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UNILAD-donald-trump-bible6-750x455 Mark Singer, the great New Yorker portraitist, wrote one of my all-time favorite profiles, a 1993 study of Ricky Jay, who performs magic in the same sense that Benjamin Franklin flew kites. It’s the invisible energy being conducted that makes all the difference. Somehow Singer escorted everything important into the light.

Another excellent piece he penned that decade was his 1997 examination of Donald Trump who was then a needy pseudo-plutocrat before transitioning into a Birther, and, finally, during this Baba Booey of an election season, Bull Connor as a condo salesman, a mocker of American POWs and the disabled. Even 20 years ago, the writer recognized his subject as a performance artist constantly on a campaign, though not yet a political one.

In a Vice Q&A, Harry Cheadle questions Singer about his close encounters with the hideous hotelier back in the day. The opening:


What were your initial impressions of Donald Trump when you met him in 1996?

Mark Singer:

After I first met him face-to-face, I came back to the office and said, “Wow, this guy is a performance artist. This is a persona I have to deal with, not a regular-type person with whom there is the usual give and take between a writer and a subject.” There was an artifice that was present throughout that was obvious to me from the get-go. This is a person who really choses to be a persona rather than to live the sort of unmediated life you and I might prefer.


He never dropped that persona of all the hours you’ve spent with him?

Mark Singer:

Trump’s never not in character. He’s got a problem now because that persona that he has been cultivating is obviously not useful to him if he wants to win the election. (This presupposes that he actually does want to win the election.)


Is that persona you saw basically the same one everyone sees on TV now?

Mark Singer:

This is a different manifestation of the same person. The main thing that Trump did that surprised me, between 1997 and now, was birtherism. I couldn’t see how that served his interest, even if you assume that there’s no such thing as bad publicity. I just couldn’t get over that he was engaged in this.

I didn’t know that Trump was a racist. I’m not an idiot, but I didn’t really see it before 2011 [when he accused Barack Obama of faking his birth certificate]—and then it was obvious to me that it is indeed part of what motivates him. I assume that there had to be some other motive and to this day I can’t tell you what it is, other than some function of this person’s incredible insecurity.•

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When it comes to human-made material goods, it would seem that cheap abundance is within sight for the first time in our species’ history. The rub is that the cost of getting there has been sky-high environmentally, with scary repercussions staring us in the maw.

As we’ve witnessed in California, in the U.S. we haven’t made great decisions when it comes to safeguarding our water supply, that precious resource. Water economist David Zetland, author of The End of Abundance: Economic Solutions to Water Scarcity, just conducted an Ask Me Anything at Reddit. A few exchanges are embedded below.


Yesterday, there was a picture on r/pics of a California lake (almost empty) in 2014 and the same lake with much more water in it from this year. How are things going in California? (I realize you no longer live there.) Are conditions improving there? What needs to happen now to get them even better?

David Zetland:

Yes, I did too. I hope that some of the 5000+ people who upvoted it see your comment :)

“Things” are ok. The environment is really under stress due to drought and climate change (hard to separate), and El Niño didn’t fix anything. The biggest problem in the State is groundwater, which is barely regulated and hardly measured (there are laws now, but it will take 5+ years to implement anything).

People in cities may say “nothing’s wrong” b/c their taps flow but they are missing the environmental and groundwater stress.

I’m not an optimist in terms of improvements, as the dominant perspective is growth of population, agriculture and urban landscapes. All of these are increasing demand in a system that’s “managed” to the hilt, meaning there’s very little space for safety if things go wrong. (The big nightmare is an earthquake that “disturbs” the Delta, thereby cutting off water to SF as well as half of SoCal. That could happen tomorrow.)

I’ve suggested for years that California needs to reduce water transfers, to get regions to focus more on local supplies (i.e., recycling wastewater, saving rainwater) rather than calling for more dams or transfers.

I moved to the Netherlands b/c I don’t trust California’s water management to do much more than get by, with a good chance it will fail (it already has for communities losing access to well water or facing polluted well water).


Do you view cities like LA and LV as unsustainable, or is there a way for large cities to exist in desert climates without robbing other regions?

David Zetland: 

Good question. EVERY city is unsustainable in some way, due to the way they need to concentrate food, energy, water, etc. Those that are farther from those sources thus need to be smaller. LA was amazing back in the 30s, but grew off imported water (you can even go back earlier, to the 1913 LA Aqueduct if you want to pinpoint an issue).

The main idea is that ALL cities should pay the full cost of their resource use/environmental impact. Very few do, but it’s FAR worse when politicians allow them to get away with stuff/subsidize their growth.


If the planet is made up of mostly water, why are we concerned about the scarcity of water?

David Zetland:

Wrong place, wrong time, wrong quality.

Wettest place on earth has shortages.


I’ve always wondered – why not just price water according to its scarcity? Give the first x gallons cheap or free to residential customers, then charge against an accelerating price scale? That would dissuade large inefficient users, but still allow people to stay clean and healthy in their homes.

David Zetland:

You’re right in principle, but the details should be implemented differently. More.


What little things can people do to help use less water ?

David Zetland:

Little: Turn off taps when not using water. Bigger: Don’t have a lawn. Fix leaks. Biggest: Don’t eat meat.

Mega: Get involved in regional water management, to help those who do not care as much change their habits (via changed incentives — prices — more than preaching).•



For those raised under capitalism who’ve absorbed the teachings of that system, a post-scarcity Second Machine Age sans labor is awfully difficult to envision. It’s essentially the technology-driven collapse that Karl Marx envisioned. Something has to replace the work that disappears, doesn’t it? Some mixed blessing for us to enjoy/endure? Even if intelligent machines can somehow make such a tiol-free scenario possible, we’re not even sure that we want it. Few aspire to drudgery. but genuine productivity feels good.

Eventually and maybe not gradually enough to make the transition smooth, we’ll be inside a new machine that operates under different rules, and we’ll have to likewise reinvent ourselves. Right now the spectre of mass technological unemployment has allowed the idea of Universal Basic Income to capture hearts and minds in Silicon Valley, discussion that has reverberated far beyond that well-appointed patch of Silicon Valley, even into the Oval office. Not all the plans are equal–or even good–but they are being discussed in halls of power.

Two excerpts below from: 1) President Obama discussing Basic Income in a Bloomberg interview, and 2) Ilana E. Strauss’ Atlantic piece about the possibility of a labor-free society that doesn’t promote ennui.

From Bloomberg:


Some economists suggest that globalization is going to start targeting all those services jobs. If you want to keep up wages in that area, doesn’t it push us toward something like a universal basic income?

President Obama:

The way I describe it is that, because of automation, because of globalization, we’re going to have to examine the social compact, the same way we did early in the 19th century and then again during and after the Great Depression. The notion of a 40-hour workweek, a minimum wage, child labor laws, etc.—those will have to be updated for these new realities. But if we’re smart right now, then we build ourselves a runway to make that transition less abrupt, because we’re still growing, and we’re beating the competition around the world. Look, for example, at smart cars, where the technology basically exists now. The number of people who are currently employed driving vehicles of some sort is enormous. And some of those jobs are pretty good jobs. You know, people are worried about Uber, but the fear is actually driverless Uber, right? Or driverless buses or what have you.

Now, there are all kinds of reasons why society may be better off if smart cars are the norm. Significant drops in traffic fatalities, much more efficient use of the vehicle, so that we’re less likely to emit as much pollution and carbon that causes climate change. You know, drastically reduced traffic, which means we’re giving back hours to families that are currently taken up in road rage. All kinds of reasons why we may want to do that. But if we haven’t given any thought to where are the people who are currently making a living driving transferring into, then there’s going to be deep resistance.

So trying to separate out issues of efficiency and productivity from issues of distribution and how people experience their own lives and their ability to take care of their families, I think, is a bad recipe. It’s not an either/or situation. It’s a both/and situation.•

From Strauss:

People have speculated for centuries about a future without work, and today is no different, with academics, writers, and activists once again warning that technology is replacing human workers. Some imagine that the coming work-free world will be defined by inequality: A few wealthy people will own all the capital, and the masses will struggle in an impoverished wasteland.

A different, less paranoid, and not mutually exclusive prediction holds that the future will be a wasteland of a different sort, one characterized by purposelessness: Without jobs to give their lives meaning, people will simply become lazy and depressed. Indeed, today’s unemployed don’t seem to be having a great time. One Gallup poll found that 20 percent of Americans who have been unemployed for at least a year report having depression, double the rate for working Americans. Also, some research suggests that the explanation for rising rates of mortality, mental-health problems, and addiction among poorly-educated, middle-aged people is a shortage of well-paid jobs. Another study shows that people are often happier at work than in their free time. Perhaps this is why many worry about the agonizing dullness of a jobless future.

But it doesn’t necessarily follow from findings like these that a world without work would be filled with malaise.•

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In the same decade humans set foot on the moon, the most soaring technological achievement of our species, Sir Edmund Hillary went on an expedition to the Himalayas to search for the Abominable Snowman. There are still some among us all these years later who believe Yeti roams the Earth and the moonwalk was faked.

Great scientific knowledge and utter disregard for facts can exist in the same moment. There’s perhaps no more perplexing aspect of modern life than conspiracy theories mucking up the works, from chemtrails to 9/11 Truthers to Birthers to anti-Vaxxers. Endless information was supposed to set us free from such madness. It did not. The new tools have made it easier to spread lies, to conduct a war on info, to even run an essentially fact-free Presidential campaign.

