That pardon isn’t for free. We need you to work with us.

President Obama continued a Thanksgiving tradition today when he pardoned two turkeys, Paulie and Frankie. In order to secure the pardons, the brothers agreed to help the Feds bring down their family’s racketeering operation. Paulie turned state’s evidence and Frankie wore a wire. They tried to play it cool, but word leaked that they’d flipped, so they had to be taken out. You know how it is when you go against the family, boys. It’s nothing personal, only business.

A bullet in the neck for you, Paulie.

You lived like scum, Frankie, and you died like it.

Paulie (2014-2014).

Frankie (2014-2014).

America (1776-2014).

America (1776-2014).

I promise I’ll never re-watch Goodfellas during a holiday week again. Remember, kids: Crime doesn’t pay, except for most types of white-collar crime.

And a special thanks to everyone helping to prepare my vegan Thanksgiving dinner...

And thanks to everyone who prepared my vegan Thanksgiving dinner…

...and dessert. Delicious!

…and dessert. Delicious!

Happy Thanksgiving, American Afflictor readers!

Happy Thanksgiving, U.S. Afflictor readers!

As long as there are movies, I think we’ll watch Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey, which boldly aimed to journey beyond the stars, to second-guess the future, and remarkably pulled it all off. Keir Dullea, the actor who portrayed astronaut Dave Bowman, just did a HAL-centric AMA at Reddit. A few exchanges follow.

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Question:

What is something people misunderstand or misinterpret about Kubrick?

Keir Dullea:

I’m often asked: Was Kubrick a task master? The answer is no; anything but. He never raised his voice, he had a quiet droll sense of humor and was a man with great curiosity.

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Question:

What preparation or research did you do before filming 2001? Did Kubrick give you any insight into how the character should be portrayed, or did he give you freedom to explore that?
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Keir Dullea:

Not a lot. Don’t forget, Arthur C. Clarke, who, aside from being the great writer that he was, was a scientist in his own right and was able to portray the future in such a specific way that the script in itself gave us everything we needed.

The only suggestion Kubrick gave overall was that he did not want us to portrayal scientists in the way they had been portrayed in grade B science fiction movies of the past, that is, men with goatees and outlandish clothes, speaking in some kind of pseudo babble.

One of the definitions I think of a great director is that they cast greatly. If you cast very well, and Stanley being the genius that he was did that in all his films, you don’t need to do a lot of direction, just give the actors the relaxation and space that they need and they will come through.

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Question:

What was your favorite scene you participated in?

Keir Dullea:

I think my favorite scene was where I’m dismantling HAL’s brain. It reminded me a bit of a famous movie and also play called Of Mice and Men when Lenny is speaking with George regarding their plans to start a farm. This is a scene that comes at the end of the film after Lenny has indadvertedly caused the death of a young woman. Now there’s a posse that is looking for him intending possibly to string him up. This discussion of their plans to start a farm has been heard throughout the film, and so with some love and compassion, with a hidden pistol behind his back George reviews their plans with Lenny and half-way through their discussion he shoots him behind his back to avoid him being killed by a posse of men. In some way, emotionally, that scene from Of Mice and Men affected the way I played the scene with HAL.

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Question:

Kubrick was a notorious perfectionist. Do you have any interesting anecdotes about that?

Keir Dullea:

On the first day of shooting, Stanley noticed my shoes and felt they weren’t right. We stopped shooting for the rest of the day until they found the right pair. Let’s face it, feet don’t play a huge role in films.

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Question:

What is your favorite sci-fi movie?

Keir Dullea:

2001: A Space Odyssey.

Question:

APART FROM 2001 … what is your favorite sci-fi movie?

Do you enjoy the genre apart from being one of its greatest exponents?

Keir Dullea:

Yes, I enjoy sci-fi and Blade Runner is my other favorite of the genre.•

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“Out here among the stars lies the destiny of mankind”:

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Those dubious domestic missions, the Wars on Drugs and Crime and Terrorism, have preyed on American fears, allowing for the militarization and emboldening of police forces, which, when unloosed in a racially divided society, leads to a body count and heartbreak, as we’ve seen in Ferguson. At such times, when it seems a continued open season on black males, when prosecutors and police officers try to keep their stories straight but end up sounding crooked, when a dunderhead like Don Lemon is allowed to glibly speak his dangerous ignorance into the camera, it’s incumbent upon good people to address the obvious. From “Officer Darren Wilson’s Story Is Unbelievable. Literally.” by Ezra Klein does at Vox:

“There are inconsistencies in Wilson’s story. He estimates that Brown ran 20-30 feet away from the car and then charged another 10 feet back towards Wilson. But we know Brown died 150 feet away from the car.

There are also consistencies. St Louis prosecutor Robert McCulloch said that Brown’s DNA was found inside Wilson’s car, suggesting there was a physical altercation inside the vehicle. We know shots were fired from inside the car. We know Brown’s bullet wounds show he was only hit from the front, never from the back.

But the larger question is, in a sense, simpler: Why?

Why did Michael Brown, an 18-year-old kid headed to college, refuse to move from the middle of the street to the sidewalk? Why would he curse out a police officer? Why would he attack a police officer? Why would he dare a police officer to shoot him? Why would he charge a police officer holding a gun? Why would he put his hand in his waistband while charging, even though he was unarmed?

None of this fits with what we know of Michael Brown. Brown wasn’t a hardened felon. He didn’t have a death wish. And while he might have been stoned, this isn’t how stoned people act. The toxicology report did not indicate he was on PCP or something that would’ve led to suicidal aggression.

Which doesn’t mean Wilson is a liar. Unbelievable things happen every day. The fact that his story raises more questions than it answers doesn’t mean it isn’t true.

