You are currently browsing the archive for the Excerpted category.

Edward Castronova, Indiana University telecommunications professor and student of video-game economies and cryptocurrencies, just did an Ask Me Anything at Reddit. One exchange that cuts to the heart of virtual money:


If you had $500 to invest in a virtual currency if your choice, which one would it be and why?

Edward Castronova:

I would not invest in any coin at the moment. I don’t like risky investments at all. All cryptocoins are risky at the moment and, from 60,000 feet, they do not show enough signs of better or worse right now. It’s like social network software in 2005. Would you bet on MySpace, Friendster, or Orkutt? It turned out that Facebook was the winner.”


The opening of Mark Harris’ Guardian report on the FBI’s investigation into robocars, which could be deployed as fleets of driverless taxis or as automated bomb-delivery systems–or both:

“Google’s driverless car may remain a prototype, but the FBI believes the ‘game changing’ vehicle could revolutionise high-speed car chases within a matter of years. The report also warned that autonomous cars may be used as ‘lethal weapons.’

In an unclassified but restricted report obtained by the Guardian under a public records request, the FBI predicts that autonomous cars ‘will have a high impact on transforming what both law enforcement and its adversaries can operationally do with a car.’

In a section called Multitasking, the report notes that ‘bad actors will be able to conduct tasks that require use of both hands or taking one’s eyes off the road which would be impossible today.’

One nightmare scenario could be suspects shooting at pursuers from getaway cars that are driving themselves.”


From Zachary Crockett’s Priceonomics post which recalls a proposed mission scrubbed from the collective memory, the time when the United States considered a Sagan-aided plan to put a kaboom on the moon:

“As far back as 1949, Chicago’s Armour Research Institute (known as the IIT Research Institute today) had studied the effects of nuclear explosions on the environment and atmosphere. In 1958, the program was approached by the United States Air Force and asked to determine the hypothetical consequences of a nuclear explosion on the Moon. Sensing that national morale was low after the Soviets launched Sputnik, the U.S. government coined a plan: they’d nuke the Moon, causing an explosion so big that it’d be visible from Earth. They hoped the explosion would not only boost the confidence and approval of Americans, but serve as a show of power to the Soviets.

Led by renowned physicist Leonard Reiffel, a ten-person research team was formed under a rather auspicious project title: ‘A Study of Lunar Research Flights’ (or, ‘Project A-119′). Immediately, the team began studying ‘the potential visibility of the explosion, benefits to science, and implications for the lunar surface.’ An essential element to ensuring that the explosion would be seen from Earth was determining the mathematical projection of the expansion of the resulting dust cloud in space; Carl Sagan, a young doctoral student at the time, was brought in to help find an answer.”

Tags: ,

In an excellent piece of writing, a Foreign Affairs review of a pair of new books, Keith Gessen tackles the question of Russia’s utter oddness, wondering why the heart of the former Soviet Union chooses to live in a fairy tale when it knows such a thing can never have a happy ending. An excerpt:

“The man sitting next to me — Sergei, I’ll call him — was also drunk, and he decided to engage me in a discussion of geopolitics. He said he was a graduate of MEPhI, an elite technical university in Moscow, and that he had made millions in software design. Sergei was, theoretically, the sort of Russian who might be expected to be critical of Russian President Vladimir Putin, but he was not. He was thrilled that Russia had seized Crimea, if only because in doing so, it had extended a big middle finger to the West. Sure, the United States was stronger than Russia, but it was stretched thin. And Russia was unpredictable, which gave it an advantage.

‘Oh, we’ll lose,’ Sergei said, ‘like we always lose. But what a lot of laughs there’ll be along the way!’

We landed soon after that, but the conversation stuck with me. I kept thinking — I keep thinking — what, exactly, is wrong with Russia? Why is it still so aggressive nearly 30 years after the Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev launched the process of ‘normalizing’ Russia and its relations with the world? Why, despite two decades of optimistic predictions that it was on the path to becoming, or was on the verge of becoming, or had already become a ‘normal’ country, had it never become one? Why couldn’t it be more like Germany, another country that used to invade other countries but now focuses on making quality automobiles and protecting the health of the euro?

At least part of the trouble is that Russians have never been able to agree on what ‘normal’ means.”


“Because of him, we have political instability!”:


In 1969, Jimmy Breslin, who pours Piels beer over his Grape-Nuts cereal each morning, ran for City Council in NYC on a ticket that aimed to deliver Norman Mailer to Gracie Mansion. It was a secessionist platform that sought to make New York City the nation’s 51st state; 5% of the Democratic Primary voters approved. Here’s an excerpt from “I Run to Win,” Breslin’s May 5, 1969 cover article for New York magazine, written the month before the people voted nay:

“The first phone call on Monday morning was at seven o’clock.

‘He’s asleep,’ I heard my wife mumble.

‘Wake him up?’ she mumbled.

She kicked me and I reached over for the phone.

‘Somebody named Joe Ferris,’ she said. ‘He needs your correct voting registration for the petitions., What petitions?”

I sat up in bed, with the phone in one hand and my head against the wall and my eyes closed.

‘What petitions?’ my wife said again.

I knew what petitions Joe Ferris was talking about. I knew about them, but I never thought it would come to the point of an early morning phone call about them. You see, when it started, I was only in this thing for pleasant conversation with nice people. ‘Hello,’ I said to Joe Ferris. I was afraid he would send cold waves through the phone.

‘I’ve got to be at the printer with the petitions this morning,’ Joe Ferris said. ‘So what I need is the exact way your name and address appears on the voting rolls. We don’t want to have any petitions thrown out on a technicality. Because they’re going to be looking for mistakes. Particularly when they see how much support you and Norman are going to get. That’s all I’ve been hearing around town. You and Norman. I think you’ve got a tremendous chance.’

