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It’s no mere coincidence painkillers have been the hot drug in America in this new century, because, wow, it’s hurt. 

Until recently, I had relatives living in the Oxy capital of NYC, and when I visited and walked around, it was a bit like encountering zombies, lost souls still hopeful enough to continue buying lottery tickets but unable to wish for more. That’s as much as the Dream lives not only there but in many stretches of the U.S. It’s been decades of decline for the former middle class, and for a lot of folks it feels like endgame. It’s not their imagination.

Big Pharma incentivized doctors to hand our fistfuls of opioid scripts, sure, but the loss of hope was the other toxic half of the equation. Hard drugs were once the province of the poor who were already at rock bottom and comfortably middle class kids who could afford a (temporary) fall, but almost nobody can pay that price anymore, even as the nation grows wealthier in the macro. That’s led some to do the unthinkable, to embrace a Berlusconi who dreams of being a Mussolini, someone who wants to Make America White Again. That’s a lottery without a winning number.

The great David Simon, the Victor Hugo of Baltimore, just conducted a Reddit Ask Me Anything and addressed this topic, among others. A few exchanges follow.


Question:

I can genuinely say that The Wire directly inspired me to pursue the career path that I’m in today. I first watched the show while in college, and it informed me about many issues that I had previously been unaware of or apathetic too. Bubbles story arc connected with me so deeply that I took my first sociology course and began volunteering with homeless populations. Today I’m working as a substance abuse and mental health care coordinator in the field of community health, where I primarily work with lower income and homeless individuals.

The content you create has an impeccable ability to educate the public about real world issues through compelling storytelling that is absolutely unmatched. Thank you for the work that you do and inspiring me to pursue a career in a field that I previously wouldn’t have considered.

At this point what do you believe needs to happen to start making an impact in combating the growing opioid epidemic in our country?

David Simon:

I believe the abuse of narcotics — whether street drugs or pharmasale — is the result of a fundamental existential crisis among working and middle-class Americans in the same way that it was once that for the underclass. We need to return to an economic model that values labor, and the human lives that comprise labor.


Question:

What’s your take on the Black Lives Matter vs. Blue Lives Matter situation?

David Simon:

Black lives matter. So do blue lives. But the context of the “black lives matter” credo is that unlike blue lives, or white lives — which have de facto mattered in our country for generations — African-Americans have been far too vulnerable to unnecessary and hyperbolic response by law enforcement. This is simply so, and is now evidenced by the smart phone revolution.


Question

Where do you see print journalism heading in the next decade? Any examples of recent work that you find interesting?

David Simon:

I want and we need to see an on-line revenue stream for journalism established that ensures that professional reporters can earn a living covering the quotidian beats of institutionalized America. When stuff is funded, it’s good and fixed and every day. Citizen journalist is not a phrase I take seriously in any sense. I think Pro Publica and Mother Jones and a number of on-line elements show great chops; but the money still isn’t right. People need to pay and copyright has to matter again, or it can’t grow as it needs.

Question:

What can a common person do to stop the death of journalism?

David Simon:

Pay for it. Online. Pay a little bit each month. You did when they dumped it on the doorstep, and you can pay even less than that now to support the salaries of trained reporters and photographers and videographers.


Question:

What’s your bucket list project or subject that you’d like to tackle?

David Simon:

A history of the CIA from post-WWII to 9/11/2001. And a narrative of the American leftists who fought in Spain and paid early for our stated ideals. Also, a small feature film about David Maulsby, a rewrite man, and Jack, a gorilla at the Baltimore Zoo. I’ll say no more about that.•

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In an Atlantic Q&A, Derek Thompson has a smart conversation with the Economist’s Ryan Avent, the author of the soon-to-be-published The Wealth of Humans, a book whose sly title suggests abundance may not arrive without a degree of menace. Avent is firmly in the McAfee-Brynjolfsson camp, believing the Digital Age will rival the Industrial one in its spurring of economic and societal disruption. An excerpt:

The Atlantic:

There is an ongoing debate about whether technological growth is accelerating, as economists like Erik Brynjolfsson and Andrew McAfee (the authors of The Second Machine Age) insist, or slowing down, as the national productivity numbers indicate. Where do you come down?

Ryan Avent:

I come down squarely in the Brynjolfsson and McAfee camp and strongly disagree with economists like Robert Gordon, who have said that growth is basically over. I think the digital revolution is probably going to be as important and transformative as the industrial revolution. The main reason is machine intelligence, a general-purpose technology that can be used anywhere, from driving cars to customer service, and it’s getting better very, very quickly. There’s no reason to think that improvement will slow down, whether or not Moore’s Law continues.

I think this transformative revolution will create an abundance of labor. It will create enormous growth in [the supply of workers and machines], automating a lot of industries and boosting productivity. When you have this glut of workers, it plays havoc with existing institutions.

I think we are headed for a really important era in economic history. The Industrial Revolution is a pretty good guide of what that will look like. There will have to be a societal negotiation for how to share the gains from growth. That process will be long and drawn out. It will involve intense ideological conflict, and history suggests that a lot will go wrong.•

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You’d like on a personal level embrace your political adversaries, but Phyllis Schlafly, the anti-Steinem who died today, didn’t make it easy.

She clung to a time in America when pretty much everything was run by men–only white men, of course–and trafficked in ugly racial politics, encouraging the GOP to ignore Latino voters and instead rally around white America. If you want to credit the activist for something, it must be admitted she was amazingly consistent in her backwardness, from her early efforts to thwart the ERA to her last-act embrace of the Tea Party and Donald Trump. Oh, and in between she staunchly opposed civil unions and gay marriage (despite having a gay son) and urged banning foreign-born players from Major League Baseball. Schlafly’s face seemed to say it all: It was very pleasant, though the eyes were frequently narrowed, almost in a squint, like she wasn’t quite able to see the whole picture.

In 1973, William F. Buckley, Jr. invited Schlafly and Ann Scott to debate the Equal Rights Amendment. Scott died two years later from breast cancer.

 

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Thomas Friedman’s popular notion that nations don’t go to war if they share financial concerns (and a taste for McDonald’s french fries) failed to take something awfully important into account: Not everyone is rational and places material welfare above ideology. Some, in fact, are complete loons who want to blow those Golden Arches to kingdom come.

Thomas Nagel writes on a related topic for the London Review of Books, critiquing Richard English’s Does Terrorism Work? Immoral as it is, politically motivated violence certainly can be used effectively by powerful states (though it sometimes backfires), but the philosopher wonders if terror can secure victory for non-government groups (Al Qaeda, ISIS. etc.). He concludes such actions almost never succeed, except in rare cases where there are extenuating circumstances. Why then the continued improvisation of explosive devices? Nagel argues that delusion takes hold over groups that realize non-violent measures won’t triumph but don’t comprehend that neither will violent ones. An except:

English makes it clear that one of the things these four groups share is hatred and the desire for revenge, which comes out in personal testimony if not always in their official statements of aims. He quotes Osama bin Laden: ‘Every Muslim, from the moment they realise the distinction in their hearts, hates Americans, hates Jews and hates Christians.’ Revenge for perceived injuries and humiliations is a powerful motive for violence, and if it is counted as a secondary aim of these movements, it defines a sense in which terrorism automatically ‘works’ whenever it kills or maims members of the target group. In that sense the destruction of the World Trade Center and Mountbatten’s assassination were sterling examples of terrorism working. But even though English includes revenge in his accounting, this is not what would ordinarily be meant by the question, ‘Does terrorism work?’ What we really want to know about are the political effects.

And here the record is dismal. What struck me on reading this book is how delusional these movements are, how little understanding they have of the balance of forces, the motives of their opponents and the political context in which they are operating. In this respect, it is excessively charitable to describe them as rational agents. True, they are employing violent means which they believe will induce their opponents to give up, but that belief is plainly irrational, and in any event false, as shown by the results.•

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Mother Teresa, now officially a saint, was given an unmitigated flogging in the 2003 Slate piece “Mommie Dearest, written by Christopher Hitchens, that godless heathen (I mean that as a compliment as well as a statement of fact). An excerpt:

MT was not a friend of the poor. She was a friend of poverty. She said that suffering was a gift from God. She spent her life opposing the only known cure for poverty, which is the empowerment of women and the emancipation of them from a livestock version of compulsory reproduction. And she was a friend to the worst of the rich, taking misappropriated money from the atrocious Duvalier family in Haiti (whose rule she praised in return) and from Charles Keating of the Lincoln Savings and Loan. Where did that money, and all the other donations, go? The primitive hospice in Calcutta was as run down when she died as it always had been—she preferred California clinics when she got sick herself—and her order always refused to publish any audit. But we have her own claim that she opened 500 convents in more than a hundred countries, all bearing the name of her own order. Excuse me, but this is modesty and humility?

