Excerpts

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With the publication of Jeffrey Toobin’s Patty Hearst book, American Heiress, here’s a 1975 Jesus H. Christ! episode of Geraldo Rivera’s long-ago talk show, Good Night America, which focused on the FBI’s aggressive attempts to capture the at-large Symbionese Liberation Army hostage-cum-soldier, the newspaper scion getting at that point more ink than anyone in the country.

What’s most interesting is that hippie-ish basketball player Bill Walton, then with the Portland Trail Blazers, was hassled by the Feds who believed he knew where “Tania” was hiding. The host taped an interview in San Francisco with the NBA star and speaks in studio to sportswriters Jack and Micki Scott and attorney William Kunstler. Watch here.•

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Either there’s a collective delusion among those racing to successfully complete driverless capability (not impossible), or we’re going to have autonomous vehicles on roads and streets in the next decade.

If that time frame proves correct, these self-directing autos will hastily make redundant taxi, rideshare, bus, truck and delivery drivers and wreak havoc on the already struggling middle class. That doesn’t mean progress should be unduly restrained, but it does mean we’re going to have to develop sound policy answers. 

Not everyone is going to be able to transition into coding or receive a Machine Learning Engineer nanodegree from Udacity. That’s just not realistic. Because of Washington gridlock, we’ve bypassed a golden opportunity to rebuild our infrastructure at near zero interest over the last eight years. It may soon be imperative to push forward not only to save fraying bridges but also faltering Labor.

Excerpts follow from: Maya Kosoff’s Vanity Fair “Hive” piece about Ford’s ambitious plans for wheel-less cars by 2021, and 2) Max Chafkin’s Bloomberg Businessweek article on Uber’s driverless fleet launching this year in Pittsburgh.


From Kosoff:

The world of autonomous vehicles is riddled with hypotheticals. It’s not immediately clear when Uber and Lyft will have self-driving cars (or what will happen to their drivers when they do), but both companies have made it clear that at some point, they see autonomous ride-hailing fleets as the future of their business. The same can be said about Tesla, Google’s self-driving cars, Apple’s top-secret car project, and automakers like General Motors, which haspartnered with Lyft. All these companies must first face novel regulatory hurdles, and few have given the public a hard deadline for when they can expect to see self-driving cars on the road.

Ford, however, is breaking from the pack and marking a date on its calendar: 2021, the carmakerannouncedTuesday. Ford’s self-driving cars won’t have gas or brake pedals or a steering wheel, the company says. And the car is being made specifically for ride-hailing services—it seems Ford is trying to out-Uber Uber. (Uber, for its part,unveiled a self-driving Ford Fusionearlier this year, andreportedlyapproached a number of automakers about partnerships, before taking astrategic investmentfrom Toyota.)

Five years isn’t much time to get a fully-functioning, fully-autonomous vehicle to market, but Ford is moving quickly.•


From Chafkin:

Near the end of 2014, Uber co-founder and Chief Executive Officer Travis Kalanick flew to Pittsburgh on a mission: to hire dozens of the world’s experts in autonomous vehicles. The city is home to Carnegie Mellon University’s robotics department, which has produced many of the biggest names in the newly hot field. Sebastian Thrun, the creator of Google’s self-driving car project, spent seven years researching autonomous robots at CMU, and the project’s former director, Chris Urmson, was a CMU grad student.

“Travis had an idea that he wanted to do self-driving,” says John Bares, who had run CMU’s National Robotics Engineering Center for 13 years before founding Carnegie Robotics, a Pittsburgh-based company that makes components for self-driving industrial robots used in mining, farming, and the military. “I turned him down three times. But the case was pretty compelling.” Bares joined Uber in January 2015 and by early 2016 had recruited hundreds of engineers, robotics experts, and even a few car mechanics to join the venture. The goal: to replace Uber’s more than 1 million human drivers with robot drivers—as quickly as possible.

The plan seemed audacious, even reckless. And according to most analysts, true self-driving cars are years or decades away. Kalanick begs to differ. “We are going commercial,” he says in an interview with Bloomberg Businessweek. “This can’t just be about science.”

Starting later this month, Uber will allow customers in downtown Pittsburgh to summon self-driving cars from their phones, crossing an important milestone that no automotive or technology company has yet achieved.•

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This undated image provided by Amazon.com shows the so-called Prime Air unmanned aircraft project that Amazon is working on in its research and development labs. Amazon says it will take years to advance the technology and for the Federal Aviation Administration to create the necessary rules and regulations, but CEO Jeff Bezos said Sunday Dec. 1, 2013, there's no reason Drones can't help get goods to customers in 30 minutes or less. (AP Photo/Amazon)

If young Americans fortunate to be living in a cool city and on a path to six-figure salaries are sick with worry, how should truck drivers and bellhops be feeling?

Kirk Johnson of the New York Times penned a piece about millennial coders-in-training in Seattle concerned about the swerves awaiting them tomorrow even though thus far they’re the lucky ones. You could say they lack a sense of history about the level of challenges Americans have had in the past–and you’d be right–but they do have a point. If driverless cars and elevator-riding robots are coming for delivery people and hotel employees, respectively, then isn’t it possible that soon coding itself will be an undesired skill? And that’s just one anxiety, before figuring in our poisonous political season, rampant gun violence, geopolitical headaches, etc. Despite all that, millennials in Syria would still love to trade places with them.

The opening:

SEATTLE — Part of Jillian Boshart’s life plays out in tidy, ordered lines of JavaScript computer code, and part in a flamboyant whirl of corsets and crinoline. She’s a tech student by day, an enthusiastic burlesque artist and producer by night. “Code-mode” and “show-mode,” she calls those different guises.

“My mother got stage fright for me,” she said on a recent night while talking about her childhood performances and dreams. She looked like a 1940s starlet in a tight, black sequined dress, a red rose pinned into her red hair. “I like to be prepared,” she said. “I like to be in control.”

At age 31, she seems to be. This year she won a coveted spot at a nonprofit tech school for women here, whose recent graduates have found jobs with starting salaries averaging more than $90,000. Seattle, where she came after college in Utah to study musical theater, is booming with culture and youthful energy.

But again and again, life has taught Ms. Boshart, and others in her generation, that control can be elusive. In the dot-com crash of the early 2000s, her family lost the college savings they had been putting aside for her. Her father, a nurse, was laid off after 35 years on the job. Her sister and brother-in-law lost their house in the throes of the Great Recession. And very little in the world around Ms. Boshart has led her to feel a sense of comfort and ease: not the soaring costs of living in Seattle, not the whirlwind roar of reinvention in the tech world, certainly not the barbed clamor of national politics. Even for someone who seems to have drawn one of her generation’s winning hands, it feels like a daunting time to be coming of age in America.

“I don’t just expect things to unfold, or think, ‘Well, now I’ve got it made,’ because there’s always a turn just ahead of you and you don’t know what’s around that corner,” she said.

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Once upon a time, traditional newspaper companies feared the blogosphere would put them out of business. In retrospect, that was a hopeful outcome.