‘I’ll get the information and call you back,’ I said to Joe Ferris. He gave me his phone number and I told him I was writing it down, but I wasn’t. Maybe if I forgot his number and never called him back, he wouldn’t bother to call me anymore.

‘What petitions?’ my wife said when I hung up.

mailer-breslin-button‘Nothing,’ I said. I put my face in the pillow. Well, to tell you what happened. I really don’t know what happened, but I was in a place called the Abbey Tavern on Third Avenue and 26th Street at four o’clock one afternoon, when it was empty and I wouldn’t have to talk to anybody I didn’t know, and Jack Newfield came in. Jack Newfield is a political writer. He writes for the Village Voice and Life magazine and he does books and we got to know and like each other during the Bobby Kennedy campaigns last spring. Anyway, I’m having coffee with Jack Newfield and he says, ‘Did you hear me on the radio the other night? I endorsed you. I endorsed Norman Mailer for mayor and you for president of the City Council in the Democratic primary.’ I did two things. I laughed. Then I sipped the coffee. While I did it, I was saying to myself, ‘Why is Mailer on the top of the ticket?’

And a couple of days later, I had lunch in Limerick’s, on Second Avenue and 32nd Street, and here was Newfield and Gloria Steinem, and she likes me and I like her, and Peter Maas, and he is all right with me, too, and we got to talking some more and they kept saying Norman Mailer and I should run in the Democratic primary and finally I said, ‘Has anybody talked to Norman?’

‘No, not recently,’ Gloria said.

‘Give me a dime,’ I said.

I went to the phone and called Norman. While I was dialing, I began to compromise myself. Norman went to college, I thought. Maybe it’s only right that he’s the mayor and I’m the president of the City Council. But that’s the only reason. He has a Harvard diploma. On ability, I should be mayor.


‘Jimmy, how are you?’

‘Norman, let’s run.’”


Tags: , , , , ,

In an attempt to wring absolutely all the magic from romantic crushes, John Allen Paulos of the New York Times looks at the science and statistics behind human desire. We’ve been doing it all wrong! An excerpt:

“Let’s begin by imagining a person to be an assemblage of traits. Many are personal — our looks, habits, backgrounds, attitudes and so on. Many more are situational: how we behave in the myriad contexts in which we find ourselves.

The first relevant statistical notion is sampling bias. If we want to gauge public feelings about more stringent gun control, for instance, we won’t get a random sample by asking only people at a shooting range. Likewise, a fleeting glimpse of someone, or a brief exchange with him or her, yields just a tiny sample of that person’s traits.

But if we find that sample appealing, it can lead to a crush, even if it is based on nothing more than an idealized caricature: We see what we want to see. In the throes of incipient romantic fog, we use what the psychologist Daniel Kahneman, in his book Thinking, Fast and Slow, calls System 1 thinking — ‘fast, automatic, frequent, emotional, stereotypic and subconscious.’”


Tags: ,

Because it was inevitable, Timothy Leary once met Charles Manson. In prison, of course–Folsom to be exact. The LSD guru had been apprehended by the FBI in Afghanistan and extradited. One of his cellmates was the Helter Skelter dipshit. Leary documented the meeting in a 1976 article in OUI, a muckraking magazine that once uncovered Pia Zadora’s ass. The article’s opening:

“Commodore Leri, Agent from Central Intelligence assigned to earth, third planet of the G-type Star, sits on the bench of the holding cell of Soledad Prison, dressed in the white jump suit worn by transferees. On his left, John O’Neill, a slick good-looking big-city Irishman down for ten to life for murder two. To his right, a tall, slim, pretty cowboy named Ted with Indian cheekbones and a deep tan. Ted babbles evasively. He has been in and out of the joint for years and has the reputation of being a professional fuck-up. (‘He ain’t playing with a full deck,’ whispers O’Neill. ‘He’s one of the girls and a snitch, too.’) The three hold one-way tickets to the Dark Tower, and that has formed a bond among them. The Dark Tower is Folsom, a trans-Einsteinian Black Hole in the Earth Galaxy from which nothing ever escapes but feeble red radiation.

Leri had done some primatology research in Hollywood after the Tate-LaBianca murders and was fascinated by the wave of fright that swept through the film colony. The chic reaction was to install gate locks, which were opened by remote control after visitors identified themselves over an intercom. Whatever solace this arrangement provided, it certainly would not have thwarted the creepy-crawly Mansonites, who avoided the gate at the Tate house because they suspected that it was electrified. So Leri wrote a memoir for OUI magazine to show that none of the human fears that Manson systematically exploited can be neutralized by external defenses. These terrors, he wrote, are internal neurological reactions and, in order to understand Manson, one must understand the neurology of human fear.

Manson, it was said, stimulated fear in others in order to gain power.

‘One aspect of Manson’s philosophy especially puzzled me: his strange attitude toward fear,’ Vincent Bugliosi says in Helter Skelter. ‘He not only preached that fear as beautiful, he often told the family that they should live in a constant state of fear. What did he mean by that? I asked Paul [Watkins, Manson's second-in-command].

‘To Charlie, fear was the same thing as awareness, Watkins said. The more fear you have, the more awareness, hence the more love. When you’re really afraid, you come to ‘Now.’ And when you are at Now, you are totally conscious.’

Let us give credit where credit is due: Manson’s manipulation of fear has its roots in the paranoia behind the Cold War military posture, the antidrug scare campaigns, the addictive success of the most-popular movies and crime shows, the actions of all bureaucracy and law-enforcement agencies, and the operation of our penal institutions.

Before we can understand Manson, we must realize that a prison system is a microcosm of a culture and that the American prison system is run on raw fear and violence.”


Leary (sans Manson) interviewed at Folsom.

Tags: , ,

You know a really good way to get brain damage? Have another human being kick a soccer ball sixty yards really high into the air and then strike it with your head before it falls to the ground. How many times did we see that scenario during the just-completed World Cup, the goalie booming the ball past mid-field and some striker taking one for the team? 

