Kelly Link Is Beloved, But Still Underrated: A Primer on My Favorite Living Short Story Writer

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There’s that urge in adolescence when you feel like you discovered something, maybe a song, a book, or a painting, that resonates so deeply within you, to protect it, and keep it secret and close, so that you feel like you have claim of something wondrous and all your own. And if you share the secret, or if others discover the artist, you may later state that you were listening to the music first, or reading an author first, as if your personal first spark determines the authenticity of an artist. It does not end up being an attractive trait, because we should share good art, because we shouldn’t be snobs, and because artists are responsible for their talent, not the consumers of the work. Luckily, it’s an impulse most seem to grow out of, except for in extreme cases, particularly if that person continues to fly under the radar of mainstream culture for an unexplainable amount of time. Read more…

How Literature Gave Us Spock

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There is a moment when we are all touched by the humanity in these creatures that are supposedly inhuman, when the character, Spock, the Frankenstein monster, or Quasimodo, says, “I, too, need love.” Millions respond and love pours out because we all need it and we all understand. When one is touched, by a flower or a drink of water, then we are all touched and we can cry for him and ourselves. Tears of connection. And now I realize that all of this was preparation for the role of Spock. Crying for Quasimodo’s heart inside that awful body. Loving the monster who spared the child. Joining with humanity to share understanding and compassion.

These very simple and obviously human experiences were the best preparation an actor could have to play the supposedly ahuman Spock. Spock was not my first experience playing alienated characters.

-From Leonard Nimoy’s first autobiography, I Am Not Spock. Leonard Nimoy died today at the age of 83 after suffering from end-stage chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. His Star Trek character, Spock, will live forever.

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Ernest Hemingway’s Private WWII-Era Spy Network

Ernest Hemingway aboard the Pilar, 1935: Wikimedia Commons
Ernest Hemingway aboard the Pilar, 1935: Wikimedia Commons

During World War II Hemingway organized a private spy network, which he jokingly called the Crook Factory, and gathered information about Nazi sympathizers on the island. But in a secret, 124-page report on Hemingway, the FBI—which feared his personal prestige and political power—expressed resentment at his amateur but alarming intrusion into their territory, and unsuccessfully attempted to control and vilify him.

In October 1942 the local FBI agent told J. Edgar Hoover that the American ambassador had granted Hemingway’s request “to patrol certain areas where German submarine activity has been reported” and had given him scarce gasoline for this purpose. Hemingway thought that his boat, the Pilar, fully manned and heavily armed but disguised for fishing, would attract the attention of a German submarine. The sub would signal the Pilar to come alongside in order to requisition supplies of fresh water and food. As the sub approached, Hemingway’s men would machine-gun the crew on deck while a Spanish jai alai player would throw a small bomb into the conning tower. Fortunately, for both Hemingway and the Germans, he never actually encountered an enemy submarine.

Jeffrey Meyers, writing in Commonweal about Ernest Hemingway’s long involvement with Cuba, where Hemingway lived for twenty years.

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Finding Sex Traffickers: Our College Pick

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There are lots of stories these days (as there should be) about sex trafficking. The bulk of these stories focus on victims: mostly women, mostly poor, who are taken away from families and familiarities and sold for sex. In the third story in his series about human trafficking, Travis Loose turned to the law enforcement officers trying to stop this scourge. Working a sex trafficking case, he found, is not like To Catch a Predator. “I love puzzles, figuring things out, solving problems,” one detective told Loose. “And there’s nothing that makes a puzzle like human interaction.”

Case Closed

Ethos Magazine | Travis Loose | January 30, 2015 | 2,837 words (11 minutes)

Robert Oppenheimer on Albert Einstein and the Bomb

Albert Einstein and Robert Oppenheimer, 1947: Flickr, James Vaughn
Albert Einstein and Robert Oppenheimer, 1947: Flickr, James Vaughn

Though I knew Einstein for two or three decades, it was only in the last decade of his life that we were close colleagues and something of friends. But I thought that it might be useful, because I am sure that it is not too soon—and for our generation perhaps almost too late—to start to dispel the clouds of myth and to see the great mountain peak that these clouds hide. As always, the myth has its charms; but the truth is far more beautiful.

