Whatever you think U.S. biodefense policy should be, it is difficult to imagine that it would not benefit from clear, central leadership. Kenneth Bernard, the biodefense czar in both the Clinton and Bush administrations, told me, “The only way that you can get all of those people in the room is to call them into the White House, and to have a coordinating group under a single person.” Robert Kadlec, who was the senior official for biodefense in the second Bush term, said, “Unless someone makes this a priority, it’s a priority for no one.”
Randall Larsen, who first smuggled a tube of weaponized powder into the meeting with Dick Cheney 10 years ago — and went on to become the executive director of the Congressional Commission on Weapons of Mass Destruction — said: “Today, there are more than two dozen Senate-confirmed individuals with some responsibility for biodefense. Not one person has it for a full-time job, and no one is in charge.”
Scientists are currently debating whether we and octopuses evolved eyes separately, or whether a common ancestor had the makings of the eye. But intelligence is another matter. “The same thing that got them their smarts isn’t the same thing that got us our smarts,” says Mather, “because our two ancestors didn’t have any smarts.” Half a billion years ago, the brainiest thing on the planet had only a few neurons. Octopus and human intelligence evolved independently.
“Octopuses,” writes philosopher Godfrey-Smith, “are a separate experiment in the evolution of the mind.” And that, he feels, is what makes the study of the octopus mind so philosophically interesting.
The experts, Bradshaw especially, tell us that Butterscotch sits by the door all afternoon because she has been unconsciously trained to associate Olivia’s after-school homecoming with the delivery of treats. But what would be so different if we said that she sits by the door because she is waiting patiently for Olivia, has a keen inner sense of what time she’ll be home, and misses her because they play together and enjoy each other’s company, which, of course, includes the pleasures of good food? This is the same description, covering exactly the same behavior, only the first account puts the act in terms of mechanical reflexes and the other in terms of desires and hopes and affections. Our preference for the former kind of language may look as strange to our descendants, and to Butterscotch’s, as it would if we applied it to a child. (The language of behaviorism and instinct can be applied to anything, after all: we’re not really falling in love; we’re just anticipating sexual pleasure leading to a prudent genetic mix.)
"Are you going to augment the city with CGI later?" I ask, just to ask something.
Khrzhanovsky jumps in place and winces. “See, if one of the guards heard you, he would fine me a thousand hryvnias [about $125],” he says. “Because you’re my guest. It doesn’t matter that I am the boss. I get frisked like everyone else. You can’t use words that have no meaning in this world.”
"Now he would fine me twice."
The fine system is the Institute’s latest innovation. Khrzhanovsky decreed it a few months ago, fed up with staffers smuggling cell phones and talking about Facebook. Other finable offenses include tardiness, which costs a whole day’s pay, and failure to renew the fake Institute pass. The program has been a hit. Not only has morale improved, a whole new euphemistic vocabulary has sprouted up. (“Google” is now “Pravda,” as in “Pravda it.”) The fine system has also fostered a robust culture of snitching. “In a totalitarian regime, mechanisms of suppression trigger mechanisms of betrayal,” the director explains. “I am very interested in that.”
Answering this question has caused me to examine our American body politic. We could have worked harder at finding a commonly respectful solution to this conflict and we didn’t. If there is a takeaway for me from this, it is that we need to find ways to function that respects each others convictions and core values. Too often our response is to press our legislators to impose our version of what is good and right on others. However correct we may be, this behavior does not come without consequences. If mere compassion for our fellow human beings is not enough to work hard at finding mutually respectful approaches to public policy in general, and school curriculum in particular, then pragmatic interest in promoting our own values should direct us to act accordingly, because in a democracy sooner or later the opposing group’s time to exercise their electoral power will come.
“[I]f a character I had written for myself wanted to go on while the camera was rolling, I felt comfortable doing that, because I had written the character and I knew the character and Goddamnit if I thought of something really funny right there, I’m gonna say it. But I would never ask the other actors to do that, because it doesn’t work out well. You know what it does? All improv turns into anger. All comedy improv basically turns into anger, because that’s all people know how to do when they’re improvising. If you notice shows that are improvising are generally people yelling at each other. When you improvise on the spot, people are very reluctant to have soft moments or quiet moments or sad moments because they’re trying to fill up the spaces.”—
In moderation, loudness can be a good way to provide emphasis during a story or piece of dialogue. But when characters indiscriminately yell at each other for long stretches, I feel bludgeoned and become fatigued. The worst offenders are modern-day buddy movies (Superbad, 30 Minutes or Less) – over and over, the actors try to compensate for weak material by getting louder. It’s really annoying.
The Green Bay Packers are a historical, cultural, and geographical anomaly, a publicly traded corporation in a league that doesn’t allow them, an immensely profitable company whose shareholders are forbidden by the corporate bylaws to receive a penny of that profit, a franchise that has flourished despite being in the smallest market in the NFL—with a population of 102,000, it would be small for a Triple A baseball franchise. The Packers have managed not merely to survive but to become the NFL’s dominant organization, named by ESPN in 2011 as the best franchise in all of sports.
Wallace doesn’t accept the silent social contract between students and professors: He takes apart and analyzes and makes explicit, in a way that is almost painful, all of the tiny conventional unspoken agreements usually made between professors and their students.
Wallace refuses the habitual patterns and usual fictions that govern a classroom. His syllabus warns: “If you are used to whipping off papers the night before they’re due, running them quickly through the computer’s Spellchecker, handing them in full of high-school errors and sentences that make no sense and having the professor accept them ‘because the ideas are good’ or something, please be informed that I draw no distinction between the quality of one’s ideas and the quality of those ideas’ verbal expression, and I will not accept sloppy, rough-draftish, or semiliterate college writing. Again, I am absolutely not kidding.”
Like a multibillionaire Jack Benny, the thrifty Buffett just can’t stop worrying. He can’t stop finding the bad news in the good. Because we know how well he’s done and how well he’ll do, his nervousness is amusing and disarming. And by avoiding emotion in his expression at moments when others in his position would be euphoric, he also caricatures his well-known suspicion of moody reactions to short-term market swings. When things look up, he doesn’t celebrate, and when things look down, he’s not surprised—that’s the pose, at least. The truth, we suspect, is that such a cautious outlook is a luxury of the financially untouchable, and that Buffett fully understands this. For himself he feels no anxiety at all—he only pretends to, out of compassion for us, the vulnerable public. The hidden message is a subtle one: I, who don’t have to, am keeping my guard up as a way of reminding all of you that you can’t afford to let yours down.
Somebody handed me a beer and a bowl of fried piranha, and a crew of locals grabbed our hammocks and packs to set us up for the night in a simple pavilion in the middle of the settlement, their church. When I tried to hang my own hammock, it seemed to upset everybody.
"People here relate differently," Volker explained. "It’s still the old patron system. They respect hierarchy. They want me to order them." Ultimately, that was why we were here. "They want to see the boss, to see if it’s real. Who calls the shots? Who has the cash? That very minute, things really start. But if you become the boss, you have responsibility. They come to you and say, ‘Look, I need this, and I need that.’ Or something happens. Somebody gets hurt and has to be flown out. Then I hire a plane and get that guy out and take him to a hospital. There’s no discussion. I can’t say, ‘Oh, no, that costs too much. I can’t do it.’ Then I’ve lost. It’s tricky, but it’s quite a straightforward system if you know it."