Monthly Archives: April 2008

9 posts

The Best American Science Writing 2007

Jonathon Keats’s article from Popular Science recounts the work of the guru of artificial intelligence, John Koza, an adjunct professor at Stanford University. He developed a system of linked computers that he calls an “invention machine.” The machine has been awarded a United States Patent (!), the “first intellectual property protections ever granted to a nonhuman designer.”

Girl Factory by Jim Krusoe

And, in true Krusoeian fashion, the oddities are delightful. Jonathan, the adult narrator with a childlike perspective who has a penchant for endangered animals, attempts to free a genetically modified dog named Buck who might or might not be recreating Boris Spassky’s game against Anatoly Karpov during the 1973 Soviet Chess Championship. That’s before Jonathan discovers women cryogenically frozen in yogurt (would that be yogurgenically frozen?) in a basement. It’s the acidophilus in the yogurt that makes things work, apparently—using the type of wink, wink logic that would make slavish devotees to realism queasy.

God’s Crucible by David Levering Lewis

For English-speaking peoples, 1066 and 1776 still evoke powerful recollections of liberty lost and freedom won. For most people in the West, however, 711 hardly strikes a note of any significance. But it should, for that was the year when a small force of Muslim Arabs and Berbers from Morocco crossed over from North Africa to Spain. Islam reached Europe in 711 and the world has never been the same.

What the Gospels Meant by Garry Wills

And if Wills reads as persuasive, it is to himself, if not quite to this reader. Taking his stand before the time of St. Ireænus seems somewhat risky to me, if not downright reckless. I did, however, reflect that there yet remains powerful in this late hour of the West’s history a persistent if unacknowledged ambition of theologians per se to legislate for that cowran, tim’rous beastie, mankind. Granted, in our tradition we have Moses to thank for their vocation.

Christina Binkley on Las Vegas and the Gaming Industry

“At Wynn Las Vegas, for instance, there is a special and very luxurious entrance for guests who pay, or are invited to stay in the “Tower Suites”—hotel rooms that are no larger or different than the rest of the hotel other than that they have this special entrance and more intimate front desk. The swimming pool for these suites is literally above and overlooking the pool for regular folk—so Tower Suite guests can look down on the hoi polloi. In fact, the whole resort has been designed to allow these patrons to move around in their own private sphere.”

The Naming of America by John W. Hessler

But as we travel further and further from established trade routes, things become hazier. The Caspian Sea is a blob, Madagascar has acquired an odd right arm, and India, well, India sprawls across the east, stretched and mutated into an obese mermaid’s tail. Now and again familiar names pop out – Java, Cathay – amidst imaginary islands and an eastern ocean scattered with what looks like the flotsam of a broken continent.

George & Jacintha: On the Limits of Literary Biography

The claim that George Orwell once tried to rape someone received scant attention in the United States, perhaps because the book bearing the charge did not become readily available. It made news in Great Britain, where the newly amended memoir of his supposed victim appeared and where one of the novelist’s biographers gave credence to the charge. When I saw a passing mention of the accusation in a book review, it disturbed me and prompted me to dig deeply into the matter.