Do Elephant Graveyards Exist?
Answer by Rory Young, professional guide, ranger, tracker, and writer with 23 years in wildlife and forest management:
The poor old girl in the right of the picture below has a blocked urethra. She was darted and treated by a vet who did what he could, but she continued to decline. Every time I visit this area to train rangers and guides, I both dread being asked to shoot her and also wish I could just end her suffering.
Should Dogs Wear Seat Belts When Riding in Cars?
Answer by Anderson Moorer, former paramedic (EMT-p), pet owner, and dog rescue volunteer:
Yes, if you care whether the dog is injured or killed should you be in an accident.
As a former paramedic, I will tell you from experience that dogs are injured terribly in car accidents. They do not typically receive care in the field, and when their injuries are serious, they are not infrequently put down or left to die while the humans are cared for.
What Would the Death of a Black Hole Look Like?
Answer by Frank Heile, PhD in physics from Stanford University:
Black holes do have a finite lifetime due to the emission of Hawking radiation. However for most known astrophysical black holes the time it would take to completely evaporate and disappear is far longer than the current age of the universe. For example, a black hole with the mass of the Sun would take years to evaporate whereas the age of the universe is only years (thus it will take more than times the current age of the universe for that black hole to evaporate!).
What Is It Like to Be a Househusband?
Answer by Dave Cheng, househusband and soon-to-be father:
As a recent househusband (last day of employment was Sept. 26) in Hong Kong, where the white-collar professionals seem to care even more about career status and the size of their paychecks than in Manhattan, I've experienced a few bumps in the road.
I decided about six months ago to give up my career for my wife's career. I'm actively (but not too actively) looking for jobs and have gotten one solid offer as well as a few promising leads. As an ex-lawyer who got out of law and back into business more than a year ago, I've also been somewhat conflicted, since I'm not a huge fan of practicing law, especially big law, but it pays much more here in Hong Kong than it does in the States. I haven't started on law-firm applications yet and have no immediate plans or hopes to do so.
What Is Daily Life Like for a Member of Congress or Congressional Staffer?
Answer by Carter Moore, former staffer in the House of Representatives:
I was a staffer in the House of Representatives from 2005–2008, starting as an intern and ending as a legislative assistant before moving over to a federal agency as a liaison between the department and Congress until earlier this year.
Before going into my experience, I think it’s important to outline what the average congressional office looks like.
You have, of course, the member of Congress at the top. He or she will be advised by—and delegate most office functions to—a chief of staff, who will usually be based in Washington but will divide time between the capital and the congressional district. (Some chiefs of staff are based in the district.) From here, there’s a splitting of functions:
- Constituent-specific work (e.g., identifying federal programs to assist constituents) is delegated out to a district office, the member’s back-home base. It will be led by a district director (sometimes the same as the chief of staff) and a handful of casework specialists. Sometimes, the communications director is also based in the district office.
- Policy-specific work (e.g., developing legislation) takes place in the Capitol offices. A legislative director (LD)—just below the chief of staff in the hierarchy—leads a small team of legislative assistants (LA) who have diverse policy portfolios. The LAs are responsible for keeping abreast of major issues and all legislation within their portfolios and providing advice to the LD, chief of staff, and member on votes and how these issues may impact the member’s constituents. Other positions in the Washington office include the communications director, a legislative correspondent (responsible for responding to constituent letters), the member’s scheduler, and some staff assistants and interns (unpaid or given a token stipend).
That’s the general layout. Senate offices will have more staff than House offices and more caseworkers and offices in the state, given the responsibilities for a whole state are more intense than a district, but the division of labor remains about the same. You also have majority and minority staffers at the committee level and leadership-specific staff.
I began my stint in Congress as an intern on a committee staff and eventually transitioned into a member’s office.
