Here are a set of recent stories for your reading enjoyment, gathered from Los Angeles to London. They each deal with the collision between one understanding of the world and another: in traumatic experiences, literary encounters and visions of jihad.
“The Possibilian” by Burkhard Bilger in The New Yorker. Researcher David Eagleman drops study subjects from 110 feet in the air and challenges drummers with Brian Eno to see how our brains experience time and trauma.
A few years ago, Eagleman thought back on his fall from the roof and decided that it posed an interesting research question. Why does time slow down when we fear for our lives? Does the brain shift gears for a few suspended seconds and perceive the world at half speed, or is some other mechanism at work? The only way to know for sure was to re-create the situation in a controlled setting.
“Elif Batuman: Life after a best seller” from The Guardian (via @longreads). In which Batuman does Batuman: talks about Dante and football, tries to buy marijuana from Jonathan Franzen after a book awards reception, and backs her way into some intriguing reflections:
I noticed a while ago that many writers of my acquaintance tended to leave the country after a successful first book. I didn’t understand this at first, but now I do. Moving abroad lets you keep, in some degree, an aesthetics of bewilderment. Still, certain facts are inescapable, no matter how far you go. You start out as a young person bewildered by things, and then suddenly you’re the one bewildering the young people. I can see it in their faces.
“The World of Holy Warcraft” in Foreign Policy by Jarret Brachman and Alix Levine. The strange world of digital jihad.
The online world of Islamic extremists, like all the other worlds of the Internet, operates on a subtly psychological level that does a brilliant job at keeping people like Abumubarak clicking and posting away – and amassing all the rankings, scores, badges, and levels to prove it. Like virtually every other popular online social space, the social space of online jihadists has become “gamified,” a term used to describe game-like attributes applied to nongame activities. It turns out that what drives online jihadists is pretty much exactly what drives Internet trolls, airline ticket consumers, and World of Warcraft players: competition.
“Anatomy of an Afghan War Tragedy,” by David Cloud for the Los Angeles Times (via @longreads). A spare tick-tock of a military strike in Afghanistan that should never have happened.
At 5:37 a.m., the pilot reported that one of the screeners in Florida had spotted one or more children in the group.
“Bull—. Where!?” the camera operator said. “I don’t think they have kids out at this hour.” He demanded that the screeners freeze the video image of the purported child and email it to him.
“Why didn’t he say ‘possible’ child?” the pilot said. “Why are they so quick to call kids but not to call a rifle.”
The camera operator was dubious too. “I really doubt that children call. Man, I really … hate that,” he said. “Well, maybe a teenager. But I haven’t seen anything that looked that short.”