“The stories and poems I’ve written are not autobiographical, but there is a starting point in the real world for everything I’ve written. Stories just don’t come out of thin air; they come from someplace, a wedding of imagination and reality, a little autobiography and a lot of imagination.”—Raymond Carver
CAMDEN, N.J. — THINK back to your first childhood crush. Maybe it was a classmate or a friend next door. Most likely, through school and into adulthood, your affections continued to focus on others in your approximate age group. But imagine if they did not.
By some estimates, 1 percent of the male population continues, long after puberty, to find themselves attracted to prepubescent children. These people are living with pedophilia, a sexual attraction to prepubescents that often constitutes a mental illness. Unfortunately, our laws are failing them and, consequently, ignoring opportunities to prevent child abuse.
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders defines pedophilia as an intense and recurrent sexual interest in prepubescent children, and a disorder if it causes a person “marked distress or interpersonal difficulty” or if the person acts on his interests. Yet our laws ignore pedophilia until after the commission of a sexual offense, emphasizing punishment, not prevention.
Part of this failure stems from the misconception that pedophilia is the same as child molestation. One can live with pedophilia and not act on it. Sites like Virtuous Pedophiles provide support for pedophiles who do not molest children and believe that sex with children is wrong. It is not that these individuals are “inactive” or “nonpracticing” pedophiles, but rather that pedophilia is a status and not an act. In fact, research shows, about half of all child molesters are not sexually attracted to their victims.
A second misconception is that pedophilia is a choice. Recent research, while often limited to sex offenders — because of the stigma of pedophilia — suggests that the disorder may have neurological origins. Pedophilia could result from a failure in the brain to identify which environmental stimuli should provoke a sexual response. M.R.I.s of sex offenders with pedophilia show fewer of the neural pathways known as white matter in their brains. Men with pedophilia are three times more likely to be left-handed or ambidextrous, a finding that strongly suggests a neurological cause. Some findings also suggest that disturbances in neurodevelopment in utero or early childhood increase the risk of pedophilia. Studies have also shown that men with pedophilia have, on average, lower scores on tests of visual-spatial ability and verbal memory.
The Virtuous Pedophiles website is full of testimonials of people who vow never to touch a child and yet live in terror. They must hide their disorder from everyone they know — or risk losing educational and job opportunities, and face the prospect of harassment and even violence. Many feel isolated; some contemplate suicide. The psychologist Jesse Bering, author of “Perv: The Sexual Deviant in All of Us,” writes that people with pedophilia “aren’t living their lives in the closet; they’re eternally hunkered down in a panic room.”
While treatment cannot eliminate a pedophile’s sexual interests, a combination of cognitive-behavioral therapy and medication can help him to manage urges and avoid committing crimes.
But the reason we don’t know enough about effective treatment is because research has usually been limited to those who have committed crimes.
Our current law is inconsistent and irrational. For example, federal law and 20 states allow courts to issue a civil order committing a sex offender, particularly one with a diagnosis of pedophilia, to a mental health facility immediately after the completion of his sentence — under standards that are much more lax than for ordinary “civil commitment” for people with mental illness. And yet, when it comes to public policies that might help people with pedophilia to come forward and seek treatment before they offend, the law omits pedophilia from protection.
The Americans With Disabilities Act of 1990 and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 prohibit discrimination against otherwise qualified individuals with mental disabilities, in areas such as employment, education and medical care. Congress, however, explicitly excluded pedophilia from protection under these two crucial laws.
It’s time to revisit these categorical exclusions. Without legal protection, a pedophile cannot risk seeking treatment or disclosing his status to anyone for support. He could lose his job, and future job prospects, if he is seen at a group-therapy session, asks for a reasonable accommodation to take medication or see a psychiatrist, or requests a limit in his interaction with children. Isolating individuals from appropriate employment and treatment only increases their risk of committing a crime.