The concern that a type of written content would be undone by another lesser one didn’t came to pass, most blogs never coming close to profitable, It was the new platform itself that broke the promise the print business had always rested upon. Once the advertising process was quantified, the clicks counted, the dollars that disappeared could not be replaced online money. The dream could no longer be sold. The whole system was cratered by the technological shift, not a surfeit of snark. Still, some today think the New York Times might be spared the worst if it adapts Jon Stewart’s witty tone. That’s where we stand now.

From “Time for the Last Post,” Trevor Butterworth’s 2006 Financial Times piece about the threat of the weblog:

As syndicated radio host and law professor Hugh Hewitt wrote in the conservative Weekly Standard last August, “It is hard to overstate the speed with which the information reformation is advancing – or to overestimate its impact on politics and culture. The mainstream media is a hollowed-out shell of its former self when it comes to influence, and when advertisers figure out who is reading the blogs, the old media is going to see their advertising base drain away, and not slowly.”

We are witnessing “the dawn of a blogosphere dominant media”, announced Michael S. Malone, who has been described as “the Boswell of Silicon Valley”. “Five years from now, the blogosphere will have developed into a powerful economic engine that has all but driven newspapers into oblivion, has morphed (thanks to cell phone cameras) into a video medium that challenges television news and has created a whole new group of major media companies and media superstars. Billions of dollars will be made by those prescient enough to either get on board or invest in these companies.”

Even the ne plus ultra of American public intellectuals, Richard Posner, senior lecturer in law at the University of Chicago, former chief judge on the US Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit, declared blogging to be “the latest and perhaps gravest challenge to the journalistic establishment” (although it is worth noting that Judge Posner decided to publish his meditation in The New York Times Book Review rather than on his own blog).

But as with any revolution, we must ask whether we are being sold a naked emperor. Is blogging really an information revolution? Is it about to drive the mainstream news media into oblivion? Or is it just another crock of virtual gold – a meretricious equivalent of all those noisy internet start-ups that were going to build a brave “new economy” a few years ago?

Shouldn’t we just be a tiny bit sceptical of another information revolution following on so fast from the last one – especially as this time round no one is even pretending to be getting rich?•

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Donald Trump, both George Steinbrenner and George Wallace, has rebooted his jackbooting campaign yet again, this time recruiting vituperative Breitbart News overlord Steve Bannon, perhaps the only white American who feels as inexplicably cheated as the candidate. It will not go well.

This backstage machinations were occurring yesterday even as Trump, the most bigoted and hateful and oppressive major-party American Presidential nominee perhaps ever, was publishing a Facebook post announcing “we will reject bigotry and hatred and oppression in all its forms.” It was no doubt maddening to the Archie Bunker-ish buffoon that he was being urged to reach out beyond his usual whites-only “yes” network. Those moderating episodes, however erratic they may have been, are now likely over.

In the Spiegel commentary “An International Disaster,” Marc Pitzke’s says the fun of the primary season is long over, though I haven’t thought there was anything fun about Trump since he began his racist Birther publicity tour in 2011. The opening:

These US presidential elections were fun once. Particularly on the Republican side: At one point during the primaries, there were 17 candidates running around, including obscure current and former governors, a retired brain surgeon with sleepy eyes, the inevitable Rick Santorum — and Donald Trump, who once impersonated a successful businessman on a reality show.

Now he’s impersonating a presidential candidate. That, too, used to be fun. He played a wretched character who humiliated anyone who stood in his way: immigrants, women, Muslims, the disabled, veterans and his Republican rivals, who keeled over one by one — “Little Marco,” “Low-Energy Jeb,” “Lyin’ Ted.”

It was fantastic reality TV, generating fantastic ratings, fantastic headlines, fantastic page views. Haha, that Trump! Look what he’s said this time! All that fun made us forget that we were talking about the world’s most powerful office.

But now the fun is over. Trump has long since shown his true side. And behold, this wretched character wasn’t an act after all. It wasn’t a mask he wore for the primaries. That wretched character was Trump. It is Trump. There is no good Dr. Jekyll behind the evil Mr. Hyde. Donald Trump is Hyde, the monster minus Jekyll, devoid of compassion, contrition, self-control.

And that’s not funny anymore.•

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If our species survives in the long run, some things are probably inevitable: 3D-printed organs, computer chips treating brain diseases, drug delivery via nanoparticles. These will certainly be positive developments. The trickier aspect arrives when we shift from treating what are clearly biological flaws to opting for augmentation, that moment when humanness itself is viewed as a “failing.”

Paul Armstrong of Forbes addresses these issues in a Q&A with futurist Gerd Leonhard, author of the soon-to-be published Technology vs. Humanity: The Coming Clash Between Man and MachineIt’s a good exchange, with Leonhard voicing concern about tools moving from inside our chest pockets to inside our chests. He argues humans are ill-prepared for a future where machines achieve superintelligence.

The opening:

Paul Armstrong:

You say humanity will change more in the next 20 years than it has in the last 300. Why do you think this is true when most technological advances seem to have had little to do with humans themselves and rather the effect they have or problems they have created for themselves?

Gerd Leonhard:

Technology is always created by humans and in turn re-defining what we can and will do. Every single technological change is now impacting humanity in a much deeper way than ever before because technology will soon impact our own biology, primarily via the rise of genome editing and artificial intelligence. Technology is no longer just a tool we use to achieve something – we are actually (as McLuhan predicted) becoming tools (ie. technology) ourselves. Some of my futurist colleagues call this transhumanism – something I personally think we should examine with great caution. Yet, exponential technological development in sectors such as computing and deep learning, nano-science, material sciences, energy (batteries!) etc means that beyond a doubt we are quickly heading towards that point where computers / robots / AI will have the same processing power as the human brain (10 quadrillion CPS – connections per second), the so-called singularity, in probably less than 10 years. When this happens we will need to decide of we want to ‘merge’ with the machines or not, and the stance I am taking in this book is clear on that discussion: we should embrace technology but not become it, because technology is not what we seek, it’s how we seek!•

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I’ve mentioned before that one of the unspoken downsides to the unhinged stylings of walking dunce cap Donald Trump is that we’ve been unable to have a serious, adult conversation about the challenges facing us, economic and otherwise, during this election season.

Case in point: The reshoring of manufacturing in America will not allow us to recapture a giant number of high-paying jobs, not with automation reaching the first stages of maturity. Some corporations and analysts speak excitedly of a collaboration between humans and machines, the two working hand in robotic hand, but that is at best for the near term, with just a few positions for us now and even fewer down the line. If factories are no longer going to provide such solid middle-class positions, what is? 

It would be great to ask this question of Hillary Clinton when she speaks about bringing outsourced work home, but it’s tough to focus on such issues since she’s running against a madman.

From Don Lee at the Los Angeles Times:

Here’s a little reality check on the current presidential campaign and promises by both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton to bring back jobs from overseas.

It’s about a private Michigan company called Ranir, which makes, among other things, the business end of electric toothbrushes. After spending two years and millions of dollars to reengineer its toothbrush heads, Ranir brought back fully one-fifth of that production from China to its facility in Grand Rapids.