The rich world has a poor conscience, and many people liked to alleviate their own unease by sending money to a woman who seemed like an activist for “the poorest of the poor.” People do not like to admit that they have been gulled or conned, so a vested interest in the myth was permitted to arise, and a lazy media never bothered to ask any follow-up questions. Many volunteers who went to Calcutta came back abruptly disillusioned by the stern ideology and poverty-loving practice of the ‘Missionaries of Charity,’ but they had no audience for their story. George Orwell’s admonition in his essay on Gandhi—that saints should always be presumed guilty until proved innocent—was drowned in a Niagara of soft-hearted, soft-headed, and uninquiring propaganda.•

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In a great Politico piece, Kevin Baker sees Rudy Giuliani’s second honeymoon-ish “American Mayor” phase as a brief, mostly unearned aberration in a nearly three decades campaign of race baiting and a distortion of facts that began in earnest with his defeat by David Dinkins in the race for Gracie Mansion in 1989. Those who see Giuliani’s deranged delegate speeches for Donald Trump as odd may think again, as the former created something of a template for the latter during his 1993 rise to the mayoralty, an ugly spectacle of lies and hate speech that served to divide the city. Baker is masterful at defying a collective (and often faulty) memory of NYC politics, recalling the past with great clarity and some glorious phrasing–he describes Daniel Moynihan as “New York’s great stuffed owl of a senator.” Perhaps most damning is the writer’s excoriation of Giuliani’s two terms in office, which were largely lackluster and incessantly petty. An excerpt:

Nobody remembers it this way now, but the Dinkins administration compiled New York’s best record on crime since World War II, adding 6,000 more cops and enjoying a record, 36 straight months of drops in the crime rate. But for New Yorkers this was eclipsed by big headline events like the Crown Heights riot of 1991—a clash between African-Americans and Orthodox Jews that Giuliani would insist on calling a “pogrom,” implying that it was countenanced by Mayor Dinkins. The crime statistics had turned around, and quality of life was slowly but visibly improving in much of New York, but that’s not how people saw it at the time—in part thanks to Giuliani’s relentless, Trumpian campaign to tell them it was a still a cesspool.

Even once-liberal elements of the press internalized Giuliani’s apocalyptic view of his own city. Richard Cohen, in an October 1993 column in the Washington Post the month before the election, scoffed that, “Aside from the deranged, there’s not a single Gothamite who thinks it has gotten better under Dinkins—no matter what his statistics say,” while the Times’ James McKinley concluded, “Mr. Dinkins will never be able to prove his policies have curbed crime.” John Taylor, in Time, conceded that New Yorkers might actually be safer, but that they felt less safe, because the crimes still going on—though he did not give a specific example—were Trumpishly hellish: “Entire families are executed in drug wars. Teenagers kill each other over sneakers. Robbers casually shoot victims even if they have surrendered wallets. The proliferation of carjackings means people are no longer safe even in their automobiles.”

With actual facts about the crime rate effectively banished from the debate, pundits could feel free to embrace the throwback notion pushed by Giuliani that America’s real urban problem was not so much poverty or racism, but black people demanding special treatment, much like their tribune in city hall. Black-scolding reached a sort of frenzy that April, when New York’s great stuffed owl of a senator, Daniel Patrick Moynihan, gave his famous, “Defining deviancy down” speech, in which he asked “what in the last 50 years in New York is now better than it was” back in 1943, and concluded that nothing was better, especially crime. Moynihan received almost universal adoration for these supposedly bold words, the media having failed to notice that crime was at record lows in 1943 because most of the city’s young men were off fighting something called World War II. Or that there was a deadly race riot in New York that year anyway, set off by a cop shooting a black soldier. Or that Harlem had been officially “off-limits” to visiting white servicemen, or that black people were effectively banned from all of the city’s best restaurants, hotels, colleges, hospitals, or jobs in 1943.

Whatever. The Giuliani campaign, and its attendant press corps, was as far past facts as the Trump campaign is now. The perception became the reality.•

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Donald Trump, Father Coughlin reborn as Yucko the Clown, has in the past couple of weeks often tried to keep his Mussolini-esque tendencies under wraps, fitfully feigning concern for key minority voting blocs–the Birther as civil rights activist, President Arpaio as Mexican diplomat–before abruptly reverting to his rancidness as he did with his appalling immigration speech in Arizona. 

Some in the media have already given in to judging Trump merely on how his depraved comments play in the polls. From T.A. Frank at Vanity Fair:

“So how did Trump’s speech, delivered at a Phoenix rally, really go? No one can yet say. Ultimately, the only relevant measurement is whether it moved his numbers up or down relative to those of his opponent…”

Yes, when it comes to the horse race, numbers are the only relevant measurement, and the horse race is of paramount importance. But just because winning by appealing to the sun-less side of the American eclipse is the only concern of Trump, that doesn’t mean his psychotic proclamations don’t mean anything on their own. They do. They’re despicable, and there’s utility in pointing that out independent of their efficacy or lack thereof.

The Phoenix speech was not received merrily within the Republican National Committee, which was already at odds with the campaign. Two excerpts follow about the continuous internecine war. 


From Alexander Burns and Maggie Haberman at the New York Times:

The Republican National Committee had high hopes that Donald J. Trump would deliver a compassionate and measured speech about immigration on Wednesday, and prepared to lavish praise on the candidate on the party’s Twitter account.

So when Mr. Trump instead offered a fiery denunciation of migrant criminals and suggested deporting Hillary Clinton, Reince Priebus, the party chairman, signaled that aides should scrap the plan, and the committee made no statement at all.

The evening tore a painful new wound in Mr. Trump’s relationship with the Republican National Committee, imperiling his most important remaining political alliance.

Mr. Priebus and his organization have been steadfastly supportive of Mr. Trump, defending him in public and spending millions of dollars to aid him. But the collaboration between Mr. Trump’s campaign and Mr. Priebus’s committee has grown strained over the last month, according to six senior Republicans with detailed knowledge of both groups, some of whom asked to speak anonymously for fear of exacerbating tensions.•


From Alex Isenstadt at Politico:

Late last week, with Labor Day and the final stretch of the 2016 campaign approaching, Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, met with Republican National Committee brass — including chief of staff Katie Walsh and political director Chris Carr — in New York City. Kushner, who has in many respects assumed the role of campaign manager, asked a series of direct questions to the GOP officials — all surrounding the troubles the party was having in deploying field staffers, opening up swing-state headquarters, and establishing field offices in battlegrounds that will decide the election.

Those present for the meeting, and those briefed on it, insisted there were no fireworks, no drag-out fights. But they said Kushner’s questions reflected a growing realization within Trump’s team that for all the party’s talk about implementing a major swing-state deployment plan, it hasn’t yet materialized.

For weeks, Republican officials and operatives have groused about a dearth of campaign infrastructure in battlegrounds across the country — a state of affairs that could have an impact on GOP candidates up and down the ballot. But like many aspects of the Trump campaign, the deployment plan has been wracked by confusion, false starts and a lack of quick decision-making. On Aug. 18, Paul Manafort, Trump’s former campaign chairman, came to Trump’s Alexandria, Virginia, headquarters for a day of meetings. He left ready to finalize a series of decisions.

But the next morning, Manafort, under withering scrutiny surrounding his work overseas, abruptly quit. His departure created a chain reaction, delaying the talks for days on end.•

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The robots may be coming for our jobs, but they’re not coming for our species, not yet.

Anyone worried about AI extincting humans in the short term is really buying into sci-fi hype far too much, and those quipping that we’ll eventually just unplug machines if they get too smart is underselling more distant dangers. But in the near term, Weak AI (e.g., automation) is far more a peril to society than Strong AI (e.g., conscious machines). It could move us into a post-scarcity tomorrow, or it could do great damage if it’s managed incorrectly.What happens if too many jobs are lost all at once? Will there be enough of a transition period to allow us to pivot?

In a Technology Review piece, Will Knight writes of a Stanford study on AI that predicts certain key disruptive technologies will not have cut a particularly wide swath by 2030. Of course, even this research, which takes a relatively conservative view of the future, suggests we start discussing social safety nets for those on the short end of what may become an even more imbalanced digital divide.

The opening:

The odds that artificial intelligence will enslave or eliminate humankind within the next decade or so are thankfully slim. So concludes a major report from Stanford University on the social and economic implications of artificial intelligence.

At the same time, however, the report concludes that AI looks certain to upend huge aspects of everyday life, from employment and education to transportation and entertainment. More than 20 leaders in the fields of AI, computer science, and robotics coauthored the report. The analysis is significant because the public alarm over the impact of AI threatens to shape public policy and corporate decisions.

It predicts that automated trucks, flying vehicles, and personal robots will be commonplace by 2030, but cautions that remaining technical obstacles will limit such technologies to certain niches. It also warns that the social and ethical implications of advances in AI, such as the potential for unemployment in certain areas and likely erosions of privacy driven by new forms of surveillance and data mining, will need to be open to discussion and debate.•

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Not an original idea: Driverless cars are perfected in the near future and join the traffic, and some disruptive souls, perhaps us, decide to purchase an autonomous taxi and set it to work. We charge less than any competitor, use our slim profits for maintenance and to eventually buy a second taxi. Those two turn into an ever-growing fleet. We subtract our original investment (and ourselves) from the equation, and let this benevolent monster grow, ownerless, allowing it to automatically schedule its own repairs and purchases. Why would anyone need Uber or Lyft in such a scenario? Those outfits would be value-less.

In a very good Vanity Fair “Hive” piece, Nick Bilton doesn’t extrapolate Uber’s existential risk quite this far, but he writes wisely of the technology that may make rideshare companies a shooting star, enjoying only a brief lifespan like Compact Discs, though minus the outrageous profits that format produced. 