There’s no question that the extension of civil rights protections to people with pedophilia must be weighed against the health and safety needs of others, especially kids. It stands to reason that a pedophile should not be hired as a grade-school teacher. But both the A.D.A. and the Rehabilitation Act contain exemptions for people who are “not otherwise qualified” for a job or who pose “a direct threat to the health and safety of others” that can’t be eliminated by a reasonable accommodation. (This is why employers don’t have to hire blind bus drivers or mentally unstable security guards.)
The direct-threat analysis rejects the idea that employers can rely on generalizations; they must assess the specific case and rely on evidence, not presuppositions. Those who worry that employers would be compelled to hire dangerous pedophiles should look to H.I.V. case law, where for years courts were highly conservative, erring on the side of finding a direct threat, even into the late 1990s, when medical authorities were in agreement that people with H.I.V. could work safely in, for example, food services.
Removing the pedophilia exclusion would not undermine criminal justice or its role in responding to child abuse. It would not make it easier, for example, for someone accused of child molestation to plead not guilty by reason of insanity.
A pedophile should be held responsible for his conduct — but not for the underlying attraction. Arguing for the rights of scorned and misunderstood groups is never popular, particularly when they are associated with real harm. But the fact that pedophilia is so despised is precisely why our responses to it, in criminal justice and mental health, have been so inconsistent and counterproductive. Acknowledging that pedophiles have a mental disorder, and removing the obstacles to their coming forward and seeking help, is not only the right thing to do, but it would also advance efforts to protect children from harm.
Across the way from our apartment—on Houston, I guess—there’s a new wall ad. The site is forty feet high, twenty feet wide. It changes once or twice a year. Whatever’s on that wall is my view: I look at it more than the sky or the new World Trade Center, more than the water towers, the passing cabs. It has a subliminal effect. Last semester it was a spot for high-end vodka, and while I wrangled children into their snowsuits, chock-full of domestic resentment, I’d find myself dreaming of cold martinis.
Before that came an ad so high-end I couldn’t tell what it was for. There was no text—or none that I could see—and the visual was of a yellow firebird set upon a background of hellish red. It seemed a gnomic message, deliberately placed to drive a sleepless woman mad. Once, staring at it with a newborn in my arms, I saw another mother, in the tower opposite, holding her baby. It was 4 AM. We stood there at our respective windows, separated by a hundred feet of expensive New York air.
The tower I live in is university accommodation; so is the tower opposite. The idea occurred that it was quite likely that the woman at the window also wrote books for a living, and, like me, was not writing anything right now. Maybe she was considering antidepressants. Maybe she was already on them. It was hard to tell. Certainly she had no way of viewing the ad in question, not without opening her window, jumping, and turning as she fell. I was her view. I was the ad for what she already had.
But that was all some time ago. Now the ad says: Find your beach. The bottle of beer—it’s an ad for beer—is very yellow and the background luxury-holiday-blue. It seems to me uniquely well placed, like a piece of commissioned public art in perfect sympathy with its urban site. The tone is pure Manhattan. Echoes can be found in the personal growth section of the bookstore (“Find your happy”), and in exercise classes (“Find your soul”), and in the therapist’s office (“Find your self”). I find it significant that there exists a more expansive, national version of this ad that runs in magazines, and on television.
In those cases photographic images are used, and the beach is real and seen in full. Sometimes the tag line is expanded, too: When life gives you limes…Find your beach. But the wall I see from my window marks the entrance to Soho, a district that is home to media moguls, entertainment lawyers, every variety of celebrity, some students, as well as a vanishingly small subset of rent-controlled artists and academics.
Collectively we, the people of Soho, consider ourselves pretty sophisticated consumers of media. You can’t put a cheesy ad like that past us. And so the ad has been reduced to its essence—a yellow undulation against a field of blue—and painted directly onto the wall, in a bright pop-art style. The mad men know that we know the Soho being referenced here: the Soho of Roy Lichtenstein and Ivan Karp, the Soho that came before Foot Locker, Sephora, Prada, frozen yogurt. That Soho no longer exists, of course, but it’s part of the reason we’re all here, crowded on this narrow strip of a narrow island. Whoever placed this ad knows us well.
