Christianity, especially Ancient and Medieval Christianity is awash in the supernatural and in spirituality. And in a far more potent and real form than that of any historical branch of paganism. That’s one reason it replaced paganism, and worldwide.
It is the modern Christian who has castrated Christianity of all its inherent force and power to fix obsessively upon the much smaller issues of politics, culture, entertainment, society, and materialism.
As a matter of fact it is very hard to see where society ends and the church or Christianity begin. It is like a sow who has birthed a fat piglet. Place either upon the plate as cooked ham and without further information you’d be hard pressed to identify the source.
The trouble with modern Christianity in this sense (and there are almost countless problems with modern Christianity) is not that Christianity is not a far more viable and valid form of spirituality than paganism, it is that modern Christianity has no spirituality any longer, just as it has no magic, miracle, or salvific force. Not in the West anyway.
And that began (the abolition of miracles, spirituality, the Mysteries, etc.), rightly or wrongly with the Protestant Revolution. And some things concerning the Protestant Reform should have definitely happened and some things should have never happened at all. But still they did.
And as a result Christianity is now but shadow of itself and a mere machine without a Ghost, Holy or otherwise. Or should I just say it is little more than a mere cultural artefact and a religion Wholly Without a Ghost…
I recently visited the website of a popular company that sells products like deodorant and toothpaste with natural ingredients. Curious to learn more about the business, I visited their blog which was purportedly about the latest trends in health and wellness.
What greeted me was not what I expected. Rather than tips on exercise or healthy eating, the blog featured stories about the healing power of crystals and the benefits of tarot card reading. This was at once surprising and unsurprising, for new age and occult practices, in all their various forms, are experiencing a major resurgence, especially among millennials. But from a company that sells toothpaste?
It is no exaggeration to say that, despite the best efforts of the New Atheists, our culture is more awash in spirituality than ever before. One can hardly go anywhere today without seeing products, articles, and popular gurus encouraging practices like yoga, meditation, reiki—and now, tarot and crystals—as essential to a healthy lifestyle. In the realm of entertainment, hugely popular series like Harry Potter, Star Wars, and Game of Thrones all draw on themes of magic and the supernatural.
What are we to make of this ?
From a Christian perspective, many of these trends are undoubtedly suspect or downright heretical. And yet, we should think carefully before issuing anathemas, for while misguided, many of our culture’s flirtations with the occult really betray a deep hunger for the supernatural.
Theologian Alexander Schmemann once said, “To condemn a heresy is relatively easy. What is much more difficult is to detect the question it implies, and to give this question an adequate answer.” He was right. As Catholics, we are often in such a rush to point out what is wrong with neo-pagan practices that we miss the deeper questions they imply. And we certainly fail to give them a satisfying answer.
The truth is, our culture is starving for the supernatural. My generation has been raised to believe that we are nothing more than accidentally advanced apes on an unusually lucky space rock floating in a meaningless sea of nothingness in a universe that could care less whether we lived or died. It is despair inducing in the highest degree. Moreover, we have been told, nearly since infancy, that science has answered nearly all questions of existence, and if any remain unanswered, they will be resolved quite soon. For every question, there is an answer, even before you ask it. Existence is thus no longer wonderfully strange and awe-inspiring, but mundane and prosaic.
As a result, young adults today are desperate for an encounter with authentic mystery. Things like astrology and crystals are attractive because they are strange and defy the scientific-materialist paradigm. There are certainly explanations for how they work, but they require a level of faith. And despite what the pompous atheists claim, we want to have faith in something we can’t fully explain. We are fundamentally religious beings, and we instinctively know there is more to the world than meets the eye. We are hungry for magic and mystery and will embrace the first thing, rightly or wrongly, that offers it.
The Failure of Christianity
Now, you may be reading this and thinking that Christianity, especially Catholicism, believes and proclaims the existence of supernatural realities, so why abandon it for neo-pagan practices? Wouldn’t their hunger for the supernatural be satisfied at their local parish?
Yes and no. Yes, because the supernatural mysteries taught by the Church do exist. No, because in practice we so often deny them.
We claim to believe in angels and archangels and a host of saints who join us in worship. Yet, we strip our churches bare and make them into beige-carpeted business centers, rather than holy temples.
We claim to believe that each Mass is a miracle that brings God bodily to dwell among us. Yet we make our liturgy a comfortable affair, eliminating anything that is difficult, disorienting, awe-inspiring, ancient, or mysterious. We sing cheesy ditties, hold hands, and pass out the greatest mystery of all, the Holy Eucharist, like a snack in a cafeteria.
We claim our priests have supernatural powers to consecrate, bless, and preach. Yet we water-down or change their sacred formulas, eliminate their rituals, and distribute their duties to laymen as often as possible.
We claim to believe in the Almighty, the Creator of all before whom the burning spirits veil their faces, yet we insist on dragging him down to our level to accommodate our needs and sins. We say we believe in supernatural mystery, but we do all in our power to destroy it at every turn.
If lex orandi, lex credendi is true, then we simply do not believe what we say we believe.
To be perfectly honest, we have failed to offer an encounter with mystery for some time now. The mass abandonment of the faith by young people is not so much a sign of their wickedness as an indictment of our own practical unbelief.
As Catholics, we long ago turned the faith into an intellectual game devoid of mysticism, priding ourselves on our clear philosophy and well articulated theological frameworks. But the letter without the spirit, philosophical theology without mystical encounter, kills. It is a head without a heart, and it cannot give life.
When the world walked away—tired of textbook answers and hungry for the Transcendent Mystery—we became not lessworldly but more worldly. We embraced modern, secular modernity, stripping our faith of nearly everything supernatural, and we lost any credibility we had left.
The truth is, most of us live like complete secularists the vast majority of the time. We claim to believe in supernatural realities, but compartmentalize them to one hour, one day per week—and perhaps not even that. Heaven is always somewhere out there, and never really upsets my daily existence. We aren’t taken seriously by modern men and women hungry for the supernatural because we don’t believe in the supernatural, despite what we say.
I have been critical to this point because it upsets me to see countless Catholics practically deny the supernatural realities of our faith with banal liturgies and disrespect or even disdain for the holiest things of our religion, and then see the same Catholics criticizing the errors of wayward neo-pagan youth. Until we take our own faith seriously, no one else will.
But I don’t simply want to criticize; I want to offer a solution. The answer is not difficult to discern. It is simply this: Emphasize the supernatural reality of our faith at every turn, recover those traditions which preserve and honor this reality, and thus offer an encounter with what one theologian termed the mysterium tremendum et fascinans—the Great and Awesome Mystery—which is Almighty God.
For everywhere the Holy Eucharist is treated with awesome and painstaking reverence, everywhere buildings still appear to be and are treated like temples, everywhere saints are still venerated and angels called upon, everywhere priests are honored as the supernaturally-endowed mediators that they are, everywhere miracles are still believed in and occur, the faith is growing. And it is almost always young people who flock to such places.
If we want to be a viable alternative to neo-paganism, we need to embrace once again the supernatural traditions of our faith. Our sacred language. Our ancient and venerable rites and formulas. Our “superstitious” Catholic practices. Our symbols. Our mystical traditions of prayer. We don’t need only more catechesis, as if ideas alone could save us. We need more mystery, more transcendence, more ritual, more magic, for lack of a better word.
Every Catholic must become a mystic, in the sense that we live like the supernatural is as real as the air we breathe—because it is. Then, and only then, will we be able to speak authentically to a world hungry for the divine.
We’ve all probably thought about it. What would we do and how would we fare after a societal collapse? My guest today has spent his career helping individuals get ready for such a situation. His name is James Rawles. He’s the owner of survivalblog.comand the author of several bestselling books on prepping, including How to Survive the End of the World as We Know It.
Today on the show, Jim and I discuss how our dependency on the power grid makes us more vulnerable to disaster than we’d like to think, and all the downstream consequences that would happen if the power grid went down for a significant amount of time, including loss of water, sewage services, and a disruption of supply chains.
We then dig into what you can do to prepare for such a situation, including securing a water supply, storing food, and the skills and mindset you need to weather a crisis. Even if you don’t think you’re interested in prepping, it’s really interesting to think through what you’d need to do to survive an apocalyptic scenario.
The vulnerability of the US power grid, and scenarios that might cause it to go down
How water gets from its source to your home
The public health/sewage nightmare of a power grid collapse
The importance of knowing how to filter and purify water
Why grocery stores no longer have extra stocks of food
The problem with a hyper-optimized and hyper-efficient society
The “YOYO” mindset
Getting started if you have no plan for survival preparedness
Making physical room for long-term food and water storage, even in a small living space
Why you need to practice cooking and eating your survival foods
Why you need self-defense/weapons training
The two-key force multipliers in modern self-defense
Dealing with medical needs in a survival scenario
The value and importance of being health and in shape
Why you need patience in developing your survival plan
The typical answers are “taxation without representation” and the economic and political consequences that came with that.
My guest today argues that while economic and political principles all played roles in the American Revolution, there’s one big thing underlying all the causes of the Revolutionary War that often gets overlooked: honor.
His name is Craig Bruce Smith, he’s a historian and the author of the new book American Honor: The Creation of the Nation’s Ideals During the Revolutionary Era. Today on the show we talk about what honor looked like in America during the colonial period, how that concept changed, and how this shift precipitated the War of Independence. We then explore how personal affronts to honor experienced by several of the Founding Fathers at the hands of the British transferred into a feeling of being slighted as a people, galvanizing a collective sense of honor in the colonies and inspiring the fight for independence. We then discuss the role honor played in Benedict Arnold’s treason and how his treachery spurred colonial Americans to go on to win the war. We end our conversation discussing why the sons of the Revolutionary Era returned to a more traditional ethos of honor in the form of dueling.
This show will give you fresh insights on the founding of America.
What was the concept of honor before the Revolutionary Era?
What change in that concept did we start seeing before the war?
Benjamin Franklin’s idea of ascending honor
How Washington’s concept of honor became more democratized over time
The relationship between honor and virtue/ethics in this time period
How the colonists looked to Ancient Rome as an example
Higher education and the founders
How did personal slights lead to the Revolution?
The birth of a collective, national honor
The “buy local” and “made in America” movement of the 1770s
Why honor doesn’t depend on victory
Benedict Arnold, honor, and his role in early America
The history of dueling in early America, and when it came to an end
The myths and realities of Andrew Jackson’s dueling resume
If you’re like most people, you’ve got a powerful computer in your back pocket that allows you to listen to this podcast, check the score of your favorite team, and learn the population of Mickey Mantle’s hometown of Commerce, OK (answer: 2,473). Our smartphones are a blessing, but for many people they can also feel like a curse. You feel compelled to check your device all the time, leaving you feeling disengaged from life.
What is it about modern technology that makes it feel so addictive? My guest todayexplores that topic in his book, Irresistible: The Rise of Addictive Technology and the Business of Keeping Us Hooked. His name is Adam Alter and today on the show, we discuss what makes today‘s technology more compelling than the televisions and super Nintendos of old, whether our itch to check our phones can really be classified as an addiction, what soldiers’ use of heroin during the Vietnam War can tell us about why our attachment to our phones is hard to shake, and how the reward we’re looking for on social media isn’t actually the “likes” themselves. Adam then shares what he thinks is the most effective tactic for taking back control of our tech, and how consumers may be able to influence the direction of its future.
Why do tech companies design their devices/apps to be addictive?
Why Steve Jobs never let his own kids use an iPad
Is it possible to truly be addicted to our tech?
How much time are most people really spending on their phones? (It’s an astounding number.)
The deleterious effects of technology on social skills
What makes today’s tech so different from the tech of a couple decades ago?
What heroine use in the Vietnam War can tell us about the effects of our environment/context on our behaviors
Tactics that companies use to get our attention, including hijacking our goals
How casinos have influenced the way tech companies design their products
How video game companies “on-ramp” players to get them hooked, and how other tech companies have used that template
The ways social media amplifies these addictive components
How do you get a hold of a behavior you can’t seem to shake?
Will recent bad press actually force companies like Facebook to make any changes?
Each week we uncover the most interesting and informative articles from around the world, here are 10 of the coolest stories in science this week.
Daring, Dangerous Rescue
A massive operation is underway to rescue 12 boys and their 25-year-old soccer coach who have been trapped for nearly two weeks in the Tham Luang cave system, with rain expected Sunday (July 8).
Whether the team could wait out the monsoon season, remaining holed up in the cave for months, is not clear. [Read more about the risks.]
Saving the Day
A pride of hungry lions in a South African reserve just saved the day, at least for a herd of rhinos. The poachers, who had illegally entered that reserve with a gun and axe to kill those rhinos, were not so lucky. [Read more about the event.]
A new optical-illusion study in the journal Science asks whether a series colorful dots is purple, blue or proof that humans are doomed to a lifetime of sadness and poor decisions. [Read more about the illusion.]
The first mission designed to hunt a meteorite that crashed into the ocean has now discovered what may be tiny fragments of the meteorite’s crust, researchers say.
The details the scientists had regarding the fall suggested the meteorite was unusually strong, Fries said. This knowledge, in combination with the fact the meteorite landed on a soft seafloor as opposed to dry land, suggested this ocean fall might yield large, relatively intact meteorites for scientists to study. [Read more about the meteorite.]
Links to the Past
More than 3 million years ago, our adult human ancestors were walking on two feet and didn’t have the option of a fashionable baby sling to carry their kids around in. Instead, Australopithecus afarensis toddlers had a special grasping toe that helped them hold on to their mothers and escape into the trees, reports a study published today (July 4) in Science Advances. [Read more about the digit.]
A Paradoxical Situation
A galaxy that is supposedly devoid of all dark matter might actually be full of it.
Scientists have suggested the existence of this bizarre matter to explain a just-as-bizarre phenomenon: Based on the light astronomers can see with their telescopes, the universe acts like there is much more mass, and therefore much more gravitational force, than Albert Einstein’s theories predict based on what we can see. [Read more about the galaxy.]
The laser blasters in “Star Wars” are no longer a thing of science fiction. Chinese researchers have developed an actual laser gun that can ignite a target on fire from a half mile (800 meters) away, the South China Morning Post reported.
Although the gun is classified as a nonlethal weapon, its laser shots can cause “‘instant carbonization’ of human skin and tissues,” according to the South China Morning Post, which means skin would burn and be reduced to carbon like the outside of a charred marshmallow. It can also fire through windows, burn through gas tanks and ignite anything that’s flammable. [Read more about the gun.]
Guilt-Free Cup’o Joe
Coffee lovers may not have to feel that familiar pang of guilt when pouring themselves yet another cup of joe for the day.
In the study, published July 2 in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine, Loftfield and her team at the NCI analyzed data from nearly 500,000 people who took part in the U.K. Biobank study. That project gathered health information from more than 9 million people. [Read more about the possibilities.]
Hope on Enceladus
Large, carbon-rich organic molecules seem to be spewing from cracks on the surface of Saturn’s icy moon, Enceladus, according to a new study of data collected by NASA’s Cassini spacecraft. The discovery means that Enceladus is the only place besides Earth known to satisfy all the requirements for life as we know it, space scientist and study co-author Christopher Glein said in a statement from the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) in San Antonio. [Read more about life in space.]
For the science geek in everyone, Live Science offers a fascinating window into the natural and technological world, delivering comprehensive and compelling news and analysis on everything from dinosaur discoveries, archaeological finds and amazing animals to health, innovation and wearable technology. We aim to empower and inspire our readers with the tools needed to understand the world and appreciate its everyday awe.
A Secret Service laptop containing sensitive information about Trump Tower, details about the Hillary Clinton e-mail probe and other national security secrets was swiped from an agent’s motorcycle in Brooklyn, police sources said Friday.
The computer was taken Thursday morning from the driveway of agent Marie Argentieri’s Bath Beach home, the sources said.
The thief drove up to Argentieri’s home around 8:40 a.m., walked right up to her Bajaj motorcycle and took the items. He was then caught on video fleeing the scene on foot, sources said.
Argentieri told investigators that the laptop held sensitive information about national security, the floor plans for Trump Tower, evacuation protocols and details about the investigation of Hillary Clinton’s e-mail server.
While none of the info pertains to White House officials or foreign leaders, she said it could ultimately compromise national security. Sources told The Post that the laptop cannot be remotely erased or traced.
A black bag with the Secret Service insignia on it was also taken — along with an access keycard, several lapel pins that Secret Service agents are required to wear when protecting the president and other sensitive documents, sources said.
An agency-issued radio, used for closed-circuit communications between agents, was also among the stolen items, according to Politico.
“The U.S. Secret Service can confirm that an employee was the victim of a criminal act in which our Agency issued laptop computer was stolen,” the agency said in a statement Friday.
“Secret Service issued laptops contain multiple layers of security including full disk encryption and are not permitted to contain classified information. An investigation is ongoing and the Secret Service is withholding additional comment until the facts are gathered.”
The NYPD is assisting the agency in their investigation. It is unclear if the theft was targeted or simply a random act.
The black bag and some other items were later discovered at nearby Poly Prep HS by the head of security, Carol Bongnan, and returned to Argentieri.
But the laptop and lapel pins were still missing as of 2:30 p.m. Friday, sources said.
Sources said somebody had brought left it at the school.
Thursday’s heist is just the latest in a long line of public embarrassments for the Secret Service in recent years.
A Congressional investigation in 2015 found that it had transformed into an “agency in crisis” — entrenched in low morale, heavy boozing and dimwitted security decisions.
In Sept. 2014, President Barack Obama’s Secret Service detail allowed a security guard with a gun and three prior convictions for assault and battery into an elevator with him for a photo.
Two years after that, a pair of agents allegedly got drunk and interfered in a bomb investigation outside the building.
In 2014, a man was able to bypass Obama’s security detail and speak to him by pretending to be a congressman.
Most recently, two agents came under investigation after snapping selfies with President Trump’s 8-year-old grandson, Donald III, last weekend.
Dungeons and Dragons, Pokémon card games and role-playing games are more than entertainment — they’re inspiration for the CIA.
David Clopper, senior collection analyst with 16 years’ experience at the CIA, also serves as a game maker for the agency. From card games to board games, Clopper creates games to train CIA staffers including intelligence agents and political analysts for real-world situations.
“Gaming is part of the human condition. Why not take advantage of that and incorporate into the way we learn?” Clopper said Sunday at a games-themed panel discussion at the South by Southwest Interactive technology festival. Clopper and other CIA officers discussed how the agency uses games to teach strategy, intelligence gathering and collaboration.
Clopper, who began making training programs based on popular tabletop games in 2008, described some of his creations for the CIA.
Sponsor Content for MindGamers Movie
Reality: The Ultimate Mind Game
Quantum physics and experiments in neuroscience over the years show us that human reality could be just subatomic sleight of hand.
In “Collection,” Clopper’s first CIA game, teams of analysts work together to solve international crises against a ticking clock. His second title, “Collection Deck,” is a Pokémon-like card game in which where each card represents either an intelligence collection strategy or a hurdle like red tape or bureaucracy.
For instance, a player could lay out a card to collect intelligence via satellite photos, but an opponent could block them by playing a “ground station failure” card. It’s meant to mimic situations analysts might run into in their actual work.
Also speaking on the panel was Volko Ruhnke, who is an intelligence educator at the CIA and a freelance game designer. Ruhnke said he is particularly interested in one type of game: a simulation tabletop game to train analysts and help with analytic tasks. It could help forecast complex situations by forcing players to handle multiple scenarios simultaneously.
Ruhnke himself created a commercial board game to simulate the Afghanistan conflict and walk players through military, political, and economic issues in the region. It gives players “a much more dynamic understanding of the issues of modern Afghanistan,” Ruhnke said, adding that a similar game could be of use internally at the CIA as well.
Old school games are the main inspiration for popular training programs — for now. But analysts expect to be using virtual reality gaming in training programs soon. Multiple branches of the military have used VR training for years, immersing service members in real life experiences through visual and audio simulations.
“The sooner we can get involved in using VR in games, the better,” Rachel Grunspan, Chief Strategy Officer at a digital innovation organization inside the CIA, said during the panel discussion.. “You want to get their heads inside the intelligence question you’re trying to answer, and VR does an amazing job doing that.”
“My father’s is taller still, and has a golden button on top!”
Always go for the golden button on top. That’s where all the good stuff is.
And on a more serious note, it is a real shame that modern man has lost so much of his rural festival and celebration backgrounds, those from both pagan and Christian times.
Those things used to hold us to the ground, made us realize things about time, made us grateful for things working. Losing those things weakens us, make us think that only technology and science is important. (And I do happen to like and to think most science and technology is important just not all-important.) Makes us think we are the inevitable and undisputed masters of our own fate (and nowadays we control much of our own fate, but much still is beyond our control and we should be reminded of that, and appreciative of that).
Most of all though we’ve lost our ties to our neighbors, to the seasons, to the Earth, and to our own blood. And I don’t mean this modern Nazi-era shit of resurgent, hyperzealous, omni-political tribe, race, clan, class, etc. but of our own blood, and bodies, and muscles, and of where we came from. As individuals.
We’re far too urbanized now. Too much like insects in nests and colonies. Too constricted and herded, and herdish. Too puny by ourselves and in nature. Which is where we truly thrive. Despite, or because of it’s hardships and dangers. You can’t become tough or strong in a sheltered, sterile world. Much less stay tough and strong in such a world.
Too weak to wander.
Two other things. Living so far from nature masks of animals might seem creepy I guess. To many moderns. They don’t to me though. They are not scary at all to me.
And yeah, I like the idea of throwing kids over fences. When I was a kid I got tossed over fences on numerous occasions. I thought it was grand.
Love Christmas and Halloween? The ancient Latvian Spring waiting holiday of Meteņis or Meteni combines eerie and cheery.
Also called Lastavāgs, Aizgavēnis, Miesmetis, Buduļi Eve, and Pie Day, Metenis includes a masked parade, singing, dancing, feasting and drinking.
A Latvian spirit in charge of growing flax, Metenis was believed to arrive on a sleigh.
Now Latvians, Estonians and Lithuanians celebrate by sledding, which they believe will make the flax grow longer.
The faster and longer the sled glides, the faster and higher the flax will grow. Though a ride on a sled, a horse-drawn carriage, or even skating on a pond will do.
You might hear traditional sledding cries:
“My father has tall flax!”
“My father’s is taller!”
“My father’s is taller still, and has a golden button on top!”
Any journey is significant. People used to walk from farm to farm to encourage the flax and (for some reason) throw children over the fence.
Some popular Meteņi traditions are: wearing masks, chasing away Metenis, searching for the button of happiness, driving away moles from gardens and cooking delicious Meteņi porridge.
To drive away Winter, a symbolic dragon, straw dolls and logs are burned. The ashes are spread across the land for a fruitful New Year.
Traditional Masks of Metenis
The most well-known masks are a crane, a bear, hay vāls, butthead, Wolf, Gypsy, the living dead and death.
Meteņi is about people eating and drinking as much as they want. During this time pigs were slaughtered, so the traditional holiday dishes are pig’s head and fritters. Parents throw gifts to their children from a height as if the goddess Laima is raining gifts from the heavens.
The Metenis table is loaded with treats – pea balls, beans, barley porridge, pancakes, smoked pork boiled into a porridge of barley and potatoes, pork head, pork ears and tail and bacon buns.
Round shaped scones symbolise the upcoming spring. Beer used to be specially brewed for the celebrations. Now you can probably enjoy some very nice craft beers.
If you want to celebrate Metenis Day today, be sure to eat pig, wear a mask and go on a journey.
Just remember – the longer Meteņis is celebrated, the better the harvest is expected following summer.
Seven Earth-sized planets have been found orbiting an ultracool dwarf star 40 light-years away
The planets are temperate, meaning they could have liquid water
The researchers believe this is the best place outside of our solar system to look for life
(CNN)Astronomers have found at least seven Earth-sized planets orbiting the same star 40 light-years away, according to a study published Wednesday in the journal Nature. The findings were also announced at a news conference at NASA Headquarters in Washington.
This discovery outside of our solar system is rare because the planets have the winning combination of being similar in size to Earth and being all temperate, meaning they could have water on their surfaces and potentially support life.
“This is the first time that so many planets of this kind are found around the same star,” said Michaël Gillon, lead study author and astronomer at the University of Liège in Belgium.
The seven exoplanets were all found in tight formation around an ultracool dwarf star called TRAPPIST-1. Estimates of their mass also indicate that they are rocky planets, rather than being gaseous like Jupiter. Three planets are in the habitable zone of the star, known as TRAPPIST-1e, f and g, and may even have oceans on the surface.
The TRAPPIST-1 star, an ultracool dwarf, has seven Earth-size planets orbiting it.
The researchers believe that TRAPPIST-1f in particular is the best candidate for supporting life. It’s a bit cooler than Earth, but could be suitable with the right atmosphere and enough greenhouse gases.
If TRAPPIST-1 sounds familiar, that’s because these researchers announced the discovery of three initial planets orbiting the same star in May. The new research increased that number to seven planets total.
“I think we’ve made a crucial step towards finding if there is life out there,” said Amaury Triaud, one of the study authors and an astronomer at the University of Cambridge. “I don’t think any time before we had the right planets to discover and find out if there was (life). Here, if life managed to thrive and releases gases similar to what we have on Earth, we will know.”
Life may begin and evolve differently on other planets, so finding the gases that indicate life is key, the researchers added.
“This discovery could be a significant piece in the puzzle of finding habitable environments, places that are conducive to life,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate. “Answering the question ‘are we alone?’ is a top science priority, and finding so many planets like these for the first time in the habitable zone is a remarkable step forward toward that goal.”
And as we’ve learned from studying and discovering exoplanets before, where there is one, there are more, said Sara Seager, professor of planetary science and physics at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Seager and other researchers are encouraged by the discovery of this system because it improves our chances of finding another habitable planet, like Earth, in the future, by knowing where to look.
