1. Alain de Botton on fasting for the mind:
A student pursuing a degree in the humanities can expect to run through 1,000 books before graduation day. A wealthy family in England in 1250 might have owned three books: a Bible, a collection of prayers, and a life of the saints—this modestly sized library nevertheless costing as much as a cottage. The painstaking craftsmanship of a pre-Gutenberg Bible was evidence of a society that could not afford to make room for an unlimited range of works but also welcomed restriction as the basis for proper engagement with a set of ideas.
The need to diet, which we know so well in relation to food, and which runs so contrary to our natural impulses, should be brought to bear on what we now have to relearn in relation to knowledge, people, and ideas. Our minds, no less than our bodies, require periods of fasting.
(Via: Culture Making)
2. Peter Kreeft asks (and answers) the question, “Is There Sex in Heaven?”
3. A middle-income, two-parent family will spend $222,360, on average, to raise a baby born in 2009, according to a government estimate.
5. Bono Gives the Rush-Hour Traffic Report
Listen, everybody. Listen up. There’s an epidemic in this country. An epidemic of waiting. An epidemic of sitting. In traffic.
There are people waiting in line. Day after bloody day. People. Wanting to go home. People. Sick. And tired.
People. Waiting for the government to fix the problems of the people. People. Waiting for a sign. For a sign that says “END CONSTRUCTION ZONE”!
6. Philosopher Victor Reppert on what would decrease the probability that Christianity is true:
One thing that would hurt the probability of Christianity for me would be if skeptics could come up with a halfway convincing story about how Christianity arose. Swoon theory? Come on. Jesus stripped on 100 pounds of grave clothes, pushed that gigantic stone out of the way, and put a flying tackle on the Roman guard, after being left for dead because of a crucifixion? Hallucination theory? Lots of problems. The disciples stole the body? Why? So they could get martyred for something they knew was false. Legendary development? Why does Luke know so much about all the city governments in the Mediterranean world? Jesus never even existed? How come nobody has come up with the theory that Socrates never existed? Jesus’ evil twin took over after he was crucified? Getting desperate aren’t we?
8. Quote of the Week: “Life is always going to be stranger than fiction, because fiction has to be convincing and life doesn’t.” – Novelist Neil Gaiman
9. Google breaks down mobile device users into three categories: repetitive now, bored now, and urgent now:
The “bored now” are users who have time on their hands. People on trains or waiting in airports or sitting in cafes. Mobile users in this behavior group look a lot more like casual Web surfers, but mobile phones don’t offer the robust user input of a desktop, so the applications have to be tailored.
The “urgent now” is a request to find something specific fast, like the location of a bakery or directions to the airport. Since a lot of these questions are location-aware, Google tries to build location into the mobile versions of these queries.
Time and time again, an experimental gadget gets introduced — it doesn’t matter if it’s a supercollider or a gene chip or an fMRI machine — and we’re told it will allow us to glimpse the underlying logic of everything. But the tool always disappoints, doesn’t it? We soon realize that those pretty pictures are incomplete and that we can’t reduce our complex subject to a few colorful spots. So here’s a pitch: Scientists should learn to expect this cycle — to anticipate that the universe is always more networked and complicated than reductionist approaches can reveal.
…Karl Popper, the great philosopher of science, once divided the world into two categories: clocks and clouds. Clocks are neat, orderly systems that can be solved through reduction; clouds are an epistemic mess, “highly irregular, disorderly, and more or less unpredictable.” The mistake of modern science is to pretend that everything is a clock, which is why we get seduced again and again by the false promises of brain scanners and gene sequencers. We want to believe we will understand nature if we find the exact right tool to cut its joints. But that approach is doomed to failure. We live in a universe not of clocks but of clouds.
(Via: Rod Dreher)
11. Swedish opera singer Malena Ernman sings Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov’s super-speedy ”Flight of the Bumblebee”
The tradition of a best man has its origin with the Germanic Goths, when it was customary and preferable for a man to marry a woman from within his own community. When women came into short supply “locally,” eligible bachelors would have to seek out and capture a bride from a neighboring community. As you might guess, this was not a one-person operation, and so the future bridegroom would be accompanied by a male companion who would help. Our custom of the best man is a throwback to that two-man, strong-armed tactic, for, of course the future groom would select only the best man he knew to come along for such an important task.