But the point of a trial would have been to try to answer these questions. We would have either found out if everything we thought we knew about Brown was wrong, or if Wilson’s story was flawed in important ways. But now we’re not going to get that chance. We’re just left with Wilson’s unbelievable story.”

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Putin the profligate, who’s led Russia in frittering away two vital decades, when the country could have remade and modernized itself with Soviet Era oil money before the supply dwindled and prices collapsed, is well chronicled. Putin the plunderer, the plutocrat, the Kremlin kleptocrat, has also been profiled, but not nearly as often, as retribution for bringing such trespasses to light is heavy. From Rajan Menon’s New York Times book review of Putin’s Kleptocracy by Karen Dawisha: 

“He may cop to being an authoritarian (he boasts of building a strong state), a nationalist (he wears a cross, preaches patriotism and praises the Orthodox Church) and an empire builder (he brags about retaking Crimea and is unapologetic about seeking a sphere of influence). But the accusation that he’s a common crook, or even an uncommon one, is different — and a charge he doesn’t treat lightly. That’s why Russian reporters avoid it, especially as political controls have tightened, and why Dawisha’s original publisher, Cambridge University Press, declined to print the book on the advice of its lawyers worried about the possibility of legal action.

The true tragedy is that corruption, state-sponsored, energy-driven and totaling hundreds of billions annually, has mortgaged Russia’s future. Freedom has withered. Money for the investments urgently needed to make Russia innovative and prosperous has been diverted to enrich a few.

Alas, that’s what kleptocracies do.”

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A couple of days ago, I posted an excerpt from Five Billion Years of Solitude, the first book by science journalist and exoplanet enthusiast Lee Billings. In “War of the Worlds,” his new Wired piece, the writer details the internecine struggle between two groups of astronomers to lay claim to the discovery of the very first Earth-esque planet beyond our solar system. The opening:

NO ONE KNOWS what the planet Gliese 667Cc looks like. We know that it is about 22 light-years from Earth, a journey of lifetimes upon lifetimes. But no one can say whether it is a world like ours, with oceans and life, cities and single-malt Scotch. Only a hint of a to-and-fro oscillation in the star it orbits, detectable by Earth’s most sensitive telescopes and spectrographs, lets astronomers say the planet exists at all. The planet is bigger than our world, perhaps made of rocks instead of gas, and within its star’s ‘habitable zone’—at a Goldilocks distance that ensures enough starlight to make liquid water possible but not so much as to nuke the planet clean.

That’s enough to fill the scientists who hunt for worlds outside our own solar system—so-called exoplanets—with wonder. Gliese 667Cc is, if not a sibling to our world, at least a cousin out there amid the stars. No one knows if it is a place we humans could someday live, breathe, and watch triple sunsets. No one knows whether barely imagined natives are right now pointing their most sensitive and far-seeing technology at Earth, wondering the same things. Yet regardless, to be the person who found Gliese 667Cc is to be the person who changes the quest for life beyond our world, to be remembered as long as humans exist to remember—by the light of the sun or a distant, unknown star.

Which is a problem. Because another thing no one knows about Gliese 667Cc is who should get credit for discovering it.”

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From the November 18, 1889 Brooklyn Daily Eagle:

“John Snyder, a big, burly peddler, who on Saturday night bit the head off a turkey in a saloon at 38 Varet Street, was arraigned before Justice Kenna this morning on a charge of cruelty to animals. The details were published in yesterday’s Eagle. Snyder pleaded guilty.

‘It was on a wager,’ exclaimed the prisoner. ‘The owner of the turkey was satisfied.’

‘But I suppose the turkey had no say in the matter,’ remarked Justice Kenna.

Snyder was sent to jail for twenty-nine days.”

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There are no good pimps, no batterers with a heart of gold, and while artists are welcome to plumb the depths of their dark fantasies, supposedly rebellious American music, from blues to rock to rap, has often been merely a perpetuation of a patriarchal system, an attempt to not subvert oppression but to win a piece of it, a right-wing rally with riffs and rhymes. From another excellent essay by Molly Lambert of Grantland:

“Rap is not only still a youth culture, it’s still a predominantly male culture. It feeds off of the need some men have to assert their dominance and masculinity by targeting vulnerable people. The very existence of women is a threat. Anyone who challenges traditional conventions of sexuality is a threat. Poverty is emasculating, and Eminem’s obsession with asserting his masculinity feels like a possible reaction to his upbringing in a run-down section of Detroit. Bullied in school, he honed his verbal put-down skills to a blade. In his early career, it didn’t feel like he was a bully. The pokes at public figures, the jokes about ripping Pamela Lee’s tits off and smacking her around in his debut single, didn’t feel done to death at first, which is why they were written off as irreverent. He didn’t invent the idolization of pimps or the glamorization of violence against women. Like most people do, he was just participating in a system that already existed, without questioning it. As a white rapper in a traditionally black musical culture, he aligned himself against the systemic oppression of black men in America. But he failed to make the parallel connection to the systemic oppression of women of all races. Maybe this was because his deepest fear was that, like horrorcore icon Norman Bates, he would turn into his mother: dependent on drugs, neglected by the state, aging, invisible, and feminized. Oddly, Eminem reserved little of his overflowing ire for Marshall Bruce Mathers Jr., his father, who absconded to California when his son was an infant and never responded to numerous letters that the younger Marshall wrote him as a teen. Eminem chose to mostly project his rage onto those who remained around him, particularly women, including his mother, Debbie, and his on-and-off girlfriend/wife, Kim.”

