Thomas Pynchon, the American novelist most famous for the works Gravity’s Rainbow and The Crying of Lot 49, is zealously private. He grants no interviews. He allows no photographs to be taken. (A few images — mostly yearbook photos or Navy headshots — have made their way into circulation.) However, on January 25, 2004, Pynchon finally broke his silence. For the first time ever, the author’s voice was heard, albeit on The Simpsons.
In the episode Diatribe of a Mad Housewife, Pynchon appears, animated with a paper bag over his head, giving his endorsement to Marge Simpson’s new book, Harpooned Heart. So far, so true to life: Pynchon has made it a policy to blurb first books he enjoys particularly, including (a personal favorite of The Devoted Intellectual) George Saunders’ short story collection Civilwarland in Bad Decline. Then there’s a surprise. Most readers assumed that “Pynchon” rhymed with “inch in.” But Pynchon pronounces his own name “inch on.” A joke? A correction? Watch the clip above and decide for yourself.
In 1998, Ralph and Sandra Fisher lost their beloved pet, Chance—dead at 19 years old. It’s a familiar sad story, but there actually isn’t very much that’s familiar about this version. Chance was not a dog or cat, but a Brahman bull — the original holy cow of Hinduism — and weighed a full ton. Brahmans are a dangerous breed, but Chance was unusually gentle, which earned him some local fame as a stunt bull, party favorite (as in the photo above) and onetime David Letterman guest.
When Chance died, Ralph wasn’t ready to let him go. In one of the most poignant scenes of pet ownership and loss we’ve ever heard, he went out to the yard and skinned the cow, so he’d have something to remember him by. (“I would skin a while and cry a while; skin a while and cry a while.”) But even this wasn’t enough for Ralph: if he couldn’t have Chance back, he wanted a second Chance.
To that end, Ralph went to Texas A&M University, where a cloning project had been underway for several years. Outside of science fiction, cloning (though it began as a serious pursuit as early as 1963) rose to prominence in 1996, when Scottish researchers produced a cloned sheep named Dolly. Since that time, there had been rapid advances in the field, but a Brahman bull would still be larger than any animal ever cloned. Ralph insisted, and the A&M Team relented: they cloned Chance, and produced Second Chance.
Was Second Chance a perfect clone of his predecessor? The NPR program This American Life devoted a portion of their 2005 episode “Reunited (And It Feels So Good)” to the question. Listen here and decide for yourself.
Schizophrenia (Greek for “to split” is a mental disorder characterized by the inability to think rationally, experience normal emotional responses, behave normally and differentiate between reality and fantasy. The disorder is most commonly manifested as auditory hallucinations (hearing voices, noises), paranoid or fantastical delusions and/or disorganized speech and thinking patterns with significant social and occupational dysfunction. The onset of schizophrenia usually begins in late adolescence, and can take anywhere from several months to a few years to develop. The disorder gradually progresses to psychotic symptoms, which can include:
An appearance or mood that shows no emotion (flat affect);
Bizarre motor behavior in which there is less reaction to the environment (catatonic behavior);
False beliefs or thoughts that have nothing to do with reality (delusions); and
Hearing, seeing, or feeling things that are not there (hallucinations).
Interesting, scientists have recently discovered a potential link between schizophrenia and natural selection. After analyzing human DNA from several populations around the world and examining primate genomes dating back to the shared ancestor of both humans and chimpanzees, researchers discovered that several gene variants linked to schizophrenia were actually positively selected and remained largely unchanged over time, suggesting that there was some advantage to having them.
British psychiatrist Tim Crow has even argue that schizophrenia may be the evolutionary “price” that human beings pay for our advanced left brain hemisphere specialization for language. He argues that since psychosis is linked to greater levels of right brain hemisphere stimulation and a lessening in left brain hemisphere dominance, our language skills may have evolved at the cost of triggering schizophrenia when the process breaks down. If this is true it is a small price to pay, considering that the disorder only afflicts one percent of the population.
Salvador Dalí is most famous (rightly) as a painter, one of the most important figures in the history of “surrealism.” But while surrealism is popularly known an episode in art history, its founders (such as the writer André Breton) conceived of it as a far more wide-ranging phenomenon. It was supposed to impact every aspect of day-to-day life, no matter the consequences. In the Second Surrealist Manifesto, Breton takes this to an extreme in one of his most famous, or rather infamous remarks: “The simplest Surrealist act consists of dashing down into the street, pistol in hand, and firing blindly, as fast as you can pull the trigger, into the crowd.”
Happily, surrealism did not inspire all too many acts of random violence. Its cultural impact, however, extended far beyond painting—especially into film.
Dalí himself had wide-ranging experience in the movies.
Walt Disney hoped to follow-up Fantasia (a personal favorite of his) with a work that focused on Latin, rather than classical, music. The working title was Destino. The film was never completed, but the clip above is a reconstruction of a scene Dalí proposed.