My days as an intern began a bit earlier than the professional staffers’, starting around 7:30 a.m., since I was the one to open the office: collect and distribute the newspapers and mail waiting in the morning, open up the phones, check the office voice mail, and yes, get the coffee machine ready (even though most of the staffers above me would get their coffee from one of the cafeterias or from outside—or send me to go get it). I would spend the majority of my time greeting people as they came to the office, giving Capitol tours for constituents, and taking phone calls. This work was routine and repetitive—not a whole lot of satisfaction aside from knowing how privileged I was to be working in the halls of Congress (which I’ll admit, is a damned fine privilege). There might be some other work as assigned—gathering signatures for letters, running messages to members, etc.—but I didn’t get to do much substantive work since it wasn’t expected that I’d be picked up as permanent staff. I was usually sent home around 5 p.m.
At this juncture, my biggest fear was getting an angry constituent phone call that I couldn’t handle or doing something that I felt was innocuous but would end up bruising someone’s ego. Those might be apparently small things to be afraid of, but interns are utterly disposable; so if that angry constituent went on to complaint to the right (or wrong) people, or that bruised staffer on up, the job could be over very quickly.
My aspiration, however, was to have a long career on Capitol Hill, so I was eager to learn the roles of the staffers above me. It also meant that I ensured that I did even the most routine tasks with the utmost professionalism in order to demonstrate the kind of value I could provide to the office and the member if hired on as a professional staffer.
Eventually, I was picked up as a staff assistant, and my duties stayed pretty much the same as before, except now I was being paid and was invited more frequently to meetings with the legislative staff and constituent groups, lobbyists, and briefings with the member. Since I was permanent staff, the others in the office felt more comfortable showing me the ropes and trusting me with some basic research and legislative projects. Most of these projects involved diving into the histories of previous legislation—where they failed and succeeded, who were the players, etc.—and developing background briefs on pending issues. I also spent a lot of time working with the office’s legislative correspondent (the staffer whose primary function it is to sort and respond to the volumes of constituent mail the office receives in a day) to identify trends in constituents’ letters. My days bumped up to about 10 or 11 hours on average.
At this point, my biggest fear, frankly, was being able to support myself, as the salary was not at all generous. My parents were happy to let me live with them for a while, but that was just good luck that I happened to be a Washington-area native. Most staffers I know and worked with live with many housemates, many of whom are also congressional staff, in order to be able to live and work in Washington on an entry-level staffer’s salary. (And it doesn’t get much better until you get to senior legislative assistant or legislative director.) This does add significantly to staffers’ stress, as they’re living in one of the most expensive cities in the U.S.
I was not too worried about maintaining a work-life balance, though, as I was very much the Type-A kind of staffer who was happy to put work above all else.
I was still committed to providing good constituent services, but my skin had thickened a bit, and I was less nervous about the bad phone calls that left people screaming. The problem, however, would be when a major politically charged news event hit the airwaves back home and we’d get flooded with angry phone calls. I’d leave work a lot of days being stressed by these negative encounters, and my worry was that I wouldn’t be able to soldier on.
After a brief stint at a federal agency, I returned to Congress as a legislative assistant. My daily tasks were to support the member’s committee duties and constituent meetings, identifying possible legislative projects that would raise the member’s visibility, liaising with federal agencies to resolve constituent-generated issues that had highlighted policy deficiencies, and to take meetings with lobbyists on an array of issues under the policy portfolio I had developed as a staff assistant. There were also more trips back to the district to meet with constituent groups and conduct oversight of federal programs. I advised my member of Congress on votes, monitored floor activity for legislation under my portfolio, and assisted the communications director on developing statement connected with my issues.
Almost every tasking had a same-day deadline. There was plenty of work to do and never enough time to do it; and as such, my days averaged between 12 and 14 hours when the House was in session. (I had to leave by midnight, though, in order to be able to catch the last train home.)
I won’t say that I was fearless at this point, but I had learned a lot about acting with conviction and being confident in defending my actions. That’s not to say that I wasn’t worried about doing my job well or ensuring that I was satisfactorily representing my member and the best interests of the constituents in our district, but I learned to recognize what was a crisis and what wasn’t—and respond accordingly.
