnertime.” At first, it was slow going, halting, just fragments of generalized memory, and I had to keep interjecting (“And then what?”) to keep it going at all. But, once Sam Houston started remembering, the memories, strikingly different from others he had previously given, began coming clearer and faster, until finally no interjections were necessary, and there were no pauses: Sam Houston was re-creating family dinners at the Johnsons’, saying, almost shouting, back and forth, what his father had shouted at his brother, and what his brother had shouted back: “ ‘You’re just not college material, are you, goddammit? You’re just a failure, Lyndon, and you’re always going to be a failure . . .’ And Lyndon would shout back, ‘What are you? You’re a bus inspector, that’s what you are! . . .’ ‘Sam! Sam!’ Mother would say . . . ‘Lyndon! Lyndon!’ ” And when, finally, after quite a long time, Sam Houston had stopped talking, and was sitting quietly, very quiet and still, so still that I felt he was in the grip of memory, memory as true as it could be after all these years, I said to him, “Now, Sam Houston, I want you to tell me again all those wonderful stories about Lyndon when you both were boys, the stories you told me before—just tell me them again with more details.” There was a long pause. I can still see the scene—see the little, stunted, crippled man sitting at the long plank table, see the shadows in the room, see myself, not wanting to move lest I break the spell, sitting there against the wall with my notebook, saying, “Tell me those wonderful stories again.” “I can’t,” Sam Houston said. “Why not?” I asked. “Because they never happened.”
----- 2 stars -----
Have Aliens Found Us? A Harvard Astronomer on the Mysterious Interstellar Object ‘Oumuamua / New Yorker
I previously sent this Harvard astronomer's piece on why it's not implausible that 'Oumuamua might have come from intelligent beings (which, of course, is a fascinating notion). Here's more from him:
Last year, I wrote a paper about cosmology where there was an unusual result, which showed that perhaps the gas in the universe was much colder than we expected. And so we postulated that maybe dark matter has some property that makes the gas cooler. And nobody cares, nobody is worried about it, no one says it is not science. Everyone says that is mainstream—to consider dark matter, a substance we have never seen. That’s completely fine. It doesn’t bother anyone. But when you mention the possibility that there could be equipment out there that is coming from another civilization—which, to my mind, is much less speculative, because we have already sent things into space—then that is regarded as unscientific. But we didn’t just invent this thing out of thin air. The reason we were driven to put in that sentence was because of the evidence, because of the facts. If someone else has a better explanation, they should write a paper about it rather than just saying what you said.
His name is a parenting epithet. Overcoach your kid, get too excited about a touchdown or a home run or a goal, and you might hear it, even in jest: You're just like Marv Marinovich! Look at Marv Marinovich over here! The story is part of American lore, the ultimate in Sports Dad Goes Overboard. BRED TO BE A SUPERSTAR, read the Feb. 22, 1988, Sports Illustrated headline. And the subhead: Todd Marinovich was groomed from infancy to be a top-notch quarterback. Infancy was not hyperbole. America's first test-tube athlete, they called Todd. The Robo QB. Marv stretched his son's hamstrings at one month old, and had him teething on frozen kidney and trying to lift medicine balls before he could walk. Marv used Eastern Bloc training methods and consulted as many as 13 experts, including biochemists and psychologists, to build his quarterback. Most famously, as SI wrote, Todd was the least 1980s child of the '80s: "He has never eaten a Big Mac or an Oreo or a Ding Dong." Marv said he tried to create "the perfect environment" for "the healthiest possible child." Todd, then 18, gushed about how well it worked, telling SI, "There is no way somebody could be made to do all this stuff. I choose to do it." He did it, he said, because his goal was "actually to be the best quarterback who ever threw the ball." He told The New York Times, "I can remember asking my dad: 'What can I do to improve my performance? What would be the plan?'" Todd became a USC starter and, in 1991, a Los Angeles Raiders first-round pick, rising just high enough for the country to notice his fall into drug addiction. Todd was arrested so often that once, when he returned to the James A. Musick minimum-security facility in Irvine, Calif., guards played the Welcome Back, Kotter theme song over the loudspeakers. Then they played the Raiders' march. Todd became a joke, and Marv a cautionary tale.
