David Pilling of the Financial Times visited North Korea’s showcase city, Pyongyang, and had a “stage-managed” experience that elicited very little about the true nature of Kim Jong-un’s country-wide cult. An excerpt:

“One needs to be wary of impressions gleaned from Pyongyang. This is a showcase city, the home of the connected and presumably loyal elite. You have to remind yourself constantly that you are being shown the ‘good parts.’ The rest of North Korea is, to quote resident diplomats, ‘another country.’

The second thing to note is the pervasive sense of victimhood. Paul French’s book North Korea: State of Paranoia is aptly named. Any conversation on a serious topic starts and ends with Pyongyang’s struggle for survival in the face of unrelenting pressure from ‘the imperialist US’ and its ‘puppet’ South Korean servant. The US wants to control all of northeast Asia. China wants to use North Korea as a buffer. Everyone wants to topple the Kim regime. (Just because you’re paranoid, doesn’t mean they’re not out to get you.) Singled out for opprobrium are the regular US-South Korean military manoeuvres, which are deemed ample justification for Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons programme.

Even economic policy is framed in terms of external threat. That is why North Korea must be self-reliant – something it has patently failed to achieve given its dependence on outside aid. Paranoia assumes an almost surreal quality. Asked about the rate of economic growth, the head of one institute replies: “It is the policy of our party not to reveal statistics about our economy.”

A third observation, hardly surprising, is the sheer intensity of the cult of Kim. The interests of state and dynasty have merged. One senior researcher quoted a poem suggesting the Kims would rule forever. No mention of the nation’s founder is complete without the epithet ‘Great Leader’ and no reference to his 31-year-old grandson and current ruler without a nod to ‘the wise leadership of the Great Marshall Kim Jong Un.’ Kim badges, worn over the heart, are obligatory. So is bowing at the foot of the dynasty’s ubiquitous monuments.

Yet in the end, [Barbara] Demick is right. A visit to North Korea reveals little. Our trip resembled The Truman Show, in which the protagonist is trapped in a televised soap opera.”

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Much of Sven Hedin’s life was lived in public, but the truth about him is somewhat buried nonetheless, strange for a Swedish explorer who spent his life unearthing the hidden. His expeditions to Central Asia just before and after beginning of the twentieth century introduced the world to invaluable art and artifacts and folkways and cities that had been lost to time.

Hedin was admired for these efforts in all corners of the world, including the one occupied by Adolf Hitler. The geographer perplexingly returned the Führer’s admiration, believing in the Nazi’s nationalistic and traditionalist tendencies, which was obviously a catastrophic misjudgement. He was highly critical, however, of the Party’s anti-Semitism. These protests brought trouble. Hitler seems to have blackmailed the famed explorer into publishing pro-Nazi tracts by imperiling some of Hedin’s Jewish friends still inside Germany. But it’s difficult to believe Hedin encouraged Sweden to ally with Germany during WWII to save a few friends. He just apparently didn’t want to recognize the evil. A disease of the eye caused Hedin to become partially blind in 1940, an apt metaphor for this period of his life.

Long before his dubious politics, Hedin penned an article for Harper’s about an unusual subterranean Tibetan custom, a piece reprinted in the September 17, 1908 Brooklyn Daily Eagle.

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I’m vegetarian and would pass on eating even lab-grown meat, but I do hope we perfect the process soon. Certainly for the sake of animals and for our good as well, since a large percentage of the environmental damage we cause comes from meat production, and more and more corners of the globalized world are refusing to go without meat and cursing the bread. The opening of Larry Schwartz’s Frankenfood feature at Salon:

“It was just over a year ago that the world’s first laboratory-grown hamburger was introduced to the world. The in-vitro meat (aka test tube meat, cultured meat, cruelty-free meat, and my favorite, ‘shmeat’) took four years to grow from cow stem cells and cost a meaty $332,000. Cultured in-vitro meat—or ‘frankenburger,’ as the press dubbed it—is the brainchild of a Dutch biologist, Mark Post, of the University of Maastricht. The single burger, created from 20,000 strands of muscle tissue grown in petri dishes, got some lukewarm reviews.

‘It wasn’t unpleasant,’ Chicago food writer Josh Schonwald wrote. More enthusiastically, food researcher Hanni Rutzler commented, ‘That’s some intense flavor.’ Because the meat was cultured from muscle with no fat cells, it lacked juiciness, and was reminiscent of an overdone dry turkey burger. Still, the consensus was that it tasted better than expected, had the consistency of real meat, and for a first try, was not discouraging. Post told NBC News, ‘I’m very excited. It took a long time to get this far. I think this is a very good start.’

While anyone who has seen videos of the horrific conditions factory-farmed cows, pigs and chickens endure in their short, tortured lives might agree that in-vitro meat is a good idea, there’s an even more pressing reason to figure out a way to grow meat: the production of meat on planet Earth is killing us. It takes up more than half of our agricultural capacity, and as the economies of China and other developing nations grow, and as their citizens demand more meat on their dinner tables, that capacity will be strained even further.”