The research of soccer players getting CTE is far behind such investigations in American football, and most of the science and tech that has entered the game is more about optimizing immediate performance than impact on long-term health. The 2014 tournament is certainly the one in which technology came of age on a global stage. From “The Science Behind World Cup Success” by Brielle Buis at Sports Illustrated:

“Science has a growing a role in the game, and if used correctly heart rate monitors, GPS trackers, and monitored recovery devices can make player regeneration more efficient. ‘Where many teams struggle is that you can’t half use science and kind of follow it but [also] kind of just go with your gut. It won’t work,’ says [Rutgers exercise science professor Shawn] Arent.

The evidence of teams already using technology can been seen throughout the tournament as players remove their jerseys revealing heart rate monitors strapped around their chests. Whether their teams are using the devices correctly is up for question, but according to Arent, ‘The teams’ knowing that the technology exists is a step in the right direction.’

In order to maximize the benefits of science, according to Arent, coaches need to fully buy into it and bring in a science staff, a performance staff, and a medical staff, because the best coaches in the world are really good at soccer but they aren’t trained in exercise science.

[FC Dallas head coach Oscar] Pareja realized the benefit of heart rate monitors to guide the team’s recovery in Texas, where the heat and humidity play a large role, but the affect of the temperature cannot always be seen by the naked eye. ‘We use heart rate monitors every time we step on the field, tracking the players training loads,’ he says. ‘You can see the difference in the training load data based on the weather and heat.’

In a tournament in which teams play anywhere from three to seven matches, the heart rate monitors could reveal when teams should train on their off days and when they should recover. ‘I’ve realized just as important as training is, recovery is equally as important,’ says Pareja.”

Tags: , ,

An excerpt from “How to Choose?” Michael Schulson’s Aeon essay about the reasons why dumb luck sometimes outdoes deduction:

“Over the millennia, cultures have expended a great deal of time, energy and ingenuity in order to introduce some element of chance into decision-making. Naskapi hunters in the Canadian province of Labrador would roast the scapula of a caribou in order to determine the direction of their next hunt, reading the cracks that formed on the surface of the bone like a map. In China, people have long sought guidance in the passages of the I Ching, using the intricate manipulation of 49 yarrow stalks to determine which section of the book they ought to consult. The Azande of central Africa, when faced with a difficult choice, would force a powdery poison down a chicken’s throat, finding the answer to their question in whether or not the chicken survived – a hard-to-predict, if not quite random, outcome. (‘I found this as satisfactory a way of running my home and affairs as any other I know of,’ wrote the British anthropologist E E Evans-Pritchard, who adopted some local customs during his time with the Azande in the 1920s).

The list goes on. It could – it does – fill books. As any blackjack dealer or tarot reader might tell you, we have a love for the flip of the card. Why shouldn’t we? Chance has some special properties. It is a swift, consistent, and (unless your chickens all die) relatively cheap decider. Devoid of any guiding mind, it is subject to neither blame nor regret. Inhuman, it can act as a blank surface on which to descry the churning of fate or the work of divine hands. Chance distributes resources and judges disputes with perfect equanimity.

Above all, chance makes its selection without any recourse to reasons. This quality is perhaps its greatest advantage, though of course it comes at a price. Peter Stone, a political theorist at Trinity College, Dublin, and the author of The Luck of the Draw: The Role of Lotteries in Decision Making (2011), has made a career of studying the conditions under which such reasonless-ness can be, well, reasonable.

‘What lotteries are very good for is for keeping bad reasons out of decisions,’ Stone told me. ‘Lotteries guarantee that when you are choosing at random, there will be no reasons at all for one option rather than another being selected.’ He calls this the sanitising effect of lotteries – they eliminate all reasons from a decision, scrubbing away any kind of unwanted influence. As Stone acknowledges, randomness eliminates good reasons from the running as well as bad ones. He doesn’t advocate using chance indiscriminately. ‘But, sometimes,’ he argues, ‘the danger of bad reasons is bigger than the loss of the possibility of good reasons.’”

Tags: ,

Candace Bergen working as a photojournalist at a 1976 Whitney Museum bodybuilding exhibit (“The Body as Art”), with Arnold Schwarzenegger as the star (of course). An outtake from Pumping Iron.

In a Q&A in OUI, a pre-Brazilian periodical about pubic hair, Arnold discussed the Whitney experience with Peter Manso, who also profiled the testosterone of Brando and Mailer. An excerpt:

Peter Manso:

Is there a broader acceptance of the body these days, as an offshoot of the sexual revolution of the Sixties?

Arnold Schwarzenegger:

Yes. I’ve been in America for only eight years, but there’s been a change and it’s getting better. It’s happening in Europe, too. People are more at ease with their bodies.

Peter Manso:

Being at ease is one thing, but whatever possessed you to pose for the Whitney Museum?

Arnold Schwarzenegger:

A woman from The New York Times had been doing a piece on body building. She came to the gym and asked if Corney and I would pose at the museum. I thought at once that it was a terrific idea. I’d always wanted to tell people that when I work on my body I’m thinking about classical sculpture, so I jumped at the chance to show off body building as an art form. After the show, a lot of people came backstage and said it was fantastic, that they’d never thought of body building as art before.

Peter Manso:

Didn’t you feel like a pet monkey performing for the East Side ladies?

Arnold Schwarzenegger:

No, I felt great because I was the first athlete to be in a museum displaying his work of art, which just happened to be my physique. Overall, it was a great success. What does piss me off, though, is when people try to trick me into going to parties. You know, rich people in Beverly Hills who want to make the gossip columns.”