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Need a badass lawyer for lawsuits asap

Have a few people i want to sue. all cases are winners. all parties really need to get sued and have assets and cash we can go after. In the wrong in a few business deals and want to get what’s owed me the right way. I have lawyer friends but none are ruthless enough for me. honestly i love saving the constitution, giving away legal aid to people who are unfairly prosecuted and or wrongfully arrested or helping people get patents, but i want a killer on my team.

The computer revolution was not the residue of phreaked phones but of gronked trains. From a Medium post by Steven Levy, the preeminent tech journalist of the personal-computing age, an excerpt about MIT’s 1950s-era Tech Model Railroad Club:

“Peter Samson had been a member of the Tech Model Railroad Club since his first week at MIT in the fall of 1958. The first event that entering MIT freshmen attended was a traditional welcoming lecture, the same one that had been given for as long as anyone at MIT could remember. LOOK AT THE PERSON TO YOUR LEFT . . . LOOK AT THE PERSON TO YOUR RIGHT . . . ONE OF YOU THREE WILL NOT GRADUATE FROM THE INSTITUTE. The intended effect of the speech was to create that horrid feeling in the back of the collective freshman throat that signaled unprecedented dread. All their lives, these freshmen had been almost exempt from academic pressure. The exemption had been earned by virtue of brilliance. Now each of them had a person to the right and a person to the left who was just as smart. Maybe even smarter.

There were enough obstacles to learning already—why bother with stupid things like brown-nosing teachers and striving for grades? To students like Peter Samson, the quest meant more than the degree.

Sometime after the lecture came Freshman Midway. All the campus organizations—special-interest groups, fraternities, and such— set up booths in a large gymnasium to try to recruit new members. The group that snagged Peter was the Tech Model Railroad Club. Its members, bright-eyed and crew-cutted upperclassmen who spoke with the spasmodic cadences of people who want words out of the way in a hurry, boasted a spectacular display of HO gauge trains they had in a permanent clubroom in Building 20. Peter Samson had long been fascinated by trains, especially subways. So he went along on the walking tour to the building, a shingle-clad temporary structure built during World War II. The hallways were cavernous, and even though the clubroom was on the second floor it had the dank, dimly lit feel of a basement.

The clubroom was dominated by the huge train layout. It just about filled the room, and if you stood in the little control area called ‘the notch’ you could see a little town, a little industrial area, a tiny working trolley line, a papier-mache mountain, and of course a lot of trains and tracks. The trains were meticulously crafted to resemble their full-scale counterparts, and they chugged along the twists and turns of track with picture-book perfection. And then Peter Samson looked underneath the chest-high boards which held the layout. It took his breath away. Underneath this layout was a more massive matrix of wires and relays and crossbar switches than Peter Samson had ever dreamed existed. There were neat regimental lines of switches, and achingly regular rows of dull bronze relays, and a long, rambling tangle of red, blue, and yellow wires—twisting and twirling like a rainbow-colored explosion of Einstein’s hair. It was an incredibly complicated system, and Peter Samson vowed to find out how it worked.

There were two factions of TMRC. Some members loved the idea of spending their time building and painting replicas of certain trains with historical and emotional value, or creating realistic scenery for the layout. This was the knife-and-paintbrush contingent, and it subscribed to railroad magazines and booked the club for trips on aging train lines. The other faction centered on the Signals and Power Subcommittee of the club, and it cared far more about what went on under the layout. This was The System, which worked something like a collaboration between Rube Goldberg and Wernher von Braun, and it was constantly being improved, revamped, perfected, and sometimes ‘gronked’—in club jargon, screwed up. S&P people were obsessed with the way The System worked, its increasing complexities, how any change you made would affect other parts, and how you could put those relationships between the parts to optimal use.”

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Foxconn is investing massively in one million robots, hoping to remove from its factories much of the pesky human element, that thing which has caused it so much consternation, and other corporations which have relied on cheap Asian labor are following suit. What are the ramifications for the individual laborer and the global economy? From Sam Becker at Business Cheat Sheet:

“You can’t really blame companies like Nike or Foxconn for what they’re doing — after all, they’re businesses, and their job is to turn a profit for shareholders and the company’s owners. That’s why they exist. They do not exist to supply jobs. However, the jobs that big companies like these do add to the economy are immensely important to the integrity of society as a whole.

So what happens when they start to disappear? Obviously, these disappearing positions will have a giant economic effect on developing nations, particularly countries that have been used for cheap labor over the past few decades. Many of the world’s struggling nations that depend on large influxes of capital investment and jobs from American and European companies are going to face some tough situations as automation continues to spread, as they have built their economic backbone as popular choices for companies looking to outsource.

It looks like the other shoe is about to drop, and they will now experience the same situation many Americans were faced with a decade or two before them. The question is, what will the ultimate fallout from that be? We’re talking about the possibility of tens of millions, if not hundreds of millions of workers losing their jobs over the next two decades, if things continue to pick up.

While we have always heard of a future in which robots would be handling most of the labor, it’s hard to think that most people pictured it in the way that things seem to be heading. Sure, automated work forces will be handling many of the world’s tasks in a relatively short amount of time, ushering in a new era of prosperity and leisure for the masses. The problem is that that prosperity hasn’t been shared, and many of the world’s poor and middle classes will end up scrambling to make ends meet as a result.

It’s unclear what the endgame of this dramatic shift from human labor to automation will be, but it’s clear that we are in the early stages of it. What policymakers and economists will need to do is to figure out how the vast majority of the planet’s masses will care for themselves if there is suddenly a huge shortage of work and opportunity.

