I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the use of narrative in scientific writing. The primary reason is my job (which consists of much reading), but coming in at a close second is an article by the author of Black Hawk Down, Mark Bowden.

What initially grabbed me was a scene that could have come straight from the Wire.

So then we left, and we pulled up in front of the housing project outside of Annapolis. And I thought, “This is odd. Why would the major drug dealers in Anne Arundel County be living in the projects? Don’t they make any money dealing drugs?” That night, I watched as they banged on doors and they dragged people out in their pajamas and their underwear, and they rounded everybody up, and made a big commotion. The following morning, like seven o’clock in the morning, they had this very dramatic press conference in Annapolis, where they had invited all of the reporters from the newspapers in Washington and Baltimore and Annapolis, and TV and radio—it was a big deal. And laid out on tables in front so they could all get pictures were all the drugs they had seized from the housing projects the night before.


I wrote what happened, beginning with the party in the parking lot, with the beer and the urinating, and then going on to my description of the unfortunates being roused from their apartments. And then we come to the press conference, and I describe the drugs that were on the table accurately and estimate what they’re worth, and then I quote the Anne Arundel County spokesman claiming that this is $800,000 worth of drugs.

The story was an enormous hit. My editors loved it, the readers loved it. It was a narrative. It was my way out of a thorny problem. Captain Lindsey was very unhappy with me, but he couldn’t be angry with me, because he knew that everything in the story was true.

Very compelling read throughout.

[Mark Bowden @ Nieman Storyboard via the Browser]

[image via Wikimedia Commons]

August 31, 2010. Tags: , , , , , , , , , , . Reading. Leave a comment.

The William

Future stove!

Do want.

[via Marshall Brain @ How Stuff Works]

August 31, 2010. Tags: , , , , , , , , . Smarts. Leave a comment.

How Do I Make This More Plain

[via xkcd]

August 31, 2010. Tags: , , , , , , . Comics. 3 comments.

Chongqing Dog Days

Epic recounting of a rainy evening in the fastest growing city in the world.

My bout of anguish began a few weeks back on a wintry night in central China, in the restless megalopolis of Chongqing. I was cold, wet and seeking refuge.“What’s that?” I asked my resourceful interpreter, Xiyun Yang, pointing to a steamy, crowded establishment with a big red neon sign (the Chinese approach is, when in doubt, make it gaudy).

“You don’t want to know.”

“I think I do.”

Some thoughts about the morality behind the particular animals we choose to eat, but the real draw here is the narrative.

“It’s a dog restaurant.” It was then that I noticed the image of a puppy with floppy ears beside the Chinese characters.

I gave Xiyun a long, hard look. “Dog’s really good,” she said. “I love it.”


“When the dog meat is being simmered, even the gods become dizzy with hunger.”

[Roger Cohen @ the New York Times via the Browser]

[image via dojmg]

August 30, 2010. Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Reading. Leave a comment.

Aguirre, the Wrath of Pan Flute

My favorite (surreal) scene from the amazing film Aguirre, the Wrath of God:

Flute music extended:

(Not really 7+ minutes. Starts automatically at 6:20.)

August 30, 2010. Tags: , , , , , , . Video. Leave a comment.

Not Yet Real

Amazing concept. Do want.

[Yanko Design via Fuck Nice Things]

August 30, 2010. Tags: , , , , , . Smarts. Leave a comment.

Liberal vs. Conservative Morality

Never mind that Vice-president of the Cato Institute gets his salary from some of the most dastardly people alive.  He’s a bit of an articulate genius.  While discussing five important books, he shares the following insight regarding morality:

When liberals talk about morality they are almost always talking about two different basic intuitions – intuitions about harm and care. That is, we don’t want people to be harmed and we want to care for people when they are hurting. Also, fairness and reciprocity: we want things to be fair, we want like cases to be treated alike. This is the basic liberal morality – whether it is libertarian morality or modern liberal morality, those are the buttons that get pushed that activate a liberal sense of moral outrage. But there are other moral buttons in the human moral imagination that liberals don’t pay much attention to that are still very present and lively and salient in the conservative moral imagination. Those are what Haidt calls the authority foundation, the in-group, out-group foundation and the sacreds versus disgust foundation. Authority is the sense of hierarchy and the sense that everything should be in its proper place. The leaders should lead and the followers should follow, people should know their station in life. The in-group out-group is just the solidarity of the tribe – that the key distinction is between us and them.

Nationalism, forms of patriotism, that kind of thing?

Yes. Then there is the perception of the world as divided between the sacred and the profane: a sense of elevation and holiness about some things and a sense of revulsion about others, which, in conservatism, often comes down to issues of sex. We see that very much in the conservative freak-out over gay marriage: it’s just disgusting and it’s soiling the sacred institution of marriage. When liberals hear conservatives vaunting authority or being patriotic or nationalistic or being homophobic they think that’s not a moral reaction at all, they’re just being Neanderthals. Haidt says no, they are being moral, they have a moral imagination. It’s just a different one from what you have and it’s actually one that has much more in common with how people thought morally for a long, long time. I think that’s right – in the current setting the moral buttons that get pushed for conservatives are different from the ones that get pushed for liberals. But the fact is that those other three foundations of morality are more traditional, more old-fashioned and are under constant attack by the social forces that are shaping the contemporary world.

And are not going away anytime soon.

And they’re not going away anytime soon at all.

[Brink Lindsey @ Five Books via the Browser]

[image via Uba Kontrovasie]

August 29, 2010. Tags: , , , , , , , , , . Reading. 2 comments.

Smaced in the Privets

Not really sure what the significance of the star is, but apology accepted.

[via gconnect]

August 29, 2010. Tags: , , , , , , . Funny. 1 comment.


[via gconnect]

August 29, 2010. Tags: , , , , , , , , , , . Video. 2 comments.

Soak the Rich

Our tax system is silly.

[…] someone making two hundred thousand dollars a year and someone making two hundred million dollars a year pay at similar tax rates. LeBron James and LeBron James’s dentist: same difference.

The solution proposed here seems simple enough. Get more complicated.

This is one case where simpler isn’t better. In a society that’s becoming more stratified, a sensible tax system should draw more distinctions, not fewer.

Read more:

[James Surowiecki @ the New Yorker via the Browser]

August 28, 2010. Tags: , , , , , , , . Reading. Leave a comment.

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