On an overcast winter morning, Charles Vigliotti, chief executive of American Organic Energy, drove me to his 62-acre lot in rural Yaphank, N.Y., 60 miles east of Manhattan, to show me his vision of the future of alternative energy. He snaked his company Jeep around tall piles of wood chips, sandy loam and dead leaves. Then, with a sudden turn, we shot up the side of a 30-foot bluff of soil. At the top, we gazed down upon those many piles and breathed in the mildly sulfurous exhalations of a nearby dump. Vigliotti radiated enthusiasm. Within the next several months, he expected to break ground — “right there,” he said, thrusting his index finger toward a two-acre clearing — on a massive $50 million anaerobic digester, a high-tech plant that would transform into clean energy a rich reserve that until recently has gone largely untapped: food waste.
This resource, Vigliotti knew, had a lot going for it. Like oil and coal, kitchen scraps can be converted into energy. But unlike oil and coal, which are expensive to dig out of the ground, food waste is something that cities will actually pay someone to haul away. Many innovative municipalities, in an effort to keep organic material out of dumps — where it generates methane, a greenhouse gas — already separate food from garbage and send it to old-fashioned compost facilities. There, workers pile the waste in linear heaps called windrows, mix it with leaves and grass clippings and let oxygen-dependent microbes transform the gunk into lovely dark fertilizer. But the more material you compost, the more space (and gas-guzzling bulldozers and windrow turners) you need to process it. It can get a little smelly, too, which is yet another reason New York City, which generates about one million tons of organic waste a year, will probably never host giant compost farms.
It’s easy to take these ambitions more seriously than those of the Extropians. It’s harder to know where they will lead us. In To Be a Machine, the Dublin-based writer Mark O’Connell infiltrates groups of transhumanists with the aim of discovering how they think and live.
In sportswriting, there was once a social and professional price to pay for being a noisy liberal. Now, there’s at least a social price to pay for being a conservative. Figuring out how the job changed — how we all became the children of Lester Rodney — is one of the most fascinating questions of our age.
Out, out, brief candle! As life nears its end, thoughts can acquire urgent clarity. This truth is more perceptible among some artists than others; novelists, for example, find endless ways of disguising it. But it is so evident among playwrights, composers, and visual artists that “late style” has become an accepted critical concept. Consider the late plays of Henrik Ibsen, furiously rattling the bars of the bourgeois cage. Discount for a moment a brain-researcher’s recent suggestion that the abstraction of Willem de Kooning’s late paintings reflects the onset of dementia, and consider instead the late works of Vincent van Gogh and Francisco Goya.
I had known my friend Merav for a long time before she told me the story of how she almost drowned one summer and the hand of God had saved her. Or so she was convinced at the time. Later, she'd put the whole thing down to coincidence, dumb luck and extreme circumstances. So you could see it as a miraculous story about divine intervention, with God ready to set aside bigger problems to answer the prayers of a reckless teenager alone and sinking in a turbulent sea off the Mornington Peninsula, or you could see it as a story about what happens to the mind when a body of water threatens to claim you for its own.
I’ve run the numbers, and can confirm that the U.S. Constitution is 77 percent bullshit. Witness the famous preamble: “We the People of the United States.” Not bad. Could be shorter. What’s wrong with “We Americans”? “In Order to form a more perfect Union.” Eight words in and already we’re breeches-deep in b.s. “In order to” is what I like to call a flesh eater — a phrase that eats up space and reduces the impact of your writing. “To” would be better. As for “more perfect” — what were you thinking, guys? The Union is either perfect or it isn’t.
Imagine if surrealist artworks were coming to monstrous life and roaming the streets of occupied Paris during an alternative-history 1950 in which the second world war was still going and the Nazis were desperately trying to raise demons from hell. Actually you don’t need to, because China Miéville has. And this is a writer, his admirers have long known, from whom one should expect anything except the ordinary.
The psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross urged parents who have lost a child to steer clear of Valium. She did not issue the same warning about writing. I do not think that many mental health professionals do; writing is deemed therapeutic. After his eight-year-old Anatole died, the poet Stéphane Mallarmé began work on a poetic tomb (as he called it) for his son, a vault that would encase “the immense void produced by what would be his life—because he does not know it—that he is dead.” Mallarmé never completed this work, but that was not the point: the writing must have provided something, if only deeper immersion within that void.
Relatives sat around with red-rimmed eyes and large glasses of wine, looking dazed. Dad was like a man who had lost something he’d assumed would always be there. They needed to be fed.
This was the first thing, the only thing, that came into my mind. I didn’t have a recipe – Mum hardly ever wrote anything down. I just cooked it. It was almost as if she were there, guiding me. It was perfect – just like hers. We were quiet, all eating, all consumed by memories. Good memories, with a few smiles, because that’s what good food does. It’s evocative and healing. It shows love and kindness. It is life-affirming.