Find your beach. The construction is odd. A faintly threatening mixture of imperative and possessive forms, the transformation of a noun into a state of mind. Perhaps I’m reading too much into it. On the one hand it means, simply, “Go out and discover what makes you happy.” Pursue happiness actively, as Americans believe it their right to do. And it’s an ad for beer, which makes you happy in the special way of all intoxicants, by reshaping reality around a sensation you alone are having. So, even more precisely, the ad means: “Go have a beer and let it make you happy.” Nothing strange there. Except beer used to be sold on the dream of communal fun: have a beer with a buddy, or lots of buddies. People crowded the frame, laughing and smiling. It was a lie about alcohol—as this ad is a lie about alcohol—but it was a different kind of lie, a wide-framed lie, including other people.
Here the focus is narrow, almost obsessive. Everything that is not absolutely necessary to your happiness has been removed from the visual horizon. The dream is not only of happiness, but of happiness conceived in perfect isolation. Find your beach in the middle of the city. Find your beach no matter what else is happening. Do not be distracted from finding your beach. Find your beach even if—as in the case of this wall painting—it is not actually there. Create this beach inside yourself. Carry it with you wherever you go. The pursuit of happiness has always seemed to me a somewhat heavy American burden, but in Manhattan it is conceived as a peculiar form of duty.
In an exercise class recently the instructor shouted at me, at all of us: “Don’t let your mind set limits that aren’t really there.” You’ll find this attitude all over the island. It is encouraged and reflected in the popular culture, especially the movies, so many of which, after all, begin their creative lives here, in Manhattan. According to the movies it’s only our own limited brains that are keeping us from happiness. In the future we will take a pill to make us limitless (and ideal citizens of Manhattan), or we will, like Scarlett Johansson in Lucy, use 100 percent of our brain’s capacity instead of the mythic 10. In these formulations the world as it is has no real claim on us. Our happiness, our miseries, our beaches, or our blasted heaths—they are all within our own power to create, or destroy. On Tina Fey’s television show 30 Rock, Jack Donaghy—the consummate citizen of this new Manhattan—deals with problems by crushing them with his “mind vise.”
The beach is always there: you just have to conceive of it. It follows that those who fail to find their beach are, in the final analysis, mentally fragile; in Manhattan terms, simply weak. Jack Donaghy’s verbal swordplay with Liz Lemon was a comic rendering of the various things many citizens of Manhattan have come to regard as fatal weakness: childlessness, obesity, poverty. To find your beach you have to be ruthless. Manhattan is for the hard-bodied, the hard-minded, the multitasker, the alpha mamas and papas. A perfect place for self-empowerment—as long as you’re pretty empowered to begin with. As long as you’re one of these people who simply do not allow anything—not even reality—to impinge upon that clear field of blue.
There is a kind of individualism so stark that it seems to dovetail with an existentialist creed: Manhattan is right at that crossroads. You are pure potential in Manhattan, limitless, you are making yourself every day. When I am in England each summer, it’s the opposite: all I see are the limits of my life. The brain that puts a hairbrush in the fridge, the leg that radiates pain from the hip to the toe, the lovely children who eat all my time, the books unread and unwritten.
And casting a shadow over it all is what Philip Larkin called “extinction’s alp,” no longer a stable peak in a distance, finally becoming rising ground. In England even at the actual beach I cannot find my beach. I look out at the freezing 40-degree water, at the families squeezed into ill-fitting wetsuits, huddled behind windbreakers, approaching a day at the beach with the kind of stoicism once conjured for things like the Battle of Britain, and all I can think is what funny, limited creatures we are, subject to every wind and wave, building castles in the sand that will only be knocked down by the generation coming up beneath us.
When I land at JFK, everything changes. For the first few days it is a shock: I have to get used to old New York ladies beside themselves with fury that I have stopped their smooth elevator journey and got in with some children. I have to remember not to pause while walking in the street—or during any fluid-moving city interaction—unless I want to utterly exasperate the person behind me. Each man and woman in this town is in pursuit of his or her beach and God help you if you get in their way. I suppose it should follow that I am happier in pragmatic England than idealist Manhattan, but I can’t honestly say that this is so. You don’t come to live here unless the delusion of a reality shaped around your own desires isn’t a strong aspect of your personality. “A reality shaped around your own desires”—there is something sociopathic in that ambition.