It’s precisely the kind of thing that both Clinton and Trump, with varying degrees of emphasis and policy prescriptions, have pledged to accelerate as a way to cure America’s blue-collar woes. Using tougher trade policies with China and others to restore the nation’s manufacturing sector will bring home jobs, the theory goes.

Ranir’s experience appears to back up such assumptions at first blush. After all, now it is American workers who are busy around the clock churning out 13,000 toothbrush heads a day for Wal-Mart, Walgreens and other retailers.

There’s just one catch: Thanks to the new robotic manufacturing process that Ranir adopted, it takes only four workers at the American plant to do the same job that almost certainly required dozens more in China.•

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Soon or later (and I’d bet the latter), life will be radically extended, which will be wonderful, though great quantity doesn’t necessarily guarantee equal quality. Even beyond the very practical questions of initially costly miracle medical treatments becoming available during a time of yawning wealth inequality, philosophical queries abound: Would infinite chances reduce the meaning of all of them? If procrastination knew no costs, would a need to achieve diminish? When there’s no more midlife crisis, will the whole thing seem like a crisis?

The end of aging will surely be complicated ethically, economically and culturally, but considering the enormous positives such an advance would deliver, it’s a cross we can bear.

On this topic, Vice presents the opening of Eve Herold’s new book, Beyond Human, which wonders about the myriad ramifications of Transhumanism and amortality. There’s a graceful introduction to the piece written by Kate Lowenstein, an excellent person I worked with some years ago. 

Herold’s first two paragraphs:

Meet Victor, the future of humanity. He’s 250 years old but looks and feels 30. Having suffered from heart disease in his 50s and 60s, he now has an artificial heart that gives him the strength and vigor to run marathons. His type 2 diabetes was cured a century ago by the implantation of an artificial pancreas. He lost an arm in an accident, but no one would know that he has an artificial one that obeys his every thought and is far stronger than the original. He wears a contact lens that streams information about his body and the environment to his eye and can access the internet anytime he wants through voice commands. If it weren’t for the computer chips that replaced the worn-out cells of his retina, he would have become blind countless years ago. Victor isn’t just healthy and fit; he’s much smarter than his forebears now that his brain has been enhanced through neural implants that expanded his memory, allow him to download knowledge, and even help him make decisions.

While 250 might seem like a ripe old age, Victor has little worry about dying because billions of tiny nanorobots patrol his entire body, repairing cells damaged by disease or aging, fixing DNA mistakes before they can cause any harm, and destroying cancer cells wherever they emerge. With all the advanced medical technologies Victor has been able to take advantage of, his life has not been a bed of roses. Many of his loved ones either didn’t have access to or opted out of the life-extending technologies and have passed away. He has had several careers that successively became obsolete due to advancing technology and several marriages that ended in divorce after he and his partners drifted apart after 40 years or so. His first wife, Elaine, was the love of his life. When they met in college, both were part of a movement that rejected all “artificial” biomedical interventions and fought for the right of individuals to live, age, and die naturally. For several decades, they bonded over their mutual dedication to the cause of “natural” living and tried to raise their two children to have the same values.•

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Russian revolutionaries and leaders Joseph Stalin (1879 - 1953), Vladimir Ilyich Lenin (1870 - 1924), and Mikhail Ivanovich Kalinin (1875 - 1946), at the Congress of the Russian Communist Party. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

Anatole Konstantin escaped from Stalin’s Soviet Union, for the most part.

Having moved to the U.S. in 1949 as a child refugee after the murder of his father by the secret police, Konstantin became an engineer and entrepreneur, living out an America Dream he wasn’t aware existed until emerging from behind the Iron Curtain. 

I say he escaped “for the most part” because an answer he gave in regards to an Edward Snowden question during a new Reddit AMA seems approving of a surveillance state. Of course, that attitude, perplexingly enough, probably doesn’t place him in the minority in his adopted country.


Question:

Why did your father get executed by the secret police?

Anatole Konstantin:

He was executed because he was corresponding with his parents in Romania and any correspondence with a foreign country made one suspected of being a spy. 50 years after his disappearance, a letter from the KGB informed us of his execution and also that he was being “posthumously rehabilitated,” admitting that he was innocent.

Question:

Was your father given a mock trial prior to his execution, to give the appearance of justice having been served? I’m sorry for your loss, it’s inspiring to hear someone who went through so much hardship make something of themselves.

Anatole Konstantin:

The trials were secret and we didn’t know the results until 50 years later when Gorbachev came to power. The KGB made lists of suspects who were tortured into signing prepared confessions and then were sent to the Gulags or to be executed, usually standing on the edge of a ditch and receiving a bullet in the back of the head.


Question:

What cultural difference shocked You the most?

Anatole Konstantin:

It was the availability of books on different philosophies and points of view. When I went to the library I didn’t know which book to read first and I just stood there.


Question:

How did you get enough funds to make your way to America? How was the trip arranged?

Anatole Konstantin:

I didn’t need any funds. The United Nations Refugee Organization took care of all travel arrangements for displaced persons like myself. At that time the United States admitted 200,000 displaced persons from Europe.

Question:

Any thoughts on the Syrian refugee crisis? Specifically how some Americans are worried that ISIS members can pretend to be refugees to sneak into the US. Did you experience any similar anti-communist backlash when you came to America? My parents were refugees from communist Vietnam, so I’m very interested to hear another refugee’s opinion.

Anatole Konstantin:

The Syrian refugees are victims of religious fanatics. The refugees from Communism were victims of political fanatics. While the motivations are different, they both come from fanatics who do not value human life. When I came I did not experience any backlash; I was more anti-Communist than anybody here.


Question:

What are your thoughts about current events involving Russia, Ukraine, and the US? How do you think the conflict should be resolved?

Anatole Konstantin:

From Putin’s point of view, it’s inadmissible that Ukraine should join NATO. The United States became involved because it was a signatory together with Russia and Ukraine to the agreement that Ukraine surrenders the nuclear weapons on its territory in exchange for guaranteeing its borders. The majority of people in Crimea prefer to be part of Russia rather than Ukraine. Therefore, the question is very complex and if one considers history and the different requirements of the parties, I do not see any reasonable solution.


Question:

What is your opinion of this year’s Presidential election?

Anatole Konstantin:

I think that the choice we have is the worst since I came to the United States in 1949.


Question:

How do you view Edward Snowden and the issue of warrantless surveillance by the NSA?

Anatole Konstantin:

In regards to Snowden, I can’t visualize a country functioning if every citizen could decide what is appropriate and what should be published based on their personal beliefs. The American judicial system is based on punishing acts that have already happened. The challenge now is to be able to prevent these acts from happening in the first place. This means that the government has to know what people are thinking. The difference is that suspects here are still entitled to their day in court.


Question:

Is there anything you miss about the old country?

Anatole Konstantin:

Yes, the people in those countries did a lot of singing. Someone would even sing loudly to themselves depending on how they felt.•

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Automobiles remade the world, in more ways than we could have initially imagined. Nobody could have predicted the environmental fallout of the internal-combustion engine, for instance, but other effects could have been predicted by anyone not wholly myopic.