I would have loved to have stayed in Congress for a while longer, but so do most of the staffers who reach the legislative assistant level; and as such, there were not many openings available for me when I was told that my service in that office was at an end. I was eventually picked up by a federal agency as one of their congressional liaisons, so I was happy to at least remain keyed in to the Capitol culture. However, working with Congress from the outside—and as any semblance of comity there evaporated—I less and less romanticized about going back to working within the Capitol’s walls.
If you want to understand the experience of a congressional staffer in short, here it is:
Highly skilled and intelligent twenty- and thirtysomethings who want to demonstrate their value and make a worthy contribution to the direction of their country. They know that there are many, many people out there who would love to have their jobs, given the prestige of it, and work fervently to deliver results to their members to demonstrate their worth. The job is high-stress and high-volume and carries high expectations, even if 9 in 10 Americans think you and your members aren’t working at all (which doesn’t help morale much). They are grossly underpaid. Burn-out is extraordinarily common, depending on the member’s expectations. Some congressional offices I worked with had 50 to 60 percent annual turnover!
A lot of staffers these days view working in Congress as a stepping stone to post-graduate education, typically law school, or as a networking opportunity to find something else. I don’t begrudge them for this—all staffers know that their careers are tied to the fortunes of the members they work for and they’d be fools not to keep something on the back burner—but it does mean fewer and fewer are really taking the time to learn and invest in their issues, since they’re putting a few years' limit on their careers.
I should also say that it’s easy for staffers to become arrogant in their positions. They know that they’ve been hired at the top of a very competitive and qualified applicant pool (openly advertised positions will receive hundreds to thousands of applications), and there’s a certain amount of pride that comes in the knowledge that elected officials are placing trust in you to represent them and the people who voted for them in however limited a capacity. That being said, the best staffers are the ones who approach their job with humility, knowing that they have a rare opportunity that carries a great burden of responsibility—and that can be ended by one bad election or a change in a member’s fortunes.
I was and remain extraordinarily proud of the time I spent working in Congress, even if the institution itself isn’t exactly a beacon of pride these days. I had the opportunity to work with some extraordinarily talented people and gained valuable insights to the issues impacting the country. Certainly there’s more that I wish I could have done with my time, and wish I could have had more time to do it, but I’m not sad to have moved on. I just keep my fingers crossed that the staffers who fill the positions these days maintain or exceed that dedication.
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How Should You React When Encountering a Dangerous Wild Animal?
Answer by Rory Young, professional guide, ranger, tracker, and writer with 23 years in wildlife and forest management:
In most African countries, the list of animals legally defined as "dangerous game" includes lion, leopard, elephant, white rhinoceros, black rhinoceros, Cape buffalo, hippopotamus, and crocodile. Others, such as hyena, numerous venomous snakes, and such seemingly passive creatures such as ostriches and bushbuck are not classified as dangerous game but are potentially deadly.
The very broad rule of thumb is that predators are potentially, but not only, deadly if they see you as prey, and nonpredators are potentially, but not only, deadly when they see you as a threat.
I would never recommend playing dead with African dangerous game. I have only heard of it being used with buffalo in East Africa, and that is supposedly because they can't easily gore you when you are lying on the ground, not because they believe you are dead and therefore no longer a threat. The most dangerous animals are not easily fooled, and they may just have a go to be sure.
Playing dead—or lying down, rather—is a good way to get their curiosity. I have often brought a herd of elephants or buffalo closer by lying on the ground and waving my arms and legs in the air. I think there is good reason for the fact that no African mammals play dead like an opossum does in North America.
Furthermore, lions, leopards, and hyena (but not cheetah) are all more than happy to eat really putrid carrion, so they will just see you as an easy meal.
If you encounter nonpredatory dangerous game such as buffalo or elephants, then get the hell out of there ASAP. With rhino or buffalo, climbing a tree is a good option if you are fast and the tree is suitable, but it is not a good idea with elephants, as they will just pull you out. Standing down and intimidating an elephant is an option if you know what you are doing, but I would recommend getting out of there if you are not an expert. Experts can read elephant gestures and body language and determine how to respond, but this takes years of study and experience.
