A Kilometer Zero Production
Category Archives: Thoughts and ideas
A team of geneticists at the Broad Institute in Cambridge Massachusetts is investigating how DNA differs among human genomes from around the world. Over the course of human history, naturally, different mutations have sprung up in different regions, and became prevalent or not depending on local conditions. Having identified region-specific pieces of DNA, the interesting part is then trying to figure out what those pieces of DNA do.
An example under current investigation is the EDAR370A gene, which is found in Asian people, and is thought to have arisen in China 30,000 years ago. To determine EDAR370A’s thing, the experimenters snipped it out, pasted it into mouse embryos, and waited to see how the mice turned out. They grew up to have Continue reading
It’s hard not to admire a good simile. They make literature more evocative: ‘Elderly American ladies leaning on their canes listed toward me like towers of Pisa.’ (Nabakov from Lolita.) They add venom to political bite: ‘He looks like a female llama surprised in the bath.’ (Churchill on De Gaulle.) And they help etch the cry for social justice into a nation’s memory: ‘We will not be satisfied until justice rolls down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.’ (Martin Luther King, Jr., I Have a Dream.)
Inspired wordcraft such as this is enough to leave you dizzy. But, alas, this is not the time to praise good similes but to bemoan the bad ones.
Anybody who’s spent time in front of a gaping white page knows that expressing oneself in a clear, original, and incisive manner is Herculean chore requiring both persistence and wit. Similes are a particular gamble because a good one can invigorate your work, while a bad one can leave readers unmoved, or worse, wincing. (Would students across America be memorizing King’s speech if he spoke of justice rolling down like a stray tennis ball on a uneven court?) Continue reading
This is a graph showing global CO2 emissions from fossil fuels over the years 1990-2011 (published in last week’s New Scientist). The curve shows a meandering upwards over the course of the ’90s, gathering in force and momentum along the way, and really carving a groove up through the last decade. Around 2008 there was a small hiccup following the financial crisis, but otherwise, the story is largely one of not only rising emissions, but of rising rates of rising emissions. Which is funny, because all this time, the talk — and in ever increasing volumes — has been about Continue reading
The Good Analyst is a new book about how a better understanding of social value can create a new set of relationships between society, money, and people’s access to an ok life. Money can be difficult to move around in society — getting stuck sometimes in the wrong places, or being imagined to be somewhere where it turns out later it’s not (or not any more). In the social sector these difficulties are often compounded by money not really knowing where to go, or how to be effective. But there is a potential lead. As the sector is really about impact — meaning the social or environmental good that comes from somebody doing something — by looking at impact, it is possible to send signals to money as to how to move. And so put more distinctly, the book is about how analysing social impact can inform and guide the flow of capital through the social-purpose universe to the places where it can do most good.
The Good Analyst presents Continue reading
Tiger Woods has long been one of the most dominant figures in all of sport. He’s won 71 PGA golf tournaments and an astonishing 14 majors. And thanks to his golfing prowess, he’s earned more than $1 billion in combined prize money and endorsements.
But, as those of you who follow the scandal sheets know, Tiger has suffered a spell of personal trouble. Despite marketing himself as a loving family man, Tiger was actually a raging horndog who had affairs with a sordid collection of women. When the seamy mess became public, Tiger’s marriage imploded and he took a leave from professional golf.
What’s now truly stunning is how poorly Tiger has played since returning to the pro golf tour in April 2010. He’s gone from being the top player in the game to a mundane also-ran. He hasn’t won a single tournament in the past 17 months and he’s even missed the cut a handful of times, something that was unheard of for pre-scandal Tiger. His poor form has golf pundits abuzz: Is it residual anxiety from the marriage break-up? Lingering effects of an old knee injury? A change in caddies? Or simply a question of age?
Well, based on the theories of Roy Baumeister, there may be another explanation: Tiger is expending so much mental energy resisting the urge to horn it up with skanks that he can no longer focus on the golf course. Continue reading
The seriousness of the recent riots across England has inspired a period of serious reflection. The search for the reasons why has looked instinctively to deep-level problems, with heavy-faced politicians and commentators alike theorising over social deprivation, financial exclusion, latent criminality, pervasive greed, moral atrophy, heinous influences, bad grammar, poor parenting, the enervation of authority, the erosion of community, unemployment, recession, and the all-encompassing concept of a broken society. While these represent various political and ideological positions, what is striking is that almost all the explanations on offer are characterised by a brooding introspection (that the problem must be within us), and a focus on long-term issues. The sense is that, be it through poverty or the corrupting touch of welfare, Britain has been grinding darkly year after year toward this dire and profoundly inevitable conclusion. Fittingly this is to be met, as we are beginning to see in the court results coming through, with the handing out of equally grinding and long-term custodial sentences.
