Category Archives: Follies of the Human Condition

New World Apocalypse 1889: The Last American

John Ames Mitchell’s The Last American (1889)

LastAmericanLibertyImages of a run-down Statue of Liberty against a backdrop of decaying New York are a staple of science fiction. So are visions of a post-apocalyptic Washington D.C. As I’ve noted before, the fascination with ruin porn dates back to at least the late 18th century. But America was a backwater at the time – the New World (or the Western presence there anyway) was too new to ruin in futuristic visions. The very first work of science fiction set against a backdrop of ruined, major U.S. cities, as far as I can find, is the brief 1889 satire, The Last American: A fragment from the journal of KHAN-LI, Prince of Dimph-yoo-chur and Admiral in the Persian Navy, by the original publisher of LIFE magazine, John Ames Mitchell.

The book, as the title indicates, is presented as an excerpt from the journal of a Persian Naval admiral, who with his crew stumbles into New York’s harbor 1000 years after America’s demise in 1990. The Persians, who have mocking names like Nofuhl , Lev-el-Hedyd, and Ad-el-pate, comment on the follies of the lost civilization, while they themselves are portrayed as superstitious primitives who make the ancient “Mehrikans” look good by comparison. The Last American reads like a very mediocre Mark Twain — A Connecticut Yankee, published the same year, leaves Mitchell’s book in the dust. Nevertheless, Mitchell, who was surely influenced by After London, made an important contribution to the genre: satire. Continue reading

5 Very Good Questions

Nature has published a comment by William P. Hanage suggesting ways to inoculate oneself against the hype associated with the burgeoning field of microbiome studies. As Bethany Brookshire (aka, SciCurious) notes, these questions should be applied to any and all research, not just the microbiome.

1. Can experiments distinguish differences that matter?
2. Does the study show causation or just correlation?
3. What is the mechanism?
4. How much do experiments reflect reality?
5. Could anything else explain the results?
-paraphrased from William P. Hanage in Nature

Mythology is Gross

Genealogy of the Olympians in Greek Mythology (Wikipedia)

Genealogy of the Olympians in Greek Mythology (Wikipedia)

The authors of this encyclopedia do a good job of illustrating that myths have many variant versions.

Samuel Arbesman has a fun, if creepy, post over at Wired on calculating how inbred the Greek gods were. Previously, here at The Finch & Pea, we’ve taken on the inevitable inbreeding that must have occurred in Adam and Eve’s family, which provides some additional explanation of what exactly geneticists mean by “inbreeding coefficient” and what the consequences of inbreeding can be.

I’ve thought about taking on the genetics of the Greek gods before on these grounds, but have always gotten overly hung up on the many variants of the origin stories that often exist for each god. For the gods’ sake, Aphrodite has an origin story that has her arising as a female clone from Uranus’ castrated testicles (most likely due to the SRY gene never being expressed during development).

A Network of the People’s Comments on Net Neutrality

The FCC received over one million comments on Net Neutrality. You might remember their website crashing and deadlines being extended. NPR reports the results of an analysis of a subset of the comments by data-analysis firm Quid. Their state by state analysis shows that I’m one of the few people in South Carolina that cares about Net Neutrality.

They have produced an even more interesting visual that maps out the diversity of reasons given to support Net Neutrality and how those reasons were linked in the comments.

gr-neutrality-comments-624

Apparently, the few anti-Net Neutrality comments were from form letters and didn’t register on the map.

Although sites like the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s (EFF) web tool provided a template for letters, those were used to generate only about half of the comments (apparently, 80% is more typical for other regulatory issues).

Templates are not unusual. As we’ve reported previously, when the public is asked to comment on policy, citizens often engage by sending in a templated or form letter that advocates for a certain position help them create. The Quid analysis shows about half the comments received by the FCC were “derived from templates.” That’s actually low compared to analyses of other rule-making — upwards of 80 percent of comments on financial regulation were templates. – Elise Hu at NPR

 

My comment to the FCC, for example, was derived from EFF’s template.

Will this work? Hard to know giving the obstacles faced; but the FCC will clearly be on the record for killing Net Neutrality against the will of the people.

HT: Rob Beschizza at BoingBoing

The First Modern Post-Apocalypse Novel: After London

Richard Jefferies’ After London (1885)

bankofenglandruinsGothic and Romantic writers — like Cousin de Grainville, Lord Byron, Edgar Allen Poe, and most significantly, Mary Shelley — wrote the first important End of the World fiction early in the 19th century. But as Romanticism waned, the nascent genre languished for half a century, until it came roaring back with a new wave of future fiction that occurred during the last few decades of the century. Alongside various utopias (Looking Backward: 2000 to 1887), dystopias (Caesar’s Column), and future war stories (Battle of Dorking), post-apocalyptic fiction became popular among writers in Britain, France, and America. The familiar genre images of the primitive society, the wasted city, the ruined Statue of Liberty, the cataclysmic new ice age, and the barren, Dying Earth, was all there in the best-selling, futuristic fiction at the end of the 19th century. The genre has been popular ever since.

The first post-apocalyptic novel of this new wave of future fiction was Richard Jefferies’ 1885 After London. As we all know, End of the World fiction is most often about the end of the world as we know it and its aftermath — not about the utter extinction of humans or the complete destruction of life on earth. Earlier Romantic writers were an exception; they really did deal with the utter end of the world. But After London is about the survivors and the transformed world they’ve inherited. Continue reading