Mike Power | Matter | 29th January 2014
Designer drugs "concocted in labs by tweaking a few atoms here and there" are novel and legal. If sometimes lethal. Name your formula, order from a Chinese factory online, and pay in Bitcoin. "I phoned a contact with expertise in chemistry and asked if he could think of a simple molecular tweak that would produce a new version of phenmetrazine that would be totally legal. Yes, he said. The change would be trivial"
Leon Neyfakh | Boston Globe | 24th January 2014
Profile of Darius Kazemi, programmer who makes "poignant and disorienting" Twitter bots that imitate humans. His most popular, Two Headlines, crawls news stories on Google, picks two at random, switches keywords: "Could Pope Francis be on the verge of a megadrought?" He may have invented "a new kind of public art" for our time — "changing, self-referential, and in its insistent randomness, oddly alive"
Sandra Beasley | Poetry Foundation | 28th January 2014
Poets should have roots. A year here and a year there chasing academic posts is no way to build a sensibility. To be a "regional" writer is a strength, not a limitation. "Every great literary town I have ever visited has been made great largely by its fixed stars, their immediate gaze and winking light. Comets are brilliant in their passage, but they’re not what give us the constellations to steer by"
Eric Schlosser | New Yorker | 23rd January 2014
Eisenhower agreed to let American officers launch nuclear weapons in an emergency if there were no way to contact the President. Kennedy put locking devices in NATO’s nuclear weapons, but "there was nothing to prevent an American bomber crew or missile launch crew from using their weapons against the Soviets". Even now, a US submariner could launch a nuclear missile with the aid of a blowtorch
Clive James | Prospect | 23rd January 2014
Publication of Robert Frost's Letters should help rebuild a reputation wrecked half a century ago by Lawrance Thomson's "relentlessly damning" biography, a "trilogy of dud scholarship". Whatever the shortcomings of Frost's character, his prose shows him to be "as thoughtful and hard-working as an artist can get: further evidence that the best of modernism is a way for the classical to keep going"
Daniel Dennett | Naturalism | 24th January 2014
Demolition of Sam Harris’s Free Will. It is “a remarkable little book, engagingly written and jargon-free, appealing to reason, not authority". Now for the bad news: It is also "a veritable museum of mistakes, none of them new and all of them seductive — alluring enough to lull the critical faculties of brilliant thinkers who do not make a profession of thinking about free will". Harris and others "need to do their homework" (PDF)
Thought for the day:
"I will not utter falsehoods, but I have no objection to making meaningless statements" — Freddy Ayer
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