Tags: , ,

In a new Afterword (published at the Los Angeles Review of Booksto the updated version of 1998′s Explaining Hitler, Ron Rosenbaum looks at the architect of Nazism in light of 9/11, arguing that Hitler was not a failed dictator but a successful terrorist. An excerpt:

“For Hitler, it was not a matter of making the trains run on time so much as making the trains never stop running to Auschwitz and Treblinka. One relatively new aspect of Holocaust study is a focus on what happened when the trains finally did stop running, because the Russians were about to overrun the mainly Polish-based camps. The full story, much of which was new to me, can be found in Daniel Blatman’s 2011 work, The Death Marches: The Final Phase of Nazi Genocide.

When the camps were disbanded, the large SS and native Polish and Ukrainian guard troops feeding the gas chambers were not redeployed to stave off the Russians. Instead they were ordered to take all the living and half-dead captives on the road in what became the final phase of the Final Solution: the Death Marches. Hundreds of thousands of closely-guarded prisoners were mercilessly beaten or shot when they couldn’t keep up, starved to death while being harried along icy roads to . . . where? There was no sanctuary left safe for killing, but the killing had to continue at all costs, a horror at least as unfathomable as the camps themselves. The Death March commanders didn’t have to ‘follow orders.’ They had incorporated Hitlerism so deeply, they wanted to follow orders. As Evans argues, killing Jews was more important than military objectives. These commanders risked their own lives to continue the murder.

What’s worse, Blatman reports, is that it was not just military men but civilians along the way who gleefully took part in murdering the half-dead Jews. For those, like me, who thought it impossible to be further shocked by Hitler’s willing accomplices, reading about the Death Marches introduced a new level of horror.

It is a testament to how deeply dyed the souls of the killers were. Hitler was possessed, some might say, but he was also the cause of possession in others. …

Hitler didn’t lose the war. Not the war Evans argues was most important to him: the racial war. Hitler won that war. Six million to one. Yes, he committed suicide at the end. (And yes, 50 million others lost their lives so he could win the part of the war he cared about most. Collateral damage.)

Thinking about that suicide now, in the light of 9/11 and the subsequent exaltations of suicide bombing on messianic, theological grounds, does in fact offer a radical new way of characterizing Hitler. In retrospect at least, it’s tempting to argue that Hitler was, if not the first, then by far history’s greatest single suicide bomber. He blew up Europe to kill the Jews in it, even if it meant killing himself and tens of millions of others in the end.”

Tags: , ,

Elon Musk, whose ambitions are part Edison and part Tesla, just announced he’s building a spaceport in Texas, aiming to send up rockets at an exceptionally fast clip. From Ashlee Vance in Businessweek:

“The new site in Texas, though, would give SpaceX a clean slate to put its unique spin on a spaceport. Knowing Musk, I believe this would mean an ultrafuturistic design coupled with loads of automation. The space industry could certainly benefit from this type of modernization, since it’s still relying, in most cases, on decades-old sites that were mainly built to send up missiles.

The SpaceX spaceport will be in Cameron County, where the company has been gobbling up land not far from the border with Mexico and near the cities of McAllen and Brownsville. The FAA has granted SpaceX approval (pdf) for 12 commercial launches per year on a 56.5 acre parcel of land. SpaceX would mostly be launching its current Falcon 9 rockets and its upcoming Falcon Heavy rockets.

Musk’s ultimate goal is to get to Mars, and he wants to be able to perform several launches a day, so that enough equipment and people could be sent to the planet to sustain life. The Texas site represents the first steps toward perfecting some of the launch technology needed to pull this off.”

Tags: ,

A three-wheeled concept car, the General Motors Roundabout was introduced at the 1964 World’s Fair as part of the “Futurama II” exhibit. Like the Electric Shopper, it was meant mostly as a chore vehicle. It looked like the future. It was not. From Concept Car Central: “The Runabout was a three-wheeled commuter car with two built-in shopping carts in the trunk for trips to the mall or grocery store. The front wheel could turn 180 degrees for easy parking. Aerodynamically similar to the Firebird IV concept, the Runabout featured a sliding canopy which provided access to the four seats. Driver equipment was sparse, though the Runabout had no driveline, and had to be rolled into the showroom.”


In the decade that the term “hooters” was coined, the 1970s, the Dallas Cowboy Cheerleaders plunged into the modern breast era, donning outfits with necklines that just a few years earlier might have gotten a go-go club shuttered. GM Tex Schramm had been gradually trimming the former “Cowbelles” cheer-squad suits, but in 1972 the women really busted out. Coach Tom Landry, a computer geek and Jesus freak, was not pleased. From The Last Cowboy by Mark Ribowsky, via the excellent Delancey Place:

“The vibe in Thousand Oaks at summer camp in 1967 contained a strange brew of old and new currents. The Cowboys’ first winning season had taken the team so far that it accumulated almost mythical properties in Dallas and the exigency for a grander scope. Clint Murchison Jr. relocated the Cowboys’ offices again, now to the Expressway Tower, an opulent fifteen-story glass structure at 6116 North Central Expressway that Murchison built on property he had bought expressly for the purpose. He put the organization on the eleventh floor, its picture windows offering sweeping vistas of the city. He also rented out a ground-floor space to the Playboy Club, which catered to the same upscale, male-dominated crowd that Murchison hosted in the Cowboy Club at the Cotton Bowl during home games. Not for a minute did Murchison consider that his coach might be embarrassed to have as neighbors cleavage-displaying young women wearing bunny ears and cottontails. The Cowboys were the hippest party in town, and the juxtaposition fit. Neither did he mind if players repaired to the Playboy Club after a hard few hours at the practice facility, which was under a big bubble behind the building. Landry already had the squares’ allegiance; could it hurt if they were balanced by Hugh Hefner’s ideal of 1960s American manhood?