The opening:

Seven years ago, just before Uber opened for business, the company was valued at exactly zero dollars. Today, it is worth around $68 billion. But it is not inconceivable that Uber, as mighty as it currently appears, could one day return to its modest origins, worth nothing. Uber, in fact, knows this better than almost anyone. As Travis Kalanick, Uber’s chief executive, candidly articulated in an interview with Business Insider, ride-sharing companies are particularly vulnerable to an impeding technology that is going to change our society in unimaginable ways: the driverless car. “The world is going to go self-driving and autonomous,” he unequivocally told Biz Carson. He continued: “So if that’s happening, what would happen if we weren’t a part of that future? If we weren’t part of the autonomy thing? Then the future passes us by, basically, in a very expeditious and efficient way.”

Kalanick wasn’t just being dramatic. He was being brutally honest. To understand how Uber and its competitors, such as Lyft andJuno, could be rendered useless by automation—leveled in the same way that they themselves leveled the taxi industry—you need to fast-forward a few years to a hypothetical version of the future that might seem surreal at the moment. But, I can assure you, it may well resemble how we will live very, very soon.•

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A CBP Border Patrol Agent investigates a potential landing area for illegal immigrants along the Rio Grande River in Texas

Surveillance is a murky thing almost always attended by a self-censorship, quietly encouraging citizens to abridge their communication because maybe, perhaps someone is watching or listening. It’s a chilling of civil rights that happens in a creeping manner. Nothing can be trusted, not even the mundane, not even your own judgement. That’s the goal, really, of such a system–that everyone should feel endlessly observed.

In a Texas Monthly piece, Sasha Von Oldershausen, a border reporter in West Texas, finds similarities between her stretch of America, which feverishly focuses on security from intruders, and her time spent living under theocracy in Iran. An excerpt:

Surveillance is key to the CBP’s strategy at the border, but you don’t have to look to the skies for constant reminders that they’re there. Internal checkpoints located up to 100 miles from the border give Border Patrol agents the legal authority to search any person’s vehicle without a warrant. It’s enough to instill a feeling of guilt even in the most exemplary of citizens. For those commuting daily on roads fitted with these checkpoints, the search becomes rote: the need to prove one’s right to abide is an implicit part of life.

Despite the visible cues, it’s still hard to figure just how all-seeing the CBP’s eyes are. For one, understanding the “realities” of border security varies based on who you talk to.

Esteban Ornelas—a Mexican citizen who was charged with illegal entry into the United States in 2012 and deported shortly thereafter—swears that he was caught was because a friend he was traveling through the backcountry with sent a text message to his family. “They traced the signal,” he told me in his hometown of Boquillas.

When I consulted CBP spokesperson Brooks and senior Border Patrol agent Stephen Crump about what Ornelas had told me, they looked at each other and laughed. “That’s pretty awesome,” Crump said. “Note to self: develop that technology.”

I immediately felt foolish to have asked. But when I asked Pauling that same question, his reply was much more austere: “I can’t answer that,” he said, and left it at that.•

 

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Some argue, as John Thornhill does in a new Financial Times column, that technology may not be the main impediment to the proliferation of driverless cars. I doubt that’s true. If you could magically make available today relatively safe and highly functioning autonomous vehicles, ones that operated on a level superior to humans, then hearts, minds and legislation would soon favor the transition. I do think driving as recreation and sport would continue, but much of commerce and transport would shift to our robot friends.

Earlier in the development of driverless, I wondered if Americans would hand over the wheel any sooner than they’d turn in their guns, but I’ve since been convinced we (largely) will. We may have a macro fear of robots, but we hand over control to them with shocking alacrity. A shift to driverless wouldn’t be much different.

An excerpt from Thornhill in which he lists the main challenges, technological and otherwise, facing the sector:

First, there is the instinctive human resistance to handing over control to a robot, especially given fears of cyber-hacking. Second, for many drivers cars are an extension of their identity, a mechanical symbol of independence, control and freedom. They will not abandon them lightly.

Third, robots will always be held to far higher safety standards than humans. They will inevitably cause accidents. They will also have to be programmed to make a calculation that could kill their passengers or bystanders to minimise overall loss of life. This will create a fascinating philosophical sub-school of algorithmic morality. “Many of us are afraid that one reckless act will cause an accident that causes a backlash and shuts down the industry for a decade,” says the Silicon Valley engineer. “That would be tragic if you could have saved tens of thousands of lives a year.”

Fourth, the deployment of autonomous vehicles could destroy millions of jobs. Their rapid introduction is certain to provoke resistance. There are 3.5m professional lorry drivers in the US.

Fifth, the insurance industry and legal community have to wrap their heads around some tricky liability issues. In what circumstances is the owner, car manufacturer or software developer responsible for damage?•

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There’s probably no reason to think prognosticating crime via computer will be more biased than traditional racial profiling and other less-algorithmic methods of anticipating lawlessness, but it’s uncertain it will be an improvement. In any system with embedded prejudice–pretty much all of them–won’t those suspicions of some be translated into code? It doesn’t need be that way, but there will have to be an awful lot of skepticism and oversight to keep discrimination from taking a prominent place in the digital realm.

The opening of “The Power of Learning” at the Economist:

In Minority Report, a policeman, played by Tom Cruise, gleans tip-offs from three psychics and nabs future criminals before they break the law. In the real world, prediction is more difficult. But it may no longer be science fiction, thanks to the growing prognosticatory power of computers. That prospect scares some, but it could be a force for good—if it is done right.

Machine learning, a branch of artificial intelligence, can generate remarkably accurate predictions. It works by crunching vast quantities of data in search of patterns. Take, for example, restaurant hygiene. The system learns which combinations of sometimes obscure factors are most suggestive of a problem. Once trained, it can assess the risk that a restaurant is dirty. The Boston mayor’s office is testing just such an approach, using data from Yelp reviews. This has led to a 25% rise in the number of spot inspections that uncover violations.

Governments are taking notice. A London borough is developing an algorithm to predict who might become homeless. In India Microsoft is helping schools predict which students are at risk of dropping out. Machine-learning predictions can mean government services arrive earlier and are better targeted (see article). Researchers behind an algorithm designed to help judges make bail decisions claim it can predict recidivism so effectively that the same number of people could be bailed as are at present by judges, but with 20% less crime. To get a similar reduction in crime across America, they say, would require an extra 20,000 police officers at a cost of $2.6 billion.
 
But computer-generated predictions are sometimes controversial.•
   

Real estate tycoon Donald Trump participates in the Republican presidential primary debate on August 6, 2015 at the Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, Ohio. AFP PHOTO / MANDEL NGAN        (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)

You certainly can trace the GOP’s descent into delusion to before the Bushies, but the Dubya Administration is where it came to maturation. There was a willful rejection in powerful conservative circles of the “reality based community.” As one aide told Ron Suskind in “Faith, Certainty and the Presidency of George W. Bush,” his great 2004 New York Times Magazine article, ”We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality.”

That disdain for facts on the Right has only hardened in the past decade, with conspiracy theories now treated by the alt-right media as all the news that’s fit to print. It’s become a contest to out-crazy one another, and only those most amenable to madness, kooks like Alex Jones and Stephen Bannon, deemed acceptable. This impulse ran headlong into the decentralization of media, with legacy news organizations beholden by basic journalistic principles suddenly struggling to keep pace. The gatekeepers were going and gone and more information did not lead to better information. Bushes and talk-radio hosts who formerly flourished in these circles became this election season targets of the vitriol themselves for not being “pure” enough, for pushing back against Donald Trump attempting to make the party of Lincoln into the party of George Lincoln Rockwell.

From “Donald Trump Broke the Conservative Media,” Oliver Darcy’s Business Insider piece about an extreme right turn that took the party over the edge:

Some conservatives tried to fight back against Trump, pleading with their audiences to see what they contended to be the rational point of view, but their arguments seemed to go unheard.

One of the chief problems, [talk-radio host Charlie] Sykes said, was that it had become impossible to prove to listeners that Trump was telling falsehoods because over the past several decades, the conservative news media had “basically eliminated any of the referees, the gatekeepers.”

“There’s nobody,” he lamented. “Let’s say that Donald Trump basically makes whatever you want to say, whatever claim he wants to make. And everybody knows it’s a falsehood. The big question of my audience, it is impossible for me to say that, ‘By the way, you know it’s false.’ And they’ll say, ‘Why? I saw it on Allen B. West.’ Or they’ll say, ‘I saw it on a Facebook page.’ And I’ll say, ‘The New York Times did a fact check.’ And they’ll say, ‘Oh, that’s The New York Times. That’s bulls—.’ There’s nobody — you can’t go to anybody and say, ‘Look, here are the facts.'”

“And I have to say that’s one of the disorienting realities of this political year. You can be in this alternative media reality and there’s no way to break through it,” Sykes continued. “And I swim upstream because if I don’t say these things from some of these websites, then suddenly I have sold out. Then they’ll ask what’s wrong with me for not repeating these stories that I know not to be true.”

{Talk-radio host John] Ziegler said he faced much of the same problem.

“If you are a conservative talk show host, which I am, if you don’t accept that it’s likely Hillary Clinton has taken part in multiple murders, or that Barack Obama is a Muslim extremist sympathizer who was probably born outside this country — if you don’t accept those two things, it’s almost as if you’re a sellout. You’re a RINO. You’re somehow part of the liberal elite. It’s nuts. It’s making my own show very difficult to do. It’s almost where to the point where we are not able to function.”