What we know
The planets are so close to each other and the star that there are seven of them within a space five times smaller than the distance from Mercury to our sun. This proximity allows the researchers to study the planets in depth as well, gaining insight about planetary systems other than our own.
The seven planets of TRAPPIST-1 compared with Mercury, Venus, Earth and Mars.
Starting closest to the star and moving out, the planets have respective orbits from one and a half to nearly 13 Earth days. The orbit of the farthest planet is still unknown.
Standing on the surface of one of the planets, you would receive 200 times less light than you get from the sun, but you would still receive just as much energy to keep you warm since the star is so close. It would also afford some picturesque views, as the other planets would appear in the sky as big as the moon (or even twice as big).
On TRAPPIST-1f, the star would appear three times as big as the sun in our sky. And because of the red nature of the star, the light would be a salmon hue, the researchers speculate.
The researchers believe the planets formed together further from the star. Then, they moved into their current lineup. This is incredibly similar Jupiter and its Galilean moons.
Like the moon, the researchers believe the planets closest to the star are tidally locked. This means that the planets always face one way to the star. One side of the planet is perpetually night, while the other is always day.
What the TRAPPIST-1 planetary system may look like.
Based on preliminary climate modeling, the researchers believe that the three planets closest to the star may be too warm to support liquid water, while the outermost planet, TRAPPIST-1h, is probably too distant and cold to support water on the surface. But further observation is needed to know for sure.
How the discovery was made
TRAPPIST-1 barely classifies as a star at half the temperature and a tenth the mass of the sun. It is red, dim and just a bit larger than Jupiter. But these tiny ultracool dwarf stars are common in our galaxy.
Photos:Weird and wonderful planets beyond our solar system
They were largely overlooked until Gillon decided to study the space around one of these dwarfs.
The researchers used a telescope called TRAPPIST (TRAnsiting Planets and PlanetesImals Small Telescope) to observe its starlight and changes in brightness. The team saw shadows, like little eclipses, periodically interrupting the steady pattern of starlight. This is called transiting. The shadows indicated planets, and further observation confirmed them.
In July, the team was able to determine that two of the closest planets to the stars had atmospheres that were more compact and comparable to those of Earth, Venus and Mars by observing starlight through the planets’ atmosphere.
By using a global network ground-based telescopes like TRAPPIST and space-based telescopes like Spitzer, the researchers continued looking toward the TRAPPIST system and were able to determine the orbital periods, distances from their star, radius and and masses of the planets.
Over the next decade, the researchers want to define the atmosphere of each planet, as well as to determine whether they truly do have liquid water on the surface and search for signs of life.
Although 40 light-years away doesn’t sound too far, it would take us millions of years to reach this star system. But from a research perspective, it’s a close opportunity and the best target to search for life beyond our solar system.
“If we learn something now, it can determine if we looked in the right place,” Gillon said.
In 2018, the James Webb Space Telescope will launch and be positioned 1 million miles from Earth with an unprecedented view of the universe. It can observe large exoplanets and detect starlight filtered through their atmosphere.
The researchers are also searching for similar star systems to conduct more atmospheric research. Four telescopes named SPECULOOS (Search for habitable Planets EClipsing ULtra-cOOl Stars) based in Chile will survey the southern sky for this purpose.
This star system will probably outlive us because this type of star evolves so slowly. When our sun dies, TRAPPIST-1 will still be a young star and will live for another trillion years, Gillon said. After we are gone, if there is another part of the universe for life to carry on, it may be in the TRAPPIST-1 system.
“This is the most exciting result I have seen in the 14 years of Spitzer operations,” said Sean Carey, manager of NASA’s Spitzer Science Center at Caltech/IPAC in Pasadena, California. “Spitzer will follow up in the fall to further refine our understanding of these planets so that the James Webb Space Telescope can follow up. More observations of the system are sure to reveal more secrets.”
Personally I think the actual truth lies somewhere in the middle between the hyper-life of the modern technologist and the future will be bleak anti-technologist. It depends almost entirely on not only what man invents but how he chooses to actually employ his inventions/technology.
That being said I am a firm anti-Utopian. I do not believe in the human utopia (not socialistic, not economic, not technological or scientific, etc.) , either that it is possible, or desirable. It is a badly conceived, utterly juvenile and naive, and entirely impractical idea.
By the way, in listening to him, I can’t help but wonder if Nicholas Carr is not in some way related to Caleb Carr one of my favorite contemporary fiction writers.
A few weeks ago, I had futurist Kevin Kelly on the podcast to discuss the technological trends that are shaping our future. From driverless cars to artificial intelligence that will make new scientific discoveries, Kevin paints a fairly rosy picture of what’s to come.
My guest today sees a different side of the coin, and argues that the future envisioned by many in Silicon Valley is, well, kind of creepy.
His name is Nicholas Carr, and he’s the author of several books that critique the wide-eyed utopianism of technologists. In his book The Shallows, he reported on the research that shows how Google is making us dumber; in The Glass Cagehe explored the science on why outsourcing our work and chores to computers and robots might actually make us miserable and unsatisfied in life; and in his latest book, Utopia is Creepy, Carr pulls together all the essays he’s written over the years on how the rapid changes in technology we’ve seen in the past few decades might be robbing us of the very things that make us human.
Today on the show, Nicholas and I discuss why he thinks our utopian future is creepy, how the internet is making us dumber, and why doing mundane tasks that we otherwise would outsource to robots or computers is actually a source of satisfaction and human flourishing. We finish our discussion by outlining a middle path approach to technology — one that doesn’t reject it fully but simultaneously seeks to mitigate its potential downsides.
Why the ideology that Silicon Valley is promoting and selling is bad for human flourishing
How the frictionless ideal of tech companies isn’t all it’s cracked up to be
Why is the idea of utopia so creepy?
Why don’t tech companies see that what they’re doing can be perceived as creepy?
The illusion of freedom and autonomy on the internet
What “digital sharecropping” is and why it exploits content creators
The myth of participation and the pleasures of being an audience member
Information gathering vs developing knowledge
Why Nicholas doesn’t use social media
The real danger that AI present humanity (and it’s not necessarily the singularity)
Is virtual reality going to catch on? Does it present any problems for society?
How can we opt out of the ideology that Silicon Valley is trying to sell?
If you’re a bit leery of technology like myself, then you’ll definitely enjoy all of Nicholas’ books. Utopia Is Creepy gives you a big picture look at all of Nick’s ideas on the often overlooked downsides of our unquestioned adoption of digital technology. Pick up a copy on Amazon.
This is not really a new suspicion or discovery, more like a confirmation of suspicions and prior tracking.
Nevertheless my wife and I were watching a NASA video today and she asked me something about how far out a probe had went and I told her, in giving my answer, that I suspected our own solar system was much larger than we thought, and that it some ways may even extend to the edge of or even encompass the closest next solar system. That therefore, despite current thinking, that in some ways our solar system may very well share elements with, let’s say, Proxima Centauri. That is to say that we may be or even share stellar matter with Proxima Centauri or even be part of a Solar Cluster including our own and the Centauri systems. Therefore the probe was not really likely to leave our real solar system any time soon.
It depends very much on what we have in common (materially, energetically, and gravitationally) with neighboring solar systems, what we share, and precisely how you define a “Solar System.” In addition to how sensitive we are in being able to detect possible connections, correlations, and shared associations.
But in any case I’ve always suspected, even as a child, and going back to my earliest studies of astrophysics that our solar system was much larger than thought and that it contained other matter and energy systems than those which we can currently detect.
That’s was before I saw this which only further confirms these suspicions that I have had for many, many years now.
Exciting news everyone, a potential new dwarf planet has just been discovered in the Kuiper Belt at the edge of the Solar System. Called 2014 UZ224, it’s located beyond the orbit of Pluto, and may be one of a hundred such objects still undiscovered.
This particular object is thought to be about 530 kilometers (330 miles) across, compared to 2,374 kilometers (1,475 miles) for Pluto, one of the other five confirmed dwarf planets at the moment. The others are Ceres, Eris, Makemake, and Haumea. Another candidate, 2015 RR245, was announced earlier this year.
It was found by a team led by David Gerdes from the University of Michigan, as part of a larger map of galaxies called the Dark Energy Survey (DES). Using specialized computer software, they found the moving object about 13.7 billion kilometers (8.5 billion miles) from the Sun, about twice as far as Pluto. It completes an orbit in about 1,100 years.
According to NPR, it has taken two years to confirm the existence of 2014 UZ224. It is thought to be the third most distant known object in the Solar System.
We don’t know much else about the dwarf planet at the moment, aside from its size and orbital characteristics. But the discovery hints at even more objects in the outer Solar System, most notably Planet Nine, a world thought to be 10 times as massive as Earth. The search for this world continues.
The existence of 2014 UZ224 has been officially verified by the International Astronomical Union (IAU), but like 2015 RR245 before it, it’s not clear if it will be given official dwarf planet status yet. That will depend on a number of factors, including whether it is spherical. If so, though, it would be the smallest dwarf planet found so far.
Dwarf planet or not, our Solar System just got a little bit busier.
I was asked to give the eulogy at his funeral this weekend, and wanted to share it here on the site in honor of his legacy. I did add one story to this article that my uncle recounted.
William (Bill) Daly Hurst passed away on September 29, 2016, just six days shy of his 101st birthday.
And what a life he lived.
My grandfather has always loomed large in my imagination. Even though we were separated by hundreds of miles and sometimes went years without seeing each other, Grandpa’s presence has always been with me. He was an icon for me and almost a kind of institutional figure — an embodiment of the values of the Greatest Generation. In fact, he’s been a big part of the inspiration behind the ideal of manhood that I write about on the Art of Manliness. He was both a good man and good at being a man.
As I look back on his life, three characteristics of my grandpa stick out to me that I hope to emulate: his dedication to service, his unyielding curiosity, and his humility.
As a third-generation U.S. Forester, Grandpa was born into a legacy of service — a commitment to protecting and managing our country’s natural resources.
It started in 1905 when William Hurst (Grandpa’s grandfather) was appointed assistant ranger on the Dixie Forest Reserve in Utah. Three months later, he became a forest supervisor. Gifford Pinchot — the first Chief of the U.S. Forest Service, appointed by Theodore Roosevelt — sent him two full pages of instructions, the most specific being, “As soon as you can get to it, please look up desirable rooms for an office. A full set of blank forms, office equipment, and furniture have been requested to be sent you.” Supervisor Hurst made a formal reply: “I will endeavor to magnify the trust reposed in me and shall discharge the duties imposed upon me in a dignified manner without fear or favor.” This was William Hurst’s rule until he resigned in 1913 as supervisor of the Beaver and Fillmore National Forests, and it was a rule my grandfather followed during his tenure in the Forest Service.
My grandpa at 9 months old. His family nickname was Snooks.
William M. Hurst (my grandpa’s father) started as Assistant Ranger in the service in 1910 in Panguitch, Utah. He was a District Forest Ranger when my grandfather, William D. Hurst, was born on October 5, 1915, in Parowan, Utah.
Think about that for a minute. My grandpa was born a year into the First World War. In his memoir he recounts his memory as a three-year-old of people banging pots and pans and whooping in the streets on Armistice Day. My grandpa was what blogger Jason Kottke calls a “human wormhole.” His long life and the amount of history he saw firsthand provide an embodied reminder of just how connected we are to the past. When I gave my grandfather a hug, I was hugging a man that was hugged by his grandparents who were born during the Civil War. That idea really puts time in perspective for me.
Grandpa was raised in Panguitch, Utah, and graduated as student body president and co-valedictorian of his class at Garfield County High School in 1934. He attended Utah State Agricultural College and graduated with a B.S. in Forestry and Range Management in 1938. During the summer months of his college years, Grandpa worked as a sheepherder, where he accumulated some pretty cool stories. In his memoirs he describes in explicit detail how to castrate sheep; the methodology wasjust as Mike Rowe famously explained it: a sharp knife and your teeth.
Grandpa’s first day working for the U.S. Forest Service.
During the summer of 1937, he worked for the United States Forest Service as an Administrative Guard in the Stansbury Mountains near Grantsville, Utah. After graduation, he took a permanent assignment with the Forest Service in the same location, thus becoming a third-generation forester in Utah, after his father and grandfather.
Bill and Dolly Hurst.
In Grantsville, he met his sweetheart, Emma (Dolly) Johanson. Grandma worked as phone operator and Grandpa came into town one day to make a phone call. He was immediately smitten and I’m sure started finding reasons to make more phone calls. They were engaged in 1940 and married March 19, 1941.
In 1942, Grandpa became the District Ranger of the Manila Ranger District on the Ashley National Forest.
Like millions of men from his generation, Grandpa answered the call to serve and fight for his country during World War II. He served in the Army, training for the invasion of Japan, and then spent one year in that country as part of the occupation forces in 1946.
Grandpa riding a horse while serving in the Army in Japan during WWII. 1946.
Grandpa was 31 years old when he began his military service, making him much older than many of the soldiers in his platoon. That earned him the nickname “Pops,” but he took pride in the fact that he could out-hustle and outwork men ten years his junior. After the war, Grandpa continued his service in the U.S. Army Reserves, obtaining the rank of first lieutenant.
Staff at the Ashley National Forest where Bill Hurst served as supervisor from 1950 to 1955. Grandpa’s in the middle holding his hat.
After leaving the military, he became the Staff Officer of the Cache National Forest in Utah. He served as Forest Supervisor on the Ashley National Forest from 1950 to 1955, before going to the Washington office as one of the Assistant Chiefs in Range Management. Grandpa then served as Chief of Range & Wildlife Management of the Intermountain Region from 1957 to 1962. He was the Deputy Regional Forester for the Intermountain Region as well. In 1966, Grandpa was appointed Regional Forester for the Southwestern Region, where he remained until he retired in 1976.
Bill Hurst served as Regional Forester of the Southwest Region from 1966 to 1976. He’s in the middle.
During his appointment as Regional Forester of the Southwestern Region, Grandpa brought not only a keen mind and almost 30 years’ experience, but also a pride in the history and traditions of the Forest Service and a genuine concern for the well-being of the forests and the people who used them. He imparted a level of professionalism to his region that still remains today.
As a Regional Forester, Grandpa didn’t have an ideological axe to grind nor did he have political ambitions within the Forest Service. He just strived to follow his own grandfather’s rule to “discharge the duties imposed upon me in a dignified manner without fear or favor.” Grandpa was a pragmatist. He just wanted things to work and work well for everyone. And that often meant trying to find a middle ground among multiple parties who all had conflicting interests — ranchers, farmers, timber companies, indigenous people, and environmentalists just to name a few. And he was able to walk this line for the most part thanks to his curiosity and humility. He talked to people, asked questions without prejudice or preconceived notions, and researched on his own. But more importantly, Grandpa took action and found solutions and compromises that could prevent gridlock and keep things moving forward. (Note: For those of you interested, Utah State University has digitized diaries, reports, etc. from my grandpa’s career as a forester.)
Grandpa retired from the Forest Service in 1976 and spent his retirement at his home at Bosque Farms — a small ranch in New Mexico. Here he provided idyllic summers and Thanksgivings for his grandchildren, full of swimming and horseback riding. For me, Bosque Farms is where my most cherished memories of Grandpa, and of my childhood, exist.
Bosque Farms was a Garden of Eden. But time eventually drove us all out of this Western paradise. Grandpa got too old to manage the place by himself, and we all got older and busy with our adult lives. But Bosque Farms is a place I still long for. Every now and then, memories of spending time with Grandpa on the ranch hit me like a tidal wave.
I miss the smell of coffee and hotcakes in the morning and the smell of pinyon wood burning in the living room fireplace. I miss the smell of the barn on a clear, crisp Thanksgiving morning.
But most of all I miss Grandpa leading me around the corral on a horse, patiently and lovingly telling me how to guide my noble steed.
Pictures of me and Grandpa at various times at Bosque Farms, New Mexico. Still have that hat Grandpa gave me.
It’s a painful yearning to return home. The Greeks called this nostalgia. While my heart aches for that time, it’s a good ache. I’m glad I have those memories and I’m indebted to Grandpa for giving them to me.
Even in retirement, Grandpa continued his dedication to service. If there was a club or organization dedicated to service, he belonged to it. He was a charter member and past president of the Society for Range Management where he continued his work in conserving and managing our country’s natural resources. He was also a member of the Lion’s Club, Rotary, the Society of American Foresters, and the Wilderness Trail Riders of Prineville, Oregon.
Grandpa was active in Scouting and was awarded the Silver Beaver for distinguished service. He was also the grateful recipient of Rotary’s Paul Harris Fellow award, the Jim Bridger Award for conservation achievement, and the Lifetime Achievement Award from Utah State University, as well as the 2004 Frederic G. Renner Award from the Society of Range Management — the most prestigious award given by the society.
Grandpa and my Aunt Kathy.
Grandpa’s service wasn’t only to the public and his community but to his large and ever-growing family as well. Grandpa was always looking out for us and made frequent trips to visit all of his grandkids during retirement. He even drove by himself from Albuquerque to Tulsa when he was 90 years old to come to my wedding. Kate’s grandma thought he was crazy, but Grandpa didn’t think much of it.
Grandpa and Grandma Hurst with their five children.
He is preceded in death by his wife, Dolly, and two sisters and brothers-in-law, Margaret and Ralph Tingey and Katherine and Vernon Barney of Panguitch, Utah. He leaves behind his five children and their spouses, nineteen grandchildren, thirty-four great-grandchildren, and numerous nieces and nephews.
Grandpa’s entire life was dedicated to service — to his country, to his community, and to his family. If he could help in some way, he was there.
Whether in work or play, Grandpa also stayed curious. It’s one of the most refreshing and vital things about him. He was always reading books to learn more and taking notes in the pocket notebook he kept in the breast pocket of his shirts.
My uncle recounts a story of this note-taking practice: When my grandpa was 90, my uncle found him reading a book, but stopping every now and then to write in his pocket notebook. When my uncle asked Grandpa what he was doing, he said, “I’m writing down the words I don’t know the definition of so I can look them up later.” When my uncle asked him why he was doing that, Grandpa responded matter-of-factly: “To improve my vocabulary, of course.” Ninety years old, and my grandfather was still trying to enrich his treasury of knowledge.
Another example of Grandpa’s curiosity in action can be seen in his retirement, when one of his old phonograph players broke. He learned how to fix it (this was before the internet, mind you), which led to a small side hustle in retirement repairing phonograph players for others. He did the same with antique buggies. He became a self-taught expert on repairing and restoring them, and people started paying him to fix up theirs.
Grandpa was always happiest out in the mountains somewhere on a horse.
Grandpa traveled extensively throughout his life within the U.S., Canada, and Mexico, in addition to China, Panama, Russia, and the U.K., though he was happiest riding his horse or mule on adventures through the mountains of the West from New Mexico to Oregon.
But what I loved most about Grandpa’s curiosity was his genuine interest in others. He wasn’t jaded or cynical about people at all. He sincerely thought every person — no matter their walk of life — had something interesting to say. Grandpa could go anywhere and have a friend because he could make one instantly. As a kid, this interest in others could get kind of annoying. I knew going on quick errands with Grandpa would often result in me standing around waiting for thirty minutes while he talked to complete strangers, sharing stories with them, peppering them with questions, and intently listening while interspersing the conversations with his characteristic chuckle and “Well, I’ll be damned!” or “Well, that’s a hell of a thing!” And he meant it! He was always genuinely surprised by and interested in the things people would share. Like Will Rogers, Grandpa “Never met a man he didn’t like.”
Finally, Grandpa didn’t take himself too seriously. He took his work very seriously, but never himself. There was never an air of self-importance about him. Because of his humility, I sometimes forget about his accomplishments and the amount of influence he has had in public affairs, particularly when it comes to conservation. Grandpa was too busy being useful to worry about being important.
What I’ve spoken of are just the highlights of Grandpa’s earthly sojourn.
Like I said at the beginning…what a life.
He’s been an inspiration to me, and can serve as a pattern for all of us seeking to live the good life.
We will miss Grandpa, but I’m thankful for the example of service, curiosity, and humility that he gave us. I’m looking forward to seeing him again one day, and until then I hope we all will do our best to live up to his legacy.
Bill Hurst’s grandsons were his pallbearers at his funeral. We all wore one of Grandpa’s iconic bolo ties in honor of him. Those of us who had cowboy boots also, sported those. My cousin, Tom Hughes, shared this thought about the experience: “My grandfather, Bill Hurst, died last week, 6 days shy of his 101st birthday. As I and my cousins, the pallbearers, stood in a semi-circle, looking at his flag-draped coffin in the back of the hearse, we said almost nothing. We just stood there for several minutes until the funeral director came out, found us standing there, and told us we could get in our cars. I don’t believe there has ever been group of boys–now men–who more loved, admired and revered their grandfather than those of us standing there, wearing his bolo ties. And I know his granddaughters feel the same way. Pity there weren’t more bolo ties for them.”
When my grandpa was 9 years old he encountered a tassel-eared squirrel on the Kaibab Plateau in Southern Utah, an area that’s 20 by 40 miles wide. It was the Kaibab Squirrel — a species not found anywhere else in the world. Since that time, Grandpa took a keen interest in this little critter and strove to protect it in his position as Regional Forester. Nearing his 100th birthday, Grandpa, along with some friends and family, formed the “Friends of the Kaibab Squirrel,” a group dedicated to educating federal and state agencies and citizens about this unique animal, so that pragmatic steps can be taken to prevent population decline. Should you like to honor my grandfather at his passing, you can support Friends of the Kaibab Squirrel bypurchasing a lapel pin. Proceeds go to FKS.
Editor’s note: The following excerpt was included in FM 21-13, an Army field manual published in 1952. While it outlines the character of a good soldier, the qualities mentioned represent the kind of character all men should strive for.
THE SOLDIER’S GUIDE
Section VII. THE CHARACTER OF A SOLDIER
The Things You Are
When we say that a man has “good character,” we mean that he has many strong qualities and virtues that, added together, make him a man whom we like, respect, and trust. One definition of character, therefore, is this: The sum of the qualities that make a person what he is.
It’s not easy to tell you exactly what qualities and virtues you must have to be a good soldier, but perhaps you can understand better what is meant by a “soldier’s character” if you consider some of the qualities that all of our good soldiers have had. These qualities include honesty, courage, self-control, decency, and conviction of purpose. This is by no means a complete list, but those are the qualities that most good soldiers possess. Let’s talk about them.
You must be honest because there is absolutely no room in our military world for dishonesty, half-truth, or any other shade in-between. When the outcome of a battle could rest on the truth of your report, your word must be your bond. In private life, one can avoid or make allowance for those who have trouble telling the truth. But in the Army, soldiers depend on each other too much to accept anything but complete honesty. All good soldiers understand the need for truthfulness and shun those who lie.
As a soldier, you may be called on to be courageous in many ways. In battle, you may have to keep moving forward in the face of heavy enemy fire. Lives of other men may depend on this kind of courage. Battle plans are based on it. Then, in addition to courage in battle, you need courage to admit your own failures. You may need still another kind of courage to ask your fellow soldiers to keep going when they have nearly reached the limit of their endurance.
In any talk of courage, however, it is important that you know the difference between real courage and foolhardiness. Taking unnecessary risks is stupid and often endangers the lives of others. Being courageous doesn’t mean that you won’t be afraid at the same time. Fear in battle is natural, and some of our best soldiers have been those who have been afraid, but who went ahead into battle, even with a shaking hand and pounding heart.
Soldiers who have displayed this kind of courage were able to do so because of another quality, self-control. As a soldier, you will be living and working closely with other soldiers. You will be leading a highly disciplined life. Good self-control makes this discipline easier. It will also help you avoid temptations that may plague you — temptations to dodge your duty, to indulge in immorality, or to use your power unfairly. Sometimes you may be the law itself, and only your sense of right and self-control will stand between you and your abuse of power as a soldier.
Self-control is “inner discipline.” You were not born with it, but all good soldiers have acquired it through the years by checking their tempers and desires, and by “counting 10” before they acted.
Another quality that all good soldiers have is decency. This means personal habits that make it easier for others to live and work with you. Your honesty, courage, and self-control will strongly affect your companions, but in addition, it is important that you give them the same consideration that you’d like them to give you. This means respecting their property and views, keeping yourself clean in body and speech, and accepting others for what they are – not for the color of their skins, or where they came from.
All these qualities are important parts of a good soldier’s character, but the quality that all of our great soldiers have had – the quality that gave meaning to all of their other virtues – is conviction of purpose. This means that these soldiers fought well and were able to endure the hardships of war because they were convinced that what they were doing was right.
Admittedly, this quality isn’t easy to have. Many combat veterans will tell you that they were never quite sure why they were fighting. Some say that they fought to save themselves. Others say that they fought for the men around them, or because they hated the enemy. There is never any single reason why men fight.
Our truly great soldiers, however, have fought for our country because they believed that our freedoms and way of life were worth the sacrifice. You probably know the story of Sergeant York. When he first entered the Army in World War I, he was troubled because his training and his conscience told him “Thou shalt not kill.” After a long struggle with his conscience, however, he realized that fighting the enemy was just, because that enemy would have enslaved the world if they could. When he realized this, he became one of our greatest heroes, because he was convinced that it was right for men to remain free.
These are some of the main qualities that make up the character of a good soldier. Nobody can give you these qualities. You have to get them yourself by hard work. But at least you know what the qualities are and if you don’t have all of them, you have a goal that is worth reaching.
is a professor of media at Macquarie University in Australia. He is interested in culture and technology, digital media, media history, contemporary arts, and intellectual history. His latest book is The New Time and Space (2015).
What is charisma?