Tex Schramm, for one, saw no downside to that equation. Working from the same idea, he junked the Cowbelles that off-season and created a new cheerleading squad, one that would remind no one of high school girls in hoop skirts and sweaters. Instead, the Cowgirls were professional go-go dancers hired to shake their pompoms while wearing hot pants and tight vests, showing off ample racks and bare midriffs. When Landry learned of it, he nearly had cardiac arrest. Years later in his memoirs, he was still exercised, saying that while the Cowgirls ‘transformed sideline entertainment,’ and that it was an example of Schramm’s lust to foster ‘a high profile image of style, flair, and maximum visibility,’ it also ‘sexually exploited the young women by pandering to the baser instincts of men.”

Tags: ,

In an interview conducted by Michael Proctor at King’s Review, astronomer Martin Rees is asked the two questions he probably receives most: 1) How did life begin here and 2) Is there life out there? (Thanks Browser.)


Martin Proctor:

Obviously, you think that the Big Bang is the correct explanation for the origins of the universe, as opposed to, say, the steady state theory. Do you feel there is a place for any sort of external force or creator?

Martin Rees:

We don’t know about the very beginning. The Big Bang may be embedded in some grander structure where there are many, many Big Bangs. I think all bets are off with regards to how it started and whether there even was a beginning. I think the aim of studying the cosmos is to push back the causal chain. Newton explained why the planets move in ellipses, but he wrote in a couple of places that he found it mysterious that the planets were moving on more or less the same plane, what we call the ecliptic, whereas the comets come from more random directions. He thought that must be providence. We understand now why planetary orbits are more or less coplanar – it’s a consequence of their origin in a dusty protostellar disc. And we’ve pushed back the causal chain to understand the formation of atoms, stars and galaxies, but there’s always a further step as well.

Martin Proctor:

Is there ‘life out there’?

Martin Rees:

That’s one of the most fascinating questions of all. But it’s a biological question. And biology is a more difficult subject than astronomy in that it deals with more complicated phenomena. We don’t even understand how life began on Earth. We understand how Darwinian evolution led from simple life to our complex biosphere. But people don’t understand the transition from complex chemistry to the first metabolising and reproducing systems. It’s gratifying that some really serious biochemists are now addressing this question When we understand that, it will tell us two things: whether it’s likely or unlikely that extraterrestrial life is widespread; and whether there is something particularly special about the chemistry on which terrestrial life is based. In other words, would we expect any other life to have the same DNA? So we don’t know that. Even the most firmly Earth-bound biologists would be fascinated by this issue. Another exciting prospect is that observations will tell us whether some of these planets have a biosphere. That will be do-able within ten or twenty years by the next generation of giant telescopes, powerful enough to provide sharp images, and collect enough light to identify the spectrum of a planet even if it’s millions of times fainter than its parent star.”

Tags: ,

Dubai, which is taking the lead in the air, hopes to forge ahead with air-conditioning as well, announcing plans for the first temperature-controlled, indoor city, the Mall of the World. I want to know more about the “specialized surgical procedures and cosmetic treatments” available in the “Wellness District,” which will cater to “medical tourists.” If the emirate’s real-estate market is as much a bubble as some think it is, we may have the first ghost town with a quiet-cool setting. From Belinda Lanks at Businessweek:

“Dubai is the land of superlatives. It already lays claim to the tallest building and the biggest fish tank in the world. Now the city has unveiled plans to build the largest mall and biggest indoor theme park in what will be the first temperature-controlled mini-city.

The 8-million-square-foot shopping center, dubbed Mall of the World, will include 100 hotels, a medical resort, event facilities, and a theater district—all of which can be shielded from the elements by a large retractable roof. The project, according to the developer, Dubai Holding, will be built ‘in phases in alignment with the gradual growth of family tourism in Dubai.’

Attracting shoppers from abroad is the goal.”


“Catering to medical tourists in a 3-million sq. ft. area”:


What the late Penthouse publisher Bob Guccione loved almost as much as a hot piece of ass was cold fusion. At one point during his outsize life, Guccione, along with wife Kathy Keeton, funded a lab staffed with dozens of scientists studying the hypothetical nuclear reaction. From a 2004 New York article by Anthony Haden-Guest: 

Omni also attests to the couple’s shared enthusiasm for the scientific fringe. Cold fusion, for instance. In 1989, two scientists claimed that they had proved experimentally that limitless free energy could be harmlessly produced from water. Mainstream scientists failed to duplicate the results and condemned the claims as piffle —which did not deter Bob and Kathy. ‘At one point, Penthouse magazine was supporting 82 scientists in San Diego,’ Guccione told me. ‘Eighty-two scientists from around the world. We had Russians, Israelis, computer experts, physicists. They were all working on this fusion project.

‘And we were doing very well. But we had reached a point where we needed to create a device which would ignite the plasma. That device would have a life of about one ten-thousandth of a second and cost about $35 million to build.

‘And since I was the sole supporter, I couldn’t go any further.’”

Tags: ,

," left.

“Tatunca Nara,” left.

Hans Guenther Hauck, aka Tatunca Nara, isn’t the first seemingly unhinged visionary who vanished into a tropical climate and wound upon creating not a Utopia but a body count. (August Engelhardt, for one, did likewise more than a century ago.) The opening ofEl Dorado in the Amazon,” Alexander Smoltczyk’s Spiegel account of the man who came to the attention of Jacques Cousteau and Steven Spielberg and the German police:

“In the late 1960s, a man turned up in the Brazilian state of Acre, deep in the Amazon region. He was wearing a loincloth and a feather, carried a bow and claimed he was Tatunca Nara, chief of the Ugha Mongulala. No one had ever heard of an Indian tribe with that name. In addition, the man bore no resemblance whatsoever to an Indian. He was white and spoke with a strong French accent.

He said he had inherited the accent from his mother, explaining that she was a German nun who had been taken by the Indians. His people, he said, lived in an underground city called Akakor, and that German was one of the languages spoken there — a byproduct of the offspring of 2,000 Nazi soldiers who had once traveled up the Amazon in U-boats.