He continued: “It’s almost like it’s a disease, and it’s taken over people. I don’t remember this being the case four years ago. But something has happened. Something snapped. But now all of a sudden, if a story comes out, and it’s not on Breitbart or endorsed by Drudge, it can’t be true. Especially if it’s about Donald Trump. Which is flat-out ludicrous.”

Asked why none of his criticism of Trump seemed to put a crack in the real-estate mogul’s armor, Beck paused.

“I think that people are very lost, and they don’t know what to do at this point.”•

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If you’re Hillary Clinton, do you want Paul Wolfowitz’s endorsement? If fits the narrative of strange bedfellows joining in an effort to defeat Donald Trump, a modern medicine show selling poisons. But it also reminds that you backed the invasion of Iraq, the calamity the former Bush adviser helped enact. It’s not likely to make much difference in voting booths, but it is another indication we have an establishment versus insurgent election, with the mutineer an Ahab, horribly ill-suited to steer the ship.

Gordon Repinski’s has a smart Spiegel interview with Wolfowitz, who largely blames the failings of the intelligence community for the invasion and President Obama’s non-interventionist policies for the fall of Syria and the rise of ISIS. It is a selective view of history. An excerpt:

Question:

Recently, 50 former senior Republican security officials declared Donald Trump to be a security risk. Is he?

Paul Wolfowitz:

Yes, he is.

Question:

Why?

Paul Wolfowitz:

He says he admires Putin, that Saddam Hussein was killing terrorists, that the Chinese were impressive because they were tough on Tiananmen Square. That is pretty disturbing.

Question:

Do you think it’s time for people like you to speak out against Trump?

Paul Wolfowitz:

It’s complicated. Trump says that it is precisely we and our policies that are responsible for the mess in Iraq. But I certainly think it’s important to speak up and say how unacceptable he is. I’m always more than willing to do that.

Question:

Are you afraid of the possible consequences a Trump presidency would have on foreign and security policy?

Paul Wolfowitz:

The only way you can be comfortable about Trump’s foreign policy, is to think he doesn’t really mean anything he says. That’s a pretty uncomfortable place to be in. Our security depends on having good relationships with our allies. Trump mainly shows contempt for them. And he seems to be unconcerned about the Russian aggression in Ukraine. By doing this he tells them that they can go ahead and do what they are doing. That is dangerous. …

Question:

Why wasn’t the Republican Party able to stop Donald Trump?

Paul Wolfowitz:

Obviously, there’s unhappiness among the population. The Bernie Sanders phenomenon shows that it’s not confined to Republicans. There is a general sentiment that the country is on the wrong track. Against that background of pessimism, someone like Trump can be successful in getting the nomination.

Question:

Who are you going to vote for in November?

Paul Wolfowitz:

I wish there were somebody I could be comfortable voting for. I might have to vote for Hillary Clinton, even though I have big reservations about her.•

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With Barry Goldwater’s words playing in a loop in his head and Richard Nixon (literally) tattooed on his back, Roger Stone, longtime consigliere to Donald Trump, is a true believer in Republicanism. Like many blindly devoted souls, he blissfully avoids facts that might constrain his ardor. Example: Stone refers repeatedly to Hillary Clinton as a “crook,” despite having been an employee and apologist for President Richard Nixon, whose administration literally committed criminal acts that stunned the nation and led to resignation.

Stone initially bonded with Trump over their mutual support for Ronald Reagan’s first successful bid for the White House. In The Art of the Deal, Trump turned on Reagan and he eventually gave the boot to Stone, though he embraced them both once more when it was expedient during his disgraceful run for the Oval Office. (Reagan, who’d been dead for more than a decade, could not be reached for comment on the reunion.)

Trump, who has Nixon imprinted on him figuratively, has not been aided by his paranoia, dishonesty, vindictiveness or capriciousness during the unforgiving light of the general election. Nor has he been helped by his lazy, bigoted depictions of “the blacks” or “the Hispanics.” Like Stone, Trump elides nuances in the name of a blunt-instrument approach to winning power. These are simple men in complicated times.

Edward Luce, who’s had a spectacular season covering America’s Baba Booey of an election, has a lively profile of Stone in the Financial Times. An excerpt:

What about Hillary Clinton, I ask? What happens if she beats Trump? Stone’s words spill out even faster than before. At one point, he sounds so strident that half the restaurant turns to see what the fuss is about. “If she wins, we’re done as a nation,” Stone shoots back. “We’ll be overrun by hordes of young Muslims, like Germany and France, raping, killing, violating, desecrating. You can see that. It’s happening there.” Stone is so enraptured by his dystopian nightmare, he appears not to notice that everyone can hear him. “If Hillary wins, there will be widespread unrest, civil disobedience, badly divided government in which half the country believes she, her daughter, and her husband belong in prison. There’ll be no goodwill. No honeymoon. There will be systematic inspection of all of her actions because someone who has been a crook in the past will be a crook in the future. It will be sad. I’ll probably be forced to move to Costa Rica.”•

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If you want to comprehend the often-disquieting zeitgeist of the Sixties and Seventies, you could do far worse than read back issues of Ramparts magazine, which, under Warren Hinckle’s gonzo editorial guidance, served up the alternative culture without ever watering it down. The journalist just died, and below is his NYT obituary penned by William Grimes, followed by a few of the best articles he wrote and published at Ramparts.


From Grimes:

Warren Hinckle, the flamboyant editor who made Ramparts magazine a powerful national voice for the radical left in the 1960s and later by championing the work of Hunter S. Thompson and helping introduce the no-holds-barred reporting style known as gonzo journalism, died on Thursday. He was 77.

The cause was complications of pneumonia, his daughter Pia Hinckle said.

Ramparts was a small-circulation quarterly for liberal Roman Catholics when Mr. Hinckle began writing for and promoting it in the early 1960s. A born provocateur with a keen sense of public relations, he took over as the executive editor in 1964 and immediately set about transforming Ramparts from a sleepy intellectual journal to a slickly produced, crusading political magazine that galvanized the American left.

With cover art and eye-catching headlines reminiscent of mainstream magazines like Esquire, Ramparts aimed to deliver “a bomb in every issue,” as Time magazine once put it. It looked at Cardinal Francis Spellman’s involvement in promoting American involvement in Vietnam and the Central Intelligence Agency’s financing of a wide variety of cultural organizations.

It published Che Guevara’s diaries, with a long introduction by Fidel Castro; Eldridge Cleaver’s letters from prison; and some of the wilder conspiracy theories surrounding the Kennedy assassination. The magazine’s photo essay in January 1967 showing the injuries inflicted on Vietnamese children by American bombs helped convince the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to take a public stand against the war.

The covers became countercultural classics: an illustration depicting Ho Chi Minh, the Communist leader of North Vietnam, as Washington crossing the Delaware; a photograph of four hands, belonging to the magazine’s top editors, holding up draft cards that had been set on fire.•


“Rather Than Write, I Will Ride Buses, Study The Insides Of Jails, And See What Goes On”

kkFrom “The Social History of the Hippies,” Warren Hinckle’s 1967 Ramparts article about those who tuned in, turned on and dropped out, a segment on writer Ken Kesey after his fall from grace with the younger longhhairs: 

HERE WASN’T MUCH DOING on late afternoon television, and the Merry Pranksters were a little restless. A few were turning on; one Prankster amused himself squirting his friends with a yellow plastic watergun; another staggered into the living room, exhausted from peddling a bicycle in ever-diminishing circles in the middle of the street. They were all waiting, quite patiently, for dinner, which the Chief was whipping up himself. It was a curry, the recipe of no doubt cabalistic origin. Kesey evidently took his cooking seriously, because he stood guard by the pot for an hour and a half, stirring, concentrating on the little clock on the stove that didn’t work.

There you have a slice of domestic life, February 1967, from the swish Marin County home of Attorney Brian Rohan. As might be surmised, Rohan is Kesey’s attorney, and the novelist and his aides de camp had parked their bus outside for the duration. The duration might last a long time, because Kesey has dropped out of the hippie scene. Some might say that he was pushed, because he fell, very hard, from favor among the hippies last year when he announced that he, Kesey, personally, was going to help reform the psychedelic scene. This sudden social conscience may have had something to do with beating a jail sentence on a compounded marijuana charge, but when Kesey obtained his freedom with instructions from the judge ‘to preach an anti-LSD warning to teenagers’ it was a little too much for the Haight-Ashbury set. Kesey, after all, was the man who had turned on the Hell’s Angels.

That was when the novelist was living in La Honda, a small community in the Skyline mountain range overgrown with trees and, after Kesey invited the Hell’s Angels to several house parties, overgrown with sheriff’s deputies. It was in this Sherwood Forest setting, after he had finished his second novel with LSD as his co-pilot, that Kesey inaugurated his band of Merry Pranksters (they have an official seal from the State of California incorporating them as “Intrepid Trips, Inc.”), painted the school bus in glow sock colors, announced he would write no more (“Rather than write, I will ride buses, study the insides of jails, and see what goes on”), and set up funtime housekeeping on a full-time basis with the Pranksters, his wife and their three small children (one confounding thing about Kesey is the amorphous quality of the personal relationships in his entourage—the several attractive women don’t seem, from the outside, to belong to any particular man; children are loved enough, but seem to be held in common).

