Excerpts

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Stephen Cave, who tackles big subjects, has written a Financial Times piece about that elusive thing called happiness, which we’re supposed to pursue, though it wasn’t always so. An excerpt:

“For most of the past 2,000 years of western culture, happiness on earth was considered neither achievable nor desirable. ‘Cursed is the ground for thy sake; in sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life,’ said God to Adam, in an early example of expectations management. But Christians also saw this misery as the key to the life-to-come: ‘Whosoever doth not bear his cross,’ said Jesus, ‘cannot be my disciple.’ And if the days before painkillers weren’t sorrowful enough already, the faithful would flail their backs to hasten their way to beatitude.

So how did happiness change from being a sin to our foremost earthly goal? The answer in short is that western culture retained the promise of paradise but brought it forward from the next world into this one. The process took a few hundred years, beginning with the Renaissance and the Reformation. But it owes most to the thinkers of the Enlightenment, who combined the Christian belief in progress towards a happier state with a new faith in science and reason. In doing so, they wrote the script to which we still speak: a doctrine that says we can have heaven here and now if only we try hard enough.

Today this message is reinforced by an advertising industry that surrounds us with images of people made gloriously happy by a new car or soft drink; images that are simultaneously a promise and a rebuke to those of us who are feeling only fair-to-middling. Our belief that we can – indeed, should – be much happier is not based on evidence that such a state is possible but, instead, on a narrative of progress, entitlement and consumerism.”

 

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The real way to severely punish Ray Race for his horrific act of domestic violence might be to not ban him from football but to force him to play. For the first time, the NFL has acknowledged that a high rate of serious brain damage is endemic in the game. It’s a remarkably popular sport, in the same way that boxing used to be. From Ken Belson ta the New York Times:

“The National Football League, which for years disputed evidence that its players had a high rate of severe brain damage, has stated in federal court documents that it expects nearly a third of retired players to develop long-term cognitive problems and that the conditions are likely to emerge at ‘notably younger ages’ than in the general population.

The findings are a result of data prepared by actuaries hired by the league and provided to the United States District Court judge presiding over the settlement between the N.F.L. and 5,000 former players who sued the league, alleging that it had hidden the dangers of concussions from them.

‘Thus, our assumptions result in prevalence rates by age group that are materially higher than those expected in the general population,’ said the report, prepared by the Segal Group for the N.F.L. ‘Furthermore, the model forecasts that players will develop these diagnoses at notably younger ages than the generation population.’

The statements are the league’s most unvarnished admission yet that the sport’s professional participants sustain severe brain injuries at far higher rates than the general population.”

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Genetic enhancement in humans isn’t likely around the corner, but it will be pretty impossible to avoid its path at some point in the future even if you disagree with it, the way the online world is currently almost unavoidable. A brief passage from Nick Bostrom’s Superintelligence about how designer babies may sway people, even countries, to fall in line:

“Once the example has been set, and the results start to show, holdouts will have strong incentives to follow suit. Nations would face the prospect of becoming cognitive backwaters and losing out in economic, scientific, military, and prestige contests with competitors that embrace the new human enhancement technologies. Individuals within a society would see places at elite schools being filled with genetically selected children (who may also on average be prettier, healthier, and more conscientious), and will want their own offspring to have the same advantages. There is some chance that a large attitudinal shift could take place over a relatively short time, perhaps in as little as a decade, once the technology is proven to work and to provide a substantial benefit.”

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I’m not surprised we’re anonymously assholes online, but I am a little stunned by how much of this virtual ill behavior has ricocheted back into the offline world. The line is blurring. The opening of Andrew Leonard’s Salon interview with OkCupid founder Christian Rudder, whose new book, Dataclysm, paints a grim picture of how his customers behave in regards to race, sex and other matters, when searching for a mate online:

Question:

So men are sexists, and we’re all racist?

Christian Rudder:

The more you look at the data, the more it does confirm the cynics’ intuition about humanity. People online are free to act out their worst impulses with very little incentive to act out their best. I guess it just goes to show how politeness or propriety keeps us decent human beings. Offline, society actually has a very good effect on behavior in a very large sense.

Question:

That raises an uncomfortable question: Does our wholesale move online undermine how society traditionally keeps us in line?

Christian Rudder:

I’m not qualified to give a real opinion on where society as a whole is headed, but I think when you look at stuff like rage storms on Twitter, or even the thing that happened yesterday — the celebrity nude photos being leaked — you see that there are definitely some disgusting impulses that the Internet can gratify instantaneously. In the same way Cool Ranch Doritos gratify certain taste receptors that are probably not very good for my digestive tract, things like Twitter or Reddit or even OkCupid gratify our tastes in ways that should probably best be left unsated.