His story would have raised eyebrows anywhere else. But outlandish stories are not uncommon in the Amazon region, so no one paid much attention to Tatunca Nara. Otherwise, he made a friendly impression, and nothing much would have come of his appearance if it hadn’t come to the attention of Karl Brugger, a correspondent with Germany’s ARD television network at the time. He visited Tatunca Nara in Manaus and recorded his story on 12 audiotapes. Brugger called it: ‘The most unusual story I have ever heard.’ It was a tale of extraterrestrial visitors, secret rites of the ‘ancient fathers’ and incursions of the ‘white barbarians,’ all described copiously and in great detail, and without interruption ‘from the year zero to the present.’

Even more surprising was the fact that Brugger’s book, The Chronicle of Akakor, enjoyed a certain level of success. In New Age circles, Tatunca’s stories were studied as if they were the Dead Sea Scrolls. They included lines like, ‘Five empty days at the end of the year are dedicated to worshipping our gods.’

Oceanographer Jacques Cousteau hired Tatunca as a guide when he explored the region with his boat, the Calypso, in 1983. The 2008 adventure film Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull is about a sunken city in the Amazon called Akator, and an Indian tribe called the Ugha Mogulala. The action figure for the film is dressed in a loincloth and a feather.

Does the original exist? Is Tatunca alive? This reporter recently traveled to Brazil in an effort to find the legendary man.”

Tags: , , ,

From Marcus Wohlsen’s Wired piece about the potential for an automated version of the Cynk penny-stock fiasco, the bloodless machines not yet able to decipher the language of human irrationality:

“That said, Cynk’s rise probably has less to do with a software glitch and more with a bug in human programming that blinds some people to the myth of a free lunch. Given the low volume of trading in Cynk shares—fewer than 400,000 shares yesterday, with a closing price of $13.90 per share—no one made or lost a whole lot of money, at least not by Wall Street standards. The winners and losers likely were typical penny stock hustlers, day traders chasing small jumps and drops. A few might have thought Cynk was the white whale they’d been chasing all along, and some of them may have landed it.

But the potential for an automated version of that kind of quick-buck thinking is there. After all, high-frequency trading, as revealed by Michael Lewis and others, is a similar kind of arbitrage, just at much faster speeds and informed by microseconds of insider knowledge that come from hardwired connections to the stock exchanges. While most high-frequency trading remains grounded in statistical analyses of patterns in the markets themselves, the AP Twitter hack example shows trading firms are letting their machines comb social media and the news in search of competitive advantage.

The problem is that computers still aren’t smart enough to parse the complexities of human communications in a way that makes them reliable arbiters of what news is actually worth trading on.”


If ousted Citigroup chairman Vikram Pandit had made the following comments, recorded by Tom Braithwaite in a “Lunch with the Financial Times piece, twenty years ago, they would have been bold, forward-thinking statements. Now? Meh. Feels like he’s playing catch-up. An excerpt:

“‘Data is like . . . You’re too young, but there was a movie with the [line about] plastics.’ When I assure him I’m familiar with The Graduate, he says: ‘Data is this generation’s plastics. I don’t see business models being truly successful until you get it.’

Pandit has a fondness for big concepts and management-speak and it can be difficult to bring him down to earth. I press him for examples. ‘You have large auto companies saying, ‘Where is the growth?’ and, on the other hand, you have a SMAC stack that’s created Uber. What’s interesting is that all those intangible abilities are inside the auto companies to make it happen.’

He has been investing in a steady stream of companies that he thinks embody innovative ideas that might make them the next Uber, the suddenly ubiquitous taxi-ordering app. At the same time, he is chairman of TGG Group, a consulting company set up by Steven Levitt, co-author of pop economics book Freakonomics – which aims to help corporations unlock their inner Ubers.

Starters cleared away, Pandit isolates a small breadcrumb in the expanse of white tablecloth and tweezers it between his finger nails. Behavioural economics, he says, provides an ‘uncanny ability to predict how you’re going to behave.’ Levitt, best-known for a book which explores the business model of drug-dealers and cheating sumo wrestlers, is applying his analysis of human behaviour to companies in ways that ‘will be in textbooks in 10 years.’”

Tags: ,

The opening of Bill Gates’ WSJ piece revealing his favorite business book, which was penned decades ago by a New Yorker writer whose name probably doesn’t resonate so much today:

“Not long after I first met Warren Buffett back in 1991, I asked him to recommend his favorite book about business. He didn’t miss a beat: It’s Business Adventures, by John Brooks,’ he said. ‘I’ll send you my copy.’ I was intrigued: I had never heard of Business Adventures or John Brooks.

Today, more than two decades after Warren lent it to me—and more than four decades after it was first published—Business Adventures remains the best business book I’ve ever read. John Brooks is still my favorite business writer. (And Warren, if you’re reading this, I still have your copy.)

A skeptic might wonder how this out-of-print collection of New Yorker articles from the 1960s could have anything to say about business today. After all, in 1966, when Brooks profiled Xerox, the company’s top-of-the-line copier weighed 650 pounds, cost $27,500, required a full-time operator and came with a fire extinguisher because of its tendency to overheat. A lot has changed since then.”

Tags: , ,

Speaking of the former child preacher Marjoe Gortner, he was hired in 1973 by OUI, a middling vagina periodical of the Magazine Age, to write a deservedly mocking article about the American visit of another youthful religious performer, the 16-year-old Maharaj Ji, an adolescent Indian guru who promised to levitate the Houston Astrodome, a plot that never got off the ground. Two excerpts from the resulting report published the following May, which revealed a tech-friendly and futuristic cult leader, who would have been right at home in today’s Silicon Valley.