Excerpts from two articles follow: 1) Christopher Mele’s New York Times article about those who believe the Orlando massacre a staged or “false flag” event, and 2) William Finnegan’s New Yorker commentary on Trump’s appreciation for unhinged conspiracist Alex Jones, who believes pretty much every job an inside one.

From Mele:

Jesse Walker, the author ofThe United States of Paranoia: A Conspiracy Theory, said fear, the human need to find patterns and tell stories, and the recognition that conspiracies are not impossible help fuel such theories. The stories — no matter how outlandish — can bring meaning and a measure of comfort in a world that can make no sense, he said.

False-flag theories have long been around. One focused on the assassination attempt in 1835 of President Andrew Jackson, during which the president fought off a gunman whose two weapons misfired. Conspiracy theorists at the time believed Jackson had hired the gunman as a way to drum up sympathy for himself, Mr. Walker said.

Unlike the 1800s, stories today benefit from instant delivery through the internet and social media. One of the better-known purveyors is Alex Jones, who hosts an internet show at the website infowars.com. The day of the Orlando shooting, he posted a  video in which he asserted that the government had let the massacre happen so it could pass “hate laws to deal with right-wingers” and to disarm gun owners. He did not respond to an email seeking comment.

Mike Rothschild of Pasadena, Calif., who has researched and written about conspiracy theories, described the world of false-flag believers as a “bank of awakened internet sleuths that has got it all figured out.” They see it as their duty to warn others about secret elites in government who are plotting against citizens, he said.•

From Finnegan:

On December 2nd, while the awful news from San Bernardino was erupting, bit by unconfirmed bit, I was surprised by the crisp self-assurance of a couple of bloggers whose names were new to me. They were on it—number of victims, names of shooters, police-radio intercepts. Soon, though, the bloggers veered off from the story that other news sources were slowly, frantically putting together. The information being released by the authorities did not match the information the bloggers were unearthing, and the latter quickly deduced that, like other “mass shootings” staged by the government, in Newtown, Connecticut, and elsewhere, this was a “false flag” operation. The official account was fiction. One Web site that carried the work of these “reporters” was called Infowars. I made do with other sources for news. But I kept an eye on Infowars and its proprietor, Alex Jones, who is a conspiracy theorist and radio talk-show host in Austin, Texas. Jones’s guest on his show the morning of the shooting had been, as chance would have it, Donald Trump. Jones had praised Trump, claiming that ninety per cent of his listeners were Trump supporters, and Trump had returned the favor, saying, “Your reputation is amazing. I will not let you down.”

Jones’s amazing reputation arises mainly from his high-volume insistence that national tragedies such as the September 11th terror attacks, the Oklahoma City bombing, the Sandy Hook elementary-school shooting, and the Boston Marathon bombing were all inside jobs, “false flag” ops secretly perpetrated by the government to increase its tyrannical power (and, in some cases, seize guns). Jones believes that no one was actually hurt at Sandy Hook—those were actors—and that the Apollo 11 moon-landing footage was faked. Etcetera. Trump also trades heavily in imaginary events and conspiracy theories. He gained national traction on the American right by promoting the canard that President Obama was born outside the United States—a race-baiting lie that the candidate still toys with on Twitter. But birtherism is only the best-known among Trump’s large collection of creepy political fairy tales. You’ve probably heard the one about vaccines and autism. He even pushed that during a Presidential primary debate, on national television. Do you really believe that Obama won the 2012 election fairly? Wrong. Fraud. (At the same time, it’s Mitt Romney, total loser, who let everyone down.) Bill Ayers, not Obama, wrote “Dreams from My Father.” There is no drought in California, and the Chinese, outwitting us per usual, invented the concept of global warming to undermine American manufacturing. And so on.

Does Donald Trump actually believe any of this?•

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If Donald Trump loses in November, America will prove, as it did during the Revolutionary War, to be slightly less incompetent than Britain. That type of sliver can make all the difference. It can birth or preserve a superpower.

Not everyone thinks Brexit is a particularly pertinent barometer for the Trump-Clinton shitstorm, but Edward Luce of the Financial Times writes that the throw-the-bums-out U.K. referendum has heartened American conservatives, even if they themselves detest the angry, orange face of their party. It might be as self-delusional as the Romney campaign’s internal polling, or maybe the whole world really has gone mad. Luce criticizes the Democratic nominee for running a campaign that’s “too nebulous to excite.”

Luce’s opening:

Listen. Can you hear the British lion roar? People on Europe’s side of the Atlantic may strain to do so through the din of Thursday’s shock result. But in parts of America it came through loud and clear. Among conservatives in particular the UK has become an instant king of the jungle. To Donald Trump’s supporters and critics alike, Brexit is that rare event that evoked the same instinct. What happens to Brussels need not stay in Brussels. It can happen to Washington too.

So much for Britain’s demonstration effect. What of America’s reality? The parallels between America’s coming election and the UK referendum are real, particularly if you are on the side that is expected to lose. Much like Britain’s Leave campaign, Republicans are beset by divisions, nervous of hijack by racist fringe groups, heavily discounted by the betting industry, and facing a well-oiled establishment opponent.

Mr Trump’s fate — and those of many hapless down ballot Republicans — appears to be sealed. Only fools would gamble the presidency on such a person. Why risk so much for a brief emotional release?

The answer is not quite so confident after Brexit. It was natural Mr Trump would interrupt his golf marketing stopover in Scotland on Friday to congratulate the British for taking “their country back. That, after all, is what he is promising America. It was slightly odder that he observed Scotland going wild over the vote” after almost two-thirds of Scots opposed Brexit. But Mr Trump has a knack of seeing things others cannot. Witness his imaginary fan base of Hispanic and African-American voters.

Yet he was not alone. The projection of American conservative dreams on to the UK referendum result went deep.•




There’s no denying Kevin Kelly is a techno-optimist, something his new book, The Inevitable, speaks to. The Wired cofounder, who returned to Russ Robert’s podcast, EconTalk, to promote the title, said three years ago when guesting on the program: “We’re constantly redefining what humans are here for.” He’s further developed his thinking on that topic this time around.

I agree with Kelly and Roberts that our new tools and systems (Deep Learning, AI, etc.) will make us better off in the long run (though it will be complicated), but I’m concerned about the near- and medium-term, when industries will likely rise and fall with disquieting regularity and financial headaches may find those who aren’t, say, successful authors or research fellow at the Hoover Institution.

Roberts briefly puzzles over people concerning themselves with technological unemployment at a time when the U.S. unemployment rate hovers around 5%. I don’t think it’s Trumpian to say that percentage doesn’t quite speak to the number of citizens struggling nor the long-stagnating wages. Wikipedia and smartphones are wonderful, but they’re not quite a substitute for a degree of economic security. 

Two exchanges are embedded below.

Russ Roberts:

Just to play pessimist for a minute: We think about artificial intelligence, for example, today–and you mention both these kind of things in your book–is it really that exciting that our thermostat gets to know us? Is it really that exciting that my car beeps at me when I’m going out of my lane or can parallel park–which is great for my 16-year old worried about is his driver’s license test? But these are not transformative applications.

Kevin Kelly:

Yeah. This too. It seemed it at first, very invisible. Well, you might not recall, but in the 1920s or something Sears Roebuck, the mail-order catalog company, was selling the Home Motor. And the Home Motor was this immense, 15-pound motor that was going to sit in the center of your home and automate all the appliances and whatnot in your home. That industrial revolution thing worked because it became invisible–we don’t have the big motor turning everything; we have like 50 motors in our homes that became invisible. So, to some extent, this stuff is working because we don’t see it. Because it’s not something that is visible. And it succeeds to the extent that it transforms while we don’t see it. So, that’s one thing. And the second thing I would say about that is that, we’re sitting on this huge wave of the First Industrial Revolution which brought this incredible prosperity to us all, the fact that we see around us that we no longer in the agricultural hunter-gatherer era were–we had to do everything with human muscle or with animal muscle, animal power. We invented something called ‘synthetic artificial power.’ And we harnessed fossil fuels, and carbon fuels, to give additional power that we couldn’t do. And all that we see is basically a result of this artificial power. So when we drive down the road in your car, you have 250 horses working for you at that moment. Just turn a little knob, you’ve got 250 horses powering you down to do whatever you want to do. And then we distributed that power through a grid to every home and farm in the country; and so farmers could employ that artificial power to do all kinds of things; and factories could use that artificial power. And everything that we had built around us was because of the artificial power that we made. Well, now, we’re going to do the same thing with artificial intelligence. So, instead of–in addition to having 250 horses driving you down the road, you are going to have 250 minds–which we are going to get from AI, from artificial intelligence. And that, we’re also going to put that onto a grid and distribute it around the country so that like any farmer could just get and purchase as much artificial power and artificial intelligence as they want, to do things. And just as that artificial power, was this incredibly transformative, incredibly progressive, incredibly powerful platform to give us all that we enjoy now, this artificial minds that we are going to get on top of the artificial power is going to transform us in an equal way: it’s going to touch everything that we do. And I think actually it will transform us more than that first Industrial Revolution did.•

Russ Roberts:

A lot of people worry about the impact of artificial intelligence on employment. We’ve talked about this–it’s now becoming a recurring theme. And of course it’s ironic we’re having this theme when unemployment in the United States is 5%. But, put that to the side. I think people are legitimately worried about what might be replaced by what. And you talk about it at length. I just wondered about two points you make. You talk about the fact that there are jobs that we didn’t know we wanted done. I’m going to read a little excerpt here:

Before we invented automobiles, air-conditioning, flat-screen video displays, and animated cartoons, no one living in ancient Rome wished they could watch cartoons while riding to Athens in climate-controlled comfort. One hundred years ago not a single citizen of China would have told you that they would rather buy a tiny glass slab that allowed them to talk to faraway friends before they would buy indoor plumbing, but every day peasant farmers in China without plumbing purchase smart phones. Crafty AIs embedded in first-person-shooter games have given millions of teenage boys the urge, the need, to become professional game designers–a dream that no boy in Victorian times ever had. In a very real way our inventions assign us our jobs. 