Question:

How does that make you feel as a researcher? Have you become more cynical as a result of what you’ve learned by watching how people behave on OkCupid?

Christian Rudder:

I definitely have a certain amount of ambivalence about the Internet generally and what we do at OkCupid. OkCupid does a lot of great things. We do find people love, we do create marriage and children and happiness in a pure sense, in a way that, say, Amazon does not. But there is a downside: In the process of finding that love or sex or whatever they’re looking for, people are able to be more judgmental. It’s a fraught thing. I can see the good and the bad in all this, but where it all comes out in the end, I’m not sure. I think the existence of the Internet is a good thing, but I do wish people exercised more humanity in using these tools.”

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In a WSJ essay, Peter Thiel expands on what he said in his recent AMA, that “capitalism and competition are opposites.” Thiel, who approves of monopolies, doesn’t believe they only benefit individual businesses but broader society as well, as they have the capital to care about workers and ethics and the environment. I disagree, but I’ll acknowledge that we’ve all certainly benefited from Bell Labs, the moonshot division of a government-backed monopoly. An excerpt:

“To an economist, every monopoly looks the same, whether it deviously eliminates rivals, secures a license from the state or innovates its way to the top. I’m not interested in illegal bullies or government favorites: By ‘monopoly,’ I mean the kind of company that is so good at what it does that no other firm can offer a close substitute. Google is a good example of a company that went from 0 to 1: It hasn’t competed in search since the early 2000s, when it definitively distanced itself from Microsoft and Yahoo!

Americans mythologize competition and credit it with saving us from socialist bread lines. Actually, capitalism and competition are opposites. Capitalism is premised on the accumulation of capital, but under perfect competition, all profits get competed away. The lesson for entrepreneurs is clear: If you want to create and capture lasting value, don’t build an undifferentiated commodity business.

How much of the world is actually monopolistic? How much is truly competitive? It is hard to say because our common conversation about these matters is so confused. To the outside observer, all businesses can seem reasonably alike, so it is easy to perceive only small differences between them. But the reality is much more binary than that. There is an enormous difference between perfect competition and monopoly, and most businesses are much closer to one extreme than we commonly realize.

The confusion comes from a universal bias for describing market conditions in self-serving ways: Both monopolists and competitors are incentivized to bend the truth.”

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Predictive traffic patterns is one of the logical extensions of our relentless data collection, as are highway lanes that can redraw themselves as need dictates. The former can be done now, while the latter will have to wait for an infrastructure overhaul. From Kristine Lofgren at Inhabitat:

“In most parts of the country, traffic planners review data every few years to adjust traffic signals and improve traffic movement. But thanks to several advanced signal system across the US, that’s all changing. For instance, in Utah, traffic planners can actually adjust a signal in almost real-time because of a system made up of a network of closed-circuit cameras connected to a fiberoptic network. The system allows traffic planners to adjust signals in as few as 30 seconds to react to changing traffic needs.

By some estimates, investing in signaling pays back at a ratio of 40 to 1. That’s something you don’t see with other traffic management strategies like building new roads. Even better, efficient traffic flow means fewer emissions. But Utah’s system can be expensive to install and run. To make the system feasible and affordable for any city, Stephen Smith at Carnegie Mellon University in New Jersey is working on an automated system (Utah’s is monitored by live people) that uses radar censors and cameras so that it can adjust real-time.”

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David Lynch has a brilliant, painter-esque sensibility as a filmmaker–and also, unsurprisingly, as a painterbut according to a new interview he did with Art in America’s Edward Epstein, it’s not a learned talent. An excerpt:

Question:

Your films read as a series of carefully composed frames, which are each much like individual paintings. In Blue Velvet [1986], the darks and lights on the actors’ flesh are particularly striking. The drama is reminiscent of Caravaggio. Were you influenced by Baroque painting?

David Lynch:

No. I’m not an art buff at all. I just wanted to be a painter. And that’s all I wanted to do starting in the ninth grade. I’m not a studier. Even in film, I’m the worst film buff.

Question:

When you were at the PAFA [Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts], were there any paintings in the collection there that influenced you?

David Lynch:

No. I never went up to the gallery. I don’t know what they had up there. I was thrilled at the Academy because of the students primarily—we inspired one another. And there were a couple of great teachers. But, I really only went in to school a couple of times a week and painted where I lived. …

Question:

The grotesque bodies in both your film and painting—I’m thinking of the film Eraserhead or the painting Pete Goes to His Girlfriend’s House—look like medical oddities. When you were in Philadelphia, did you ever visit the Mütter museum, which has a huge collection of such oddities on display?

David Lynch:

No, but I have heard of it. I did see many oddities in Philly on the street.

Question:

Can you talk more about that?