It is also a fair description of what it is to write fiction. And to live in a city where everyone has essentially the same tunnel vision and obsessive focus as a novelist is to disguise your own sociopathy among the herd. Objectively all the same limits are upon me in Manhattan as they are in England. I walk a ten-block radius every day, constrained in all the usual ways by domestic life, reduced to writing about whatever is right in front of my nose. But the fact remains that here I do write, the work gets done.
Even if my Manhattan productivity is powered by a sociopathic illusion of my own limitlessness, I’m thankful for it, at least when I’m writing. There’s a reason so many writers once lived here, beyond the convenient laundromats and the take-out food, the libraries and cafés. We have always worked off the energy generated by this town, the money-making and tower-building as much as the street art and underground cultures. Now the energy is different: the underground has almost entirely disappeared. (You hope there are still young artists in Washington Heights, in the Barrio, or Stuyvesant Town, but how much longer can they hang on?) A twisted kind of energy radiates instead off the soulcycling mothers and marathon-running octogenarians, the entertainment lawyers glued to their iPhones and the moguls building five “individualized” condo townhouses where once there was a hospital.
It’s not a pretty energy, but it still runs what’s left of the show. I contribute to it. I ride a stationary bike like the rest of them. And then I despair when Shakespeare and Co. closes in favor of another Foot Locker. There’s no way to be in good faith on this island anymore. You have to crush so many things with your mind vise just to get through the day. Which seems to me another aspect of the ad outside of my window: willful intoxication. Or to put it more snappily: “You don’t have to be high to live here, but it helps.”
Finally the greatest thing about Manhattan is the worst thing about Manhattan: self-actualization. Here you will be free to stretch yourself to your limit, to find the beach that is yours alone. But sooner or later you will be sitting on that beach wondering what comes next. I can see my own beach ahead now, as the children grow, as the practical limits fade; I see afresh the huge privilege of my position; it reclarifies itself. Under the protection of a university I live on one of the most privileged strips of built-up beach in the world, among people who believe they have no limits and who push me, by their very proximity, into the same useful delusion, now and then.
It is such a good town in which to work and work. You can find your beach here, find it falsely, but convincingly, still thinking of Manhattan as an isle of writers and artists—of downtown underground wildlings and uptown intellectuals—against all evidence to the contrary. Oh, you still see them occasionally here and there, but unless they are under the protection of a university—or have sold that TV show—they are all of them, every single last one of them, in Brooklyn.
Do you use much market research to develop your products?
I use the Formula, a mathematic model that I developed at the beginning of the 1990s to decide if we should put a new prototype into production.
That sounds very scientific, very unpoetic!
The Formula was provoked by my brothers and cousins. They wanted to know why I was taking decisions what to do or not to do. Even I didn’t know. It was done here. [He touches his stomach.] So I put together all 300 projects that I had helped develop—some big successes, balanced by big fiascoes. The idea was to understand the reasons for these very unequal lives, and then predict the reaction of our customers.
I have two central parameters. [He sketches a grid.] One is called SMI. It means sensation, memory, and imagination, and tries to explore what people mean when they say, “Oh, what a beautiful object!” Beauty alone no longer expresses properly the relations of people with an object. You cannot use beauty when you describe a Starck project, for example. The second parameter is called CL, which means communication language. It measures the ability of a product to communicate something like status or values. A gold Rolex watch, for example, conveys wealth, while a Richard Sapper teakettle indicates cultural sensitivity. Each product can be scored 1 to 5 on each parameter. But we still had several products with the same scores, yet with very unequal lives. So I was obliged to add two more parameters: function and price.
Walk me through how some product would rate on this scale.
