The Mormon polygamists of Short Creek, Arizona, near the border of Utah, had long vexed local authorities with their alternative lifestyle, but things came to a head in 1953 when the largest mass arrest of such people–perhaps any people–in American history to that point occurred. The state believed they were bringing to a close a chapter it found disquieting, but it was only a temporary interruption. The town renamed itself Colorado City and Warren Jeffs, the polygamous sect leader, held dominion over much of the land more than 50 years later when convicted of sex charges against children. A report about the raid from the July 27, 1953 Brooklyn Daily Eagle:


Matt Yglesias, given to huge overreactions to transient situations, may have a point in his apocalyptically titled Vox pieceAmerican Democracy Is Doomed.” Our system is deeply flawed. But it’s not, as Yglesias argues, because we’re a very polarized people whose President, whether Democrat or Republican, has to do an end-around of Congress to get anything accomplished. It’s because of a system of representation that isn’t truly representative. Gerrymandering has made for a congressional body largely out of step with the majority of the American public. The rule of two Senators per state regardless of population was not a good idea. The election of a President by virtue of Electoral vote rather than Popular one is a mistake (though one soon likely to be remedied.) We’ve erred in being too concerned with making sure land mass and regions are empowered at the expense of citizens. And, of course, having no caps on the amount of money an individual or group can pour into the political process causes serious distrust. I don’t think most of these issues are solvable from within; the American people will have to exert great pressure from outside for change to happen. Maybe that will only occur after an implosion or maybe not. Yglesias’ opening:

America’s constitutional democracy is going to collapse.

Some day — not tomorrow, not next year, but probably sometime before runaway climate change forces us to seek a new life in outer-space colonies — there is going to be a collapse of the legal and political order and its replacement by something else. If we’re lucky, it won’t be violent. If we’re very lucky, it will lead us to tackle the underlying problems and result in a better, more robust, political system. If we’re less lucky, well, then, something worse will happen.

Very few people agree with me about this, of course. When I say it, people generally think that I’m kidding. America is the richest, most successful country on earth. The basic structure of its government has survived contested elections and Great Depressions and civil rights movements and world wars and terrorist attacks and global pandemics. People figure that whatever political problems it might have will prove transient — just as happened before.

But voiced in another register, my outlandish thesis is actually the conventional wisdom in the United States. Back when George W. Bush was president and I was working at a liberal magazine, there was a very serious discussion in an editorial meeting about the fact that the United States was now exhibiting 11 of the 13 telltale signs of a fascist dictatorship. The idea that Bush was shredding the Constitution and trampling on congressional prerogatives was commonplace. When Obama took office, the partisan valence of the complaints shifted, but their basic tenor didn’t. Conservative pundits — not the craziest, zaniest ones on talk radio, but the most serious and well-regarded — compare Obama’s immigration moves to the actions of a Latin-American military dictator.

In the center, of course, it’s an article of faith that when right and left talk like this they’re simply both wrong. These are nothing but the overheated squeals of partisans and ideologues.

At the same time, when the center isn’t complaining about the excessively vociferous complaints of the out-party of the day, it tends to be in full-blown panic about the state of American politics. And yet despite the popularity of alarmist rhetoric, few people act like they’re actually alarmed. Accusations that Barack Obama or John Boehner or any other individual politician is failing as a leader are flung, and then abandoned when the next issue arises. In practice, the feeling seems to be that salvation is just one election away. Hillary Clinton even told Kara Swisher recently that her agenda if she runs for president is to end partisan gridlock.

It’s not going to work.•



The New York City I grew up with is no longer here, and that’s no surprise. It’s always been a place constantly tearing down and building up. But if climate change truly unfolds in a worst-case scenario–or a very bad one, at least–what does that mean for the city? Was Hurricane Sandy just prelude? Will Manhattan, an island crowded with skyscrapers, become Venice? Will it stand on stilts, trying to keep its balance? From Neel V. Patel’s Wired piece “How Climate Change Will Alter New York City’s Skyline,” about a time when weather may continually be an “event”:

Last week’s report estimates that average annual rainfall in New York City will increase between 5 and 13 percent by the 2080s. Sea levels could be as high as six feet by 2100, doubling the area of the city currently at risk for severe flooding. And that’s without taking into account results published this week in Nature that found coastal sea level north of New York City had jumped temporarily by more than five inches between 2009-2010—an extreme, unprecedented event scientists partially blame on climate change.

That means that New Yorkers will first have to radically reinterpret how they use their basements and ground floors. Building owners in flood zones will be responsible for raising habitable spaces up; the city’s Office of Recovery plans to keep ground floors least 2 feet above projected sea level. One way to do that: Abandon all pretense of actually living on the ground floor. Alex Wilson, president of the Resilient Design Institute, advocates for clearing out ground floors and basements in buildings that are at-risk for frequent flooding, and adapting them to let water move in and drain out with minimal damage. “It’s a big challenge if they need to renovate those spaces so they can be flooded,” says Wilson. “That means losing those apartments, moving equipment like boilers to higher floors, and most of all making sure residents have some place to go.”

Buildings will also have to adapt to rising temperatures. New York is going to get much hotter, with average temperatures increasing by as much as 8.8 degrees Fahrenheit by the the 2080s. And the number of heat waves per year will likely triple from two to six.•

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I would just as soon watch work by Errol Morris as by any living filmmaker. His big-screen documentaries and episodes of his former Bravo show First Person are as perceptive about human psychology as a piece of art can be. I’ve learned so much from Morris and his Interrotron about how we piece together a reality, a consciousness, in an effort to navigate a scary world, and how often deception of self is at its core. Years ago, I interviewed him, and he had a slow, plodding manner, a tortoise who could win the race despite appearances. Two excerpts from Alex Pappademas’ insightful new Grantland Q&A with the documentarian: one about the empathy he feels for his subjects no matter how objectionable they are and the other about how this ability to understand others causes him criticism.