The most natural response to something extremely surprising, as the rioting indeed was, is to declare immediately that it was always going to happen and a long time coming. It’s an emotional, if rather irrational way to recapture our balance after taking a destabilising hit. We feel we need to reinstate big causal links, and so start drawing them out from the richness of history. Continue reading
There’s a big Miró retrospective on at the Tate at the moment. It’s a fun exhibition, and clearly popular with kids. The paintings are arranged chronologically. The first room and a half works through the typical progression of a young artist trying on a series of different painting hats (“should I be a cubist, or what about a post-impressionist landscape, or if I …”), before he figures out the essentials of what a “Miró” is somewhere in his thirties. Miró then gets going painting Mirós, which he does very effectively for the rest of his life. Passing through the show you find the same core vocabulary of shapes — thorn-like triangles, slits with tendrils, a particular kind of squiggle, blobs and ladders running upwards — being continuously moved around on shifting backgrounds of colour. Sometimes they’re used in a doodley figurative way (the shapes have figurative roots in teeth, penises, vaginas, eyes etc.), and sometimes Miró just cuts them loose to float around by themselves. Generally he’s enjoying himself, which is nice to see.
Alongside this, the curator as you go from room to room is working like a demented ant to explain how, decade by decade, the paintings are a profound expression of each of the major events of the twentieth century. And so Miró’s shape-configurations variously speak movingly of Continue reading
Quietly turning over a pack of tobacco at my desk, I found myself melting nostalgically as I stared at this image (printed as a health warning). It is I believe the first medical photo I have seen that even begins to approach the awesome horror of Simon Green’s teeth circa 2002, when he was living in the antiquarian section of George Whitman’s celebrated Shakespeare & Company bookstore in Paris.
One version of memory has it that incidents are like jars of air, sealed in time and strung out along the washing lines of our past. Another suggests memories are living, shifting memories of themselves, rescripted every time we visit them. Lingering over the photo, I felt I saw Simon’s teeth in my mind’s eye, and heard the cackles and phrases bubbling up through them. Moments later I was ransacking my archives to find the following description, written that winter, shortly before they were gone forever …
‘Simon is set to have his teeth out on Monday, with titanium implants soon to follow. I am sure they will be quite the hardest thing in his head. Still, I will rather miss the old teeth in his ruined cathedral of a mouth. Continue reading
I recently read about a fascinating court case in Kenya relating to a hyena killed by a local family. The deceased beast was awarded legal representation, and indeed his lawyer spoke forcefully and eloquently, winning a ruling that the guilty family pay a number of goats to the hyena’s orphaned young in compensation.
The implications of this are profound and far-reaching, as it suggests a way in which creatures of nature (in this case a hyena) can be given both rights and a voice in a human court of law. Environmentalists have been keen to pick up on this, and to start thinking of it as a model for how other natural world parties suffering harm through human activities may be able to seek redress via existing legal frameworks. If so, activists could not only engage in advocacy, but literally become advocates in a trial of — say — wetland birds vs. an invasive real estate development company. And if legal representation can be extended to hyenas and other wildlife, why not to a river damaged by pollution, or an aggrieved landscape? Would it be possible for the Gulf of Mexico herself, through her lawyers, to sue BP for the oil spill?
I too was immediately interested in the Kenyan hyena case, though from a slightly different angle. It struck me that if nature and her creatures could take the stand as injured parties, and enjoy full protection of the law, a necessary corollary would be that they could also transgress against it, and therefore themselves face trial. This revelation … Continue reading
Everyone knows time is essentially arbitrary. An hour is a useful way of describing the motion of the earth as it spins its path through spacetime, but it is very ineffective when it comes to measuring the human experience of consciousness. According to circumstances, an hour can feel anything from almost interminable to gone in no time at all. Likewise, an hour can variously be momentous, irrelevant, euphoric, excruciating, etc.. To live through some hours feels free; others cost us a lot.
For precisely this reason, the hour can be a very unsatisfactory means of monetizing time. Both work and money are essentially human units of value, and yet hours — i.e. equidistant steps along the trajectory of the earth through spacetime — relate to a very inhuman concept of time. One hour is much the same as another to a rotating planet, but not so to a human being. Why therefore are we chained always to this crude way of thinking in dollars per hour when we bill?
We propose billing according a much more human measurement of the experience of time: the human heartbeat. When thinking of how to cost work, instead of asking how many hours are spent working, heartbeatbilling asks how many heartbeats are expended on that particular piece of work. So when pricing something for a client, a supplier could say a task equates to e.g. 350,000 heartbeats at x dollars per heartbeat, and quote accordingly.
This offers three key advantages. Firstly, it is likely the price of a piece of work will more accurately reflect the volume of human lifeforce sucked up. Secondly, if you become more active, accelerating both your biofunctions and the pace of your work, this is justly reflected in the fee. Thirdly, if your client or boss starts stressing you out and pushing up your heartbeat, then you can charge for that.