Let’s take the Philippe Starck squeezer, the Juicy Salif. In the first phase of its life, communication was very strong: a 5. On the function scale, people thought it was an innovation; only later did they discover that it wasn’t working so well! Give it a 4. Its price was about $60, for a score of 4, and its SMI, a 5, so its final score was 18. That meant it should sell about 100,000 pieces per year. A score of 12 is very risky—1,000 to 2,000 pieces. Since the Formula then was not very precise, you could be a bit wrong, and it could be a disaster. Twenty years later, in the Juicy Salif’s second phase, its SMI is the same. [He writes down a 5.] Communication is less. [He writes a 4.] In terms of function, everybody knows it doesn’t work, so that is a 2. Price is still reasonable, but we have introduced so many plastic pieces, it is not as impressive. Give it a 3. Today, it is a 14—about 50,000 units a year.
How accurate is the Formula?
If it is used on existing typologies, where Alessi has an existing product, it is very precise. If we face a new typology, where we don’t have enough experience, like watches, we have to fine-tune it. It is a delicate activity to tune. On existing Alessi typologies, it cannot fail.
What part tends to trip you up?
On the function, we know what works. Same for price. Even in communication, we understand the effect of an object. But where we can misunderstand is in SMI. I can easily be wrong, confusing my personal taste with the taste of my customers.
Do you make the final decisions about products?
Yes. But it’s very precious for me to understand the final score of the Formula. Not to manage by, but to understand the risk.
Does this formula work across cultures?
We do not see important differences among our core customers. They are not design victims, but they are surely not average customers. Their reactions are similar, both in Tokyo and Milan.
If you had been listening to the harrowing telephone messages left by the people who were trapped, with no way out, who made one last phone call to say goodbye — and no one answered — you would have heard them explain what they were about to do.
Some held hands with colleagues. Some wrapped their arms around people they worked with, and they stepped together into the empty air. Some went alone. No one understood the fire. No one understood why no one had come to save them.
Their last words were unforgettable. Their voices. Their deep regret. How calm some almost seemed. One young guy left a message for his brother: I’m sorry we fought; I love you.
One left a message for his mother. I love you, mom. I’m sorry.
I don’t think anyone understood what was happening — a plane, an explosion, why they were left there, and could not be saved.
Then for weeks, the recordings were played on the radio during New York City’s news coverage.
I had a friend who thought this public use of intimate, personal farewell messages was obscene. I disagreed. The tragedy of losing thousands of people so quickly in a single morning could be impersonally arms length, but for those voices.
If desk phones weren’t working, they used cellphones. The towers were built originally with helicopter landings. Many had expected, of course, to be lifted off the roof. There was no other way to get out. Slowly, they began to realize it would soon be over. They started to jump. “I have to go,” said one, and hung up.
The towers hadn’t fallen yet. No one knew that was going to happen. This is why so many people died.
At the base, office workers from buildings on Broadway and Liberty and Chase Manhattan Plaza walked over and stood at the bottom and watched as people dropped in front of them.
I had a colleague named Tom whose young cousin worked in one tower. He prayed she would appear, safe. He walked over and stood next to a man who counted out loud each body as it hit the pavement. 26. 27. 28. “It was so weird.” She was never found.
For months, photos of the “Missing” were taped to walls by the people who loved them, all around Penn Station, on telephone poles, on the sides of buildings, lamp posts, pillars. Every surface of New York was covered with these color xeroxes. No one took them down.
Why did they jump?
There, on the roof, they waited as long as they could, until it was unbearably hot, and they simply could not stay there anymore. They apologized for dying, said goodbye, and went.
I, Pencil My Family Tree as told to Leonard E. Read
I am a lead pencil—the ordinary wooden pencil familiar to all boys and girls and adults who can read and write.*
Writing is both my vocation and my avocation; that’s all I do.
You may wonder why I should write a genealogy. Well, to begin with, my story is interesting. And, next, I am a mystery—more so than a tree or a sunset or even a flash of lightning. But, sadly, I am taken for granted by those who use me, as if I were a mere incident and without background. This supercilious attitude relegates me to the level of the commonplace. This is a species of the grievous error in which mankind cannot too long persist without peril. For, the wise G. K. Chesterton observed, “We are perishing for want of wonder, not for want of wonders.”