“The guru’s people do the same thing the Pentecostal Church does. They say you can believe in guru Maharaj Ji and that’s fantastic and good, but if you receive light and get it all within, if you become a real devotee-that is the ultimate. In the Pentecostal Church you can be saved from your sins and have Jesus Christ as your Saviour, but the ultimate is the baptism of the Holy Ghost. This is where you get four or five people around and they begin to talk and more or less chant in tongues until sooner or later the person wanting the baptismal experience so much-well, it’s like joining a country club: once you’re in, you’ll be like everyone – else in the club.

The people who’ve been chanting say, ‘Speak it out, speak it out,’ and everything becomes so frenzied that the baptismalee will finally speak a few words in tongues himself, and the people around him say, ‘Oh, you’ve got it.’ And the joy that comes over everybody’s faces! It’s incredible. It’s beautiful. They feel they have got the Holy Spirit like all their friends, and once they’ve got it, it’s forever. It’s quite an experience.

So essentially they’re the same thing pressing on your eyes while your ears are corked, and standing around the altar speaking in tongues. They’re both illuminating experiences. The guru’s path is interesting, though. Once you’ve seen the light and decided you want to join his movement, you give over everything you have–all material possessions. Sometimes you even give your job. Now, depending on what your job is, you may be told to leave it or to stay. If you stay, generally you turn your pay checks over to the Divine Light Mission, and they see that you are housed and clothed and fed. They have their U. S. headquarters in Denver. You don’t have to worry about anything. That’s their hook. They take care of it all. They have houses all over the country for which they supposedly paid cash on the line. First class. Some of them are quite plush. At least Maharaj Ji’s quarters are. Some of the followers live in those houses, too, but in the dormitory-type atmosphere with straw mats for beds. It’s a large operation. It seems to be a lot like the organization Father Divine had back in the Thirties. He did it with the black people at the Peace Mission in Philadelphia. He took care of his people-mostly domestics and other low-wage earners–and put them up in his own hotel with three meals a day.

The guru is much more technologically oriented, though. He spreads a lot of word and keeps tabs on who needs what through a very sophisticated Telex system that reaches out to all the communes or ashrams around the country. He can keep count of who needs how many T-shirts, pairs of socks–stuff like that. And his own people run this system; it’s free labor for the corporation.


“The morning of the third day I was feeling blessed and refreshed, and I was looking forward to the guru’s plans for the Divine City, which was soon going to be built somewhere in the U. S. I wanted to hear what that was all about.

It was unbelievable. The city was to consist of ‘modular units adaptable to any desired shape.’ The structures would have waste-recycling devices so that water could be drunk over and over. They even planned to have toothbrushes with handles you could squeeze to have the proper amount of paste pop up (the crowd was agog at this). There would be a computer in each communal house so that with just a touch of the hand you could check to see if a book you wanted was available, and if it was, it would be hand-messengered to you. A complete modern city of robots. I was thinking: whatever happened to mountains and waterfalls and streams and fresh air? This was going to be a technological, computerized nightmare! It repulsed me. Computer cards to buy essentials at a central storeroom! And no cheating, of course. If you flashed your card for an item you already had, the computer would reject it. The perfect turn-off. The spokesman for this city announced that the blueprints had already been drawn up and actual construction would be the next step. Controlled rain, light, and space. Bubble power! It was all beginning to be very frightening.”


“The Houston Astrodome will physically separate itself from the planet which we call Earth and will fly”:

Tags: , ,

Cars are smaller and fewer and less gassy in America, but home-size growth halted only briefly during the depths of the Great Recession, subsequently regaining the lost square footage and then some. Even our most famous environmentalist, Al Gore, lives in a climate-killing monster with more-than-ample mantle space for his Nobel and Oscar. From Henry Grabar’s Salon piece, “We Must Kill the McMansion!“:

“This surfeit of space is a potent symbol of the American way of life; it speaks to our priorities, our prosperity and our tendency to take more than we need. But the superlative size of our houses isn’t just a foam finger America can hold up to the world. It’s correlated with land use patterns and population density, which in turn determine the environmental impact and personal health of communities, and whether they can support a diverse range of businesses, facilities and transportation choices. It’s no coincidence that a modern American suburb like Weston, Florida, has just one-third the population density of Levittown.

Given the environmental, infrastructural and financial costs of Americans’ insatiable spatial appetites – the share of our budgets devoted to housing is 41 percent, up from 26 percent in the Levittown era – you can understand why some saw good news in the recession-era report that our houses had begun to shrink. Between 2007 and 2010, for the first time in a half century, the average size of new U.S. homes fell by more than a hundred square feet, dropping back toward 2004 levels.

It was no peak; last year, the average size of new American houses reached an all-time high of 2,679 square feet. The increase in space per person has been even more dramatic. Between 1973 and 2013, the average American household shrank from 3.01 to 2.54 persons; new homes give Americans more than 1,000 square feet per family member, on average. That’s roughly twice as much space as we had in 1973.

You may consider this an indicator of success, excess, or both. Planners consider it a challenge. Economic growth, as the prolific planner Pedro Ortiz has written, drives urban expansion far more than population growth. In Madrid, for example, the average person’s living space expanded from 129 square feet in 1974 to 301 square feet in 2007 — a nearly threefold increase. While the population hardly changed between 1975 and 1995, the city’s footprint expanded by 50 percent.

The phenomenon is universal. But American homes dwarf those in nearly every other country on Earth.”

Tags: , ,

Marjoe Gortner was a California-born charismatic child preacher with an overflowing collection plate who grew out of religion and revealed secrets about evangelistic crowd manipulation. Excerpts from two 1970s People articles by Lois Armstrong about Marjoe’s life after he threw off the cloak and pulled back the curtain.


