June 19, 2024

We are on vacation at the moment, driving about 4500 miles over two weeks. My internet access has been spotty, so I haven’t spent a lot of time finding new things. What I have been doing, though, is reading through my Instapaper queue, which has gotten pretty ridiculous. So, this week I thought I’d post post some of the articles I’ve read there, which might be a bit older than usual but which I didn’t get around to reading until now. I also have a new set of images, and a book.


Article: “Watch the Professor!” by Evan Kindley

This is a review of Inventing the Egghead: The Battle Over Brainpower in American Culture
by Aaron Lecklider, a history of the idea of “the intellectual” in America. It begins with the point that America is often described, by Americans and non-Americans both, as an anti-intellectual country, but that even at times when criticism of (a certain kind of) intellectuals has been loud and prominent, Americans have nonetheless been preoccupied with knowledge and inteligence&mdash including adding to their own. Kindley makes the point that, in the early part of the 20th century, the idea of the intellectual was associated with the humanities, and criticism of intellectuals, called at the time “longhairs,” seems to have been as much about class as anything else; only rich kids went to college, where they learned the kinds of things you learn when you will never have to work for a living. Later, during and after WWII, intellectuals became associated with the hard sciences, and public perception of them was increasingly ambivalent; whatever their faults, it was “eggheads” that had won the war and would hold off the communist threat. There’s a bunch of interesting historical detail here, and in his critique Kindley adds some worthwhile points of his own.


Article: “Should Reddit Be Blamed for the Spreading of a Smear? by Jay Kaspian Kang

Very soon after the first pictures of the Tsarnaev brothers began circulating in the media, somebody on Reddit noticed that the grainy, security camera image of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev resembled a missing person names Sunil Tripathi, whose family had created a Facebook page to organize their search effort. Within hours, an internet echo chamber involving mostly Reddit and Twitter had provided sufficient “confirmation” for mainstream reporters to start repeating the suggestion that Tripathi was the second bomber. Obviously, this was not the case, but the process by which the story moved from a single online comment thread to conventional wisdom is fascinating and scary.


Article/Images: Images of Serengeti Lions Captured by Drones and Robots via National Geographic and The Verge

Pretty much what it sounds like; the use of remote-controlled drones and robots allowed National Geographic photographers to get very, very close to a pride of lions. You can see all the images in the current issue of the magazine, but this piece tells you a bit about the process and includes a gallery.


Book: The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

If you are someone who is at all interested in Neil Gaiman, you probably already know about this book; he is that kind of author. All of his work is based on the suggestion that the world we know is rooted in something deeper and older, a realm with its own rules— which we sometimes unwittingly violate. Again, that probably either appeals to you immediately, or it never will, although I am not at all doing to justice to his ability to create atmosphere, as well as the sense that he is only telling a very small part of a much larger story. I began reading him, like many other people, with the Sandman comics, and he continues to fill a niche for me that nobody else quite does. This is probably not his best book, but I liked it quite a bit better than Anansi Boys, his last adult novel. If you have ever liked what he does, you should read this one.

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