When the Hell’s Angels rumbled by, Kesey welcomed them with LSD. “We’re in the same business. You break people’s bones, I break people’s heads,” he told them. The Angels seem to like the whole acid thing, because today they are a fairly constant act in the Haight-Ashbury show, while Kesey has abdicated his role as Scoutmaster to fledgling acid heads and exiled himself across the Bay.

This self-imposed Elba came about when Kesey sensed that the hippie community had soured on him. He had committed the one mortal sin in the hippie ethic: telling people what to do. “Get into a responsibility bag,” he urged some 400 friends attending a private Halloween party. Kesey hasn’t been seen much in the Haight-Ashbury since that night, and though the Diggers did succeed in getting him to attend the weekend discussion, it is doubtful they will succeed in getting the novelist involved in any serious effort to shape the Haight-Ashbury future. At 31, Ken Kesey is a hippie has-been.•


“I Found Myself Incarcerated In An Anonymity”

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Black Panther Eldridge Cleaver was many things, and not all of them were good. But no one could deny he was a fascinating fashion designer. After fleeing the United States when charged with the attempted murder of police officers in Oakland in 1968, the revolutionary spent seven years hiding in a variety of foreign countries. A mostly forgotten part of his walkabout was Cleaver surfacing as a fashion designer in Paris at the very end of his exile. As shown in the print advertisement above, his so-called “penis pants” had an external sock attached so that a guy could wear his junk on the outside. I mean, just because your soul was on ice, that didn’t mean your dong had to be. Cucumber sales soared.

Cleaver penned an article about the early part of his life at large for Ramparts in 1969. An excerpt:

SO NOW IT IS OFFICIAL. I was starting to think that perhaps it never would be. For the past eight months, I’ve been scooting around the globe as a non-person, ducking into doorways at the sight of a camera, avoiding  English-speaking people like the plague. I used so many names that my own was out of focus. I trained myself not to react if I heard the name Eldridge Cleaver called, and learned instead to respond naturally, spontaneously, to my cover names. Anyone who thinks this is easy to do should try it. For my part, I’m glad that it is over.

This morning we held a press conference, thus putting an end to all the hocus-pocus. Two days ago, the Algerian government announced that I had arrived here to participate in the historic First Pan-African Cultural Festival. After that, there was no longer any reason not to reach for the telephone and call home, so the first thing I did was to call my mother in Los Angeles. ‘Boy, where are you at?’ she asked. It sounded as though she expected me to answer, ‘Right around the corner, mom,’ or ‘Up here in San Francisco,’ so that when I said I was in Africa, in Algeria, it was clear that her mind was blown, for her response was, “Africa? You can’t make no phone call from Africa!” That’s my mom. She doesn’t relate to all this shit about phone calls across the ocean when there are no phone poles. She has both her feet on the ground, and it is clear that she intends to keep them there.

It is clear to me now that there are forms of imprisonment other than the kind I left Babylon to avoid, for immediately upon splitting that scene I found myself incarcerated in an anonymity, the walls of which were every bit as thick as those of Folsom Prison. I discovered, to my surprise, that it is impossible to hold a decent conversation without making frequent references to one’s past. So I found myself creating personal histories spontaneously, off the top of my head, and I felt bad about that because I know that I left many people standing around scratching their heads. The shit that I had to run down to them just didn’t add up.

Now all that is over. So what? What has really changed? Alioto is still crazy and mayor, Ronald Reagan is still Mickey Mouse, Nixon is in the White House and the McClellan Committee is investigating the Black Panther Party. And Huey P. Newton is still in prison. I cannot make light of this shit because it is getting deeper. And here we are in Algeria. What is a cat from Arkansas, who calls San Francisco home, doing in Algeria? And listen to Kathleen behind me talking over the telephone in French. With a little loosening of the will, I could easily flip out right now!•


“Lenny Was Called A ‘Sick Comic,’ Though He Insisted That It Was Society Which Was Sick And Not Him”

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Lenny Bruce understood there are few things more obscene than a society full of people making believe that obscene things never happened, since pretending and suppressing and hiding and shushing allows true evil to flourish. The opening of Ralph J. Gleason’s emotional 1966 obituary of Bruce in Ramparts

WHEN THE BODY OF LEONARD SCHNEIDER—stage name Lenny Bruce—was found on the floor of his Hollywood hills home on August 3, the Los Angeles police immediately announced that the victim had died of an overdose of a narcotic, probably heroin.

The press and TV and radio of the nation—the mass media—immediately seized upon this statement and headlined it from coast to coast, never questioning the miracle of instant diagnosis by a layman.

The medical report the next day, however, admitted that the cause of death was unknown and the analysis ‘inconclusive.’ But, as is the way with the mass media, news grows old, and the truth never quite catches up. Lenny Bruce didn’t die of an overdose of heroin. God alone knows what he did die of.

It is ritualistically fitting that he should be the victim, in the end, of distorted news, police malignment and the final irony—being buried with an orthodox Hebrew service, after years of satirizing organized religion. But first, in a sinister evocation of Orwell and Kafka and Greek tragedy, he had to be tortured, the record twisted, and the files rewritten until his death became a relief.

Lenny was called a “sick comic,” though he insisted that it was society which was sick and not him. He was called a ‘dirty comic’ though he never used a word you and I have not heard since our childhood. His tangles with the law over the use of these words and his arrests on narcotics charges were the only two things that the public really knew about him. Mass media saw to that.

When he was in Mission General Hospital in San Francisco, the hospital announced he had screamed such obscenities that the nurses refused to work in the room with him, so they taped his mouth shut with adhesive tape. The newspapers revelled in this and he was shown on TV, his mouth taped and his eyes rolling in protest, being wheeled into the examining room. Words that nurses never heard?

What new phrases he must have invented that day, what priceless epiphanies lost to history now forever. Once, in a particularly poignant discussion of obscenity on stage, Bruce said, “If the titty is pretty it’s dirty, but not if it’s bloody and maimed . . . that’s why you never see atrocity photos at obscenity trials.” He used to point out, too, that the people who watched the killing of the Genovese girl in Brooklyn and who didn’t interfere or call a cop would have been quick to do both if it had been a couple making love. “A true definition of obscenity,” he said, “would be to sing about pork outside a synagogue.”

Bruce found infinity in the grain of sand of obscenity. From it he took off on the fabric which keeps all our lives together. “If something about the human body disgusts you,” he said, “complain to the manufacturer.” He was one of those who, in Hebbel’s expression, “have disturbed the world’s sleep.” And he could not be forgiven.•


“The Real And The Unreal In A Sense Became Totally Confused”

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I’m a little obsessed with Clifford Irving, the writer who in 1970 accepted a million-dollar check for his authorized biography of the reclusive millionaire Howard Hughes. One problem: Hughes knew nothing of the book. The author was trying to pass off a fake and pocket a huge payday, and just as fascinating as the ruse was Irving doggedly sticking to his story even after the whole thing fell apart spectacularly. It was a literary scandal of Madoff-ian proportions, and a case study in extreme psychological behavior.

In 1972, as Irving was about to serve a stretch in prison for fraud, Ramparts magazine assigned Abbie Hoffman to do a Q&A with the trickster. An excerpt from “How Clifford Irving Stole That Book“:

Abbie Hoffman:

Did you ever get the idea, once the authenticity was questioned, of publishing it as a work of fiction? Would that have been really possible?

Clifford Irving:

You mean since recent events?

Abbie Hoffman:

Yeah.

Clifford Irving:

Oh, yeah, I still would like to have the book published. I think it’s the best novel I’ve ever written and it could easily be turned into a novel. It could also be published as is, provided libelous passages were taken out of it and provided that it stated very clearly that it’s a bogus autobiography of Howard Hughes. There is a court ruUng on it. As we understand it the court has given us permission to publish part or all of the book, provided that it’s made perfectly clear that it doesn’t purport to be genuine.

Abbie Hoffman:

I thought a funny incident occurred at Germaine Greer’s press party when you were introduced to Chief Red Fox. Could you talk about that a little?

Clifford Irving:

I went to this cocktail party. I was dragged along by Beverly Loo and Robert Stewart. I hate those damn cocktail parties but I had nothing to do and I wanted to meet Germaine Greer ’cause I heard she was six feet tall. But she was far more interested in talking to women’s liberation people and I stood around like a dope for awhile until I saw this beautiful old man in a corner. I asked about him and was told that’s Chief Red Fox, a 101-year-old Sioux Indian chief, and I said, ‘Beautiful, I’ve got to meet him.’ And I sat at his feet for an hour or two, talked to him, and he was a marvelous old man. But the way he came on to me with the broad American accent and told me how he danced at supermarket openings and was on the Johnny Carson Show where he did a war dance to liven things up, also the way he talked about Indian history, made me a little leery and I thought, well, he’s great but he’s not a 101-year-old Sioux Indian chief. Despite the fact that he was decked out like a technicolor western with a war bonnet and greasepaint make-up. And I went up to Beverly Loo and said,’He’s a great man, Beverly, but he’s no more a 101-year-old Sioux Indian than you’re the Empress Loo of the Ming Dynasty. She got very uptight about that and said, ‘What do you mean? How dare you!’ and I decided not to upset her any further so I backed off. Then of course it turned out later that there were great doubts thrown on the veracity of his books and his identity as well. I don’t know if I really smelled it out but something was funny there. I think maybe I was thinking in terms of a hoax since I was involved with one, and Chief Red Fox seemed to fit right into the category.