Now we’re parked at another precipice, with autonomous cars nearly ready to remake society in a similarly profound way. Along with the great advantages that will attend self-driving vehicles, there’ll come numerous challenges. One of them is a financial jolt to the middle class that will make the slow waning of the last four decades seem relatively rosy.

In a smart Backchannel article, Robin Chase explains that since driverless is ultimately going to happen–and sooner or later, it will–we need to be proactive in steering the economic and social ramifications even as we give up the actual wheel. Part of her prescription for a relatively smooth transition is a radical reworking of capitalism, since a largely automated society that’s also a free-market one cannot be managed by shopworn policy.

An excerpt:

A Capitalism Do-Over. Productivity gains once were the harbinger of improved standards of living, and improved quality of life, but automation brings jobless productivity gains. Self driving cars will be the ultimate example of this: AVs will probably be productively employed and generating revenue about 65 percent of the time, compared to our personal car’s 5 percent. No one can deny that enormous productivity gains are being enjoyed. But with so few associated workers, enjoyed by whom?

As an entrepreneur, I appreciate the hours and years of effort that has gone into building these AVs: the new IP, the many years and huge costs without any revenue to show for it. But I also understand that this is a massive market (trillions of dollars worldwide seems plausible), and the marginal cost of running the software for each of those trips will be close to zero. We need to make sure we distribute this new wealth, by closing corporate tax loopholes and taxing wealth and platforms more effectively.

As we lose more jobs, the necessity for change opens up the possibility of a fairer system, one that minimizes income inequality. A Bureau of Labor Statistics study projected an 83 percent probability of job loss by automation for workers earning less than $20 an hour, and a 34 percent probability for jobs between $20–40 an hour. In the new automated world, does it really make sense to be taxing labor at all? It makes much more sense to be taxing the new technical platforms that are generating the profits, and taxing the wealth of the small number of talented and lucky people who founded and financed these new jobless wonders.

In a world where machines do most of the work, it is time for a universal basic income. This will distribute the gains from productivity, and give more people the opportunity to focus on purposeful, passion-driven work, allowing for the next generation of ideas and technologies to emerge faster.

How we deal with the job loss caused by AVs will be a signature model for how we respond to automation throughout the economy. Even more, it may be the flood that sweeps clean a system that no longer serves the people.

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Donald Trump, the size of a bread truck and 3x as dense as the planet Neptune, loves pointing out the struggles of contemporary newspapers and magazines as a petty means of avenging their accurate reporting on his disgusting, rudderless campaign. But let’s not forget that several times in a far more kindly climate for print, the hideous hotelier’s attempts at glossy success rained red ink over all involved.

In the smart Politico piece “I Survived ‘Trump’ Magazine—Barely,” Carey Purcell, one of his former publishing-biz employees, recalls learning the hard way of the hideous hotelier’s suspect business acumen. The opening:

I had been at Trump magazine for only four months when my first paycheck bounced.

We’d heard rumors of the company’s financial troubles, but I had no idea how bad it really was until my landlord called me one afternoon to tell me that my rent check hadn’t cleared. I logged into my online banking account and saw, to my amazement, that the magazine I worked for—the one with the billionaire’s name on the cover—had stiffed me. Although it was a stressful moment, the irony was not lost on me. It felt like I was living in an Onion article: “Luxury Lifestyle Magazine Can’t Pay Its Own Employees.”

It was the fall of 2006, and Trump magazine was my first job in journalism—albeit as the receptionist. I’d landed the gig by answering an ad on Craigslist. Fresh out of journalism school, I moved to New York with two undergraduate degrees, my student loans, some meager savings and dreams of becoming a theater critic. The receptionist gig paid a paltry $25,000 per year—barely minimum wage. And that was when the checks cleared.

Personally, I had never been a fan of Donald Trump and knew very little about the man. I had never seen The Apprentice and I was hardly a real estate expert. The piles of fan mail that arrived at our office addressed to him—filled with adoring testaments to his “genius”—amused me to no end. We received handwritten letters asking for money, a formal request for Donald’s daughter Ivanka to escort a woman’s son to his Junior Ring Dance at the Air Force Academy, and incoherent six-page rants about the state of the economy and how Trump was the only man who could fix it. One letter stated, “I sincerely hope you will run for president someday.”

Before I was hired at Trump, the magazine had already gained a reputation, most of which I wouldn’t find out about until after it folded. And by that time, I had been diagnosed with cancer and—thanks to Trump—lost my health coverage.•

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Republican Presidential nominee Donald Trump, the Bernie Goetz as a business mogul, may not be merely ignorant, immoral and bigoted, but perhaps he’s also seriously mentally ill. Who knows? He certainly behaves that way, in a manner that goes beyond just a deeply narcissistic person long sealed inside an ugly-as-sin echo chamber. 

At Deadline Hollywood, Greg Evans reports on Robert De Niro comparing Trump to another unhinged New Yorker, the fictional Travis Bickle:

“What (Trump) has been saying is totally crazy, ridiculous, stuff that shouldn’t be even… he is totally nuts,” De Niro said. “One of the things to me was just the irony at the end [of Taxi Driver],” De Niro said about the moment in the film when Bickle “is back driving a cab, celebrated, which is kind of relevant in some way today too…People like Donald Trump who shouldn’t be where he is so… God help us.”

One of the odder things about this Baba Booey of an election season is Republicans clinging to the belief that Trump can hit some sort of magical reset button, making not only his heretofore disgusting behavior vanish but also disappearing all his horrid character traits, as if what might be remedied through decades of therapy could be cured in a campaign war room in minutes.

In a New York Times article, Alexander Burns and Maggie Haberman, who’ve done brilliant work throughout the election, write of the hideous hotelier’s foundering efforts at reinvention. An excerpt:

Advisers who once hoped a Pygmalion-like transformation would refashion a crudely effective political showman into a plausible American president now increasingly concede that Mr. Trump may be beyond coaching. He has ignored their pleas and counsel as his poll numbers have dropped, boasting to friends about the size of his crowds and maintaining that he can read surveys better than the professionals. 

In private, Mr. Trump’s mood is often sullen and erratic, his associates say. He veers from barking at members of his staff to grumbling about how he was better off following his own instincts during the primaries and suggesting he should not have heeded their calls for change.

He broods about his souring relationship with the news media, calling Mr. Manafort several times a day to talk about specific stories. Occasionally, Mr. Trump blows off steam in bursts of boyish exuberance: At the end of a fund-raiser on Long Island last week, he playfully buzzed the crowd twice with his helicopter. 

But in interviews with more than 20 Republicans who are close to Mr. Trump or in communication with his campaign, many of whom insisted on anonymity to avoid clashing with him, they described their nominee as exhausted, frustrated and still bewildered by fine points of the political process and why his incendiary approach seems to be sputtering.•

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Despite the constantly updated headlines, the world is likely getting much better by most measures, the major asterisk being climate change. Conditions have never seemed worse, though, with beheadings, xenophobia and terrorism in our faces and on our minds. A connected and wired world presents many shocks to the system, the Global Village both boon and bane. But we only seem to foresee dystopias now. 