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For all the other depressing lessons it taught Americans, the Tea Party hysteria made on thing especially clear: There are large segments of America that believe the government is gaining too much control. The opposite is true, of course. Technological innovation has given us a decentralized media, which can be a good thing and sometimes bad. The power has shifted, and it’s not going back. From John Kerry’s comments reported by CSNews’ Terence P. Jeffrey:

“‘Ever since the end of the Cold War, forces have been unleashed that were tamped down for centuries by dictators, and that was complicated further by this little thing called the internet and the ability of people everywhere to communicate instantaneously and to have more information coming at them in one day than most people can process in months or a year.

‘It makes it much harder to govern, makes it much harder to organize people, much harder to find the common interest,’ said [John] Kerry, ‘and that is complicated by a rise of sectarianism and religious extremism that is prepared to employ violent means to impose on other people a way of thinking and a way of living that is completely contrary to everything the United States of America has ever stood for. So we need to keep in mind what our goals are and how complicated this world is that we’re operating in.'”

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For Mark Landis, one of the world’s most prolific art forgers, it wasn’t business, just personal. He would duplicate and then donate, posing as a philanthropist or some such thing. Museums ate it up, and Landis received the love he was looking for, the thrill not coming from deception but affection. But he was spit back out after being exposed in 2008 as a fake. He did an AMA at Reddit as a new film about him, Art and Craft, is being released. A few exchanges follow.

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Question:

What made you become a forger and how did you realize forgery was a skill you had ?

Mark Landis:

Oh, okay! Way back, I had an impulse, I guess, it was around 1985, I had an impulse to – I guess I was watching things on TV, and you know, I was always seeing things on TV or in movies or about philanthropists giving things, and of course when you’re in a museum you see “Donated by” next to pictures – it was an impulse to give away a picture in Oakland while I was there on another business. And everybody was so nice to me, they treated me with so much deference and respect and friendship-they treated me like royalty. When I first found out I was in trouble, I was led to a Guardian article, and that’s a UK paper, and it said I had been treated like royalty – I had never been treated like royalty before. I liked it so much, I got addicted, and that’s how it all happened.

And what did royalty ever do to deserve to be treated like royalty, anyway?

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Question:

Do you believe that forgery is the true art? Could you transfer your skills to copying from real-life images or photos?

Mark Landis:

As far as the other things, it’s something I Never really thought of. Actually, I still don’t really think of myself as much of an artist, you know? I’m not much of an artist, and I haven’t got any great talent or anything, I do have a facility for arts & crafts, and the rest of it, I kind of lost track of it. I never thought of myself as really a “forger” either. As I said, it was an impulse and I got addicted to it. Everybody likes being treated like royalty, or having people treat them with deference and respect, that sort of thing. VIP treatment, that’s it. Everybody wants to get treated like a VIP, don’t they?

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Question:

What is your opinion on the monetary value of art & the massive prices paid for some artworks?

Mark Landis:

What’s my opinion? Gee… I hadn’t really thought about it… I guess it’s like any kind of commodity, or it’s more like fashion or something, you know, it’s very speculative… because pictures don’t have an intrinsic value, really, so you know, it’s determined by all kinds of things. I guess the best analogy would be the fashion world, you know, if somebody takes something up and then prices will rise and that sort of thing. That’s the best I can do. I’ve never answered that one before! No one ever valued my opinion or asked me that. So that’s the best I can do.•

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While Wikileaks informant Chelsea Manning did intelligence work in Iraq in the late aughts during the end of her Bradley days, it’s difficult to gauge her knowledge of current affairs in the troubled state. While there’s nothing unreasonable in suggesting the U.S. combat certain foes with containment strategies and propaganda campaigns rather than through military engagement, there’s no certainty it would work with ISIS. But choking off their illicit income would be a great first step. From her Guardian piece on the topic:

“As a strategy to disrupt the growth of Isis, I suggest focusing on four arenas:

  • Counter the narrative in online Isis recruitment videos – including professionally made videos and amateur battle selfies – to avoid, as best as possible, the deliberate propaganda targeting of desperate and disaffected youth. This would rapidly prevent the recruitment of regional and western members.
  • Set clear, temporary borders in the region, publicly. This would discourage Isis from taking certain territory where humanitarian crises might be created, or humanitarian efforts impeded.
  • Establish an international moratorium on the payment of ransom for hostages, and work in the region to prevent Isis from stealing and taxing historical artifacts and valuable treasures as sources of income, and especially from taking over the oil reserves and refineries in Bayji, IraqThis would disrupt and prevent Isis from maintaining stable and reliable sources of income.
  • Let Isis succeed in setting up a failed ‘state’ – in a contained area and over a long enough period of time to prove itself unpopular and unable to govern. This might begin to discredit the leadership and ideology of Isis for good.