Mixed blessings. Photo by Paolo Sarteschi/Flickr
Charisma is easier to recognise than to define. Newspaper and magazine articles consistently identify charismatic leaders – such as John F Kennedy, Martin Luther King Jr, Barack Obama – but those same articles rarely describe exactly what charisma is. It is often debated whether charisma is necessary for a ‘transformational’ leader, while shelves of self-help books optimistically promise to impart the ‘secrets’ of charisma. Other people hold that charisma cannot be ‘unlocked’ or ‘discovered’ at all because it is innate and present only in the rarest of individuals. So, to ask anew, just what is charisma?
Charisma’s origins are found in the letters of Paul the Apostle, written from around 50 AD. This is the first written use of the word ‘charisma’, derived from the Greek ‘charis’ (grace). For Paul, charisma meant ‘the gift of God’s grace’ or ‘spiritual gift’. In Paul’s letters to the fledgling Christian communities spread around the Roman empire, he wrote of the ‘charismata’ or spiritual gifts available to each member of the community. He identified nine charismata, including prophecy, healing, speaking in tongues, interpreting that speech, teaching, and service – a range of gifts both supernatural and pragmatic.
For Paul, charisma was a mystical notion: the gifts were thought to alight on each individual without the need for church authority or institution. And there was no charisma of leadership: the interlocking charismata were meant to serve the community without the need for an imposed leader. By the fourth century, however, the Church had largely suppressed the notion of charisma deriving directly from the Holy Spirit. Conveniently, in its place was a hierarchy of Church leadership, with bishops at the top, interpreting the fixed religious laws inscribed in the newly authorised Bible. Charisma survived only in heretical outposts, such as prophets claiming direct inspiration without the mediations of bishop or scripture. Such heresies were forcibly repressed by the Church.
The idea of charisma then lay largely dormant for centuries. Only in the writings of the 20th-century German sociologist Max Weber was it reborn. In fact, we owe the contemporary meaning of ‘charisma’ to Weber, who took Paul’s religious idea and secularised it, placing charisma within a sociology of authority and leadership. For Weber, there were three types of authority: the rational-legal, the traditional, and the charismatic. Weber saw the charismatic form of authority as the revolutionary, even unstable, antidote to the ‘iron cage’ of rationalisation found in the contemporary ‘disenchanted’ world. He held that there was something heroic about the charismatic leader, who galvanised followers with great feats or with the ‘charisma of rhetoric’ found in inspiring speeches.
Weber defined charisma as ‘a certain quality of an individual personality by virtue of which he is considered extraordinary and treated as endowed with supernatural, superhuman, or at least specifically exceptional powers or qualities’. He traced charismatic leadership through history, in the person of great military or religious leaders – and also held out the hope that charismatic leadership would continue to emerge, even in the highly regulated bureaucracies of the modern world.
Weber died in 1920, and did not live to see the application of his idea to contemporary politics and culture. Perhaps that’s a good thing, since the first political leaders to be described as charismatic were Mussolini and Hitler. For many European intellectuals, this created the sense that charismatic authority had a sinister dimension. That same dark side of charismatic leadership long remained: 1960s cult leaders such as Charles Manson, with their spellbinding hold on followers, were readily termed charismatic. By this point, Weber’s works had been translated, so that ‘charisma’ was popular in the English-speaking world from about the 1950s.
The first politicians that the media identified as charismatic in a positive, rather than demagogic, sense were JFK, and his brother Robert F Kennedy. After the 1960s, ‘charisma’ moved more into mainstream usage as it was applied to outstanding individuals other than political leaders: the late Muhammad Ali, for instance, was perhaps the most charismatic of all.
Today, charisma is used to describe a range of individuals: politicians, celebrities, business leaders. We understand charisma as a special, innate quality that sets certain individuals apart and draws others to them. It is considered a rare, specially endowed quality: in US politics, for instance, Bill Clinton was thought to have a charismatic presence, as is Obama – but nobody else in recent political memory earns the accolade. In business, Steve Jobs is the archetypal charismatic leader: visionary, driven, but also volatile and unstable. And in celebrity culture, charisma is regarded as a sign of rare authenticity when much of the entertainment industry is devoted to the plastic manufacture of fame in the manner of Idols or The Voice. Charisma cannot be created by reality TV.
Is charisma even desirable in contemporary politicians? The political biographer David Barnett has called charisma ‘one of the most dangerous concepts in a democracy that you can find’. Charismatic leaders can inspire followers with soaring rhetoric – which can also prove divisive and damaging to a party’s (or a nation’s) fortunes. Political parties are generally content with popular, unthreatening, folksy leaders who appeal to ordinary people. In Australia, Paul Keating was a charismatic, visionary prime minister, but also a schismatic leader who alienated much of the Labor Party’s traditional ‘heartland’ with his perceived arrogance. His successor, John Howard, was universally regarded as charisma-free, but his very ordinariness turned out to be his greatest asset: it was a reassuring rather than threatening style of leadership. Meanwhile in Italy, Silvio Berlusconi was a populist leader whose tenure as prime minister was deleterious for democracy. The charismatic leader might be thrilling, even captivating, but the success of that leader might not leave a political party, or a democracy, in a healthy state.
‘Charisma’, as an idea, spans 2,000 years. Is there a link between contemporary charisma – considered a special form of authority – and the religious charisma of Paul’s time? It lies in the notion of innateness, of the gift. Paul said that no bishop or Church required the blessing of charisma: it simply lighted on the individual, as a spiritual gift. Charisma today is enigmatic, an unknown or X factor, somehow irreducible. Nobody knows why rare individuals are blessed with charisma: it remains, as ever, a mysterious gift.
Is your ring finger longer than your index finger?
If so, you were likely exposed to higher levels of testosterone while you were in your mother’s womb.
Is your index finger longer than your ring finger?
Then you were exposed to lower levels of T as a fetus.
Well, while it might sound like hokey palm reading, researchers are finding that the ratio between the length of your ring and index fingers may in fact correlate to your prenatal exposure to T, and have a significant influence on your body, brain, and behavior well into adulthood.
How strong is this correlation and what exactly does it foretell? I’ve dived deep into all the available research to sort myth from fact, and present this comprehensive look at what digit ratio really means for your masculinity.
Prenatal Testosterone, Androgen Receptors, and 2D:4D Finger Ratios
Scientists have long noticed that men’s ring fingers are generally longer than their index fingers. With women, it tends to be the reverse: their index fingers are usually longer. They’ve called this difference in length between the index finger and ring finger the “2D:4D ratio.”
2D stands for “second digit” — that’s your index finger, and 4D means “fourth digit” — your ring finger. So if your index finger is 2.9 inches long and your ring finger is 3.1 inches long, you have a 2D:4D ratio of .935 (2.9/3.1 = .935). A longer ring finger compared to your index finger is considered a “low 2D:4D ratio.”
If your index finger is 3.1 inches long and your ring finger is 2.9 inches long, your 2D:4D ratio would be 1.06 (3.1/2.9 = 1.06). A longer index finger compared to your ring finger is considered a “high 2D:4D ratio.”
Digit ratios lie on a spectrum. Some men have really low digit ratios, like .83, and some folks have really high digit ratios, like 1.06.
The Connection Between 2D:4D Ratio and Prenatal Hormones
While scientists during the mid-20th century were able to statistically establish this general difference between men’s and women’s 2D:4D ratios, it wasn’t until the 1980s that researchers began speculating as to why this sex difference exists and how 2D:4D ratios may correlate with different gender traits. Dr. Glenn Wilson of King’s College was one of the first to hypothesize that 2D:4D finger ratio was determined by sex hormone exposure in the womb.
In 1998, further strides were made when psychologist John Manning of the University of Liverpool (now at Swansea University) published a paper in which he hypothesized that 2D:4D ratios are determined by prenatal exposure to testosterone. Other researchers came to similar conclusions using corollary evidence.
It wasn’t until 2011, however, that scientists were able to directly show that prenatal exposure to testosterone determines the 2D:4D ratio. While prenatal testing and studies are difficult-to-impossible to ethically conduct on human fetuses, the general difference between 2D:4D ratios in human males and females also exists between the sexes of other animals. Consequently, animal studies can provide insight into why these general differences exist.
Developmental biologists Martin Cohn and Zhengui Zheng conducted experiments on fetal mice in which they modified the amounts of testosterone they were exposed to in utero. What they discovered is that it’s not just the amount of fetal testosterone that determines digit ratio, but rather the balance between testosterone and estrogen. Mice with higher testosterone concentrations or low estrogen levels had more male-like digit ratios (low 2D:4D ratio), while mice with higher estrogen levels or low testosterone levels had higher, more feminine digit ratios (high 2D:4D ratios).
Cohn and Zheng posit that what’s true for mice is true for humans as well: prenatal exposure to a mixture of testosterone and estrogen is what determines 2D:4D ratios. So the lower your 2D:4D digit ratio is, the more testosterone or less estrogen you were exposed to in the womb. The higher your 2D:4D ratio, the less testosterone or more estrogen you were exposed to as a fetus.
What Causes Differences in the Levels of Sex Hormones in the Womb?
What causes these differences in the levels of sex hormones in the womb? Scientists aren’t yet sure, though they have some hunches. Genetics certainly play a role, both of the mother and the fetus. For one thing, some research suggests that mothers with elevated testosterone levels influence the testosterone levels of their daughters (but there appears to be no such influence with maternal testosterone on boys). Some research has also found that the first-born child, whether male or female, is exposed to more estrogen prenatally, for reasons we don’t yet understand.
Environmental factors are in play as well. For example, fetal testosterone levels are elevated in both males and females if the mother smokes during pregnancy, but are lower if the mother consumes alcohol. A mother may also expose her baby to more estrogen in the womb if she herself is exposed to a high level of “xenoestrogens,” chemicals that imitate estrogens in the body, and that are found in nearly everything – from plastics and gasoline to cosmetics and shampoo.
The timing and duration of a fetus’ exposure to sex hormones matter, too. If testosterone surges a little too late or early, the result can be a male fetus that is male in both body and mind but isn’t as masculinized as he would be if the T surge had happened at the usual time.
Duration of exposure may also influence how masculine or feminine your 2D:4D ratio is and consequently, how masculine and feminine your body and mind end up. Different parts of the fetal body and brain are open to androgen sensitivity at different times during gestation. It’s possible that you had a high testosterone to estrogen exposure during the period in which penis formation occurs, but for some reason, it started to peter out when 2D:4D formation happens or when other sex parts of the body and mind are receptive to androgen. Consequently, you end up with a higher, more female-like 2D:4D ratio despite being very masculine in other areas.
What affects the timing and duration of the release of sex hormones in utero? Here again, researchers really aren’t sure.
While scientists don’t definitively know why some individuals are exposed to greater and lesser amounts of estrogen and testosterone in the womb, they do know that 2D:4D ratios are directly caused by the make-up of this hormonal mixture, and can use these ratios to explore possible correlations between prenatal sex hormone exposure and other psychological and physiological traits in individuals later on in life. Testosterone, in particular, has what scientists call an “organizational effect” on the human mind and body — exposure to it during sensitive periods in utero has permanent effects on mind, body, and behavior. Let’s take a closer look at what some of those effects might be.
Correlations Between Gender Traits and 2D:4D Ratio
Below, I highlight some of the possible correlations between your digit ratio and traits that we often define as “masculine” and “feminine.”
But first, a caveat. While researchers have found correlations between 2D:4D ratios and specific sex characteristics, they also note that these correlations are sometimes weak. What’s more, some relationships between 2D:4D ratios and sex traits that have been found in the past, haven’t been replicated in other studies.
What’s more, it can’t be emphasized enough that these are correlational studies, and as we all know, correlation does not equal causation. In many of the popular media articles I’ve read about this subject and its influence on different traits, digit ratio is often presented as deterministic. I can see lots of people reading these articles and looking at their fingers and thinking, “Well, my index finger is longer than my ring finger. I’m destined to be a girly man for the rest of my life.”
But gender isn’t as simple as that. Yes, biology plays a role and prenatal sex hormone exposure appears to have an influence on the masculinization or feminization of an individual throughout his or her life. But the biological component of gender is complex. As discussed above, it’s not just the ratio of testosterone and estrogen you were exposed to prenatally that may influence gender traits, but also the timing and duration of that exposure which plays a role too. Also, the T surge at puberty has a dramatic effect on masculinizing the body. What’s more, we can’t discount the environmental influences on gender that we all experience in our life, from our culture to our home environment to the choices we make.
So, as you look through the insights below, avoid the temptation to read too much into them. Take them as food for thought and something to consider — one tool among many in getting to know yourself better.
Note: As you read this, keep in mind that 2D:4D ratio is used as a corollary to testosterone/estrogen exposure in the womb. When you read “low 2D:4D,” think “higher testosterone/lower estrogen prenatal exposure,” and when you read “high 2D:4D,” think “lower testosterone/higher estrogen prenatal exposure.”
Several correlational studies have found that individuals with a lower 2D:4D ratio tend to be more aggressive than people with higher 2D:4D ratios. The theory is that exposure to prenatal testosterone has organizational effects on the brain that “masculinize” it and make it more prone to aggressive behavior.
How Well Men Get Along With Women
Recent research has found that men with lower 2D:4D ratios are nicer to women than men with higher 2D:4D ratios. According to the study’s lead author, Debbie Moskowitz, “when with women, men with smaller ratios were more likely to listen attentively, smile and laugh, compromise, or compliment the other person.” Men with higher 2D:4D ratios tend to have a more difficult time getting along with women.
A follow-up study by another group of researchers found that men with lower 2D:4D ratios make greater efforts to impress women while courting them compared to men with higher 2D:4D ratios. They’re more likely to buy things like flowers and spend more on dates. What’s more, men with low 2D:4D ratios tend to spend more time and money on their appearance than men with higher 2D:4D ratios.
These findings might seem counterintuitive: wouldn’t a more masculine, “alpha” man have trouble getting along with women, and not care about things like style and romance? And wouldn’t a more feminized man find it easier to get along with women?
A man with more T, however, may be more driven to reproduce, and is thus more motivated to learn how to woo women, while men with lower T have less of this drive, and thus care less about their success with the ladies.
It’s interesting to note that researchers also found that women with higher, more feminized 2D:4D ratios were more likely to put greater effort into attracting men by staying fit, and wearing make-up and stylish clothes. Women with lower 2D:4D ratios (who tend to grow up as tomboys) don’t put in as much effort.
These correlational studies between digit ratio and mating effort may explain why men with lower 2D:4D digit ratios tend to marry younger and have more children than men with higher 2D:4D ratios — they’re more likely to do the courting necessary to find a mate.
The Type of Woman You Marry (Depending on Environment)
In one study among the semi-nomadic Himba population in Northern Namibia, researchers found that both men and women with lower, more masculine 2D:4D ratios tended to marry younger than men and women with higher, more feminized 2D:4D ratios.
The fact that Himba women with more masculine digit ratios were more likely to be married than women with more feminized digit ratios is another finding that may seem counterintuitive. You’d think the men would be more attracted to the more feminine women. The researchers suggest that men who live in harsh, resource-poor environments choose more masculine women, selecting for the traits that will aid their partnership in survival. In peaceful, resource-abundant times, men have the luxury of choosing mates who are not as hardy, but are more attractive and feminine (and often have a high 2D:4D ratio).
Several studies suggest that both men and women with lower 2D:4D ratios tend to be more promiscuous than men and women with higher 2D:4D ratios, suggesting prenatal exposure to testosterone can influence sexual behavior into adulthood.
Dr. Manning has published several research articles showing correlations between low 2D:4D ratio and improved athletic ability across sports. In fact, the lower the 2D:4D ratio gets, the more athletic ability tends to improve.
For example, Dr. Manning found that low 2D:4D digit ratio correlates with running speed. He actually put his reputation as the “finger scientist” on the line on the BBC, when he predicted who would win a sprinting race simply by looking at photographic copies of the competitors’ hands. He got 4 out of 6 right; the two he got wrong finished close together.
Sports that involve balls require an ability to make quick visual-spatial judgments as to where a ball is going to land; Manning has found that men with lower 2D:4D ratios perform better on tests of visual-spatial ability. He theorizes that prenatal exposure to testosterone influences the central nervous system to improve the capacity to make these visual-spatial decisions.
Manning has also found that star players in professional soccer teams in the United Kingdom typically have lower 2D:4D ratios than the teams’ reserve players.
Several studies have found that a lower 2D:4D ratio is correlated with risk taking in men. For example, one study found that men with lower 2D:4D ratios were more likely to engage in “social and recreational” risks than men with higher 2D:4D ratios. Social risks are things like “speaking your mind about an unpopular issue at a social occasion” and recreational risks are things like taking part in mountain climbing or skydiving. The research found the correlation in men only. No such relationship existed in women, even those with lower 2D:4D ratios.
Another study found that men with lower 2D:4D ratios performed better in high-frequency stock trading, partly because they were more likely to take financial risks than men with higher 2D:4D ratios. I’d be curious to see a similar study on differences in financial performance between individuals with low and high 2D:4D ratios on long-term investing. I suspect that people with higher 2D:4D ratios would do better.
Smoking and Drinking
Since the 19th century, smoking has often been associated with manliness, but in onestudy, Manning found that individuals with higher, more feminized 2D:4D ratios actually smoked more than people with lower, more masculine 2D:4D ratios.
With alcohol consumption, low 2D:4D ratios correlate with higher drinking and alcohol dependence, while high 2D:4D ratios correlate with lower drinking and alcohol dependence.
When studying the male members of an orchestra, Manning found that a lower 2D:4D ratio correlated with chair position; that is, the men with lower 2D:4D ratios tended to be ranked near the top in the orchestra. No such correlation between low 2D:4D ratio and musical ability existed with women. In fact, a similar study performed by another group of researchers which focused on female orchestral musicians found that female musicians with higher, more feminized 2D:4D ratios ranked higher in the orchestra.
Autism researcher Simon Baron-Cohen has called autism a manifestation of the “extreme male brain.” Males are diagnosed with autism at a much higher frequency than females, and many of the traits that individuals on the autism spectrum manifest are typical male traits, amplified. For example, individuals on the autism spectrum tend to show strengths in mathematical and spatial reasoning. They also tend to have a higher risk of language impairment and a hard time in social situations.
Manning and Baron-Cohen teamed up on a study to see if there’s a correlation between 2D:4D ratio and autism, and indeed they found one: children with autism had a lower 2D:4D ratio compared to population normative digit ratios. While the causes of autism spectrum are complex, and there’s likely no single cause, this study suggests that prenatal exposure to testosterone may play a role.
Individuals with higher, feminized 2D:4D ratios have more verbal fluency than people with lower 2D:4D ratio.
If you have a hard time focusing and sitting still, your exposure to prenatal sex hormones may be partly to blame. Studies have found correlations between low 2D:4D ratios and ADHD.
Risk of Depression and Anxiety
Elevated testosterone levels have been shown to blunt depression and anxiety in adult men and women. 2D:4D research suggests that prenatal testosterone exposure may organize the brain in such a way as to make an individual more or less susceptible to depression and anxiety as adults. Studies have found that men and women with higher, more feminized 2D:4D ratios have a higher risk of developing depression and anxiety compared to individuals with lower, more masculine 2D:4D ratios.
Risk for Heart Disease
As we discussed in our post about the benefits of testosterone, optimal levels of T as a grown man reduces the risk of developing heart disease. But research suggests that testosterone’s heart-protecting benefits may begin while you’re still a fetus. One study found that men with lower 2D:4D ratios have a reduced risk of developing heart disease compared to men with higher ratios.
Risk for Obesity
Elevated testosterone levels can ward off obesity as an adult, but elevated T levels in the womb may program the body to fight fat later in life as well. Research has found that men with lower 2D:4D ratios tend to be less obese than men with higher 2D:4D levels.
Masculinized or Feminized Face
Masculine faces, according to researchers, are more “robust.” The jaw is wider, the forehead is smaller and shorter, the nose is broader and thicker, eyebrows are thicker, and the eyes are closer together. Basically, your head looks like Thwomp from Super Mario. OrJocko Willink.
Feminine faces are characterized by large foreheads, long slim eyebrows, narrow cheeks, pointier jaws, and eyes that are further apart. On males, these features make them look more pixie, or Peter Pan-like.
Researchers believe that the testosterone surge which occurs at puberty is what gives men their masculine-looking faces. And it does. When boys hit puberty, their little chubby, round mugs start looking more like Thwomp. But one study suggests that prenatal testosterone exposure sets the stage for how masculine a male’s face will be at puberty. In fact, differences in how masculine a boy’s face is can be seen even before puberty, and as you might have guessed, 2D:4D ratio correlates with it.
When researchers looked at a group of boys ages 4-11 and measured their faces for masculine or feminine features, they found that boys with a more masculine, square-shaped head had a lower 2D:4D ratio, while boys with a slenderer, feminine face had a higher 2D:4D ratio.
Most studies have found no correlation between 2D:4D ratio and adult testosterone levels. So whether you have a masculine, low 2D:4D ratio or a more feminine, high 2D:4D ratio won’t affect the amount of circulating testosterone in your body as a grown man.
Manning conducted one study that suggests higher 2D:4D ratios may be correlated with less androgen sensitivity. According to this conclusion, if you were exposed to less prenatal testosterone as a fetus, your body simply won’t respond as much to testosterone compared to men with lower, more masculine 2D:4D ratios.
So bottom line: if you’ve got a higher 2D:4D ratio, don’t worry about it lowering your total and free testosterone levels as a grown man.
A recent study out of South Korea found a correlation between 2D:4D ratio and penis length. Men with lower 2D:4D ratios tend to have longer penises when flaccid, while men with higher 2D:4D ratios have shorter penises. The researchers called for more studies on penis length and 2D:4D ratio in men from other countries.
Risk for Prostate Cancer
It may seem like most of the benefits cut the way of those with a lower 2D:4D ratio, but here’s one that goes the other way. We know that elevated testosterone levels in adult men increase the risk of prostate cancer. But research suggests that exposure to T while in the womb may also influence your chances of getting prostate cancer as an adult. A few studieshave shown that men with lower 2D:4D ratios have a higher risk of prostate cancer and other prostate diseases than men with higher 2D:4D ratios.
One of the most common correlations the popular media likes to talk about in regards to 2D:4D ratios is the link to sexual orientation. But is there really a connection? Research shows mixed conclusions — especially with men.
Among males, some studies have found that men with higher 2D:4D ratios are more likely to identify as gay. But other studies found that homosexual men tend to have lower 2D:4D ratios than heterosexual men. Still other research found that the correlation between 2D:4D ratio and sexual orientation depends on the country a man lives in. Finally, a meta-analysisof all these different studies about sexual orientation and 2D:4D ratio found no significant correlations.
Basically, you can’t look at a man’s hands and determine if he’s gay or straight.
With women, however, several studies have found that lesbians, particularly those who identify as “butch,” have lower 2D:4D ratios than heterosexual women or more feminine lesbians.
At the end, I want to reiterate that while all this information and these hypotheses are interesting, they’re correlational and not strictly deterministic. If you have a high 2D:4D ratio, it shouldn’t be reason for insecurity. The duration of hormones you received in the womb may have made you masculine in other ways, but missed your fingers. And even if you ultimately didn’t bathe in as much T as a fetus, that doesn’t mean you can’t be manly as an adult. Masculinity, after all, comes together at the crossroads between biology and choice. Follow Pindar’s advice. Accept what nature has given you, and “become who you are.”
I’m of two different positions on the open carry situation at the GOP convention. I’ve been on both sides of this and I’ve worked both side of this.
On the one hand this could be a superb experiment and provide some measure of proof regarding how well and how responsibly law abiding citizens conduct themselves with firearms, even in large numbers and in public venues.
Of course I’m already aware of that fact but many are not and many others would never admit it regardless of the actual facts.
On the other hand I’m not really worried about law abiding or well trained/well practiced citizens. I know actual human and criminal behavior and criminals and those who wish to do murder will not abide by the law nor care how they handle their firearms, legally obtained or not. They won’t be out to prove they are responsible, or to practice self or societal defense, they’ll be out to do murder. Which is an entirely different objective with a wholly different set of methodologies.
And the cops simply won’t have enough personnel to check everyone who is packing at such an event or in town, and at the moment even they are open targets of criminals and terrorists.
Then again if the police or anyone else is attacked and armed citizens respond they could very well neutralize (or even just the threat of armed citizens could neutralize) any wanna be/would be murderer or potential mass murderer.
But, just to be honest, mass murderers and terrorists aren’t really afraid, per se, of death, they are only really afraid of being killed before they do a sufficient amount of murder to satisfy their own agenda. So that’s a kind of tricky tightrope – can you dissuade terrorists and mass murderers with the threat of failure since you can’t dissuade them properly with the threat of being killed in their attempts to do mass murder?
And on the other side of that even if citizens do kill the threat then police will find that very hard to sort out well, especially in the heat of the moment and in the chaos of the crowd. They will have to proceed cautiously enough to properly observe and understand the actual situation, should one develop, and that slowing of reaction times may put them and others in jeopardy.
Yes, this will be either a wonderful experiment regarding citizen proactivity and self-protection, or a security and policing nightmare, or, most likely and to some degree, both.
I guess I (like everyone else) will just have to see how this all develops over time.
Yeah, I had him pegged early on as either ex-military or former SWAT. So I was right on that part too. Guy knew exactly what he was doing. The attack was too well executed and planned and staged and possibly even coordinated. His defensive positioning and site preparation must have been impressive to employ the robot with an explosive. It probably wasn’t just to kill him but to trigger potential IEDS, prepared bombs, booby traps, and excess ammo as well. Plus until the actually got into his nest they could not have known/verified he was actually alone.
Then the robot could also do a post explosion assessment/sweep for traps and additional suspects prior to human penetration.