Dalí’s most famous foray into film was Un Chien Andalou, his 1929 collaboration with director Luis Bunuel. It’s pretty brutal: rotting horse carcasses; eyeballs sliced with razor blades. Watch at your own risk…
Opposition to the Vietnam war is often considered an almost-exclusively left-wing phenomena: radical students with long hair and peace signs painted on their faces; socialist admirers of Ho Chi Minh; that sort of thing. But it was a group of right-wing economists and theoriticians — most notably Milton Friedman, Ayn Rand and Alan Greenspan — who did the most to advance one of the biggest causes of the time: ending the military draft.
By 1964, there were 23,000 American soldiers (euphemistically referred to as “military advisers”) in Vietnam. Four years later, that number had grown to 543,000. (Suddenly, President Obama’s call for an additional 30,000 troops in Afghanistan doesn’t seem so extraordinary.) The only way that number of troops could be amassed was by instituting military conscription: American citizens were forced to serve in the Army.
There were many who called this forced service — or any forced service — “slavery.” It’s a strong word, one that sounds like it would come from the lunatic fringe of the left. As it happens, it was the word conservative economist Milton Friedman used to describe the draft. He first did so at a four-day symposium held at the University of Chicago in 1966, led by anthropologist Sol Dix. The papers from that symposium were published as The Draft the following year, and they argued strongly for its abolition.
Three years later, in 1969, President Nixon set up a 15-member commission (known as the “Gates Commission”) to review compulsory, military conscription and suggest whether it should continue to be used. The results, published on February 20, 1970, were unanimous: the commission suggested that the draft be abolished. The most important arguments against it were those of the libertarians like Alan Greenspan and Milton Friedman. The latter called the draft “a tax on youth”:
“When a young man is forced to serve at $45 a week, including the cost of his keep, of his uniforms, and his dependency allowances, and there are many civilian opportunities available to him at something like $100 a week, he is paying $55 a week in an implicit tax. … And if you were to add to those taxes in kind, the costs imposed on universities and colleges; of seating, housing, and entertaining young men who would otherwise be doing productive work; if you were to add to that the costs imposed on industry by the fact that they can only offer young men who are in danger of being drafted stopgap jobs, and cannot effectively invest money in training them; if you were to add to that the costs imposed on individuals of a financial kind by their marrying earlier or having children at an earlier stage, and so on; if you were to add all these up, there is no doubt at all in my mind that the cost of a volunteer force, correctly calculated, would be very much smaller than the amount we are now spending in manning our Armed Forces.”
Not the sort of rousing, rhetorical argument most opponents of the draft would have preferred, but it worked.
Garry Kasparov is famous as one of the most successful chess masters in the history of the game. (Despite his infamous loss to the IBM Machine Big Blue.) But Kasparov’s career did not come to a complete halt after his retirement from Chess in 2005. Since that time, he has been one of the most prominent critics of Russia’s then-de facto and now-de jure ruler: Vladimir Putin—a position even more dangerous than being in check with your Queen exposed.
In fact, Kasparov retired from chess in order to devote himself to politics full time. In 2005, he founded the United Civil Front, an organization that “works to preserve electoral democracy in Russia.” It’s a tall order: since Putin first took power in 2000, he has done everything possible to assure that electoral democracy in Russia is consistently subordinated to his own career. He was twice elected president, and then became Prime Minister when his “successor” (some would say stooge) Dmitri Medvedev was was elected in 2008. In that time, a number of Russian journalists — most prominently Anna Politkovskaya — raised alarms about Putin’s corrupt and violent rule. Over a dozen of them have been murdered, in crimes that remain unsolved.
Nonetheless, Putin remains a popular figure in Russia. Many in the country would probably agree with former President George W. Bush’s assessment upon meeting the Russian leader: “I looked the man in the eye. I found him to be very straight forward and trustworthy.” Kasparov would more likely agree with former Presidential candidate John McCain’s view: “I looked him in the eye and saw three letters: K, G, B.”
LASIK, or laser-assisted in situ keratomileusis, has become one of the most popular and successful new procedures to be developed in years. In the procedure, a small flap is cut into the eye, a laser is used to remodel the tissue underneath, and the flap is put back to heal. (The last part happens incredibly quickly: corneal tissue regenerates faster than almost anything else in the body.) The result? 20/20 vision—or, often, even clearer vision as high as 20/10. No more glasses, and no more contact lenses.
Then there’s LASEK, with an “E”, or Laser-Assisted Sub-Epithelial Keratectomy, not to be confused with its more popular counterpart. What’s the difference? In LASEK, the flap is cut less deeply into the eye than LASIK. In a 2006 study published in the American Journal of Ophthalmology, the two procedures were both found to be “safe, effective, and predictable.” This would suggest that the less invasive procedure — LASEK — would be preferable. As it happens, the opposite might be true: LASEK, though less invasive, is actually more painful, and it takes longer to recover after the procedure. Then again, the study found that the results of LASEK were slightly better (though slight enough that most patients couldn’t tell the difference).
Considering the operation? This chart can help you choose between the two options. (Though your doctor can help you more.)
Has anybody tried LASEK? What’s the verdict? Comment below…