Eventually, if they are properly contained, I believe that Isis will not be able to sustain itself on rapid growth alone, and will begin to fracture internally. The organization will begin to disintegrate into several smaller, uncoordinated entities – ultimately failing in their objective of creating a strong state.”

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I posted this remarkable 1978 footage on the site a couple of years ago when it was briefly available. It shows the mysterious new world that was booting up inside the Palo Alto Byte Shop, one of the outlets in Paul Terrell’s early personal computer retail chain.

It makes me a little sad, though, that just for a brief, shining moment, the machinery and not merely the content, was in the hands of the users. Now it’s a top-down affair again, with consumers eagerly awaiting the next product announcement from Apple.

I don’t mean to disparage the amazing tools we’ve been handed, but I think that’s part of the problem: They’ve been handed to us. Perhaps our use of these tools would be more productive and less narcissistic if more of it had been the product of our own hands. Maybe the Maker culture will proliferate and change all of that.

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In a new Brookings paper, law professor Ryan Calo proposes that a federal robotics commission be formed to oversee the likely rapid expansion of automation and AI in America. It certainly sounds more useful than the FCC. An excerpt:

“Robotics stands poised to transform our society. This set of technologies has seen massive investment by the military and industry, as well as sustained attention by the media and other social, cultural, and economic institutions. Law is already responding: several states have laws governing driverless cars. Other states have laws concerning the use of drones. In Virginia, there is a law that requires insurance to cover the costs of telerobotic care.

The federal government is also dealing with robotics. There have been repeated hearings on drones and, recently, on high speed trading algorithms (market robots) and other topics on the Hill. Congress charged the Federal Aviation Administration with creating a plan to integrate drones into the national airspace by 2015. The Food and Drug Administration approved, and is actively monitoring, robotic surgery. And the NHTSA, in addition to dealing with software glitches in manned vehicles, has looked extensively at the issue of driverless cars and even promulgated guidance.

This activity is interesting and important, but hopelessly piecemeal: agencies, states, courts, and others are not in conversation with one another. Even the same government entities fail to draw links across similar technologies; drones come up little in discussions of driverless cars despite presenting similar issues of safety, privacy, and psychological unease.

Much is lost in this patchwork approach. Robotics and artificial intelligence produce a distinct set of challenges with considerable overlap—an insight that gets lost when you treat each robot separately. Specifically, robotics combines, for the first time, the promiscuity of data with physical embodiment—robots are software that can touch you. For better or for worse, we have been very tolerant of the harms that come from interconnectivity and disruptive innovation—including privacy, security, and hate speech. We will have to strike a new balance when bones are on the line in addition to bits.

Robotics increasingly display emergent behavior, meaning behavior that is useful but cannot be anticipated in advance by operators. The value of these systems is that they accomplish a task that we did not realize was important, or they accomplish a known goal in a way that we did not realize was possible. Kiva Systems does not organize Amazon’s warehouses the way a human would, which is precisely why Amazon engaged and later purchased the company. Yet criminal, tort, and other types of law rely on human intent and foreseeability to apportion blame when things go wrong.”

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From the July 19, 1942 Brooklyn Daily Eagle:

London — Fresh cat meat and dog meat is now sold for human consumption in the meat shops of Holland, but it first must be inspected for disease, the Dutch News Agency Aneta said today.”

Some are worried about alien encounters, while others long for them. From Kiveli Nikolaou’s Vice interview with political scientist Guillermo Almeyra about Posadaism, the belief among some Argentine socialists that UFOs will bring about Utopia: 

Question:

Do Posadists really believe in aliens?

Guillermo Almeyra:

The logic goes as follows: Since there are billions of galaxies with billions of planets in them, there is bound to be [intelligent life] elsewhere. These alien people are communists and want to communicate with more advanced communists—the Posadists.

Question:

And how will they bring about socialism?

Guillermo Almeyra:

According to this theory, it is only under socialist conditions that the technology for interplanetary travel can be developed. So the emergence of signs of alien life is connected to the existence of socialism on a different planet. The aliens will plan the revolution on Earth based on their experiences of communism in their planet. This is the absurdity that some of us resisted—some less educated individuals accepted it.

Question:

What is the new society that Posadists are fighting for going to look like?

Guillermo Almeyra:

Their vision is actually orthodox: The revolution will destroy the bourgeois state and replace it with a state that will be founded according to the decisions of its workers. The media will be rehabilitated, the economy will be well organized, and exports or trade between countries will be monopolized by the state, as was done in the Soviet Union.”

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How to Have a Successful Life (Training Program) (SCARSDALE)

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You will embark on a journey that will open your eyes to the secrets that are not shared with the general public and these secrets will help you to be do and have anything and everything you want in life.

I am a member of our organization and will be upgrading to the next level very soon. Its exciting what I have learned and I decided to post this for anyone out there seeking a change of life.

To become a member, it is $500 up front and $150 monthly dues.

