The First Artists

Chip Walter:

Hidden by a rock slide for 22,000 years, the cave came to light in December 1994, when three spelunkers named Eliette Brunel, Christian Hillaire, and Jean-Marie Chauvet scrambled through a narrow crevice in a cliff and dropped into the dark entry. Since then, what is now known as the Cave of Chauvet-Pont-d’Arc has been ferociously protected by the French Ministry of Culture. We are among the rare few who have been allowed to make the same journey the ancient artists did. The age of these drawings makes youngsters of Egypt’s storied pyramids, yet every charcoal stroke, every splash of ocher looks as fresh as yesterday. Their beauty whipsaws your sense of time. One moment you are anchored in the present, observing coolly. The next you are seeing the paintings as if all other art—all civilization—has yet to exist.

The Honey Hunters The most lucrative of all the forest’s products, and the most dangerous to gather.

Michael Snyder:

1. Liquid Gold
 It was morning, ebb tide, when our launch slid up to the shore—shiny and metallic and unstable as mercury—and stuck its nose resolutely into the mud. Felt clouds sulked overhead, temporary protection from the blazing April sun. The honey collectors hopped one by one down onto the shore, which swallowed them up to their calves before releasing a thick, flatulent squelch.
 Zahangir, short, dark, and strong, with a deep scar across his left cheek, trudged up the bank and into the forest first. Then came Abdul Roshid, who had organized the group; Aliur Rahman, scholarly and wispy with wire-framed glasses and a scraggly goatee sprouting from his narrow chin; Abdul Joleel, practically silent for three days running; Haleem, whose voluptuous lips seemed almost indecent in his otherwise spare and angular face; Nurul Islam, compact and smiling and warm; Kholil, a big man with a penchant for big stories; and Aminool, Nurul Islam’s nephew, the youngest in the group, who spent the day hacking absently at the underbrush with a small machete (they call it a daa in Bengali) and looking after me with mute, gesticulatory enthusiasm.

Reminds me of my great uncle, who long harvested honey.

Tech investors plowing money into future farms

Heather Somerville:

Silicon Valley is pushing its way into every stage of the food-growing process, from tech tycoons buying up farmland to startups selling robots that work the fields to hackathons dedicated to building the next farming app.
 “The food sector is wasteful and inefficient,” said Ali Partovi, a Bay Area investor with large stakes in sustainable agriculture startups. “Silicon Valley has a hubris that says, ‘That’s stupid. Let’s change it.’?”
 The booming activity around the so-called ag-tech sector has led experts to predict that its growth, in terms of the number of new startups and venture-capital investments, will in another five or so years outpace today’s hottest technologies.

The Future of Privacy

Lee Rainie & Janna Anderson:

The terms of citizenship and social life are rapidly changing in the digital age. No issue highlights this any better than privacy, always a fluid and context-situated concept and more so now as the boundary between being private and being public is shifting. “We have seen the emergence of publicy as the default modality, with privacy declining,” wrote Stowe Boyd, the lead researcher for GigaOm Research in his response in this study. “In order to ‘exist’ online, you have to publish things to be shared, and that has to be done in open, public spaces.” If not, people have a lesser chance to enrich friendships, find or grow communities, learn new things, and act as economic agents online.

The World’s Biggest Car Company Wants to Get Rid of Gasoline

Brian Bremner, Craig Trudell, and Yuki Hagiwara:

The first thing you notice about the Mirai, Toyota’s new $62,000, four-door family sedan, is that it’s no Camry, an international symbol of bland conformity. First there are the in-your-face, angular grilles on the car’s front end. These deliver air to (and cool) a polymer fuel-cell stack under the hood. Then there’s the wavy, layered sides, meant to evoke a droplet of water. It looks like it was driven off the set of the Blade Runner sequel.

Just as the Prius has established itself as the first true mass-market hybrid, Toyota hopes the Mirai will one day become the first mass-market hydrogen car. On sale in Japan on Dec. 15, it will be available in the U.S. and Europe in late 2015 and has a driving range of 300 miles, much farther than most plug-in electrics can go. It also runs on the most abundant element in the universe and emits only heat and water—and none of the gases that lead to smog or contribute to global warming. “This is not an alternative to a gasoline vehicle,” says Scott Samuelsen, an engineer and director of the National Fuel Cell Research Center at the University of California at Irvine. “This is a quantum step up.”

The Mirai is hardly a speedster, though it’s quicker than a Prius. It can reach 100 kilometers (62 miles) per hour in 9.6 seconds. When you punch it, the car feels like an electric—there’s none of the vibration of a combustion engine. Driving the Mirai around a large, man-made island in Tokyo Bay called Odaiba is a little surreal. The interior is a Zen sanctuary of silence, save for the rush of wind passing around the vehicle and the occasional muffled sound of the suspension doing its work. The car can double as a mobile power station: A socket in the trunk can electrify the typical Japanese home for about a week in the event of an earthquake or other emergency.

The Opportunity Cost of War

Austin Walters:

Today, it is fairly common to turn on the news, read a book, listen to a lecture in history and for the speaker to discuss the cost of a war. Quantifying the cost is usually done in dollars, assessed by how much money was actually spent or how many lives were lost. The victor and loser of a war usually quantify the gains in terms of territory gained, enemies killed, or wealth captured.
 However, is this really the right way to quantify the cost of war? For example, the total number of individuals killed in the U.S. Civil War was ~650,000 souls on the battle field, 7 million in total, or about 2.5% of the U.S. population at the time[1]. This number seems monstrous to us even one hundred and fifty years later. Now if we look at World War II, some 80 years after the U.S. Civil War, it is estimated that some 20 million military personnel were killed, as well as 40 million civilians[2]. These numbers seem even more unfathomable, yet which war was really more costly?