Readings: Steinbrenner, Cryonics, Caffeine, Journalism

Here’s what I’ve been reading:

1) “Reign of ‘The Boss’ Was a Wild Ride” [ESPN] – George Steinbrenner, a long-time owner of the New York Yankees, died today. This piece by William (Bill) Knack profiles The Boss’ life beautifully. A few quotes not to miss:

On his early life (I love this description):

George M. Steinbrenner first began breathing on Independence Day, 1930, and he did so into a life of privilege and wealth — the son of a successful marine company owner who had been a star hurdler at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and who later pushed his son into the world of competitive athletics. The father, Henry Steinbrenner, had a bit of “The Great Santini” in him when it came to dealing with his son. George took up the hurdles at age 12; whenever the boy finished second in a race, his father would materialize at his side and demand an explanation.

On Steinbrenner’s influence on free agency:

Surely his most important legacy is the push he gave to the free-agency revolution, feeding his fragile ego as he threw around bags of cash. He was, in a very real sense, baseball’s first truly modern owner. Steinbrenner was always in a hurry to win, sensing his father standing at his side. He wanted to win today, not tomorrow, and certainly did not want to wait until next week, or next year. For Steinbrenner, at least in the first 20 years of his reign, developing talent in the minor leagues was a bridge too far.

On losing:

And what could be said, in sum, at the end of his run? There is this: More than he loved winning, Steinbrenner hated losing. “I hate to lose,” he said. “Hate, hate, hate to lose.” So he threw everything he had into the race not to lose those World Series titles — all his money and energy, his will and fire, all his anger and pride.

There are other Steinbrenner obituaries posted today (the one at The New York Times is notable as well), but I’ll take Roger Ebert’s advice that Bill Knack’s is the one worth reading.

2) “Until Cryonics Do Us Part” [The New York Times] – an interesting, somewhat whimsical piece on how some people want their brains frozen when they die. The piece is not as morbid as it sounds… For instance, one of my favorite passages was one couple’s dispute on the merits of The Brothers Karamazov vs. The Lord of the Rings (both of which I’ve read):

Shortly after they met, Peggy and Robin decided to read each other’s favorite works of literature. Peggy asked Robin to read “The Brothers Karamazov,” and he asked her to read “The Lord of the Rings.” She hated it. “I asked him why he loved it, and he said: ‘Because it’s so full of detail. This guy has invented this whole world.’ He asked me why I hated it, and I said: ‘Because it’s so full of detail. There was nowhere for the reader to imagine her own interpretation.’ ” Robin, less one for telling stories, describes their early days more succinctly. “There was,” he says not without tenderness, “a personality-type convergence.”

On what it takes to run a cryonics facility:

Alcor’s Patient Care Bay, filled as it is with 10-foot steel canisters packed with human bodies and connected to monitors, may appear self-regulating but in fact requires a very human vigilance against entropy. There is a man charged with topping off the liquid nitrogen. There is a man who mops the floors. Those in charge of the Patient Care Bay are only the last in a long chain of people called upon to assist “deanimated” members. Someone must perform the perfusion, for example, whereby blood is replaced with an antifreeze-like solution that will harden like glass rather than freeze like water. Someone must accompany the body from the site of death to the cryonics facility. Someone must deal with flight schedules, local coroners and byzantine hospital bureaucracies generally unfriendly to those who would march into the hospital and whisk away the freshly dead. This is all vastly more likely to succeed if the legal guardian of the remains is willing to help.

3) “What Caffeine Actually Does to Your Brain” [Lifehacker] – a good primer on the subject. Briefly:

Every moment that you’re awake, the neurons in your brain are firing away. As those neurons fire, they produce adenosine as a byproduct, but adenosine is far from excrement. Your nervous system is actively monitoring adenosine levels through receptors. Normally, when adenosine levels reached a certain point in your brain and spinal cord, your body will start nudging you toward sleep, or at least taking it easy. There are actually a few different adenosine receptors throughout the body, but the one caffeine seems to interact with most directly is the A1 receptor. More on that later.

Enter caffeine. It occurs in all kinds of plants, and chemical relatives of caffeine are found in your own body. But taken in substantial amounts—the semi-standard 100mg that comes from a strong eight-ounce coffee, for instance—it functions as a supremely talented adenosine impersonator. It heads right for the adenosine receptors in your system and, because of its similarities to adenosine, it’s accepted by your body as the real thing and gets into the receptors.

4) “Journalism Needs Government Help” [The Wall Street Journal] – a feverishly sensational piece in which Lee Bollinger argues that our media/journalism system “needs to be revised and its resources consolidated and augmented with those of NPR and PBS to create an American World Service that can compete with the BBC and other global broadcasters.” I’m surprised this piece even made it into the WSJ, frankly. What do you think?

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