Adams was a convicted murderer when you met him. You seem to be drawn to the type of person other people hate. It’s as if there’s something about the psychology of widely despised people that fascinates you.

Errol Morris:

Absolutely. I’ve never heard anyone put it quite that way, but it’s absolutely true. I like pariahs. There are endless examples of them. Randall Adams was a cold-blooded cop killer, labeled a psychopath. Fred Leuchter in Mr. Death — an electric-chair repairman who coincidentally happens to be a Holocaust denier.


And then Robert McNamara and Donald Rumsfeld.

Errol Morris:

McNamara, Rumsfeld, probably Joyce McKinney.


Who’s maybe not as widely and famously despised …

Errol Morris:

Not famously despised, but adjourned, discredited, acquainted with grief. A woman of sorrows. So, yeah. I do like that. I can’t deny it.


Do you have to like the person, as well? In most cases, I get the impression that you do — that it isn’t hard for you to get to a place of comfort with these subjects.

Errol Morris:

No. When I was interviewing killers years ago, I enjoyed talking to them. I enjoyed being with them. I wasn’t there to moralize with them or temporize with them, I was there to talk to them. And I think that’s still true. Rumsfeld pushed it, I have to say.


Just your capacity for …

Errol Morris:

Empathy. Yeah.



It’s interesting, though, because while you’ve generally fared pretty well with critics over the years, whenever Fog of War or The Unknown Known were negatively reviewed, it was always for that reason. Especially Rumsfeld — you got a lot of flak for somehow letting him get away. People seemed disappointed that you didn’t grab him by the lapels and shake him, rhetorically speaking.

Errol Morris:

I think there’s a whole group of people who would’ve loved for me to get out of my chair and to hit him with a cinder block, which I was not going to do. Y’know, it’s really interesting, because they made that whole movie — a horrendous movie, I think — about the Nixon-Frost interviews, and of course they changed it to make it more dramatic and more confrontational. But I think — and I could be just making excuses for myself — that there’s a portrait that emerges [in The Unknown Known] that’s very different and far more interesting than the portrait you would’ve gotten by having him walk off the set or repeatedly refuse to answer questions, which is what would’ve happened. There’s something about his manner that reveals to me much about the man. A refusal to engage stuff with any meaning is really frightening, and I think that’s part of who he is. There’s a whole class of people who love to push people around but don’t love to think about stuff carefully. Maybe it’s a different talent.•

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Hours after Apollo 11 landed safely on the moon, a jubilant Robert A. Heinlein predicted that before the twentieth century was over there would be retirement communities on the moon, the aged benefiting from the low-gravity environment. NASA contractor Dr. Al Globus feels similarly, though his timeframe for settlements in space is sometime in the next century. From Jonathan O’Callaghan in the Daily Mail:

Dr Globus is a contract scientist at Nasa Ames research centre and over the years has worked on the Hubble Space Telescope, the ISS, the Space Shuttle and much more.

But a few decades ago his interest was piqued by the possibility of space settlements, leading to him setting up Nasa’s annual Space Settlement Contest, which challenges students to come up with designs for space colonies.

Now he’s a major proponent for living in space, and believes that it won’t be long before people are visiting cities in Earth orbit as readily as they travel from London to New York.

‘Whether [space settlements] will happen or not is really hard to say. Whether it can happen, absolutely,’ Dr Globus tells MailOnline.

‘If we as a people decide to do it, we can do it. We have the scientific capability, financial capability, there is simply no question we can do it.

‘If no major disaster strikes in the next few centuries, I would be astounded if we didn’t do it.’

He explains how our technological know-how it only going to increase barring an enormous catastrophe like a nuclear war.

‘We could have the first space settlement in decades, certainly less than a century.’

Dr Globus is a proponent of orbiting colonies, while he adds that others like SpaceX CEO Elon Musk are envisaging a future where humans live on Mars.

As to the actual purpose of a space settlement Dr Globus says it could be just like a town or city on Earth while also providing a way for humans to expand and survive off Earth.

It would be ‘a place to live, raise your kids, where your friends and family have Thanksgiving dinner and celebrate Christmas, and visit Earth on vacation,’ explains Dr Globus.

‘It’s the same purpose as any town or settlement or city has.

‘The way species get endangered and wiped out is by being dependent on a limited environment.

‘Humanity started in East Africa and now live on literally every continent – even Antarctica – albeit for a small time.

‘We live in snow, jungle, deserts, savannahas, forests; we have spread out about as far as we can spread out, and the next step is to move to space.’•

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AI doesn’t have to be Strong to improve your life, or kill you. Weak AI can do the job just fine, whether it’s on an assembly line or the front lines. Director Neill Blomkamp, whose new film, Chappie, concerns a robotic police force, addressed these issues in an interview with Ramy Zabarah of Popular Mechanics. An excerpt:


How do you feel about the current state of robotics? Do you think that artificial intelligence will advance to something similar to the level shown by the autonomous robot police force in Chappie?

Neill Blomkamp:

I definitely think it’ll get there. That’s not even a debate. It will get there within a decade or less. Like if you take Petman or [other robots] from Boston Dynamics and look at what they’re doing, you mix that with some sort of complex code that has a bunch of protocols about how to react to certain situations. We will absolutely make that. That’s scarier to me, weirdly, than real AI. That actually bothers me more.


Why is that?

Neill Blomkamp:

Because if it really is strong AI—if it really is intelligence like us or beyond us, then maybe it wipes us out, but it’s going to be a binary thing. It’s either just going to wipe us out and we won’t know, or it’s going to not do that at all and it’s going to be something that may actually make life better for everyone, and it may enlighten us in a way that humans can’t.

It’s the intermediary that scares me. It’s the phase where we let a bunch of Boston Dynamics robots loose that have some sort of poorly written protocols about kicking in doors and raiding houses.


