Other Miscellany
photo by Michael Cade

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Via Slate Star Codex: A Reddit page devoted to somnivexillology, the study of flags that appear in dreams.


3 a.m. Magazine interview with Keith Ansell-Pearson on Nietzsche:

Nietzsche holds that the first philosophers on the planet, figures such as Heraclitus or Empedocles, were outsiders and abnormalities and they fashioned what he calls new possibilities of life. This is how I see Nietzsche: an outsider and a philosopher who offers his readers these ‘possibilities of life.’


On colonizing Mars:

Long-term exposure to microgravity can have many deleterious effects, including anemia and vision problems. These, however, can be overcome by artificial gravity. But cosmic rays or solar flares outside of Earth’s protective magnetosphere could lead to cancer, blindness, nerve damage, and even death.

Some modicum of healthy gravity might be restored once reaching the surface, but Mars lost its magnetosphere ages ago, and its atmosphere provides little shielding from harmful radiation. The first long-term habitats will have to be underground, or buried in ice and regolith. Growing food sustainably in a contained environment will be a logistical challenge. Venturing outside for routine labor or scientific work will be dangerous. These problems would persist for decades, or even centuries, in such a large-scale, slow project.


Tom Service: Six of the World’s Most Extreme Voices:

Throat singing is straight up one of the weirdest vocal techniques known to man. Most people have never heard it – and when they do, they find it difficult to understand or even believe what they’re hearing.

Simply put, throat singing (also known as overtone singing) is a technique that lets the singer apparently produce two notes at once. They do this by singing a single, “fundamental” note (a bit like a drone) while changing the shape of their mouth and throat to produce overtones (strange, whistle-like sounds) that ring out over the top.

Experienced throat singers have incredible control over the overtones they produce. Some can even accompany themselves in simple songs! Prepare to be amazed.


On life in the Gulag:

For fifteen years the writer Varlam Shalamov was imprisoned in the Gulag for participating in “counter-revolutionary Trotskyist activities.” He endured six of those years enslaved in the gold mines of Kolyma, one of the coldest and most hostile places on earth. While he was awaiting sentencing, one of his short stories was published in a journal called Literary Contemporary. He was released in 1951, and from 1954 to 1973 he worked on Kolyma Stories, a masterpiece of Soviet dissident writing that has been newly translated into English and published by New York Review Books Classics this week. Shalamov claimed not to have learned anything in Kolyma, except how to wheel a loaded barrow. But one of his fragmentary writings, dated 1961, tells us more.

1. The extreme fragility of human culture, civilization. A man becomes a beast in three weeks, given heavy labor, cold, hunger, and beatings.

2. The main means for depraving the soul is the cold. Presumably in Central Asian camps people held out longer, for it was warmer there.

3. I realized that friendship, comradeship, would never arise in really difficult, life-threatening conditions. Friendship arises in difficult but bearable conditions (in the hospital, but not at the pit face).

4. I realized that the feeling a man preserves longest is anger. There is only enough flesh on a hungry man for anger: everything else leaves him indifferent.

5. I realized that Stalin’s “victories” were due to his killing the innocent—an organization a tenth the size would have swept Stalin away in two days.

6. I realized that humans were human because they were physically stronger and clung to life more than any other animal: no horse can survive work in the Far North.

7. I saw that the only group of people able to preserve a minimum of humanity in conditions of starvation and abuse were the religious believers, the sectarians (almost all of them), and most priests.

8. Party workers and the military are the first to fall apart and do so most easily.

9. I saw what a weighty argument for the intellectual is the most ordinary slap in the face.

10. Ordinary people distinguish their bosses by how hard their bosses hit them, how enthusiastically their bosses beat them.

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