You want to add anything to that?

Kevin Kelly:

I think maybe I kind of maybe say it this way: Our jobs into the future will be to invent jobs that we can automate and give to the robots. So, we’re on a kind of a path, on an escalator–that we’re going to keep inventing new things that that we desire to be wanted to do; we’ll figure out how to do them, and once we figure out how to do them we’ll automate them–basically giving them to the AIs, and a box. So, in a certain sense our job is to invent jobs that we can automate. And I think that part of inventing jobs may be our job–human job–for a while, because we have better access to our latent desires than AIs do. Although eventually even perhaps that job is–at least assisted by AIs.

Russ Roberts:

I’m going to read another quote which says what you just said, but it’s so beautiful. You say,

When robots and automation do our most basic work, making it relatively easy for us to be fed, clothed, and sheltered, then we are free to ask, “What are humans for?” Industrialization did more than just extend the average human lifespan. It led a greater percentage of the population to decide that humans were meant to be ballerinas, full-time musicians, mathematicians, athletes, fashion designers, yoga masters, fan-fiction authors, and folks with one-of-a kind titles on their business cards. With the help of our machines, we could take up these roles; but of course, over time, the machines will do these as well. We’ll then be empowered to dream up yet more answers to the question “What should we do?” It will be many generations before a robot can answer that.•

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The Economist wonders if machines will cause mass unemployment. I’m not sure that’s precisely the right question.

Let’s argue for a moment that Deep Learning and automation don’t cause technological unemployment in a truly sweeping fashion over the next several decades. That doesn’t necessarily mean that we’re safe from social disorder. One of the factors in the waves of nativism and anti-immigration we’re currently experiencing in many developed countries is the diminishment of the middle class. Isn’t it possible that positions disappearing into the machines could be less than comprehensive yet still occur at a level that would lead to further deterioration. What, exactly, is that tipping point? How much can be absorbed before things fall apart?

From the Economist:

Economists are already worrying about “job polarisation,” where middle-skill jobs (such as those in manufacturing) are declining but both low-skill and high-skill jobs are expanding. In effect, the workforce bifurcates into two groups doing non-routine work: highly paid, skilled workers (such as architects and senior managers) on the one hand and low-paid, unskilled workers (such as cleaners and burger-flippers) on the other. The stagnation of median wages in many Western countries is cited as evidence that automation is already having an effect—though it is hard to disentangle the impact of offshoring, which has also moved many routine jobs (including manufacturing and call-centre work) to low-wage countries in the developing world. Figures published by the Federal Reserve Bank of St Louis show that in America, employment in non-routine cognitive and non-routine manual jobs has grown steadily since the 1980s, whereas employment in routine jobs has been broadly flat (see chart). As more jobs are automated, this trend seems likely to continue.

And this is only the start. “We are just seeing the tip of the iceberg. No office job is safe,” says Sebastian Thrun, an AI professor at Stanford known for his work on self-driving cars. Automation is now “blind to the colour of your collar”, declares Jerry Kaplan, another Stanford academic and author of “Humans Need Not Apply”, a book that predicts upheaval in the labour market. Gloomiest of all is Martin Ford, a software entrepreneur and the bestselling author of “Rise of the Robots”. He warns of the threat of a “jobless future”, pointing out that most jobs can be broken down into a series of routine tasks, more and more of which can be done by machines.

In previous waves of automation, workers had the option of moving from routine jobs in one industry to routine jobs in another; but now the same “big data” techniques that allow companies to improve their marketing and customer-service operations also give them the raw material to train machine-learning systems to perform the jobs of more and more people. “E-discovery” software can search mountains of legal documents much more quickly than human clerks or paralegals can. Some forms of journalism, such as writing market reports and sports summaries, are also being automated.•

Almost five years ago, I wondered if China, with its present government, could successfully transition from opening fake Apple Stores to creating a company as globally popular as Steve Jobs’ giant. Well, the citizens certainly purchase more authentic iPhones these days, but there’s still no hot product to export, for all of the country’s new wealth. Perhaps it’s just too soon or maybe a society so controlled doesn’t foster entrepreneurship.

In the Evan Osnos AMA I posted some exchanges from earlier this week, one questioner noted that China is expanding its presence on the world stage, while longtime powers like England and the U.S. seem to want to recede from globalization and into the past. But at the same time, the new superpower of Asia is beginning to experience its own growing pains–and not just financially. 

As Disney opens its first Shanghai theme park, it’s become clear to Chinese authorities and the citizenry that multinational entertainment-business deals with the West come with cultural and, perhaps, political concessions, even of it’s “China’s Disneyland” and not merely a “Disneyland in China,” as Bob Iger puts it with maximum politesse. The opening of “When Walt Went to China,” an article by Charles Clover at the Financial Times:

It is hard to think of two organisations that love synchronised dancing more than the Disney corporation and the Communist party of China. So when the two came together for the opening ceremony of Disney’s new $5.5bn theme park in Shanghai, the display was unsurprisingly choreographed to perfection.

Buzz Lightyear, Princess Elsa, Winnie the Pooh, Captain Jack Sparrow, Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck: the full weight of Disney’s intellectual property holdings was arrayed in phalanx in front of the world’s largest Disney Palace — and China’s watching politburo — each dancing toy action figure, princess or superhero representing a discounted cash flow in the billions of dollars.

Fireworks, speeches, more fireworks, more speeches: there was not a lot of room for subtlety. This was, after all, the world’s biggest entertainment company celebrating its beachhead into the world’s fastest growing entertainment market. Everything was done to reinforce the impression that we were watching a salient event in the recent history of the world, the formation of a new strategic partnership or new power sharing agreement — that the global entertainment industry was now a US-China duopoly.

Yet Disney’s journey to Shanghai has been long and fraught, underlining Beijing’s schizophrenic relationship with mass American culture. Western brands are a particular neurosis for China — Mark Zuckerberg, for example, is treated as a celebrity whenever he comes to China, but Facebook remains blocked. Luxury brands such as Gucci count China and Chinese tourists as their main market, but also their most prolific copier and counterfeiter. That China has not yet created a globally successful brand is a peculiar source of humiliation in Beijing amid soul searching as to why.•


LONDON, UNITED KINGDOM - JUNE 24: British Prime Minister David Cameron resigns on the steps of 10 Downing Street his wife Samantha Cameron listens on June 24, 2016 in London, England. The results from the historic EU referendum has now been declared and the United Kingdom has voted to LEAVE the European Union. (Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)

As was the case with Donald Trump clinching the GOP nomination despite the deep disbelief of the American professional class, it seems Brexit’s success blindsided UK pundits and betting houses because few in positions of power and privilege could fully wrap their heads around such a self-immolating move. The question remains: How many Brexit supporters (and Trump ones) don’t comprehend the economic ramifications of anti-immigration policies and how many do know and simply don’t care?

Clive Crook of Bloomberg View has an excellent and sober-minded Reddit AMA about Brexit and its aftermath. A few exchanges follow.


Can you please give a general outline on the history behind this referendum? Why was this referendum even held at all? I see a lot of references to “Cameron’s gamble”; why did he feel he needed to gamble?

Clive Crook:

Cameron promised a referendum partly (his critics say entirely) to stifle dissent in the Conservative Party, so that they could unify and win the last general election. It worked — except, as you notice, for one thing! He underestimated the country’s disaffection with the EU (outside London anyway) and then, I think, fought a not very good campaign to Remain, overdoing “Project Fear”. The EU could have done a lot more to help him win, by the way. They saw him as a nuisance, not as an ally. Plenty of blame to go around.


How embedded is misinformation in 21st century politics?

Clive Crook:

Deeply! For sure. But I think it’s wrong to cast the breakdowns we see all around us as nothing more than the high-information elite vs the low-information rabble. What we’re seeing in Britain, in the rest of Europe, and in the US too, is a popular revolt against the elites. This is very dangerous — but it’s intelligible and not entirely without justification. I think it’s really important to keep that in mind.


Why were the betting houses so wrong?

Clive Crook:

That’s puzzling. The polls all through showed a close race. In the past few days, Leave moved ahead according to several polls. Yet the pollsters and the betting markets discounted the data — in the pollsters’ case, their own data. Not sure why. Like most people I thought undecideds would divide disproportionately in favor of Remain — the safe choice — but that didn’t happen.


What will be the first major crisis that common people in the UK will ‘feel’?

Clive Crook:

The next few days may qualify. Extreme financial-market turbulence can be dismissed as the City’s problem for a short while — but not if the govt and bank of England have to undertake emergency measures to stem the panic. Later, the big risk is collapsing inward investment.


Will Britain realistically be able to have more control over immigration independent of the EU?

Clive Crook:

I’m sure it would have more control. But you’re right to wonder whether it would like the results. Immigration has been a big net benefit to the UK.


Is this evidence that globalism has failed? Is the psychology of “diversity” just too difficult for people too manage?

Clive Crook:

Maybe. But I don’t know if it’s diversity so much. Partly, I guess. But the key trade-offs, I think, are: (1) benefits of globalization (higher living standards in the aggregate) vs costs (displaced workers), and (2) economic integration (net benefit) vs political integration (diminished self-government). Brexit is all about (2).


