News 09.04.19 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets


News 09.04.19 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets
News 09.04.19 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets
News 09.04.19 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

It is the peculiar nature of hurricanes that they are both uncommon and utterly predictable. Depending on an island’s geography, it may have a one-in-ten chance of being hit, or a one-in-a-thousand chance. Those are only odds, of course, but they are important because hurricanes are best understood as numbers and probabilities. Some areas are simply more vulnerable than others — Southeast Florida, Puerto Rico, the Florida Panhandle, and the Gulf states of Mississippi, Louisiana, and Texas. While you may reassure yourself that you have only a one-in-a-hundred chance of being leveled by a devastating storm in a given year, it’s highly likely that there will be a hurricane in one of these geographies, and someone’s house will be destroyed.

Moreover, the chances appear to be increasing, though not necessarily for the reasons you might imagine. Even accounting for years with lots of hurricanes, including 2004, 2005, 2017, and 2018, the number of hurricanes has held relatively steady for centuries, dating back to the founding of the nation. What has changed is the amount of property at the coast, which amplifies the opportunities for damage and the likelihood that federal taxpayers will spend ever-larger sums to help coastal towns rebuild after hurricanes.

In July 2014, the National Academy of Sciences, a nonprofit arm of the federal government that helps fund and direct critical research in medicine, engineering, and the social sciences, reported the findings of a yearlong study of coastal risks. Damages from hurricanes and nor’easters have “increased substantially over the past century,” the researchers noted, “largely due to increases in population and development in hazardous coastal areas.” The chief beneficiaries of the land boom at the coast have been the beach towns and property owners who perversely shoulder little of the risk of building in harm’s way yet enjoy most of the wealth, the report added.

Read the rest of this article at: Longreads

News 09.04.19 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

News 09.04.19 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

On January 29, 2016, Prince summoned me to his home, Paisley Park, to tell me about a book he wanted to write. He was looking for a collaborator. Paisley Park is in Chanhassen, Minnesota, about forty minutes southwest of Minneapolis. Prince treasured the privacy it afforded him. He once said, in an interview with Oprah Winfrey, that Minnesota is “so cold it keeps the bad people out.” Sure enough, when I landed, there was an entrenched layer of snow on the ground, and hardly anyone in sight.

Prince’s driver, Kim Pratt, picked me up at the airport in a black Cadillac Escalade. She was wearing a plastic diamond the size of a Ring Pop on her finger. “Sometimes you gotta femme it up,” she said. She dropped me off at the Country Inn & Suites, an unremarkable chain hotel in Chanhassen that served as a de-facto substation for Paisley. I was “on call” until further notice. A member of Prince’s team later told me that, over the years, Prince had paid for enough rooms there to have bought the place four times over.

My agent had put me up for the job but hadn’t refrained from telling me the obvious: at twenty-nine, I was extremely unlikely to get it. In my hotel room, I turned the television on. I turned the television off. I had a mint tea. I felt that I was joining a long and august line of people who’d been made to wait by Prince, people who had sat in rooms in this same hotel, maybe in this very room, quietly freaking out just as I was quietly freaking out.

A few weeks earlier, Prince had hosted editors from three publishing houses at Paisley, and declared his intention to write a memoir called “The Beautiful Ones,” after one of the most naked, aching songs in his catalogue. For as far back as he could remember, he told the group, he’d written music to imagine—and reimagine—himself. Being an artist was a constant evolution. Early on, he’d recognized the inherent mystery of this process. “ ‘Mystery’ is a word for a reason,” he’d said. “It has a purpose.” The right book would add new layers to his mystery even as it stripped others away. He offered only one formal guideline: it had to be the biggest music book of all time.

On January 19th, Prince chose an editor—Chris Jackson, of Spiegel & Grau, an imprint of Penguin Random House—and started the search for a co-writer. A few days later, he put on his first-ever show without a band, “Piano & a Microphone,” at a soundstage at Paisley. He’d pared down his songs to their essential components and reinvented them on the fly. He’d been practicing there into the night, playing alone for hours on end, his piano filling the vast darkness until he found something that he described, to Alexis Petridis, of the Guardian, as “transcendence.” In a recording of the concert, which I watched a year later, Prince shared some of his earliest musical memories with the audience. His mother, Mattie Della Shaw Baker, was a jazz singer; his father, John Lewis Nelson, who went by Prince Rogers, was a musician and a songwriter. “I thought I would never be able to play like my dad, and he never missed an opportunity to remind me of that,” Prince said. “But we got along good. He was my best friend.”