H.G. Wells, who wrote science fiction before it was so named, envisioned tomorrow’s downsides but held out hope. The author believed we should toss out the history books, which he felt poisoned us with nationalism, and start anew. His more optimistic side has been adopted by many Silicon Valley technologists, his pessimism by those crafting fiction. A strange dichotomy.

Excerpts from: 1) John Higgs’ Guardian article about the contemporary obsession with things falling apart, and 2) Jaron Lanier’s 2011 Edge article on Wells’ concerns about wealth inequality in the age of machines.

 


From Higgs:

For Wells, imagining a viable version of the future was an intellectual game. It was a chance to show off, and a seemingly respectable way to be deeply subversive. Writing to his friend Elizabeth Healy, he described Anticipations, his 1901 book of predictions, as “designed to undermine and destroy the monarch, monogamy, faith in God and respectability – and the British empire, all under the guise of a speculation about motor cars and electric heating”. Futurology, for Wells, was exhilarating. The idea that writers would give up even trying was so implausible that Wells never imagined it.

The sudden disappearance of worthwhile futures from our culture coincided with the rise in our understanding of climate change. Global warming indeed appears inevitable and apocalyptic, but is this reason enough to remove all hope from our visions of the future? Rising sea levels, the need to decarbonise the economy, and chaotic shifts in ecosystems are all difficult problems to engage with, but we are a species that lived through the Black Death, the Somme and the threat of global thermonuclear war. It seems odd that we would give up now.

I suspect the real problem is as much a rejection of originality as it is a reaction to climate change. In a hypermediated age where we are constantly engaged in filtering out the irrelevant, the last thing we want is to tackle the genuinely new.

But originality was Wells’s calling card.•


From Lanier:

This brings us back, literally thousands of years to an ancient discussion that continues to this day about exactly how people can make a living, or make their way when technology gets better. There is an Aristotle quote about how when the looms can operates themselves, all men will be free. That seems like a reasonable thing to say, a precocious thing for somebody to have said in ancient times. If we zoom forward to the 19th century, we had a tremendous amount of concern about this question of how people would make their way when the machines got good. In fact, much of our modern intellectual world started off as people’s rhetorical postures on this very question.

Marxism, the whole idea of the left, which still dominates the Bay Area where this interview is taking place, was exactly, precisely about this question. This is what Marx was thinking about, and in fact, you can read Marx and it sometimes weirdly reads likes a Silicon Valley rhetoric. It’s the strangest thing; all about “boundaries falling internationally,” and “labor and markets opening up,” and all these things. It’s the weirdest thing.

In fact, I had the strange experience years ago, listening to some rhetoric on the radio … it was KPFA, in fact, the lefty station … and I thought, ‘Oh, God, it’s one of these Silicon startups with their rhetoric about how they’re going to bring down market barriers,’ and it turned out to be an anniversary reading of Das Kapital. The language was similar enough that one could make the mistake.

The origin of science fiction was exactly in this same area of concern. H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine foresees a future in which there are the privileged few who benefit from the machines, and then there are the rest who don’t, and both of them become undignified, lesser creatures. Separate species.•


H.G. Wells meets Orson Welles in San Antonio (audio only):

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If performance-enhancing drugs weren’t at all dangerous to the athletes using them, should they be banned?

I bet plenty of people would say they should, bowing before some notion of competitive purity which has never existed. It’s also a nod to “god-given ability,” a curious concept in an increasingly agnostic world. Why should those born with the best legs and lungs be the fastest? Why should the ones lucky enough to have the greatest gray matter at birth be our best thinkers? Why should those fortunate to initially get the healthiest organs live the longest? It doesn’t make much sense to hold back the rest of the world out of respect for a few winners of the genetics lottery.

Stephen Hsu, who had a Nautilus piece included on Afflictor’s 2015 “50 Great Articles Online for Free” list, has penned for that publication another excellent essay: “We Are Nowhere Close to the Limits of Athletic Performance.” It relates how genetic engineering will supercharge athletes and the rest of us, making widely available the gifts of Usain Bolt, who gained his from hard work, sure, but also a twist of fate. In fact, extrapolating much further, Hsu believes “speciation seems a definite possibility.”

An excerpt about CRISPR:

[George] Church has also been involved in one of the greatest scientific breakthroughs of recent decades: the development of a highly efficient gene editing tool called CRISPR, which has been approved for clinical trials for medical applications. If CRISPR-related technologies develop as anticipated, designer humans are at most a few decades away. Editing is most easily done soon after conception, when the embryo consists of only a small number of cells, but it is also possible in adults. Clinical trials of CRISPR, when they start this year, will edit existing cells in adults using an injection of a viral vector. It seems likely that CRISPR, or some improved version of it, will be established to be both safe and effective in the near future.

Because complex traits are controlled by so many variants, we know that there is a huge pool of untapped potential that no human—not Shaq, Bolt, or anyone else—has come close to exhausting. No living human has anywhere near all of the possible positive versions of the relevant genetic variants. The whole enterprise of competitive athletics has been, in effect, a search algorithm for genetic outliers, but it’s been running for less than a century, and it hasn’t been particularly efficient. Its approach has been to passively wait for random recombinations to produce those variants, and hope that athletic programs find the best individuals.

Now we are entering an era in which it will not be chance that configures DNA, but rather the human intellect via tools of its own creation. As our understanding of complex traits improves, genetic engineers will be able to modify strength, size, explosiveness, endurance, quickness, speed, and even the determination and drive required for extensive athletic training.•

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Certain questions about editorial content were answered emphatically during Web 1.0: NOBODY will read long articles on a screen. NOBODY will sacrifice privacy in this radically free new frontier. NOBODY will pay for content, which wants to be free. 

Over time, those seemingly obvious new rules had to be rewritten. As Internet connections and portable devices improved, people were willing to read long-form pieces online. The public shockingly, depressingly ceded their private information to corporations, going down with more of a whimper than a bang. The final answer, a riff off an oft-misunderstood Stewart Brand quote, is a murkier thing. 

Those who stuck to their belief that content shouldn’t be given away looked wise after all the received wisdom began to be questioned, and paywalls at the New York Times and other publications attracted credit-card numbers. The thing is, profits from these streams aren’t nearly enough to make ends meet. The truth may ultimately be that neither paywalls nor no paywalls will be the correct answer.

From Rob Lever at Yahoo! News:

Washington (AFP) – Paywalls were supposed to help rescue newspapers from the crisis of sinking print circulation as readers shifted to getting their news online. 

But with a few exceptions, they have failed to deliver much relief, prompting some news organizations to rethink their digital strategies.

Newspapers in the English-speaking world ended paywalls some 69 times through May 2015, including 41 temporary and 28 permanent drops, according to a study by University of Southern California researchers.

Paywalls “generate only a small fraction of industry revenue,” with estimates ranging from one percent in the United States to 10 percent internationally, the study in July’s International Journal of Communication said.

“People are far less willing to pay for online news than for print,” said USC journalism professor Mike Ananny, an author of the study.

Newspapers are in a difficult spot, he added, because online advertising generates a fraction of print’s revenue, and news organizations are already pressured by falling print circulation.•

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I don’t want to die, but have I any other options?