Rhinos are as blind as bats, so standing stock still can work as long as they definitely don't have you in their sight and as long as the wind is definitely in your favor. I have often used this technique. Black rhinos will sometimes charge in arbitrary directions to try and intimidate you into moving and betraying your position. Again, I recommend a tree.
If you encounter predators and they are approaching you with interest, then you need to threaten or intimidate them with noise and confident body language and attitude.
In the water with crocodile and also hippo, your only option is to get out of there. They will both (albeit for different reasons) attack you whether you are playing dead or not.
For all dangerous game, unless you are an expert, steer well clear of them and leave them in peace. There are many good makes of binoculars available. The only two parks in Africa that still allow private individuals to walk are Mana Pools and Matusadona in Zimbabwe. Although most people prefer to hire a professional guide to take them walking in these parks, there are still those who try to walk without any real knowledge and experience, and every year there are a number of fatalities and serious injuries.
The only way to summarize what to do and how to behave is a single word: RESPECT!
The Tashinga Initiative in Zimbabwe is a professional and dedicated group fighting with everything they have to save the wildlife within the region.
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What Is It Like to Be a Tea Party Republican?
Answer by Jim Durbin, social media headhunter and strategist:
It's a big question, so I'll unpack it into three areas.
Perception in the media:
As a Tea Party Republican, I get to see the impact of the media on a close and personal level.
People that know me—those who sit down and talk with me or engage me in political discussion—don't seem to hate me. They don't see my viewpoints as radical. They don't insult me personally, and they don't insult me casually as they go about their day.
People who first meet me online or who hear about the Tea Party from the media have a very different view of me. As I'm the same person, there is clearly some disconnect. My political statements are the same. My principles and my voting record are unchanged, but the difference between the perception of who I am from the media and who I am in real life couldn't be more opposite.
View from moderate or establishment Republicans:
Most Tea Partiers are conservative, but not all conservatives are Tea Partiers. We're also not identified as social or religious conservatives, although a large number of Tea Partiers fit in both those camps.
As a Tea Party Republican, which means I vote Republican but don't think much of the party, I see that the Republicans are glad to have us in the voting booth but not interested in anything we have to say. In 2009-10, Tea Partiers went after Democrats because they had absolute power in Washington, and we felt they threatened the entire system with statist government typified by too much spending. After first being the only ones to stand up, and then winning a great victory, it was sobering to find out that many Republicans paid only lip service to the idea of smaller government.
So we started going after the Republicans who said one thing and did another. Third parties don't traditionally do well, so we began the long and slow process of remaking the Republican Party into its stated goals of building a limited government that functions within constitutional limits.
They hate us for that, because we're taking away their meal ticket. It's a good gig to be a "conservative" Republican with a lifetime appointment from a safe district but living in Washington. It's also anti–everything the Tea Party stands for.
We get the satisfaction of being right:
There is only one group of people willing to state the obvious—this country is living on borrowed prosperity. Our economic growth is anemic. Our government is too powerful. And it can't continue.
Printing money, expanding entitlements, winning debt ceiling fights—those are all distractions, because the math behind our liabilities is greater than any political speech or series of elections.
The core of the Tea Party support believes that if we do not cut our reliance on big government, the resulting chaos when the system fails will be more painful than the cuts themselves. So when we fight against legislation or a candidate, it's with the knowledge that the battle is not simply over priorities, but survival.
Something that can't go on forever won't. Debts that cannot be paid won't. Promises that can't be kept won't.
There is always a reckoning. Some of us are just dumb enough to believe the American people deserve to be warned.
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What Would Happen If Ocean Water Was Replaced With Deuterium Oxide?
Answer by Josh Velson, chemical engineering consultant for bio and petrochemicals:
This is a really super fun question. Basically, what you are asking is what would happen if all the water in the ocean were suddenly turned to heavy water, deuterium oxide.
Deuterium oxide has properties that are quite different from light water, the normal water we deal with every day. In general, it will be more dense, have a higher freezing point and boiling point, higher viscosity, higher activity, and most importantly, a higher heat of vaporization and heat of fusion. Check out this chart on Wikipedia to compare the differences.