How do you think AI will ultimately be used in the future? Will it be used for good or for bad?

Neill Blomkamp:

I don’t think the word “used” is correct. I think it will do what it wants to do. We can have whatever idea we want about what it should be used for, and it will not do that. We’ll make it and then we’ll enter a paradigm shift where nothing will be the same. It’ll either solve all of our problems or it will declare war on us, which personally I think it’s not going to do.•

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To the low life scumbag who stole my craftsman snowblower between 10 pm on 3-1-15 and 3-2-15….. i will never stop hunting you down………i pray to god that every person you’ve ever known………….dies of penis or vagina cancer…….and to all of your unborn family and friends….may they look and live like the elephant man…………..cursed for eternity…………….my black magic will forever hold you in the belly of despair, hell, turmoil, death and pain.

While it might make for an interesting bull session to predict what industry, nascent or developed, could create the first trillion-dollar company, such a development wouldn’t really be a good barometer of well of we truly are. Is this company helping or hurting the environment? Is it a sign of greater wealth inequality? Are there other unintended consequences? In a Washington Post opinion piece, futurist Dominic Basulto mainly concerns himself with just the central question. An excerpt:

Artificial intelligence is one industry that could give rise to the first $1 trillion company – provided, of course, that sentient AI life doesn’t kill off humanity before it reaches that target. The promise of AI is that almost anything can be made more valuable by making it smarter. It’s no wonder that we’ve started to see an initial land grab of smart “machine learning” companies and talent. Google, for example, has spent more than $400 million to acquire DeepMind Technologies to ramp up its deep learning capabilities. For AI ever to produce a trillion-dollar company, though, machines will need to do more than just recognize patterns and crunch a lot of data. AI start-ups will need to create a fundamentally new way for humans to interact with machines, perhaps even a new way of learning or acquiring knowledge.

Another potential trillion-dollar industry is 3D printing, which promises a “second industrial revolution.” 3D printing has the potential to upend the way we buy, sell and make everything, turning every garage into a personal fabrication unit. If the first industrial revolution was all about mass production, the second industrial revolution will be all about mass customization. There are any number of companies today that hope to use 3D printing for rapid prototyping, design and small-batch manufacturing, but the real boost will come when there is a 3D printer on every desk and in every home. Think of a mega-ecosystem even bigger than the one Apple is building.

But that’s really just scratching the surface. Peter Diamandis and Steven Kotler in their new book Bold: How to Go Big, Create Wealth and Impact the World highlight a handful of technologies — including the Internet of Things, AI, robotics and synthetic biology — that have the potential to fundamentally change the way we live. Add to this list other futuristic tech favorites such as drones, asteroid mining, augmented reality, and nanotechnology and you have other prospects for the first $1 trillion company.•


Herman Kahn saw the glass half full. The futurist and systems theorist (mentioned at the end of the post on 1970s Swinging Singles) thought while nuclear war would be awful, it wouldn’t wipe out the entire species. There were varying degrees of awfulness. He was likely right, but his conversation about the end of much of humanity and his coining of the term “megadeath” made him one of the inspirations for Stanley Kubrick’s titular Dr. Strangelove character. Interesting that even someone so associated with nuclear believed that solar was the future. The following is an odd and disapproving 1974 piece about him from something called IPS, which apparently was a press service from loony Lyndon Larouche, one of the strangest figures of 20th-century Americans politics, who turned 92 last fall:


NEW YORK, N.Y., Nov. 24 (IPS)–In a recent interview with IPS, futurologist Herman.Kahn confirmed that no one but a criminal psychotic could field “ideas” for the Rockefeller family. The portly Kahn, who is the founder and director of the Hudson Institute, gained notoriety during the late 1950s by calculating the number of “megadeaths” that could be expected as a result of nuclear war between the United States and the Soviet Union.

Also present at the interview was Professor Robert Mundell of Columbia: University. Mundell organized the conference of bankers and econcmistsheld near Siena, Italy in September, exposed by IPS as a planning session for the Chileanization of Great Britain and Italy.

During the wide-ranging discussion, the following exchange took place: 


If you reduce the level of energy “throughput” into the biosphere, as the Hudson Institute proposes, you tend to set into motion entropic processes which get out of your control. The result would be an ecological holocaust. For example, in Brazil, where levels of nutrition and health have been reduced, you see the spread of new types of plagues faster than you can find vaccines for them.

Herman Kahn:

Well, there are two basic types of population curves, the up and down curve, where you expand population, overgraze, and so forth, and then have to reduce population. Or there is the collapse curve, where you have famine and disease. I would divide the world up into four categories. 1.4 billion people are “rich”–include Portugal in this. 0.85 billion live in Communist Asia. 1.05 billion are “coping”–like Mexico. and Brazil. That is, income is trickling down to at least one third of the population. People always misunderstand “trickle down” theories because they think wealth is supposed to get to the bottom. It never does … But there is no study which shows a correlation between hunger and disease. You won’t have plagues that kill half the world’s population. (At this point Mr. Kahn, who had ordered a Japanese dinner, paused to eat a raw squid.)

Robert Mundell:

No, we are about to have another plague. We have them every 300 years. You know, 1100, 1400, then–I forget the dates exactly.

Herman Kahn:

You mean the one in the eighteenth century where they all danced around?

Robert Mundell:

That was it. Anyway, every 300 years you wipe out half the world’s population.

Herman Kahn:

Oh, a cycle theory. I’m not sure about cycle theories…

Robert Mundell:

Well, anyway, I only make up these theories for fun.

Kahn, whose style is a blend of Jackie Gleason and Heinrich Himmler, turned his attention again to his raw fish, adding to the morning coffee stains on his shirt front.

Both these men, who have access to cabinet-level members of many governments,. have been touted as leading minds of the capitalist class. In fact, “Fat Herman,” as he is known to friends, is something of a public-display item, next to whom the other psychotic “planners” of the Rockefeller faction are intended to  look sane. 

