Tuesday, July 18, 2017

J. Edgar Hoover & Library of Congress

Hoover dutifully recited the devotions of the Presbyterian Church on Sundays, but the Library of Congress was the secular cathedral of his youth. . . . The reverent hush of its central reading room imparted a sense that all knowledge was at hand, if you knew where to look. The library had its own system of classification, and Hoover learned its complexities as a cataloguer, earning money for school by filing and retrieving information. He worked days at the library while he studied in the early evenings and on summer mornings at George Washington University, where he earned his master's degree in law in June 1917.
Tim Weiner, Enemies: A History of the FBI (New York: Random House, 2012), p. 4

Monday, May 29, 2017

Suited to live in a nineteenth-century novel

She felt like someone who'd lost her way and ended up in the wrong generation. She would have been much more sited to a period with structure and rank and rules, where a button undone on a glove signaled licentiousness. She could have managed quite well living within those kinds of strictures. She had read too much James and Wharton. No one in Edith Wharton's world really wanted to be there but Amelia would have got along fine inside an Edith Wharton novel. In fact, she could have happily lived inside any nineteenth century novel.
Kate Atkinson, Case Histories (New York: Little Brown & Co., 2004), p. 185.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

What if we planted a lot more trees?

     It takes a lot of trees to have a meaningful effect on atmospheric carbon dioxide. In the United States, for example, our vast national forests store about 16 percent of the carbon we annually produce. All of the street trees in U.S. cities together store only less than 1 percent of our carbon emissions. Still, the 360 metric tons of carbon that street trees store won't warm our climate.What if we converted half of subirdia's lawns to trees?
     . . .
     [T]hink about the effect that we could collectively have on carbon if only half of America's turflands—twenty million acres—could do what my trees do. Turf consumes carbon just as does any plant, but unlike trees, grass doesn't put on an annual layer of wood. Its use of carbon dioxide increases the soil's carbon stores. . . . [A]n acre of U.s. grass annually adds about eighteen hundred pounds of carbon to the soil, and it continues to do so for about thirty years after it is planted. An acre of my trees did about three times that amount, in aboveground carbon storage, and they have been doing so for seventy years. Their annual storage capacity will slow as they age, probably in a century or so, but their overall capacity to buffer our climate is magnitudes beyond what grass could ever hope to do. . . . [A]n additional twenty million acres of trees could absorb another 1 percent to 2 percent of our national carbon emissions. In this accounting, every little bit helps!

John M. Marzluff, Welcome to Subirdia: Sharing Our Neighborhoods with Wrens, Robins, Woodpeckers, and Other Wildlife (New Haven: Yale Univ. Press, 2014), pp. 223, 225.

According to the Arbor Day Foundation, "National Arbor Day is always celebrated on the last Friday in April, but many states observe Arbor Day on different dates throughout the year based on best tree planting times in their area." In Washington State, it's the second Wednesday in April. 

Sunday, January 1, 2017

We're not good at predictions

We need to stop, and admit it: we have a prediction problem. We love to predict things—and we aren't very good at it. 
Nate Silver, The Signal and the Noise: Why So Many Predictions Fail—But Some Don't (Penguin Books, 2015) (orig., pub., 2012), p. 13

Saturday, December 31, 2016

Toffler's information overload prediction in 1970

Alvin Toffler, writing in the book Future Shock in 1970, predicted some of the consequences of what he called "information overload." He thought our defense mechanism would be to simplify the world in ways that confirmed our biases, even as the world itself was growing more diverse and complex.
Nate Silver, The Signal and the Noise: Why So Many Predictions Fail—But Some Don't (Penguin Books, 2015) (orig., pub., 2012), p. 12 (citing Alvin Toffler, Future Shock (New York: Bantam Books, 1990), p. 362)

Friday, December 30, 2016

More knowledge can divide us

Paradoxically, the result of having so much more shared knowledge [with the spread of printing] was increasing isolation along national and religious lines. The instinctual shortcut that we take when we have "too much information" is to engage with it selectively, picking out the parts we like and ignoring the remainder, making allies with those who have made the same choices and enemies of the rest.
Nate Silver, The Signal and the Noise: Why So Many Predictions Fail—But Some Don't (Penguin Books, 2015) (orig., pub., 2012), p. 3

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Why believe in the supernatural?

Why do people believe in things that go against natural laws? It cannot simply be ignorance.
The answer is evidence. The number-one reason given by people who believe in the supernatural is personal experience.
Bruce M. Hood, The Science of Superstition: How the Developing Brain Creates Supernatural Beliefs (New York: HarperCollins, 2009), p. 3 (former title: SuperSense: Why We Believe in the Unbelievable)