David Lynch:

I lived in Philly from ’65 to ’70, and it was a different place then. When I visited a couple of years ago it seemed much more normal, much more like every other city. One of the things that got added since I was there is graffiti. For me, graffiti has pretty much ruined every city. Every bit of beauty of the patina of coal dust or acid rain—all of these things that age these buildings so beautifully, and made a mood of the city, were completely taken away by cheap aluminum storm windows and graffiti. And for cinema, if there wasn’t graffiti, you could go to places and see them as if you’d gone back in time and you could see the beauty of those old buildings and get the mood.”

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After VictrolaHut, RadioShack is the most perplexing American company still in business. Named after an outdated technology and offering none of the advantages of other brick-and-mortar stores let alone online outlets, its stock currently trades for 94 cents, which is about three dollars too high. I wish those folks well, but really! From Sarah Halzack’s Washington Post article about the chain (sort of) trying to reinvent itself:

“The company is pitching the remodeled stores as ‘interactive,’ a word that seems ubiquitous these days as many brick-and-mortar retailers try to create a unique experience in their shops to help ward off online competitors. At the outpost on Seventh Street NW in the District’s bustling Gallery Place neighborhood, the company has added a sleek headphone demonstration station where customers can try out gear from brands such as Beats by Dr. Dre and Skullcandy. A ‘speaker wall’ allows customers to sample many of the speakers sold in the store by controlling them from an iPad. Gadgets such as the iPhone and iPad are displayed so customers can play with them, a set-up that marks a change from before, when the shop only showed printed renderings of what the devices looked like when taken out of the box.

‘It’s really just all about improving the customer experience and delivering on their expectations for us as a brand,’ said Jennifer Warren, RadioShack’s chief marketing officer.

Although these additions might mark a step forward for RadioShack, the ability to test gadgets has long been available at competitors such as Apple and Best Buy. Also, RadioShack plans to remodel only 100 stores by the end of the year — a small fraction of its 4,000 locations.

‘They’re right now effectively catching up to what others have done,’ said Will Frohnhoefer, an equity research analyst at BTIG.”

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A piece of Superintelligence that Nick Bostrom adapted for Slate which stresses that AI doesn’t need be like humans to surpass us:

“An artificial intelligence can be far less humanlike in its motivations than a green scaly space alien. The extraterrestrial (let us assume) is a biological creature that has arisen through an evolutionary process and can therefore be expected to have the kinds of motivation typical of evolved creatures. It would not be hugely surprising, for example, to find that some random intelligent alien would have motives related to one or more items like food, air, temperature, energy expenditure, occurrence or threat of bodily injury, disease, predation, sex, or progeny. A member of an intelligent social species might also have motivations related to cooperation and competition: Like us, it might show in-group loyalty, resentment of free riders, perhaps even a vain concern with reputation and appearance.

An AI, by contrast, need not care intrinsically about any of those things. There is nothing paradoxical about an AI whose sole final goal is to count the grains of sand on Boracay, or to calculate the decimal expansion of pi, or to maximize the total number of paper clips that will exist in its future light cone. In fact, it would be easier to create an AI with simple goals like these than to build one that had a humanlike set of values and dispositions. Compare how easy it is to write a program that measures how many digits of pi have been calculated and stored in memory with how difficult it would be to create a program that reliably measures the degree of realization of some more meaningful goal—human flourishing, say, or global justice.”

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Peter Thiel, contrarian Libertarian, always makes for an interesting subject for a Reddit AMA, not only for his differences of opinion but also for his breadth of interests. A few exchanges follow from his latest one.

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Question:

At Disrupt this week, you mentioned that “Uber was the most ethically challenged company in Silicon Valley.” However, if the power law holds true, isn’t it optimal strategy to do anything to win?

Peter Thiel:

Not optimal if you break the law to the point where the company gets shut down (think Napster). I’m not saying that will happen to Uber, but I think they’ve pushed the line really far.

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Question:

A lot of people on Reddit care about Net Neutrality, and also have a healthy distrust of government. The commonly proposed solution being suggested by the EFF and other pro-technology and net neutrality organizations is to classify broadband/internet service as a Title II common carrier (AKA as a ‘telecommunication service’ that can not discriminate data, instead of ‘information service’ which can). My main hesitation with this is that this would give the FCC even more control over ISPs, which may have unintended consequences on the freedom on the internet. What are your views on current net neutrality issues, and do you have any ideas on this or other solutions?

Peter Thiel:

We’ve had these debates about net neutrality for over 15 years. It hasn’t been necessary so far, and I’m not sure anything has changed to make it necessary right now.

And I don’t like government regulation: We need the US government to regulate the internet about as much as we need the EU to regulate Google — I suspect the cons greatly outweigh the pros, especially in practice.

