Google, Powerbroker

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Washington Post

1. Google figured out how to hack Washington: spend lots of time and money.

"The behind-the-scenes machinations demonstrate how Google — once a lobbying weakling — has come to master a new method of operating in modern-day Washington, where spending on traditional lobbying is rivaled by other, less visible forms of influence. That system includes financing sympathetic research at universities and think tanks, investing in nonprofit advocacy groups across the political spectrum and funding pro-business coalitions cast as public-interest projects... Nine years ago, the company opened a one-man lobbying shop, disdainful of the capital’s pay-to-play culture. Since then, Google has soared to near the top of the city’s lobbying ranks, placing second only to General Electric incorporate lobbying expenditures in 2012 and fifth place in 2013."

 

2. BuzzTorah.

"You know that sense of happy identification you feel when you find a BuzzFeed listicle that seems to be tailor-made for you? Like the 50 reasons your alma mater is the best, or the 36 greatest things about your city? Yeshiva University sophomore Tzvi Levitin is hoping to elicit that same feeling—about Torah."

 

3. Dense, wild paper on consciousness as a state of matter

"We examine the hypothesis that consciousness can be understood as a state of matter, "perceptronium", with distinctive information processing abilities. We explore five basic principles that may distinguish conscious matter from other physical systems such as solids, liquids and gases: the information, integration, independence, dynamics and utility principles."

 

4. John Jeremiah Sullivan's dive into the history of blues has all kinds of great twists and turns (not to mention dynamite embedded audio for neophytes).

"In the world of early-20th-century African-American music and people obsessed by it, who can appear from one angle like a clique of pale and misanthropic scholar-gatherers and from another like a sizable chunk of the human population, there exist no ghosts more vexing than a couple of women identified on three ultrarare records made in 1930 and ’31 as Elvie Thomas and Geeshie Wiley. There are musicians as obscure as Wiley and Thomas, and musicians as great, but in none does the Venn diagram of greatness and lostness reveal such vast and bewildering co-extent. In the spring of 1930, in a damp and dimly lit studio, in a small Wisconsin village on the western shore of Lake Michigan, the duo recorded a batch of songs that for more than half a century have been numbered among the masterpieces of prewar American music... Yet despite more than 50 years of researchers’ efforts to learn who the two women were or where they came from, we have remained ignorant of even their legal names."

+ Bonus for writers: Sullivan often tells you exactly what he's going to do (and how) before he does it. It's a fun technique to watch: "I asked Alex van der Tuuk to help me reconstruct their arrival in Wisconsin, what would have been most likely to happen, when they got off the train. How close could we get to a little movie, sticking to only what we know?" Cue cinematic sequence.

 

5. The first emoticon may have appeared in ... 1648?

"Tumble me down, and I will sit
Upon my ruins, (smiling yet:)
Tear me to tatters, yet I'll be
Patient in my necessity.
Laugh at my scraps of clothes, and shun
Me, as a fear'd infection;
Yet, scare-crow-like, I'll walk as one
Neglecting thy derision."

 

Today's 1957 American English Usage Tip

bank on or upon, in the sense 'rely upon,' 'place your hopes on,' is still informal or colloq., but no longer considered slang.

 

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Alexis C. Madrigal

Alexis Madrigal is the deputy editor of TheAtlantic.com. He's the author of Powering the Dream: The History and Promise of Green Technology. More

The New York Observer has called Madrigal "for all intents and purposes, the perfect modern reporter." He co-founded Longshot magazine, a high-speed media experiment that garnered attention from The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and the BBC. While at Wired.com, he built Wired Science into one of the most popular blogs in the world. The site was nominated for best magazine blog by the MPA and best science website in the 2009 Webby Awards. He also co-founded Haiti ReWired, a groundbreaking community dedicated to the discussion of technology, infrastructure, and the future of Haiti.

He's spoken at Stanford, CalTech, Berkeley, SXSW, E3, and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and his writing was anthologized in Best Technology Writing 2010 (Yale University Press).

Madrigal is a visiting scholar at the University of California at Berkeley's Office for the History of Science and Technology. Born in Mexico City, he grew up in the exurbs north of Portland, Oregon, and now lives in Oakland.

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