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Via the wonderful Browser, I came across a very fine online piece by Christopher Bonanos of New York about the Strand, the only bookstore in NYC I still go to, the only one that doesn’t depress me. It’s as vibrant as ever, anachronism though it is. Amusingly, I purchased Bonanos’ own book, Instant: The Story of Polaroid, at the Strand last year. Second floor, photography section. An excerpt about the perils the brick-and-mortar bookseller must circumvent to continue thriving:

“Are there existential threats to the Strand? There are. E-books, which require no retail space, have cut into best-seller sales. The Strand has pushed back with remaindered hardcovers, placed by the front door under a sign reading LOWER-PRICED THAN E-BOOKS.

There’s also the Strand’s relationship with its unionized employees, who were organized by the UAW back in the ’70s. They just signed a new contract this past month. Mostly, the labor-management situation seems equable; still, every few years, when contract time comes, someone writes a news story about strife. ‘The union demands something up here,’ says Fred [Bass], gesturing, ‘and we’re down here … There’s always going to be conflict.’ In general, the union is quite aware that the Strand is not Google, and the Basses are perfectly aware that relative harmony benefits the business. In October, a pro-union staffer named Greg Farrell published a graphic-novel-style book critical of both management and the union’s representatives. Oddly, he still works at the store. More oddly, the Strand sells the book.

Internet used-book sales, too, would seem to be a long-term concern. When you visit Amazon or AbeBooks (which is owned by Amazon) and search for an out-of-print title, your results are usually listed from cheapest to most expensive. The first ‘store’ on the list often turns out to be a barn full of books in rural Minnesota or Vermont. Some are charity stores, selling donated books—no acquisition costs at all. They certainly aren’t paying Manhattan overhead. Yet here, too, the Strand is holding on, owing mostly to that churning turnover and the quality of its stock. That barn isn’t going to have many of last year’s $75 art books for $40, and the Strand always does. Plus there are the only–in–New York surprises that come through the store’s front door. Opening a box can reveal a Warhol monograph that will sell for more than $1,000, or an editor’s library full of warm inscriptions from authors.

If that’s the future, could the Strand wind up virtual? Surely operating out of one of those barns would be cheaper. ‘Not with our formula,’ says Bass firmly. ‘We need the store. This business requires a lot of cash flow to operate,’ and much of it comes in with the tourists. That funds the book-buying, which supplies the next cycle of inventory.”

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In his WSJ column about Silicon Valley’s newest wave, Christopher Mims points out something I mentioned in an earlier post: Uber’s trollish tactics with journalists and competitors is nothing new in Silicon Valley. That doesn’t make it less disturbing but provides context. Another thing Mims wisely asserts is that Uber is incentivized to play rough because there’s nothing remarkable about its intellectual property. An excerpt:

“Uber owns almost no physical infrastructure and has an unremarkable app that is little different from those of a half dozen competitors. And yet it might soon reach $10 billion a year in revenue, according to a slide deck recently published by Business Insider in what feels like a successful attempt to change the subject.

Internal documents from Uber published by Business Insider, and later confirmed to Business Insider by Uber, outline the company’s criteria for hiring. They include traits like ‘fierceness,’ which Uber defines as ‘do whatever it takes to make Uber a success.’

Here’s what it takes to make Uber a success, apparently: Enter new markets without asking regulators for permission, then build enough of a customer base to make classifying the service as a traditional taxi company politically expensive for regulators. Tell investors who want to put their money in the company that they are banned from investing in its competitors. Aggressively recruit drivers from competitors, while also interfering with those drivers’ ability to make a living by ordering and canceling rides. Collect information on all Uber rides and users in a ‘God View’ dashboard that is accessible to Uber’s salaried employees and was, at least until last year, displayed by Uber’s marketing staff at launch parties.

Yet Uber is thriving.”

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Before method acting, Lon Chaney had his own method.

A master of makeup and body contortion, Chaney would go to any end to transform himself for each role, a character actor who became a star, eventually earning the sobriquet, “The Man of a Thousand Faces.” Like most people born in 1883, he had no reason to expect a long life and seemed in a rush, becoming a Pike’s Peak tour guide when he was only 12. The son of parents who could not hear or speak, he learned to be an expert mime at home, bringing this talent to the stage at 17, and, soon enough, the screen. A talented comic and singer, Chaney became best known for macabre roles in Hollywood, always disappearing into the performance. He was just as inscrutable off-screen, living quietly, even reclusively, refusing interviews, feeling he owed the public no twists beyond the turn. His grave was unmarked and remains so. The following is the report of his death from the August 26, 1930 Brooklyn Daily Eagle.

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Consumers love Uber, and the rideshare company has things to recommend it: convenient smartphone “hailing,” cashless payments, etc. But as is the case with Walmart, what’s good for the consumer is not so for the worker. There are hidden costs. Travis Kalanick’s outfit scorches the earth and then marginalizes the labor–even hopes to eliminate it altogether. And as society becomes more and more automated, many of us will end up living on those margins, at least in the short and medium term. In a sense, we’re all Uber drivers now. From Avi Asher-Schapiro at Verge, a story about Uber ostensibly offering to help unemployed veterans move into a new field, which will essentially just shuffle them from one kind of tenuousness into another, all for good public relations. An excerpt:

“Launched this September by the international car service giant Uber, UberMILITARY aims to hire 50,000 vets — nearly a quarter of currently unemployed Iraq and Afghanistan War soldiers — in the next 18 months. (Though that number seems ambitious, the company claims to hire 50,000 drivers every month.)

To aid in its effort, Uber has enlisted respected armed forces commanders such as former Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Michael Mullen, and former general Stanley A. McChrystal as volunteer ambassadors to the veteran community.

Gates has called the initiative an ‘unprecedented effort… to ensure that tens of thousands of our nation’s military members, veterans, and spouses have access to a unique entrepreneurial opportunity.’

But veterans currently driving for Uber are concerned that military commanders are sending vets like Malik into low-wage and unstable employment.