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Question:

What is one thing you believe to be true that most do not?

Peter Thiel:

Most people believe that capitalism and competition are synonyms, and I think they are opposites. A capitalist accumulates capital, and in a world of perfect competition all the capital gets competed away: The restaurant industry in SF is very competitive and very non-capitalistic (e.g., very hard way to make money), whereas Google is very capitalistic and has had no serious competition since 2002.

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Question:

Why do you think more wealthy people don’t fund anti-aging research? What do you think could be done to encourage them to do more?

Peter Thiel:

Most people deal with aging by some strange combination of acceptance and denial. I think the psychological blocks to thinking about aging run very deep, and we need to think about it in order to really fight it.

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Question:

What did you think when you first met Elon Musk?

Peter Thiel:

Very smart, very charismatic, and incredibly driven — a very rare combination, since most people who have one of these traits learn to coast on the other two.

It was kind of scary to be competing against his startup in Palo Alto in Dec 1999-Mar 2000.

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Question:

What was your reaction to The Social Network movie?

Peter Thiel:

The zero-sum world it portrayed has nothing in common with the Silicon Valley I know, but I suspect it’s a pretty accurate portrayal of the dysfunctional relationships that dominate Hollywood.•

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Mont Blanc is the most-climbed mountain in the world, its considerable dangers seemingly disappeared into the crush of bodies swarming its base. From Lukas Eberle and Victoria Weidemann at Spiegel:

“Business with the White Lady is booming. In both Italy and nearby Switzerland, there are some 50 companies offering guided tours up the mountain; in France, there are 70, with 20 of those based in Chamonix. Including training, preparation and acclimatizing to the altitude, the trip to the top takes about a week with customers paying an average of €1,500 ($1,940), including the guide.

‘Demand is huge, we have reached our capacity,’ says Bernard Prud’homme, head of the Chamonix tourism bureau. The municipality, he says, ‘is no longer advertising’ for Mont Blanc. ‘No ads, no campaigns. Otherwise, the routes would be even fuller.’

Mont Blanc has become symbolic of modern-day mountaineering. No longer reserved for experts, the highest peaks are now also frequented by adventure-seekers and outdoor enthusiasts. Mountains like Mont Blanc have come to be seen as tourist destinations.

The routes are prepared with anchors and fixed ropes, with climbers simply clipping in. Last year, the Refuge du Goûter opened at an altitude of 3,835 meters, a futuristically designed mountain hut build by the Club Alpin Français, to provide shelter for those heading to the top. It is designed to withstand wind-speeds of up to 300 kilometers per hour (185 miles per hour). Indeed, the mountain is becoming domesticated, made available for consumption. But that hasn’t made it any less dangerous. On the contrary, it is one of the deadliest mountains in the world.”

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I have no interest in comic-book blockbusters or most of the contemporary culture aimed at aging fanboys (and girls) longing for YA comfort, but in his long-form New York Times Magazine essay, “The Death of Adulthood in American Culture,” A.O. Scott finds solace in this regression. An excerpt:

“It is now possible to conceive of adulthood as the state of being forever young. Childhood, once a condition of limited autonomy and deferred pleasure (‘wait until you’re older’), is now a zone of perpetual freedom and delight. Grown people feel no compulsion to put away childish things: We can live with our parents, go to summer camp, play dodge ball, collect dolls and action figures and watch cartoons to our hearts’ content. These symptoms of arrested development will also be signs that we are freer, more honest and happier than the uptight fools who let go of such pastimes.

I do feel the loss of something here, but bemoaning the general immaturity of contemporary culture would be as obtuse as declaring it the coolest thing ever. A crisis of authority is not for the faint of heart. It can be scary and weird and ambiguous. But it can be a lot of fun, too. The best and most authentic cultural products of our time manage to be all of those things. They imagine a world where no one is in charge and no one necessarily knows what’s going on, where identities are in perpetual flux. Mothers and fathers act like teenagers; little children are wise beyond their years. Girls light out for the territory and boys cloister themselves in secret gardens. We have more stories, pictures and arguments than we know what to do with, and each one of them presses on our attention with a claim of uniqueness, a demand to be recognized as special. The world is our playground, without a dad or a mom in sight.”

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Those preparing for one apocalypse or another (and their personal shoppers) are driven by myriad forces: facts, prejudices and profits among them. But I’ll add another cause to those obvious ones: hope. I don’t believe the culture of dystopia is ringing cash registers because people are literally hopeful that billions of human beings will die, but I do think many hold dear the fantasy of a post-civilization because of the disquiet the developed word causes. To think that it could all be over is to ease anxieties. Maybe we don’t only fear scarcity but also the absence of it. From Jason Concepcion at Grantland:

“Modern life is way too dark for stories about building great nations. Tides are in full ebb. Dystopian fiction and media is a reaction to our reaction to the now constant whisper of bad fucking news: terrorism, financial crisis, the erosion of the middle class, historic drought, racial animus, global warming, choosing between water and energy. In dystopian stories, as in real life, the only sane reaction to a stranger with a gun is fear and flight.