Now some of you think that is too much money. I thought so for a while and didn’t join. Then I budgeted and realized that there are some things that I can do without for now. Because really in the end, this material is teaching me to create my life the way I want it and Its worth it to me to learn the material because no one else is going to help me get what I want.

I have already begun to witness some circumstances that have made my life better and It keeps getting better and better. Im very excited about the future and Im grateful for all that I have now.

Please contact me via email and ask me any questions you may have. We can discuss anything. Those who decide to join, I would be glad to sponsor them. As such, we would be in communication with each other and hopefully meet each other.

Iraqi politician Ahmed Chalabi produced erroneous information for the United States in the run-up to the Iraq War, providing a justification for the disastrous invasion. He regrets nothing. Perhaps then we should be very circumspect about his intelligence regarding ISIS. There seems nothing out of line, however, about these two brief excerpts from Dieter Bednarz’s new Spiegel interview with Chalabi.

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Spiegel:

A senior American diplomat in Baghdad told us that Islamic State fighters are “sociopaths led by psychopaths.”

Ahmed Chalabi:

That may apply to the fighters from the West who feel excluded in Europe and come here for that reason. But the leaders are former officers in the Iraqi army or professors. They are not psychopaths, they know exactly what they are doing, are very well organized and have a strict hierarchy.

Spiegel:

What is so fascinating about Islamic State that hundreds of Sunnis are rushing to join?

Ahmed Chalabi:

Islamic State isn’t corrupt. That makes it very attractive in a country like Iraq. And of course many are attracted by its military success. For the first time, the Sunnis have an effective fighting force. For Sunnis, Islamic State has a function similar to that of Hezbollah for Shiites. Before they conquered Mosul, Islamic State had maybe 10,000 fighters, but now they have many more. Their recruitment rate is enormously high: Each month, some 2,000 men are trained. And their success radiates to Jordan, Libya and the Arabian Peninsula — even as far as Mali and Pakistan.

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Spiegel:

Where will the next battlefield be?

Ahmed Chalabi:

Islamic State is following a clear strategy. First, it wants to solidify its power in Iraq and Syria. Then, their fighters will try to advance to Syria’s Mediterranean coast. If they are successful, that will be seen as their next great triumph. And then, their target will be Jordan, where things will be easy for them. Already, Islamic State has broad support in many cities there. And when they get there, it will once again come as a great surprise to everybody.•

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When a piece of the Underground Economy is exposed to the light of day, what happens to those peddlers who were most adept when skirting the law was a part of the bargain? From Paul Hiebert’s Pacific-Standard profile of a pot dealer whose business model has been disrupted:

“RIGHT NOW, IT’S HARD to tell what the end of marijuana prohibition would mean for Raymond. The experiments in Colorado and Washington are still young. The Washington Post reports that Colorado’s black market is nowhere near dead because the illegal stuff remains cheaper since it isn’t taxed or subject to other regulatory costs. The New York Times reports similar price issues in Washington caused by a small amount of regulated supply in the face of huge demand.

Some, however, think that once more growers and dispensaries enter the legal market, prices will adjust accordingly. It also may simply take a while for loyal customers to sever relationships with their established dealers. In the long run, Mark Kleiman, a professor of public policy at the University of California-Los Angeles and renowned expert on the topic of drug legality, believes street-level dealers will disappear almost completely. ‘I think illegally growing marijuana in those states will become as common as illegally brewing whiskey,’ he told a reporter last July.

‘If this was happening and I was 23 with no college degree or work experience, I’d be losing my mind,’ Raymond says. ‘I’d be like, ‘What the fuck am I going to do?”

But Raymond has investments and well over a year’s worth of salary saved up. He knows a lawyer who wants to transform his operation into a legitimate business when the time is right, but he also seems like he’d be fine with just walking away.”

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3 webisodes from Katja Blichfeld and Ben Sinclair’s High Maintenance, currently one of the most miraculously written and acted shows in any format.

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From an Ask Me Anything at Reddit by Matt Wells, a Guardian editor who is Scottish, a brief exchange about his homeland’s potential break from the UK:

“Question:

What would independence mean for Scotland as it relates to their economy, EU membership, and future relations with Britain?

Matt Wells:

The economy: The ‘No’ campaign says the economy will be severely harmed by independence, pointing to Scotland’s ageing population, the finite nature of Scotland’s oil reserves, and the increased taxes that will be needed to plug the gap.

The ‘Yes’ camp points out that there are vast untapped reserves of oil, that Scotland’s GDP is 2,300GBP higher than that in the rest of the UK, which would make it the 14th richest country in the world.

The real answer is that no one really knows, because there is no precedent for this.

EU membership: Another scare tactic deployed by the No camp is that Scotland would not be able to re-enter the EU very easily. Most observers however think that the process could be quick. The EU doesn’t want instability.