Late in his life, in connection with his despair over weapons and wars, Einstein said that if he had to live it over again he would be a plumber. This was a balance of seriousness and jest that no one should now attempt to disturb. Believe me, he had no idea of what it was to be a plumber; least of all in the United States, where we have a joke that the typical behavior of this specialist is that he never brings his tools to the scene of the crisis. Einstein brought his tools to his crises; Einstein was a physicist, a natural philosopher, the greatest of our time.

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Einstein is often blamed or praised or credited with these miserable bombs. It is not in my opinion true. The special theory of relativity might not have been beautiful without Einstein; but it would have been a tool for physicists, and by 1932 the experimental evidence for the inter-convertibility of matter and energy which he had predicted was overwhelming. The feasibility of doing anything with this in such a massive way was not clear until seven years later, and then almost by accident. This was not what Einstein really was after. His part was that of creating an intellectual revolution, and discovering more than any scientist of our time how profound were the errors made by men before then. He did write a letter to Roosevelt about atomic energy. I think this was in part his agony at the evil of the Nazis, in part not wanting to harm any one in any way; but I ought to report that that letter had very little effect, and that Einstein himself is really not answerable for all that came later. I believe he so understood it himself.

Robert Oppenheimer speaking about his relationship with Albert Einstein. Oppenheimer’s lecture was delivered at UNESCO House in Paris on December 13, 1965. The text was reprinted in The New York Review of Books the following March.

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How ‘The Grapes of Wrath’ Got Its Name

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John Steinbeck—who would have been 113 today—wrote more than thirty books, and The Grapes of Wrath, which you were most likely assigned to read in high school, is widely considered to be his best work. The novel was published in 1939 to great acclaim, both critically and commercially; it “was a phenomenon on the scale of a national event. It was publicly banned and burned by citizens, it was debated on national talk radio; but above all, it was read.” It was also the New York Times’ bestselling book of 1939, and won both a Pulitzer Prize and a National Book Award.

As for the title, where did the phrase “The Grapes of Wrath” come from? As David Greetham notes  in his 1998 book Textual Transgressions: Essays Toward the Construction of a Bibliography:

As is well-known, it was Carol Henning, Steinbeck’s wife, who provided the almost-finished novel with its title, drawn, of course, from Julia Ward Howe’s “Battle Hymn of the Republic.” As Steinbeck reported in his journal for September 3, 1938, “Carol got the title last night…The book has being at last.” But what was the “being” the novel had achieved…? The story proceeds: because Steinbeck had already destroyed a 70,000-word draft of an earlier version in which California growers were polemically attacked, he was very sensitive to the political meaning of the new version and decided that one way to avoid the charge of radicalism, foreign-inspired propaganda was (almost literally) to wrap the book in the flag by insisting that the words and music of “Battle Hymn of the Republic” be printed in the endpapers. In fact, when the first proof was returned by his editor with only one verse [of the song] as prologue, Steinbeck wrote back “I meant to print all, all, all the verses of the Battle Hymn. They’re all pertinent and they’re all exciting. And the music too.”

How Testosterone Is Helping Power a New Medical Model in America

Photo by profzucker
Photo by profzucker

The emerging popularity of testosterone has opened up whole new business models for entrepreneurial doctors. Chains of shops that provide the hormone have exploded all over the United States, especially across the South. How many millions more men might be willing to try testosterone if it was easy to acquire, and a clinic happened to implant itself in an adjacent office building or a local strip mall, next to an abandoned video store and the Starbucks?

We don’t need to look ahead at human genetic engineering, brain implants, or crazy designer drugs to see the real future of our relationship with our bodies. The rise of testosterone use isn’t a drill for future body hacking—it is body hacking playing out right now across the American heartland, with a substance that was first synthesized in 1935. And in the coming years, the battles over T’s use are going to be repeated for future drugs that give people—anyone with money, at least—the power to transform the body beyond its innate abilities and configurations.

The crux of the medical ethics issue is this: are people taking testosterone to cure a disease, or are they taking it to transcend the limitations normally imposed on an aging human body?

-Alexis Madrigal, in Fusion, on testosterone’s rise in popularity and its future implications.

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