Anti-aging therapies are genuinely advancing, but I don’t suspect they’ll be ready for those of us who’ve already reached adulthood. But what of those being born now, those to come into the world in 2050 or 2100? How long a lifespan will they enjoy? When will life become radically extended and 120 a routine age? Most importantly: Will aging ultimately be cured?

Lifespans grew much longer over the last century or so because infant deaths were markedly decreased, medical procedures became far more sanitary and antibiotics were discovered. It was elongation born of improvements at the margins. The next wave will attempt to go to the heart of senescence, to treat it and defeat it, with gene therapies, an endless supply of replacement organs and other measures.

It will be great but complicated. In “Cheating Death,” an excellent Economist piece that asks us to “imagine a world in which ageing had been abolished,” the writer identifies some of the clouds in an endless summer, from income inequality making access to treatments wildly uneven to severe strains on pensions when people are routinely centenarians or perhaps far older. It’s a really interesting thought experiment, though I think it falls into the trap of extrapolating one key thing (life extension) while keeping all other factors (economics, etc.) static. Life rarely proceeds in such a manner.

An excerpt:

From an individual’s viewpoint, this all sounds very desirable. For society as a whole, though, it will have profound effects. Most of them will be good, but not all.

One concern is that long life will exacerbate existing social and economic problems. The most immediate challenge will be access to anti-senescence treatment. If longer life is expensive, who gets it first? Already, income is one of the best predictors of lifespan. Widening the gap with treatments inaccessible to the poor might deepen divisions that are already straining democracies.

Will older workers be discriminated against, as now, or will numbers give them the whip hand over the young? Will bosses cling on, stymying the careers of their underlings, or will they grow bored, quit and do something else entirely? And would all those old people cease to consider themselves elderly, retaining youthfully vigorous mental attitudes as well as physical ones—or instead make society more conservative (because old people tend to be)?

A reason for hoping that the elderly would turn out less hidebound is that life itself would be more a series of new beginnings than one single story. Mid-life crises might be not so much about recapturing lost youth as wondering how to make the most of the next half-century.

Retirement would become a more distant option for most, since pension pots would have to be enormous to support their extended lifespans. 

To this end, the portfolio career would become the rule and education would have to change accordingly. People might go back to school in their 50s to learn how to do something completely different. The physical labourer would surely need a rest. The accountant might become a doctor. The lawyer, a charity worker. Perhaps some will take long breaks between careers and party wildly, in the knowledge that medicine can offer them running repairs.

Boredom, and the need for variety, would alter family life, too.

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Apollo 15 astronaut Al Worden participated in a Reddit AMA, which mostly centered on his 1971 trip to the moon. In the course of the Q&A, he had kind remarks for both Wernher von Braun and Donald Trump, which is perfectly symmetrical, when you consider the former was an actual Nazi and the latter at least posturing as a Hitler-ish hotelier. Apart from politics, he comments on the current state of space exploration, which he seems to believe is lacking. A few exchanges follow.


Question:

Was going to the moon tough to top? Did you come back and have trouble figuring out ‘what next’?

Al Worden:

That’s a very good question. Going to the moon required a skillset, much like driving a car or flying an airplane. There are many other intellectual challenges that require thought process way beyond anything I needed to make a lunar flight. I think it’s very important for the future that we motivate young people in STEM courses, and that, to me, is intellectually challenging.


Question:

  1. As I have read, you never did an EVA on the moon, but orbited the moon. Can you describe the feeling of orbiting another planet, looking not just at the Moon, but also at the Earth. Do you remember any special thoughts you had?
  2. What do you think of the technological advancements of SpaceX and their construction of reusable rockets, and their plans to go to Mars?
  3. What would you say to all the young people around the world who loves space and aspire to make a future career in space exploration, through the means of engineering, piloting, physics, chemistry, biology and/or other ways to contribute to the research for future space travel and exploration?
    Sincerely, a Swedish Masters of Computer Science and Engineering student.

Al Worden:

  1. I remember vividly looking every 2 hours for Earth-rise over the Lunar horizon. The moon was a very cold, and deadly place, but the Earth was beautiful in the colors and the atmosphere.
  2. Space-X is not the only commercial company that is flying into space. There is Boeing and Orbital/ATK. In the next few years, we will see lots of commercial launches into space, however they will probably be limited to Earths orbit, because the requirements are too great to go into deep space. Space-X is talking about going to Mars, but that remains to be seen.
  3. I am a firm believer that any young person working their way through college should take whatever they want, but do very well with it. In the future there will be positions for all disciplines but those who study STEM programs will be in the fore-front.

Question:

Who are the unsung heroes of the Apollo program? Was there anyone who played a big role that history hasn’t recorded very well?

Al Worden:

I would say that maybe one of the unsung heroes was Wernher Von Braun. He did get considerable amount of publicity, but he was the chief architect for the Apollo Program. And in-fact there were many, many that were critical to the program that no one knows about.


Question:

Have you ever seen a candidate for President like Donald Trump?

Al Worden:

No, but political conditions of today require someone like Trump to set this country straight.


Question:

What do you think about all the technological advancements in space travel, and where do you think space travel will be in the future?

Al Worden:

My feelings are there are no technological advances in space travel in the past 40 years. In fact, the system that is being designed to go to Mars, is really just an oversized Apollo.


Question:

If you could go to the moon one more time, would you go?

Al Worden:

No, the moon has no interest. We need to go further out.•

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In “Fun With DNA,” Sam Kean’s Atlantic article, the author offers up some uses, potential and actual, for genetic code, from the theoretical resurrection of the woolly mammoth (which wouldn’t exactly be a woolly mammoth) to the storage of classic movies (which are exact duplicates). It makes for an economical storage system, for sure. As the article points out: The equivalent of 1 million CDs full of information can fit into a single gram of DNA. Of course, the data will eventually be mixed and matched, and that’s when the games will get messy and possibly dangerous.

An excerpt:

DNA is the oldest medium in existence for storing data, so it makes sense that the double helix could find use in computing. Scientists can encode data as DNA by assigning every number and letter to a unique string of A’s, C’s, G’s, and T’s (much like modern computers encode data as 1’s and 0’s) and then producing strands of synthetic DNA with that information. DNA-sequencing machines can later extract the data.

Why bother? Aside from being ultra-durable, DNA is also an incredibly efficient way to store information. Scientists have already been able to fit 700 terabytes of data—roughly the equivalent of 1 million CDs—in a single gram of DNA, and it can theoretically hold far more. By some estimates, all of the data currently stored on the world’s disk drives could fit in the palm of your hand if encoded in DNA. For this reason, Technicolor, the entertainment company, has begun storing old movies as DNA, starting with the 1902 film A Trip to the Moon. You can also copy DNA-based data nearly indefinitely with simple enzymes. The Harvard geneticist George Church recently converted a book he wrote into DNA, then made 70 billion copies in a test tube—making it the most reproduced text in history.