Yeah, that makes a lot more sense now. The robot and the explosives. Bad all the way around, but I get the logic. Especially if they had prior Intel from the negotiations or profile/personnel/background research.
By Tim Madigan, William Wan and Mark Berman July 8 at 2:53 PM
Here’s what we know so far about the Dallas shooting Play Video1:57
DALLAS — Five Dallas police officers were killed and seven others wounded Thursday night when sniper fire turned a peaceful protest over recent police shootings into a scene of chaos and terror.
The gunfire was followed by a standoff that lasted for hours with a suspect who told authorities “he was upset about the recent police shootings” and “said he wanted to kill white people, especially white officers,” according to Dallas Police Chief David Brown. The gunman was killed when police detonated a bomb-equipped robot.
After the bloodshed — the deadliest single day for law enforcement officers since the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks — authorities said one attacker was dead, three potential suspects were in custody and police were still investigating who may have been involved in the attack.
Dallas shooting updates
News and analysis on the deadliest day for police since 9/11.
“We are heartbroken,” Brown said during a news conference Friday. “There are no words to describe the atrocity that occurred to our city.”
The eruption of violence at around 9 p.m. occurred during a calm protest over recent police shootings in Minnesota and Louisiana, with similar demonstrations occurring in cities across the country. As a barrage of gunfire ripped through the air, demonstrators and police officers alike scrambled. Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings told CBS News that in addition to the police officers, two other people were wounded by gunfire, though their conditions were not immediately known.
[What we know about the attack on police in Dallas]
‘Somebody’s armed to the teeth’: Social videos show shooting in Dallas Play Video2:37
Police have not officially released the identity of the attacker who said he was upset by police shootings, but a senior U.S. law enforcement official familiar with the probe identified him as Micah Xavier Johnson, 25, who is believed to be from the Dallas area. Johnson did not appear to have any ties to international terrorism, the official said.
Johnson deployed to Afghanistan with the U.S. Army from November 2013 through July 2014 and was in the Army Reserve from 2009 until last year. Army records show that Johnson, whose home was listed as Mesquite, Tex., had served with an engineering brigade before he was sent to Afghanistan. He did not have a combat job and was listed as a carpentry and masonry specialist.
There are no immediate indications that the attack was related to terrorism, international or domestic, according to a second federal law enforcement official, who asked not to be identified discussing an ongoing probe.
Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch said Friday that federal officials including the FBI and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms were working with local law enforcement to help investigate the attack.
“This has been a week of profound grief and heartbreak and loss,” Lynch said. Noting that the attack in Dallas happened during a protest sparked by police shootings, she added: “After the events of this week, Americans across our country are feeling a sense of helplessness, uncertainty and fear … but the answer must not be violence.”
[Man falsely connected to the shooting by Dallas police is now getting ‘thousands’ of death threats]
The slain police included four Dallas police officers and one Dallas Area Rapid Transit (DART) officer. While police said they were killed by “snipers” perched atop “elevated positions” and initially said there were two snipers, it was unclear Friday how many attackers were involved.
For hours after the assault, police were locked in a standoff with Johnson after he was cornered on the second floor of a building downtown. Police exchanged gunfire with him and negotiated with him, but those discussions broke down, Brown said.
In those conversations, Brown said the suspect told police that “he was upset about Black Lives Matter” and angered by the police shootings in Louisiana and Minnesota that dominated national news this week after officers in both places fatally shot black men. He also said he was not involved with any groups and acted alone, the police chief said.
Authorities currently believe that he was the lone shooter, although have not completely ruled out the involvement of others, said Philip Kingston, a Dallas City Councilman who represents the downtown district. “The shooter’s own statement apparently was that he had acted alone,” Kingston said around midday on Friday.
During the standoff, Johnson also told authorities that “the end is coming” and spoke about bombs being placed downtown, though no explosives had been found by Friday.
[Dallas police Chief David Brown lost his son, former partner and brother to violence]
Ultimately, Brown said police had no other option but to place an explosive device on their bomb robot and send it to the suspect, who was killed when the bomb detonated.
During remarks at a prayer vigil on Friday afternoon, Brown said that “this was a well-planned, well-thought-out evil tragedy by these suspects,” adding: “And we won’t rest until we bring everyone involved to justice.”
Names of the slain officers began to emerge Friday, beginning with Brent Thompson, a 43-year-old transit police officer and Patrick Zamarripa, a 32-year-old police officer who served three tours in Iraq with the U.S. military.
The Dallas transit agency identified three of its officers who were injured but are expected to survive.
“As you can imagine, our hearts are broken,” the agency said in a statement. “We are grateful to report the three other DART police officers shot during the protest are expected to recover from their injuries.”
These three officers were named as Omar Cannon, 44; Misty McBride, 32; and Jesus Retana, 39. Tela Strickland, McBride’s 14-year-old cousin, reacted with “shock” to news that her relative was shot in the stomach and shoulder.
“I am so tired of seeing shootings in the news,” she told The Post. “When you see your own family in the news, it’s heartbreaking.”
DART grieving the loss of Ofc Brent Thompson, 43, killed during Thurs protest. First DART officer killed in line of duty. Joined DART 2009.
3:00 AM – 8 Jul 2016
1,924 1,924 Retweets 1,296 1,296 likes
Even as people were still trying to hide or shelter in place after the gunfire, videos began to circulate on social media showing some of the bloodshed.
One video showed a person with an assault-style rifle shoot a police officer in the back at point-blank range. In the footage, a gunman is seen running up behind an officer moving behind a pillar and firing at his back. The officer is seen falling to the ground. It is unclear if the officer survived.
Eyewitness video: Dallas gunman shoots police officer Play Video1:47
Brown had said during one briefing that he was not sure if there were more suspects at large. On Friday, Brown said he would not go into any detail on other suspects until authorities get further into their investigation.
“We’re not expanding on who and how many,” he said. “We’re going to keep these suspects guessing.”
[Killings and racial tensions commingle with divided and divisive politics]
At one point, Brown had said he believed four suspects were “working together with rifles triangulated at elevated positions at different points in the downtown area” where the march was taking place.
“Suspects like this just have to be right once … to snipe at officers from elevated position and ambush them from secret positions,” Brown said Friday. He added that despite the danger, officers “with no chance to protect themselves … put themselves in harm’s way to make sure citizens can get to a safe place.”
Two possible suspects were seen climbing into a black Mercedes with a camouflage bag before speeding off, police said. They were apprehended in the Oak Cliff neighborhood of Dallas. A third possible suspect, a woman, was taken into custody near a garage where the attacker who exchanged gunfire with police wound up.
Brown said it was unclear if any of the suspects were somehow connected to the protest. He added that detectives were investigating that possibility.
“All I know is this must stop, this divisiveness between our police and our citizens,” he said.
[Police nationwide order officers to ride in pairs after Dallas police ambush]
On Friday, Rawlings, the mayor, said that he believed the country had to honestly confront racial discrimination.
“We will not shy away from the very real fact that we as city, as a state, as a nation are struggling with racial issues,” he said during a prayer vigil.
After the shooting in Dallas, police officers and agencies across the country offered their condolences and took steps to protect their officers.
Police chiefs in Washington, Los Angeles County, Boston, Nassau County and St. Louis also had instructed their patrol officers to pair up, as did officials in Las Vegas, where two officers were gunned down in an ambush while eating lunch in 2014, and New York, where two officers were killed in another ambush that same year.
Terry Cunningham, the president of the International Association of Chiefs of Police and the chief of police in Wellesley, Mass., said Friday, that officers nationwide “really are going to have to have vigilance. Any traffic stop, at any time, can be deadly. I don’t know what this means. I don’t know if this means more violence perpetrated toward law enforcement as a result of this.”
Officials in Tennessee said Friday that they believed a man who opened fire on a parkway there before exchanging gunshots with police may have been prompted by concerns over encounters involving police and black Americans.
The Tennessee Bureau of Investigation said that Lakeem Keon Scott, 37, the suspected shooter in that case, had killed one woman driving in her car, wounded two other people and shot a Bristol, Tenn., police officer in the leg before officers shot and wounded him.
“Preliminarily, the investigation reveals Scott may have targeted individuals and officers after being troubled by recent incidents involving African-Americans and law enforcement officers in other parts of the country,” the agency said in a statement. They added that there was no current safety threat to the area and that the investigation suggested that Scott had worked alone.
[Minn. governor says race played role in fatal police shooting during traffic stop]
The mass shooting in Dallas comes amid intense scrutiny of police officers and how they use deadly force, an issue that returned to prominence in the news this week after videos circulated of a fatal shooting in Baton Rouge, La., and the aftermath of another in Minnesota. On Tuesday morning, Alton Sterling was fatally shot by police in Baton Rouge; less than 48 hours later, Philando Castile was fatally shot by an officer in Minnesota.
President Obama, who after arriving in Warsaw discussed how troubling the events in Minnesota and Louisiana were, spoke about the Dallas attack and said there was “no possible justification” for the shooting in the city.
“I believe that I speak for every single American when I say that we are horrified over these events,” Obama said.
He called on Americans to “profess our profound gratitude to the men and women in blue” and to remember the victims in particular.
“Today, our focus is on the victims and their families,” Obama said. “They are heartbroken, and the entire city of Dallas is grieving. Police across America, which is a tight-knit family, feels this loss to their core.”
Officials across the country expressed their grief for those killed in Dallas.
“I mourn for the officers shot while doing their sacred duty to protect peaceful protesters, for their families [and] all who serve with them,” Hillary Clinton, the presumptive Democratic nominee for president, wrote in a message on Twitter. Her likely Republican opponent, Donald J. Trump, called the shooting “a coordinated, premeditated assault on the men and women who keep us safe.”
Amidst protests, police heroics
Stories of heroism emerged along with tales of horror. Several people said officers helped save them, including one man who said an officer pushed him out of the way as shooting began. Bystanders captured footage of cops dragging fallen comrades out of the line of fire. Cameras also captured police officers choking back tears for their fallen colleagues. One officer appeared to brace himself against his SUV as grief overcame him.
“So many stories of great courage,” Brown said.
Dallas Police respond after shots were fired at a Black Lives Matter rally in downtown Dallas on Thursday, July 7, 2016. Dallas protestors rallied in the aftermath of the killing of Alton Sterling by police officers in Baton Rouge, La. and Philando Castile, who was killed by police less than 48 hours later in Minnesota. (Smiley N. Pool/The Dallas Morning News)
Rawlings said it was “a heartbreaking morning” and called for unity.
“We as a city, we as a country, must come together and lock arms and heal the wounds we all feel,” he said.
As in other cities across the country, protesters gathered in downtown Dallas just before 7 p.m. for a march from Belo Garden Park to the Old Red Courthouse.
For nearly two hours, hundreds of demonstrators had marched through Dallas, at one point passing near a memorial plaza marking the site of President John F. Kennedy’s 1963 assassination in the city.
[Dallas witness: ‘Everybody seemed happy. And then, all of a sudden — the shots rang out.’]
Stanley Brown, 19, was near El Centro, a community college in downtown, when the shooting began.
“You could hear the bullets whizzing by our car and hitting the buildings. A bullet missed our car by six feet,” he said. “We pulled into a garage and got out of our car, and the bullets started hitting the walls of the garage.”
Brown ran around the corner of a building to take cover, only to see a gunman running up the street.
“He was ducking and dodging, and when police approached, he ducked into El Centro,” he said.
He saw a SWAT team rush the college building, enabling five people to escape.
“An officer looked back at us and yelled that it was a terrorist attack,” he said.
Lynn Mays said he was standing on Lamar Street when the shooting began.
“All of a sudden we started hearing gunshots out of nowhere,” he told the Dallas Morning News. “At first we couldn’t identify it because we weren’t expecting it, then we started hearing more, rapid fire. One police officer who was standing there pushed me out the way because it was coming our direction…. Next thing you know we heard ‘officer down.’”
Undercover and uniformed police officers started running around the corner and “froze,” Mays said. “Police officers started shooting in one direction, and whoever was shooting started shooting back.
“And that’s where the war began.”
Wan and Berman reported from Washington. Greg Jaffe in Warsaw and Michael E. Miller, Travis M. Andrews, Adam Goldman, Katie Mettler, Ben Guarino, Mary Hui, Tom Jackman, Peter Hermann and Thomas Gibbons-Neff in Washington contributed to this report.
Two years after Ferguson, fatal shootings by police are up
The Post’s database of fatal police shootings
The Dallas sniper attack was the deadliest event for police since 9/11
First thing I noticed this morning upon waking… asked the wife if she understood what this meant? Not sure she did. Not sure many do. Or will. Not at first anyway.
The irony is that I’ve been following events surrounding the Dallas PD for a few weeks now including the supposed mass resignations. A couple of articles said over money, but a few hinted at other things, like failure to issue equipment because of an emphasis on community policing. (Which I’m not against, it’s just some beats are far more dangerous than others and trying to patrol all beats in the same way is ridiculous.)
Now assuming the reports I’ve read are true and some of the resignations are because of an insistence up top that all beats be equipped and patrolled as if they are all waterfront garden districts and certain equipment and tactics were discouraged, then you use a robot to explode a perp (which again I’m not against as a last ditch resort to save lives), then the precedent here could at least conceivably lead down some very dark corridors.
You discourage vest and body armor and possibly trigger mass resignations but then employ robots not to just shoot and overwhelm a suspect but to explode them?
If you can’t see the irony…
But I’d like to make a suggestion in this arena iffin I may. If you’re gonna go down this road then at least properly prepare. Develop police combat robots which can gas, stun, immobilize, track, overwhelm, immobilize, incapacitate, and apprehend suspects rather than just merely shoot and blow them up. Sure, I’m not a great fan of robots replacing people in such situations but at least be ready with real Policing Bots and not just shoot and kill bots.
Because in cases where ya got a guy dead to rights, and he’s already shooting or blowing up the joint, that’s one thing. But in cases involving other suspects who you don’t really know their real disposition just blowing em up will lead to very bad things.
Or worse lead to a third world, Robocop, mere liberal Utopian big-government, big-brother democracy of the best equipped rather than to a thriving Republic of Free Men.
Assuming we have a Republic anymore, which ain’t likely…
Bomb Squad Robot Drives Up Ramp
J.p. Lawrence, via DVIDS
Bomb Squad Robot Drives Up Ramp
From New York National Guard: “A bomb disposal robot drives up a ramp piloted by New York Army National Guard Staff Sgt. Adam Russ of the New York Army National Guard’s 501st Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) Battalion, during training at the New York State Preparedness Training Center in Oriskany New York, May 18”
In the wake of post-protest shootings that left five police officers dead and seven others wounded, along with two civilians, police traded gunfire last night with a suspect inside a downtown Dallas parking garage. Eventually, law enforcement sent a “bomb robot” (most likely shorthand for a remotely controlled bomb disposal robot) armed with an explosive, to the suspect’s location, then detonated the explosive, killing the suspect.
“We saw no other option but to use our bomb robot and place a device on its extension for it to detonate where the suspect was…other options would have exposed our officers to great danger,” said Dallas Police Chief David O. Brown. “The suspect is deceased as a result of detonating the bomb.”
Repurposing a robot that was created to prevent death by explosion clearly contrasts with the way these machines are normally used. Bomb disposal robots are routinely used to minimize the potential of harm to officers and civilians when disarming or clearing potential explosives from an area. They are often equipped with their own explosive charges and other tools, not to kill, but detonate other potential bombs in the area.
Dallas police used a bomb disposal robot in another major news story last year, when the Dallas Police headquarters were attacked by a gunman who planted explosives. That assailant was shot by police, not killed by the bomb robot.
Records show that the Dallas County Sheriff Department and neighboring Duncanville Police Department each own a MARCbot, another commonly-used bomb disposal robot.
However, in previous images seen of the Dallas Police department using bomb disposal robots, they appear to actually use a Northrop Grumman Remotec Andros F6A or F6B, a standard model for police and military use. It’s highly customizable, and can look very different depending on which configuration of arm and sensors are configured. The closest known Andros resides in Comal County, Texas, 250 miles away.
The police’s use of this machine to kill raises questions about how robots will be used in the future. This may be the first example of a robot being used by American police to kill a suspect, notes University of California Davis law professor Elizabeth Joh:
Popular Science contributing editor Peter W. Singer tweets that similar tactics have been used before, although in a military situation, when a surveillance robot was used to kill an insurgent with a Claymore explosive.
It’s unclear how police controlled the robot, but wireless protocols can be easily intercepted or altered by skilled hackers. Security researcher Matt Blaze points out that the security of a machine like this becomes more important once it’s shown the capacity to be used as a weapon.
In other images found of Dallas a bomb disposal robot in action, the robot appears to be controlled wirelessly. The Andros robot can be operated wirelessly or with a wired tether, according to the Northrop Grumman website, but it’s unclear which mode Dallas Police used in this incident.
Updated: This post has been updated to reflect new information concerning the potential bomb disposal robot used.
If it was indeed two snipers though it was not just random violence (is there ever really such a thing?) aimed at police but a well calculated and well planned operation. It could be a local gang, possibly, but I am dubious. Not many gangs or thugs are good shots, much less highly accurate sniper shots.
No, this was in the works for awhile I suspect especially given their accuracy and positioning. It was well scouted and to have escaped as they did that also makes me dubious that this is what it initially appears.
Given what is reported thus far I suspect someone like Mexican drug lords, or perhaps even terrorists. It could be a lone wolf or a pair of them but whoever did this did so in a methodical way and when everything else went down with the kid who was shot in his car they stepped in (or stepped up their already planned operation) and exploited the hole they had to have already been aware of.
Like I said anything is possible nowadays but I suspect this was something already well panned, not just a one or two day patchwork effort. It was well planned and well executed and well plotted. Someone knew exactly what to hit and when and where.
They should go where the evidence leads but I would disregard no one at this point. Including drug gangs hiring out or even terrorists.
There is one other possibility too, which might sound crazy but I’ve seen crazier.
The man whose picture has been circulated by the Dallas Police Department has turned himself in, the department tweeted. Police initially called the man a suspect, but now refer to him as a person of interest. Another alleged suspect is in custody, the tweet said. A suspicious package was discovered near that suspect’s location. The package is being secured by a bomb squad, the tweet said.
[Breaking news update 12:19 a.m. ET]
A fourth officer has died following a protest in Dallas over shootings by police of black men in Louisiana and Minnesota, Dallas police tweeted.
[Breaking news update 12:13 a.m. ET]
The Dallas Police Department tweeted an image of a man they said was one of the suspects and asked the public for help in finding him. The photo is of an African-American man wearing a camouflage T-shirt and carrying what appears to be a rifle. Texas is an open carry state, which means it is legal for those with permits to openly carry weapons.
[Breaking news update 12:08 a.m. ET]
Eleven police officers have been shot in Dallas, according to city police Chief David Brown. Three officers have died: one DART officer and two Dallas police officers, Brown said.
[Breaking news update 12:05 a.m. ET]
Police have cornered a suspect in a commercial garage after the shootings of 11 police officers near the end of a protest in Dallas over shootings by police of black men in Louisiana and Minnesota, police Chief David Brown told reporters. The chief said at least two snipers in elevated positions fired “ambush style” on the officers. “Some (were) shot in the back.” There also is a search for a possible bomb in the area, Brown said. “This is a very emotional time for our department and the law enforcement community across the country,” Brown said. Officials asked the public’s help in identifying suspects.
[Previous story posted at 11:58 p.m. ET]
Multiple police officers have been killed during a protest in Dallas over shootings by police of black men in Louisiana and Minnesota.
Three Dallas police officers were killed and eight others were wounded, Dallas Police Chief David Brown and the City of Dallas said in separate statements.
One Dallas Area Rapid Transit officer was fatally shot, the agency tweeted.
It’s not clear if Brown included the DART officers in his tally.
Brown said two snipers shot the 10 from elevated positions during a protest. Two officers are in surgery and three are in critical condition. No suspects were in custody.
Three other DART officers were also shot. Their injuries are not considered life-threatening, DART said.
‘Everyone was screaming’
The shooting happened as protests were underway about two blocks from Dealey Plaza. Video showed the crowd suddenly sprinting away.
CNN affiliate KTVT reported that two Dallas officers were shot. CNN could not immediately confirm that information and it’s not clear if they were referring to the DART officers.
Witness Clarissa Myles said she was eating at McDonalds when the chaos began.
“Everyone was screaming, people were running,” she said. “I saw at least probably 30 shots go off.”
“I was walking next to the officer who was helping with the protest, all of a sudden I saw six to eight shots,” one witness told the station. “It looked like two officers went down.”
Another witness who was at the protest told the station he heard multiple gunshots.
“Whoever was shooting had an assault rifle — and I know guns. The shots were in rapid succession,” the witness said.
Video showed numerous police officers crouching behind vehicles. Others approached a location holding protective shields.
“Our thoughts and prayers are with the Dallas law enforcement community and the Dallas Area Rapid Transit (DART) officers killed and injured this evening,” Texas Gov. Greg Abbott said in a statement following the shooting. “In times like this we must remember — and emphasize — the importance of uniting as Americans.”
My opinion on this, and it has been my opinion for a long time, is that this is bad police training. That, especially in big city police forces, officers are being trained as if for war, instead of policing. You cannot train a police force as if they are soldiers or to see every young guy or black guy as a lethal threat. Or every move they make as a lethal threat.
Young men, young black men (anyone really), have a right to just be Citizens. They have a right to carry guns. And although I have always told my children and wife (and I practice this principle myself), make no sudden move around police, this does not mean police have the legal right to pull a gun and shoot you simply because you do something they do not immediately understand. Police are trained to react properly, the citizen is not the party who has been professionally trained. Proper training and superior (not inferior) reactions are the responsibilities of being trained as a police officer. It is what should be expected. the standard, the norm.
Also after shooting the guy the officer did not render assistance, he did not clear the car, he did not secure the child, he just stood there yelling orders at the woman. No cop I grew up with or around as a kid would have acted in that way. This is the stance and behavior of a solider in a war zone, not a police officer. No old timer would have behaved in this way.
If you are going to train for war then you will kill innocent and helpless citizens. Or just as bad leave them to die after you have over-reacted.
This is war training, and you are not at war. And this will continue more or less routinely, at least in heavily urban areas (you rarely see this in rural areas and I hope it stays that way) until the training shifts back to police work.
Nevertheless I have come to understand that this is like so much else that is fucked up about my nation. Authority and law supersedes what is right and wrong, training supersedes common sense, reactions supersede thought and observation, the system overrules and tyrannizes the individual, the individual is terrified and will not Revolt against it all, and no one is concerned at all with fixing the actual problems. Be they police over-reactions or unchecked ghetto criminal activity and gang murders or corrupt governments or bad laws or lack of self-discipline, or whatever the case may be. And the actual problems would be so easy to fix if modern men just had the balls to be honest, and to act.
But my nation is determined to tear itself apart, to Balkanize itself, and to avoid problem solving. The pussy in us is deep, and we are all equally guilty.
And if we don’t get our shit straightened out and start being honest and show more courage then we will all burn together.
Not because we have to, but because we’re too big a set of pussies to do otherwise.
And that is what bothers me most of all. Not that we are condemned to rip each other apart and follow our own worst instincts, but that we are so fucking satisfied to do so.
by PHIL HELSEL, SHAMAR WALTERS and ALASTAIR JAMIESON
PlayMinneapolis shooting: Philando Castile’s death sparks outrage Facebook Twitter Google Plus Embed
Minneapolis shooting: Philando Castile’s death sparks outrage 2:57
Protests erupted in Minnesota overnight after a man was fatally shot by police during a traffic stop in front of his girlfriend and a child.
The aftermath of Philando Castile’s shooting in Falcon Heights was apparently captured in graphic detail on Facebook video.
Angry crowds gathered outside the governor’s mansion as news spread about the death. Castile, 32, was a kitchen supervisor for the St. Paul school district.
His was the second officer-involved shooting of a black man to spark protests in just two days, following the death of Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
The St. Anthony Police Department confirmed a man was fatally shot during a traffic stop Wednesday night, saying that a handgun was recovered from the scene and that the officer involved has been placed on paid administrative leave.
The department added that the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension will lead an investigation.
Congresswoman Betty McCollum, whose district covers Falcon Heights, also called for a federal investigation into the shooting to “provide all Minnesotans with a clear understanding of the facts surrounding this incident and ensure accountability appropriate to those facts.”
The Justice Department said Thursday that it was aware of the incident and was “assessing the situation.”
A woman and her young child were in the car at the time but were unharmed, the department told NBC affiliate KARE11. Police did not identify the victim but his family named him as Philando Castile.
In a Facebook video that appears to show the aftermath of the shooting, a man is seen in a blood-soaked white T-shirt slumped in the driver’s seat of a car. The form of what appears to be an officer is at the window, pointing a gun inside.
“Oh my god, please don’t tell me that he’s gone. Please, officer, don’t tell me that you just did this to him,” the panicked woman, who identified herself as Castile’s girlfriend, can be heard saying.
“He’s licensed to carry. He was trying to get out his ID and his wallet out of his pocket and he let the officer know that he was — he had a firearm and he was reaching for his wallet,” the woman tells the camera.
Related: ‘Full of Joy’: Family Mourns Alton Sterling
Speaking to the bleeding man, the woman says: “Stay with me! We got pulled over for a busted tail-light in the back, and the police just … he’s covered. They killed my boyfriend.”
The officer is heard saying “I told him not to reach for it!” to which the woman replies: “You told him to get his ID, sir, his driver’s license.”
“Oh my God, please don’t tell me he’s dead,” the woman says as the wounded man slumps motionless in the seat.
“My daughter just witnessed this,” the woman says.
The child is later seen in the video and tries to comfort her crying mother.
The contents of the video have not been independently confirmed by NBC News.
