Ian Fishback once seemed to be the embodiment of martial ideals. Intellectually driven, impressively fit, a West Point graduate and Arabist with one combat tour to Afghanistan and three to Iraq, he was heralded as morally inquisitive and ethically rigorous, qualities that earned him international praise after he went public with accounts that fellow paratroopers had humiliated, beat and tortured Iraqi men in 2003. Two tours in the Special Forces followed, then a promotion to major. After earning a pair of master’s degrees, he transferred to West Point in 2012 to teach courses about war and morality to cadets, before resigning his commission in 2015 for a career as a philosopher. But then Fishback struggled with a mercilessly advancing mental illness, never consistently diagnosed, that scrambled his sense of reality and altered his behavior. By the time the university awarded Fishback a doctorate in April 2021, he was the subject of multiple campus police reports, had no fixed address and was unemployed, twice divorced and broke.
Medieval shame masks were used for gossips, drunks, and narcissists
Extravagance was not well tolerated in medieval Germany. Wealthy citizens and members of nobility could wear sumptuous garments and drape their homes in finery but not those of lower socio-economic status. The size of a man’s collar, the fabric used to make his cloak, even the colors in which he dressed, were regulated by law. Commoners who dared to wear the symbols of the upper class were fined for their chutzpah. Restoring the social order, though, required more than a monetary payoff. The punishment for such a violation was public shaming, and in 17th-century Germany, as well as elsewhere in central Europe, England and Scotland, not much was more humiliating than the schandmaske, or shame mask. Peacocking proletariats were sentenced to wear the rooster, a pounded metal schandmaske with a fleshy comb and elaborately wrought feathers.
The Kung Fu nuns of Nepal
As the first rays of sun pierced through the clouds covering snowcapped Himalayan peaks, Jigme Rabsal Lhamo, a Buddhist nun, drew a sword from behind her back and thrust it toward her opponent, toppling her to the ground. “Eyes on the target! Concentrate!” Ms. Lhamo yelled at the knocked-down nun. She and the other members of her religious order are known as the Kung Fu nuns, part of an 800-year-old Buddhist sect called Drukpa, the Tibetan word for dragon. Across the Himalayan region, and the wider world, its followers now mix meditation with martial arts. Every day, the nuns swap their maroon robes for an umber brown uniform to practice Kung Fu, the ancient Chinese martial art.
A golden cape with silk from a million spiders
A cape made from the silk of 1.2m Golden Orb spiders from Madagascar will be on display in London this month. The piece took eight years to create and uses fabric not woven in more than a century. The cape was made by Simon Peers, an Englishman who has lived in Madagascar for more than 20 years and Nicholas Godley, an American who has also worked for many years in Madagascar. Inspired by 19th-century accounts and illustrations, Peers and Godley started experimenting with spider silk in 2004. The spiders are collected each morning and then trained handlers extract the silk from 24 spiders at a time. The spiders are returned to the wild at the end of each day. On average, 23,000 spiders will yield around one ounce of silk.
Mount Whitney is named after a geologist as payback for graft
Building the transcontinental railroad in the 1860s was too costly for any private company to manage. So Congress offered subsidies: $16,000 per mile on flat land, and up to $96,000 per mile in the mountains. As to what was considered “flat” vs. “mountain” land, Congress relied on the opinion of geologists. One particularly malleable geologist named Josiah Whitney was persuaded to declare that the Sacramento Valley – flat as a pancake – was actually the geological beginning of the Sierra Nevada mountains, and was therefore a mountainous region. The railroad companies were so grateful for the sleight of hand they persuaded the California legislature to rename the state’s tallest mountain Mount Whitney.
How can we be kind to animals but also eat them?
An ongoing question in the psychology of empathy is why, if people love animals, we nevertheless choose to kill and eat them. This question, known as the Meat Paradox, is one whose answer could help to resolve many of the modern contradictions we find between vegans and meat eaters alike. For instance, many ethical vegetarians cannot seem to understand how meat eaters can make the conscious decision to end an animal’s life when they will seemingly extend empathy to other animals in other situations. One potential explanation is that it could be an evolutionary spandrel, or by-product, due to our advanced ability to empathize with one another.