Among his most recent efforts are a study of Britain, calling into question the country’s existence by the year 1980, and the preparation of a four-year development program for the “radical” government of Algeria.•

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Americans are pretty much cradle-to-grave adolescents now, regardless of career, marriage or children. Our obsession with youth, which began fairly spontaneously in the 1960s, was commodified the following decade, and there’s since been no retreat. That’s probably because being elderly is the leading cause of death. An article from the July 16, 1973 edition of Newsweek, “Games Singles Play,” examines the swinging scene of the 1970s, presenting a portrait of a nation shifting and free enterprise pivoting to accommodate the recalibration, while mixing in some foolish phrases like “post-Pepsi generation” and “swingles.” The opening:

It all began modestly enough. An unmarried New York City perfume salesman named Alan Stillman decided that the coolest way to meet the stewardesses in his neighborhood would be to buy a broken-down beer joint, jazz it up with Tiffany lamps and mod young waiters and christen it–with an eye toward attracting the career crowd–the T.G.I.F. (for Thank God It’s Friday). Within one week, the police had to ring Fridays (as it quickly became known) with barricades to handle the nightly hordes of young singles on the make. Hundreds of blatantly imitative emporiums soon opened their doors in scores of major cities–and an industry was born. What began largely as a salesman’s mating ploy has triggered an explosion of singles-only institutions: singles apartment complexes, singles cruises, singles weekends at resort hotels, singles clubs for every persuasion from vegetarians to occultists. Within just eight years, singlehood has emerged as an intensely ritualized–and newly respectable–style of American life.

Until recently, the term “single” usually connoted a lonely heart, a temporary loser whose solitary status was simply a way station on the passage to matrimony. The lonely hearts may still bleed, but for millions of other under-35, middle-class folk, singlehood has become a glittering end in itself–or at least a newly prolonged phase of post-adolescence. And while much of the younger singles’ fun and gamesmanship is also tinged with frustrations, loneliness and quiet desperation, many of the players contend that they have found the Good Life. “The singles ‘skindrome’ is not a search,” insists Tom Whitehead, a bearded Atlanta bachelor. “It’s entire premise is to live life to the fullest.”

That glowing prospect appears to be attracting an increasing number of believers. Of the U.S.’s 48 million single adults, 12.7 million are between the ages of 20 and 34–a massive 50 per cent jump for that age group since 1960. The accelerating divorce rate has also brought swarms of young converts into the singles fold, where they now tend to remain for far longer periods. Indeed, the number of under-35s who have been divorced but have not remarried (1.3 million) is more than double the figure of a decade ago. To a growing corps of social analysts, the trend seems to signal a profound shift in mating patterns. One sociologist has gone so far as to predict that “eventually, married people could find themselves living in a totally singles-oriented society.”

The singles tide is being propelled by several powerful subcurrents. Dr. Paul Glick, a population analyst for the Census Bureau, believes that the economic and sexual liberation of the young working woman is diminishing her need for the “sacred halo of marriage.” As evidence, Glick points to the proportion of women who remain unmarried in their 20s has soared by a full third since 1960. Another student of the singles subculture, Washington D.C. sociologist Dr. Joyce Starr, feels that today’s post-Pepsi generation may be the first to place the search for self-identity above the quest for a mate. “They’re discovering how little college adds to emotional development and self-confidence,” says Dr. Starr. “The single state is now the only place where they can feel themselves out.”

Marriage remains the statistical norm, of course, but unprecedented affluence and mobility have allowed today’s single to reject settling for just any old match. “We looked at our parents’ marriages,” explains a young journalist, “and decided to hold out for something a hell of a lot better. In a way, we’re sort of middle-class revolutionaries.” At the same time, the sheer number of singles, meshed with the media’s seductive imagery (singles who swing are jauntily dubbed “swingles”), is gradually revising society’s view of of its unwed members. Benjamin Franklin once described the unmarried person as “the odd half of a pair of scissors.” But today, notes Columbia University anthropologist Herbert Passin, “it is finally becoming possible to be both single and whole. For the first time in human history the single condition is being recognized as an acceptable adult life-style for anyone.”

Enter the singles entrepreneur. The discovery that America’s unmarried population now wields an annual spending power of some $40 billion has spawned an explosive growth industry aimed at satisfying the unwed’s every whim. Each week seems to bring a fresh twist on the merchandising theme. Chateau D’Vie, the nation’s first year-round country club designed exclusively for singles, recently opened in a New York suburb–and signed up 1,000 eager applicants (at $550 a year) within four weeks. “We were even able to screen out all the losers, fatties and dogs,” chuckles Chateau co-owner Richard Kovner. And last month marked the debut of a new weekly magazine called Single, which will offer advice on coping and coupling from contributors as disparate as Bella Abzug and futurologist Herman Kahn. “Singles are a runaway statistic,” gloats Single publisher Hy Steirman, who ordered a press run of 750,000 for his inaugural issue.”•

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Yaroslav Trofimov, who covers the Greater Middle East Region for the Wall Street Journal, just did an Ask Me Anything at Reddit. He staunchly opposes American ground troops being deployed to eradicate the Islamic State, feeling that such a mission would legitimize the terrorists. A few exchanges follow.



If you had to choose, would you call ISIS a terrorist organization, an apocalypse cult, or something closer to an nascent transnational actor, like a fledgeling state fighting for independence?

Yaroslav Trofimov:

I think it is all of the above — but the most important attribute of IS is that it is, in fact, a state that controls and governs territory (to which it urges Muslims worldwide to immigrate.)



What is the average day in the life of a member of ISIS? What would Jihad John do while not making videos; what would top ranking officials do compared to the lowest level of fighters?