Interim St. Anthony police chief Sgt. Jon Mangseth said he did not have details on what prompted the traffic stop, telling a press conference that he was aware of the livestream but hadn’t seen the video. The officer involved has been with the police department for around five years, he added.
His police department serves Falcon Heights. a city of around 5,300 people between Minneapolis and St. Paul.
Castile had a concealed weapons permit to carry a firearm, his uncle Clarence Castile told NBC News.
“My nephew, he wasn’t trying to pull a weapon on those police,” Clarence Castile said. “He was reaching for ID.”
He said his nephew was one more victim in a string of “young black men being murdered” by police.
PlayVideo of Police Shooting Death of Alton Sterling Stirs Outrage Facebook Twitter Google Plus Embed
Video of Police Shooting Death of Alton Sterling Stirs Outrage 2:52
“My nephew was executed,” Clarence Castile said. “They are going to try and make my nephew out to be a bad guy and get away with murdering another young black man.”
“My nephew was nowhere near being a bum, he was a good young man,” he added. “He was a good kid who loved life.”
Castile’s mother, Valerie, told CNN that he died before she could reach the hospital where he was taken. “They didn’t let me see my son’s body at all,” she said early Thursday. “I have not identified my son’s body because they didn’t let me.”
She added that she had previously spoken to her son about what to do in situations where he’s confronted by police — and it was always to comply.
“‘Whatever they ask you to do, do it. Don’t say nothing,'” she advised him, adding, “So what’s the difference in complying and you get killed anyway?”
PlayPhilando Castile Shooting Sparks Angry Protests Facebook Twitter Google Plus Embed
Philando Castile Shooting Sparks Angry Protests 0:28
Protesters gathered overnight near the scene of the shooting chanting “No Justice, No Peace” and “Prosecute the Police.”
A noisy crowd also formed outside the governor’s mansion in St. Paul, where police confirmed to KARE11 that Gov. Mark Dayton was in residence. Car horns honked constantly and protesters covered the railings in police tape.
View image on TwitterView image on Twitter
Tony Webster @webster
The rain is not keeping people away. Minnesota Governor’s mansion at 4:30am. #FalconHeightsShooting
5:56 AM – 7 Jul 2016 · St Paul, MN, United States
111 111 Retweets 92 92 likes
Among the crowd was Minneapolis NAACP president Nekima Levy-Pounds, who called on Gov. Dayton to “wake up and make a statement” about the shooting. “This is completely unacceptable,” she told the crowd. “Enough is enough!”
She earlier told reporters that Castile was “an upstanding citizen according to all the reports we’ve heard,” adding: “We just have a number of questions about how something like this could happen once again.”
Scroll through some young guy’s Tumblr or Instagram feed and you’re bound to find a picture of a menacing-looking wolf with blood around its chops or a lone wolf howling at the moon. Superimposed on this image is invariably a quote in big bold lettering — some kind of edgy, muscular platitude about ignoring your haters, striking out on your own, and dominating everyone in sight.
You know, being a straight up alpha wolf.
The idea of there being alpha (and beta) wolves originated from Rudolph Schenkel of the University of Basel in Switzerland, who studied a pack of wolves living at a zoo in the 1940s. Schenkel observed that the wolves competed for status within their own sex, and that from these rivalries emerged a kind of “alpha pair” — a “lead wolf” that was the top male dog, and a “bitch” that was the top female dog.
Then in 1970, American scientist L. David Mech wrote a book called The Wolf, which expanded on Schenkel’s research and popularized the idea of alpha and beta wolves and the leader/subordinate social dynamic of wolf packs.
Both researchers described this dynamic as a competition for rank, with alphas being those who were domineering, aggressive, and violent, and used these qualities to fight off rivals to become the supreme leader of the pack.
Popular culture soon took this conception of the alpha wolf, along with the whole alpha vs beta distinction, and applied it to humans — especially men. Hence, the idea that to be an alpha male, you’ve got to take no prisoners, f*** s*** up each and every day, take what’s yours, and never say sorry.
There’s just one problem with this idea.
The research it’s based on turned out to be hugely flawed.
Below, we’ll explore the myth and reality of the alpha wolf. As we’ll see, looking to wolves for inspiration for human conduct can actually be useful and inspiring, but only if you’ve got a correct conception for what that behavior consists of. Here’s what it really means to be alpha like the wolf.
The Myth and Reality of the Alpha Wolf
For most of the 20th century, researchers believed that gray wolf packs formed each winter among independent and unrelated wolves that lived near each other. They had reached this conclusion from observing groups of wolves that had been taken from various zoos and thrown together in captivity.
Under these circumstances, researchers observed that wolves would organize the pack hierarchy based on physical aggression and dominance. The alpha male wolf, indeed, was the wolf that kicked ass and took names.
But then some researchers decided they should actually try to observe how pack formation happens in the wild.
Based on their studies on confined wolves, they thought they were going to see this:
But were instead surprised to see this:
Instead of forming packs of unrelated individuals, in which alphas compete to rise to the top, researchers discovered that wild wolf packs actually consist of little nuclear wolf families. Wolves are in fact a generally monogamous species, in which males and females pair off and mate for life. Together they form a pack that typically consists of 5-11 members — the mate pair plus their children, who stay with the pack until they’re about a year old, and then go off to secure their own mates and form their own packs.
The mate pair shares in the responsibility of leading their family and tending to their pups. In 21st century human terminology, they “co-parent.” And by virtue of being parents, and leading their “subordinate” children, the mates represent a pair of “alphas.” The alpha male, or papa wolf, sits at the top of the male hierarchy in the family and the alpha female, or mamma wolf, sits atop the female hierarchy in the family.
In other words, male alpha wolves don’t gain their status through aggression and the dominance of other males, but because the other wolves in the pack are his mate and kiddos. He’s the pack patriarch. The Pater Familias. Dear Old Dad.
And like any good family man, a male alpha wolf protects his family and treats them with kindness, generosity, and love.
After observing gray wolves in Yellowstone for more than twenty years, wolf researcher Richard McIntyre has rarely seen an alpha male wolf act aggressively towards his own pack. Instead, an alpha dad sticks around until his pups are fully matured. He hunts alone or with his mate and children to provide food for the family (and sometimes waits for them to get their fill before he digs in himself), roughhouses with his pups (and gets a kick out of letting them win), and even goes out of his way to tend to the runts of his pack.
This isn’t to say male alpha wolves are all cuddles and kisses. They’re of course fierce predators, and can take down large prey like moose and bison. And when his family is threatened by outside enemies and competitors, the alpha male will fiercely defend it — sometimes sacrificing his own life to save his mate and pups.
This also isn’t to say male wolves don’t sometimes engage in displays of social dominance. Mature male wolves do have dominance encounters with other male wolves – fathers will stand up to a stranger alpha, or sometimes show their own kids who’s boss, and an older wolf brother will demonstrate his superiority to his little wolf bro.
So an alpha wolf can indeed be violent and assertive when the situation calls for it. Yet for the most part, he leads not with noisy brashness and teeth-bared aggression, but steady strength, mettle, and heart; as McIntyre told another wolf researcher:
“The main characteristic of an alpha male wolf is a quiet confidence, quiet self-assurance. You know what you need to do; you know what’s best for your pack. You lead by example. You’re very comfortable with that. You have a calming effect.”
After learning how wolves actually form packs, researchers like L. David Mech retracted their original theory of alpha wolves and now eschew terms like “alpha male” or “alpha female” altogether when describing wolf hierarchy, instead preferring to classify the leader wolves as “breeding males” and “breeding females.”
Unfortunately, the old conception has stuck around, and many men today have a mistaken notion of what it means to harness your inner alpha wolf. The reality of being an alpha is truly much more multi-faceted, and even more inspiring.
Making the Wolf Your Totem Animal of Manhood
I love the idea of animal totems, or at least finding inspiration from animals on how a man should live his life. Animals can serve as powerful symbols to us humans. The symbols become all the more powerful and meaningful when we have a correct understanding of how the animal actually behaves.
The gray wolf’s proclivity to roam and its prowess as a predator has for thousands of years made it a powerful symbol of the warrior, and of the freedom, wildness, and ferocity of masculinity. But that’s just one side of the wolf, and one side of what it means to be a man.
Yes, alpha male wolves are wild, aggressive, and savage. But they’re also protective, nurturing, and tender.
So if you want to truly become alpha like a wolf, you’ll need to do more than become a beast in the gym, and strive to overcome your competitors. You’ll also need to become a committed and dedicated family man — a loving and protective father.
While I’ve always loved wolves and their wildness, after learning more about the nuances of their social dynamics, I’ve fallen in love with them even more. The wolf is a nearly perfect symbol of the ideal of masculinity that I’m trying to get across here at Art of Manliness. Like alpha wolves, I want to see men who tackle life’s adventure with their mates by their side, and lead their families with heart and strength. I want to see men who have the ability to marshal the hard tactical virtues of masculinity when needed against external threats, but temper that ferocity with softer virtues like compassion and gentleness, particularly towards those they love.
So by all means, continue sharing your savage wolf memes on Instagram and Tumblr. Wolves are awesome. But know that gray wolves howl to assemble their mate and pups before and after a hunt, to warn them of danger, and to locate each other during a storm, when traversing unfamiliar territory, or when separated over a great distance. It’s the call not of the angry, antisocial lone wolf, but of a father who’s leading, guiding, and lovingly gathering his pack.
I can name a helluvah lot more than that: our absolute immorality and amorality, our obsession with politics, our thinking that we need to be constantly saved from ourselves by secular saviors, the idea that the government must control everything about us, our pathetic fear of death, our sociological and pathological hiding from death, our need to be entertained at every moment, our political propaganda system disguised as “public education,” the twisted idea that man is his own god and our object of self-worship, our disconnect from the natural world, our renewed paganism (I mean that in multiple senses), how little we use our own senses and minds, the crazy concept that there are no sins, only experiences, and I could go on and on and on.
Then again, I fully admit – I’m a man out of time.
Although a medieval person vacationing in the twenty-first century would no doubt be overjoyed at things like electricity, modern transportation, and flushing toilets, there are a lot of things they probably wouldn’t appreciate about our time. Here are five things a medieval person might just hate about the modern world.
Portrait of a Man by Albrecht Durer
1. Our Oversharing
While I imagine mobile phones being embraced quickly, I do think the idea would be mystifying at first, and not just because they look like magic. After the initial enthusiasm, I can easily imagine a medieval person asking, “But who do you actually need to talk to right away, all the time?” Because of the pace of distance communication in the Middle Ages, people didn’t communicate as much trivial information as we do to as many people as we do across the astounding distances that we do. Undoubtedly, they’d welcome the chance to immediately communicate transportation mishaps (“My horse just blew a shoe…”) and medical emergencies, but I imagine it would take some time to adjust to the idea of sharing every thought (and meal) with the world.
2. Our Work Schedules
Medieval people worked hard for a living, but between Sundays, and the many, many saints’ days and religious feasts, medieval people actually got more official holidays than modern people do. Also, when it got too dark to work outside, outside work stopped. For modern people, connectivity has made it all too easy to work well past the hours we’re paid to work, while frantically squeezing in domestic chores. It might be hard to explain to a medieval visitor why we are still working so hard when our technology should be giving us more free time. Medieval people could well think we’re nuts.
3. Our Memories
A medieval person dropped into our century would be stunned by the amount of information we have access to – it’s one of this century’s greatest achievements. However, he or she would also be stunned to know how little we remember any of it. In the Middle Ages, students got their degrees by listening, remembering, and putting together long arguments based on what they’d learned, while students today may not remember their class schedules because they’re programmed into their phones. Modern people can depend on having the ability to look up what we need when we need it, so we don’t feel pressure to remember as much, but it’s very likely that a medieval time traveler might see this as a failing of ours.
4. Our Lack of Privacy
Medieval lives were very structured by rules put forth by the clergy and secular authorities; rules that were meant to control all sorts of public and private behaviours. It’s safe to say that medieval people comfortably ignored many of these rules – as long as they felt they weren’t going to get caught. The sheer number of cameras being pointed at modern people all day, every day would probably be tremendously unnerving to a medieval visitor (or anyone travelling from the past, for that matter), not to mention the power of a quick Google search to find out more than you ever needed to know about anything or anyone in less than a second. (I might just take bets on how quickly a medieval person might Google his/her ex, though.) 5. Our Obsessive Tracking
Modern people love, love, love statistics. We especially love statistics that involve ourselves. It would probably take quite a long time to explain to a medieval person why we need wearable technology that measures our steps, our sleep, and even our – ahem – bedroom activities. If we feel tired, they’d probably say, we already know we didn’t sleep well; if we have excess weight, we aren’t exercising enough; if we spend that much energy in the bedroom… well, isn’t any time spent at those activities a good thing? I’m not sure “because it’s cool” would be enough to convince a medieval person that they should take home a FitBit, but you just never know.
While there is so much about modern life that would be appealing to a medieval visitor (antibiotics might be first on the list), it would be pretty presumptuous to think that they would immediately jump at the chance to stay in the twenty-first century. We are so much the same as these ancestors of ours, and yet we are so very different in myriad ways. Before we dismiss their time period as being a terrible place to live, it’s worth taking a minute to see our own time through their eyes.
To obtain a hard copy of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI®), the most popular personality test in the world, one must first spend $1,695 on a week-long certification program run by the Myers & Briggs Foundation of Gainesville, Florida.
This year alone, there have been close to 100 certification sessions in cities ranging from New York to Pasadena, Minneapolis, Portland, Houston, and the Foundation’s hometown of Gainesville, where participants get a $200 discount for making their way south to the belly of the beast. It is not unusual for sessions to sell out months in advance. People come from all over the world to get certified.
In New York last April, there were twenty-five aspiring MBTI practitioners in attendance. There was a British oil executive who lived for the half the year under martial law in Equatorial Guinea. There was a pretty blonde astrologist from Australia, determined to invest in herself now that her US work visa was about to expire. There was a Department of Defense administrator, a gruff woman who wore flowing skirts and rainbow rimmed glasses, and a portly IBM manager turned high school basketball coach. There were three college counselors, five HR reps, and a half-dozen “executive talent managers” from Fortune 500 companies. Finally, there was me.
I was in an unusual position that week: Attending the certification program had not been my idea. Rather, I had been told that MBTI certification was a prerequisite to accessing the personal papers of Isabel Briggs Myers, a woman about whom very little is known except that she designed the type indicator in the final days of World War II. Part of our collective ignorance about Myers stems from how profoundly her personal history has been eclipsed by her creation, in much the same way that the name “Frankenstein” has come to stand in for the monster and not his creator.
Flip through the New York Times or Wall Street Journal, and you will find the indicator used to debate what makes an employee a good “fit” for her job, or to determine the leadership styles of presidential candidates. Open a browser, and you will find the indicator adapted for addictive pop psychology quizzes by BuzzFeed and Thought Catalog. Enroll in college, work an office job, enlist in the military, join the clergy, fill out an online dating profile, and you will encounter the type indicator in one guise or another — to match a person to her ideal office job or to her ideal romantic partner.
Yet though her creation is everywhere, Myers and the details of her life’s work are curiously absent from the public record. Not a single independent biography is in print today. Not one article details how Myers, an award-winning mystery writer who possessed no formal training in psychology or sociology, concocted a test routinely deployed by 89 of the Fortune 100 companies, the US government, hundreds of universities, and online dating sites like Perfect Match, Project Evolove and Type Tango. And not one expert in the field of psychometric testing, a $500 million industry with over 2,500 different tests on offer in the US alone, can explain why Myers-Briggs has so thoroughly surpassed its competition, emerging as a household name on par with the Atkins Diet or The Secret.
Less obvious at first, and then wholly undeniable, is how hard the present-day guardians of the type indicator work to shield Myers’s personal and professional history from critical scrutiny. For the foundation, as well as for its for-profit-research-arm, the Center for Applications of Psychological Type (CAPT), this means keeping journalists far away from Myers’s notebooks, correspondences and research materials, which are stored in the Special Collections division of the University of Florida library. Although they are technically the property of the university — thus open to the public — Myers’s papers require permission from CAPT to access; permission that has not been granted to anyone1 in the decade since the papers were donated to the university by Myers’s granddaughter, Katharine Hughes. Twice I was warned by the university librarian, a kind and rueful man, that CAPT was “very invested in protecting Isabel’s image.” Why her image should need protection, I did not yet understand.
When I wrote to CAPT in August 2014, I received an enthusiastically officious email from their Director of Research Operations, requesting additional details about my interest in type indicator and a book I was planning to write on personality testing. “Will there be descriptions and historical background about other personality tests in addition to the MBTI instrument?” she wrote. “If so, we would like to be informed.” So began nine months of correspondence with the staff of CAPT, which culminated this April in their request that I become a certified administrator of the MBTI instrument. Certification was a necessary precursor to giving me access to the papers, the director told me over the phone. CAPT would even be willing to consider “possibilities for funding the training.”
This is how I found myself in the company of the oil man, the astrologist, the Department of Defense administrator and twenty other people at the certification workshop, located on the sixth floor conference room of the United Jewish Appeal Federation building on East 59th Street. We sat at tables of five or six, our backs pressed against a smoked-glass wall decorated with etchings of Seder plates, unfurling braids of challah, and half lit menorahs. Each of us wore a name tag with our first name, last name, and our four letter type printed on it in big block letters. It was not unusual for people to lead with their type when they introduced themselves.
I said hello to the woman sitting next to me. Her name tag said “Laurie — ENFJ.”
Laurie2 checked me out and sighed, relieved. “We’re both E’s,” she said. “We’ll get along great.”
The most important part of becoming MBTI certified is learning to speak type,” declares Barbara, our instructor for the next week and a self-proclaimed “clear ENTJ.” Dressed in black, with prominent red toenails and a commanding nasal tone, Barb, as she insists we call her, will teach us how to “speak type fluently.”
“This is only the beginning!” Barb says. “Just think of this as a language immersion program.”
The comparison is an apt one. There are sixteen types, each made up of a combination of four different letters. Each letter represents one of two poles in a strict dichotomy of human behavior. From the pre-training test I took earlier in the week, I learn that, like Barb, I too am an “ENTJ.” I prefer extraversion (E) to introversion (I), intuition (N) to sensing (S), thinking (T) to feeling (F), and judging (J) to perception (P). It is strange, this tidy division of myself into these alien categories. Initially, I have trouble keeping the letters straight. Strange too is the ease with which people around me speak their types, as if declaring oneself a “clear ENTJ” or a “borderline ISFP” were the most natural thing in the world.
Of course, speaking type is anything but natural. Still Barb’s job is to convince us that this simple system of thought can account for the messiness of many of our personal and interpersonal relationships, regardless of gender, race, class, age, language, education, or any of the other intricacies of human existence. Type is intensely democratizing in its vision of the world, weird and wonderful in its commitment to flattening the material differences between people only to construct new and imaginary borders around the self. Its populism is most clearly demonstrated by MBTI’s astonishing geographic reach: Last year, two million people took the test, in seventy different countries, and in 21 languages. “As long as you have a seventh grade reading level and you’re a ‘normal’ person” — by which Barb means, you are not mentally ill or blithely psychopathic — “you can learn to speak type.”
Across all languages and continents, however, the first rule of speaking type remains the same. You do not, under any circumstances, refer to MBTI as a “test.” It is a “self-reporting instrument” or, more succinctly, an “indicator.” “People use the word ‘test’ all the time,” Barb complains. “But what you’re taking is an indicator. It’s indicating based on what you told the test.”
Although her statement sounds tautological, Barb assures us that it is not. Unlike a standardized test, like the SAT, which asks the test taker to choose between objectively right and wrong answers, the MBTI instrument has no right or wrong answers, only competing preferences. Take, for instance, two questions from the test I took last April: “In reading for pleasure, do you: (A) Enjoy odd or original ways of saying things; or; (B) Like writers to say exactly what they mean.” And: “If you were a teacher, would you rather teach: (A) Fact courses, or; (B) Courses involving theory?” And unlike the SAT, in which a higher score is always more desirable than a lower one, there are no better or worse types. All types, Barb announces rapturously, are created equal.
The indicator’s sole measure of success, then, is how well the test aligns with your perception of your self: Do you agree with your designated type? If you don’t, the problem lies not with the indicator, but with you. Maybe you were in a “work mindset when you answered the questions,” Barb suggests. Or you had become unusually adept at “veiling your preferences” to suit the wants and needs of your husband or wife, your co-workers, your children. Whatever the case may be, somehow you were inhibited from answering the questions as your “shoes off self” — Isabel Briggs Myers’s term for the authentic you.
More cynically, what this seems to mean is that the indicator can never be wrong. No matter how forcefully one may protest their type, the indicator’s only claim is that it holds a mirror up to your psyche. Behind all the pseudo-scientific talk of “instruments” and “indicators” is a simple, but subtle, truth: the test reflects whatever version of your self you want it to reflect. If what you want is to see yourself as odd or original or factual and direct, it only requires a little bit of imagination to nudge the test in the right direction, to rig the outcome ahead of time. I do not mean this in any overtly manipulative sense. Most people do not lie outright, for to do so would be to shatter the illusion of self-discovery that the test projects. I mean, quite simply, that to succeed, a personality test must introduce the test taker to the preferred version of her self — a far cry, in many cases, from the “shoes off,” authentic you.
But Barb doesn’t pause to meditate on the language lesson she has started to give us. Instead she projects onto a large screen behind her a photograph of a pale and bespectacled man in a neat cravat. Peering over us is Carl Gustav Jung, the Swiss psychiatrist whose 654-page study Psychological Types(1923) inspired Myers’s development of the indicator. Jung was “all about Freud, the couch, neurosis!” Barb laughs. For the purposes of our training, the relationship between his theory of psychological types and Myers’s commodification of it is a matter of good branding strategy. “Jung is a very respected name, a big name,” Barb says. “Even if you don’t know who he was, know his name. His name gives the test validity.”
Validity is crucial to selling the test, even if it doesn’t mean exactly what Barb seems to think it does. After the certification session is over, the participants will return to work with a 5-by-7 diploma, a brass “MBTI” pin, and a stack of promotional materials that they are encouraged to use to persuade their clients or colleagues to take an MBTI assessment. Each test costs $49.95 per person, more if you want a full breakdown of your type, and even more if you want an MBTI-certified consultant to debrief your type with you. No one questions the sheer ingenuity of this sales scheme. We are paying $1,695 to attend a course that authorizes us to recruit others to buy a product — a product which tells us nothing more than what we already know about ourselves.
Although Barb invokes Jung’s name with pride and a touch of awe, Jung would likely be greatly displeased, if not embarrassed, by his long-standing association with the indicator. The history of his involvement with Myers begins not with Isabel, but with her mother Katharine Cook Briggs, whom Barb mentions only in passing. After the photograph of Jung, Barb projects onto the screen a photograph of Katharine, unsmiling and broad necked and severely coiffed. “I usually don’t get into this,” she says, gesturing at Katharine’s solemn face. “People have already bought into the instrument.”
Yet Katharine is an interesting woman, a woman who might have interested Betty Friedan or Gloria Steinem or any second-wave feminist eager to dismantle the opposition between “the happy modern housewife” and the “unhappy careerist.” A stay-at-home mother and wife who had once studied horticulture at Michigan Agricultural College, Katharine was determined to approach motherhood like an elaborate plant growth experiment: a controlled study in which she could trace how a series of environmental conditions would affect the personality traits her children expressed. In 1897, Isabel emerged — her mother’s first subject. From the day of her birth until the child’s thirteenth birthday, Katharine kept a leather-bound diary of Isabel’s developments, which she pseudonymously titled The Life of Suzanne. In it, she painstakingly recorded the influence that different levels of feeding, cuddling, cooing, playing, reading, and spanking had on Isabel’s “life and character.”
Today we might think of Katharine as the original helicopter parent: hawkish and over-present in her maternal ministrations. But in 1909, Katharine’s objectification of her daughter answered feminist Ellen Key’s resounding call for a new and more scientific approach to “the vocation of motherhood.” More progressive still was how Katharine marshaled the data she had collected on Isabel to write a series of thirty-three articles in The Ladies Home Journal on the science of childrearing. These articles, which were intended to help other mothers systematize their childcare routines, boasted such single-minded titles as “Why I Believe the Home Is the Best School” and “Why I Find Children Slow in Their School Work.” Each appeared under the genteel nom de plume “Elizabeth Childe.”
It is not surprising that Jung’s work should pique the interest of “Elizabeth Childe,” an aspiring pedagogue who perceived the maturation of her child’s personality as nothing less than an experimental form to be cultivated, even perfected, over the years. Indeed, Katharine first encountered an English translation of Jung’s Psychological Types in 1923, when she was editing The Life of Suzanne to submit to publishers. She found Psychological Types an unwieldy text, part clinical assessment, part romantic meditation on the nature of the human soul, which emphasized the “creative fantasy” required for psychological thought. Katharine took this as an invitation to start thinking of her children’s personalities as divided into three oppositional axes: extraverted versus introverted, intuitive versus sensory, thinking versus feeling. In 1927, she wrote to Jung to express her feverish admiration for his work — her “Bible,” she called it — and her desire to bring a more practical approach to his densely theoretical observations, which her “children … had been greatly helped by.”
“How wasteful children are, even with their own precious, irreplaceable lives!” Jung once wrote to Freud, a letter that might have doubled as his irritated response to Katharine and her request to collaborate. From the outset, it seems that Jung was impressed by Katharine’s brilliance and flattered by her enthusiasm, but skeptical of her eagerness to bring his typology to the science of childrearing. When Katharine wrote to him for advice about a neighborhood child, a young girl in great emotional distress who she believed she could cure through Jungian type analysis, Jung rebuked her for overstepping her bounds as a dispassionate observer. “You overdid it,” he wrote. “You wanted to help, which is an encroachment upon the will of others. Your attitude ought to be that of one who offers an opportunity that can be taken or rejected. Otherwise you are most likely to get in trouble. It is so because man is not fundamentally good, almost half of him is a devil.”