Ten days before I met him at his home in British Columbia, Dave Asprey went to a clinic in Park City, Utah, where a surgeon harvested half a liter of bone marrow from his hips, filtered out the stem cells, and injected them into every joint in his body. He then threaded a cannula along Asprey’s spinal column and injected stem cells inside his spinal cord and into his cerebral fluid. “And then they did all the cosmetic stuff,” Asprey told me. “Hey, I’m unconscious, you’ve got extra stem cells—put ’em everywhere!” Everywhere meaning his scalp, to make his hair more abundant and lustrous; his face, to smooth out wrinkles; and his “male organs,” for—well, I’ll leave that part up to your imagination. According to Asprey, what he’d just endured was “the most extensive stem-cell treatment that’s ever been done on a person at one time.” All told, it was an expensive and invasive procedure, which is particularly striking considering that there’s nothing wrong with him. Nothing wrong, that is, other than regular old human aging, which is not part of Asprey’s plan. As he’s fond of saying, he has no interest in being average. Asprey, who is 45, has made the widely publicized claim that he expects to live to 180. To that end, he plans to get his own stem cells injected into him every six months, take 100 supplements a day, follow a strict diet, bathe in infrared light, hang out in a hyperbaric oxygen chamber, and wear goofy yellow-lensed glasses every time he gets on an airplane. So far, Asprey says he’s spent at least a million dollars hacking his own biology, and making it to 2153 will certainly take several million more.
----- 1 star -----
$144 Steak Lunch in Tokyo - Teppanyaki in Japan / YouTube
Yes, it's a 20-minute video with lots of close ups of a teppanyaki lunch in Tokyo, which doesn't necessarily sound that interesting...but it's beautifully filmed and I found it captivating. (Admittedly I was a bit braindead and had time to kill, but I ended up spending well over an hour watching other videos from this channel. And didn't regret it at all.)
The Joy of Being a Woman in Her 70s / New York Times
Simple and pleasant:
By our 70s, we’ve had decades to develop resilience. Many of us have learned that happiness is a skill and a choice. We don’t need to look at our horoscopes to know how our day will go. We know how to create a good day. [...] There is an amazing calculus in old age. As much is taken away, we find more to love and appreciate. We experience bliss on a regular basis. As one friend said: “When I was young I needed sexual ecstasy or a hike to the top of a mountain to experience bliss. Now I can feel it when I look at a caterpillar on my garden path.” Older women have learned the importance of reasonable expectations. We know that all our desires will not be fulfilled, that the world isn’t organized around pleasing us and that others, especially our children, are not waiting for our opinions and judgments. We know that the joys and sorrows of life are as mixed together as salt and water in the sea. We don’t expect perfection or even relief from suffering. A good book, a piece of homemade pie or a call from a friend can make us happy. As my aunt Grace, who lived in the Ozarks, put it, “I get what I want, but I know what to want.”
I Built a Guitar Out of 1200 Colored Pencils / YouTube
I build an electric guitar, Fender Stratocaster, out of 1200 colored pencils.
In a Nutshell is a mesmerizing stop motion animation directed by Fabio Friedli that attempts to sum up the entire world in just five minutes, “from a seed to war, from meat to love, from indifference to apocalypse”. This is very very well done.
The first dinosaurs and mammals appeared long before the planet's stunning rings.
Kids Surprise Flabbergasted Dad With The Corvette He Sold For Money To Help Raise Them / Digg
As you can tell, I spent much more time than usual watching "nice" videos the last couple weeks...but this was genuinely touching:
To thank him for being such a wonderful father, his family reunited him with a 1973 Corvette Stingray.
What is rural? What is urban? Different countries use different definitions and sometimes there are multiple definitions within a country. In India, as Reuben Abraham and Pritika Hingorani write, the same state can be 16% or 99% urban depending on the definition. [...] The consequences of underestimating the urban share of the population are dire. Resources are badly misallocated: By one estimate, over 80 percent of federal government financing still goes to rural development. This reduces incentives for politicians, especially rural ones, to change the status quo. Tens of millions of Indians who live in dense, urban-like settlements are governed by rural governments that lack the mandate and the money to deliver basic services. In India, urban governments are constitutionally required to provide things such as fire departments, sewer lines, arterial roads and building codes. Local bodies in rural areas aren’t.
The history of Aleppo is terrible stuff; a long succession of massacres and sieges disappearing into the mists of Syrian pre-history. First held by the Hittites, it was captured in turn by the Philistines, Assyrians, Babylonians, Persians, Greeks, Romans, Persians (again), Byzantines, Arabs, Mongols and Ottomans, each of whom vied to outdo the carnage of their predecessors. The Assyrians were the most imaginatively sadistic: they impaled the town’s menfolk on their spears and feasted for two days while their victims groaned to a slow death.
Light is fast! In a recent series of animations, planetary scientist James O’Donoghue demonstrates just how fast light is…and also how far away even our closest celestial neighbors are. Light, moving at 186,000 mi/sec, can circle the Earth 7.5 times per second and here’s what that looks like. [...] Now check out light traveling the 34 million miles to Mars in a pokey 3 minutes.