Self-Motivation
David Goggins
Former Navy Seal
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Bryan Cranston
Actor
Critical Thinking
Liv Boeree
International Poker Champion
Emotional Intelligence
Amaryllis Fox
Former CIA Clandestine Operative
Management
Chris Hadfield
Retired Canadian Astronaut & Author
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Were the “Mad Men” Such Bad Men?

Question: Will what you’ve called “the death of macho” set men free?

Reihan Salam: Michael Chabon just published this collection called “Manhood for Amateurs,” and in one essay he talks about how when you look at male culture post-70’s, post the sexual revolution it remains a "stultifying monoculture," and I thought that was a really, really good way of putting it. You know one thing I’ve always found is that a lot of men, particularly like straight men post-college, are very bad at making friends, and I’ve always felt like I’m an exception to this because I’m quite comfortable being weird. No, you know, I remember reading this essay. It must have been in one of these men’s magazines like GQ, and the idea was, you know, it’s weird for you to be like "Hey, you want to… stranger, you want to go watch football at my house later?" and it’s like, "Well, that’s odd," and so, you know, you just have the friends you made in high school or in college and you stick with them for life. And women in contrast seem really good at kind of reaching out to people, and that seems like something that’s incredibly counterproductive even in these narrow economic terms. If you can’t actually make these new kind of horizontal connections to people, even in this totally, like, horrible mercenary sense, let alone the way in which, you know, when you live a life in isolation or I think about men that I know who have been divorced and the common thread is, when you’re a guy and you’re dating women and your friends are like always, “How is that thing going?” Or, “How is it going with woman X or woman Y?” And you know, that’s great, and it’s like you’re able to kind of strategize and think and like this is, it’s this tremendously… you know, this tremendously strengthening kind of feeling, whereas when people get married it’s suddenly like, we can’t talk about that anymore because that suggests that it’s contingent. That suggests that it’s a process. That it’s continuing to be negotiated, and so you can’t talk about it. So the fact that men continue to have this kind of solitary, macho, “can’t acknowledge vulnerability or weakness” attitude I think is actually undermining in all kinds of ways. Leaving aside psychological health, also professional health, you need people that you can plot and scheme with, and when you don’t have that given the new environment, in which, again, resiliency is at a premium, you’re doomed, so if that’s what the death of macho means and I think that is what it means in part, that’s a really, really good thing.

Question: Is something important dying with the macho archetype?

Reihan Salam: That’s a really, really good point. This is something I’ve talked to a lot of my friends about. You know, a friend of mine, Matt Crawford wrote a wonderful book called Shop Class as Soul Craft, and the argument is that men traditionally had opportunities to work with their hands and to cultivate a different kind of skill or intelligence in their daily life, a problem solving intelligence and that in the modern workplace we’re abstracted from this in a way that is you’re kind of deeply undermining of certain kind of masculine virtues and I do buy that. Although I do wonder also if you know I think that women also kind of have a need for this kind of problem solving intelligence so it’s not particular to men though I think it might be particularly impactful of men given that again this kind of emotional component is often absent or kind of not present in the same ways.

So yeah, I definitely… I think my dream is an economy in which people are really cultivating what is their true competence, a world in which you know we’re kind of we’re not all part of the same status hierarchies or everyone has a kind of decent enough living so that you don’t feel as though well I have to kind of compete to work this job that I hate so that I can live in a school district kind of where my children will not be kind of savagely beaten to death my hooligans. And then I can take chances. I can, like, make things. I can you know be truly entrepreneurial. I don’t have to feel like I have to kowtow to someone. This idea of American culture at its best being something about self-starting, that’s really appealing, and I do think though that it has something to do with a masculine ideal, so I buy that, but again, when you look at the guys kind of in this kind of blue-collar universe who are the kind of happiest people. I mean, they had incredibly fulfilling relationships with kind of other people doing their work. They were relationships built on collaboration, so I think that we could have a constructive mix.