I, Pencil, simple though I appear to be, merit your wonder and awe, a claim I shall attempt to prove. In fact, if you can understand me—no, that’s too much to ask of anyone—if you can become aware of the miraculousness which I symbolize, you can help save the freedom mankind is so unhappily losing. I have a profound lesson to teach. And I can teach this lesson better than can an automobile or an airplane or a mechanical dishwasher because—well, because I am seemingly so simple.
Simple? Yet, not a single person on the face of this earth knows how to make me. This sounds fantastic, doesn’t it? Especially when it is realized that there are about one and one-half billion of my kind produced in the U.S.A. each year.
Pick me up and look me over. What do you see? Not much meets the eye—there’s some wood, lacquer, the printed labeling, graphite lead, a bit of metal, and an eraser.
Just as you cannot trace your family tree back very far, so is it impossible for me to name and explain all my antecedents. But I would like to suggest enough of them to impress upon you the richness and complexity of my background.
My family tree begins with what in fact is a tree, a cedar of straight grain that grows in Northern California and Oregon. Now contemplate all the saws and trucks and rope and the countless other gear used in harvesting and carting the cedar logs to the railroad siding. Think of all the persons and the numberless skills that went into their fabrication: the mining of ore, the making of steel and its refinement into saws, axes, motors; the growing of hemp and bringing it through all the stages to heavy and strong rope; the logging camps with their beds and mess halls, the cookery and the raising of all the foods. Why, untold thousands of persons had a hand in every cup of coffee the loggers drink!
The logs are shipped to a mill in San Leandro, California. Can you imagine the individuals who make flat cars and rails and railroad engines and who construct and install the communication systems incidental thereto? These legions are among my antecedents.
Consider the millwork in San Leandro. The cedar logs are cut into small, pencil-length slats less than one-fourth of an inch in thickness. These are kiln dried and then tinted for the same reason women put rouge on their faces. People prefer that I look pretty, not a pallid white. The slats are waxed and kiln dried again. How many skills went into the making of the tint and the kilns, into supplying the heat, the light and power, the belts, motors, and all the other things a mill requires? Sweepers in the mill among my ancestors? Yes, and included are the men who poured the concrete for the dam of a Pacific Gas & Electric Company hydroplant which supplies the mill’s power!
Don’t overlook the ancestors present and distant who have a hand in transporting sixty carloads of slats across the nation.
Once in the pencil factory—$4,000,000 in machinery and building, all capital accumulated by thrifty and saving parents of mine—each slat is given eight grooves by a complex machine, after which another machine lays leads in every other slat, applies glue, and places another slat atop—a lead sandwich, so to speak. Seven brothers and I are mechanically carved from this “wood-clinched” sandwich.
My “lead” itself—it contains no lead at all—is complex. The graphite is mined in Ceylon. Consider these miners and those who make their many tools and the makers of the paper sacks in which the graphite is shipped and those who make the string that ties the sacks and those who put them aboard ships and those who make the ships. Even the lighthouse keepers along the way assisted in my birth—and the harbor pilots.
The graphite is mixed with clay from Mississippi in which ammonium hydroxide is used in the refining process. Then wetting agents are added such as sulfonated tallow—animal fats chemically reacted with sulfuric acid. After passing through numerous machines, the mixture finally appears as endless extrusions—as from a sausage grinder-cut to size, dried, and baked for several hours at 1,850 degrees Fahrenheit. To increase their strength and smoothness the leads are then treated with a hot mixture which includes candelilla wax from Mexico, paraffin wax, and hydrogenated natural fats.
My cedar receives six coats of lacquer. Do you know all the ingredients of lacquer? Who would think that the growers of castor beans and the refiners of castor oil are a part of it? They are. Why, even the processes by which the lacquer is made a beautiful yellow involve the skills of more persons than one can enumerate!