Scotland in 50 years: Like everywhere else, much the same except a little warmer.”•

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Peter Sellers as a Scotsman:

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Stephen Hawking begs us to not try to make contact with alien life forms, fearing they would enslave or obliterate us. We should hide, he warns. In Caleb Scharf’s excellent Nautilus essay, “Can You Ever Really Know An Extraterrestrial?” the writer wonders how such a meeting would go off, what it would be like when memes collide across outer space. The opening:

“Imagine that you’ve lived your entire life in a small village deep within a continental wilderness. For centuries this community has been isolated from the rest of the world. One day you go out exploring, skirting the edges of known territory. Suddenly, and against all expectations, you stumble across a signpost embedded in the ground. The script is highly unusual, foreign, but the text is clear enough. It says, simply, ‘We Are Here.’

The question is: What happens next?

There might be happiness and celebration to mark the end of isolation, or the news might be met with a shrug. But human nature suggests it’s more probable that this discovery triggers a chain of events that lead to utter disaster.

Suddenly your safe haven is threatened by an unknown ‘them.’ Your time-tested principles of governance and social order are put under pressure. Gossip, rumor, and conjecture will gnaw away at your stable home. Barricades and armed forces will be raised at enormous cost, crops and repairs will be forgotten. A community will lurch toward its own collapse. Yet there is little more than a half-realized idea represented by this impersonal signpost, a whispered implication that infects the world with its ambiguity.

This tale is not the opening sequence of a B-grade movie, but an allegorical version of what might, just possibly, happen after we solve one of the oldest scientific and philosophical puzzles—whether or not we have neighbors ‘out there’ in the wilderness of the cosmos.”

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It’s cartography at the granular level, but every twist and turn, detour and closure, highway and byway, will have to be constantly updated in real time if autonomous driving is to be made safe. Not only will the vehicles move but so will the road maps. From Vince Bond Jr. at Automotive News:

“DETROIT — History’s most intrepid explorers were often at the mercy of their maps. The self-driving cars of the future won’t be any different.

Autonomous vehicles will sport sophisticated sensors and radar systems to read and react to their surroundings, but their robotic drivers still will require vivid and current roadmaps to put the various inputs into context. And creating those maps will require intense collaboration among auto industry players, map makers, technology companies and government, along with a heavy dose of crowdsourcing, industry experts say.

Jim Keller, chief engineer for Honda R&D Americas Inc., sees a future in which cars and their various sensors will collect and share roadway data, updating maps with real-time information that would be used by all automakers ‘as a community’– akin to the Waze mobile navigation app, through which drivers alert one another to upcoming road closures, speed traps and traffic.

‘Mapping is going to be critical in the future,’ Keller said during an interview at the Intelligent Transport Systems World Congress here. ‘It’s almost a symbiotic relationship between the auto companies and what we need and what we’re asking from the maps.

‘Symbiotic means that we’re also going to be feeding the map makers with updated data and then using that same information to help us,’ Keller added. ‘It’s really a paradigm shift happening as we move forward related to mapping.'”

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Even in the wake of the twin horrors of World War I and a global flu pandemic, the crimes of Nathan E. Leopold Jr. and Richard Loeb couldn’t be easily comprehended. In 1924, the gifted, wealthy sons of the best of everything Chicago society had to offer, kidnapped and murdered 14-year-old Robert Franks for the “thrill” of it all. It was nothing personal–they knew and liked the lad–they just desired to commit the “perfect crime.” Once arrested, the pair confessed to the premeditated brutality and were defended by Clarence Darrow, who kept them from the death house. Loeb was killed by a fellow prisoner, while Leopold was paroled in 1958 and subsequently moved to Puerto Rico, where he worked in medicine and education. Theories abounded at the time as to what drove their heinous act: poor parenting, improper moral education, overindulgence, an infatuation with science, manic depression, paranoia, sexual perversion, even too much Nietzsche. But it was likely a confluence of factors forever bound in a knot. The below article is from the June 1, 1924 Brooklyn Daily Eagle:

 

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Steve Martin and Richard Feynman had a similar idea: Let’s get small. As we can now put the Encyclopedia Britannica on the head of a pin, we’ll eventually place nanobots inside of people to regulate health and cure illnesses, though I will guess it’ll take substantially longer than the boldest projections. From Diane Ackerman’s new book The Human Age, via Delancey Place:

“The nanotechnology world is a wonderland of surfaces unimaginably small, full of weird properties, and invisible to the naked eye, where we’re nonetheless reinventing industry and manufacturing in giddy new ways. Nano can be simply, affordably lifesaving during natural disasters. The 2012 spate of floods in Thailand inspired scientists to whisk silver nanoparticles into a solar-powered water filtration system that can be mounted on a small boat to purify water for drinking from the turbid river it floats on.