Recorded on November 16, 2009
Interviewed by Austin Allen

Is the post-sexual-revolution man an improvement? Or does the "Mad Men" phenomenon signal nostalgia for something important we’re losing?

The “new normal” paradox: What COVID-19 has revealed about higher education

Higher education faces challenges that are unlike any other industry. What path will ASU, and universities like ASU, take in a post-COVID world?

Photo: Luis Robayo/AFP via Getty Images
Sponsored by Charles Koch Foundation
  • Everywhere you turn, the idea that coronavirus has brought on a "new normal" is present and true. But for higher education, COVID-19 exposes a long list of pernicious old problems more than it presents new problems.
  • It was widely known, yet ignored, that digital instruction must be embraced. When combined with traditional, in-person teaching, it can enhance student learning outcomes at scale.
  • COVID-19 has forced institutions to understand that far too many higher education outcomes are determined by a student's family income, and in the context of COVID-19 this means that lower-income students, first-generation students and students of color will be disproportionately afflicted.
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What if Middle-earth was in Pakistan?

Iranian Tolkien scholar finds intriguing parallels between subcontinental geography and famous map of Middle-earth.

Image: Mohammad Reza Kamali, reproduced with kind permission
Strange Maps
  • J.R.R. Tolkien hinted that his stories are set in a really ancient version of Europe.
  • But a fantasy realm can be inspired by a variety of places; and perhaps so is Tolkien's world.
  • These intriguing similarities with Asian topography show that it may be time to 'decolonise' Middle-earth.
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Giant whale sharks have teeth on their eyeballs

The ocean's largest shark relies on vision more than previously believed.

Photo by Koichi Kamoshida/Getty Images
Surprising Science
  • Japanese researchers discovered that the whale shark has "tiny teeth"—dermal denticles—protecting its eyes from abrasion.
  • They also found the shark is able to retract its eyeball into the eye socket.
  • Their research confirms that this giant fish relies on vision more than previously believed.
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NASA releases first sounds ever captured on Mars

On Friday, NASA's InSight Mars lander captured and transmitted historic audio from the red planet.

NASA
Surprising Science
  • The audio captured by the lander is of Martian winds blowing at an estimated 10 to 15 mph.
  • It was taken by the InSight Mars lander, which is designed to help scientists learn more about the formation of rocky planets, and possibly discover liquid water on Mars.
  • Microphones are essentially an "extra sense" that scientists can use during experiments on other planets.
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A massive star has mysteriously vanished, confusing astronomers

A gigantic star makes off during an eight-year gap in observations.

Image source: ESO/L. Calçada
Surprising Science
  • The massive star in the Kinsman Dwarf Galaxy seems to have disappeared between 2011 and 2019.
  • It's likely that it erupted, but could it have collapsed into a black hole without a supernova?
  • Maybe it's still there, but much less luminous and/or covered by dust.

A "very massive star" in the Kinman Dwarf galaxy caught the attention of astronomers in the early years of the 2000s: It seemed to be reaching a late-ish chapter in its life story and offered a rare chance to observe the death of a large star in a region low in metallicity. However, by the time scientists had the chance to turn the European Southern Observatory's (ESO) Very Large Telescope (VLT) in Paranal, Chile back around to it in 2019 — it's not a slow-turner, just an in-demand device — it was utterly gone without a trace. But how?

The two leading theories about what happened are that either it's still there, still erupting its way through its death throes, with less luminosity and perhaps obscured by dust, or it just up and collapsed into a black hole without going through a supernova stage. "If true, this would be the first direct detection of such a monster star ending its life in this manner," says Andrew Allan of Trinity College Dublin, Ireland, leader of the observation team whose study is published in Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society.

So, em...