As one army machine gunner turned Los Angeles Uber driver put it, ‘Uber promises a good job, but in reality it’s a very precarious way to make a living. I’m looking for a new job, and there’s no way I would recommend this life to other vets.

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In his excellent book about exoplanets, Five Billion Years of Solitude, Lee Billings speaks with astronomer Frank Drake about the scientist’s attempts at sending messages, via radio signals, to other technological civilizations out there, something he’s been working on since 1960, thinking this sort of contact more likely than an interstellar meet and greet. In one passage, Drake explains why he believes it likely humans will die along with the sun. An excerpt:

“Some techno-prophets spoke worshipfully or fearfully of computers becoming sentient and gaining godlike powers. Others speculated that someday humans would break free of their carbon-based chains by uploading their minds into silicon substrates, where they could, in some manner, live forever. All seemed to agree that if humans themselves weren’t destined to inherit the Earth, they would certainly author whatever ultimately would. A few even conjured up the bygone Space Age dreams of Drake’s youth, envisioning a new golden era of prosperity and exploration in which humans would travel with their intelligent machines throughout the solar system, and perhaps someday to other stars.

‘Yeah, I’ve heard all that stuff,’ Drake replied. ‘It would be nice if we made it to Mars. But I don’t hold with the hypothesis that we’ll all slowly become or be replaced by computers. And of all the things we might someday do, I don’t think we’ll ever colonize other stars.’

I asked why not.

‘I don’t think computers can have fun,’ he said. I think joy is a quality not available to computers. But what do I know?’ He laughed. ‘Interstellar travel, on the other hand, I’ve worked on that quite a bit. Putting a hundred humans around a nearby star costs about a million times as much as putting them in orbit in your own system. You’d have to be pretty rich to pull that off. 

‘Let’s say you have two colonies ten light-years apart–that’s probably the typical distance between habitable planets, I’d guess. The fact is, you can’t really go faster than about a tenth of light-speed. At speeds higher than that, if you hit anything of any substance whatsoever, the amount of energy released approaches that of a nuclear bomb. So you’re limited to about ten percent, a speed we can’t currently come anywhere close to, and that means your looking at journey times of at least a hundred years. The distances, times, and speeds are daunting, but the most daunting thing of all is the cost. Take something the size of a Boeing 737 plane, which is about the smallest that might make a reasonable crewed expedition, and send it at a tenth the speed of light to a nearby star, okay? Now just work out the kinetic energy that’s in it. It turns out to be about equal to two hundred years of the total electric power production in today’s United States. And that’s assuming a one-way trip, where you don’t even slow down and enter orbit on the other end. The inherent difficulty of interstellar travel is one of the big reasons why looking for things like radio signals is so appealing.’

‘So you think we’re stuck in the solar sytem,’ I said, thinking of distant days when the swollen red sun would sterilize Earth. ‘This is it?’

‘Yeah, I think so,’ Drake somberly replied. ‘You have to admit, though, that it’s pretty good while it lasts.'”

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The default mode for Google driverless cars currently is yield, shutting down in the presence of any unusual aggression, but that’s not realistic in the long run. How can the autonomous vehicles “gain confidence” without sacrificing safety? From Steve Johnson at the Seattle Times:

“In 700,000 miles of navigating roads, Google’s self-driving cars have encountered just about everything — including an older woman in a motorized wheelchair flailing a broom at a duck she was chasing around the street.

Apparently perplexed and taking no chances, the vehicle stopped and refused to go farther.

Through extensive testing covering nearly every street in Mountain View, the company’s 20 or so autonomous vehicles have developed an abiding sense of caution. But Google researchers concede it will take more experience on the roads before the autos can learn to cope with every situation without becoming bewildered and shutting down, stranding passengers. When that happens now, researchers have to take the wheel and step on the gas.

One of the most surprising lessons: While hoping to make cars that are safer than those driven by people, Google has discovered its smart machines need to act a little human, especially when dealing with pushy motorists.

‘We found that we actually need to be — not aggressive — but assertive’ with the vehicles, said Nathaniel Fairfield, technical leader of a team that writes software fixes for problems uncovered during the driving tests.”

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No more than 20 percent of Americans traveled on a plane before 1965, prices far too steep for most until the industry was deregulated. So how did they scratch that post-war itch, the need to take to the road, to be elsewhere, ex-pats in their own nation, to go to the heart of the country instead of waiting for cheap representations of it to come to them, carnivals and fairs and preachers. Some really took to the road, and the Hell’s Angels and other motorcycle gangs were formed from the wanderlust of WWII vets. But for the more-moderate explorers, the trailer was the “portable” home. In 1953, James Jones wrote for Holiday magazine about traveling thousands of miles in a trailer, perhaps not going from here to eternity, but not an insubstantial length. The opening:

“THE FIRST TIME you tow a house trailer you keep jerking the wheel to compensate for that crazy sway in the back end. It takes a long time to get enough used to it to ignore it. The first haul I ever made with mine—a trip that, although I didn’t know it then, turned out to be the first leg of a junket that would take me clear across the country and back and consume a year and a half—was to Memphis, Tennessee, from my home in Illinois. That’s about 400 miles, and it took me four days to make it. A year and a half later, on my way home from California, I hauled from Tucson, Arizona, to El Paso in one day. I had left a green-eared neophyte, and I was coming back a veteran. There is no pride in the world more rabid than that of a confirmed and dedicated trailerite. The next winter I took my trailer to Florida in four days, just about 1,200 miles.

In between those trips was a year and a half spent living a couple of months in one town after another, one state after another, one trailer park after another, all the way from Memphis to the West Coast, and always in my own home.