What Does It Feel Like to Hold a Human Brain in Your Hands?
Heavier than I expected.
I feel like the answer should be that it was profound the first time. Enlightening. Humbling. But I just remember thinking how heavy it was.
The existential uppercut came later.
For years, I'd heard that the human brain weighs just around 1.3 kg. But the thing I was holding was much heavier than that. It turns out that the human brain is very fragile. It has a consistency somewhat like jello: soft and squishy.
Without preservation and chemical hardening you couldn't pick a brain up. Couldn't dissect it. But this process adds significant weight.
Over the years, I've handled a lot of brains at a lot of events, from teaching neuroanatomy at
I've watched a person lie awake while their brain is operated on.
I've seen a brain extracted from the skull and cut apart to determine neuropathology. I've sat in a room having a chat with a neuropath colleague when a nurse came running in with a slice of tissue from a patient currently undergoing surgery. My colleague excused himself while he diagnosed their glioblastoma.
As with many people in neuroscience, I have a deeply personal first-hand knowledge of the vicissitudes of some neurons doing something wrong in a loved one's brain.
It's hard for me not to stand there, mass of tissue in hand, the somewhat sickening odor from the solution wafting up into my glomeruli, and get hit with the gravity of what's actually happening. The realization that in my hands I hold what just a few weeks before was a person's everything. Every petty jealousy. Every insecurity and fear. Every hope and joy and pleasure.
But I was taught gallows humor by the one with the noose around his neck, and I've grown to appreciate that. So though I may joke and speak lightly and do really goofy crap (like the zombie brain stuff), those are all part of my process.
For that reason, before launching into my lectures and jokes and interesting factoids, I always remind my students or the crowd of what they're actually seeing and touching.
My job is amazing, but there is an existential weight that is easily forgotten on a day-to-day basis, but whose shadow is always there.
So I guess not much has changed since I held that first human brain after all; they're still much heavier that I'd first imagined, but in a very different way.
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What's the Most Interesting Conversation You've Had With a New York Taxi Cab Driver?
Answer by David S. Rose, lifelong New Yorker, Red Herring's "patriarch of Silicon Alley", Crain's "father of angel investing in New York":
Last winter, I had a tightly scheduled day and had to get from Park Avenue and 49th Street, where I was giving a speech at the Waldorf Astoria, down to lower Manhattan for an important meeting. Unfortunately, the move happened to be around 4 p.m., when taxi drivers change shifts, and there happened to be a blizzard going on outside. Needless to say, there was not an available cab anywhere to be found. I could have been in Siberia for all the luck I was having in getting a ride.
After 15 minutes of fruitless hailing, I was dejectedly about to bag it and blow off the meeting because it would have taken too long by subway, and there were no Uber cars available either. All of a sudden a taxi comes careening around the corner. Now, that's not unusual in Manhattan, but the roof light was off (indicating that the cab already had a passenger and was prohibited from picking up anyone else), and as it screeched around in front of me, the driver reaches across and flings open the front passenger door, shouting "Get in, get in!"
Hey, this is New York, and strange things happen all the time, but this one was really weird. My first thought was, "I'm being kidnapped!" but I did a quick check and saw a legitimate medallion on the cab's hood ... and besides, did I mention there was a blizzard going on? So I cautiously got into the cab, whereupon the driver turns to his passenger and announces ...
(Wait for it ... )
"This is David S. Rose, the famous angel investor! We can't let him stand out in a blizzard!"
Suffice to say, you could have knocked me over with a feather. After picking my jaw up off the floor, I stared at the driver in amazement ... who turned out to be an entrepreneur moonlighting as a cabbie, and who had watched my TED talk on venture capital pitches and had then seen me at an event. The passenger turned out to be a business reporter from Fox News, and after we all finished laughing and exchanging cards, the driver dropped the reporter off at Grand Central, I volunteered to pick up her fare in appreciation, and we headed down to my meeting while the driver pitched me his company!
Only in New York, kids, does being an angel investor get you a cab in a blizzard. Only in New York.
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