Readings: Titanic Sinking, The Freedom World, Zuckerberg’s Generosity

Some interesting reads this week:

1) “The Truth about the Sinking of the Titanic” [The Telegraph] – we’ve all seen the movie, but this article suggests that the reason for sinking of The Titanic is because of a “schoolboy” steering error. Louise Patten, who is coming out with a novel, Good as Gold, reveals the truth about her grandfather:

‘My grandfather was the Second Officer on the Titanic,’ Patten explains. ‘He was in his cabin when it struck the iceberg. Afterwards, he refused a direct order to go in a lifeboat, but by a fluke he was saved.’ Astonishingly, he jumped into the ocean as the boat sank, was being sucked down into the depths – but was then carried back to the surface by the force of an explosion beneath the waves and was rescued by a passing lifeboat.

So why did the steering error happen? After the First Officer, William Murdoch spotted the iceberg, he gave a “hard a-starboard” order, which was misinterpreted by Robert Hitchins, the steersman:

‘Titanic was launched at a time when the world was moving from sailing ships to steam ships. My grandfather, like the other senior officers on Titanic, had started out on sailing ships. And on sailing ships, they steered by what is known as “Tiller Orders” which means that if you want to go one way, you push the tiller the other way. [So if you want to go left, you push right.] It sounds counter-intuitive now, but that is what Tiller Orders were. Whereas with “Rudder Orders’ which is what steam ships used, it is like driving a car. You steer the way you want to go. It gets more confusing because, even though Titanic was a steam ship, at that time on the North Atlantic they were still using Tiller Orders. Therefore Murdoch [First Officer] gave the command in Tiller Orders but Hitchins [the steersman], in a panic, reverted to the Rudder Orders he had been trained in. They only had four minutes to change course and by the time Murdoch spotted Hitchins’ mistake and then tried to rectify it, it was too late.’

If you’re still confused, check out a simplified explanation at Discovery News.

2) “The Freedom World” [The Smart Set] – in my previous post, I titled my post as a must-read. Jessa Crispin has come out with a timely post regarding must-reads, and she bases her argument on Jonathan Franzen’s latest book, Freedom (which I haven’t read). This is an interesting argument:

The idea that as a literary person there are a certain set of books you must read because they are important parts of the literary conversation is constantly implied, yet quite ridiculous. Once you get done with the Musts — the Franzens, Mitchells, Vollmanns, Roths, Shteyngarts — and then get through the Booker long list, and the same half-dozen memoirs everyone else is reading this year (crack addiction and face blindness seem incredibly important this year), you have time for maybe two quirky choices, if you are a hardcore reader. Or a critic. And then congratulations, you have had the same conversations as everyone else in the literary world.

And what of the must-read books?

Of course there is no such thing as a must-read book. Maybe you should read some Tolstoy, but then again maybe not, if overly long descriptions of fields don’t really do anything for you, or if you have some problems with the whole woman-has-a-desire-and-so-must-die thing. Maybe you should check out some Jane Austen, but then again, Jane Austen is pretty boring and the whole marriage-as-life thing, I mean who really cares. There is Shakespeare, but you could spend a day arguing Hamlet versus King Lear versus Julius Caesar and never have a clear winner.

I may come back to this argument later, as I do think there are must-read books out there. Until I read Jessa Crispin’s essay, I had no idea some critics were labeling Freedom as the book of the century:

“Best book of the century” is the statement of someone who has given up. That is an incredibly pessimistic viewpoint to have, don’t you think? That 10 years into the century, this is the best we can possibly do? Or perhaps he means the last hundred years. Maybe the guy really didn’t like Ulysses; it’s hard to tell.

It’s not that the guy didn’t like Ulysses; it’s that he never actually read it.

3) “Facebook Founder to Donate $100 Million to Help Remake Newark’s Schools” [New York Times] – Zuckerberg, who recently opened up to The New Yorker, is opening up in a different way: through a very generous contribution:

The $100 million for Newark is the initial gift to start a foundation for education financed by Mr. Zuckerberg. This would be by far the largest publicly known gift by Mr. Zuckerberg, whose fortune Forbes magazine estimated last year at $2 billion.

The gift is many times larger than any the system has received, officials said — an extraordinary sum not only for a district with an $800 million annual operating budget, but also for any publicly financed government agency. It is not yet clear how the money would be used, or over what period.

This is Zuckerberg’s first major act of philanthropy, and no doubt it’s huge. He would have made the headlines had he contributed even a tenth of his $100m pledge.

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