Beyond just storing data, some researchers have suggested using DNA to build biological computers. These biocomputers wouldn’t look like laptops, with screens and keyboards. Rather, they’d be chemicals inside test tubes or biological membranes. But like laptops, they would have the ability to take in information, process it, and act. DNA seems especially promising for parallel processing, which involves making millions or even billions of computations simultaneously. (An example is weather forecasting, which involves integrating temperature, barometric pressure, and humidity data for many, many points on the Earth’s surface all at once.) And unlike electronic devices, which can’t easily infiltrate living cells, DNA-based computers could penetrate these spaces, giving us ways to record information and possibly fight disease in real time.

Church notes that above all, DNA holds great promise for data encoding because the medium won’t ever grow obsolete. “We lose our affection for floppy drives” and other technologies, Church says. “But we’ll always have some interest in DNA.”•

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It’s always made more sense to me that we establish a lunar base–maybe develop a crater-based city or two– from which to explore other planets before hurrying over to Mars, but I don’t have a few billion dollars in between the couch cushions, so my advice hasn’t been heeded.

I’m not alone in thinking this way, however. While Elon Musk unilaterally decides the proper form of government for future Martians (direct democracy), teams of technologists are trying to put a permanent Earthling footprint on the Moon, using 3D printers and such to create sustainable communities. 

In a short Salon Q&A, Naveen Jain of Moon Express tells Angelo Young about his company’s plan to make the moon not only a trade post and vacation spot and launch platform but also a permanent home, sometime in the next 15 years. No one can predict the outfit that will win this aspect of Space Race 2.0 nor the time frame, but in the macro it makes good sense. One exchange:

Question:

Besides sending billionaires on lunar vacations, what are some business applications of regular round-trip earth-to-moon travel?

Naveen Jain:

The moon has quadrillions [of dollars] worth of natural resources, including platinum grade materials, rare-earth elements and Helium 3. Additionally, water on the moon is really the “oil” for the space economy, which can provide us with the rocket fuel for in-earth orbit and lunar orbit for deep-space exploration. We plan to use lunar resources “in situ” to allow humanity the ability learn to live off spaceship earth. The moon is the best place to create a habitat before going to the Mars. After all, it’s better to be a “Lunatic” three days away from earth instead of a “Martian” six months away from any emergency rescue.•

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It seems intuitive that good times will breed feelings that match, but often a comfortable, steady temperature makes people overheat. It’s like we crave imbalance for some evolutionary reason. Remember before 9/11 and the 2008 economic collapse and ISIS, when Bill Clinton’s intern shenanigans were a national outrage? George W. Bush, who led the single most failed administration in generations, was elected in good part to restore “honor” to the White House. That really seemed important to an awful lot of people. Today, an utter lack of honor–and competency and sanity–makes no difference to Trump supporters, despite the financial recovery (an uneven one, admittedly) we’ve experienced in the past eight years. They’re mad and want to break something.

National moods aren’t always rational, not always driven by the bottom line, but perhaps there’s something other than the spoiling effect of complacency driving the current ill feelings. Maybe our new tools have made it easier for a toxic airborne event to occur at any spot in the Global Village?

In a smart Bloomberg View column, Tyler Cowen theorizes that bad moods are traveling in a viral manner today, even settling over a relatively fortunate nation like Australia. An excerpt:

Australia does have problems and identity crises of its own, but still it seems the country has caught a dissatisfaction bug from abroad, most plausibly from the pro-Brexit forces in the U.K., the Trump and Sanders movements in the U.S. and the common global feeling that much of the world is slanting askew.

For some time now, equity returns in Australia have had one of the highest correlations with equity returns in the U.S., and some of this probably has to do with the transmission of moods and not just shared economic shocks. What’s changing is that the risk of negative mood transmission may be going up, even though the Australian economy still appears to be fine.

It is a common theme in political science that low levels of trust in government tend to translate to inferior political performance.Trusting citizenries give their governments the resources to produce valuable public goods, as is often the case in the Nordic economies, but falling trust leads to higher social conflict and corruption. And so, because of its recent pessimism, Australia may be on the verge of losing some of the good governance it has enjoyed for the last few decades.

The broader and more disturbing implication is that the entire global economy may be more vulnerable to mood swings.

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There’s no way any high-ranking official at Fox News was unaware of the alleged behavior of Roger Ailes, who’s been accused by a Cosby-ish number of women of serial sexual harassment and abuse, and also of using spies to collect information on supposed enemies. This scandal runs wide and deep, and it wouldn’t be a surprise if other prominent names resigned for “new opportunities.”

It’s strange Fox has at best an ambiguous relationship with the current GOP candidate Donald Trump. Rupert Murdoch supposedly loathes him, while on-air personality Sean Hannity, the dimwitted equipment manager of a lacrosse team serving a suspension, thinks Republicans who punt on supporting Mussolini with moobs are in dereliction of duty. 

That’s an odd half-heartedness because apart from the leaders of the party, who for decades used coded racist language and encouraged conspiracy theories until the GOP did a backstroke across the toilet, no entity has more enabled Trump than Fox, the logical conclusion of its support of an anti-science, whites-first party. Along with gerrymandering, Murdoch’s “news-entertainment” outlet helped protect the GOP as it drifted further and further into dangerous waters, prepared it for the mutineers, captained by the hideous hotelier.

In a smart Vanity Fair “Hive” piece, Sarah Ellison examines the mood at Fox in the wake of the tyrant’s deposition, with the fog of fear still permeating and the statues yet to be toppled. Her opening:

Few people in the news business have valued secrecy quite like Roger Ailes, the former C.E.O. of Fox News. Ailes’s very own corner office on the second floor of 21st Century Fox’s glass and steel headquarters, in Midtown Manhattan, featured a solid wood door that prevented anyone on the outside from peering in. Visitors had to be buzzed in by Ailes or an assistant. They were also captured on-camera, their image projected to a monitor on Ailes’s desk.

Many assumed that such secrecy was a vestige of Ailes’s formative years advising Richard Nixon. Now, it appears that it may have run deeper. Last month, former anchor Gretchen Carlson filed suit against Ailes for sexual harassment—an event that ushered in a litany of former colleagues with similar stories. Weeks later, Ailes resigned. (Ailes has fervently denied all allegations. His lawyer, Susan Estrich, reiterated those denials. A spokesperson for 21st Century Fox also declined to comment for this piece.)

Ailes’s second-floor office now stands empty. Floors below it, in Fox News’s subterranean newsroom, a former Sam Goody retail outlet, staffers are still coming to terms with the rollicking events of the past month. During periods of crisis, reporters and producers tend to bury their heads in their stories, rallying around one another in their commitment to their work. But there is only one topic on people’s minds at Fox News these days: Ailes.

Sentiment in the newsroom is generally split between those who proclaim surprise (particularly regarding the sheer number of women who have alleged that Ailes harassed them) and those who feel professional relief—not all of them women. Ailes was gender-blind when it came to relentlessly pushing his talking points and admonishing those who did not follow along. Still, others said they remain fearful that even discussing Ailes at all could result in some form of punishment.•

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The rest of us can’t currently afford to live like Vivek Wadhwa, with a Tesla in his garage and solar panels on his roof–not yet, anyway. Today’s tech luxuries often become tomorrow’s new normal, however, the original R&D supported by governments first and then deep-pocketed early adopters. The problem is, while these great inventions will bring with them epic good–maybe even species-saving good–there will be destabilizing effects attending them. Th question is this: How much can we shape the future? How much can we tame these unintended consequences of 3D printers and automation and robotics?