What are the odds of a united Ireland, do you think? Scotland’s already gone, in my estimation. I wonder because my wife is Irish and we’re wondering what the new map will look like. It’s astounding.

Clive Crook:

I don’t know if Scotland’s as good as gone. This is a very bad result for them, but the collapse in the oil price has turned the independence math against them. By the way, though, I can’t see that Scottish independence would be such a bad thing. If I were a Scot I would probably have voted for independence — confident that relations between Scotland and England would be friendly enough to preserve most of the benefits of full union. Ireland could be a problem if feelings get inflamed — but that should be avoidable. Brexit needn’t stop free movement of UK and Irish citizens across the N Irish border. If both sides want that — and they do — I think it can be worked out.


As an American I can see the seeds of discontent among the “working class,” etc. Here, however the dialogue/agenda has turned towards thinly veiled racism. What percentage of this decision do you think is based on race, or at least xenophobia?

Clive Crook:

I think it played a part. Outright racists made Brexit their vehicle. But I don’t think 52 percent of Brits are racists. I don’t think it’s necessarily racist to worry about open borders, or to think that Britain’s policy on migration (liberal or illiberal, as the case may be) should be decided in Westminster not Brussels. Tactically, by the way, I think it was a mistake to denounce the Leave campaign as basically driven by bigotry. If you call people bigots, you’re insulting them. And insulting people is not a good way to argue them round to your point of view.


Short outline of the best case scenario going forward? If that’s too broad, could ANY conceivable good come of this?

Clive Crook:

I can imagine an outcome not that different from being a full member of the EU — a kind of associate membership. Deep economic integration but without free movement of labor and all the apparatus of EU nation-building — you know, parliament, executive and supreme court. That would have suited Britain better all along. It was never on the table. Conceivably, it now might be. Though I wouldn’t bet on it. Other countries might want that dispensation too, and it would be the end of the organizing vision of Europe that’s guided things this far.•



Bomani Jones conducted the Playboy Interview from Paris with Ta-Nehisi Coates, in the aftermath of the writer experiencing unexpected, large-scale success from his meditations on American racial injustice, a subject that often seems to plunge the country into mass amnesia. In one passage, the author is questioned about the difference between white and black Americans spewing nonsense theories, touching on, among others, political scientist Charles Murray, who thinks it’s somehow possible to be truly and deeply in love with both meritocracy and Sarah Palin.

An excerpt:


Is there anything related to race that you once believed and now look back on and say, “What was I thinking?”

Ta-Nehisi Coates:

Yeah, there are crazy things that I believed. That whole iceman thing was total bullshit.


I take it you’re talking about Michael Bradley’s book The Iceman Inheritance, which attributes white racism to, among other things, sexual maladaptation in Caucasians.

Ta-Nehisi Coates:

See, these motherfuckers believe shit now and argue on it. I’ve had these fights with Andrew Sullivan about IQ. That’s his iceman. There’s no science behind this shit. But see, you’ve got institutions and guns behind it, right? You’ve got a whole power structure behind it that allows them to stand on the crazy shit I could not go out on. When I went to Howard they were like, “Ain’t no way you’re going to leave here talking that shit.” These motherfuckers get to go to Harvard and come out talking that shit. Charles Murray did this bubble study. Did you see that shit?


I did not.

Ta-Nehisi Coates:

How to determine whether you live in a bubble or not. It’s totally based on white people. No black person would take that study and have it tell them anything about their life. This motherfucker got the backing of Washington. These motherfuckers just get to spout crazy. This cat Marty Peretz, who used to run The New Republic, was an active racist and bigot spouting the worst poison in the world. This guy is in high reaches of society, getting degrees from Harvard. My pops said this shit to me one time: “The African’s right to be wrong is sacred.” When we’re wrong, it’s craziness, but when they’re wrong, it’s…Harvard.


In your back-and-forths with Sullivan and Jonathan Chait, they seemed to be wondering what was wrong with you. What was your thought when people said you seemed down, when you believed you were dealing in facts?

Ta-Nehisi Coates:

That’s what they say when they can’t fight you. They abandon the whole thought of any sort of empirical, historical, evidence-based argument, and they say, “Well, I don’t like where you’re coming from.” It’s like if I tell you I have empirical evidence that the world is going to end in five days and you’re like, “I don’t like how that sounds. Why are you bumming me out?” That’s something people apply to the dialogue around racism but they don’t apply to other shit. Kathryn Schulz won a Pulitzer Prize for this incredible piece that basically says the Pacific Northwest is going to get hit by a huge tsunami that will kill a lot of people. It’s the most pessimistic, dire shit you’d ever want to read. What if they said to Schulz, “You could sing us a song”? When people can’t fight you, they say, “Why are you so pessimistic?” It’s a different question than “Are you correct?”•

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The old legends were no help to us.

One of my favorite journalists at the New Yorker–anywhere, really–is Evan Osnos, who does wonderful work whether reporting on China or politics or whatever. His latest piece, “Making a Killing,” published in the wake of the horrific Orlando massacre, investigates the gun industry in America, now a “concealed-carry” country and home to an unofficial militia of millions with often-minimal firearms training.

He writes of this surprisingly recent phenomenon: “In 2015 fatalities from mass shootings amounted to just two per cent of all gun deaths. Most of the time, when Americans shoot one another, it is impulsive, up close, and apolitical.” Despite a marked decline in crime and hunting in recent decades, manufacturers have for a quarter century sold fear in order to peddle their lethal wares. It’s largely been wildly successful.

Osnos also conducted a companion Ask Me Anything at Reddit (a few exchanges are embedded below) in which he shares his belief that the nature of the debate is in flux, perhaps veering more toward stricter regulations. One aspect of the topic not discussed in either piece is the near-term future of 3D printers, which will probably be able to turn out an endless supply of perfectly workable handguns at some point over the next decade. When you have printers printing out other printers and so on, it’ll be difficult to get a grip on guns regardless of laws.


More than half of handgun deaths are suicides. A significant percent of the remainder are perpetrated by and against those willfully engaged in illegal gang and drug activity (not your stereotypical NRA member). And nearly all are due to handguns rather than rifles. Why is gun control focused on the low-hanging fruit of NRA and “assault weapons”?

Evan Osnos:

You’re absolutely right about the preponderance of gun deaths coming from handguns, not long guns. Often, this gets lost in the moments after a mass shooting that involves a long gun (usually semiauto, obviously). But I wouldn’t characterize the NRA as “low-hanging fruit.” They have been the most successful advocates for gun rights in the last century. The organization is essential to any discussion of guns, and they would agree with that (though not with criticism of them, of course).


I listened to a brief portion of your interview on Fresh Air and you said (paraphrasing) that the moment you introduce a gun to your house, you double the chances of a homicide. Is this not the fallacy of correlation and not causation? The moment I introduce a lawnmower to my house, I significantly increase my chances of accidents involving lawnmowers. If I have a swimming pool installed, I significantly increase the chance of drowning. You paint the picture of an uninformed gun owner by and far, responsible gun owners understand and take steps to minimize the risks of gun ownership.

Evan Osnos:

I hope you’ll have a chance to listen to the whole thing. The guns vs. swimming pool analogy has been dealt with pretty well elsewhere, so I won’t rehash other than to say that it’s difficult, but not impossible, to use a swimming pool to kill a spouse in a domestic dispute — or to use a swimming pool to kill your neighbor, or, if you’re unwell, to massacre people in a movie theatre. I’m not trying to be facetious; it’s an important point: Bringing a gun into the house raises your risks of homicide and that’s precisely the point. It’s not just the risk of homicide to a home invader, obviously.


In your reporting, what was the biggest myth about guns that you discovered?

Evan Osnos:

There are myths on both sides: Many gun-control advocates imagine gun-owners = NRA. They’re not the same. As I write in my piece many gun-owners are turned off by the fear-mongering, the insults to their intelligence. At the same time, I met a lot of gun owners who are convinced that urban elites want to confiscate their guns. The truth is that urban elites, if you want to call them that, could care less what others have stashed in their safes — they just don’t people getting shot all the time. There is so much room for people to meet in the middle on this, but it requires putting aside some myths we are convinced are true.


I’m in the process of reading your article, so I apologize if you covered this at length already, but in the research you’ve done, what would you say is the most impactful move that could be taken to immediately curb, to any extent, gun violence?

On a non-gun related point, what is your favorite piece that has been published by the New Yorker this year?

Evan Osnos:

Anybody — especially people who favor free markets — should conclude that the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act was a big mistake. Imagine if Exxon was protected from liability after the Valdez? That’s not how markets should work. It will probably be revised or repealed to make sure that companies are doing safe work — as with any industry.

Also, on TNY pieces, Patrick Keefe has been on a tear. Read and diagram and study anything he writes.


What was the most difficult aspect of investigating the NRA at that depth?

Evan Osnos:

I appreciated the fact that the NRA welcomes journalists to the annual meeting etc. It’s a fair way of ensuring people understand the organization. But the leadership, and the businesses that support the NRA, are oddly secluded. Wayne LaPierre gives very few interviews, and gunmaker CEOs almost never talk. It’s too bad because they could make a case for themselves.


I’ve read about how, for the NRA, part of selling self-defense is marketing towards women. As you were reporting, did you encounter many “success stories” involving women who used their guns?