On your way somewhere, you roll into a strange town in the evening just at dusk. You know you can’t make the next town before dark, so you find a park. You talk to the man and pay him, park your trailer, connect up your water, sewer and electric lines, step inside and turn on the lights—and discover with a kind of weird surprise that you are home. The same identical home you closed, locked and left this morning. You take the radio and books off the couch (where you have to keep them, traveling) and set them back up on their shelves and look around. No matter how many times you repeat this experience, you never get over that weird surprise at finding everything here, just as you left it. You’re ready to cook your own supper with your own food on your own stove. All around you are people in other trailers, both transients and permanents, doing the same thing. You can’t help but feel a kinship with them. After supper, you can unhitch your car and go downtown to see a show, at home in a strange town you maybe never saw before. And the next time you pass that way, it won’t be a strange town any more.

With a trailer there’s no house-hunting when you move, no high rent stickups. A year ago the average trailer park charged five dollars a week for space. A dollar a day for overnight is standard.

Curiously enough, a lot of people who own trailers don’t have cars and cannot drive. When they move, they hire someone to haul the trailer for them. Many of them don’t even move. Some people live for years on the same lot in the same park and if they ever do move to a new town, they sell the trailer and leave it there like a house and buy a new one when they get where they’re going.

I learned all this at the park in Memphis, where I got my first such hauling job. Mr. Leahy, the rotund but hardheaded little Irishman who owned the park, knew I didn’t have much money and, knowing I was a writer, I think he worried about my ability to come in out of the rain. He put me onto the job of hauling a lady’s trailer up to Blytheville, Arkansas, for her, about seventy-five miles, for twenty-five dollars. That was my start as a professional hauler, and I picked up a good bit at it during the next year and a half.

The lady from Blytheville, it seemed, didn’t get along with her husband. They fought all the time, and he—a crack master mechanic—would periodically go on a great drunk when marriage proved too much for him. She always retaliated by hiring someone to haul the trailer up home to Blytheville where her mother lived. She didn’t go home to mother’s; she took home to mother’s, a much more effective maneuver. The husband would come back to an empty lot and no place to sleep and have to rent a tourist cottage from Mr. Leahy. He would stand this extra expense and lonely freedom about a week, then his pride would vanish and he would go up to Blytheville and get his wife, who was wait­ing for him fearfully, afraid he wouldn’t come, and they would have to hire someone to bring the trailer back. Mr. Leahy always saved their trailer space for them. Ten days after I hauled her up, I made another twenty-five dollars by going up and hauling them both back. They spent the trip in the back seat of the Jeep with their arms around each other. I left Memphis soon after that so I missed the next trip.

Trailer parks differ across the country.

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For years, Major League Baseball disappeared its urban, urgent and English origins and created some hokum about a leisurely game being birthed in the pasture by Union General Abner Doubleday. Thankfully, credit for the sport’s beginnings were reassigned to Alexander Cartwright, and at long last a historical wrong had been righted, right? Except that was Hokum 2.0. With the aid of Baseball in the Garden of Eden by John Thorn, Rob Neyer of JABO writes of baseball’s ongoing grapple with authenticity. An excerpt:

“Alexander Cartwright, as you might know, is in Baseball’s Hall of Fame. According to his Cooperstown plaque, he was THE FATHER OF MODERN BASE BALL and a) set the bases 90 feet apart, b) established nine innings as the game length and nine players per side, and c) organized New York’s Knickerbocker club, which spread baseball to the Pacific Coast and even Hawaii.

All of which might well merit inclusion in the Hall of Fame, if true. But little or none of it is true. Here’s a key passage from Thorn’s book:

So what may we reliably say that Cartwright did? In 1866, Charles A. Peverelly credited him thus in his book of American Pastimes: ‘In the spring of 1845 Mr. Alex J. Cartwright, who had become an enthusiast in the game, one day upon the field proposed a regular organization, promising to obtain several recruits. His proposal was acceded to, and Messrs. W. R. Wheaton, Cartwright, D. F. Curry, E. R. Dupignac Jr., and W. H. Tucker, formed themselves into a board of recruiting officers, and soon obtained names enough to make a respectable show.’ Up to and including the Mills commission, this was the full reported extent of Cartwright’s ingenuity.

The Knickerbocker game during Cartwright’s tenure (he departed for the Gold Rush early in 1849) was almost never played with nine men to the side, but instead by as few as seven or as many as eleven. The number of innings was unspecified, as victory went to the side that was first to score twenty-one runs in equal turns at bat. The length of the baselines was imprecise, although latter-day pundits have credited Cartwright with divine-inspired prescience in determining a distance that would yield so many close plays at first. Sometimes referred to in histories of the game as an engineer even though he was a bank teller, and then a book seller, Cartwright was further credited with laying out the game on a diamond rather than a square. Yet even this was no innovation in 1845…

And so on and so forth.

So how did Cartwright get elected to the Hall of Fame in 1938? Largely through the efforts of his son Bruce and especially his grandson Bruce Jr., the latter of whom actually invented whole baseball-related passages for posthumous insertion into Cartwright’s Gold Rush diary, the original of which is actually ‘devoid of any remark about baseball.’

The Hall of Fame is a deeply weird place.”

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John Brockman, the singular force behind the online journal of scientific avant-garde, Edge, which has offered up morsels of genius like this one, has republished a Spiegel profile of himself. An excerpt:

“He is charming, without hiding his own interests. He is proud of his life, his intelligence, without that he would have to apologize for it. He is a key figure of the late 20th and early 21st century, the éminence grise and major source of inspiration for the globally dominant culture, which he himself named as the “third culture”.

It is not Brockman, but his authors, who are well-known: Richard Dawkins, Steven Pinker, Daniel C. Dennett, Jared Diamond, Daniel Kahneman. Physicists, neuroscientists, geneticists, evolutionary biologists, fixed stars of the science age, superstars of nonfiction bestseller lists, the reason for Brockman’s financial success and good mood.