Abbie Hoffman:

When incidents like that happened did you start to feel you were watching a movie being made about your life or that you were acting out some kind of movie role?

Clifford Irving:

Well, going through that year I often felt that it was a happening because we sometimes had control over events but so many things happened that were absurd. And after awhile—not that I saw myself as a movie star—I saw this whole thing developing as a script, a movie script which no one would ever buy because it was ridiculous, it couldn’t possibly happen. The real and the unreal in a sense became totally confused—not that I really thought I was writing the autobiography of Howard Hughes, although of course in the act of creation you have to believe to a certain extent, but when you stop work you don’t believe any more. I mean you know what you’re doing but all the events had such a quality of ludicrousness and fantasy and coincidence that reality did at times blend with unreality. I think for the publishers as well.•

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“They Do Learn How To Read Too, But It Is A Secondary Discipline”

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In a 1966 issue of Ramparts, writer Howard Gossage tried to explain the teachings of Marshall McLuhan, whose book from two years earlier, Understanding Media: The Extensions of Man, had announced him as a media star with a message. An excerpt:

McLuhan’s theory is that this is the first generation of the electronic age. He says they are different because the medium that controls their environment is not print — one thing at a time, one thing after another — as it has been for 500 years. It is television, which is everything happening at once, instantaneously, and enveloping.

A child who gets his environmental training on television— and very few nowadays do not — learns the same way any member of a pre-literate society learns: from the direct experience of his eyes and ears, without Gutenberg for a middle man. Of course they do learn how to read too, but it is a secondary discipline, not primary as it is with their elders. When it comes to shaping sensory perceptions, I’m afraid that Master Gutenberg just isn’t in the same class with General Sarnoff or Doctor Stanton.

Despite the uproar over inferior or inept television fare, McLuhan does not think that the program content of television has anything to do with the real changes TV has produced; no more than whether a book is trashy or a classic has anything to do with the process of reading it. The basic message of television is television itself, the process, just as the basic message of a book is print. As McLuhan says, “The medium is the message.”

This new view of our environment is much more realistic in the light of what has happened since the advent of McLuhan’s “Electric Age.” The Gutenberg Age, which preceded it, was one thing after another in orderly sequence from cause to effect. It reached its finest flower with the development of mechanical linkages: A acts on B which acts on C which acts on D on down to the end of the line and the finished product. The whole process was thus fragmented into a series of functions, and for each function there was a specialist. This methodology was not confined to making things; it pervaded our entire economic and social system. It still does, though we are in an age when cause and effect are becoming so nearly simultaneous as to make obsolete all our accustomed notions of chronological sequence and mechanical linkage. With the dawn of the Electric Age, time and speed themselves have become of negligible importance; just flip the switch. Instant speed.

However, our methodology and thought patterns are still, for the most part, based on the old fragmentation and specialism, which may account for some of our society’s confusion, or perhaps a great deal of it.•


“By 1975 Mao Tse-Tung Himself Would Be Bowing In Homage Before The Teenage Theomorphic Guru”

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In 1973, Ken Kelley published a Ramparts profile of teenage guru Maharaji Ji, a.k.a. “The Perfect Master,” who had become popular at the time with Rennie Davis and some other gullible members of the American counterculture. It’s not the absolute best piece about the spiritual leader, but it’s good. The opening:

For an entire week, Berkeley buzzed in anticipation of the return of Rennie Davis. The incredible story of his conversion to the divine prodigy, Satguru Maharaj Ji, had been revealed in a 40-minute interview on the local FM rocker KSAN. Not only was he dedicating his entire life to Maharaj Ji, but by 1975 Mao Tse-tung himself would be bowing in homage before the teenage theomorphic guru. The reaction ranged from sympathy to Paul Krassner’s insistence that the entire enterprise was a CIA plot. In between were those who felt that Davis was bummed out by the abuse heaped on him as an active, white, male Movement heavy, disappointed by the disintegration of the anti-war movement and therefore open to the love-vibes and Telex technology which form the core of the Satguru’s appeal. Whatever the explanation, everyone was curious, and they itched to see the new Rennie Davis and hear him explain it all in the flesh.

He chose Pauley Ballroom on the U.C. campus to make his stand, a site which overlooks the famous Sproul Plaza. There, some eight years earlier, Mario Savio and his fellow students had marched to shut down the university, thereby unloosing a flood of campus protest which did not subside for five years. Rennie Davis had played a crucial role in that Movement. He had raised money, mapped strategy, given speeches, negotiated permits, written pamphlets-in short, he had done everything that the Movement had done and more. When others had grown tired and cynical, he had worked on and on, and it was only in recent months that he had begun to slacken his pace.

People had come to view Rennie Davis as better, more dedicated than the rest of us, and now, suddenly, he was telling us to surrender our hearts and minds to a barely pubescent self-proclaimed Perfect Master from India and waltz into Nirvana. It was as if Che Guevara had returned to recruit for the Campfire Girls: the anomaly was as profound as the amazement.

And so they packed the ballroom to hear Rennie Davis, and one sensed curiosity, a certain amount of hostility, and an undercurrent of fear. As he stood before the assemblage, the vultures descended. “Kiss my lotus ass.” “All power to the Maharajah, huh?” He took it in with smiles and good humor. “I’m really blissed out with a capital B,” he proclaimed in the vernacular of his new calling. “I’m just here to make a report, and if you don’t want to check out what I’m saying, that’s cool. Sooner or later you’ll find out that we are operating under a new leadership, and it is Divine, that it’s literally going to transform the planet into what we’ve always hoped and dreamed for.”•


“Ever Since Telephones Began To Make Money, There Have Been People Willing To Rob And Defraud Phone Companies”

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A year after Ron Rosenbaum’s seminal 1971 Phone Phreak story in Esquire, Ramparts until now. In 1972, that publication ran step-by-step instructions of how someone could receive phone calls for free, sans blue box. In 1973, it published a piece by Bruce Sterling about the history of hacking which explained the pre-Phreak politicized past of phone rip-offs, which was a signature of the Yippie movement. An excerpt:

Abbie Hoffman is said to have caused the Federal Bureau of Investigation to amass the single largest investigation file ever opened on an individual American citizen. (If this is true, it is still questionable whether the FBI regarded Abbie Hoffman a serious public threat -quite possibly, his file was enormous simply because Hoffman left colorful legendry wherever he went). He was a gifted publicist, who regarded electronic media as both playground and weapon. He actively enjoyed manipulating network TV and other gullible, imagehungry media, with various weird lies, mindboggling rumors, impersonation scams, and other sinister distortions, all absolutely guaranteed to upset cops, Presidential candidates, and federal judges. Hoffman’s most famous work was a book self-reflexively known as Steal This Book, which publicized a number of methods by which young, penniless hippie agitators might live off the fat of a system supported by humorless drones. Steal This Book, whose title urged readers to damage the very means of distribution which had put it into their hands, might be described as a spiritual ancestor of a computer virus.

Hoffman, like many a later conspirator, made extensive use of pay- phones for his agitation work — in his case, generally through the use of cheap brass washers as coin-slugs.

During the Vietnam War, there was a federal surtax imposed on telephone service; Hoffman and his cohorts could, and did, argue that in systematically stealing phone service they were engaging in civil disobedience: virtuously denying tax funds to an illegal and immoral war. But this thin veil of decency was soon dropped entirely. Ripping-off the System found its own justification in deep alienation and a basic outlaw contempt for conventional bourgeois values. Ingenious, vaguely politicized varieties of rip-off, which might be described as ‘anarchy by convenience,’ became very popular in Yippie circles, and because rip-off was so useful, it was to survive the Yippie movement itself. In the early 1970s, it required fairly limited expertise and ingenuity to cheat payphones, to divert “free” electricity and gas service, or to rob vending machines and parking meters for handy pocket change. It also required a conspiracy to spread this knowledge, and the gall and nerve actually to commit petty theft, but the Yippies had these qualifications in plenty. In June 1971, Abbie Hoffman and a telephone enthusiast sarcastically known as ‘Al Bell’ began publishing a newsletter called Youth International Party Line. This newsletter was dedicated to collating and spreading Yippie rip-off techniques, especially of phones, to the joy of the freewheeling underground and the insensate rage of all straight people.

As a political tactic, phone-service theft ensured that Yippie advocates would always have ready access to the long-distance telephone as a medium, despite the Yippies’ chronic lack of organization, discipline, money, or even a steady home address.

Party Line was run out of Greenwich Village for a couple of years, then “Al Bell” more or less defected from the faltering ranks of Yippiedom, changing the newsletter’s name to TAP or Technical Assistance Program. After the Vietnam War ended, the steam began leaking rapidly out of American radical dissent. But by this time, ‘Bell’ and his dozen or so core contributors had the bit between their teeth, and had begun to derive tremendous gut-level satisfaction from the sensation of pure technical power.

TAP articles, once highly politicized, became pitilessly jargonized and technical, in homage or parody to the Bell System’s own technical documents, which TAP studied closely, gutted, and reproduced without permission. The TAP elite revelled in gloating possession of the specialized knowledge necessary to beat the system.