Evan Osnos:

The NRA is making a big push on marketing to women — and it’s been doing this consistently for two decades. But it’s been an uphill climb. The General Social Survey shows that gun ownership among women has barely budged. This data drives the industry crazy, because they say they are seeing more women customers. So what gives? Multiple gun dealers told me they think that women are coming in more often as part of a group or a family. But it’s hard to get them to buy in the long term. So the core gun owner remains: white, male, aging.


I am uneducated in the gun industry and try not follow politics but here’s a question. Do you think that with big Associations like the NRA there is even a chance to get any sort of reform? It seems like we are in a battle that cannot be won, they simply have too much money and too much influence on politics for any real change to happen IMO.

Evan Osnos:

Actually, strangely perhaps, I have a different view: Studying guns reveals just how NON-static American political history is. Nothing stays the same for long. The strength of our system is, in fact, the resilience and flexibility of it. It’s the gay-marriage principle. History happens slowly, then all at once. I’m increasingly convinced we’re on course for a rapid shift of opinion on guns.•


I’m disappointed a relatively sober-minded person like James Baker can’t see past partisanship in regards to Donald Trump, Daddy Warbucks as an aspiring war criminal, but it’s no surprise Donald Rumsfeld supports the odious GOP nominee.

Rumsfeld, and unmitigated disaster as W’s Defense Secretary (Trump agrees), is still using his bullshit fog-of-war lexicon of obfuscation, deeming Trump a “known unknown,” and arguing Hillary should be indicted, a comment he makes without a seeming shred of self-awareness of the piles of dead bodies that were needlessly rendered such by both his willful actions and gross incompetence. 

From David Martosko at the Daily Mail:

An animated Rumsfeld, 83, was even more eager to talk about the Trump phenomenon, saying that a year ago ‘you could count on one hand’ the number of people who thought he would be the GOP nominee.

While the former defense secretary said he and Trump have never met, he agrees with the real estate tycoon about what Trump calls the potential for a ‘Trojan horse’ infiltration of terrorists among the Syrian refugees whom the Obama administration has been resettling in the U.S.

‘He’s absolutely right,’ he said. ‘Anyone who thinks the radical Islamists are not going to try to utilize every venue they can find to infiltrate in the United States, and in western European countries, to achieve their goals – these people just don’t get it.’ 

Rumsfeld framed the choice between Clinton and Trump in terms political historians will find familiar, relying on the words he used in 2002 to describe questions about the U.S. intelligence community’s ability to spot weapons of mass destruction in Iraq.

“Mrs. Clinton is a known known. Donald Trump is a known unknown who’s a recent entry into the equation,’ he said, attributing the insight to his wife.

‘And I am a lot more comfortable with a known unknown, who I will support, than with a known known who is unacceptable.’•

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Uber has gone to great and often-unsavory lengths to try to promote itself as a savior of Labor–that is, when CEO Travis Kalanick isn’t having a wet dream about firing all the drivers.

Some live in a Libertarian fantasy in which the typical rideshare employee is just spinning the wheel until seed money comes in for his or her Silicon Valley startup, but any closer inspection tells you that solid, regulated taxi jobs are being replaced by sketchy, unstable ones. That doesn’t mean that Uber and Lyft haven’t offered improvements over traditional car services or that they should be unduly restrained, but let’s be honest about what’s happening here: The Gig Economy is bad for working-class people, who are already besieged by a variety of woes. 

An excellent BuzzFeed investigation by Caroline O’Donovan and Jeremy Singer-Vine has uncovered leaked documents that lay waste to the longstanding ridiculous contention that Uber drivers can make close to six figures if they keep their feet on the gas. An excerpt:


“I like the job. But financially, it’s not doing it for me.”

This according to Steve Rogers, a 61-year-old driver who told BuzzFeed News that he’s been on the platform about a year. His experience jibes roughly with the data Uber gathered on Detroit, where the typical full-time driver barely earned more than Michigan’s current minimum wage of $8.50 per hour.

Of course, because Uber drivers are not employees of the company, Uber is not legally obligated to pay them the minimum wage.

Uber’s data represents all trips taken in Detroit between Dec. 7 and Dec. 21, 2015. During that period, Detroit drivers earned approximately $13.70 an hour before expenses and — given the assumptions above — about $8.77 an hour after expenses, according to BuzzFeed News estimates that were supplemented by additional data from Uber. That’s less than the $10 an hour Walmart promised to pay its employees in 2015.

Contract and wage work are not perfectly comparable. Uber argues that retail employees at companies like Walmart don’t enjoy the same independence and flexibility as Uber drivers. But as employees, Walmart workers are often entitled to benefits that contract Uber drivers don’t receive.•

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It’s easier for builders to draw Utopia on a blank slate, what with all the imperfections that developed cities already possess, but urban centers that have grown organically from the bottom up offer lots of hidden stability. Perhaps because of new smart technologies and China’s top-heavy urbanization, some are still trying to create Shangri-La from scratch. Case in point: Songdo and Masdar, smart insta-cities that are supposed to show the rest of us the way it should be done. Things haven’t gone according to plan, however, because cities are at least as much biological as technological.

In a Demos Helsinki post, social psychologist 


Unlike it is often made to seem in the hyped-up press, smart cities like Songdo and Masdar are seldom celebrated by the people who live in them – at least not in the way they were expected to. For example Songdo was envisioned as a futuristic international business hub, drawing residents from all over the world. Instead, it is now almost exclusively made up of Koreans:99 percent of homes are sold to locals. Similarly, it cost 22 billion dollars to build Masdar,but it is now barely occupied and more than halfway from reaching its ambitious emission reduction goals.

”When we plan, we tend to think that we understand people and what they want and need. We don’t”, Annala explains. ”Cities are highly complex organisms.” According to Annala, turning cities smart will require systematic engagement of those who are expected to live in these environments. ”Without end-user testing and systematic learning, it is practically impossible to plan a smart city that is loved by its inhabitants.”•

Masdar City abandoned its plan for a fleet of driverless, electric pod cars to replace gas-guzzling taxis.



Not being intimately familiar with the nuances of the U.K.’s politics and culture, I’m wary of assigning support for Brexit to ugly nativist tendencies, but it does seem a self-harming act provoked by the growing pains of globalism. It may not be as dumb a move as a President Trump, for instance, but some of the same forces are at play, particularly when it comes to the pro-Brexit, anti-immigration UKIP party.

It’s not shocking that Britain and the U.S. are trying to dodge the arrival of a new day and greater competition, a time when empires can’t merely strike back at will. We’re richer now, we have better things, but the distribution is very uneven and we feel poor inside. For some, maybe a surprising number, blame must be assigned to the “others.” As Randy Newman sang: “The end of an empire is messy at best.”

From Andrew Brown’s excellent Boston Globe essay about Brexit, which the great Browser pointed me to:

In 1945, things were dreadful, but everyone knew their role and knew what their country should do. Now things are very much better, but no one knows where they belong. The post-war consensus and much of the optimism lasted until about 1973 but collapsed altogether under Margaret Thatcher. In a sense, this campaign is the last outworking of her legacy. Both sides of the argument are the children of Thatcher, who opposed the European Union rhetorically and emotionally but did as much as any political leader to knit us into the single market.

The Remainers are largely those who profited from her revolution: the rich, the skilled, and the educated, especially those who live in London and the South East portion of England. At the same time, they tend to be the people who resisted and were repelled by her message and her instinctive social nostalgia. They are, in a word, Blairites: He largely continued her policies but switched the rhetoric 180 degrees to welcome a future as quite glorious — and imaginary — as Thatcher’s vision of the past had been.

Under both Tony Blair and Thatcher, and under their successors, the rising prosperity of London and the South East has been accompanied by an astonishing loss of jobs, hope, and self-confidence in other parts of the country. There, in the traditional heartland of England, is where the Brexit movement draws its emotional strength. The Leavers are mostly those who lost out from what Mrs Thatcher did but drew nourishment by what she said. So they felt doubly betrayed in the post-Blair era, when the economics of the new order went on hurting them, and the rhetoric turned against them, too.

But the Leavers are not a homogenous group. Take away their English nationalism, and they fall into two profoundly opposed groups. By far the largest are the foot soldiers, small-c conservative and genuinely hostile to immigrants of every sort. (More than half the immigrants in this country are from outside the European Union.) The ordinary Leavers are found almost everywhere outside London, in all the places where globalization has devastated the economy and where many of the jobs that are left have gone to foreigners.

They are nourished by the extraordinary and unremitting hostility to “Migrants” in some parts of the press.•


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If you look through history, great inventors had their breaks from reality–Edison believing he could create a device to communicate with the dead, Marconi thinking he had the ability to exchange Morse Code with Martians. That seems to be part and parcel of large-scale technological dreamers. Elon Musk acknowledges that he’s sometimes given to delusions, but it’s possible that driverless electric cars, the  near-term colonization of Mars and the Hyperloop are not among them. Time will tell.

At Recode’s Code conference, Musk announced the autonomous-car challenge essentially solved and commented on this poisonous U.S. political season. He remarked that the President is the “captain of a large ship with a small rudder.” Musk may be working with a smaller vessel, but he believes its rudder world-changing.

From Brad Stone at Bloomberg Technology:

The South Africa-born entrepreneur is known for his unvarnished views on, say, how malevolent artificial intelligence could doom the human race or space exploration being key to humanity’s evolution. Musk — who said he occasionally succumbs to delusion — debated the best form of government (democracy) for a putative Mars colony, and the need for entrepreneurs to start businesses from iron-ore smelters to pizza delivery that can thrive in that planet’s harsh environment. But he also touched on matters far closer to home, including the divisive U.S. elections. Asked about controversial Republican candidate Donald Trump, Musk said no one person had the clout to affect the entire country, not even the Commander-in-Chief.

