A Flight From London to Tokyo

This pilot’s account of what it’s like to fly from London to Tokyo is mesmerizing.

About 70 percent of the world’s surface is ocean. Much of the land that long-haul pilots work above is covered in snow or ice. At any given time, roughly two thirds of the Earth is covered in cloud. For many miles and hours in the sky — sometimes for nearly an entire flight — water, in one state or another, is the only thing we see.
It’s routine from the cockpit to see storms form in real time, and from them the fall of new rain on the roof of the ocean, or to overfly the endpoints of glaciers, where shards of the ancient snow-glass tumble into the police-light blue of northern seas. When, after long hours over desert or sparsely inhabited land a city appears, the water we see near it — lakes, dams, rivers locked in their rolling green frames of vegetation — looks holy as blood.

Our image of the Wright Brothers on the windswept Carolina coast is the best reminder of the debt every pilot owes to the sea. Today in the air we still speak a nautical language — of forward and aft; cabins, galleys and bulkheads; manifests, rudders and trim. We count aircraft by hulls and fleets. Our port and starboard wingtips are marked by red and green navigation lights, arranged as upon a ship. Our speed in the blue between two cities is measured in knots. What remains of us is our wake.


Actors Are So Fortunate

Actors are so fortunate. They can choose whether they will appear in tragedy or in comedy, whether they will suffer or make merry, laugh or shed tears. But in real life it is different. Most men and women are forced to perform parts for which they have no qualifications. Our Guildensterns play Hamlet for us, and our Hamlets have to jest like Prince Hal. The world is a stage, but the play is badly cast.

—Oscar Wilde, “Lord Arthur Saville’s Crimes”

Boxing’s Sordid Past and Anemic Present

Boxing’s Sordid Past and Anemic Present→

Floyd Mayweather Jr. and Manny Pacquiao square off tonight in what will be boxing’s richest fight ever. Grantland provides an entertaining review of boxing’s history, how it’s playbook has run its course, and the ways in which that history and playbook are undercurrents running through tonight’s fight. Very well written and well-worth your time. Here’s a sample.

Now, for one weekend, in a media age in which it is impossible to ignore the crimes and in which everything hidden shall be revealed, boxing is going to try to work its illusion one more time, for higher stakes than it ever has worked that illusion before, for more money and, probably, for the survival of the sport itself. It will try to make Floyd Mayweather’s crimes disappear. It will try to make his victims disappear, too. And there will be people, loud and righteous, who will shout that they see through it all, that they can see the wires and the pulleys and all the hidden trapdoors vital to the illusion. It’s a last, long-shot roll, and everyone will pretend to hold their breath, as though something of real value were in play.

If you’re interested in the glory days of boxing, read the whole thing.

Facebook is Dominant

Facebook is Dominant→

The following statistics provide fascinating context:

“We already know, from a Pew poll last year, that nearly half of the adults who use the Internet report getting their news from Facebook alone. Now consider some of the latest numbers from Pew, in its annual State of the Media report, which came out on Wednesday:

• As in previous years, just five companies generate the majority (61 percent) of digital ad revenue: Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Yahoo, and AOL.

• Facebook more than doubled digital ad revenue over the course of two years. It made $5 billion in ad money last year. That represents 10 percent of all digital ad revenue.

• Facebook is getting a quarter of all display ad revenue and more than a third (37 percent) of display ads on mobile.

This last point—Facebook’s mobile ad revenue dominance—is worth lingering on for a moment. Facebook has succeeded in thriving financially on mobile while leaving desktop behind. That’s exactly what consumers are doing, but it was unclear for years that money would follow on mobile. (It’s still unclear, for news sites especially, whether mobile revenue will be enough.) Facebook’s share of revenue on desktop dropped 20 percentage points last year, while its share of mobile revenue went up 20 percentage points.

Child Support Imprisons the Poor

Child Support Imprisons the Poor→

I thought debtors’ prisons were unjust and barbaric. Little did I imagine that decades later we’d use real prison to serve the same purpose.

Walter Scott’s death has focused attention not just on police violence, but also on the use of jail to pressure parents to pay child support, a policy employed by many states today. Though the threat of jail is considered an effective incentive for people who are able but unwilling to pay, many critics assert that punitive policies are trapping poor men in a cycle of debt, unemployment and imprisonment.

The problem begins with child support orders that, at the outset, can exceed parents’ ability to pay. When parents fall short, the authorities escalate collection efforts, withholding up to 65 percent of a paycheck, seizing bank deposits and tax refunds, suspending driver’s licenses and professional licenses, and then imposing jail time.

“Parents who are truly destitute go to jail over and over again for child support debt simply because they’re poor…”

Read the entire article. This is an under-appreciated justice issue—effectively criminalizing poverty—that deserves greater attention.

Chess grandmaster accused of using iPhone to cheat during international tournament

Chess grandmaster accused of using iPhone to cheat during international tournament→

The Washington Post provides perspective on chess cheats in the age of smartphones.

In the 20th century, chess was a yardstick used to measure the advance of computers. In 1996, world champion Garry Kasparov defeated IBM’s revolutionary supercomputer, Deep Blue. A year later, Kasparov stormed off a television set in New York City in defeat. He later claimed he had been cheated, arguing — ironically, from today’s perspective — that the computer had received human help.

Kasparov’s May 11, 1997, defeat was billed as a blow for humankind: demonstrable proof that after centuries of technological progress, machines had finally surpassed their creators, at least at chess.

Nearly 20 years later, Nigalidze’s cheating scandal shows just how far we’ve fallen compared with machines and raises questions about the future of a sport in which a simple cellphone can transform anybody into a grandmaster.

The Insane Story of the Guy Who Killed the Guy Who Killed Lincoln

The Insane Story of the Guy Who Killed the Guy Who Killed Lincoln→

A fascinating bit of history. Don’t miss the comparison to Jack Ruby and the incident of the prositutes and the scissors.

Weeks after healing, the castrated hat maker moved to New York City and resumed his trade. He remained a zealot, often attending the lunchtime prayers of the YMCA’s Fulton Street meetings. Corbett’s pious impulses were also what drew him into uniform. In 1861, amid the Confederate attack on Fort Sumter, Corbett enlisted in the Northern army, telling the women at his church that when he came eye to eye with his gray-suited enemies, “I will say to them, ‘God have mercy on your souls’—then pop them off.”

His Jesus locks shorn, Corbett managed to conform to the military’s uniform and grooming standards and was by most accounts a decent shot. But he never put country before God—and his religious rebelliousness was no match for even the hardest of commanders. During a drill in New York’s Franklin Square, Colonel Daniel Butterfield (famous for composing the military taps) was livid at his troops’ improper formations and gave them a tongue lashing laced with profanities. Corbett, who had yet to see a second of fighting, barked back: “Colonel, don’t you know you are breaking God’s law?”