From 1976′s “Ex-Kid Gospeler Marjoe Is Hollywood’s New Gun for Hire“:

It seems fitting that the movie Food of the Gods should star Marjoe Gortner, once a child preacher on the revivalist circuit. As a sermonizer he dwelt on the terrors of hellfire. In Food he is still dealing in fear, but considerably diluted—it’s just a cheapjack monster film. Born again, Marjoe no longer makes his jack in the pulpit. He put his evangelistic soul on ice four years ago with Marjoe, the Oscar-winning documentary that detailed how he preached his first sermon at 4 and by 12 had fleeced his flock of an estimated $3 million. 

But at 32, the show goes on for Marjoe. In his view, he’s just shifted his stage from sweaty tents in Appalachia to sweaty sound stages in Hollywood. ‘My whole religious show was just live theater,’ he reflects. To be sure, nowadays he collects not only cash on his plate but starlets. Yet, if anything, Gortner feels purer at heart. It was ‘dangerous,’ he says, ‘telling people they were going to burn in hell.’

At the same time, he isn’t conscience-stricken about his original act. ‘I didn’t feel like a con man,’ he says, ‘because those people were getting a very good show for their money, and I worked very hard.’ When he had the faithful rolling in the aisles, he claims, it was like primal therapy. ‘Those people have more emotions bottled up,’ he says. ‘They lead very uptight lives. For that moment on the floor, they’re in ecstasy.’ So good was young Marjoe, in fact, that in the early 1950s Warner Bros, dangled a deal which was rejected, he concludes, because ‘religion was more lucrative than movies.’

Now that he has made it to the big screen, it seems strange that Gortner is expending his magic on drive-in dreadfuls like Food, a current shoot-’em-up, Bobby Joe and the Outlaws, and the recently completed Viva Knievel, in which Marjoe plays Evel’s lago-like sidekick. Gortner’s response is that he is merely serving his old constituency once more. For example? ‘The guy who works in a Delco factory at a job he hates,’ Marjoe explains, ‘with a wife as fat as hell and a bunch of kids. He’s got to have his fantasies. The people who are going to those movies are the same type who came to the revival meetings, and for the same reason. That’s where they get their entertainment, like other people go to the ballet or a Bob Dylan concert. You can’t blame them for never having been exposed to another culture.’

In his own life Marjoe has embraced that fantasy culture: he lives with a svelte ex-Playmate, tools around in a Porsche or on a hot motorcycle and collects expensive guns and exquisite American Indian jewelry. Without guilt. ‘I came to a basic philosophy,’ he says. ‘I believe in myself. The trouble with most religions is they tell you how to like yourself through God or a guru. It’s harder to deal just with yourself and much more rewarding—you don’t have to report in.’

That wasn’t always true for him.”


From 1978′s “In Texas, Marjoe Gortner Wraps His First Film and His Second Wife, Candy Clark“:

“They had been dating off and on since last October, Marjoe’s companion of nearly two years, model Lynnda Kimball, having recently moved out. The relationship picked up at Christmas and then he cast the actress in When You Comin’ Back, Red Ryder? A successful off-Broadway play, it is Gortner’s first film-producing effort. 

Clark admits to having had a mild crush on her new husband since 1972, when she saw the documentary Marjoe. One night she and a friend, cruising near a Malibu drugstore, spotted him in a purple Rolls-Royce with a license plate that read ‘GREED.’

‘We screamed and yelled and waved,’ she recalls. ‘He waved back and drove off real fast. That probably happened to him every day.’ By then Gortner’s attention had shifted from souls to bodies, especially the voluptuous ones he bumped into at pal Hugh Hefner’s mansion. Three years later he and Clark met at an L.A. restaurant, had an interesting conversation but saw each other only in passing for the next two years. Then one night last July he encountered Candy again in the same restaurant and asked for her phone number. 

‘We just gradually grew really close, closer than I’d ever gotten to any other girl,’ he says. ‘Candy’s extremely bright, brighter than this town thinks. She knows how to handle people, and I respect that, possessing those qualities myself.’

Marjoe’s ability to handle—some would say manipulate—people dates back to his 15 years touring the Bible Belt. He was 12 when his dad, the Rev. Vernon Gortner, left home, leaving unaccounted for the $3 million Marjoe’s evangelism had reaped. At 16, Marjoe married and became the father of a daughter, Gigi, now 17. That marriage floundered in the ’60s; so did Marjoe. Then in 1971 he edged into showbiz, playing himself in his screen autobiography before landing the lead in a TV movie, The Gun and the Pulpit, followed by a string of B film roles and TV guest shots.”


Marjoe counts the money in 1972:

Tags: , , ,

Cheap is often expensive, and low prices come off of someone else’s bottom line, almost always workers. In a The Daily Dot piece, Tim Jones-Yelvington argues against the sharing economy for the injuries it causes labor, though I don’t think regulation will cause it to screech to a halt. Nor should it, really. Beyong ride-sharing, driverless cars are going to displace workers, and we shouldn’t try to stop that innovation from occurring. We do, however, need some nimble political solutions to deal with the transitional pain of change and automation. An excerpt:

“What Uber and their ilk are fighting for is their right to evade regulatory protections that ensure not just safety for passengers, but also basic labor protections for the professional taxi drivers for whom cabs are a primary source of income. According to Uber, policies like the one pending in my home state of Illinois will destroy thousands of jobs for people in need of cash to pay their bills, including ‘military veterans, teachers, retirees, students, students, the unemployed and underemployed.’ (See also: babies and dogs.)

They’re referring to the part-time drivers who participate in the low-cost non-taxi ridesharing service UberX, who are currently not required to hold commercial licenses, and who are facing some pretty sketchy working conditions, including unpredictable percentages owed to Uber and unreliable protection from the company in case of accidents.

But UberX drivers are also undercutting professional cab drivers and could arguably be described as scabs, helping encourage an overall race to the bottom. With their help, the taxi cab business is now going the way of many other industries in the 21st century, as what was once a potentially viable career is displaced by contingent, part-time, and more easily exploited workers.”


« Older entries § Newer entries »