Yaroslav Trofimov:

Let’s not forget that IS is not just your average terror organization — they do, in fact, run a state with the land mass of Great Britain. Which means there IS sewage inspectors, IS tax collectors, IS religious police members, IS officials in charge of road maintenance… The foreigners from the West are often employed in the communications/ propaganda departments, but also in finance, health etc.



What is the end goal of the Islamic State?

Yaroslav Trofimov:

They are very clear about it — world conquest and then the end of days. They have a very apocalyptic vision that relies on prophecies mentioned in the Quran and the Sunna. That is their biggest difference with al Qaeda, which had more pragmatic real-world goals, such as evicting the U.S. and Israel from the region.



Difficult to predict, but do you feel a particular country is next up to have a larger following of pro-ISIS people? (Egypt, etc.)

Yaroslav Trofimov:

Egypt does have an IS branch, the Province of Sinai, that is waging a deadly campaign against the Egyptian army in the Sinai peninsula. So far, its activities are largely limited there.

But IS is aiming to spread across the Muslim world — and does have sizable franchises in Libya, Pakistan, Yemen, Algeria etc. There has recently been an alarming influx of recruits from ex-Soviet Central Asia, especially Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan.



If the Israelis stopped being Jewish, and gave up Judaism. And the Arabs stopped being Muslim, and gave up Islam. Do you think they could get along?

Yaroslav Trofimov:

Jews and Muslims (Arab and non-Arab) lived in peace in the Middle East for centuries even as anti-Semitic killings raged in Europe. Even as late as the 1930s, Egypt and Iraq had Jewish cabinet ministers. The hostility seen now is very very recent, not the intrinsic result of Islam or Judaism.


Correct but in the 1930’s, and prior. There really wasn’t a “formal” Israel at the time. Now that there is, countries like Iran don’t like the idea of a “jewish state” neighboring them, and do not recognize it.

Yaroslav Trofimov:

True — though Iran actually still has a sizable Jewish community. What I was trying to say is there is nothing intrinsic in Judaism or Islam that caused the current hostility in the region. It is all about politics, not about religion.•


From the May 1, 1911 Brooklyn Daily Eagle:

Hamburg — The eighth wonder of the world recently appeared in this city. It is a talking dog, Don by name, who has learned to articulate eight German words very clearly and distinctly. The discovery of the dog’s power to articulate was made quite by accident.•

I’m apparently the one person in the world who has no interest in Star Trek, the TV shows, the movies, any of it. Yes, I know, I ruin everything. But Leonard Nimoy’s passing is a real sadness. His gravitas was used to perfection not just for Mr. Spock, but also in the pseudoscience documentary series In Search of… and in one of my favorite movies, Philip Kaufman’s 1978 version of Invasion of the Bodysnatchers, in which he played the bookish psychiatrist of your nightmares.


At the Forbes site, John Tamny, author of the forthcoming pop culture-saturated book Popular Economics argues that robots will be job creators, not killers, and breathlessly asserts that the Digital Revolution will follow the arc of the Industrial one. Perhaps. But there could be a very bumpy number of decades while that potential transition takes place. Although, as I’ve said before, you wouldn’t want to live in a country left behind in the race to greater AI.

But robots or no robots, here’s one job that should be created: someone to design a site for Forbes that isn’t a complete piece of shit. It’s really like Web 1.0 over there. The opening of Tamny’s reasoning:

As robots increasingly adopt human qualities, including those that allow them to replace actual human labor, economists are starting to worry.  As the Wall Street Journal reported last week, some “wonder if automation technology is near a tipping point, when machines finally master traits that have kept human workers irreplaceable.”

The fears of economists, politicians and workers themselves are way overdone.  They should embrace the rise of robots precisely because they love job creation.  As my upcoming book Popular Economics points out with regularity, abundant job creation is always and everywhere the happy result of technological advances that tautologically lead to job destruction.

Robots will ultimately be the biggest job creators simply because aggressive automation will free us up to do new work by virtue of it erasing toil that was once essential.  Lest we forget, there was a time in American history when just about everyone worked whether they wanted to or not — on farms — just to survive.  Thank goodness technology destroyed lots of agricultural work that freed Americans up to pursue a wide range of vocations off the farm.

With their evolution as labor inputs, robots bring the promise of new forms of work that will have us marveling at labor we wasted in the past, and that will make past job destroyers like wind, water, the cotton gin, the car, the internet and the computer seem small by comparison.  All the previously mentioned advances made lots of work redundant, but far from forcing us into breadlines, the destruction of certain forms of work occurred alongside the creation of totally new ways to earn a living.  Robots promise a beautiful multiple of the same.•


Nothing is more amusing than a mainstream publication introducing the masses to an unsettling subculture, especially if we’re talking about the 1960s. The May 9, 1966 issue of Newsweek did just that with a sprawling piece about LSD, which alternates between interesting writing and a basic primer of the emerging youth revolution. There are quotes from British-born psychiatrist Humphry Osmond, who coined the term “psychedelic,” and the article does wisely comprehend the coming of a pharmacological culture. Most of the article can be read here and here and here, though the last part is missing. The opening:

“As I was lying on the ground, I was looking up at the sky and I could sort of see through the leaves of the plant and see all the plant fluids flowing around inside of it. I thought the plant was very friendly and very, very closely related to me as a living thing. For a while, I became a plant and felt my spine grow down through the bricks and take root…and I raised my arms up and waved them around with the plant and I really was a plant!

“But toward the end I was watching Lois and I thought I saw the drug take hold of her in a bad way…Suddenly I was afraid. I looked down and Lois was miles and miles beneath me sort of as if I were looking at her from the wrong end of the telescope.”

The man who thought he was a plant is a 29-year-old Yale graduate. And he was looking at his wife through the wrong end of a telescope; his perceptions had been altered by a chemical called d-lysergic acid diethylamide.

