how the moon was created — 6/21/17

Today's selection -- from Astrophysics for People in a Hurry by Neil deGrasse Tyson. Astrophysicists believe that the Moon was formed when a Mars-sized proto-planet collided with the Earth: "From a distance, our solar system looks empty. If you enclosed it within a sphere -- one large enough to contain the orbit of Neptune, the outermost planet -- then the volume occupied by the Sun, all planets, and their moons would take up a little more than one-trillionth the enclosed space. But it's not empty, the space between the planets contains all manner of chunky rocks, pebbles, ice balls, dust, streams of charged particles, and far-flung probes. The space is also permeated by monstrous gravi­tational and magnetic fields. "Interplanetary space is so not-empty that Earth, during its 30 kilometer-per-second orbital journey, plows through hundreds of tons of meteors per day -- most of them no larger than a grain of ...

a brief guide to the interstate highway system — 6/20/17

Today's selection -- from The Long Haul by Finn Murphy. A trucker's tips for understanding the U.S. Interstate Highway system: "Here's a kind of fun primer for you four-wheeler drivers out there: On the US Interstate Highway System there's always a mile marker represented by a small green sign on the right shoulder. Truckers call them lollipops or yardsticks. Within each state, mile markers run south to north, so in South Carolina mile marker 1 is one mile from the Georgia border, and mile marker 199 is at the North Carolina border. On a horizontal plane, mile markers run west to east, so on I-80 in Pennsylvania mile marker 311 is at the New Jersey border, and mile marker 1 is near the Ohio border. When truckers communicate with each other, they use lollipops to give a location such as 'Kojak with a Kodak 201 sun­set,' meaning a state ...

the biggest underreported story of the twentieth century — 6/19/17

Today's selection -- from The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson. After the Civil War and Reconstruction, the plight of blacks in America got decidedly worse, with voting rights effectively removed and economic opportunities vastly curtailed. Then came the First World War, which brought accelerated demand for industrial production in the factories of the northern United States, and an opportunity for "escape" for Southern blacks: "[Blacks] fled as if under a spell or a high fever. 'They left as though they were fleeing some curse,' wrote the scholar Emmett J. Scott. 'They were willing to make almost any sacrifice to obtain a railroad ticket, and they left with the intention of staying.' ... They were all stuck in a caste system as hard and unyielding as the red Georgia clay, and they each had a decision before them. ... "It was during the First World War that a silent pilgrimage ...

the origins of america’s national parks — 6/16/17

Today's selection -- from The Wilderness Warrior by Douglas Brinkley. In early American history, the promotion of nature preserves and national parks came from elite gentleman hunters and fishermen. In fact, the legendary painter John James Audubon, considered a founder of America's conservation movement, was an avid huntsman. Notably, President Andrew Jackson was not a supporter of nature preserves. It was President Theodore Roosevelt who is remembered for his enthusiastic support for conservation and national parks: "[In the early 1900s, President Theodore] Roosevelt and [American Museum of Natural History curator Frank] Chapman weren't unique in their promotion of vast re­serves. They were, in fact, reviving conservationist convictions that had been stalled by shortsighted politicians. Since the American Revolution the idea of game bird laws and habitat conservation had struck a respon­sive chord. In 1828 President John Quincy Adams set aside more than 1,378 acres of live oaks on Santa Rosa ...

incentives can impede productivity — 6/15/17

Today's encore selection -- from Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us by Daniel H. Pink. Financial incentives, or "pay-for-performance," have been demonstrated as effective for improving productivity in jobs that are repetitive or transactional. But as the type of work in our society increasingly evolves toward creative work -- such as designing new software, creating new marketing campaigns or inventing new products -- it is worth noting that not only are financial incentives less effective in eliciting improved performance for this type of work, they can actually impede performance: "Behavioral scientists often divide what we do on the job or learn in school into two categories: 'algorithmic' and 'heuristic.' An algorithmic task is one in which you follow a set of established instructions down a single pathway to one conclusion. That is, there's an algorithm for solving it. A heuristic task is the opposite. Precisely because no ...

chiang kai-shek was surrounded by yes men — 6/14/17

Today's selection -- from Chiang Kai-Shek by Jonathan Fenby. Imperial China had been overthrown in the Revolution of 1911, which was most closely associated with Dr. Sun Yat-sen. But this revolution led to years of internal wars among Sun's successors, especially Chiang Kai-Shek, and a number of regional warlords. Chiang eventually emerged as China's new leader, but led his poorly prepared army to disastrous results against Japan in the Sino-Japanese War of 1937. Chiang's leadership was characterized by gross mismanagement and corruption, and by 1949 the Communist Party under Mao Zedong had taken over the country: "After the outbreak of [the Second Sino-Japanese War in 1937], Chiang had been given dictatorial 'emergency powers'. He was free to act as he wished in military, party and political matters, and to issue decrees as he chose. Chronically incapable of delegating or of letting any organisation escape from his grasp, he amassed jobs ...

the historical origin of the amazons — 6/13/17

Today's selection -- from Amazons by Adrienne Mayor. With the current success of the movie Wonder Woman, who is presented in the movie and in comic books as having come from among the Amazons, we take a brief look at the origin of the these warriors: "Who were the Amazons?

Amazon wearing trousers and carrying a shield

c.470 BC, British Museum, London.
"In Greek myth, Amazons were fierce warrior women of exotic East­ern lands, as courageous and skilled in battle as the mightiest Greek he­roes. Amazons were major characters not only in the legendary Trojan War but also in the chronicles of the greatest Greek city-state, Athens. "Every great champion of myth -- Heracles, Theseus, Achilles -- proved his valor by overcoming powerful warrior queens and their armies of women. Those glorious struggles against foreign man-killers were re­counted in oral tales and written epics and illustrated in countless art­works ...