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ALARMS AND DIVERSIONS FOR THE THINKING PERSON

Forum File

Saturday, April 26, 2014 - 12:01 am

The reading list

“Most of us are ready for small-scale disasters. We've done fire drills and filled out the 'emergency contact' field on forms. But few of us have emergency plans for after we have to flee an asteroid impact that lights an entire continent on fire, or to cope with the complete social breakdown that would follow in the wake of a global radiation disaster or a deadly pandemic. We're haunted by the idea of these mega-catastrophes, because they're not implausible. It's just that preparing for them isn't as simple as building a bomb shelter.

“When you're looking down the barrel of a civilization-erasing event, you have to plan for a world where humanity has lost everything. Canned goods might be nice, but you'd better have brought along a can opener—or know how to make one. In the event that life as we know it is truly upended, the survivors will have to rebuild our civilization. Given everything humanity has learned over the past hundred thousand years, what information should we leave them? And how do we store it so they can actually make use of it?

“In recent years, these questions have jumped from the pages of science fiction novels and onto the research agendas of a range of thinkers, from physicists to philosophers to agricultural engineers to librarians. As humans become increasingly aware of our impact on the planet and the gravity of the disasters that have struck Earth in the past, it's starting to seem wise to consider how we would reboot in the event of a system failure.”

"Our best shot at clawing our way out of a new dark age may be to start curating and preserving caches of the most useful and important information, tools and biological samples from today's world. And the things we're trying to save say as much about what we value in the world we've already built as they do about our hopes for the future.”

– From “Want to reboot civilization? Here's what you'll need” at bostonglobe.com

A quiz

Which president died of throat cancer?

Wisdom of the ages

“Facts do not cease to exist because they are ignored.” – Aldous Huxley

Current wisdom

“I am proud of Vermont for being the first state in the nation to ensure that Vermonters will know what is in their food.” – Gov. Peter Shumlin, on his state's bill to require labeling of genetically modified foods as such.

Quiz answer

Ulysses S. Grant, who picked up the cigar habit during the Civil War and smoked about 20 of them a day

Snob words

frivol (FRIV-uhl), v. – to behave frivolously; trifle; to spend frivolously, as in: “The editorial writer knew he'd never get the hour back he'd frivoled away at the council meeting.” A back formation of frivolous, Latin for “worthless.”

Today in history

On this date in 1961, Roger Maris hit the first of his record-setting 61 homers; without steroids!

Now you know

A horse’s eyes are larger than most animals’, and they move independently, giving the horse a shallow panoramic vision.