Despite Jung’s unwillingness to help Katharine see beyond the devil in man, some of the more practical applications of his typology appeared in a 1926 article that Katharine published in The New Republic, winningly titled “Meet Yourself: How to Use the Personality Paint Box.” In it, she would present Jung’s dichotomies as an elegant paint-by-numbers exercise, in which E/I, N/S, and T/F were the “primary character colors” that each individual could “combine and blend” to form “his own personality portrait.” Even babies, those “little bundles of psychic energy,” had types, and the sooner a mother identified her child’s type, the better it was for his mental maturity. “One need not be a psychologist in order to collect and identify types any more than one needs to be a botanist to collect and identify plants,” Katharine assured her fellow mothers. There was no need to doubt one’s ability to type one’s child.
“Meet Yourself” enjoyed quiet acclaim among parents when it was first published, but ultimately, Katharine’s desire to spread Jung’s gospel to a broader audience would inspire a shift in genre. She would abandon The Life of Suzanne as a parenting guide and turn instead to fiction, which she believed would help her reach a larger and more dedicated audience. Her longest work, written toward the end of her life, was a romance novel inspired by Psychological Types called The Guesser, the story of a love affair between two incompatible Jungian types. It was summarily rejected by ten publishers and two film producers for dwelling too much on Jung, whom no one other than Katharine was interested in, and not enough on love.
Like her mother, Isabel also began her adult life as a wife and mother. She graduated from Swarthmore in June of 1918 — Phi Beta Kappa, an aspiring fiction writer, and a moderately disillusioned newlywed, who had followed her husband first to Memphis, where he was training as a bomber pilot, and then to Philadelphia, where he enrolled in law school. In each city, she made a list of her future goals in a notebook which she titled Diary of an Introvert Determined to Extrovert, Write, & Have a Lot of Children.
Keep complete job list and do one every day.
Housekeep till 10 A.M.
Two hours writing.
One hour outdoors.
One hour self-development—music, study, friends.
Wash face with soap every night.
Never wear anything soiled.
But despite her clear goals and clean clothes, Isabel struggled to find a job. After an unfulfilling stint at a temp agency, she wrote to Katharine to complain about the difficulties of finding meaning in one’s work, particularly as a married woman who was expected to do nothing more than to have children. “I think under the spur of necessity a woman can do a man’s work as well as he can, provided she is as capable for a woman as he is for a man,” she wrote. “But I’m perfectly sure that it takes more out of her. And it’s a waste of life to spend yourself on work that someone else can do at less cost. I’m sure men and women are made differently, with different gifts and different kids of strengths.” In a perfect world, she concluded, there would exist “some highly intelligent division of labor that can be worked out, so everybody works, but not at the wrong things.”
Isabel’s “instinctive answer” to the question of what to do with herself was to be “my man’s helpmeet.” And for nearly a decade she was. Until 1928, she did housework, gave birth to two children, and at night, when the house was in order and the children were asleep, she continued to wonder what was missing from her life. Although a husband and children and a “beloved little ivy-covered colonial house” in the suburbs were “everything in the world that I wanted,” Isabel wrote, “I knew I wanted something else.” That something else was the time and energy to pursue a career as a successful fiction writer, something her mother had never been able to realize. “In the evenings, between nine and three, stretched six heavenly, uninterrupted hours — if I could stay awake to use them,” she mused.
Working at night, but most often with one fitful child or another in her lap, Isabel started and finished a detective novel, which she promptly submitted to a mystery contest at New McClure’s magazine. The winner was to receive a $7,500 cash prize (over $100,000 today) and a book contract with a prominent New York publisher. Katharine, apparently jealous that her daughter was trying to succeed where she had once failed, had little encouragement for her daughter, only what Isabel lamented as some “cool criticisms” of the “novel’s style.” Much to her mother’s surprise, Isabel’s novel,Murder Yet to Come, took first place, surpassing the writing team behind the Ellery Queen novels, among the many other seasoned pulp writers who had vied for the prize.
Yet there was plenty of reason for Katharine, ever the devoted scholar of Jung, to appreciate how she had inculcated her daughter into speaking — or, in this case, writing — type. Unlike other detective stories of the time, which often pair a brilliantly imaginative sleuth with a more literal minded sidekick, Murder Yet to Come features a team of three amateur detectives: an effeminate playwright, his dutiful assistant, and a brawny Army sergeant. Unburdened by crying children or any other domestic responsibilities, they set out to solve a gruesome murder. Each member of the team possesses what Isabel, in her letter to her mother, described as “different gifts and different kinds of strengths.” The playwright has the “quickness of insight” to uncover the murderer’s identity, the sergeant takes “smashingly, effective action” to apprehend him, while the assistant makes “slow, solid decisions” that protect the family of the victim from scandal. None of the detectives “works at the wrong things.” Like today’s slick police procedurals, in which there are the people who investigate the crime and those who prosecute the offenders, every character in Murder Yet to Come is designed to maximize the efficiency of the team.
As a mystery story, Murder Yet to Come is decidedly second-rate; the villain predictable, his motive commonplace, the detectives flat and uncharismatic. But as a testing ground for the Myers-Briggs type indicator, the novel is a remarkably direct receptacle for Isabel’s ideas about work, right down to its crude division of gender roles between the feminized playwright and the hyper-masculine military man. Strengths and weaknesses are distributed in a zero-sum fashion; the character who possesses a keen eye for sensory details reverts to a slow, stuttering imbecile when asked to abstract larger patterns from his observations. Friendships and working relationships are always invigorated by personality differences, never strained by them. And for death-defying detectives, the characters are all unusually self-aware, each happy to accept his personal limitations and cede authority to others when necessary, like cogs in a well-oiled machine. Reprinted by CAPT in 1995, Murder Yet to Come showcases characters who are “beautifully consistent with type portraits,” according to the forward to the new edition. “Those readers who know type will enjoy ‘typing them’ as the mystery progresses.”
CAPT’s website, where I purchased Murder Yet to Come for $15.00, claims that the novel was Isabel’s “only sojourn into fiction” before she shifted her attention to the type indicator. This is incorrect. The company has not reprinted Isabel’s second novel, Give Me Death (1934), which revisits the same trio of detectives half a decade later. Perhaps this is due to the novel’s virulently racist plot: One by one, members of a land-owning Southern family begin committing suicide when they are led to believe that “there is in [our] veins a strain of Negro blood.” Despite their differences, the detectives agree that it is “better for [the family] to be dead” than for them to be alive, heedlessly reproducing with white people.
Give Me Death is more explicitly about the preservation of the family, but saddled with a far more sinister understanding of type: Type as racially determined. There is talk of eugenics. There is much hand wringing about the preservation of Southern family dynasties, about “honor” and “esteem.” That the novel was written in the years when laws forbidding interracial marriage were increasingly the target of ACLU and NAACP protests makes it all the more reactionary, and thus all the more unsuitable, from an image management perspective, for reissue today. One would hardly enjoy “typing” these characters.
If Isabel had started her life as her mother’s experiment, she had quickly grown into Katharine’s student, her apostle, and even her competition. Fiction had presented one way for her to unite her mother’s talk of type with the intelligent division of labor, ordering imaginary characters into a rational system with a profitable end: bringing criminals to justice. After World War II, the emergent industry of personality testing would give Isabel the opportunity to organize — and experiment on — real people.
The second rule of speaking type is: Personality is an innate characteristic, something fixed since birth and immutable, like eye color or right-handedness. “You have to buy into the idea that type never changes,” Barb says, speaking slowly and emphasizing each word so that we may remember and repeat this mantra — “Type Never Changes” — to our future clients. “We will brand this into your brain,” she vows. “The theory behind the instrument supports the fact that you are born with a four letter preference. If you hear someone say, ‘My type changed,’ they are not correct.”
Of all the questionable assumptions that prop up the Myers-Briggs indicator, this one strikes me as the shakiest: that you are “born with a four letter preference,” a reductive blueprint for how to move through life’s infinite and varied challenges. Many other personality indicators, ranging in complexity from zodiac signs to online dating questionnaires to Harry Potter’s sorting hat, share the assumption that personality is fixed in one form or another. And yet the belief of a singular and essential self has always seemed to me an irresistibly attractive fiction: One that insists on seeing each of us as a coherent human being, inclined to behave in predictable ways no matter what circumstances surround us. There is, after all, a certain narcissistic beauty to the idea that we are whole. “If personality is an unbroken series of successful gestures, then there was something gorgeous about him, some heightened sensitivity to the promises of life,” wrote F. Scott Fitzgerald of his greatest creation, Jay Gatsby, in the same year that Katharine fell under the sway ofPsychological Types. Learning to speak type means learning to link the quotidian gestures of life into an easily digestible story, one capable of communicating to perfect strangers some sense of who you are and why you do what you do.
Yet the impulse to treat personality as innate is, in no small part, a convenient way of putting these gorgeously complete people in their rightful places. Just as each one of Isabel’s three detectives serves a unique purpose in her novels, a way of moving the plot forward that follows from his innate “gifts,” so too does the indicator imagine that each person will fall into their designated niche in a high-functioning and productive social order. This is another fiction — to my mind, a dystopian fiction — that most personality tests trade in: The fantasy of rational organization, and, in particular, the rational organization of labor. “The MBTI will put your personality to work!” promises a career assessment flier from Arizona State University, a promise that is echoed by thousands of leadership guides, self-help books, LinkedIn profiles, and job listings, the promise that underwrites such darkly futuristic films as Divergent or Blade Runner. To live under an economic system that is not organized by personality, thinks the heroine of Divergent, is “not just to live in poverty and discomfort; it is to live divorced from society, separated from the most important thing in life: community.”
Or as a trainee belts out in the middle of an exercise, “Team work makes the dream work!”
One of scores of intelligence analysts working at his computer at the headquarters of the security firm iSight in Chantilly, Va. Credit Gabriella Demczuk for The New York Times
CHANTILLY, Va. — On a recent Wednesday morning, 100 intelligence analysts crammed into a nondescript conference room here and dialed into a group call with 100 counterparts in Argentina, Brazil, Cyprus, India, the Netherlands, Romania, Spain, Taiwan and Ukraine.
As they worked their way around the room, the analysts briefed one another on the latest developments in the “dark web.”
A security firm in Pakistan was doing a little moonlighting, selling its espionage tools for as little as $500. Several American utility companies were under attack. A group of criminals were up to old tricks, infecting victims with a new form of “ransomware,” which encrypts PCs until victims pay a ransom.
The analysts, employees of iSight Partners, a company that provides intelligence about threats to computer security in much the same way military scouts provide intelligence about enemy troops, were careful not to name names or clients, in case someone, somewhere, was listening on the open line.
John Watters, iSight’s chief, evokes military jargon to talk about his company’s focus. Credit Brandon Thibodeaux for The New York Times
For the last eight years, iSight has been quietly assembling what may be the largest private team of experts in a nascent business called threat intelligence. Of the company’s 311 employees, 243 are so-called cyberintelligence professionals, a statistic that executives there say would rank iSight, if it were a government-run cyberintelligence agency, among the 10 largest in the world, though that statistic is impossible to verify given the secretive nature of these operations.
ISight analysts spend their days digging around the underground web, piecing together hackers’ intentions, targets and techniques to provide their clients with information like warnings of imminent attacks and the latest tools and techniques being used to break into computer networks.
The company’s focus is what John P. Watters, iSight’s chief executive, calls “left of boom,” which is military jargon for the moment before an explosive device detonates. Mr. Watters, a tall, 51-year-old Texan whose standard uniform consists of Hawaiian shirts and custom cowboy boots, frequently invokes war analogies when talking about online threats.
“When we went into Iraq, the biggest loss of life wasn’t from snipers,” he said. It was from concealed explosive devices. “We didn’t get ahead of the threat until we started asking ourselves, ‘Who’s making the bombs? How are they getting their materials? How are they detonating them? And how do we get into that cycle before the bombs are ever placed there?’”
“Our business,” Mr. Watters continued, “is tracking the arms merchants and bomb makers so we can be left of boom and avoid the impact altogether.”
ISight’s investors, who have put $60 million into the company so far, believe that its services fill a critical gap in the battle to get ahead of threats. Most security companies, like FireEye, Symantec, Palo Alto Networks and Intel’s security unit, focus on blocking or detecting intrusions as they occur or responding to attacks after the fact.
ISight goes straight to the enemy. Its analysts — many of them fluent in Russian, Mandarin, Portuguese or 21 other languages — infiltrate the underground, where they watch criminals putting their schemes together and selling their tools.
The analysts’ reports help clients — including 280 government agencies, as well as banks and credit-card, health care, retail and oil and gas companies — prioritize the most imminent and possibly destructive threats.
Security experts say the need for such intelligence has never been greater. For the last three years, businesses have been investing in “big data” analytic tools that sound alarms anytime someone does something unusual, like gain access to a server in China, set up a private connection or siphon unusually large amounts of data from a corporate network.
The result is near constant and confusing noise. “Except for the most mature organizations, most businesses are drowning in alerts,” said Jason Clark, the chief security officer at Optiv, a security firm.
The average organization receives 16,937 alerts a week. Only 19 percent of them are deemed “reliable,” and only 4 percent are investigated, according to a study released in January by the Ponemon Institute, which tracks data breaches. By the time criminals make enough noise to merit a full investigation, it can take financial services companies more than three months, on average, to discover them, and retailers more than six months.
“Just generating more alerts is wasting billions of dollars of venture capital,” said David Cowan, an iSight investor and a partner at Bessemer Venture Partners. The last thing an executive in charge of network security needs is more alerts, he said: “They don’t have time. They need human, actionable threat intelligence.”
Mr. Cowan and others point to what happened to Target in 2013, when the retailer ignored an alert that ultimately could have stopped criminals from stealing 40 million customers’ payment details from its network.
A year earlier, iSight warned its clients that criminals were compiling and selling malware that was specifically designed to scrape payment data off cash registers. Had Target received that warning, the blip on its network might not have gone unnoticed.
“Target faced the same problem every retailer does every day,” Mr. Watters said. “They are awash in a sea of critical alerts every day. Without threat intelligence, they had roulette odds of picking the right one.”
Gartner, the research firm, estimates that the market for threat intelligence like iSight’s could grow to $1 billion in two years from $255 million in 2013. Gartner predicts that by 2018, 60 percent of businesses will incorporate threat intelligence into their defensive security strategy.
ISight, which plans to file for an initial public offering of stock next year, hopes to capitalize, as do the dozens of other cyberthreat intelligence outfits now flooding the market, each with a slightly different approach.
That proliferation of start-ups has led to a new complaint from computer security chiefs: overlapping information — sometimes as much as 40 percent — in the reports they receive, none of which is cheap. ISight charges customers based on size, and while it does not disclose pricing, some customers say they pay $500,000 or more annually for the company’s services, as much as five times what low-end services charge.
ISight makes 90 percent of its revenue from subscriptions to its six intelligence streams, each focused on a particular threat, including cyberespionage and cybercrime.
The company’s most recent competition comes from its oldest clients, particularly banks, which have been hiring former intelligence analysts to start internal operations. One former client, which declined to be named because of concerns that doing so could violate a nondisclosure agreement, said it had been able to build its own intelligence program at half the cost of its canceled iSight subscriptions.
But most businesses do not have the same resources as, say, a company like Bank of America, whose chief executive recently said there was no cap on the bank’s cybersecurity budget.
Many of those businesses remain paralyzed by the drumbeat of alarms that expensive security technologies are sounding on their networks.
At iSight’s threat center, the company’s approach is perhaps best summed up by a logo emblazoned on a T-shirt worn by one of its top analysts: “Someone should do something.”
Genes, like people, have families — lineages that stretch back through time, all the way to a founding member. That ancestor multiplied and spread, morphing a bit with each new iteration.
For most of the last 40 years, scientists thought that this was the primary way new genes were born — they simply arose from copies of existing genes. The old version went on doing its job, and the new copy became free to evolve novel functions.
Certain genes, however, seem to defy that origin story. They have no known relatives, and they bear no resemblance to any other gene. They’re the molecular equivalent of a mysterious beast discovered in the depths of a remote rainforest, a biological enigma seemingly unrelated to anything else on earth.
The mystery of where these orphan genes came from has puzzled scientists for decades. But in the past few years, a once-heretical explanation has quickly gained momentum — that many of these orphans arose out of so-called junk DNA, or non-coding DNA, the mysterious stretches of DNA between genes. “Genetic function somehow springs into existence,” said David Begun, a biologist at the University of California, Davis.
This metamorphosis was once considered to be impossible, but a growing number of examples in organisms ranging from yeast and flies to mice and humans has convinced most of the field that these de novo genes exist. Some scientists say they may even be common. Just last month, research presented at the Society for Molecular Biology and Evolution in Vienna identified 600 potentially new human genes. “The existence of de novo genes was supposed to be a rare thing,” said Mar Albà, an evolutionary biologist at the Hospital del Mar Research Institute in Barcelona, who presented the research. “But people have started seeing it more and more.”
Researchers are beginning to understand that de novo genes seem to make up a significant part of the genome, yet scientists have little idea of how many there are or what they do. What’s more, mutations in these genes can trigger catastrophic failures. “It seems like these novel genes are often the most important ones,” said Erich Bornberg-Bauer, a bioinformatician at the University of Münster in Germany.
The Orphan Chase
The standard gene duplication model explains many of the thousands of known gene families, but it has limitations. It implies that most gene innovation would have occurred very early in life’s history. According to this model, the earliest biological molecules 3.5 billion years ago would have created a set of genetic building blocks. Each new iteration of life would then be limited to tweaking those building blocks.
Yet if life’s toolkit is so limited, how could evolution generate the vast menagerie we see on Earth today? “If new parts only come from old parts, we would not be able to explain fundamental changes in development,” Bornberg-Bauer said.
The first evidence that a strict duplication model might not suffice came in the 1990s, when DNA sequencing technologies took hold. Researchers analyzing the yeast genome found that a third of the organism’s genes had no similarity to known genes in other organisms. At the time, many scientists assumed that these orphans belonged to families that just hadn’t been discovered yet. But that assumption hasn’t proven true. Over the last decade, scientists sequenced DNA from thousands of diverse organisms, yet many orphan genes still defy classification. Their origins remain a mystery.
In 2006, Begun found some of the first evidence that genes could indeed pop into existence from noncoding DNA. He compared gene sequences from the standard laboratory fruit fly, Drosophila melanogaster, with other closely related fruit fly species. The different flies share the vast majority of their genomes. But Begun and collaborators found several genes that were present in only one or two species and not others, suggesting that these genes weren’t the progeny of existing ancestors. Begun proposed instead that random sequences of junk DNA in the fruit fly genome could mutate into functioning genes.
Yet creating a gene from a random DNA sequence appears as likely as dumping a jar of Scrabble tiles onto the floor and expecting the letters to spell out a coherent sentence. The junk DNA must accumulate mutations that allow it to be read by the cell or converted into RNA, as well as regulatory components that signify when and where the gene should be active. And like a sentence, the gene must have a beginning and an end — short codes that signal its start and end.
In addition, the RNA or protein produced by the gene must be useful. Newly born genes could prove toxic, producing harmful proteins like those that clump together in the brains of Alzheimer’s patients. “Proteins have a strong tendency to misfold and cause havoc,” said Joanna Masel, a biologist at the University of Arizona in Tucson. “It’s hard to see how to get a new protein out of random sequence when you expect random sequences to cause so much trouble.” Masel is studying ways that evolution might work around this problem.
Another challenge for Begun’s hypothesis was that it’s very difficult to distinguish a true de novo gene from one that has changed drastically from its ancestors. (The difficulty of identifying true de novo genes remains a source of contention in the field.)
Ten years ago, Diethard Tautz, a biologist at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Biology, was one of many researchers who were skeptical of Begun’s idea. Tautz had found alternative explanations for orphan genes. Some mystery genes had evolved very quickly, rendering their ancestry unrecognizable. Other genes were created by reshuffling fragments of existing genes.
Then his team came across the Pldi gene, which they named after the German soccer player Lukas Podolski. The sequence is present in mice, rats and humans. In the latter two species, it remains silent, which means it’s not converted into RNA or protein. The DNA is active or transcribed into RNA only in mice, where it appears to be important — mice without it have slower sperm and smaller testicles.
The researchers were able to trace the series of mutations that converted the silent piece of noncoding DNA into an active gene. That work showed that the new gene is truly de novo and ruled out the alternative — that it belonged to an existing gene family and simply evolved beyond recognition. “That’s when I thought, OK, it must be possible,” Tautz said.
A Wave of New Genes
Scientists have now catalogued a number of clear examples of de novo genes: A gene in yeast that determines whether it will reproduce sexually or asexually, a gene in flies and other two-winged insects that became essential for flight, and some genes found only in humans whose function remains tantalizingly unclear.
The Odds of Becoming a Gene
Scientists are testing computational approaches to determine how often random DNA sequences can be mutated into functional genes. Victor Luria, a researcher at Harvard, created a model using common estimates of the rates of mutation, recombination (another way of mixing up DNA) and natural selection. After subjecting a stretch of DNA as long as the human genome to mutation and recombination for 100 million generations, some random stretches of DNA evolved into active genes. If he were to add in natural selection, a genome of that size could generate hundreds or even thousands of new genes.
At the Society for Molecular Biology and Evolution conference last month, Albà and collaborators identified hundreds of putative de novo genes in humans and chimps — ten-fold more than previous studies — using powerful new techniques for analyzing RNA. Of the 600 human-specific genes that Albà’s team found, 80 percent are entirely new, having never been identified before.
Unfortunately, deciphering the function of de novo genes is far more difficult than identifying them. But at least some of them aren’t doing the genetic equivalent of twiddling their thumbs. Evidence suggests that a portion of de novo genes quickly become essential. About 20 percent of new genes in fruit flies appear to be required for survival. And many others show signs of natural selection, evidence that they are doing something useful for the organism.
In humans, at least one de novo gene is active in the brain, leading some scientists to speculate such genes may have helped drive the brain’s evolution. Others are linked to cancer when mutated, suggesting they have an important function in the cell. “The fact that being misregulated can have such devastating consequences implies that the normal function is important or powerful,” said Aoife McLysaght, a geneticist at Trinity College in Dublin who identified the first human de novo genes.
De novo genes are also part of a larger shift, a change in our conception of what proteins look like and how they work. De novo genes are often short, and they produce small proteins. Rather than folding into a precise structure — the conventional notion of how a protein behaves — de novo proteins have a more disordered architecture. That makes them a bit floppy, allowing the protein to bind to a broader array of molecules. In biochemistry parlance, these young proteins are promiscuous.
Scientists don’t yet know a lot about how these shorter proteins behave, largely because standard screening technologies tend to ignore them. Most methods for detecting genes and their corresponding proteins pick out long sequences with some similarity to existing genes. “It’s easy to miss these,” Begun said.
That’s starting to change. As scientists recognize the importance of shorter proteins, they are implementing new gene discovery technologies. As a result, the number of de novo genes might explode. “We don’t know what things shorter genes do,” Masel said. “We have a lot to learn about their role in biology.”
Scientists also want to understand how de novo genes get incorporated into the complex network of reactions that drive the cell, a particularly puzzling problem. It’s as if a bicycle spontaneously grew a new part and rapidly incorporated it into its machinery, even though the bike was working fine without it. “The question is fascinating but completely unknown,” Begun said.
A human-specific gene called ESRG illustrates this mystery particularly well. Some of the sequence is found in monkeys and other primates. But it is only active in humans, where it is essential for maintaining the earliest embryonic stem cells. And yet monkeys and chimps are perfectly good at making embryonic stem cells without it. “It’s a human-specific gene performing a function that must predate the gene, because other organisms have these stem cells as well,” McLysaght said.
“How does novel gene become functional? How does it get incorporated into actual cellular processes?” McLysaght said. “To me, that’s the most important question at the moment.”
In 1948, a man was found on a beach in South Australia. The mysterious circumstances of his death have captivated generations of true-crime fanatics. Today, one amateur sleuth has come close to solving the case — and upended his life in the process.
By Graeme Wood
Photographs by Claire Martin
Illustrations by Evah Fan
By the time anyone noticed that he hadn’t moved in at least five hours, the man on Somerton Beach must have started giving off fumes. It was about 6:30 a.m. on December 1, 1948, at the beginning of the Australian summer, and he did not look like the kind of man to sleep in the sand.
He was in his mid-40s. He wore a nice suit, with a necktie whose stripes slanted down from right to left. The labels had been removed from his clothing. His leather shoes were molded to his irregular feet, which one man who saw the body called “wedge-shaped.”
No one who came to the morgue to view the dead man could identify him. In his pockets, the coroner found a packet of cigarettes (Kensitas brand, though the packet that contained them was Army Club), two combs, and public-transportation receipts indicating that he had come by bus from Adelaide’s railway station the day before he was found.
The man had unusually developed calf muscles, with a pronounced bulge near the knee. The coroner said these were characteristic of a dancer or someone who wears high heels. His teeth were odd: His sharp canines had grown in right next to his front teeth; his lateral incisors were missing. The medical report noted that his liver was full of blood and his spleen enlarged, but his official cause of death remained undetermined. The pathologist wrote “probably caused by poison” on the initial report, and a local expert suggested two readily available and undetectable poisons that could have killed him. The death was investigated as a possible murder.
Only weeks later did the coroner’s office search the man’s clothes more thoroughly and find, in a small inner pocket of his waistband — some characterized it as a secret pocket — a tightly rolled piece of paper printed with the words Tamám Shud. Within a few days, the police figured out that these words appear untranslated at the end of the Edward FitzGerald translation of the Rubáiyát, by the 11th-century Persian poet Omar Khayyám. In the poem’s original Persian, they mean It’s Finished, or The End.