Dystopias reflect the fear that our future will be one of scarcity, without the the promise of a great manifest destiny. ‘In a way, how can you be a sane and compassionate human being and not be increasingly alarmed by what’s happening to the planet, when it’s potentially civilization-ending?’ said author David Mitchell (Cloud Atlas) recently in the New York Times.

Dystopian fiction takes the stark drama of the frontier and moves it into your neighborhood. This modern-frontier idea manifests itself most tellingly on reality television. Shows like Doomsday Castle and Doomsday Preppers take environmental and economic fears and view them through the lens of America’s demographic shift.

Both shows can be summed up as terrified white people stockpiling food and guns. One man on Doomsday Preppers explains his system for hiding and securing food supply caches thusly: ‘Out here in the rural areas, people are going to be spilling out to take what farmers have. I’m not going to allow my family to be a target.'”

From Mattathias Schwartz’s largely negative Technology Review critique of Nicholas Car’s latest book, The Glass Cage, which focuses on the dark side of automation, some smart commentary about the real nature of Facebook:

“Carr spends most of The Glass Cage treating automation as though it were a problem of unenlightened personal choices—suggesting that we should often opt out of technologies like GPS in favor of manual alternatives. Yet the decision to adopt many other innovations is not always so voluntary. There is often something seductive and even coercive about them. Consider a technology that Carr himself discusses: Facebook, which seeks to automate the management of human relationships. Once the majority has accepted the site’s addictive design and slight utility, it gets harder for any one individual to opt out. (Though Facebook may not look like an example of automation, it is indeed work in disguise. The workers—or ‘users’—are not paid a wage and the product, personal data, is not sold in a visible or public market, but it does have a residual echo of the machine room. Personal expression and relationships constitute the raw material; the continuously updated feed is the production line.)

Carr flirts with real anger in The Glass Cage, but he doesn’t go far enough in exploring more constructive pushback to automation. The resistance he endorses is the docile, individualized resistance of the consumer—a photographer who shoots on film, an architect who brainstorms on paper. These are small, personal choices with few broader consequences. The frustrations that Carr diagnoses—the longing for an older world, or a different world, or technologies that embody more humanistic and less exploitative intentions—are widespread. For these alternatives to appear feasible, someone must do the hard work of imagining what they would look like.”

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Google hobos they might be called, these employees of the search giant who apparently live in their cars in the parking lot while using the generous facilities of the company’s campus to bathe, eat and manage their errands. It’s an odd, modern mix of vagrancy and the lush life. From Alyson Shontell of Business Insider:

“Why bother paying rent when you can shower, eat, work out, do laundry, and sleep at your office?

Google perks are so good some employees say they’ve spent weeks living on campus to avoid paying rent, according to a Quora thread.

‘Technically, you weren’t supposed to live at the office, but people got around that by living in their cars in the parking lot of the office or the Shoreline parking lot,’ one Googler writes. ‘[One] guy lived in the camper for 2-3 years. Showered at the gym. Did his laundry on campus. Ate every meal on campus he could. After the 2-3 years, he had saved up enough money to buy a house.”

Former Google designer Brandon Oxedine says he lived on Google’s campus for three months in 2013.

‘I was in a unique situation working at Google where I had showers and food that were very convenient to me,’ he writes on Quora. ‘I lived in a Volvo station wagon…I set up a twin mattress from IKEA and put up black curtains (on the 90% blacked out windows) and slept there mostly every night.'”

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Via Delancey Place, an excerpt from Michael Capuzzo’s Close to Shore about the moral battleground that was summer of 1916 on American beaches–the Summer of the Thigh:

“The most shocking development was in the water, where the rising hems of swimming costumes became a battle line drawn by the Victorian establishment. In that summer of 1916, there was a cultural revolution over the ideal female form — the cover-all Victorian skirt-and-trouser bathing costumes gave way to lithe, form-fitting swimsuits, and the modern American image, practical and sensual, was born. The appearance of languorous female arms, legs, and calves as public erotic zones roused a national scandal. On Coney Island, police matrons wrestled women in the new clinging wool ‘tube’ suits out of the surf. In Chicago, police escorted young women from the Lake Michigan beach because they had bared their arms and legs. In Atlantic City, a woman was attacked by a mob for revealing a short span of thigh. The American Association of Park Superintendents stepped into the fray with official Bathing Suit Regulations, requiring trunks ‘not shorter than four inches above the knee’ and skirts no higher than ‘two inches above the bottom of the trunks.’ Police took to the beaches with tape measures and made mass arrests.”