In the Namibian desert, inspired by water-condensing bumps on the backs of local beetles, a new breed of water bottle harvests water from the air and refills itself. The bottles will hit the market in 2014, for use by both marathon runners and people in third-world countries where fresh water may be scarce. South African scientists have created water-purifying tea bags. Nano can be as humdrum as the titanium dioxide particles that thicken and whiten Betty Crocker frosting and Jell-O pudding. It can be creepy: pets genetically engineered with firefly or jellyfish protein so that they glow in the dark (fluorescent green cats, mice, fish, monkeys, and dogs have already been created). It can be omnipresent and practical: the army’s newly invented self-cleaning clothes. It can be unexpected, as microchips embedded in Indian snake charmers’ cobras so that they can be identified if they stray into the New Delhi crowds. Or it can dazzle and fill us with hope, as in medicine, where it promises nano-windfalls. …

The futurist Ray Kurzweil predicts that ‘by the 2030s we’ll be putting millions of nanobots inside our bodies to augment our immune system, to basically wipe out disease. One scientist cured Type I diabetes in rats with a blood-cell-size device already.”

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Julian Assange is an asshole, but so are a lot of useful people. Whistleblowers are vital in a free society, and I certainly don’t expect them to be perfect, but Assange is a messenger of such dubious character that it pollutes his message.

In today’s Gawker chat, Assange chose to not answer one of the best questions–“Given the collapse of your support since avoiding rape charges for several years, don’t you think that Wikileaks, as an organisation, would have been better served if you resigned?”–but he did respond to some others. A few exchanges follow.

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Question:

Dear Mr. Assange, through your efforts and that of Wikileaks as a whole, you have led to a new era of whistleblowing that has revealed the extent of America’s malfeasance across the globe. We have also seen the United States (and others) attempt to break down the safeguards that enabled individuals to leak information to you and others. Do you think after Manning and Snowden that leaks of such magnitude are still possible?

Julian Assange:

Not only are leaks of this magnitude still possible, they are an inevitability. And there’s more coming, not less. While Washington DC has tried to set general deterants, we’ve set general incentives. That’s why we beat them at their own game and got Snowden to safety. So he could keep his voice and through his example of relative freedom act as general incentive.

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Question:

Julian, do you think you have anything—anything at all—in common with Eric Schmidt?

Julian Assange:

Plenty – I discuss it a lot in the book, e.g.: “Schmidt’s dour appearance concealed a machinelike analyticity. His questions often skipped to the heart of the matter, betraying a powerful nonverbal structural intelligence. It was the same intellect that had abstracted software-engineering principles to scale Google into a megacorp, ensuring that the corporate infrastructure always met the rate of growth. This was a person who understood how to build and maintain systems: systems of information and systems of people. My world was new to him, but it was also a world of unfolding human processes, scale, and information flows.”

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Question:

I feel you’ve done a great service to humanity for pulling the curtains back on corruption and lies. Do you have any ideas, or see any ways that the human race can change our ways to create a path towards more transparency, truthfulness, and doing what’s right?

Julian Assange:

One thing you can do, which is quite simple, is treat companies like Google and Facebook as the corporations they are. Lots of people – especially on the left – are aware of the ways in which corporations are exploitative and harmful. But there is a disconnect when it comes to Silicon Valley. Lots of people refuse to buy Coca Cola, but they don’t see any problem with having a Gmail account. I think that is changing lately, but we need a movement to divest from these corporations – which destroy privacy – and to build an alternative internet that isn’t as actively harmful to human interests.

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Question:

There was a piece in Slate last year about Google, that I kept thinking about with respect to this book, about how Google’s internal culture and goals are bound up in Star Trek. For example: Amit Singhal, the head of Google’s search rankings team, told the South by Southwest Interactive Festival that “The destiny of [Google's search engine] is to become that Star Trek computer, and that’s what we are building.”

It makes sense to me in that there’s a real Camelot-era liberal pro-statist ideal underlying Star Trek’s vision of the future, and I’m curious what your sense was as to whether or not Eric Schmidt really buys into that. AND/OR I am curious to know how your idealized vision of the future differs from that Google Star Trek model.

Julian Assange:

I hadn’t seen that piece. At a glance, it reminds me of the discovery that the NSA had had the bridge of the Enterprise recreated. In my experience it is more reliable and fairer to look at peoples interests and expenditure rather than try to diagnose their inner mental state, as the latter often lets people project their own biases. As I say in the book, I found Eric Schmidt to be, as you would expect, a very sharp operator. If you read The New Digital Age, the apolitical futurism of Star Trek seems to fit what Schmidt writes quite well. I also quite liked this summary of Google’s vision for the future: “Google’s vision of the future is pure atom-age 1960s Jetsons fantasy, bubble-dwelling spiritless sexists above a ruined earth.”

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Question:

Russian FSB. You didn’t release that information, and today, you and the Russians are downright chummy, with you reportedly assisting Edward Snowden in his “travels” there, in spite of Russia’s considerable human rights and surveillance abuses. How do you square your relationship with Russia and your government transparency/anti-authoritarian goals?