In July, a local businessman told the cops that around the time of the man’s death, he found a copy of the Rubáiyát in the back seat of his car. Someone had tossed it through an open window — and, yes, the last two words had been raggedly excised. More intriguing, though, were the scribblings on the book’s back cover —
— and, with them, a phone number.
The letters resisted decoding, but the phone number led the police to the doorstep of a young nurse-in-training named Jo. They asked whether she knew a missing man, and when she said no, they asked if she had given away a Rubáiyát recently. She had, but the recipient turned out to be alive and well. They prevailed upon her to visit the morgue anyway. When she saw a plaster cast of the man’s body, which had by that point been buried, she nearly fainted. She maintained that she didn’t know him, and she refused to speak of the incident again.
Another line of evidence stemmed from a suitcase left at the luggage counter of the train station on the day of the dead man’s canceled bus ticket and never collected. Inside were neatly folded clothes, a stencil kit, and thread that matched a small repair on the man’s suit. The suitcase contained a few days’ worth of clothes — again with the labels ripped off — but no socks.
Someone looked at the stitching and determined that the machine used was not yet available in Australia: The man had probably traveled to America or at least owned clothing from someone who had. Speculation ensued. Not far away was the Woomera Range, a secret missile-testing site. The dead man could have been Soviet or American — but probably not Australian, because the case had quickly gone national, and someone would have seen his picture and recognized him. Soon he was widely suspected of being a spy.
Nearly 70 years after the body of the “Somerton Man” was interred at West Terrace Cemetery, the case has become part of the Australian national mythos. It is still a mystery, like the identity of Jack the Ripper in England or the fate of Jimmy Hoffa in the U.S. Tabloids in Australia take note whenever some amateur sleuth comes up with a new theory, no matter how crazy, and would-be detectives around the world take turns trying to solve the case. One by one, they examine the clues and, like Arthur with the sword in the stone, jiggle the puzzle’s hilt. Most give up and assume it will be stuck forever.
“BY NOW THEY might know me,” Derek Abbott said, glancing around the Somerton cemetery for the groundskeepers. On December 1, 2014, 66 years to the day after the Somerton Man’s demise, Abbott, a physicist and engineer at the University of Adelaide, was taking me to his grave. For years, someone had placed flowers on it; some said it was the nurse. The original letters on the gravestone had become loose, and a few had fallen on the ground. We picked through the pebbles in the blazing sun, finding chunks of alphabet that we plugged back into the small headstone until it read: here lies the unknown man who was found at somerton beach 1st dec. 1948.
Of all the amateur detectives who have dedicated themselves to the mystery — including a postman in New South Wales who has claimed the Somerton Man was a Russian spy, another man who thinks he is the American big-band leader Glenn Miller, and a number of internet oddballs who specialize in magnifying the letters of the code and seeing micro-writing that isn’t really there — Abbott is the most devoted. He has become a celebrity among followers of the case — his Reddit “Ask Me Anything” last year yielded nearly 500 questions and answers — and sees his role partly as keeping wilder speculation in check. “As a scientist, you’re taught to be dispassionate,” he told me. “You’re not supposed to get crazy when your pet theory turns out to be unlikely.”
But some of Abbott’s fellow investigators think his obsessions and celebrity have led him astray and turned him into a Pied Piper of true-crime nerds. “Abbott is like a dog with a bone,” says Gerry Feltus, a retired Adelaide homicide detective who is his main rival. “If he weren’t such an educated man, he’d make an excellent busker.”
Abbott, 55 years old and with thinning dark hair, is gainfully employed, although over several days in Adelaide, his free time to discuss this case appeared almost limitless. He drove me around in hissuv, which had multiple child car seats fastened in the back for his three young children. (He also has two grown daughters and a son from a prior marriage.) Obsessions tend to find Abbott. He has, by his own account, been happily consumed by them since he was a child in London. Many were scientific: At the age of 10, he says, he requested a copy of theBritish Pharmacopoeia, a technical manual of pharmacology. At 15, he began traveling all over London and researching the history of old lampposts and letter boxes. His demeanor is distinctly professorial, though not in an absent-minded way. He talks slowly, with an engineer’s precision, and favors nice suits over tattered tweed, even in the Australian summer heat.
“It’s a bit like Phoenix,” Abbott said, a little apologetically, as we drove through his city. When the beach isn’t in sight, the comparison feels about right: Adelaide and its environs are mostly flat and arid, with the suburbs giving way to desert. Even its urban grid recalls the American Sun Belt, with orderly streets characteristic of a place whose city fathers left nothing to chance. Unlike other areas of Australia, Adelaide was settled exclusively by free British colonists, not by convicts. When planning the city in 1837, its founders didn’t bother to set aside space or resources for a jail, reasoning that it wouldn’t be necessary for a population of honorable women and men.
But to understand the Somerton Man case, Abbott told me, “you do have to know that Adelaide has a reputation for these things.” Ruth Balint, an Australian cultural historian, put it more bluntly: “It’s a city of churches and of weird, sick murders.” When Salman Rushdie visited Adelaide in 1984, he called it “the ideal setting for a Stephen King novel, or horror film.”
Adelaide’s homicide rate isn’t abnormally high, but what it lacks in volume it more than compensates for in creepiness. The city has become known as Australia’s “murder capital,” the site of a string of gruesome serial killings and mysterious disappearances. In 1966, three young siblings disappeared and were presumed kidnapped after a trip to Glenelg Beach, near Somerton; they were never found. In the 1970s and 1980s, a shadowy group of upstanding, professional citizens of Adelaide, known as the Family, drugged, sexually abused, and murdered young men; those crimes were never fully solved either. Last year, police in South Australiaannounced $13 million in reward money for information about the murders or disappearances of 18 children between 1966 and 2000.
In 2003, during the investigation of another grisly set of killings known as the Snowtown or “bodies-in-barrels” murders, local detectives approached Abbott and asked him to examine the unusual characteristics of one of the 12 victims’ hair. The detectives had found tiny bubble-shaped articulations at the tips, and they wanted an electrical engineer to determine whether the deceased had been electrocuted. “I tried electrocuting samples of my own hair,” Abbott said, “and I found that the only thing that would do that is heat.” The body had been cooked, not electrocuted.
Thrilled by his small contribution to the prosecution’s case, Abbott remembered an article he’d read about the Somerton mystery in 1995, in a magazine he picked up at a laundromat. “There’s something in this that stuck in my mind — something haunting,” he said. He was, in part, troubled by the inconsistencies and contradictions. “There were so many loose ends. And there was something sad about it — something desolate about a man dying alone,” without anyone to mourn him or even to confirm that he ever lived.
In 2007, Abbott began investigating the case. He eventually turned to Facebook and like-minded obsessives around the world to track down facts that in previous eras might have taken Holmesian knowledge or resourcefulness. Take the necktie. The direction of the stripes turns out to be significant because Commonwealth tie makers and American tie makers slanted their stripes in different directions: The Somerton Man wore an American tie, a rarity in Australia at the time. Other clues have led Abbott to look up, say, the record-keeping habits of laundry services in mid-size Australian cities in 1948 or the price of various tobacco brands. Sometimes this information yields faint clues to the Somerton Man’s story. Most often it reveals how far from the truth Abbott remains and produces only more questions. Someone suggested that the Rubáiyátwas a book cipher — a spy codebook — setting in motion an eerily difficult quest to find an identical copy and test it against the code. (The cops threw away the original at some point during the 1950s.) No identical copy could be found. It appeared that the Somerton Man’sRubáiyát was unique and published by a company in the habit of issuing, for obscure reasons, one Rubáiyát at a time.
On the hunch that the Rubáiyát was being used as a book cipher, Facebook group members combed Australian newspapers for stories about other men who died unnaturally, accompanied by a Rubáiyát. Incredibly, they found one, an immigrant named George Marshall who poisoned himself with barbiturates and died with a Rubáiyát next to him in Sydney. It was not the same edition as the Somerton version. Instead, it was identified as a seventh edition published by Methuen, a London-based press. The interest would have ended there if Abbott hadn’t tried to find a Methuen seventh edition of the Rubáiyát and discovered that the company never published any edition beyond the fifth.
Abbott’s code-breaking efforts, for which he initially held high hopes, stagnated. He tried to solve the code by treating it as a substitution cipher, in which every letter stands for another. He has tested that theory with computational models and conclusively ruled it out. He tried to determine if the letters were random, and even at one point had his students drink beer and write down random letters in progressive stages of inebriation to see if the letters resembled the patterns of those in the code. They did not.
So far, he has excluded, with mathematical certainty, a whole range of standard code types — 40 types of known cipher. Recently he’s been testing another theory, first put forward by Navy cryptographers in 1949. The frequency of occurrence of letters on the Rubáiyát’s back cover fits unusually well the frequency of occurrence of the initial letters of English words. Abbott now thinks that the code is not a code at all, but a series of letters someone — perhaps the Somerton Man — wrote in order to commit something to memory. The first five letters — wrgoa — could, on this hypothesis, have just been a reminder to buy watermelon, rice, grapes, oats, and artichokes. Abbott tested the initial-letter hypothesis against samples of text from more than 30 languages, and English repeatedly surfaced as the best statistical fit. But of course, to know what the letters stood for, we’d have to ask their author.
FOR YEARS, the person roundly suspected of knowing more than she let on was Jo, the nurse. But she said nothing. The news stories around the time of her questioning did not name her, declining to sully the reputation of a respectable young woman by associating her with the corpse of a drifter. But the story of her swooning has interested everyone who has looked into the Somerton Man mystery. Gerry Feltus, the retired cop who wrote a book about the case, interviewed Jo before she died in 2007 and is sure she knew something. He says she was “evasive” under questioning and went to great efforts to avoid attention. “Every time this case had a big blast of publicity, she either disappeared on holiday or changed addresses,” Feltus says.
In 2009, Abbott began hunting down Jo’s acquaintances and surviving family members — at first just to find out whether she confessed anything, but later to see whether they could offer any clues at all. In time, he was able to construct a year-by-year — and sometimes month-by-month — chronology of her life: where she lived, whom she knew, what she talked about, and what she avoided.
Jo was born Jessica Harkness in 1921, outside Sydney. About her childhood little is known: She cut off ties with her parents and rarely spoke of them. She took up with a car salesman, Prosper Thomson, and had a child, Robin Thomson, in 1947. She and Prosper hadn’t yet married — he had recently divorced his previous wife, and Australian law didn’t permit remarriage until a cooling-off period had passed — but they wed in 1948. She raised their two children through the 1950s, then began work as a nurse.
Her association with the Somerton Man has led some to speculate that she was a Communist spymaster posing as a housewife. One friend claimed she spoke Russian. Abbott dismisses these allegations. She was “a free spirit,” he said, “a slightly airheaded, arty type.” She and her husband seemed mismatched in some ways, with Prosper obsessed with cars and his wife interested in art, and some people I spoke with, including Abbott, suspected that they were not physically intimate, though they remained married until Prosper’s death in 1995.
Abbott didn’t focus on the Jo angle until after both she and her son, Robin, had died. But he hunted Robin’s story down with almost as much fervor as Jo’s — even though Robin was only a year old when the Somerton Man died — and learned that Robin had likely lived his whole life unaware of his mother’s role in the mystery.
Abbott fixated on one detail of Robin’s life: When he was a small boy, his mother signed him up for dance lessons. Robin took to dancing naturally and flourished — first as an amateur and ultimately as a member of the Australian Ballet. Abbott reminded me: “The Somerton Man had those oddly shaped calf muscles — so bulbous and defined that the coroner marveled at them.” Abbott stressed their dancer-like definition. One effort to identify the man even focused on looking for missing Australian dancers.
Was Jo pushing her son into the Somerton Man’s line of work? To Abbott, this coincidence was irresistibly suggestive, and he now believes a theory that might propel the Somerton mystery into the realm of solvability: that the man was Jo’s secret lover, and Robin Thomson their son. Another fact that Abbott cites as support for this idea is that Robin had a rare anatomical abnormality: He never grew lateral incisors, so his canine teeth, like the Somerton Man’s, abutted his front teeth.
Abbott cautiously tested this theory by writing a letter to Roma Egan, a dancer in the Australian Ballet who was married to Robin Thomson from 1968 to 1974. Abbott enclosed a picture of the Somerton Man and asked if she knew any dancers who looked like him. Roma wrote back saying that the corpse resembled her ex-husband. She also told Abbott, darkly, that her ex-mother-in-law had been a woman with secrets, and that Jo — like the young Abbott — had an obsession with pharmacology.
Abbott convinced Roma of his theory and enlisted her support in a legal crusade for permission to dig up the Somerton Man’s body and test his dna. By adding the dna to a few databases, they might even be able to find a distant relative and, working backward, identify the Somerton Man. (Robin Thomson had one younger sister, Kate, who opposes Abbott’s exhumation campaign. She declined to be interviewed for this story.)
Abbott has twice petitioned the government of South Australia to discuss exhuming the Somerton Man and twice been denied, on the grounds that obsessive curiosity does not justify disturbing human remains. He plans to resubmit his request.
ABBOTT WARNED ME not to tell Feltus, the ex–homicide detective, that I had been meeting with him. “He hates my guts,” Abbott said, accurately. They both spend vast amounts of time tracking the same clues, collecting the same Rubáiyáts, and scrutinizing the same grainy photos. But the two do not speak. Feltus regards Abbott as a grade-A pest and a bane of serious investigators. “If this were a different era, I could see him in a chuck wagon going through Indian territory, selling moonshine, and being left alone because he’d look half-crazy,” he told me.
Feltus, who’s 72, grew up in the countryside outside Adelaide. Before retiring in 2004, he was one of the city’s top murder investigators. He has an easy, earthy Australian vibe, more open and informal than Abbott, and the mottled complexion of someone who has spent a lot of time outdoors. He had heard of the Somerton case as a young boy, and after years on the force he investigated it as a hobby, despite warnings from colleagues that it would lead only to madness.
Part of what irks Feltus about Abbott is his amateurism. Feltus spent 40 years hunting murderers and solved dozens of cases, whereas Abbott, he says, “came in in a blaze of glory, saying he was going to crack the code, solve a murder, and identify an unknown man.” One gets the sense, talking with Feltus, that acquaintance with death has made him reluctant to treat the dead as intellectual puzzles.
Consider the flowers left on the Somerton Man’s grave. Abbott had implied to me that they might have been Jo’s doing or that of some other mysterious figure who knew secrets. When I raised this theory with Feltus, he sighed. “If you spend much time in cemeteries, you get to know the graves around the graves of your loved ones, and you do your part to keep them respected,” he says. His own daughter died of an illness in her 30s, he told me. Her grave is near that of Megumi Suzuki, a Japanese exchange student who died in Adelaide. In 2001, Feltus found Suzuki’s body hydraulically compressed into a bale of trash, and he sent her murderer away for a life sentence. “If I’m going to the cemetery, I’ll sometimes place a flower on her grave, too,” he told me.
The gap between the two men’s approaches comes down to a difference in worldview. After decades of bearing witness to the evil that men do, Feltus seems to have accepted the investigative consequences of the Second Law of Thermodynamics — that the universe tends, over time, toward disorder. He knows that some cases cannot be solved. In his book about the Somerton Man, Feltus meticulously logs every interview, every piece of evidence gathered from police records and contemporary accounts. But he reaches no conclusion. Taken as a whole, the book is a striking documentation of one man’s bafflement.
To Abbott, the idea that the answer might be lost is unacceptable, and Feltus’s comfort with uncertainty unnerves him. “Every time we met, one of his favorite jokes was to say, ‘It would be a real shame if the Somerton Man is identified because it would spoil a great mystery,’” Abbott told me. “He’s more wedded to the mystery than to the solution, and I’m the other way around.”
Feltus’s perspective is aided by age. As someone who was alive during the Somerton Man’s last years and remembers the upheaval of postwar Australia, he does not see the Somerton Man’s anonymity as unusual or mysterious. “There were lots of displaced people around,” Feltus says. “People were jumping ship, changing their names, becoming a whole new person.” Wartime rationing was still going on, and black marketeers had good reason to sneak around without identification.
Balint, the cultural historian, concurs. “[The Somerton Man] cuts a lonely figure, and people want to rescue him,” she says. “But we had lots of people like him: returned soldiers with shell shock, people who came back and were strangers to their own families. Some of them would just get up, disappear, and go on walkabouts.” Feltus’s hunch is that the Somerton Man was not a spy, but one of the thousands of socially isolated immigrants who drifted like tumbleweeds around Australia during those years.
That, he says, is where the trail must end. He has known victims’ families and has an aversion to disturbing the dead — either physically, by exhuming their remains, or spiritually, by speculating about the dramas that consumed their living days.
ABBOTT SPOKE GARRULOUSLY about his investigation. But he was also guarded. I came to wonder how his obsession with the Somerton case affected his work at the university or, for that matter, his home life. The child seats sat empty in the back of his suv as he drove me from site to site, yet he never mentioned his kids or their mother, nor how they felt about his all-consuming project.
Only after I’d left Adelaide did another question present itself: If he succeeded in extracting the Somerton Man’s dna, what would he compare it to? The whole point was to prove that the man was Robin Thomson’s father, but Robin is dead. Did he have living descendants?
Robin did, it turns out, have one daughter, with Roma Egan. Rachel Rebecca Egan had appeared with Abbott on television in 2013, endorsing the exhumation effort, but he had never mentioned her to me. I looked her up.
Rachel was born in 1967 in New Zealand and put up for adoption by her parents, who were touring with the Royal New Zealand Ballet. She reconnected with them as a young woman, eventually settling in Brisbane with Roma. On Facebook, her likes included various ballet-related pages, the work of a Brisbane painter, and a store for baby clothes. There were also some photos, which have since been removed, including a series of Rachel, with the same round, blond-ringed face as her mother, holding a baby. Standing next to her in one of the photos was a bemused-looking man wearing a proud paternal expression: Derek Abbott.
I blinked. Abbott had been generous with his time and, it seemed, information. But this detail — his having possibly tangled his own dnawith the Somerton Man’s — was a noteworthy omission. I reran all our conversations in my head, preparing to press him if he tried to evade the topic.
But when I called Abbott, he immediately and sheepishly confessed. In June 2010, he said, he’d mailed Roma, then living in Brisbane, his letter asking about dancers she might have known who resembled the Somerton Man. When he went to interview her, he met Rachel, who was living with Roma and working as a schoolteacher. Rachel was completely unaware of her father’s Somerton connection, Abbott said, and was at first skeptical of Abbott’s theory. To Abbott himself, however, she was immediately attracted. “We just hit it off, I guess, and it all happened from there,” he said. They married about four months later and, in the four and a half years since, have had three children. Rachel and Roma moved to Adelaide, and now Abbott’s crusade to dig up Rachel’s presumed grandfather has become a family affair.
Rachel, 47, says she still finds all this “surreal” and is not sure how an idea she first wrote off as one of her mother’s conspiracy theories has led, in less than five years, to her being a married mother of three — with the Somerton Man “playing cupid from beyond the grave.”
Abbott also seems flummoxed by the development, his normally analytical mind stuck in neutral when pressed to explain. “It was a whirlwind marriage, and we’re still trying to process all this and figure out the consequences,” he told me. “I haven’t psychoanalyzed myself.” When I asked why he hadn’t told me about his personal connection to the case, he said that he and Rachel both worried about the Australian tabloids fixating on their young family.
As he spoke, uncomfortable as the investigated rather than the investigator, questions clamored in my mind. Did he marry the woman or the mystery? Was there not at least a touch of the uncanny — a secret love in Adelaide, six and a half decades after the Somerton Man’s own possible covert romance, with the woman Abbott believed to be the Somerton Man’s granddaughter? Had his obsession burrowed so deeply into his brain that he had subconsciously written himself into the mystery?
But Abbott was uncharacteristically blank, for once unwilling to speculate. “I didn’t want it to look like I married some chick just so I could exhume a body,” he said. “I really do love her.”
Feltus, of course, delights in this. “Abbott is a strange bird, with a sick sense of humor,” he told me. “He would think that would be a great joke, wouldn’t he?”
This case’s final irony is not lost on either Abbott or Feltus. We may never know what happened to the Somerton Man, not because witnesses have died and evidence has disintegrated, but because knowing would require an understanding of his inner life, something that cannot be deduced.
“When I look at the case,” Abbott told me, “I think, ‘If only [Jo] behaved normally and told the police everything, we wouldn’t have this mystery.’ But then I wouldn’t be married. Maybe that’s just the way it’s all meant to happen.”
Abbott still wants to dig up the Somerton Man’s body, extract his dna, and prove his theory once and for all. “But in a sense it doesn’t matter,” he admitted. “The Somerton Man has given birth to three children for me, and he will always be their great-grandfather in some way. That, I suppose, gives a sense of closure.”
A World War II-themed ad created by a mobile phone company in Thailand as part of a campaign called “The True Meaning of Giving” has taken the Internet by storm.
Produced by TrueMove, the three-minute spot uses a war story to show that “compassion is the true communication,” with the final moments of the ad tying everything together (we won’t spoil it for you).
As noted by AdWeek, one of the actors wrote in the YouTube comments that the story is in referee to a POW camp in Kanchanaburi, Thailand, where prisoners were forced by the Japanese to build a railway bridge.
TrueMove is no stranger to creating compelling advertisements. In September 2013, the company’s “Giving” ad amassed millions of views.
This morning, SpaceX did a test run of its Crew Dragon capsule’s abort system. It’s a significant protocol the company would use if the module were ever in trouble on the launch pad.
In 2017, the Crew Dragon will be tasked with ferrying NASA astronauts to and from the International Space Station, and it’s important these men and women are as safe as possible during their missions. That means SpaceX and NASA will need to be prepared for all sorts of catastrophes that could befall the crew, even if these events are incredibly rare.
One such event could include a botched launch, in which the area around the launch pad becomes dangerous during liftoff (perhaps due to an unintended explosion or errant rocket booster). In this scenario, the Dragon and its astronauts will need to get out of there. Fast. So SpaceX has embedded the walls of its crew module with eight SuperDraco engines, which can rapidly carry the vehicle up and away from the launch pad to safety.
According to SpaceX CEO Elon Musk, who conducted a media teleconference after the test, the capsule went from 0 to 100 miles per hour in 1.2 seconds, reaching a top speed of 345 mph. He noted that if any astronauts had been on board, they would have fared just fine. Now, the next few tests for the Crew Dragon include an in-flight abort test and an unmanned launch to the ISS, with the module ready for its intended astronaut riders in two years.
Check out the company’s first critical test of this exit strategy below, with a dummy astronaut along for the ride.
Ghostly Voices From Thomas Edison’s Dolls Can Now Be Heard
By RON COWENMAY 4, 2015
Though Robin and Joan Rolfs owned two rare talking dolls manufactured by Thomas Edison’s phonograph company in 1890, they did not dare play the wax cylinder records tucked inside each one.
The Rolfses, longtime collectors of Edison phonographs, knew that if they turned the cranks on the dolls’ backs, the steel phonograph needle might damage or destroy the grooves of the hollow, ring-shaped cylinder. And so for years, the dolls sat side by side inside a display cabinet, bearers of a message from the dawn of sound recording that nobody could hear.
In 1890, Edison’s dolls were a flop; production lasted only six weeks. Children found them difficult to operate and more scary than cuddly. The recordings inside, which featured snippets of nursery rhymes, wore out quickly.
Yet sound historians say the cylinders were the first entertainment records ever made, and the young girls hired to recite the rhymes were the world’s first recording artists.
Year after year, the Rolfses asked experts if there might be a safe way to play the recordings. Then a government laboratory developed a method to play fragile records without touching them.
The technique relies on a microscope to create images of the grooves in exquisite detail. A computer approximates — with great accuracy — the sounds that would have been created by a needle moving through those grooves.
In 2014, the technology was made available for the first time outside the laboratory.
“The fear all along is that we don’t want to damage these records. We don’t want to put a stylus on them,” said Jerry Fabris, the curator of the Thomas Edison Historical Park in West Orange, N.J. “Now we have the technology to play them safely.”
Last month, the Historical Park posted online three never-before-heard Edison doll recordings, including the two from the Rolfses’ collection. “There are probably more out there, and we’re hoping people will now get them digitized,” Mr. Fabris said.
The technology, which is known as Irene (Image, Reconstruct, Erase Noise, Etc.), was developed by the particle physicist Carl Haber and the engineer Earl Cornell at Lawrence Berkeley. Irene extracts sound from cylinder and disk records. It can also reconstruct audio from recordings so badly damaged they were deemed unplayable.
“We are now hearing sounds from history that I did not expect to hear in my lifetime,” Mr. Fabris said.
The Rolfses said they were not sure what to expect in August when they carefully packed their two Edison doll cylinders, still attached to their motors, and drove from their home in Hortonville, Wis., to the Northeast Document Conservation Center in Andover, Mass. The center had recently acquired Irene technology.
Cylinders carry sound in a spiral groove cut by a phonograph recording needle that vibrates up and down, creating a surface made of tiny hills and valleys. In the Irene set-up, a microscope perched above the shaft takes thousands of high-resolution images of small sections of the grooves.
Stitched together, the images provide a topographic map of the cylinder’s surface, charting changes in depth as small as one five-hundredth the thickness of a human hair. Pitch, volume and timbre are all encoded in the hills and valleys and the speed at which the record is played.
At the conservation center, the preservation specialist Mason Vander Lugt attached one of the cylinders to the end of a rotating shaft. Huddled around a computer screen, the Rolfses first saw the wiggly waveform generated by Irene. Then came the digital audio. The words were at first indistinct, but as Mr. Lugt filtered out more of the noise, the rhyme became clearer.
Recently, the conservation center turned up another surprise.