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Maybe we don’t all need flying cars, but we have to be able to do better than the current municipal buses, which are essentially CO2-vomiting dinosaurs. From Daniel Gross at Slate:

“Forget about Tesla and its futuristic new Gigafactory. When it comes to using electricity for transportation, the real action may lie in the polar opposite of the fancy sports car.

Municipal intracity buses may be déclassé, unloved, slow, lumbering behemoths. But they’re the workhorses of America’s transit systems. Last year, according to the American Public Transportation Association, buses hauled 5.36 billion passengers. While usage has fallen in recent years, thanks in part to the growth of light rail and subway systems, buses still account for more rides each year than heavy rail, light rail, and commuter rail combined—and for about half of all public transit trips.

Proterra, a South Carolina-based manufacturer with Silicon Valley ties, thinks it can lead the electric revolution. Fueled by the two forces that are transforming renewable and alternative energy in this country—venture capital and the U.S. government—the company has already put a few dozen electric buses on the road, with the promise of more to come. ‘Our technology could literally remove every single dirty diesel bus from cities,’ said Proterra CEO Ryan Popple.

It’s difficult for all-electric vehicles to compete against super-efficient hybrid gas cars like the Prius or the hybrid-model Camry, which already get very good gas mileage. ‘But we’re competing against the most atrociously inefficient vehicle in the planet,’ said Popple, a former finance executive at Tesla.”

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A follow-up post to the recent one about the history of air conditioning in the U.S., here’s an exchange about initial resistance to the machines from an interview with Salvatore Basile, author of Cool: How Air Conditioning Changed America, by Susannah Locke of Vox:

Question:

There seemed to be a ton of resistance to the idea of air conditioning. People weren’t even interested in the idea of getting cooler air. Why was that?

Salvatore Basile: 

The US is a puritan country. And because we’re a puritan country, I found that there were people who would quote the book of Amos from the Bible as the reason — that the Lord was the being who created the wind. In other words, man was not to do this. So fans were inherently sinful. This, I think, carried on to the idea of any machine that would change the weather, even though heat was something that we’d been doing for millennia.

The idea of cooling your own air, I have a feeling, to many people that felt very self-indulgent at the time. I think they objected to that from a moral standpoint. So the idea that human comfort would be mixed up with morals, well that’s sort of a bad place for the PR of air conditioning to exist. And when we got into the idea of having a machine that could actually cool the air (and the first examples of that were in the 19th century), there was one man who was ousted from his church because he had seen such a machine. And it was powered by a steam engine, and his church committee had accused him of lying because such a thing could not exist. It was against nature.

So transferring that into the modern time, I think there were many people who thought

God made bad weather so you should just put up with it.’ And I think the idea of dealing with heat was to ignore it. Indeed, in Victorian society, one must ignore hot weather because it did not exist. That was simply the given standard of behavior for the time. And so many people would ignore it and then keel over from heat stroke.

With that kind of mindset in the population, to offer them the chance to be cool did create a lot of opposition at first.”

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The famous “Crying Indian” PSA from four decades ago, which showed a Native-American tearing up over how we had carelessly polluted this great land, was a rousing success, playing upon both a sense of guilt (of both the environmental and genocidal varieties) and one of patriotism. The print and TV ad’s weeping star, Iron Eyes Cody, became (literally) the poster boy for “American Indians.” One problem: He was Italian-American, as much a fake as the glycerine tear he had “shed.” Many parties had an interest in maintaining the lie, and even after the actor was at long last exposed, he continued to deny the ruse until he passed away at 94. Talk about commitment to a role. From Zachary Crockett at Priceonomics:

“From 1930 to the late 1980s, Iron Eyes starred in a variety of Western films alongside the likes of John Wayne, Steve McQueen, and Ronald Reagan. Clad in headdresses and traditional garb, he portrayed Crazy Horse in Sitting Bull (1954), galloped through the plains in The Great Sioux Massacre (1965), and appeared in over 100 television programs. When major motion picture houses needed to verify the authenticity of tribal dances and attire, Iron Eyes was brought in as a consultant. He even provided the ‘ancestral chanting’ on Joni Mitchell’s 1988 album, Chalk Mark in a Rainstorm. 

By all accounts, he was Hollywood’s — and America’s — favorite Native American.

But several (real) Native American actors soon came to doubt Iron Eyes’ authenticity. Jay Silverheels, the Indian actor who played ‘Tonto’ in The Lone Ranger, pointed out inaccuracies in Iron Eyes’ story; Running Deer, a Native American stuntman, agreed that there was something strangely off-putting about the man’s heritage. It wasn’t until years later that these doubts were affirmed.