“Al Bell” dropped out of the game by the late 70s, and “Tom Edison” took over; TAP readers (some 1400 of them, all told) now began to show more interest in telex switches and the growing phenomenon of computer systems. In 1983, “Tom Edison” had his computer stolen and his house set on fire by an arsonist. This was an eventually mortal blow to TAP (though the legendary name was to be resurrected in 1990 by a young Kentuckian computeroutlaw named “Predat0r.”)

Ever since telephones began to make money, there have been people willing to rob and defraud phone companies. The legions of petty phone thieves vastly outnumber those “phone phreaks” who “explore the system” for the sake of the intellectual challenge. The New York metropolitan area (long in the vanguard of American crime) claims over 150,000 physical attacks on pay telephones every year! Studied carefully, a modern payphone reveals itself as a little fortress, carefully designed and redesigned over generations, to resist coinslugs, zaps of electricity, chunks of coin-shaped ice, prybars, magnets, lockpicks, blasting caps. Public pay- phones must survive in a world of unfriendly, greedy people, and a modern payphone is as exquisitely evolved as a cactus.•

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Just a whisper bigger in land mass than Pennsylvania, North Korea is a Digital Age Orwellian state that knows only one Big Brother and his name is Kim Jong-un. He does not tolerate sibling rivalry.

In reviewing a raft of titles in the New York Review of Books about the nation ruled by Dear Respected Comrade, political scientist Andrew J. Nathan questions if President Obama’s “strategic patience” will pay off with ungodly wealth inequality and economic sanctions provoking a surrender of nukes or the fall of the tyrannical government. It’s far from assured, with China betting against, not seeing a chance for reforms similar to its own taking root in its neighbor. Nathan agrees with that latter assessment, writing that “North Korea is more like East Germany than it is like China.”

An excerpt:

As the end of his own life approached, Kim Jong-il in turn needed to find a successor among his three male offspring. (He also had four daughters, who today occupy posts of varying responsibility in the regime.) Observers had originally expected the succession to fall upon the eldest, Kim Jong-nam (born in 1971). Jong-nam, however, was the offspring of Jong-il’s first long-term consort (it is not clear whether Jong-il ever formally married any of his companions), whom the patriarch Kim Il-sung disliked. Moreover, in 2001, Jong-nam was caught by Japanese immigration officials entering the country on a forged Dominican passport, accompanied by a wife, child, and nanny. The forged passport was nothing unusual for North Korean elites, but apparently Jong-nam’s reason for using it—to bring his family to visit Tokyo Disneyland—confirmed in his father’s eyes that he lacked the necessary toughness to wield power. Jong-nam was sent into exile, and reportedly spends much of his time in the Chinese gambling city of Macau. He has given several press interviews expressing his disapproval of “hereditary succession.” Chinese guards, I have been told, protect him from potential North Korean assassins. It is not clear who supports him.

Kim Jong-il’s second son, Kim Jong-chul, was also found inadequate, according to a gossipy book by the family’s Japanese former sushi chef, because he was too “effeminate.” That left Jong-un, born in 1984, although his official birthday has been adjusted to 1982 to continue the mystical parallelism with his grandfather’s and father’s birth years. Jong-un was not academically talented, and during his secondary education at a private school in Switzerland he is said to have been obsessed with basketball and other sports. But he was short-tempered and domineering, characteristics suitable for inheriting a dictatorship. In 2009, word appeared that a “new genius of leadership had emerged from within the ancient lands of Korea.” Jong-un’s appearance was groomed to resemble his grandfather’s—including his bouffant haircut. Observers speculate that he was encouraged to gain weight for this purpose; according to intelligence reports he may now be suffering from health problems related to obesity.

The most serious threat to Jong-un’s authority was his uncle. The husband of Kim Jong-il’s only sister, Jang Song-taek had accumulated broad influence, serving among other things as vice-chairman of the National Defense Commission, the controller of Pyongyang’s foreign exchange resources, and the regime’s chief contact with China.5Many viewed him as a regent, and he held a potential threat over Jong-un’s head in the form of a close relationship with the exiled older half-brother Jong-nam, who could potentially have replaced the younger sibling at the head of the party and state.

On December 8, 2013, two years after Jong-un came to power, the young ruler arranged for Jang to be seized by uniformed guards in front of hundreds of high-ranking officials who had been summoned to an enlarged meeting of the ruling party’s Political Bureau. Jang was accused of “anti-party, counter-revolutionary factional acts,” of conducting numerous extramarital affairs, and of other crimes. He was denounced as “an ugly human scum worse than a dog” and executed by firing squad (not, as was rumored at the time, by antiaircraft guns or ravenous dogs). Many of his followers were killed or sent to labor camps, some reports say along with their spouses, children, and grandchildren. Jang’s wife may or may not have approved of her adulterous husband’s execution; she is said to be suffering from dementia and has appeared silently in public a handful of times since the purge.•

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TORONTO, ON - JUNE 21: Toronto Mayor Rob Ford held a press conference at City Hall Friday afternoon in response to possible provincial funding cuts to the city. (Lucas Oleniuk/Toronto Star via Getty Images)

It was better to have Gawker than not have it.

The flagship site of Nick Denton’s former media empire often operated under a fog of institutional delusion the last few years, outing a Condé Nast media exec who wasn’t bothering anyone, and treating a Hulk Hogan sex tape as if its exposure was vital to the survival of the country. These were true believers who began believing the wrong things. Even at its recent Irish wake of a farewell party, one of the top editors actually invoked the name of Capt. Humayun Khan when speaking of sacrifices made by the blog’s young staffers. Seeming to realize the wrong-mindedness of the notion mid-paragraph, he pivoted, saying: “Not that the sacrifices here come close to losing a loved one, but it is a sacrifice to be a 23-year-old kid and to find your name on a complaint from Hulk Hogan.” Oy gevalt.

That being said, if you go through site’s fourteen year’s worth of posts one by one and delete the many frivolous entries, the majority were on the right side of history and politics, targeting abuses of power. The platform also served as an amazing training ground for young writers and editors who gradually fanned across the media landscape, many of them wonderfully talented. In the big picture, Gawker was always better than no Gawker.

In any picture, Peter Thiel does not emerge from this episode looking good. You don’t get to claim the moral high ground when you’re an advocate for–a delegate of!–a bigoted buffoon like Donald Trump, who’s mocked the disabled and POWs, slandered Mexicans and threatened to ban Muslims. Rationalizing that you’re doing so because “we need to solve real problems instead of fighting fake culture wars” is just so much nonsense, even if Thiel is too buried under his horseshit theories to realize it. Trump is himself trying to rise to power by virtue of fighting a fake culture war in which he’s demonized and disqualified anyone who’s not white, a process the GOP nominee began in earnest five years ago with his Birther bullshit. Was there ever a faker culture war than that? 

By bankrolling Hogan’s lawsuit, Thiel scored the most dubious of victories, shuttering one company and sending a chill wind blowing across an already embattled independent media landscape. He may have prevented some from making unkind or unnecessary remarks, but he also provided comfort to those abusing power, safe in the knowledge that there will be fewer voices willing to question them. 

From Jane B. Singer at The Conversation:

The obvious implication for entrepreneurial news organisations is that they must do their utmost to adhere to both ethical responsibilities and legal requirements – not just because it’s the right thing to do but also because their own future depends on it. That is emphatically not to say they should be timid nor that they should pull their punches. It is to say that they should be exceptionally careful to get the story right – and to get it in the right way.

But there is a clear implication for “legacy” news outlets, as well. Despite the proliferation of competition right across the media spectrum, they remain the ones best able to withstand the pressures of those who would prefer they curtail their reporting or, better still, go away altogether. As always, power is needed in order to hold the powerful to account – and to ensure that such accounting reaches public attention.

Staff cutbacks and financial pressures, along with other factors, have meant a well-documented decline in in-depth journalism by legacy outlets in recent years. Some of that gap is indeed being filled by passionate journalists at digitally savvy start-ups, and their work benefits us all.

But as the demise of Gawker reminds us, few if any start-ups – even those that are profitable, with a well-established reputation and following – rest on reliably solid economic ground. In an age of welcome journalistic flowering, the expertise, influence and still relatively rich resources of the mainstream media remain vital social assets that must not be squandered.•

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The Scientific American piece “20 Big Questions about the Future of Humanity” is loads of fun, setting the huge issues (consciousness, space colonization, etc.) before top-shelf scientists. The only disappointment is University of New Mexico professor Carlton Caves stating that human extinction via machine intelligence “can be avoided by unplugging them.” One can only hope he was being flippant, though it’s not a useful response regardless. Three entries:

1. Does humanity have a future beyond Earth?
“I think it’s a dangerous delusion to envisage mass emigration from Earth. There’s nowhere else in the solar system that’s as comfortable as even the top of Everest or the South Pole. We must address the world’s problems here. Nevertheless, I’d guess that by the next century, there will be groups of privately funded adventurers living on Mars and thereafter perhaps elsewhere in the solar system. We should surely wish these pioneer settlers good luck in using all the cyborg techniques and biotech to adapt to alien environments. Within a few centuries they will have become a new species: the post-human era will have begun. Travel beyond the solar system is an enterprise for post-humans — organic or inorganic.”
—Martin Rees, British cosmologist and astrophysicist

3. Will we ever understand the nature of consciousness?
“Some philosophers, mystics and other confabulatores nocturne pontificate about the impossibility of ever understanding the true nature of consciousness, of subjectivity. Yet there is little rationale for buying into such defeatist talk and every reason to look forward to the day, not that far off, when science will come to a naturalized, quantitative and predictive understanding of consciousness and its place in the universe.”
Christof Koch, president and CSO at the Allen Institute for Brain Science; member of the Scientific American Board of Advisers

10. Can we avoid a “sixth extinction”?
“It can be slowed, then halted, if we take quick action. The greatest cause of species extinction is loss of habitat. That is why I’ve stressed an assembled global reserve occupying half the land and half the sea, as necessary, and in my book ‘Half-Earth,’ I show how it can be done. With this initiative (and the development of a far better species-level ecosystem science than the one we have now), it will also be necessary to discover and characterize the 10 million or so species estimated to remain; we’ve only found and named two million to date. Overall, an extension of environmental science to include the living world should be, and I believe will be, a major initiative of science during the remainder of this century.”
Edward O. Wilson, University Research Professor emeritus at Harvard University•

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After an exhaustive search, Michael Wolff finally located two Americans more unlikable than him–Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton–and he’s not letting go.

