Few eclipses have had more impact on modern history than the one that occurred on May 29, 1919, more than six minutes of darkness sweeping across South America and across the Atlantic to Africa. It was during that eclipse that the British astronomer Arthur Eddington ascertained that the light rays from distant stars had been wrenched off their paths by the gravitational field of the sun.
That affirmed the prediction of Einstein’s theory of general relativity, ascribing gravity to a warp in the geometry of space-time, that gravity could bend light beams. “Lights All Askew in the Heavens,” read a headline in this newspaper.
I am stranded on Mars. The fuel tanks on my return vessel ruptured, and no rescue team can possibly reach me before I run out of food. (And, unlike Matt Damon, I have no potatoes.) Luckily, my ship features a teleporter. It is an advanced bit of gadgetry, to be sure, but the underlying idea is simplicity itself: the machine scans my body and produces an amazingly detailed blueprint, a clear picture of each cell and neuron. That blueprint file is then beamed back to Earth, where a ‘new me’ is constructed using raw materials available at the destination site. All I have to do is step in, close my eyes, and press the red button…
But there’s a complication: a toggle switch allows me to decide whether the ‘old me’ on Mars is preserved or destroyed after I teleport back home. It’s this decision that is causing me to hesitate.
Homer used two adjectives to describe aspects of the colour blue: kuaneos, to denote a dark shade of blue merging into black; and glaukos, to describe a sort of ‘blue-grey’, notably used in Athena’s epithet glaukopis, her ‘grey-gleaming eyes’. He describes the sky as big, starry, or of iron or bronze (because of its solid fixity). The tints of a rough sea range from ‘whitish’ (polios) and ‘blue-grey’ (glaukos) to deep blue and almost black (kuaneos, melas). The sea in its calm expanse is said to be ‘pansy-like’ (ioeides), ‘wine-like’ (oinops), or purple (porphureos). But whether sea or sky, it is never just ‘blue’. In fact, within the entirety of Ancient Greek literature you cannot find a single pure blue sea or sky.
Yellow, too, seems strangely absent from the Greek lexicon. The simple word xanthos covers the most various shades of yellow, from the shining blond hair of the gods, to amber, to the reddish blaze of fire. Chloros, since it’s related to chloe (grass), suggests the colour green but can also itself convey a vivid yellow, like honey.
Among the crowds on Kweilin Street in the run-down Hong Kong neighborhood of Sham Shui Po, Alla Lau darted between street signs, peering at the backs of them until she found what she was looking for. She beckoned a group of tourists, mostly white, in flip-flops and with American accents.
“There,” Ms. Lau said, pointing to a handwritten white sticker in Chinese characters that referred to the grimy building across the street. It was an advertisement for one of Hong Kong’s notorious cage apartments, where, for as little as 1,200 Hong Kong dollars a month (about $154), people could rent a cage to sleep in, stacked three deep, with barely space to sit up.
Like many suburban boys in the sixties, I had a childhood infused with images of prehistory. I was obsessed with the stop-motion dinosaurs in the rarely broadcast 1933 movie King Kong, savoring glimpses of their obscure forms through the bluish haze of our rabbit-eared black-and-white television. I pored over popular-science books such as Time-Life’s Nature Library series and The World We Live In, searching for images of long-extinct animals and early hominids. I collected plastic dinosaurs, carefully razoring away their unsightly seams and painting them with what I thought were more realistic reptilian stripes and spots. I hid from the oppressions of my school, neighborhood, and father behind fragrant boxwoods, and arranged these beloved miniature monsters in jungle tableaux of prehistoric conflict. Desperate to see into the deep past, I was drunk with paleoart. What I didn’t know in 1968 was that such primeval imagery was barely over a hundred years old.
Con men in Japan collectively pull in over $400 million a year. One of their most successful grifts is the Ore, Ore scam, in which the con man calls an elderly person, says, “It’s me,” and then tells of some bind he’s gotten himself into and needs money to get out of. The elderly person, duped into believing that the con man is a younger relative, sends cash through registered mail or transfers money into a bank account. The scam is so common that Japanese children, at school festivals, pass out “It’s not me” flyers to elderly attendants, warning their grandparents about the dangers of Ore, Ore. It’s even so ubiquitous that Japanese noir novelist Tomoyuki Hoshino is able to use it as the catalyst for his novel ME, which has recently been translated by Charles De Wolf.
ME begins with disaffected camera salesman Hitoshi Nagano eating lunch at a Tokyo McDonald’s. A group of three salarymen stand nearby, one of whom bullies the other two. Hitoshi steals the bully’s cell phone, more to be a jerk than to actually have the phone. When he gets back home, the phone rings and the screen tells Hitoshi that the call is from “Mother.” Hitoshi answers and pretends to be the bully, Daiki. He tells Mother he’s had a car accident that led him to running up a bunch of debt. Now, he’s in a tight spot. He convinces her to wire ¥900,000 (about $8,100) to Hitoshi’s bank account. She does so.