Julian Assange:

This is the usual attempt to attack the messager because the message is indisputable. The approach would already be invalid at that level, but it is also strictly false. Many things you may perceive to be true about an individual or a nation are helpful rhetorical positions that spread around through one group or another like a virus. In the end the collection of these thought-viruses, or memes, reflects the psychological and political contours of the group in which it inhabits. We have published more than 600,000 documents relating to Russia. The US stranded him in Russia by cancelling his passport. The US State Department just keeps kicking own goals. It is not my fault, or Edward Snowden’s fault that they’re so incompetent.•

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What I love most about Gilbert Gottfried is that the persona he created is timeless and would seem appropriate in a Marx Brothers movie in the 1930s, animated into a Heckle and Jeckle cartoon in the 1940s, as a next-door neighbor on the Abbott & Costello TV show in the 1950s or on any comedy stage anywhere in America in 2014. Yet he really belongs to none of those things–or anything else. He immediately processes the context he’s in and gleefully deviates from everything, alienating everyone. He’s forever in search of the next punch bowl to piss in.

In the latest Lowbrow Reader comedy zine, Jay Ruttenberg has a tremendous essay about Gottfried. (The same edition also features two pages of the stand-up comic’s unusual drawings, which are reminiscent of the Early Serial Murderer school, and an excellent account of life somewhere alphabetically east of the D-List by the very funny Taylor Negron.) From the Gottfried piece:

“Gottfried is a club comic in an old-fashioned mold. He avoids the trendy comedy spots of downtown and Brooklyn, in all likelihood because they tend not to pay their performers. To see him in New York, one must brave Carolines on Broadway, a Times Square club that somehow even smells like 1992. Onstage, Gottfried stands at a hunch, nerdily engulfed in a size-too-large shirt. He squints his eyes as if to ward off a fart, a visual trademark as recognizable as Pryor’s gait or Rodney’s tie fidgets, and speaks in a matchless holler that could unnerve the dead. He devotes a surprising amount of his stage time to disparaging midgets. Blacks and Asians he can almost accept as human beings, the comedian reasons, but he must draw a line at midgets. He says that he would like nothing more than to approach a midget and punch him in his midget face. At this, Gottfried draws back his arm and punches the air in a manner suggesting that he has neither punched somebody himself nor witnessed a person getting punched, even in a movie or on television. With a grace reflecting his decades onstage, the comic makes a strangely endearing child molestation joke: He envies those fathers who manage to lure their wards into incestuous relations, as he cannot even convince his daughter to hold his hand while crossing the street. Gottfried concludes his set with material from his Dirty Jokes DVD and wraps up the evening by repeatedly yelling, ‘a little boy with cum in his mouth!’ The bulk of his set, however, is hardly blue. The comedian is a skilled impressionist, albeit mostly of long-deceased celebrities. Though not a prop comic, he ingeniously aids his impressions by placing strips of masking tape on his face—an elementary school cut-up gone pro. He does an extended bit about the sun and the moon that could kill in a third-grade classroom, as it did at Carolines.

Today’s younger comics, much like their indie-rock brethren, are mirrors of their audience: relatable figures in everyday clothes. They are slightly tweaked and often funny, but rarely dangerous. In contrast, nobody leaves a Gilbert Gottfried performance pleased that the comic thinks as they do. They leave believing that he is a deviant. He draws upon earlier eras of entertainment. He points to the ’80s, when he arose amidst walking cartoons like Pee-wee Herman and Andrew Dice Clay—both ultimately swallowed by their own creations—and loudmouths in colored leather. He is informed by the late ’70s, when he came of age surrounded by East Village punks—fellow Jewish geeks traumatized at home by Costanza parents and in the streets by a crumbling and forbidding city. Most of all, he evokes the fallen luminaries who ruled the Borscht Belt long before his time. It is their anarchic sensibility that Gottfried covets, reveres, and upholds. Of the fabled funny old men, he is the youngest.”

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The Industrial and Technological Revolutions have, in many ways, been great. We’re not only richer (most of us) materially, but information is so much richer as well. It’s been a mixed victory, however, a Pyrrhic one even, when you factor in environmental damage. From Jeremy Caradonna in the Atlantic:

“But what if we rethink the narrative of progress? What if we believe that the inventions in and after the Industrial Revolution have made some things better and some things worse? What if we adopt a more critical and skeptical attitude toward the values we’ve inherited from the past? Moreover, what if we write environmental factors back in to the story of progress? Suddenly, things begin to seem less rosy. Indeed, in many ways, the ecological crisis of the present day has roots in the Industrial Revolution. 