“I don’t think this is the finest moment for our democracy,” he said. “Being U.S. president is being the captain of a large ship with a small rudder. There is a limit to how much good or bad a president can do.”

Business-wise, Musk welcomed competition in what he called an increasingly crowded electric and self-driving arena, including from Apple Inc., which he expected to begin producing cars in volume by 2020. The iPhone maker however has never confirmed any plans on that front. Google Inc. on the other hand, which has spent years researching and testing autonomous vehicles, posed no direct threat.

“There’ve been so many announcement s of autonomous EV startups. I’m waiting for my mom to announce one,” he said. “Google’s done a good job of showing the potential of autonomous transport, but they’re not a car company.”•

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The developed world is having a time of it trying to transition into the Digital Age with its robots and automation and virtual stores. Europe is considering defining robot workers as “electronic persons” who must pay into social security and Paris is threatening tax measures to bring Amazon Prime to heel, hoping to prevent its neighborhood shops going the way of the city’s decimated brick-and-mortar bookstores. In the U.S., workers have gone missing in scary numbers, leading some to suspect the displacement has fueled our Baba Booey of an election cycle. In the long run, this changeover may lead to the end of scarcity, but in the short term it’s an economic, political and cultural problem.

The fallout may prove even more dire for countries in the developing world which relied on Industrialization’s hunger for cheap labor to create a path to relative prosperity. From Sarah O’Connor’s Financial Times article about “radical insourcing”:

Rich countries are beginning to see factories return to their shores — and they have the robots to thank.

Take Adidas. When Herbert Hainer, chief executive, joined the German sportswear company in 1987, factories were beginning to close in Germany and move to China. This month, he announced Adidas would bring some shoe production back to Germany for the first time in three decades thanks to a highly automated factory in Bavaria. “I find it almost uncanny how things have come full circle,” he said.

It is important to keep some perspective. Adidas made 301m shoes last year; the two new factories (the other will be in the US) will produce about 1m. Still, you can see how this trend could take off. …

Tyler Cowen, an economics professor at George Mason University in the US, believes robots and 3D printers could create a world of “radical insourcing” where developed countries no longer need to outsource production to countries where wages are low.

“Why should a wealthy nation buy from a poorer exporter when it can automate and produce similar goods at home without incurring high labour costs?” he asked in a recent paper.

This would not do much for jobs in developed countries, admittedly. The new Adidas factory will have about 160 staff, a fraction of the number required to make the same number of shoes in Asia. But set aside the rich world for a moment. What would “radical insourcing” mean for all the developing countries that saw manufacturing exports as their path to prosperity?•

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Donald Trump is a tin-pot dictator wannabe with verbal diarrhea, and if you consider his steady McDonald’s-and-Häagen-Dazs diet, most likely the non-verbal kind as well.

His campaign now resembles one of his tottering Atlantic City casinos, where the house never wins, and despite the candidate’s braggadocio about his supposed billions and self-financing abilities, he’s already desperate for a daddy to buy millions of dollars worth of chips and help him stave off ruin. Since he’s the presumptive Republican nominee and anything can happen, perhaps the emotional homunculus falls ass-backwards into the Oval Office and not only the GOP but the whole country experiences a death in the gutter, but the more likely outcome sees the hideous hotelier flailing wildly to keep from drowning until he’s finally flushed down the vortex.

Excerpts from two pieces follow: 1) The great Charles P. Pierce’s latest caustic, take-no-prisoners wit at Esquire Politics, and 2) Mark Leibovich’s New York Times article about Trump perhaps swallowing the GOP whole as if it were the final french fry.

From Pierce:

The campaign spent $208,000 on its signature Make America Great hats, which may well go down as the Trump campaign’s only lasting contribution to the political history of the Republic. Laugh, clown, laugh.

(Also, note to people covering this campaign. He, Trump is not the first guy to benefit from the phenomenon of voters who believe he is above corruption because he’s rich. Up in the Commonwealth—God save it!—people voted for generation after generation of wealthy WASPs for that very reason.)

The obvious solution is for the Republican Party to throw He, Trump overboard and nominate somebody else, even if the somebody else is Tailgunner Ted Cruz. Nobody in the party likes him, but at least he’d get whipped in a more conventional campaign and, in the aftermath, the party could make the argument that it still had some measure of self-control and some semblance of self-discipline. But, thus far, the Never Trump effort hasn’t shown any more evidence of corporeal form than the Trump campaign has. It’s hard to see these people getting this together a little more than a month before a convention that already is looking like a Category-5 shitstorm.

(However, Apple CEO Tim Cook is planning to host a fundraiser for non-candidate Paul Ryan, the zombie-eyed granny-starver from the state of Wisconsin, so some folks are thinking ahead.)

Given these numbers, and given that very high probability that He, Trump is probably bullshitting completely about his plans to “self-fund” the general election, the Not Funny part of the news is the fact that, if Trump can’t or won’t fund a proper campaign, somebody totally outside the bounds of political accountability will step up and do it. Personally, I’d rather He, Trump spending himself into the poorhouse than have a candidate who owes his very survival to someone like angry renegade hobbit Sheldon Adelson.•

From Leibovich:

“Priebus” is a German name, pronounced like the Toyota Prius with a “b” stuck in the middle. Reince (short for Reinhold, rhymes with “pints”) is 44 but has an older-man’s vibe. He is often underslept, has the beginnings of jowls and tiny goose pimples clustered under his eyes like those on the belly of a toad. He speaks in the slow and slightly put-upon manner of an adolescent whose parents are always hassling him about the nightmare house guest. The Trump issue, in other words. It’s never far from anything, and really, these days, what else is there?

Plenty, Priebus kept trying to convince me. The Republican Party had its own distinct identity and principles and points of pride. It controls both chambers of Congress and holds more federal and statewide seats than at any time since 1900, he said. What keeps eluding Republicans is the White House. They have lost the popular vote in five of the last six national elections. “Cultural elections,” Priebus calls them — “the big ones.” A chief reason for this is that many voters dismiss Republicans as being culturally and demographically stuck in 1900. It was Priebus who commissioned and endorsed the findings of the G.O.P. “autopsy” after Mitt Romney’s defeat in 2012. Formally christened as the “Growth and Opportunity Project,” the report warned that the G.O.P. was “increasingly marginalizing itself” to a point where it would be “increasingly difficult for Republicans to win another presidential election in the near future.” That is, the report concluded, unless the party expanded its aging white base to include more immigrants, ethnic minorities and women, precisely the groups the next likely standard-bearer has so splendidly repelled.
Priebus refers to himself as a “party guy.” He spent much of his youth in Kenosha, Wis., organizing pizza parties for Republican volunteers, putting up yard signs and listening to Newt Gingrich speeches on cassettes in his car — party-guy things. His first date with his future wife included a trip to a Republican Lincoln Day dinner, an evening sexed up by the presence of two Republican congressmen: James Sensenbrenner of Wisconsin and Henry Hyde of Illinois. Being a “party guy” can come off sounding a little old-school nerdy, like being a ham-radio guy. But Priebus speaks of this identity with sincere pride, and his allegiance is clear: to “the party,” not any one nominee.

Still, our meetings sometimes took on the feel of therapy sessions, with Priebus playing the role of the betrayed spouse trying to convince me that his tormentor really could change. Trump would soon be “pivoting” into a more “presidential” mode, Priebus kept promising. But after a while it became clear that Trump’s outrages would continue unabated.•

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America has never been better and worse, the middle fading quickly into oblivion. As with our economy, entertainment and journalism know a disparity of wealth, with some tremendous riches at the top unable to obscure the very large bottom of our Reality TV age. We’re long removed from gawking at anomalies and curiosities in dime museums and circus sideshows, but today’s freaks, those with psychological as opposed to physical scars, have been ushered into the center ring.

In “The Idiot Culture,” a 1992 New Republic article, Carl Bernstein decried the tabloidization of the media and dumbing down of the culture, and that was before Fox News, selfies, rehabbing celebrities and an Internet troll running for President. It’s been a long way to the bottom traveled in a relatively short time. Is this what a decentralized culture has to look like?

An excerpt:

We are in the process of creating, in sum, what deserves to be called the idiot culture. Not an idiot subculture, which every society has bubbling beneath the surface and which can provide harmless fun; but the culture itself. For the first time in our history the weird and the stupid and the coarse are becoming our cultural norm, even our cultural ideal. Last month in New York we witnessed a primary election in which “Donahue,” “Imus in the Morning,” and the disgraceful coverage of the New York Daily News and the New York Post eclipsed The New York Times, The Washington Post, the network news divisions, and the serious and experienced political reporters on the beat. Even The New York Times has been reduced to naming the rape victim in tbe Willie Smith case; to putting Kitty Kelley on the front page as a news story; to parlaying polls as if they were policies.

I do not mean to attack popular culture. Good journalism is popular culture, but popular culture that stretches and informs its consumers rather than that which appeals to the ever descending lowest common denominator. If, by popular culture, we mean expressions of thought or feeling that require no work of those who consume them, then decent popular journalism is finished. What is happening today, unfortunately, is that the lowest form of popular culture—lack of information, misinformation, disinformation, and a contempt for the truth or the reality of most people’s lives—has overrun real journalism.