Read the rest of this article at: The New Yorker

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Our understanding of fame is critical to how we see each other and our society. But it is also badly wrong. Let me tell you why. We humans are storytelling and story-finding machines: homo narrativus, if you will. In making sense of the world, we look for the shapes of meaningful narratives in everything. Even in science, we enjoy mathematical equations and algorithms because they are a kind of universal story. Fluids—the oceans and atmosphere, the blood in your body, honey—all flow according to a single, beautiful set of equations called the Navier-Stokes equations.

In our everyday, human stories, far away from science, we have a limited (if generous) capacity to entertain randomness—we are certainly not homo probabilisticus. Too many coincidences in a movie or book will render it unbelievable and unpalatable. We would think to ourselves, “that would never happen in real life!” This skews our stories. We tend to find or create story threads where there are none. While it can sometimes be useful to err on the side of causality, the fact remains that our tendency toward teleological explanations often oversteps the evidence.

We also instinctively build our stories around individuals. To see evidence for this fact, we need only to look to local disaster coverage. For example, one article in The New York Times on Hurricane Sandy, which hit New York in 2012, discussed the (unproven) fact that more babies are generated when generators fail. It opened with the line:

“Late last October, Hurricane Sandy pumped six feet of water into the lobby of a residential building in downtown Jersey City, trapping Meaghan B. Murphy and her husband, Patrick, in their apartment and leaving them without electricity for days.”

Read the rest of this article at: Nautilus

News 09.04.19 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

It’s a wildfire-hot August afternoon in Topanga Canyon, the air so dry and still you can practically hear the sagebrush gathering itself for the conflagration. Everyone’s gulping down great lashings of CBD water, including Renée Zellweger, who can’t hydrate fast enough. We have been hanging out now for nearly two hours on the patio of Topanga Living, a little café that’s one of Zellweger’s regular joints.

As she heads inside for more supplies — bottles of turmeric juice, tea, and more fancy water — a young dude a couple of tables away leans over. “I don’t mean to make this weird,” he says, “but is that Renée Zellweger?” The actress, meanwhile, has stopped to talk to a lesbian couple with a tiny dog sitting near the door. They are earnest in the extreme and seem not the least bit starstruck, which makes me think they have no idea who she is — just some nice lady in Capri tights and running shoes with a voluminous scarf draped around her neck.

When Zellweger gets back to our table, I express surprise that the couple didn’t get movie-star dopey, and she says, “Nope.” A big smile spreads across her face. “I have very authentic exchanges with people once again.” She stares at me for a second and then screws up one of those great Renée Zellweger faces. “Thankyouverymuch,” she says, sort of doing Elvis if he were from Texas. “Six years. It was important, that time. You’re not in people’s consciousness anymore, so they don’t immediately make the connection. It’s a quieter life, and I love it.”

For a long time, Zellweger had anything but a quiet life. You could blame 1996’s Jerry Maguire, which took her from ingénue to star. Or maybe the Bridget Jones movies of the early aughts, which further solidified her image as a relatable Everywoman but which also turned her into tabloid prey right at the moment when newsstands began to look like Warhol installations, giant checkerboards of the same woman on the cover of every magazine, from Us and InTouch to Vogue and Elle. Who could look away from a star gaining and losing weight for a role in plain sight?

Zellweger dated rock stars and movie stars and was a genuinely fascinating creature of that last great Hollywood moment before it all became one big smelly sweat sock of adolescent-boy entertainment. She was effortlessly soignée on the red carpet, the darling of fashion editors. And she was a star for Harvey Weinstein’s Miramax: Her three Oscar nominations came for films, Bridget Jones’s Diary, Chicago, and Cold Mountain, that he had produced. It was an era that, in some ways, couldn’t have been crueler to actresses, but also one that allowed them to play challenging parts in prestige films. Zellweger, perhaps, experienced the highs and the lows as acutely as anyone.