Observe the labeling. That’s a film formed by applying heat to carbon black mixed with resins. How do you make resins and what, pray, is carbon black?
My bit of metal—the ferrule—is brass. Think of all the persons who mine zinc and copper and those who have the skills to make shiny sheet brass from these products of nature. Those black rings on my ferrule are black nickel. What is black nickel and how is it applied? The complete story of why the center of my ferrule has no black nickel on it would take pages to explain.
Then there’s my crowning glory, inelegantly referred to in the trade as “the plug,” the part man uses to erase the errors he makes with me. An ingredient called “factice” is what does the erasing. It is a rubber-like product made by reacting rape-seed oil from the Dutch East Indies with sulfur chloride. Rubber, contrary to the common notion, is only for binding purposes. Then, too, there are numerous vulcanizing and accelerating agents. The pumice comes from Italy; and the pigment which gives “the plug” its color is cadmium sulfide.
No One Knows
Does anyone wish to challenge my earlier assertion that no single person on the face of this earth knows how to make me?
Actually, millions of human beings have had a hand in my creation, no one of whom even knows more than a very few of the others. Now, you may say that I go too far in relating the picker of a coffee berry in far off Brazil and food growers elsewhere to my creation; that this is an extreme position. I shall stand by my claim. There isn’t a single person in all these millions, including the president of the pencil company, who contributes more than a tiny, infinitesimal bit of know-how. From the standpoint of know-how the only difference between the miner of graphite in Ceylon and the logger in Oregon is in the type of know-how. Neither the miner nor the logger can be dispensed with, any more than can the chemist at the factory or the worker in the oil field—paraffin being a by-product of petroleum.
Here is an astounding fact: Neither the worker in the oil field nor the chemist nor the digger of graphite or clay nor any who mans or makes the ships or trains or trucks nor the one who runs the machine that does the knurling on my bit of metal nor the president of the company performs his singular task because he wants me. Each one wants me less, perhaps, than does a child in the first grade. Indeed, there are some among this vast multitude who never saw a pencil nor would they know how to use one. Their motivation is other than me. Perhaps it is something like this: Each of these millions sees that he can thus exchange his tiny know-how for the goods and services he needs or wants. I may or may not be among these items.
No Master Mind
There is a fact still more astounding: the absence of a master mind, of anyone dictating or forcibly directing these countless actions which bring me into being. No trace of such a person can be found. Instead, we find the Invisible Hand at work. This is the mystery to which I earlier referred.
It has been said that “only God can make a tree.” Why do we agree with this? Isn’t it because we realize that we ourselves could not make one? Indeed, can we even describe a tree? We cannot, except in superficial terms. We can say, for instance, that a certain molecular configuration manifests itself as a tree. But what mind is there among men that could even record, let alone direct, the constant changes in molecules that transpire in the life span of a tree? Such a feat is utterly unthinkable!
I, Pencil, am a complex combination of miracles: a tree, zinc, copper, graphite, and so on. But to these miracles which manifest themselves in Nature an even more extraordinary miracle has been added: the configuration of creative human energies—millions of tiny know-hows configurating naturally and spontaneously in response to human necessity and desire and in the absence of any human master-minding! Since only God can make a tree, I insist that only God could make me. Man can no more direct these millions of know-hows to bring me into being than he can put molecules together to create a tree.
The above is what I meant when writing, “If you can become aware of the miraculousness which I symbolize, you can help save the freedom mankind is so unhappily losing.” For, if one is aware that these know-hows will naturally, yes, automatically, arrange themselves into creative and productive patterns in response to human necessity and demand—that is, in the absence of governmental or any other coercive masterminding—then one will possess an absolutely essential ingredient for freedom: a faith in free people. Freedom is impossible without this faith.
Once government has had a monopoly of a creative activity such, for instance, as the delivery of the mails, most individuals will believe that the mails could not be efficiently delivered by men acting freely. And here is the reason: Each one acknowledges that he himself doesn’t know how to do all the things incident to mail delivery. He also recognizes that no other individual could do it. These assumptions are correct. No individual possesses enough know-how to perform a nation’s mail delivery any more than any individual possesses enough know-how to make a pencil. Now, in the absence of faith in free people—in the unawareness that millions of tiny know-hows would naturally and miraculously form and cooperate to satisfy this necessity—the individual cannot help but reach the erroneous conclusion that mail can be delivered only by governmental “master-minding.”