The role of the best man evolved. By 200 A.D. his task was still more than just safeguarding the ring. There remained a real threat that the bride’s family would attempt to forcibly obtain her return, so the best man remained at the groom’s side throughout the marriage ceremony, alert and well-armed. He continued his duties after the ceremony by standing guard as sentry outside the newlywed’s home. Much of this is German folklore, but is not without written documentation and physical artifacts. We have records that indicate that beneath the altars of many churches of early peoples (the Huns, Goths, Visigoths, and Vandals) there lay an arsenal of clubs, knives, and spears. The indication is that these were there to protect the groom from possible attack by the bride’s family in an attempt to recapture her.
(Via: No Left Turns)
13. White rice ‘raises diabetes risk’: Replacing white rice with brown rice and wholemeal bread could cut the risk of diabetes by a third, US experts say.
15. Rent a white guy: Chinese companies are temporarily hiring white men to pose as fake businessmen.
One friend, an American who works in film, was paid to represent a Canadian company and give a speech espousing a low-carbon future. Another was flown to Shanghai to act as a seasonal-gifts buyer. Recruiting fake businessmen is one way to create the image — particularly, the image of connection — that Chinese companies crave. My Chinese-language tutor, at first aghast about how much we were getting paid, put it this way: “Having foreigners in nice suits gives the company face.”
16. Psychologist Steven Pinker says that new media is not making us dumber:
The effects of consuming electronic media are also likely to be far more limited than the panic implies. Media critics write as if the brain takes on the qualities of whatever it consumes, the informational equivalent of “you are what you eat.” As with primitive peoples who believe that eating fierce animals will make them fierce, they assume that watching quick cuts in rock videos turns your mental life into quick cuts or that reading bullet points and Twitter postings turns your thoughts into bullet points and Twitter postings.
18. Almost everything you think you know about the Pony Express is wrong:
Riders frequently changed horses at most stations, usually riding no more than 100 miles before being relieved. Though speed was required, they rarely galloped, an activity particularly hazardous when traversing deserts pocked with prairie-dog holes that could easily break a horse’s leg. On the plains the riders often had to navigate around the still enormous herds of buffalo. Keep moving, the riders were instructed, but take no unnecessary risks.
19. Doesn’t Mr. Darcy look an awful lot like the Count of Monte Cristo? A gallery of art that is reused on the covers of historical novels
1. Never stick a body part, or your gun, in to a hole.
2. When your life is on the line, it’s okay to dress like a girl and seduce your captor.
4. Control your anger at all costs. Otherwise you will end up repeatedly falling off a 500-foot tall diving platform.
6. Anvils are funny, but dynamite is funnier.
22. HistoricLOL of the Week
Therefore, those who have no experience of reason or virtue, but are always occupied with feasts and the like, are brought down and then back up to the middle, as it seems, and wander in this way throughout their lives, never reaching beyond this to what is truly higher up, never looking up at it or being brought up to it, and so they aren’t filled with that which really is and never taste any stable or pure pleasure. Instead, they always look down at the ground like cattle, and, with their heads bent over the dinner table, they feed, fatten, and fornicate. To outdo others in these things, they kick and butt them with iron horns and hooves, killing each other, because their desires are insatiable. For the part that they’re trying to fill is like a vessel full of holes, and neither it nor the things they are trying to fill it with are among the things that are.
– Socrates, in Plato, The Republic, Book IX, translated by G. M. A. Grube
24. Walter Russell Mead on why Americans should study the Napoleonic era:
“In some ways, the Napoleonic Wars seem very alien to us. Americans are, mostly, used to short and simple wars. Our three greatest military conflicts — the Civil War, World War One and World War Two — were relatively short. After some initial setbacks, victory came relatively swiftly; we never suffered the shattering setbacks that drove the British out of Europe during the Napoleonic wars as coalition after coalition went down to defeat …. The Cold War was the longest and most complex international contest in which the United States has ever engaged as a leading protagonist, and that conflict was less intense and less complicated than the Anglo-French conflict of 1792-1815 … But ever since the end of the Cold War, the world has been trending back toward the kind of kaleidoscopic politics of 18th and 19th century Europe and away from the more stable configurations of the late twentieth century. With no single great power threat to the world order currently on stage and a variety of issues agitating international politics, many countries are exploring new options and testing new partners. While the world hopefully is not on the road to another global conflict on a Napoleonic scale anytime soon, Americans need to prepare for an era of changing coalitions and individualistic and prickly great and middle powers seeking to elbow their way onto center stage.”
(Via: Ross Douthat)
25. A handy chart that shows Robert Heinlein’s complete future history.
26. Sports Physics: The physics of “the Impossible Goal” scored by Roberto Carlos
28. How-To of the Week #1: How To Permanently Delete Your Account on Popular Websites
29. How-To of the Week #2: Open a Wine Bottle With a Shoe
32. Another 33 Things
33. Crayola Monologues