The Weekly BTSF Newsletter
The Bravery Edition
Welcome back to your weekly dose of BTSF, where I give you all a taste of some things I’ve come across that I’ve found either beautiful, technically engaging, serious, or funny. I will start building these newsletters around a central theme, and this week is bravery. No spoilers are contained, so don’t fear reading to your heart’s content. Off we go…
I became an English major in college by default. I had no idea what I wanted to do in my life, but I loved to read, so voila, I’m an English major! I specialized in 19th-century American literature, so I got my fill of Thoreau, Emerson, and Hawthorne; however, it’s another American author, who I didn’t come to appreciate until much later, that I want to include this week. I was introduced to Ernest Hemingway during my Sophomore year in High School when we read a selection of his short stories, primarily his Nick Adams series, and if I’m being honest, I didn’t love them. Having reread Hemingway since then, I think it is difficult for someone in their mid-teens to appreciate his level of sophistication and insights into life. That said, there was one story I did love then, and I have reread it many times and found something new to love about it each time. The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber is about a man on safari with his adulterous wife, Margot, and their safari guide, Robert Wilson. Francis is wealthy through his parents’ fortune and has never wanted too much in his life. However, he lacks self-confidence, and in contrast to Wilson, he is a coward, which is demonstrated through a previous day’s hunt. It is because he is a doormat that Margot married him. However, as the story unwinds, we see Francis confront his fears, elevate his confidence, and be happy for a short time in his life. It is a beautiful meditation on how it is impossible to enjoy life without pushing yourself to uncomfortable places. If you haven’t read it, I can’t recommend it enough. If you haven’t read it in some time, reread it. I promise that you’ll find something in it you missed the first time,
All anyone is talking about these days is energy, for blatantly obvious reasons, and what the world’s path forward is on this front. Chaulk me up to the “drill, baby, drill…until we have nuclear power plants set up” camp. However, there was recently a seemingly significant development on this topic, which likely went under your radar. From MSN, “scientists at a U.S. government plasma lab have discovered a missing component in nuclear fusion equations that could speed up development of a working reactor.“
Our current nuclear power plants produce power from nuclear fission or the splitting of atoms. Nuclear fusion is the combining of two hydrogen atoms to create helium. This is the process by which our sun makes its energy. Fusion has been researched for decades; however, to make it useful, you have to be able to establish a chain reaction of the process. Otherwise, you use more energy to create the process than it outputs. One of the challenges scientists have faced is that the energy output has been unpredictable.
Now scientists at the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory (PPPL) have discovered a critical missing variable from their work, resistivity:
In order to perfect tokamak designs [note - tomamak’s create plasma, which allows an element (like hydrogen), to be electrically charged to the point where fusion is possible] scientists use computer models to predict how the plasma will act under certain conditions. Now, scientists at the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory (PPPL), a U.S. Department of Energy lab managed by Princeton University, have found that the equations used to create these computer models have been missing an important detail—resistivity.
Resistivity refers to the ability of any material or substance to prevent the flow of electricity. Just like how a rock will move more easily through air than through water, electricity moves more easily through some things than others.
Why does this work fit into this week’s bravery theme? Well, testing energy sources which we are still trying to figure out and act like the sun? Sounds pretty brave to me?
If we can get nuclear fusion to work, the energy discussion will be over because fusion will create an endless, carbon-free energy source. Now, I will say I don’t really get this, but to quote Chris Farley from Saturday Night Live.
Judge Learned Hand (or Billings Learned Hand if you want his full name) sat on the Second Circuit Court of Appeals from 1924 through 1961, serving as the chief judge from 1948 through 1951. He is considered by many to be one of the foremost philosophers in the concept of judicial restraint. In Marvin Schick’s biography of him, Learned Hand's Court, Schick wrote of Hand, “…future scholars will rank Learned Hand as one of the country’s most important judicial philosophers.”
During his time on the court, Hand gave a short but powerful speech called “The Spirit of Liberty,” which said in part:
Liberty lies in the hearts of men and women; when it dies there, no constitution, no law, no court can even do much to help it.
The speech is brief but potent, and I encourage you all to read it in full. At this moment in history, I think we would all do well to live by Judge Hands’ words.
It took guts for Ricky Gervais to deliver his opening monologue at the 2020 Golden Globe awards. To say he roasted the Hollywood elite class would be like saying Robespierre just wanted order in the French Revolution. I can almost see the audience thinking, “please, not me.” Just incredible stuff. My favorite line was:
In this room are some of the most important TV and film executives in the world, people from every background, but they all have one thing in common…they’re all terrified of Ronan Farrow. He’s coming for ya, he’s coming for ya.
This guy was not amused.
You can watch the whole thing here.
Thanks for reading. Have a great rest of your week.