If I, Pencil, were the only item that could offer testimony on what men and women can accomplish when free to try, then those with little faith would have a fair case. However, there is testimony galore; it’s all about us and on every hand. Mail delivery is exceedingly simple when compared, for instance, to the making of an automobile or a calculating machine or a grain combine or a milling machine or to tens of thousands of other things. Delivery? Why, in this area where men have been left free to try, they deliver the human voice around the world in less than one second; they deliver an event visually and in motion to any person’s home when it is happening; they deliver 150 passengers from Seattle to Baltimore in less than four hours; they deliver gas from Texas to one’s range or furnace in New York at unbelievably low rates and without subsidy; they deliver each four pounds of oil from the Persian Gulf to our Eastern Seaboard—halfway around the world—for less money than the government charges for delivering a one-ounce letter across the street!
The lesson I have to teach is this: Leave all creative energies uninhibited. Merely organize society to act in harmony with this lesson. Let society’s legal apparatus remove all obstacles the best it can. Permit these creative know-hows freely to flow. Have faith that free men and women will respond to the Invisible Hand. This faith will be confirmed. I, Pencil, seemingly simple though I am, offer the miracle of my creation as testimony that this is a practical faith, as practical as the sun, the rain, a cedar tree, the good earth.
You don’t seem to be interested in re-creating our daily lives, but instead in presenting something you’ve called “the ecstatic truth.” You want to present something recognizable in an unrecognizable way.
Well, recognizable on a much deeper level, where you recognize yourself all of a sudden. I’m trying to find these rare moments where you feel completely illuminated. Facts never illuminate you. The phone directory of Manhattan doesn’t illuminate you, although it has factually correct entries, millions of them. But these rare moments of illumination that you find when you read a great poem, you instantly know. You instantly feel this spark of illumination. You are almost stepping outside of yourself and you see something sublime. And it can be something very average, some small thing that everybody overlooks. For example, in Grizzly Man, Timothy Treadwell filmed himself. He’s in the Starsky and Hutch mode and reenacts them and does something and he jumps and runs away and the camera is rolling. Twenty seconds later he returns as Starsky and Hutch and switches the camera off. And in these 20 seconds there is only reed grass wafting in the wind. And all of a sudden I notice something very big out there. An image that wanted its own existence. That’s so powerful and so strange and so illuminating that I had to show it in the film. And everybody overlooked it and I have to point it out. It’s something very, very strange and it can be the most insignificant, which all of a sudden acquires something deep and almost illuminating of your existence. You’re deep inside into the nature of things, into the abysses of the human soul.
False positives cause many promising detection technologies to be unworkable in practice. Attackers, we show, face this problem too. In deciding who to attack true positives are targets successfully attacked, while false positives are those that are attacked but yield nothing.
This allows us to view the attacker’s problem as a binary classification. The most profitable strategy requires accurately distinguishing viable from non-viable users, and balancing the relative costs of true and false positives. We show that as victim density decreases the fraction of viable users than can be profitably attacked drops dramatically. For example, a 10× reduction in density can produce a1000× reduction in the number of victims found. At very low victim densities the attacker faces a seemingly intractable Catch-22: unless he can distinguish viable from non-viable users with great accuracy the attacker cannot find enough victims to be profitable. However, only by finding large numbers of victims can he learn how to accurately distinguish the two.
Finally, this approach suggests an answer to the question in the title. Far-fetched tales of West African riches strike most as comical. Our analysis suggests that is an advantage to the attacker, not a disadvantage. Since his attack has a low density of victims the Nigerian scammer has an over-riding need to reduce false positives. By sending an email that repels all but the most gullible the scammer gets the most promising marks to self-select, and tilts the true to false positive ratio in his favor.