7 Quick Takes (5/25/12)

7 Quick Takes (5/25/12) May 25, 2012

— 1 —

I’m in Merrie Olde England!  The Atheist round of the Ideological Turing Test carries on in my absence and voting is open now,  but I will be slow to respond to email and comments since I have limited internet and time to spend on it.


— 2 —

But there’s a great way for you guys to enjoy my vacation vicariously.  Via Andrew Sullivan, a beautiful disquisition on the difference between British and American swearing:

Anglo swearing is ornate, clever, and florid; American swearing is brutal,repetitious, and earthy. There’s a reason they sell t-shirts on St. Mark’s Place that read “FUCK YOU YOU FUCKIN FUCK.” Swearing in [the British comedy series] “The Thick of It” showed control in the midst of a tantrum, like a well-placed kick in the middle of a marital arts routine. It demonstrated that the speaker was ready to just let forth a string of invective but was powerful enough to channel it into something laced with cultural references and word-games.

In America, though, swearing tends to signal the threat of violence, the moment when coarse language gets even coarser. It’s a heightener. “He’s got his eight-track playing really fuckin’ loud” would, in the Anglo incarnation, be something like “His eight-track was so fucking loud that Helen Keller could hear it four fucking blocks away” or something.


— 3 —

Before wheels-up, I went to town on the Amazon list of free Kindle books in the public domain.  I figured I should skew British, so now I’ve got a kindle full of Austen, Chesterton, Newman, and Wilde.

I like to imagine they’re all in there arguing.  Probably the one to win will be the author who first stumbles across one of the only non-British books I picked up, The Simple Sabotage Field Manual.

— 4 —

One of the things I’m most interested to visit in England is the Broad Street pump.  This is the site of a thrilling scene in epidemiological history, when Dr. John Snow traced an 1854 cholera epidemic to the contaminated pump.  Because the medical consensus believed that cholera spread through the air, the city authorities refused to act on his data.  So he grabbed a wrench and took the pump apart himself.  You can read more about this epidemiological badass in The Ghost Map by Steven Johnson.

(My enthusiasm has caused me a particular annoyance when reading and discussing Game of Thrones, which has a considerably lamer John Snow who only fights eldritch abominations, not cholera and statistical ignorance).

— 5 —

Meanwhile, I’ll have to wait til I return stateside to see the season finale of Awake, the awesome (and thus predictably cancelled) show I mentioned that asked some really cool epistemological questions and came up with interesting ways to test them.  I’m also fond of the show because it caused io9 to write the following headline: “When insanity is your superpower, reality will eventually become your Kryptonite“.

In some ways, the show has ended up reminding me of that Luhrmann book on people who talk to God, since the reality-switching cop gleans useful information, but doesn’t necessarily have a good way to calibrate his signal-to-noise filter.

— 6 —

If you’re desperately missing my posts while I’m away and are looking to fill the time, might I recommend SyFy’s Face Off? It’s a Project Runway-style reality show that has special effects makeup people competing.  The challenges are really cool; in my favorite, each team is assigned a trio of twentysomething identical triplets and needs to age one to 50, one to 75, and one to 100.

Oh, and in another episode someone makes this:


— 7 —

And finally, apropos of nothing but it’s own awesomeness, McSweeney’s has an interview with a professional safecracker.  (He only does legal work, opening the safes of dead people or safes whose combinations have been lost, etc).



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  • Glad to know I’m not the only person who considers GoT!Jon Snow much less cool than Real!John Snow.

  • Hibernia86

    That’s cool getting to visit the location of Dr. John Snow’s discovery. I studied about that this past semester in GIS class.

    While you are in England, my brother is doing a study abroad in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. I haven’t heard of him restarting the Troubles yet, so he should be fine. Later he is going on a tour of Europe through Spain, France, Italy, and the Netherlands. I’ve been to Austrailia, but never Europe. I hope you have a good time.

  • Have fun in England! Maybe you could also visit Benedict Arnold’s crypt. I think it would be neat to see it and say I’ve been there, but the artwork and monument to American and British relations all around Arnold I think is in poor taste.

  • Joe

    #5 Story of my life.
    Have an awesome time in England!! Make sure you ride in one of those double decker buses and take a picture with one of the guards at Buckingham Palace. Two of my favorite memories from when I was in England.

  • I love Face Off!

    (says the guy who’s spent the last three days sculpting half-animal people)

    • leahlibresco

      I was thinking I should recommend it particularly to you when I saw that album!