The Italian Cherokee

In 1996, a journalist with The New Orleans Times-Picayune ventured to Gueydan, Louisiana, the small town Iron Eyes had allegedly grown up in, and sought out his heritage. Here, it was revealed that ‘America’s favorite Indian’ was actually a second-generation Italian. 

‘He just left,’ recalled his sister, Mae Abshire Duhon, ‘and the next thing we heard was that he had turned Indian.’

At first, residents of Gueydan were reticent to reveal Iron Eyes’ true story — simply because  they were proud he’d hailed from there, and didn’t want his image tarnished. Hollywood, along with the ad agencies that had profited from his image, was wary to accept the man’s tale as fabricated. The story didn’t hit the newswires and was slow to gain steam, but The Crying Indian’s cover was eventually blown.”

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Semi-autonomous vehicles are certainly close to be road-ready–cars are already outfitted with some such features–but I would have assumed that fully autonomous ones were more than a decade away. Elon Musk says that it isn’t so, that they’re just a handful of years down the road. From Phys.org:

“US electric car maker Tesla is developing technology that could see vehicles run on ‘full auto pilot’ in as little as five or six years, according to its chief executive Elon Musk.

The colourful entrepreneur said his firm was stepping on the accelerator in the race against rivals such as Google and Volvo to create a driverless car, which could revolutionise the road by drastically cutting mortality rates.

‘The overall system and software will be programmed by Tesla, but we will certainly use sensors and subcomponents from many companies,’ Musk told reporters in Tokyo Monday.

‘I think in the long term, all Tesla cars will have auto-pilot capability,’ added Tesla’s 43-year-old head.

There are no self-driving cars on the market yet, but several automakers have been working on autonomous or semi-autonomous features, such as self parking, which are seen as a major advance for the auto sector.

Musk’s comments suggest that the arrival of self-driving cars could be closer than previously thought—a January report by the research firm IHS said they could start hitting highways by 2025 and number as many as 35 million globally by 2035.”

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Erich Follath of Spiegel interviewed Harvard Politics Professor and U.N. Advisor Michael Ignatieff about the capacity for destruction of the small-but-growing terrorist organization ISIS. An excerpt:

Spiegel:

As justifiably horrified as we are by the barbaric killing being committed by the terrorist group Islamic State, is there truly a threat of genocide? Aren’t the American air strikes already pushing back the radical Islamists?

Michael Ignatieff:

The advance of the Islamic State has not been stopped and the terrorists are regrouping. They control large amounts of territory, which makes them especially dangerous. We shouldn’t just judge the militant organization on the basis of the number of people being threatened in the region and on the question of genocide.

Spiegel:

What else should we judge them on?

Michael Ignatieff:

The Islamic State is an extremely dangerous force for all of the Middle East, and it could destroy its entire fragile structure of state order. If the Islamic State consolidates, the Persian Gulf will also be destabilized, which could jeopardize the global oil supply.

Spiegel:

So it’s more a question of geostrategic concerns than genocide?

Michael Ignatieff:

Both issues are at stake.”

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A paperless world can save the trees, sure, but those data centers we’re all plugged into come with tremendous needs for water and electricity, and every technological advance seemingly grows that beast a little more. From Izabella Kaminska at Financial Times:

“Most technology users remain blissfully unaware of the internet’s carbon footprint because most ‘users’ never have to come up close and personal with a data centre.

Yet, for all the energy efficiency that technology brings us, data centres remain the technology world’s dark little energy guzzling secret.

Data centres, it could be said, represent the unglamorous side of the technology business. They’re the plumbing that holds the whole thing together. They’re the secret sauce that gives one player an advantage over another. As a consequence, there’s zero advantage — either from a security or cosmetic point of view — of bringing attention to where your data centre is located, how it is run or how much energy it consumes.

The location of Visa’s data centres, for example, is strictly guarded. Google, meanwhile, releases only sparse information about how much energy their centres consume.

But according to a new report by Bank of America Merrill Lynch the plumbing that holds the world’s information and technology communication systems together already consumes up to 10 per cent of the world’s electricity.”

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The Economist recently ran a gormless (and now withdrawn) review of Edward E. Baptist’s new book about American slavery. The crux of the worst of it was that the author was somehow being unfair to the “good” slave owners. The opening of Baptist’s riposte in the Guardian:

“In 1845, Frederick Douglass, a fugitive from slavery, joined dozens of white passengers on the British ship Cambria in New York harbor. Somewhere out on the Atlantic, the other passengers discovered that the African American activist in their midst had just published a sensational autobiography. They convinced the captain to host a sort of salon, wherein Douglass would tell them his life story. But when the young black man stood up to talk, a group of Southern slaveholders, on their way to Britain for vacation or business or both, confronted him. Every time Douglass said something about what it was like to be enslaved, they shouted him down: Lies! Lies! Slaves were treated well, insisted the slaveholders; after all, they said, the masters remained financially interested in the health of their human ‘property.’