‘These are all old friends,’ he says.

‘I’ve been their agent for decades. It’s a wonderful life: I’m doing what I love to do, I read smart books and get well-paid for it.’

The new works of his authors are next to each other in the conference room of the agency. Brockman, 73, operates out of a spacious whole floor on Fifth Avenue in New York with glass office walls and a view of the famous Flatiron Building.

These books deal with the big questions: What is man? What is the brain? What is free will? What is intelligence? And what happens when machines become smarter than humans?

Brockman likes the big issues, everything else is small talk to him.

‘Man was nothing more than a model, a technique. It is necessary to construct a new model”, he writes in his book Afterwords. ‘The human delusion lies in the belief that the human being is the basis of reality and the final goal of the evolution.’

The book first appeared in 1969 under the ingenious title By the Late John Brockman and begins with the programmatic sentence: ‘Man is dead.’

It is a small masterpiece of clear-thinking, a youthful outcry. Brockman was not even 30 at the time.

The book is aggressive, curious and prophetic and strips away the humanism of the literary mind with a Ludwig-Wittgenstein-like toughness: ‘The concept of freedom,’ he writes, ‘is simply absurd.’

The book made him briefly known, then it was forgotten. It was too early, too radical, nobody wanted to say goodbye to humans, at least not in the literary milieu.

And now with the book published in German for the first time as Afterwords, you realize that you recognize or understand some revolutions only in retrospect 30 or 40 years later.

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Looking for bones and taxidermy (Trenton)

So I’m into alternative art. I collect bones and skulls, and also taxidermy in decent condition. If you have bones you want to get rid of or sell, I’ll take them. I will not accept food item bones, in example chicken, turkey, etc. Cows and pigs bones I will take if not cut up or clearly from a cooked meal. I will also take bones that are not cleaned off as I have the means to process and clean them myself, but any bones with meat remaining will need to be double bagged for sanitary reasons. All items will need to be photographed before any arrangement is made. I’m not loaded, so don’t think you can try to get $100 for a pig skull. I am willing to pay around 10-20 per skull, varying by species and condition. I WILL NOT ACCEPT BONES FROM ANIMALS THAT WERE KILLED FOR THE PURPOSE OF HARVESTING THEIR BONES TO SELL. I am open to dealing with hunters and butchers trying to dispose of their skeletal waste items, I love pig, cow and deer bones and skulls. Roadkill is fine, but I will take dirty bones, not rotting corpses. All bones taken from nature must be double bagged for sanitary reasons.

Laptop computers were just a fad–a disappointment–and they were going away. Except they didn’t, they thrived, until even smaller, more-powerful screens began to supplant them. AI has likewise often failed to live up to its billing, a dream deferred, although now it might be starting to come true, as even Weak AI has proved powerful. From Jason Dorrier at the Singularity Hub:

“[Singularity University’s Neil] Jacobstein said Watson and programs like it don’t demonstrate intelligence that is ‘broad, deep, and subtle’ like human intelligence, but they are a multi-billion dollar fulcrum to augment a human brain faced with zettabytes of data.

Our brains, beautiful and capable as they are, have major limitations that machines simply don’t share—speed, memory, bandwidth, and biases. ‘The human brain hasn’t had a major upgrade in over 50,000 years,’ Jacobstein said.

Now, we’re a few steps away from having computer assistants that communicate like we do on the surface—speaking and understanding plain english—even as they manage, sift, and analyze huge chunks of data in the background.

Siri isn’t very flexible and still makes lots of mistakes, often humorous ones—but Siri is embryonic. Jacobstein thinks we’ll see much more advanced versions soon. In fact, with $10 million in funding, SIRI’s inventors are already working on a sequel.

And increasingly, we’re turning to the brain for inspiration.”

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Ridesharing will have a more profound effect on the economy in the near future than driverless cars simply because the former is doable (and being done) right now, though at some point the two will likely merge. That will cause residual effects beyond fewer crashes. From Michael Walker at the Hollywood Reporter:

“Mark Platshon, managing director of Icebreaker Ventures and a consultant to BMW’s iDivision, which manufactures electric and plug-in hybrid cars, has ridden in the Google driverless cars. ‘They can merge onto rush hour traffic on the 101 and go through a construction site,’ Platshon told the Hollywood Reporter. ‘It’s very doable.’

Autonomous cars will also have a number of nonlinear effects with impacts on categories as diverse as affordable housing and healthcare, Platshon said. ‘If we get autonomous cars, we don’t have 33,000 fatalities, 2,500,000 ER visits and $18 billion per year in costs. Take that burden off of every hospital and you’ve fixed the health care problem.’

Platshon cited the example of an acquaintance in San Francisco who had decided to not buy a car, use Uber for transportation and convert his garage to a student apartment. There are tens of thousands of garages in the U.S. that could be converted to affordable housing if people relied on car services like Uber or, in the future, autonomous vehicles that could be summoned by smart phone, Platshon said. ‘American drivers pay $200 billion a year for car insurance. We could give back $1,000 per person as discretionary spending.”

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The space-age period of Pierre Cardin the 1960s and early 1970s was one of the greatest bursts of creativity anyone has ever enjoyed. It still seems to me a step ahead of anything Hollywood wardrobe departments are doing today. In 1976, when he was 54 years old and the master of not a fashion house but an empire, the designer was profiled in People by Pamela Andriotakis. The opening:

“‘In the beginning, they always criticize me,’ Pierre Cardin says gleefully. ‘They say, ‘What is he doing now? Quel horreur? Quel décadence. That’s the end of Cardin.’ Then, six months later, they’re all doing it.’