‘Inner Space’: Largely unknown and untasted outside the researcher’s laboratory until recently, the hallucinogenic drug LSD has suddenly become a national obsession. Depending on who is doing the talking, it is an intellectual tool to explore psychic “inner space,” a new source of kicks for thrill seekers, the sacramental substance of a far-out mystical movement–or the latest and most frightening addition to the list of mind drugs now available in the pill society being fashioned by pharmacology. “Every age produces the thing it requires,” says psychiatrist Humphry Osmond of the New Jersey Neuro-Psychiatric Institute in Princeton. “This age requires ways of learning to develop its inner qualities.”

The new LSD subculture, for the moment at least, is mainly American and young. It has its own vocabulary: on college campuses, in New York’s Greenwich Village, Los Angeles’ Sunset Boulevard and San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury District, the drug is called “acid” and its devotees “acid heads.” Users “turn on” and go on LSD “trips.” Some of the trips are contemplative affairs; but on others, hippies take off their clothes and turn on orgiastically. And as the young world turns on, the adult world–shocked and bewildered–turns off.•


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My social security check is wet.

My social security check is wet.

I’m certain a drone carrying explosives will fly into the side of a very important U.S. building at some point in the foreseeable future. It needn’t be large to be deadly. Like 3D-printed guns, in the coming years these things will be cheap and ubiquitous. Drones are just one of the new global challenges of warfare, which is rapidly changing, with stateless ideological sects difficult to pinpoint and robots entering the scrum at an accelerating pace. The opening of David Sterman’s provocative New America essay “Will We Still Call It War?“:

When Army Chief of Staff General Ray Odierno says that today’s environment is the most uncertain in his 40 years in the army, it’s easy to see why. Wars are now less about land than ideology. Robots can kill.  A cold war with one enemy has given way to a world with myriad, inter-connected conflicts with no one the U.S. can call ally or enemy. Global warming has shifted the very nature of the environment upon which wars are fought.

Our increasingly complex conflict environment is part of what’s driving the contentious debate over the President’s proposed authorization for the use of military force (AUMF) against ISIS. How do we define our enemy, and the theatres of conflict, in a war that is metastasizing and changing everyday? As Congress reviews the proposed authorization, it’s hard not to compare the present to the past –and to wonder about what the future holds.  At New America’s Future of War Conference this week,  Odierno’s lament helped frame the conversation: if so much has changed in his 40 years of service, what can we expect in the next 40 years?

First, there’s the spread of new technologies – like the proliferation of drones, combined with America’s deteriorating influence in the fields of drone technology and robotics. According to New America’s new World of Drones project, 85 countries have some form of militarized drone, three countries have used drones in combat, and more have considered it.

Dr. Missy Cummings, an associate professor at Duke and former Navy pilot, said the United States military has “lost the edge” in the field. Today, the Israelis lead the world in drone development, Amazon and Google lead the world in robotics, and her students can 3D print a drone in a weekend, she said. Cummings even “guaranteed” that U.S. forces would be struck by a 3D printed drone in the future. As other countries and even companies surpass or challenge the United States in the development of key technologies, the American capability to manage crises may decline.•

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We’re dying people on a dying planet in a dying universe. Time itself will eventually collapse. That infuriates me. I’d like every beautiful person to live forever, and I want the same for most of the assholes as well. But, alas.

My unfair kneejerk reaction to cryonics enthusiasts is that they’re delusional, even a little selfish. But if you’re going to be selfish about something, shouldn’t it be lifespan?

One person who wasn’t selfish at all, just a dying 23-year-old neuroscientist who wasn’t ready to go, was Kim Suozzi. She dreamed of somehow continuing, because the alternative was so cruel and pointless. From Molly Lambert of Grantland:

Suozzi posted a video blog about her situation and canvassed Redditors for help fulfilling her dream of being cryonically preserved. “My prognosis looks pretty bleak at this point,” she wrote, “and though I am hoping to exceed the 6-10 month median survival, I have to prepare to die.” Suozzi’s interest in futurism was sparked by reading Ray Kurzweil’s The Age of Spiritual Machines in a cognitive science class at Truman State, which prompted her to also read Kurzweil’s The Singularity Is Near. Kurzweil’s books, beginning with his influential tome The Age of Intelligent Machines, forecast “the Singularity,” a hypothetical future event when artificial intelligence will surpass human intelligence. Kurzweil predicts 2045 as a soft date for that happening. Kurzweil is currently a director of engineering at Google.

Silicon Valley has become a hotbed for futurology, with adherents ranging from Elon Musk, whose company SpaceX has the long-term goal of colonizing Mars, to the founders of the nutrition substitute Soylent, whose winky slogan is “Free Your Body.”1 “Futurology” is an umbrella term that encompasses the beliefs of both kooky conspiratorial types with hilariously janky web domains and actual geniuses like world-renowned theoretical physicist Michio Kaku. Futurists share a common belief that the bleeding edge of science exists in a zone that might seem crackpot now but will prove prophetic later. Believers refer to such successes as splitting the atom as proof that all big scientific leaps were once considered impossible science fiction. Some credit sci-fi author H.G. Wells with founding the discipline because of his turn-of-the-20th-century predictions about the year 2000, some of which even came true. Futurology lumps together a wide array of disciplines, many of them related to the idea of transhumanism — the process by which humans will be integrated with AI through nanotechnology, cybernetic implants, and thought-controlled robotics. Some of the fields are in primitive stages, while others are moving along at a surprisingly rapid pace. The desire to overcome one’s meatbody and be uploaded into a permanent robotic avatar is part of transhumanism; “Free Your Body” could be the slogan. Merging with the machines seems a little like a Revenge of the Nerds fantasy about defeating the jocks by getting your superior intellect uploaded into a sweet new mecha. But not all futurology is optimistic — some predictions are for disaster. The hope of extending life is a central tenet, though.