In 2010, the Woody Guthrie Foundation received 18 oversize phonograph disks from an anonymous donor. No one knew if any of the dirt-stained recordings featured Guthrie, but Tiffany Colannino, then the foundation’s archivist, had stored them unplayed until she heard about Irene.
Last fall, the center extracted audio from one of the records, labeled “Jam Session 9” and emailed the digital file to Ms. Colannino.
“I was just sitting in my dining room, and the next thing I know, I’m hearing Woody,” she said. In between solo performances of “Ladies Auxiliary,” “Jesus Christ,” and “Dead or Alive,” Guthrie tells jokes, offers some back story, and makes the audience laugh. “It is quintessential Guthrie,” Ms. Colannino said.
The Rolfses’ dolls are back in the display cabinet in Wisconsin. But with audio stored on several computers, they now have a permanent voice.
Correction: May 5, 2015
An earlier version of this article misstated part of the name of a center in Andover, Mass. that recently acquired the Irene technology. It is the Northeast Document Conservation Center (not National center).
If possible always invent in imitation of Nature. God knows his designs.
By the way I have long considered and have experimented with the idea of a reactive liquid armor that both redirects projectile trajectories and disperses force in spread waves rather than attempts to meet it with direct resistance.
So I found this step forward to be doubly interesting. In construction method, in design, and as a pointer towards improved future capabilities.
Illustration of deformation mechanisms in laminates
Rudykh et al
Body armor suffers from a core tension: it must be light enough so the soldier wearing it can still fight effectively, but strong enough to actually stop bullets and shrapnel. Durable, shock-absorbing Kevlar is the current standard, but it can definitely be improved upon. What if, instead of making the armor itself a liquid, researchers borrow an armor design from creatures that move through it? A team at MIT, led by mechanical engineer Stephan Rudykh, designed a flexible armor inspired by fish scales.
Scale armor is almost as old as armor itself, with numerous examples found in ancient art from Rome to China. To improve on an ancient concept, the MIT team came up with a single metric for the armor’s value: protecto-flexibility (Ψ). This is “a new metric which captures the contrasting combination of protection and flexibility, taken as the ratio between the normalized indentation and normalized bending stiffness.” Working from a single metric, the researchers were able to greatly increase the strength of the armor while only modestly reducing its flexibility.
The practical implications of the study are hinted at by who funded it: the research “was supported by the U.S. Army Research Office through the MIT Institute for Soldier Nanotechnologies.” In the future, soldiers could have fish-scale suits of armor that are more flexible around joints and sturdier across the rest of the body, adding greater protection where none was before without diminishing any of the value of previous armor.
This armor is still in the early testing stages. “Flexibility and protection by design: imbricated hybrid microstructures of bio-inspired armor” only covers indentation tests, designed to see just how far the scales would bend when forced to. Next stages include trying the armor against bullets and shrapnel. If successful, the future of armor could look a heck of a lot like the past.
What to do when you just can’t quit–no matter how many times you’ve tried.
By Nir Eyal
I had just finished giving a speech on building habits when a woman in the audience exclaimed, “You teach how to create habits, but that’s not my problem. I’m fat!” The frustration in her voice echoed throughout the room. “My problem is stopping bad habits. That’s why I’m fat. Where does that leave me?”
I deeply sympathized with the woman. “I was once clinically obese,” I told her. She stared at my lanky frame and waited for me to explain. How did I hack my habits?
One Size Doesn’t Fit All
The first step is to realize that starting a new routine is very different from breaking an existing habit. As I describe in this video, there are different techniques to use depending on the behavior you intend to modify.
For example, creating a habit requires encoding a new set of automatic behaviors, while breaking a habit requires a different set of processes. The brain learns causal relationships between triggers that prompt an action and the associated outcome. If you’d like to get in the habit of taking a vitamin every day, for example, the key is to place the pills somewhere in the path of your normal routine–say, next to your toothbrush, so you remember to take it each morning before you brush. Doing so daily acts as a reminder until, over time, the behavior becomes something done with little or no conscious thought.
However, breaking an existing habit is an entirely different story, and the distinction is something many people mischaracterize. For example, Charles Duhigg, author of The Power of Habit, describes a bad cookie-eating habit that added eight pounds to his waistline.
Every day, Duhigg says, he found himself going to the 14th floor of his office building to buy a cookie. When he began to analyze this habit, Duhigg discovered that the real reward for his behavior was not the cookie itself but the socializing he enjoyed while nom nom nom-ing with co-workers. Once Duhigg figured out that the reward was connecting with friends, he could get rid of the cookie-eating habit by substituting one routine for another. Voilà!
Duhigg echos the popular belief that the key to breaking a bad habit is replacing it with another habit. I’m not so sure.
Maybe replacing cookies with co-workers did it for Duhigg, but what if you’re the kind of person (like me) that loves the hell out of cookies? I was obese precisely because, among many other delicious things, I love cookies and for no other reason than the fact that they taste amazing! For me, ooey gooey chocolate chewy beats chatting it up with Mel from accounting every time.
“Where does that leave me?” the woman in the audience wanted to know. Having struggled with my own weight for years, there was no way I was going to look her in the face and tell her she should chat it up with her co-workers the next time she has a sugar craving. Not going to happen.
When it comes to gaining control over bad habits, like eating food we know isn’t good for us, I shared with her the only thing that has worked for me. I call it “progressive extremism,” and it works particularly well in situations in which substituting one habit for another just won’t do. Before diving into the method I use to transform my habits, follow me back about 20 years.
I was once a vegetarian. As anyone who has made a dramatic shift in diet knows, friends always ask, “Don’t you miss meat? I mean, it tastes so good!” Of course I missed meat!
However, when I began calling myself a vegetarian, somehow what was once appetizing suddenly became something else. The things I once loved to eat were now inedible because I had changed how I defined myself. I was a vegetarian, and vegetarians don’t eat meat.
Saying no to eating animals was no longer difficult. It was no longer a struggle. It was something I just did not do, much in the same way I’d imagine a Hasidic Jew does not eat pork or an observant Muslim does not drink alcohol–they just don’t.
Identity helps us make otherwise difficult choices by offloading willpower. Our choices become what we do because of who we are.
Don’t Versus Can’t
Recent research reveals why looking at our behaviors this way can have a profound impact. A study published in the Journal of Consumer Research tested the words people use when confronting temptation. During the experiment, one group was instructed to use the words “I can’t” while the other used “I don’t” when considering unhealthy food choices. Then the real experiment began.
When people finished the study, they were offered either a chocolate bar or granola bar to thank them for their time. Unbeknownst to participants, the researchers were measuring whether they would take the relatively healthy or unhealthy choice. While 39 percent of people who used the words “I can’t” chose the granola, 64 percent of those in the “I don’t” group picked it over chocolate. The study authors believe saying “I don’t” rather than “I can’t” provides greater “psychological empowerment.”
I was meat-free for about five years, and during that time resisting certain foods was not that difficult because it was consistent with how I saw myself. “I don’t eat meat,” was tied to my identity as a vegetarian.
If not eating meat was easy when it was something I just didn’t do, why couldn’t the same technique be used to stop other unhealthy habits? It turns out it most certainly can.
Here’s How it Works
First, a disclaimer. This technique only works for triggers that can be removed from your environment–for instance, this doesn’t work for quitting a nail-biting habit unless you’re looking to dispose of some digits.
Start by identifying the behavior you want to stop. For example, say you’d like to stop eating processed sugar. Taken all at once, cutting out the sweet stuff is too big of a goal for most people to quit cold turkey.
Instead, think of just one specific food you’d like to cut from your diet. However–here’s the important part–it needs to be something you wouldn’t really miss and it needs to be forever.
Overwhelming research reveals diets don’t work because they are temporary fixes. If you imagine you’ll get to eat Goobers some day when you’re thinner, this technique won’t work. Temporary diets do nothing but train the brain to binge eat.
To become part of your identity, the commitment needs to be forever, just as vegetarians believe they’ll eat the same way for the rest of their life–it’s who they are.
The mistake most people make is they bite off more than they can chew (excuse the pun). The key is to only remove the things from your diet you won’t really miss. For example, do you like candy corn? I sure don’t. As a kid, the stuff was always the dregs of my Halloween haul. For me, removing candy corn for life was no big deal, so it was first on my list. I don’t eat candy corn and I never will. Done!
Next, write down what you no longer eat and the date you gave it up for good. Writing this down marks the shift from a temporary “can’t” to a permanent “don’t.” Remember, the things you give up have to be easy enough to give up for the rest of your life.
The next step is to wait. This method takes time. When you’re ready, reevaluate what else you can do. Find another trigger to remove that meets the criteria of something you can give up for life that you wouldn’t really miss. For me, I decided to never have sugary carbonated drinks at home. I could still have them elsewhere, just not inside the house. Easy peasy.
If the commitment feels like too much, you’re doing too much. Each step needs to feel almost effortless, no big deal, but involve something you can be proud to give up forever.
For example, when I wanted to stop a bad habit of mindlessly surfing the internet and reduce the online distractions in my life, I didn’t quit the Web entirely. I quit one simple thing I wouldn’t miss and intend not to do it for life. I don’t read articles in my Web browser during working hours–ever! Instead, every time I see something that looks interesting, I use an app called Pocket to save it for later (see more about how Pocket works here).
The process of unwinding bad habits takes years, but progressive extremism is an effective way I’ve found to stop behaviors that weren’t serving me. Occasionally, I look at all the unhealthy things that no longer control me the way they once did, and if I feel up to it, I find new bad habits to slay.
By slowly ratcheting up what you don’t do, you invest in a new identity through your record of successfully dropping bad habits from your life. It may start small, but over time, it adds up to a whole new you.
The process for stopping bad habits is fundamentally different from forming new ones.
Existing behaviors etch a neural circuitry that makes unlearning an association between an action and a reward extremely difficult.
Whereas learning new habits follows a slow progression, stopping old behavioral tendencies requires a different approach.
A process I call “progressive extremism” utilizes what we know about the psychology of identity to help stop behaviors we don’t want.
By classifying specific behaviors as things you will never do again, you put certain actions into the realm of “I don’t” versus “I can’t.”
WASHINGTON, D.C.—In an unusual press conference here today, NASA released a batch of bizarre sound recordings and video from the Messenger spacecraft moments before it impacted the surface of Mercury. Scientists are struggling to decipher what the data mean, but some contend they sound like human voices crying out in agony.
Messenger had been orbiting Mercury since 2011, but it used up nearly all of its propellant and was drifting closer to the surface of the planet. So last week, NASA officials decided to point the probe nose downward for a controlled crash. “We were hoping it would kick up some soot for spectroscopic analysis,” says Messenger Principal Investigator Angra Mainyu, a planetary scientist at Columbia University. Just what it did find instead is not entirely clear.
At the press conference, Mainyu played grainy recordings of what sounded like anguished voices in various languages. And she showed even grainier images of what appeared to be writhing figures. When asked by a reporter how NASA interpreted the data, Mainyu shrugged her shoulders and said, “How the hell should I know?”
Reactions to the news were swift and, in some cases, decisive. Welcoming what he called “ineluctable evidence of hell,” Father Felix Flammis, a spokesperson for the Vatican Observatory in Italy, said: “This wonderful discovery shows that science and religion can work together to discover the truth.” But Richard Dawkins, the famed evolutionary biologist and atheist, rejected the finding. “This is clearly a bunch of drivel,” he says. “Wind whistling past the spacecraft, electronic noise—there obviously has to be some other explanation.” Even if the evidence holds up, he quips, “proof of the devil ain’t the same as proof of God.”
The findings are somewhat of a surprise, because Venus had long been the leading contender, in our solar system at any rate, for harboring Hades. With a mean surface temperature of 462°C, an oppressive atmosphere, and sulfuric acid rains, it certainly seems to fit biblical descriptions. “Plus, it’s much closer to Earth, so lost souls would be only a hop, skip, and a jump from hell,” says Thor Kölski, an astrophysicist at the University of the Valkyrs in Reykjavik. Kölski has pinpointed the likely epicenter of hell as Venus’s Ganiki Chasma, a rift zone where infrared flashes were first observed last year—phenomena that he asserts are new arrivals to the underworld.
Still others think there may be multiple hells within our solar system. “Everything we know about string theory tells us that the ‘Many Hells theory’ isn’t only plausible, it highly likely,” says Franklyn Stein, a theoretical physicist at University College London.
Luminaries in the scientific community are by and large embracing the notion of hell. Even Stephen Hawking is on board. The cosmologist stirred controversy in 2010, when he wrote in his book The Grand Design that “[i]t is not necessary to invoke God to light the blue touch paper and set the universe going.” Earlier today, Hawking tweeted: “The devil is a different story. All hail Messenger!”
The discovery should provide a major shot in the arm to NASA, whose fortunes in Washington have faded since it retired the space shuttles in 2011. “This is a proud day for the space agency,” says Don Tey, a spokesperson for the Planetary Society in Pasadena, California, who insists that it’s merely a coincidence that the announcement was made on April Fools’ Day. “Congress told NASA to go to hell, and, by Jove, they made it.”
Our Ancient and Medieval ancestors were much, much more ingenious that most modern people give them credit for. Someone should create/produce an app/algorithm to scour ancient and medieval medicinal texts (and other kinds of texts) to see what other advantages could be gleaned.
Rather than doing this kind of work (and this is hardly the first example I’ve seen of such historical re-creation) by piecemeal examination and experimentation.
By the way I not long ago finished another set of brilliant lectures by Mike Drought of Wheaton College.
Take cropleek and garlic, of both equal quantities, pound them well together… take wine and bullocks gall, mix with the leek… let it stand nine days in the brass vessel…
So goes a thousand-year-old Anglo Saxon recipe to vanquish a stye, an infected eyelash follicle.
The medieval medics might have been on to something. A modern-day recreation of this remedy seems to alleviate infections caused by the bacteria that are usually responsible for styes. The work might ultimately help create drugs for hard-to-treat skin infections.
The project was born when a microbiologist at the University of Nottingham, UK, got talking to an Anglo Saxon scholar. They decided to test a recipe from an Old English medical compendium called Bald’s Leechbook, housed in the British Library.
Some of the ingredients, such as copper from the brass vessel, kill bacteria grown in a dish – but it was unknown if they would work on a real infection or how they would combine.
Sourcing authentic ingredients was a major challenge, says Freya Harrison, the microbiologist. They had to hope for the best with the leeks and garlic because modern crop varieties are likely to be quite different to ancient ones – even those branded as heritage. For the wine they used an organic vintage from a historic English vineyard.
As “brass vessels” would be hard to sterilise – and expensive – they used glass bottles with squares of brass sheet immersed in the mixture. Bullocks gall was easy, though, as cow’s bile salts are sold as a supplement for people who have had their gall bladders removed.
After nine days of stewing, the potion had killed all the soil bacteria introduced by the leek and garlic. “It was self-sterilising,” says Harrison. “That was the first inkling that this crazy idea just might have some use.”
A side effect was that it made the lab smell of garlic. “It was not unpleasant,” says Harrison. “It’s all edible stuff. Everyone thought we were making lunch.”
The potion was tested on scraps of skin taken from mice infected with methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus. This is an antibiotic-resistant version of the bacteria that causes styes, more commonly known as the hospital superbug MRSA. The potion killed 90 per cent of the bacteria. Vancomycin, the antibiotic generally used for MRSA, killed about the same proportion when it was added to the skin scraps.
A loathsome slime
Unexpectedly, the ingredients had little effect unless they were all brought together. “The big challenge is trying to find out why that combination works,” says Steve Diggle, another of the researchers. Do the components work in synergy or do they trigger the formation of new potent compounds?
Using exactly the right method also seems to be crucial, says Harrison, as another group tried to recreate the remedy in 2005 and found that their potion failed to kill bacteria grown in a dish. “With the nine-day waiting period, the preparation turned into a kind of loathsome, odorous slime,” says Michael Drout of Wheaton College in Norton, Massachusetts.
If the 9th Century recipe does lead to new drugs, they might be useful against MRSA skin infections such as those that cause foot ulcers in people with diabetes. “These are usually antibiotic-resistant,” says Diggle. However, he doesn’t recommend people try this at home.
Two people tried to ram the main gate to enter the headquarters of the National Security Agency at Fort Meade
One was shot dead, and another was wounded, an official tells CNN
(CNN)Two people tried to ram the main gate to enter the headquarters of the National Security Agency at Fort Meade, Maryland on Monday, according to a federal law enforcement official briefed on the investigation. An NSA police officer shot one of the people dead dead and seriously injured the second.
A law enforcement official had previously reported that both of the people involved were men. Aerial shots show two vehicles at an intersection that appear to be damaged.
The FBI said Monday morning that it was conducting an investigation with NSA police and other law enforcement agencies, and interviewing witnesses on the scene. The incident took place near one of the gates to the complex, far from the main buildings. The FBI said they did not think terrorism was related to the incident.
“We are working with the US Attorney’s Office in Maryland to determine if federal charges are warranted,” the FBI said in a statement.
White House Principal Deputy Press Secretary Eric Schultz said President Barack Obama had been briefed on the incident this morning.
This is the second security incident this month involving the NSA. At the beginning of March, a former state correctional officer was arrested, accused in a string of Maryland shootings, including one at Fort Meade. Gunshots struck a building near the NSA office, according to a police report.
Officers stopped Hong Young, 35, of Beltsville, Maryland, and recognized his vehicle as matching authorities’ description of a car seen in surveillance footage near some of the other shootings. A gun in the car matched evidence found at the shootings, and Young was arrested, authorities said.
Police said earlier this month that there were no links to terrorism in the case, and no motive has been determined. No one was killed in the five shooting incidents.
In addition to the headquarters of the NSA, Fort Meade is home to 95 units from all branches of the armed forces and offices that report to several Defense Department agencies, according to the U.S. Army, which operates the base.
About 11,000 military employees and 29,000 civilians work there, according to the Army.
Some 6,000 people also live on the base, which began operations in 1917 as a garrison for World War I draftees, the Army said.
CNN’s Michael Pearson and John Newsome contributed to this report.
A wheel purportedly from a US drone shot down in Syria Syrian state media carried footage of what they said was debris from drone being taken away
The Syrian military says it has shot down a US drone near the city of Latakia, a stronghold of President Bashar al-Assad in north-west Syria.
US officials have said they lost contact with a drone but that it is unclear if it was shot down.
If confirmed it would be the first time Syrian forces have attacked a US aircraft since the start of coalition strikes against Islamic State (IS).
Syria has not been participating in the raids on IS.
The country’s state-run Sana news agency described the unmanned surveillance plane as “hostile”, without giving further details. The Pentagon said it was looking into the incident.
An MQ-1 Predator unmanned aircraft – it is not clear what model has been shot down The Pentagon said they lost contact with an MQ-1 Predator drone over north-west Syria
In a BBC interview last month, President Assad said “general messages” were provided to the Syrians about the coalition strikes via a third party.
A Jordanian jet involved in the coalition strikes crashed in northern Syria last year. IS captured the pilot and later burned him alive.
Meanwhile, Syrian activists have accused government forces of using chlorine in an attack in the north-western province of Idlib late on Monday.
Two groups reported that three children were among six people killed when aircraft dropped barrel bombs filled with the toxic chemical on Sarmin.
The Syrian military has denied the claim, describing it as propaganda.
A Syrian man stands next to the remains of a barrel bomb that activists say was dropped on the town of Sarmin on the night of 16 March 2015 A local activist said barrel bombs were dropped on two locations in Sarmin
Chlorine is a common industrial chemical, but its use as a weapon is banned by the Chemical Weapons Convention (CWC).
Syria signed the treaty after the nerve agent sarin was used in an August 2013 attack on several suburbs of Damascus that killed hundreds of people. Western powers said only the government could have carried out the attack, but it blamed the rebels.
In January, international investigators concluded that chlorine gas had been used in air raids on three villages that were blamed on the government.
Earlier this month, the UN Security Council approved a resolution that condemned the use of toxic chemicals such as chlorine in Syria, and threatened military action in case of further violations.
A map showing Latakia and Sarmin in Syria
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War in Syria
March 17, 2015: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu casts his vote during Israel’s parliamentary elections in Jerusalem. (AP Photo/Sebastian Scheiner, Pool)
With no clear winner yet declared in Israel’s parliamentary elections, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu claimed victory for his Likud Party early Wednesday, while his chief rival said he would make “every effort” to form the next government.
Exit polls conducted by the country’s three major TV stations late Tuesday showed mixed results in the acrimonious race between the Likud Party and opposition leader Isaac Herzog’s Zionist Union.
Two polls showed the parties deadlocked with 27 seats each in the 120-member Knesset, and a third gave Likud a slight lead of 28-27.
Netanyahu appeared to have fended off Herzog’s strong challenge, the Associated Press reported, but his victory was not guaranteed.
The prime minister said he had invited other rightist politicians to join him in a coalition government “without delay,” according to Reuters.
In an interview published Monday on the NRG news website, Netahyahu said withdrawing from occupied areas to make way for a Palestinian state would only ensure that territory will be taken over by Islamic extremists. When asked if that means a Palestinian state will not be established if he is elected, Netanyahu said “indeed.”
The prime minister doubled down on his remarks in a phone interview with Israel’s Channel 10 television after casting his ballot Tuesday, saying that any state established alongside Israel would “attack us with rockets … Who wants such a thing?”
The statements marked a reversal for Netanyahu, who laid out his support for Palestinian independence in a landmark 2009 speech, shortly after his return to the premiership after a decade away. In the intervening period, two rounds of peace talks have failed and Netanyahu has continued to expand Jewish settlements while portraying Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas as the main obstacle to a peace deal.
Elections day is a public holiday in Israel. Most people don’t go to work, beaches and restaurants fill up, and stores advertise election-day sales.
Israeli election officials said 26.5 percent of eligible voters had voted by midday, a rate similar to previous years. Facebook featured a special “I voted” button in Hebrew, as it has during elections in other countries, in an effort to get out the vote.
Israelis cast ballots for a party list, rather than individual candidates. After an election, it typically takes weeks of negotiation to form a governing coalition and determine who will be prime minister.
Several smaller centrist and religious parties that have not pledged support for either Netanyahu or Herzog will likely tip the scales to determine who will become prime minister.
Polls have consistently show Netanyahu’s conservative Likud party slightly trailing the centrist Zionist Union in the race for the most seats in Israel’s 120-member Knesset. In response, Netanyahu has appealed to Likud’s staunchest supporters to “close the gap” and warned about the consequences of what he termed as a “left-wing government” coming to power. He has also talked about an international conspiracy funded by wealthy foreigners to oust him.
Netanyahu’s opponents have attacked him for what they call his inattention to Israel’s high cost of living and growing income inequality. Reports of the extravagant spending habits of the Prime Minister and his wife have done little to endear them to the public, and an expected bump from Netanyahu’s address to Congress about Iran’s nuclear program earlier this month failed to materialize.
Isaac Herzog of the Zionist Union has said he would revive peace efforts with the Palestinians, repair ties with the U.S. and reduce the growing gaps between rich and poor.
“Whoever wants to follow Bibi’s path of despair and disappointment will vote for him,” Herzog said after casting his vote, using a popular nickname for Netanyahu. “But whoever wants change, hope, and really a better future for Israel, will vote the Zionist Camp lead by me.”
That call resonated with 51-year-old businessman Ofer Benishti, who voted at a polling station in Kfar Saba in central Israel. He said he was a lifelong Likud voter but was now casting his ballot for the Zionist Union.
“I have had enough,” said Benishti. “Bibi tried and tried and tried, but it just hasn’t worked. It’s time to give someone else a chance. It can’t get worse than this,” he said, using Netanyahu’s nickname.
But Meshy Alon, 22, said she was sticking with the prime minister. “He is not great, but he is better than anything else out there,” she said. “I can’t vote for the left … It’s a Jewish country, not a Palestinian one.”
In his interview with Channel 10, Netanyahu ruled out a coalition with Herzog and said he would seek an alliance with the ultra-national Jewish Home party, which also opposes Palestinian statehood.
Netanyahu portrayed Herzog as someone who would easily give up territory for a Palestinian state. The Palestinians want to establish a state in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and east Jerusalem, lands Israel captured in the 1967 Six Day War.
“We have a different approach,” Netanyahu said. “They (the Zionist Union) want to withdraw. I don’t want to withdraw. If I put together the government, it will be a nationalist government.”
Herzog, meanwhile, signaled he is going back on what had been perceived as an unpopular power-sharing deal with the co-leader of the Zionist Union, former Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni.
Under that deal, Herzog and Livni would each have served as prime minister for two years if they won the elections.
Meanwhile, police said they arrested an Israeli soldier on suspicion of incitement of violence. The soldier wrote on Facebook that if a leftist were to rise to power, the soldier would follow in the footsteps of Israeli extremist Yigal Amir, who assassinated dovish Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in 1995.
This stunning image of a shooting star is what award-winning photographs are made of – but the man behind the lens said capturing the sight was an “absolute fluke”.
John Alasdair Macdonald, a tour guide in the Scottish Highlands, caught the meteor on film at about 9pm last night.
Based in Drumnadrochit, on the west shore of Loch Ness, Mr Macdonald had taken his Sony RX100 compact camera outside to capture some photographs of the stars on what he described as a “beautiful night”.
But as he clicked away, the meteor soared right into his sights.
“As my wife said, it was just sheer dumb luck,” Mr Macdonald told The Independent: “It was a complete fluke, an absolute fluke”.
Mr Macdonald posted the image on the Facebook page of his tour website, The Hebridean Explorer, where it quickly attracted a lot of attention.
Asked whether the experience had inspired him to pursue his photography skills on a more professional level, Mr Macdonald said: “I think that’s as good as I’m going to get!”
Meteors are small particles of space debris that burn up as they enter the Earth’s atmosphere, making them appear like falling stars.