The 54-year-old Frenchman is more right than humble. Not only did his flamboyant men’s clothes lead to the ‘Peacock Revolution’ of the 1960s and his ready-to-wear designer fashions for women lower the brows of haute couture, he also has inspired many of his fellow couturiers to venture into entrepreneurial areas far removed from clothing.

Few, however, have extended themselves as much as Cardin, whose $100-million-a-year operation is responsible for, among other things, Cardin towels, Cardin stereo sets, Cardin kitchens, Cardin glassware, Cardin bicycles, Cardin carpets, Cardin lamps, Cardin ashtrays, Cardin wallpaper, Cardin wines and Cardin chocolates.

‘The next thing you know he’ll be designing cheese,’ huffed an executive at archcompetitor Yves St. Laurent. ‘Cardin is no longer a label,’ exults Cardin himself. ‘It is a trademark.’

The trademark is used by 280 factories with 60,000 employees, located in 51 countries on six continents. Only Antarctica has thus far escaped the impact of what the French have come to call Cardinization. (And no one is betting against the likelihood of a Cardin penguin leash.)

While most of the Cardin products are manufactured under licensing arrangements, Cardin is more than just the man behind the scene. He is all over the scene. On a typical day he leaves his Paris townhouse after breakfast—assuming he remembers to have breakfast—and walks to his office at 59 Rue du Faubourg St. Honoré, the Right Bank street of exclusive shops. There are morning meetings with directors of his foreign companies, followed by briefer consultations with textile makers and other suppliers, many of whom fly to Paris from all over Europe just to aim a 15-minute sales pitch at Cardin.

Between appointments, Cardin may lope upstairs to his fashion workroom to tinker with a detail on a garment from a forthcoming line. Cardin claims responsibility for all original designs, which are then executed by subordinates under his watchful eye. Cardin has also maintained his presence at formal showings—the latest one, his spring-summer line, was unleashed four months ago in Paris—even though his ready-to-wear business is the most profitable sector of his empire. ‘Actually,’ he says, ‘we lose money on haute couture. But it is a great laboratory for ideas.’

In the sparsely furnished, white-walled workroom, he gives brief audiences to employees with questions or suggestions, talking little but gesturing with Mediterranean expansiveness. When a supervisor approached him to pass on an employee’s request for a raise, Cardin said crisply, ‘Give it to him. He has worked for me for many years.” Another employee says, ‘You have to have a sixth sense to work for him. It is very tiring. But he is the best school in the world.’

After perhaps 15 meetings, it is time for lunch, which he often eats on a plane bound for the South of France, England or Italy en route to visiting a factory. He may be back in his offices by late afternoon, checking stocks in his three nearby boutiques, going over the books, rearranging furniture or even, with a kind of frenetic energy, sweeping up a messy room.

In especially busy times Cardin has been known to go on work binges, wearing the same suit and tie for several days, neglecting to shave and generally becoming a less than persuasive advertisement for the Cardin look. When less pressed, Cardin often spends the evening at his version of Xanadu, l’Espace (‘Space’), a combination theater and exhibition hall which he opened in December 1970. 

Cardin recently turned l’Espace into a Sarah Bernhardt museum. He has also used it to introduce new painters, sculptors and playwrights as well as to present such established performers as Ella Fitzgerald, Marlene Dietrich and Dionne Warwicke. He is said to lose $300,000 a year on I’Espace but is more than compensated in personal enjoyment—not to mention good public relations. The couturier André Courrèges, who admires the way Cardin operates, says, ‘He does it because it is his mistress.'”

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From the May 21, 1910 Brooklyn Daily Eagle:

Long Beach, Cal. — Three little chicks belonging to W.B. McCracken, yesterday picked their way into the world after an unusual experience. For thirteen days the mother hen had been busily attending to her sitting duties when a hungry snake drove her from the nest and gorged itself with three eggs.

The snake lingered about the premises and McCracken shot it. Wondering at its odd proportions, he performed an operation and found the eggs. They were placed back under the hen and at the end of the regulation time were hatched.”

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Vladimir Putin is a twentieth-century figure trapped in the wrong age, a man out of time, seemingly making shit up as he goes along, and now he’s really stepped in it, though because of his absolute rule there have been thus far no consequences for him, just for the country. From the Economist:

“MALINA, a trendy restaurant in a city south of Moscow, was empty on a recent Thursday evening. ‘A crisis,” the manager explained nervously. Some meat and fish dishes were missing. ‘Sanctions,’ he added with a sigh. The signs of a country in the economic doldrums are visible in Moscow, too. Tour operators are going out of business; shops and small businesses are up for sale; LED displays outside bureaux de change send spirits sinking.

Russia’s economy is teetering on the verge of recession. The central bank says it expects the next two years to bring no growth. Inflation is on the rise. The rouble has lost 30% of its value since the start of the year, and with it the faith of the country’s businessmen. Banks have been cut off from Western capital markets, and the price of oil—Russia’s most important export commodity—has fallen hard. Consumption, the main driver of growth in the previous decade, is slumping. Money and people are leaving the country.

This is not the mid-1980s, when a collapse in the oil price paved the way for perestroika and the eventual collapse of the Soviet Union. Nor is it 1998, when the country defaulted on its debts. While the overall mood is clearly depressed, it is a long way from panic. Russia’s total foreign debt is just 35% of GDP; it has a private sector which can be surprisingly agile and adaptable and is contributing some growth by substituting things made at home for imported goods; most importantly, it has a floating exchange rate that mitigates some of the oil-price shock.

But the oil-backed consumption-led economy which has provided nearly 15 years of growth (it took a stumble in 2008-09, during the global financial crisis) has hit the buffers.”

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