I think we can select to some extent, but in the welter of competing companies and countries, consensus and consent can be lost. If China goes all in on genetic engineering, can other countries afford to opt out? Can there possibly be any OFF switch when the Internet of Things becomes the thing, when we don’t only place a computer in our pocket but have ourselves been placed inside the machine? Some decisions we’ll make and others will be made in a faceless scrum.

From Wadhwa’s latest thoughtful column for the Washington Post:

In short, the distant future is no longer distant.  The pace of technological change is rapidly accelerating, and those changes are coming to you very soon, whether you like it or not.

Such rapid, ubiquitous change has, of course, a dark side. Many jobs as we know them will disappear. Our privacy will be further compromised. Future generations may never drive a car or ride in one driven by a human being. We have to worry about biological terrorism and killer drones. Someone you know — maybe you — will have his or her DNA sequence and fingerprints stolen. Man and machine will begin to merge into a single entity.  You will have as much food as you can possibly eat, for better and for worse.

The ugly state of politics in the United States and Britain illustrates the impact of income inequality and the widening technological divide. More and more people are being left behind by innovation and they are protesting in every way they can. Technologies such as social media are being used to fan the flames and to exploit ignorance and bias.  The situation will get only worse — unless we find ways to share the prosperity we are creating.

We have a choice: to build an amazing future, such as we saw on the TV series Star Trek, or to head into the dystopia of Mad Max.

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When it comes to electric cars–and solar power and colonizing space–Elon Musk can win and lose at the same time.

The technologist’s stated micro goal in founding Tesla was to create an EV not just as good but better than any traditional auto, so that consumers would prefer his offerings to Big Auto gas guzzlers. The macro goal, of course, was to make the world a far more eco-friendly place, to not only have cleaner cars but to tie their development to that of alternative energies that could be repurposed to private and commericial buildings via batteries. It may not please Tesla stockholders, but Musk could spur these world-altering goals without his company winning significant market share.

In order for EVs to become the choice, lots of players, including Detroit stalwarts, needed to enter the race–and that’s exactly what’s happened. Competition in solar and space exploration have likewise been spurred by Musk’s aspirations. So, Musk’s companies could ultimately be also-rans, even if his aims are achieved, whether we’re talking about reducing our carbon footprint or putting boots to the ground on Mars.

From Maya Kosoff at Vanity Fair “Hive”:

Tesla isn’t the only company producing electric cars anymore. Traditional automakers are starting to infiltrate the space, and the very thing that made Tesla a unique company might be less of a selling point for some customers moving forward.

The latest competitor to take on Tesla is Mercedes, which will offer a four-car all-electric lineup with two S.U.V.s and two sedans, Bloomberg reports. Previously, Mercedes C.E.O. Dieter Zetsche said his company had planned to premiere an electric car this fall at the Paris motor show. Besides the four electric consumer vehicles, Bloomberg reports, Mercedes’s parent company, Daimler AG, is also working on an “all-electric heavy-duty delivery truck,” though it won’t be ready until the beginning of the next decade. Mercedes’s cars, by contrast, are expected to hit the streets within the next few years.

Mercedes and Tesla will have plenty of rivals, besides one another.•

 

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Those who’ve compared Presidents George W. Bush or Barack Obama to Adolph Hitler are dangerously irresponsible. The latter has been loudly labeled a menace by opposition, compared to a tyrant for, one example, issuing so many executive orders. For using this power, he’s been accused of dictatorial leanings. Of course, if you look at history rationally, you’ll understand there hasn’t been a two-term President since the 1800s who made fewer executive orders. When politics cause some to refer to basically decent people as Nazis, it behooves the rest of us to stand up to such slanders. In such cases, journalists and Supreme Court Justices, as much as any of us, should lead the way in refusing partisanship. 

But what if someone like Donald Trump, at the very least an American Berlusconi and perhaps a Mussolini, is angling for the White House? What if the fascism is very real and the accusations of autocracy not slanders? Isn’t it the responsibility of all Americans to stand up to the madness, regardless of their job titles? Some believe so, while others think a fealty to the usual rules, even in a time of grave threat, is the bigger victory for democracy. My guess is someday Ruth Bader Ginsburg will look back fondly on her Trump criticism despite the scolding she took from editorial writers on both sides of the aisle.

From Jim Rutenberg at the New York Times:

If you’re a working journalist and you believe that Donald J. Trump is a demagogue playing to the nation’s worst racist and nationalistic tendencies, that he cozies up to anti-American dictators and that he would be dangerous with control of the United States nuclear codes, how the heck are you supposed to cover him?

Because if you believe all of those things, you have to throw out the textbook American journalism has been using for the better part of the past half-century, if not longer, and approach it in a way you’ve never approached anything in your career. If you view a Trump presidency as something that’s potentially dangerous, then your reporting is going to reflect that. You would move closer than you’ve ever been to being oppositional. That’s uncomfortable and uncharted territory for every mainstream, nonopinion journalist I’ve ever known, and by normal standards, untenable.

But the question that everyone is grappling with is: Do normal standards apply? And if they don’t, what should take their place?•

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I’ve blogged about this before, but the Charles Murray system of Universal Basic Income, which is similar to the schemes of a number of Libertarian wonks and Silicon Valley stalwarts, would devastate people already barely getting by. Many senior citizens would actually lose part of their Social Security payments, even a good portion of those receiving relatively paltry amounts. It’s just another scheme to eliminate safety nets while making those doing to dismantling seem beneficent. To Murray and his ilk, the disappearance of the so-called welfare state won’t harm anyone because Americans on solid ground, of whom there are fewer in the Digital Age, will magically rally around the poor. Do they actually believe this hokum or is there something darker within them?

From Dmytri Kleiner’s Further Field essay “Universal Basic Income Is a Neoliberal Plot To Make You Poorer,” a segment on Murray’s mindset:

Charles Murray, another prominent libertarian promoter of UBI, shares Friedman’s views. In an interview with PBS, he said: “America’s always been very good at providing help to people in need. It hasn’t been perfect, but they’ve been very good at it. Those relationships have been undercut in recent years by a welfare state that has, in my view, denuded the civic culture.” Like Friedman, Murray blames the welfare state for the loss of apparently effective private charity.

Murray adds: “The first rule is that the basic guaranteed income has to replace everything else — it’s not an add-on. So there’s no more food stamps; there’s no more Medicaid; you just go down the whole list. None of that’s left. The government gives money; other human needs are dealt with by other human beings in the neighborhood, in the community, in the organizations. I think that’s great.”

To the Cato Institute, the elimination of social programs is a part of the meaning of Universal Income. In an article about the Finish pilot project, the Institute defines UBI as “scrapping the existing welfare system and distributing the same cash benefit to every adult citizen without additional strings or eligibility criteria”. And in fact, the options being considered by Finland are constrained to limiting the amount of the basic income to the savings from the programs it would replace.•

 

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