Read the rest of this article at: Vulture

If Sapiens Were a Blog Post

News 09.04.19 : Today’s Articles of Interest from Around the Internets

Development of brains

What caused our brains to develop? We’re not sure.

It doesn’t seem likely. A larger brain needs more energy and thus reduces the chance you’ll survive. Getting more energy meant hunting more.

One contributing factor was the domestication of fire. Fire paved the way for cooking.

Whereas chimpanzees spend 5 hours a day chewing raw food, a single hour suffices for people eating cooked food. The advent of cooking enabled humans to eat more kinds of food, to devote less time to eating, and to make do with smaller teeth and shorter intestines. Some scholars believe there is a direct link between the advent of cooking, the shortening of the human intestinal track, and the growth of the human brain. Since long intestines and large brains are both massive energy consumers, it’s hard to have both. By shortening the intestines and decreasing their energy consumption, cooking inadvertently opened the way to the jumbo brains.

And, we weren’t alone. Competing with us were the Neanderthals, among other species. They were stronger, they had bigger brains, and they could survive the cold. How come, then, did we “win”?

We aren’t sure. The most likely answer is the very thing that makes the debate possible: Homo sapiens conquered the world thanks above all to its unique language.

Cognitive Revolution

The appearance of new ways of thinking and communicating, between 70,000 and 30,000 years ago, constitutes the Cognitive Revolution. What caused it? We’re not sure. The most commonly believed theory argues that accidental genetic mutations changed the inner wiring of the brains of Sapiens, enabling them to think in unprecedented ways and to communicate using a new type of language. We might call it the Tree of Knowledge mutation.

What’s special about our language?

Our language is amazingly supple. We can connect a limited number of sounds and signs to produce an infinite number of sentences, each with a distinct meaning. We can thereby ingest, store and communicate a prodigious amount of information about the surrounding world. A monkey can yell to its comrades, ‘Careful! A lion!’ But a modern human can tell her friends that this morning, near the bend in the river, she saw a lion tracking a herd of bison. She can then describe the exact location, including the different paths leading to the area. With this information, the members of her band can put their heads together and discuss whether they ought to approach the river in order to chase away the lion and hunt the bison.

Yet the truly unique feature of our language is not its ability to transmit information about men and lions. Rather, it’s the ability to transmit information about things that do not exist at all. As far as we know, only Sapiens can talk about entire kinds of entities that they have never seen, touched or smelled.

Using language, lots of humans could work together, form a tribe, help each other, and hunt together.

However, communicating with lots of people brings with it new co-ordination problems. The critical threshold for a group interacting together is 150 people.

How did Homo sapiens manage to cross this critical threshold, eventually founding cities comprising tens of thousands of inhabitants and empires ruling hundreds of millions? The secret was probably the appearance of fiction. Large numbers of strangers can cooperate successfully by believing in common myths. This is an imagined reality.

Unlike lying, an imagined reality is something that everyone believes in, and as long as this communal belief persists, the imagined reality exerts force in the world.

In other words, while the behaviour patterns of archaic humans remained fixed for tens of thousands of years, Sapiens could transform their social structures, the nature of their interpersonal relations, their economic activities and a host of other behaviours within a decade or two.

For example, consider trade. Trade cannot exist without trust, and it is very difficult to trust strangers. The global trade network of today is based on our trust in such fictional entities as the dollar, the Federal Reserve Bank, and the totemic trademarks of corporations. When two strangers in a tribal society want to trade, they will often establish trust by appealing to a common god, mythical ancestor or totem animal.

Our Tree of Knowledge mutation was significant. However, it’s not just our biology that brought us where we are today.

  1. Biology sets the basic parameters for the behaviour and capacities of Homo sapiens. The whole of history takes place within the bounds of this biological arena.

  2. This arena is extraordinarily large, allowing Sapiens to play an astounding variety of games. Thanks to their ability to invent fiction, Sapiens create more and more complex games, which each generation develops and elaborates even further

  3. Consequently, in order to understand how Sapiens behave, we must describe the historical evolution of their actions.

Read the rest of this article at: Neil Kakkar

P.S. previous articles & more by P.F.M.

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