In a sense, life extension is like a nonbeliever’s version of heaven, an atheist’s dream of eternal life facilitated by scientific innovation. To the faithful, death is just another disease that will eventually be overcome by the power of science and the intellectual capacity of the human mind.•

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I’m in Love with my Pretty Nurse (Midtown East)

I am a physician, white, 40.
I work in an office and I have several nurses I work with, but one in particular I work closest with.
We are often alone in my office.
She is single.
I am married.
My wife shows me little affection and wants to be off doing her own thing.
I’m becoming more and more enamored with this young lady.
I look forward to her coming in.
I stay late so as to see her one more time.
Always hoping today will be the day something happens and we kiss.
She’s so f###### cute!!!!
I so want to hold her!
Does she feel the same?
I don’t know.
Mixed signals.
But I feel I may lose my mind.

Technology has made a certain level of cinematic sophistication available to all, even terrorists. This lesson has clearly been processed by ISIS, which shoots its real-life snuff films to mirror the hard-R torture porn shown in multiplexes, aiming them at the youth quadrant, with sequels that seemingly never stop coming. From Jeffrey Fleishman in the Los Angeles Times:

The Islamic State’s production values have steadily improved since the network grew in Iraq and Syria; it now operates or has affiliates across North Africa and the Middle East. The group’s ranks have been bolstered by as many as several thousand recruits from Europe, which may be where the organization’s videographers learned their trade. The videos, including those showing the deaths of American, British and Japanese hostages, have been frequently released since last summer.

The most recent films unfold with almost surreal matter-of-factness, taking their time before death is carried out. Cameras pan and glance from different angles; anxiety builds. The executioners are masked and often dressed in black, including the militant who beheaded American hostage James Foley in August. In those videos and in the one in which 21 Coptic Christians were decapitated on the Libyan coast, the killers speak in English and relish in lurid exhibitionism.

The 22-minute video depicting the death of Jordanian pilot Lt. Moaz Kasasbeh, who was captured when his F-16 was shot down over Syria during a U.S.-led coalition bombing mission against Islamic State, was filmed amid war ruins. Militants dressed in fatigues and bracing Kalashnikovs stand guard. They seem as if regal sentinels in a perverted ideology to impose a primitive brand of Islamic law on what they see as a permissive and godless world.

Kasasbeh wanders bewildered down a hazy street that leads to a cage. The scene is interspersed with images showing the bodies of Syrians the Islamic State claims were killed by coalition missiles. Kasasbeh’s orange jumpsuit, reminiscent of those worn by suspected extremists held by the U.S. at Guantanamo Bay, appears soaked with accelerant. A short distance away, a militant holds up a torch and then touches it to the ground as fire — the camera lingers on wisps of white smoke — races toward the cage and Kasasbeh is engulfed.

“It’s horrific, but they know the power of storytelling and the importance of images,” said Robert Greenwald, president and founder of the Culver City-based Brave New Films, which has produced documentaries on the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. He added that the videos’ music, sound effects, camera angles and even costumes evoke suspense. “It really gives me pause to think about and to be concerned. It’s a level of sophistication that’s quite striking.”•

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You might be soothed knowing that the mid-1960s’ fear that automation would cause widespread, imminent technological unemployment didn’t come to pass, but the worry may have been more premature than preposterous, more of a battle won in a war that’s ultimately unwinnable. In a riposte to a 1965 Fortune article written by Charles E. Silberman which derided the powers of computing, Edmund C. Berkeley, editor of Computers and Automation, argued that the future, with literate machines and driverless automobiles, would eventually arrive. We’re much closer to that tomorrow today. The opening:

In the 1965 issue of Fortune, Charles E. Silberman, in his article, “The Real News About Automation,” advances an interesting position. He states:

“Employment of manufacturing production workers has increased by one million in the last 3 1/2 years…This turn-around in blue-collar employment raises fundamental questions about the speed with which machines are replacing men…Automation has made substantially less headway in the United States than the literature on the subject suggests…No fully automated process exists for any major product in the U.S….Many people writing about automation…have grossly exaggerated the economic impact of automation…In their eagerness to demonstrate that the apocalypse is at hand, the new technocratic Jeremiahs…show a remarkable lack of interest in getting the details straight, and so have constructed elaborate theories on surprisingly shaky foundations…The view that computers are causing mass unemployment has gained currency largely because of a historical coincidence: the computer happened to come into widespread use in a period of sluggish economic growth and high unemployment…Full automation is far further in the future because ‘there is no substitute for the brewmaster’s nose’…Man’s versatility was never really appreciated until engineers and scientists tried to teach computers to read handwriting, recognize colors, translate foreign languages, or respond to vocal commands..We don’t have enough experience with automation to make any firm generalizations about how technology will change the structure of occupations…” and in essence he asserts that vast unemployment due to automation is not to be expected.


There are a number of important defects in Silberman’s argument, enough to make the whole argument unsound.

In the first place, Silberman makes a considerable point of the fact that he has investigated a number of situations where a large degree of automation was reported, and he has observed that a much smaller degree of automation was actually to be found there. For example he has found men still at work personally guiding the movement of engine blocks from one automated machine to another. From these instances he concludes that the threat of automation in producing unemployment has been grossly exaggerated.

Basically, this is the argument that because something has not happened yet, it is not going to happen. Of course, as soon as we express the argument in this form, it is obviously not true. I am reminded of what was being said about automatic computers in the early 1950’s by hardheaded business men: the machines would never be reliable enough or versatile enough to do any substantial quantity of useful business work.

Second, Silberman refers to man’s versatility, reading of handwriting, responding to vocal commands, etc. You will notice that he does not mention what would have been mentioned in this sentence if said some 15 years ago: “man’s uniquely human ability to think, to solve problems, to play games, to create”–because now it is abundantly clear that these abilities are being shared by the computer, the programmed automatic computer.

But the versatility area also of man’s capacities is rapidly being “threatened” by the computer, by such devices as the programmable optical reader, in which a computer applies clever programs to deciphering the precise nature of certain kinds of marks and thereby identifies them. A programmable film reader made by a firm in Cambridge, Mass., is able to read film at a speed 5000 times the rate that a human being can read it.