In a review of my book about slavery and capitalism published the other day, the Economist treated it the same way that the tourist enslavers treated the testimony of Frederick Douglass on that slave-era ship long ago. In doing so, the Economist revealed just how many white people remain reluctant to believe black people about the experience of being black.

Apparently, I shouldn’t have focused my historical research on how some people lived off the uncompensated sweat of their ‘valuable property,’ the magazine’s anonymous reviewer wrote: ‘Almost all the blacks in his book are victims, almost all the whites villains.’ Worst of all, this book reviewer went on, I had, by putting the testimony of ‘a few slaves’ at the heart of book about slavery, somehow abandoned ‘objectivity’ for ‘advocacy.'”

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From David Warmflash’s Discover argument for putting the first permanent space settlement on the Moon instead of Mars:

“A colony on the moon, on the other hand, would be within easy reach. Like Mars, the moon has caverns and caves that can be sealed for paraterraforming, along with craters that can be enclosed with pressure domes.

One fascinating lunar colonyproposal would utilize the Shackleton crater at the moon’s south pole, enclosing a domed city with a 5,000-foot ceiling and a diameter of 25 miles.  A colony in that location would have access to large deposits of water ice and would be situated on the boundary between lunar sunlight and darkness. Its proponents estimate a Shackleton dome colony could support 10,000 settlers after just 15 years of assembly by autonomous robots.

In the event of an Earth-wide disaster, evacuating people to the moon would be far easier than to Mars. Another, even nearer option would be free space colonies. These would be built using materials mined from the moon or from near-Earth asteroids. The colonies could be located in the Earth-moon system at sites that are gravitationally advantageous, known as Lagrangian points. In these regions, a colony’s distance and orientation to both the Earth and the moon, or to the Earth and the sun, would remain constant. Utilizing Earth-moon Lagrangian points, it would be relatively easy to transport lunar materials to the site of the planned colony and build it, and the travel time from Earth would be similar to the travel time to the moon, meaning a few days with current technology.”

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If memory serves, at the conclusion of the 2011 documentary Page One: Inside the New York Times, the young Media Desk reporter Tim Arango was off to Iraq to run the publication’s Baghdad bureau, which then seemed a sleepy-town beat. It awoke like a rough beast with ISIS, sadly, and Arango has done an insightful Ask Me Anything at Reddit about his experiences in the country we destabilized for no good reason. A few exchanges.

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Question:

Do you think our influence in Iraq with the Iraq War was negative?

Tim Arango:

Yes, there is no other way to see it. Everything that is occurring in Iraq today is related the American legacy there. The forerunner of ISIS was created to oppose the American occupation, and many of its leaders were in American detention facilities in Iraq. On the other side of the ledger, as it pertains to Iraqi politics, you see the American legacy. The U.S. basically chose Maliki, whose sectarian politics alienated many Sunnis, creating the fertile ground for ISIS to sweep in to these areas. And many of those Maliki policies that have pushed aside the Sunnis were started by the Americans. Excluding Sunnis from political life? that has its origins in the American De-Baathification policy. Maliki’s security policy of conducting mass arrests of Sunni men in the name of fighting terrorism? the U.S. did that too. So at every turn in the Iraq story now you see the American legacy at play.

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Question:

As a reporter, do you think your safety in Iraq or how you cover the country has changed since 2010?

Tim Arango:

It has changed a great deal. When I first arrived in 2010 the entire country was open to me. I could – and did – go to falluja for lunch, on a whim. Now most of the country is off limits. We can be in Baghdad, the south and the kurdish region in the north. Just about everything else is a no-go.

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Question:

Do you believe that there’s anything in particular about the muslim religion that drives people towards violence? I’m not saying it’s a toxic religion, or that religion can somehow turn people into terrorists, but why do you think it’s more common, nowadays, for terrorists to be somehow affiliated to muslim faiths, and not other religions?

Tim Arango:

No. Every religion has its extremists. Nearly every Iraqi I have ever met has been welcoming and hospitable to me, they are appalled by what is happening in their country.

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Question:

What will it actually take to restore Iraq to a suitable state again? It seems so far down the tunnel now!

Tim Arango:

That is going to be a long project. it’s going to take peace in syria, and within iraq the first step is for sunnis to push out ISIS from their communities. But more importantly, Iraq, if it is ever to achieve peace and prosperity, will need a serious reconciliation effort. There may be no more traumatized society in the world than Iraq, and it goes back decades. Iraqis will need to learn to forgive one another for the past if they are ever to move on.•

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