For instance, consider the growth of greenhouse gases (GHGs) in the atmosphere since 1750. Every respectable body that studies climate science, including NASA, the National Atmospheric and Oceanic Administration, and the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), has been able to correlate GHG concentrations with the pollutants that machines have been spewing into the atmosphere since the late-18th century. These scientific bodies also correlate GHGs with other human activities, such as the clearing of forests (which releases a lot of carbon dioxide and removes a crucial carbon sink from the planet), and the breeding of methane-farting cows. But fossil fuels are the main culprit (coal, gas, and oil) and account for much of the increase in the parts per million of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. The main GHGs, to be sure, are carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4), nitrous oxide (N2O), and a few others, many of which can be charted over time by analyzing the chemistry of long-frozen ice cores. More recent GHG levels are identified from direct atmospheric measurements.

What we learn from these scientific analyses is that the Industrial Revolution ushered in a veritable Age of Pollution, which has resulted in filthy cities, toxic industrial sites (and human bodies), contaminated soils, polluted and acidified oceans, and a ‘blanket’ of air pollution that traps heat in the Earth’s atmosphere, which then destabilizes climate systems and ultimately heats the overall surface temperature of the planet.”

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Good history from the New York Times about the convergence of cars and computers, initially the unintended consequence of the battle over airbags.

From Douglas Coupland’s latest Financial Times column, a bit about the way we live now, with brains not yet literally plugged into hardware though they might as well be:

“It is incontestable that we are collectively rebuilding our neural structures. For example, notice how, when telling people about an idea to be researched later, the goal is to rattle off search words as a means of establishing future locatability. ‘When you get home just google MOTHER TERESA, TOPLESS and LAWSUIT. You’ll find what I’m talking about right away.’

The way we’re collectively redefining searchability is a reflection of the way we now collectively file away information in our brains – or the way we don’t. One of the great joys of life in 2014 is that we’re all getting much better at knowing what it is we no longer need to know. Freedom from memorisation! Having said this, there’s a part of me that misses being able to bullshit people at dinner parties without having an iPad coming out before dessert to sink an urban legend or debunk a stretched truth.

I wonder if nostalgia for the 20th-century brain is a waste of time. WhiIe I may sometimes miss my pre-internet brain, I certainly don’t want it back.

Everyone’s quick to dump on new technologies but how quickly we forget a two-hour trek in the 1990s to the local library to find something as mundane as a pet supply store phone number in the Yellow Pages in a city 20 miles away.”

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Tums tablets – $10 (Lower East Side)

This is a weird ad. But I bought some TUMS not too long ago because I was having upset stomach problems, hoping this would help. It didn’t really work for me, no idea why. So I have no need for this. Got it for $17, it’s yours for $10. I probably took maybe 4 at most out of the bottle. I’ll be more than happy to let you sample before you buy so you know it’s the real deal.

I know I mock the Huffington Post gleefully and regularly for its insipid attempts to titillate, but it’s not so much the semi-profane fluff that bothers me. What the featherweight news organization did that truly angered me was to publish the anti-vaccination bullshit of that dangerous dimwit Jenny McCarthy. To compound the mistake, once her theories were even more thoroughly debunked, the site distanced itself from the poor judgement without acknowledging any wrongdoing. Not good. While I’m glad that the Huffington Post no longer traffics in this harmful stupidity, it still doesn’t seem to have learned its lesson. Two recent hires: medical blogger Dr. Phil, who is not a doctor, and national security writer Donte Stallworth, who is a 9/11 Truther. Perhaps the site will soon be pretending it never abetted these two geniuses. 

Gary Baum of the Hollywood Reporter just did an AMA at Reddit in regards to his reporting about the anti-inoculation issue. A few exchanges follow.

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Question:

Why is the anti-vaccine movement so strong and how can we educate them? 

Gary Baum:

Parents are naturally concerned about their children. They are looking for answers about whatever ails them, and vaccinations — based in a science that is not easy to understand, and backed by corporations which make a profit from their sale — are a ripe target for suspicion.

The anti-vaccine movement has thrived in an environment where respect for science has ebbed. The best way to educate those who are vaccine-skeptical is to remind them of their shared obligation to protect public health. Too often they say it’s simply their personal decision. In the case of immunization, no decision is strictly a personal one. It’s always part of a collective social contract.

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Question:

Why have we allowed celebrities to poison the minds of so many dim witted parents?

Gary Baum: 

In every community, there are those who speak louder than others, without any greater purchase on the truth. Mommy-and-me groups, online discussion boards and other intimate social spaces are where the larger vaccine battle is waged on a day-to-day basis.

As for celebrities, whether well or ill-informed, it’s true that due to their fame, they possess a particularly loud voice. Which is why Jenny McCarthy has had a tremendous and undeniable influence on public health, people on both sides of this issue agree. (In fact, it’s one of the few things that they do agree on.)

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Question:

At what point does a government decide that vaccinations as a public health matter trump the rights of the parents who refuse to vaccinate their children?

Gary Baum:

If children are actively infected and at risk of infecting others — and it’s a life-threatening and easily communicable disease, as with tuberculosis or ebola — governments such as the United States can take action. But more often, here in America, individuals’ personal right to do what they wish with their own body, and particularly their kids’ bodies, is held sacrosanct. It’s a complex, thorny issue.•

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