To assert that because of man’s versatility, the computer will not be able to compete with man is a silly argument, because there are no logical, scientific, or technological barriers to this accomplishment. Silberman asserts there will be a cost barrier: It may be many years before a computer can economically displace the human driver of a school bus at the rate of $4 an hour. But developments in microminiature, chemically-grown, circuits are so amazing, that we can look forward to the time when a programmed computer equal to the brains of most men can be produced for say $1000 apiece. Certainly there is nothing magical or supernatural about the brain of a man; and certainly once the process of chemically growing brains is understood, much better materials than protoplasm can be found for making them.

Third, even if “no fully automated process exists for any major product in the United States” at the present time, is there really very much difference between a process which used to require 100 men and now requires 5 or 3, compared with a process which used to require 100 men and now requires zero?•


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I have far fewer concerns about Net Neutrality than I do about cable providers. We’re warned that innovation in the sector will be stymied now that throttling is illegal, but we seem to get electricity each day just fine. But even those who didn’t necessarily oppose the FCC’s decision can see some clouds in the commission’s bold call. Two such worried opinions follow.


From Tim Harford at the FInancial Times:

This kind of product sabotage is far older than the internet itself. The French engineer and economist Jules Dupuit wrote back in 1849 that third-class railway carriages had no roofs, not to save money but to “prevent the passengers who can pay the second-class fare from travelling third class”. Throttling, 19th-century style.

But imagine that a law was introduced stipulating “railway neutrality” – that all passengers must be treated equally. That might not mean a better deal for poorer passengers. We might hope that everyone would ride in comfort at third-class prices, and that is not impossible. But a train company with a monopoly might prefer to operate only the first-class carriages at first-class prices. Poorer passengers would get no service at all. Product sabotage is infuriating but the alternative – a monopolist who screws every customer equally – is not necessarily preferable.

Fast lanes and slow lanes are a symptom of this market power but the underlying cause is much more important. The US needs more internet service providers, and the obvious way to get them is to force cable companies to unbundle the “last mile” and lease it to new entrants.

Alas, in the celebrated statement announcing a defence of net neutrality, the FCC also specifically ruled out taking that pro-competitive step. The share prices of cable companies? They went up.•


From Alex Pareene at Gawker:

Don’t get me wrong. Regulating broadband as a utility is (in my opinion) the correct policy. This is as close as Washington gets to a victory for the forces of “good.” I would just urge everyone to keep in mind that the forces of good in this instance won not because millions of people made their voices heard, but because the economic interests of a few giant corporations aligned with the position of those millions of people. And I say that not simply to be a killjoy (though I do love being a killjoy), but because if anything is to change, we musn’t convince ourselves that actual victory for the masses is possible in this fundamentally broken system. Please don’t begin to believe that the American political establishment is anything but a corrupt puppet of oligarchy.

American politicians are responsive almost solely to the interests and desires of their rich constituents and interest groups that primarily represent big business. Casual observation of American politics over the last quarter-century or so should make that clear, but if you want supporting evidence, look to the research of Vanderbilt political scientist Larry Bartels, and Princeton’s Martin Gilens and Northwestern’s Benjamin Page. Gilen and Page’s conclusions are easily summed up: “economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on U.S. government policy, while mass-based interest groups and average citizens have little or no independent influence.”

Political battles are won when the rich favor them. America’s rich have lately become rather progressive on certain social issues, and those issues have rather suddenly gone from political impossibilities to achievable dreams.•


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From the July 20, 1886 Brooklyn Daily Eagle:

Frederick Gruenwald, a German, called upon Relief Clerk Short, of the Charities Department, yesterday afternoon. He stated that he came with his wife and three children from Cleveland, O., about three weeks ago, and was anxious to go back. He was unable to pay for himself and his family to Cleveland, as he had but $8, and asked Mr. Short to furnish him the balance necessary. Gruenwald stated that some time ago he saw an advertisement in a New York weekly paper regarding the exhibition of living curiosities. As he had a living curiosity in his family he thought this would be an opportunity to make a living for himself and his family. The curiosity was Albertine, who was born with two tongues. Gruenwald at once communicated with the authors of the advertisement and made arrangements with them to exhibit Albertine at various museums at Coney Island for the past two weeks. She was obliged to keep her mouth open for hours at a time. Yesterday morning an officer for the Society of the Prevention of Cruelty to Children appeared at the museum and prevented the exhibition of the child. Clerk Short will refer the case to the Charities Commissioners at their meeting to-morrow morning.•

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10 search-engine keyphrases bringing traffic to Afflictor this week:

  1. discussion about technology in my dinner with andre
  2. wernher von braun mars mission plan collier’s
  3. isaac asimov how the human race can survive
  4. fran lebowitz commenting on california
  5. have we reentered the space age?
  6. infamous new york state executioner john w. hulbert
  7. does donald trump answer fan letters?
  8. elvis presley i was buried in a beaver
  9. can machines be creative?
  10. b.f. skinner teaching machine
This week, Vladimir Putin got his painful right arm checked out.

This week, Vladimir Putin got that pain in his right arm checked out.

Did you recently,

It’s like the recoil of a gun wrenched your shoulder. Did you recently fire a weapon?

  • Paul Sonne, the Moscow correspondent for the WSJ, did an AMA.
  • Keith Gessen argues that Russia would be no different sans Putin.
  • Tim Wu wonders about uploadable immortality.
  • Quay Valley, the planned utopic insta-city, will have a Hyperloop.
  • Naomi Klein believes capitalism and environmentalism are incompatible.
  • Andrew McAfee points out that the current economy makes no sense.
  • Dr. Sergio Canavero wants to do a head transplant soon. Won’t happen.
  • A look back at the American interpretation of the Paris Commune.

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