What I Learned in April

April was a fairly static month for me. No great revelations or opportunities came my way and I never ventured out very far from home. I may have only used two tanks of gas all month.

That said, the most interesting article I read was “Inside America’s Toughest Federal Prison” in the New York Times Magazine. The article is about deplorable conditions within the ADX Supermax Prison in Florence, Colorado (located only about 100 miles from where I live) where inmates are kept so secluded that they are at times unsure they still exist and cause themselves gruesome bodily harm because their psychiatric state is so tortured. Prison reform is one of those great conundrums that face our country, like the problems with education, environmental protection, and inequality, where there’s no solution in sight.

I went on a lot of long walks, and even hurt my foot going over 20 miles in one day. I’m very lucky to live in a large picturesque neighborhood with a lot of shady sidewalks.

I read books about North American geology, how to live a creative life, struggled with comprehending electromagnetism, the parting wisdom of historian Will Durant (1885-1981), and the propaganda theories of Edward Bernays.

Via Amazon Prime, I watched much of the American Experience: New York City series. I’d never before appreciated the city’s rich history, from the building of the Statue of Liberty and the Brooklyn Bridge to the Draft Day Riots and the MASSIVE influx of immigrants a hundred years ago (well over a million people in just a few years!).

Otherwise, I thoroughly enjoyed Tom Hardy’s last couple of movies, namely Locke and The DropThat man is a phenomenal actor who chooses good scripts.

What I Learned in March

The Great Salt Lake, Utah

This month, I got more adventurous in the kitchen. I cooked Grain-free banana pancakes, lasagna, and chicken fajitas, while my brother cooked turkey meat loaf (all delicious!) from The Paleo Cookbook: 300 Delicious Paleo Diet Recipes.

I learned a little about North American geology, human health and evolution, and what it means to live a happy life (hint: what you spend your time concentrating on is of paramount importance).

I took an exhausting but glorious hike up the Manitou Springs incline.

The most interesting article I read online was called ‘In Search of Japanese Roots‘ about the confusion of native Japanese heritage, and their ongoing enmity with the Koreans. Japan is so isolated, being about 100 miles from mainland China, but among other curiosities are that it has the first recorded instance of man-made pottery—made especially strange by the intuitive bias that ancient innovations began on mainland territories then filtered out to islands. Also of interest in this article are the Korean nose tombs (it is what it sounds like) and the unclear origins of the Ainu. For more information, check out the Association for Asian Research.

From Netflix

(I watched entirely too much TV. No regrets.)

The third season of House of Cards was thrilling as usual. I’ll keep mum on the spoilers and leave it at that. Black Mirror blew my mind, especially ‘The Entire History of You‘, which Wikipedia says Robert Downey Jr. has optioned to make a film of. If he can do better, good luck, but he’s probably just high again.

American Experience: JFK revealed the 35th president to me in ways I’d never before known him. I had heard about Kennedy’s shameless philandering but didn’t know about his serious health problems. This guy was on a crippling amount of narcotics throughout his presidency. I didn’t realize how underdeveloped his presidency was. He made a ton of mistakes. He made a lot of fumbles with diplomatic relations with Cuba and Soviet Russia. He set the Vietnam War down the ruinous path it ultimately took. He trusted brains over experience. But he prevented the outbreak of nuclear war, which was scary close to happening. And if several of his advisers had had their way, the Cuban Missile Crisis would’ve gone much differently. In school, I learned that his cabinet was a textbook example of groupthink. It certainly was, but if it had been mindless and without conscious a nuclear bomb certainly would’ve gone off.

Vietnam in HD showed me combats footage and interviews with the men who served in the Vietnam War. This documentary isn’t very good, it’s full of clumsy celebrity narration that was only put in there for the sake of attaching famous people to the project. But it does have some insane war footage, and I cringe to think that my own father could’ve been sent there. I didn’t realize that for a time the draft didn’t exempt college students. If anything, this documentary is important only because it shows how fallible those in power are and that something equally terrible can still happen.

Prohibition by Ken Burns held similar lessons. That even when your intentions are pure, the outcome of your actions are entirely unpredictable and can even lead to moral catastrophe. Even at a superficial level, the parallels between the problems of prohibition and the War on Drugs have been uncanny. I’d known that prohibition had happened but only peripherally—I didn’t appreciate that it was an amendment to the Constitution! The law itself lasted 13 years, 10 months, and 18 days. As one confident teetotaler said, “There’s as much chance of repealing the 18th Amendment as there is for a humming bird to fly to Mars with the Washington Monument tied to its tail.”

Among other things, I found out about Carrie Nation, the bitter old woman who went around trashing saloons; that during World War I sauerkraut was rechristened liberty cabbage as part of the anti-German propaganda campaign, the rise and tragic fall of George Remus, and more.

What I Learned In February

What follows are a jumble of interesting things I’ve found out about recently:

New diffusion MRI technology provides unprecedented detail of the connections in the brain. The fibers are color-coded by direction: red = left-right, green = anterior-posterior, blue = ascending-descending. Source: The Human Connectome Project

Leo Sternbach – chemist who was the discoverer of benzodiazepines, including well known drugs such as Valium, Librium, and Klonopin. It’s funny that although he’s credited as a discoverer instead of inventor, these drugs are nonetheless patented and marketed commercial products.

Typhoid Mary – I always wondered who this was. Her name is better known than her story. This poor woman carried the disease but was immune, and unwittingly infected at least 51 people with Typhoid Fever. She was treated like a criminal and quarantened for life, a victim of science’s inability at the time to effectively treat contagious diseases. Today, “Typhoid Mary” is a colloquial term for anyone who, knowingly or not, spreads something undesirable.

From The Story of the Human Body: Evolution, Health, and Disease, a fantastic popular science book about health and evolution that I’m currently reading: “Strange evolutionary events often happen on islands. Large animals on small, remote islands often confront energy crisis because there are typically fewer plants and less food than on larger landmasses. In these settings, very large animals struggle because they need more food than the island can provide. In contrast, small animals frequently do better than their mainland relatives because they have enough food, they face less competition from other small species, and because islands often lack predators, releasing them from the need to hide. On many islands small species become larger (gigantism) and large species become smaller (dwarfism). Islands such as Madagascar, Mauritius, or Sardinia were thus hosts to giant rats and lizards (Komodo dragons) along with miniature hippos, elephants, and goats (SEE: Homo floresiensisthe Hobbit of Flores).

The Guy Fawkes mask has a long history of being a symbol of popular dissent and protest. Ironically, the most familiar version is owned by Time Warner and is paid a licensing fee for every mask sold. You just can’t win.

The Radiolab Podcast, of particular interest are the episodes ‘Numbers‘ and ‘La Mancha Screw Job

Cui bono – when trying to make sense of a situation, ask “to whose benefit?”

What I Learned Today

Today I only had time to write down things that deserve further investigation. Among them:

www.duckduckgo.com/, the ad-free and unbiased search engine.

IAC/InterActiveCorp —A company that apparently owns everything on the internet.

Mariana Trench —The deepest part of the ocean, almost 7 miles at the Challenger Deep.

sylvan— an association with the woodland, specifically living in the woods.

empyrean— belonging to or deriving from heaven.

I caught the late showing of Interstellar tonight. It was much better than the previews let on. The movie was mindblowing, go see it.

I will leave you with a poem that was central to the film:

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

                                               -Dylan Thomas