Between astronomers' last look in 2011 and 2019 is a large enough interval of time for something to happen. Not that 2001 (when it was first observed) or 2019 have much meaning, since we're always watching the past out there and the Kinman Dwarf Galaxy is 75 million light years away. We often think of cosmic events as slow-moving phenomena because so often their follow-on effects are massive and unfold to us over time. But things happen just as fast big as small. The number of things that happened in the first 10 millionth of a trillionth of a trillionth of a trillionth of a second after the Big Bang, for example, is insane.

In any event, the Kinsman Dwarf Galaxy, or PHL 293B, is far way, too far for astronomers to directly observe its stars. Their presence can be inferred from spectroscopic signatures — specifically, PHL 293B between 2001 and 2011 consistently featured strong signatures of hydrogen that indicated the presence of a massive "luminous blue variable" (LBV) star about 2.5 times more brilliant than our Sun. Astronomers suspect that some very large stars may spend their final years as LBVs.

Though LBVs are known to experience radical shifts in spectra and brightness, they reliably leave specific traces that help confirm their ongoing presence. In 2019 the hydrogen signatures, and such traces, were gone. Allan says, "It would be highly unusual for such a massive star to disappear without producing a bright supernova explosion."

The Kinsman Dwarf Galaxy, or PHL 293B, is one of the most metal-poor galaxies known. Explosive, massive, Wolf-Rayet stars are seldom seen in such environments — NASA refers to such stars as those that "live fast, die hard." Red supergiants are also rare to low Z environments. The now-missing star was looked to as a rare opportunity to observe a massive star's late stages in such an environment.

Celestial sleuthing

In August 2019, the team pointed the four eight-meter telescopes of ESO's ESPRESSO array simultaneously toward the LBV's former location: nothing. They also gave the VLT's X-shooter instrument a shot a few months later: also nothing.

Still pursuing the missing star, the scientists acquired access to older data for comparison to what they already felt they knew. "The ESO Science Archive Facility enabled us to find and use data of the same object obtained in 2002 and 2009," says Andrea Mehner, an ESO staff member who worked on the study. "The comparison of the 2002 high-resolution UVES spectra with our observations obtained in 2019 with ESO's newest high-resolution spectrograph ESPRESSO was especially revealing, from both an astronomical and an instrumentation point of view."

Examination of this data suggested that the LBV may have indeed been winding up to a grand final sometime after 2011.

Team member Jose Groh, also of Trinity College, says "We may have detected one of the most massive stars of the local Universe going gently into the night. Our discovery would not have been made without using the powerful ESO 8-meter telescopes, their unique instrumentation, and the prompt access to those capabilities following the recent agreement of Ireland to join ESO."

Combining the 2019 data with contemporaneous Hubble Space Telescope (HST) imagery leaves the authors of the reports with the sense that "the LBV was in an eruptive state at least between 2001 and 2011, which then ended, and may have been followed by a collapse into a massive BH without the production of an SN. This scenario is consistent with the available HST and ground-based photometry."

Or...

A star collapsing into a black hole without a supernova would be a rare event, and that argues against the idea. The paper also notes that we may simply have missed the star's supernova during the eight-year observation gap.

LBVs are known to be highly unstable, so the star dropping to a state of less luminosity or producing a dust cover would be much more in the realm of expected behavior.

Says the paper: "A combination of a slightly reduced luminosity and a thick dusty shell could result in the star being obscured. While the lack of variability between the 2009 and 2019 near-infrared continuum from our X-shooter spectra eliminates the possibility of formation of hot dust (⪆1500 K), mid-infrared observations are necessary to rule out a slowly expanding cooler dust shell."

The authors of the report are pretty confident the star experienced a dramatic eruption after 2011. Beyond that, though:

"Based on our observations and models, we suggest that PHL 293B hosted an LBV with an eruption that ended sometime after 2011. This could have been followed by
(1) a surviving star or
(2) a collapse of the LBV to a BH [black hole] without the production of a bright SN, but possibly with a weak transient."

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