Wolff recently wrote a really good Hollywood Reporter profile of Trump, who desperately needs a food taster, but you’ll pry that pint of Häagen-Dazs from his cold, dead hands. In the same publication, he now writes of the final leg of a contest between two figures many voters see as a racist comb over versus a lying pantsuit, though anyone finding parity in the misdeeds of Trump, a virulently bigoted Berlusconi who aims to be a Mussolini, and Clinton, a politically expedient person but a solid Washington practitioner who’ll likely keep the trains running on time, is forcing a false equivalency.

It’s an entertaining piece as Wolff’s always are, though as is often the case with the writer, everyone in the article but him is depicted as an unknowing dolt. Additionally, Wolff’s portrayal of Trump voters as struggling, uneducated whites buys into a narrative that’s way overstated. His line that makes most sense is that it’s odd Hillary seems so driven to be likable in an election where that quality seems to not be an asset. Wolff ultimately gives Trump a greater chance at victory than any other major pundit or pollster.

An excerpt:

The Democrats’ strongest card was to present Trump as an existential threat and to foresee the breakdown of democracy’s fail-safe mechanisms. This also was quite an alarming approach. The guttural “Lock her up!” chants at the RNC seemed extreme enough. But in a way, the Democrats’ position was much more radical. Trump cannot be allowed; Trump is immoral; Trump is — the ultimate disqualifier — insane. In other words, if Duck Dynasty-type voters carry the day in November, that would not be an example of democracy but a failure of it.

The historic departure here is in arguing legitimacy over policies. In this, the Democrats appear to have two fears. The first is that traditional political techniques don’t work anymore and that Trump has significantly more mastery over the new techniques. The Democrats have spent $68 million on advertising so far. Trump: $6 million. How do you fight someone who doesn’t have to spend? The second is that the party’s own policies, pushed left by Bernie Sanders and focused on usually undependable young voters, are up against a backlash that it doesn’t know how to defuse and is opposed to accommodating — a protest vote by culturally adrift, undereducated white voters without precise political moorings, an identity group the Democrats hardly knew had an identity (this already may be a cliched portrait of the Trump voter, a broad approximation of people whom the media doesn’t know). As President Obama acknowledged, seeming to scratch his head, it’s not right nor left anymore, but something much more fundamental and frightening — but beyond that, he seemed as clueless as anyone.

The Democrats’ approach, in a convention whose television ratings outpaced the Republicans until the final day (Trump himself remains a bigger draw than Hillary) was to argue that there is an onrushing Trump apocalypse, but not to address any of the issues causing people to vote for the apocalypse. “Some people are angry, I get that,” said former Michigan Gov. Jennifer Granholm, but, more clearly, she was wholly bewildered, and not getting at all — along with the entire lineup of Democratic speakers — whatever it is that’s bothering Trump voters. In fact, if anything, the Democrats doubled down on many of the issues and cultural currents that seem most threatening to the Trump side, rather believing that Trump’s illegitimacy gave them the freedom to go increasingly left.

One drawback of successful propaganda is that instead of fooling everybody else, you only fool yourself.•

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If self-appointed Libertarian overlord Grover Norquist, a Harvard graduate with a 13-year-old’s understanding of government and economics, ever had his policy preferences enacted fully, it would lead to worse lifestyles and shorter lifespans for the majority of Americans. He’s so eager to Brownback the whole country he’s convinced himself, despite being married to a Muslim woman, there’s conservative bona fides in Trump’s Mussolini-esque stylings and suspicious math.

In 2014, Norquist made his way to the government-less wonderland known as Burning Man, free finally from those bullying U.S. regulations, the absence of which allows Chinese business titans to breathe more freely, if not literally. Norquist’s belief that the short-term settlement in the Nevada desert is representative of what the nation could be every day is no less silly than considering Spring Break a template for successful marriage. He was quote as saying: “Burning Man is a refutation of the argument that the state has a place in nature.” Holy fuck, who passed him the peyote? Norquist wrote about his experience in the Guardian. Maileresque reportage, it was not. An excerpt:

You hear that Burning Man is full of less-than-fully-clad folks and off-label pharmaceuticals. But that’s like saying Bohemian Grove is about peeing on trees or that Chicago is Al Capone territory. Burning Man is cleaner and greener than a rally for solar power. It has more camaraderie and sense of community than a church social. And for a week in the desert, I witnessed more individual expression, alternative lifestyles and imaginative fashion than …. anywhere.

The demand for self-reliance at Burning Man toughens everyone up. There are few fools, and no malingerers. People give of themselves – small gifts like lip balm or tiny flashlights. I brought Cuban cigars. Edgy, but not as exciting as some “gifts” that would have interested the federal authorities.

I’m hoping to bring the kids next year.

On my last day of my first Burning Man, at the Reno airport, a shoeless man (he had lost his shoes in the desert) was accosted by another dust-covered Burner carrying sneakers: “Take these,” he said. “They are my Burning Man shoes.” The shoeless man accepted the gift with dignity.•

In an excellent Financial Times piece, Tim Bradshaw broke bread in San Francisco with Larry Harvey, co-founder of Burning Man and its current “Chief Philosophic Officer,” who speaks fondly of rent control and the Bernie-led leftward shift of the Democratic Party. Grover Norquist would not approve, even if Harvey is a contradictory character, insisting he has a “conservative sensibility” and lamenting the way many involved in social justice fixate on self esteem. An excerpt:

I ask if he feels, after 30 years, that Burning Man’s ideals are starting to be felt beyond the desert. “I’d like to mischievously quote Milton Friedman,” he says, invoking the rightwing economist. “He said change only happens in a crisis, and then that actions that are undertaken depend on the ideas that are just lying around.” With the “discontents of globalisation” set to continue, he predicts that crisis will hit by the middle of this century. “I think there really is a chance for sudden change.” However, I struggle to pin him down on exactly which Burners’ ideas he hopes will be “lying around” when it does.

Most Burners are fond of recalling tall tales of fake-fur-clad excess, elaborately customised “art cars” and monster sound systems. This year’s art installations include a 50-ft “space whale”, the head and hands of a giant man appearing to rise from the sand, and part of a converted Boeing 747 that its new owners say is now a “mover of dreams”. Harvey likes to survey the art — and the rest of his creation — from a high platform close to the centre of the event at First Camp, the founders’ HQ. But instead of recounting hedonistic tales, he is much more eager to talk about organisational details, such as Black Rock City’s circular layout, “sort of like a neolithic temple”.

Indeed, Harvey insists he has a “conservative sensibility” and is “not a big fan of revolution”. “Do I sound like a hippie? I’m not!” And he bristles at being called anti-capitalist, although he hung out with the hippies on Haight Street in 1968. “I was there in the spring, autumn and winter of love, but I missed the summer,” he says, due to being drafted into the US army. “It was apparent to me that it was all based on what Tom Wolfe called ‘cheques from home’. The other source that shored it up was selling dope. I thought, that isn’t sustainable.”•

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Bruno Hauptmann’s executioner, Robert G. Elliott, became increasingly anxious as the fateful hour neared, and you could hardly blame him. Who knows what actually happened to the Lindbergh baby, but the circumstances were crazy, with actual evidence intermingling with that appeared to be the doctored kind. To this day, historians and scholars still argue the merits of Hauptmann’s conviction. Elliot who’d also executed Sacco & Vanzetti and Ruth Snyder, was no stranger to high-profile cases, but the Lindbergh case may still the most sensational in American history, more than Stanford White’s murder or O.J. Simpson’s race-infused trial.

Elliott, whose title was the relatively benign “State Electrician” of New York had succeeded in the position John W. Hulbert, who was so troubled by his job and fears of retaliation, he committed suicide. Elliott, who came to be known as the “humane executioner” for devising a system that minimized pain, was said to be a pillar of the community who loved children and reading detective stories. A friend of his explained the lethal work in a March 31, 1936 Brooklyn Daily Eagle article, just days before Hauptmann’s demise: “It is repulsive to him to have to execute a woman, but he feels that, after all, he’s just a machine.” Such rationalizations were necessary since Elliott claimed to be fiercely opposed to capital punishment, believing the killings accomplished nothing. 

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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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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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