Today ordinary Americans are being stuffed with garbage: by Donahue-Geraldo-Oprah freak shows (crossdressing in the marketplace; skinheads at your corner luncheonette; pop psychologists rhapsodizing over the airways about the minds of serial killers and sex offenders); by the Maury Povich news; by Hard Copy; by Howard Stern; by local newscasts that do special segments devoted to hyping hype. Last month, in supposedly sophisticated New York, the country’s biggest media market, there ran a craven five-part series on the 11 o’clock news called “Where Do They Get Those People…?,” a special report on where Geraldo and Oprah and Donahue get their freaks (the promo for the series featured Donahue interviewing a diapered man with a pacifier in his mouth).•


You can never go home again not only because things were never quite the way you remember, but also because they do actually fundamentally change. In the case of the natural world on Earth, there’s really no pristine patch that hasn’t been altered by humans and our inventions. We’re clever but we leave a mark. Our impact doesn’t have to lead to existential risk, though it currently is.

In a Conversation article, James Dyke wisely points out the path forward should be mapped by learning from the past but not by trying to recreate it. Two short passages follow.

What is natural? What is artificial? It is often assumed that natural is better than artificial. Getting back to nature is something we should aspire to, with kids in particular not spending enough time in nature. But if you want to escape civilisation and head into the unaltered wilderness you may be in for a shock: it doesn’t exist.

New research now suggests that there are practically no areas that have escaped human impacts. But not only that, such impacts happened many thousands of years earlier than is usually appreciated. In fact, you’d have to travel back more than 10,000 years to find the last point when most of the Earth’s landscapes were unaffected by humans.•

As well as detailing some of the havoc that humans have wrought on the biosphere, the researchers also highlight some positive interactions humans had. For example, the long presence of prehistoric societies that flourished within the Amazon basin show that careful stewardship of ecological resources – in that instance the cultivation of rich productive soils – can enhance ecosystems and provide sustainable livelihoods.

This is perhaps the most important lesson gained from the study. If we are to feed and care for the nine billion people that will be living on Earth by the middle of this century, then we need a more subtle and complex understanding of nature and sustainability.

The industrial age we now live in has taken human impacts to a planetary scale. We are changing the global climate and some argue that we have become a geological force. We can neither get back to nature nor continue as we are.•



One of the San Bernardino shooters was a woman and extremism has attracted its brides, sure, but statistics show that violence (mass shootings included) is largely a male problem in the United States–and everywhere else. 

Religion may have informed the self-loathing behind the horrific Orlando massacre, but the downward spiral of too many American men transcends faith. It’s a masculinity issue, a deep insecurity, ignited by mental illness or extremist politics or any other gas can laying around. A scary number of us have brains that just aren’t operating properly.

The actual crime statistics nationally aren’t at all bad, at least not when compared to past eras, but the unstable among us are really unstable, with large-scale violent acts now mind-numbingly common. 

Were men on the fringes of the country always like this, with the easy access to automatic weapons the only difference? Or is there some fundamental shift in the world that some are unable to assimilate or accept, whether it be rooted in economics or patriarchy or otherwise? 

Even before Orlando, economist Tyler Cowen worried about this new abnormal, the aspects expressed in violence and in in myriad other ways, thinking it may be a rebellion by “brutes” against cultures becoming nicer and more feminized. Perhaps that has something to do with it.

The opening of last month’s Marginal Revolution post “What in the Hell Is Going On?“:

Donald Trump may get the nuclear suitcase, a cranky “park bench” socialist took Hillary Clinton to the wire, many countries are becoming less free, and the neo-Nazi party came very close to assuming power in Austria.  I could list more such events.

Haven’t you, like I, wondered what is up?  What the hell is going on?

I don’t know, but let me tell you my (highly uncertain) default hypothesis.  I don’t see decisive evidence for it, but it is a kind of “first blast” attempt to fit the basic facts while remaining within the realm of reason.

The contemporary world is not very well built for a large chunk of males.  The nature of current service jobs, coddled class time and homework-intensive schooling, a feminized culture allergic to most forms of violence, post-feminist gender relations, and egalitarian semi-cosmopolitanism just don’t sit well with many…what shall I call them?  Brutes?

Quite simply, there are many people who don’t like it when the world becomes nicer.  They do less well with nice.  And they respond by in turn behaving less nicely, if only in their voting behavior and perhaps their internet harassment as well.•



As natural as sending Hunter S. Thompson to a Hell’s Angels biker rally or David Foster Wallace to the AVN porn awards is dispatching Dave Eggers to a Donald Trump stump speech, which like the other lurid, all-American aforementioned spectacles, is attended by the threat of something unsavory if not unspeakable happening, a titillating incident that might distract from difficult problems with no easy solutions in this new less-caucasian, less-worker-friendly American epoch.

Despite Trump’s Bull Connor-as-a-carnival-barker character who presides over a medicine show that can make you sick, Eggers found a reasonably mellow vibe among the conspiracists and cranks and others gathered in a Sacramento airplane hangar to hear the hideous hotelier speak. The writer believes the crowd wasn’t really concerned with what the candidate was saying but just wanted to be entertained by an irreverent celebrity. There’s no doubt some element of that in Trump’s appeal, but I believe a good number of his supporters have fully digested his MAKE AMERICA WHITE AGAIN message. He wouldn’t be the first “fascinating character” who was also truly appealing to darkness.

An excerpt:

For a year now, pollsters, the media and the world at large have been baffled by the fact that no incendiary or asinine thing Trump says or tweets seems to make any dent in his appeal. He has broadcast countless statements that would sink any other candidate. (In his Sacramento speech, he repeatedly called the US a “third world country”, which would be the end of any other campaign in American history.) And for a year we’ve all assumed that when Trump said something xenophobic or sexist or offensive to the world’s billion Muslims, or the world’s billion Catholics (remember when he took on the pope?), or to the world’s 3.5 billion women, it must mean that his supporters agree with his newest outrageous statement.

But this is not true. Something very different is happening. His supporters are not really listening to anything he says. They cheer when he says he’ll help the veterans, they cheer when he says he’ll build a wall, but ultimately they do not care what he says. They don’t care if he actually will build a wall. If Trump decided, tomorrow, to reverse himself on the idea of building a wall, his supporters would shrug and their support would not waver. He has been for gun control and against gun control. He has stated his support for Planned Parenthood and for the idea of criminal punishment for women who seek abortions. He has called the Iraq war, and most of our adventures in the Middle East, mistakes, but has said he would carpet bomb Isis. He has reversed himself on nearly every major issue, often in the same week, and has offered scant specifics on anything in particular – though in Sacramento, about infrastructure, he did say, “We’re gonna have new roads, bridges, all that stuff”.

His supporters do not care. Nothing in Trump’s platform matters. There is no policy that matters. There is no promise that matters. There is no villain, no scapegoat, that matters. If, tomorrow, he said that Canadians, not Mexicans, were rapists and drug dealers, and the wall should be built on that border, no one would blink. His poll numbers would not waver. Because there are no positions and no statements that matter to them. There is only the man, the name, the brand, the personality they have seen on television.

Believing that Trump’s supporters are all fascists or racists is a grave mistake.

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  • Comparing the low-level insult comic Donald Trump to Don Rickles, as some have, is like saying an insane person who severed his tongue with a piece of broken glass is just like Harpo Marx.
  • I’m not a psychiatrist, so I can’t definitively say that Donald Trump is deeply mentally ill, but perhaps we can agree that he exhibits many of the behaviors of mentally ill people who’ve gone untreated, and if any of our friends or relatives acted like him, we would seek professional help for them.
  • Trump’s Simon Cowell-Mussolini mash-up may not strictly speaking play out as Fascism in the context of our laws and Constitution despite all his sound and the fury in that direction, but even without the support of his party, wouldn’t he as President be able to plunge us into an place as dark an any we’ve experienced since the internment of Japanese-Americans during WWII?

Excerpts from two pieces follow: 1) David Remnick’s sharp analysis of the GOP nominee’s predictably disgusting response to the horrific Orlando massacre, and 2) T.A. Frank’s Vanity Fair “Hive” argument that the nightmarish realization of Trump winning the White House won’t result in full-on Fascism despite whatever damage will result.

From Remnick:

With every month, it has become clearer that Trump is a makeshift politician, whose rancid wit resides in his willingness to say whatever it takes to arouse the fears of a political base. He might have started his campaign with the idea of winning some votes and publicity, increasing his profile as a marketing whiz, and then dropping out. Good for business! But now that he has stunned the political world—and, likely, himself—he has shown little inclination (or, perhaps, capacity) to grow into his role, to modify his language, be it for the sake of the Republican establishment or of simple decency. He’ll have none of that. Whatever inflates his sense of self and prods the anxieties of the country—that’s what works for him.

It feels indecent on such a day to engage these comments of Trump’s at all. But their velocity, vapidity, and sheer ugliness reflect his character, his emptiness, and, most of all, the shape of the election campaign to come. Since Trump has ascended, it’s been clear that his demagogic instincts could be tested precisely by the sort of tragedy suffered in Orlando. And, when faced with the path of modesty and the path of dark opportunism, he has chosen the latter. That’s what he is about. It’s who he is.•

From Frank:

Luckily, when it comes to true dictatorship, Trump lacks many of the most ominous traits.

For all of his incendiary rhetoric, there’s limited evidence of any belief in racial superiority or hatred of other races. Suggesting that Mexican immigrants and rape go hand in hand may be heinous, but it is not the same thing as white supremacy, and Trump is less right-leaning on many matters of race than some traditional Republicans. Regarding affirmative action, a policy that many conservatives are working to eliminate, Trump has said, “I’m fine with it,” merely laying out that one day “there will be a time when you don’t need it.” As careless as Trump has been about distinguishing the vast majority of peaceful illegal immigrants from the small minority who commit crimes, and as sinister as a “deportation force” sounds, the candidate has mostly confined his demonizations to the powerful: politicians, high-ranking officials, the media, foreign governments.

The worst tyrants of the past century or two also presided over a lot of soldiers or paramilitary forces before they came to power. Benito Mussolini had hundreds of thousands of Black Shirts, and Hitler had hundreds of thousands of Brown Shirts. Vladimir Lenin, Mao Zedong, Pol Pot, Fidel Castro, and Robert Mugabe all headed large guerrilla forces. Many dictators came from the military, like Idi Amin, Muammar Qaddafi, and Juan Peron. Trump just went to military school.

Finally, and perhaps most important, Trump is entering politics too late to become a proper tyrant. The dictators of the past two centuries have had a commitment to political agitation from a young age: Saddam Hussein was a passionate Baathist in his 20s. Stalin was a revolutionary from the moment he was expelled from school. (Dictators who have come late to politics have cropped up in South America, with figures like Jorge Videla in Argentina and Augusto Pinochet in Chile, but they were senior military officials in countries with histories of military coups.) The quality that made these tyrants so brutal was not primarily thin-skinnedness or impulsivity but fanaticism. Trump is getting into politics late in life after a successful career doing other things. He’s volatile and impulsive, but he’s not fanatical.

In a best-case scenario, Trump would be less dangerous to civil liberties and democratic norms than someone like Marco Rubio, because his own party is willing to break ranks with him.•

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Robin Hanson has identified what he believes to be an alternative to the incremental growth of machine superintelligence through AI with the idea of brain emulations or ems, scanned copies of human brains that are downloaded into computers and then in some cases given robot bodies. You would choose the greatest minds and allow machines to improve their knowledge at a head-spinning clip, intelligence exploding at ahead-spinning clip. Armies of ems could take over all the work, the whole economy, industries could rise and fall in days, output would be increased at heretofore unimaginable speed. Humans wouldn’t need to labor anymore and post-scarcity will have arrived. We’ve moved immensely culturally from foragers to Digital Age denizens with no explosion of intelligence, so the changes to life on Earth with one would be seismic. Hanson believes it all could occur within a century.

I’m not a physicist or economist like Hanson, but I believe his timeframe is wildly aggressive. Let me accept his prediction wholly, however, to ask some questions. What if we don’t wisely choose our brains to emulate? As I posted yesterday, Russian scientists carved the late Vladimir Lenin’s brain into more than 30,000 pieces searching for the secret of his intellectual powers. If the technology was available then, they certainly would have chosen the Bolshevik leader to make millions of ems from. Lenin wouldn’t be my first choice to emulate, but he would be a far better choice than, say, Stalin, who would have been the chosen one for the next generation. Hitler’s brain would have been replicated many times over in the mass delusion of Nazi Germany. In North Korea today, the Dear Leader would be the brain to embody inside of robots. 

Even the best among us have terrible ideas we have yet to admit or realize. For example, the American Founding Fathers allowed for slavery and didn’t permit women to vote. Every age has its sins, from colonialism to wealth inequality, and its only with a wide variety of minds do we come to realize our wrongs, and often those who speak first and loudest about injustices (e.g. Abolitionists) are deemed “undesirables” who would never be selected for “mass production” of their minds. Wouldn’t choosing merely the “best and brightest” be a dicey form of eugenics to the nth degree?

Even further, if ems truly become possible at some point, wouldn’t they also be ripe for destabilization, especially in a future that’s become that technologically adept? Wouldn’t a terrorist organizations be able to create a battalion of like-minded beheaders? Isn’t it possible that a lone wolf who wanted to unloose mayhem could hatch a “start-up” in his garage? You can’t refuse to create all new tools because they can become weapons, but wouldn’t ems be different in a dangerous way on a whole other level?

Excerpts follow from two pieces about Hanson’s new book, The Age of Em: 1) Steven Poole’s Guardian review, and 2) A Q&A with the author by James Pethokoukis of the American Enterprise Institute.

Poole’s opening:

In the future, or so some people think, it will become possible to upload your consciousness into a computer. Software emulations of human brains – ems, for short – will then take over the economy and world. This sort of thing happens quite a lot in science fiction, but The Age of Em is a fanatically serious attempt, by an economist and scholar at Oxford’s Future of Humanity Institute, to use economic and social science to forecast in fine detail how this world (if it is even possible) will actually work. The future it portrays is very strange and, in the end, quite horrific for everyone involved.

It is an eschatological vision worthy of Hieronymus Bosch. Trillions of ems live in tall, liquid-cooled skyscrapers in extremely hot cities. Most of them are “very able focused workaholics”, who “respect and trust each other more” than we do.

Some ems will have robotic bodies; others will just live in virtual reality all the time. (Ems who are office workers won’t need bodies.) Some ems will run a thousand times faster than human brains, so having a subjective experience of much-expanded time. (Their bodies will need to be very small: “At this scale, an industry-era city population of a million kilo-ems could fit in an ordinary bottle.”) Others might run very slowly, to save money. Ems will congregate in related “clans” and use “decision markets” to make important commercial and political choices. Ems will work nearly all the time but choose to remember an existence that is nearly all leisure. Some ems will be “open-source lovers”; all will be markedly more religious and also swear more often. The em economy will double every month, and competition will drive nearly all wages down to subsistence levels. Surveillance will be total. Fun, huh?•

From the American Enterprise Institute:


The book is not about us; it’s about the ems, about their life, their culture. You make a lot of speculations; you draw a lot of conclusion about what the life of these synthetic emulations are like. So how can you do that?

Robin Hanson:

I am taking our standard, accepted theories in a wide variety of areas and apply them to this key scenario: what happens if brain emulations get cheap?

Honestly, most people like the future as a place to set fantasy stories. In the past, we used to have far away places as our favorite place to set strange stories where strange things could happen but then we learned about all the far away places. So then we switched to the future, it was the place we could set strange stories. And because you could say, well no one can show my strange story is wrong about the future because no one can know about the future, so it’s become an axiom to people that the future must be unknowable, therefore we can set strange stories there. But, if we know about the world today and we use theories about the world today to understand the past, those same basic theories can also apply to the future, so my exercise is theory.

I am taking our standard, accepted theories in a wide variety of areas and apply them to this key scenario: what happens if brain emulations get cheap? And if we have reliable theory to help us understand the world around us and to help us understand the past, those same theories should be able to describe the future


Give a couple examples and how that gives you some insights into what this new world of synthetic emulations would be like for them.

Robin Hanson:

First of all, I’m just using supply and demand to describe how wages change. I use the same supply and demand theory of wages that we use to understand why wages are higher here than in Bangladesh or why wages were low a thousand years ago. That same theory can say why wages would be high in the future.

I also use simple physics: for examples these emulations can run at different speeds, I can use computer science to say if they run twice as fast they should cost twice as much, because they are very parallel programs. I can also use physics to say that if they have bodies to match the speeds of their minds, if their mind runs twice as fast, their body needs to be twice as short in order to feel natural to that mind. So very fast emulations, very small bodies. I can use our standard theory of cities and urban concentrations to think about whether ems concentrate in a few big cities or lots of smaller cities.

Today, our main limitation of having a lot of us in one big city is traffic congestion. The bigger the city the more time people spend in traffic, and that limits our cities. Emulations can interact with each other across a city using virtual reality, which is much cheaper so they face much less traffic congestion, so I use that to predict that they live in a small number of very big, dense cities.


And we’re not talking about an alien intelligence or a super intelligence, but a synthetic duplication of a regular human brain or human mind, therefore it would work in some sort of predictable manner.

Robin Hanson:

Exactly, so we know a lot of things about humans, when they work they need breaks and they need weekends and they need vacations, so we can say these emulations will work hard because it is a competitive world, but they still will take breaks, and they’ll take the evening off to sleep.

These are all things we know about human productivity; these emulations are still very humans psychologically.


I was reading a review of the book and someone said, you could have a whole factory of “Elon Musk” workers, all very smart, and those ems would go out after work to a bar or a club and they would see an em of Taylor Swift. So Elon Musk #1,000,400,000 or something could be listening to Taylor Swift # 2,000,100,000. So it’s a duplication of human society but with some rules changed. 

Robin Hanson:

Right, so it’s in the uncanny valley where it’s strange enough to be different but familiar enough to be strange. If it were completely alien, it would just but weird and incomprehensible, but it’s not.


Is this something you think the science supports and that could happen over the next 100 years or so?

Robin Hanson:


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Ridesharing offers advantages over taxis while destabilizing secure jobs. Like so much of the modern economy, it’s a victory for consumers at the expense of workers. The endgame for cabbies may be Lyft providing reservations in advance, something Uber has now emulated. The funny thing is the two services are locked in a death battle, each hoping to become a monopoly, and if Uber already had the field to itself, it never would have been able to ape its competitor’s innovation. That scenario would be bad for both workers and consumers.

From the Economist:

One of the things that appeals to business travellers about Lyft is the ability to book cars in advance, a service the firm unveiled earlier this year. With Uber, on the other hand, clients can only book a ride as and when they want it, and must hope that there is a driver nearby (although there nearly always is). That explains why Uber announced last week that it will follow Lyft’s example and allow riders to book cars between 30 minutes and 30 days in advance.

All things being equal, that development will sound the death knell for taxis; expect cabs’ share of the business market to diminish to almost nothing in the coming years. That will leave only one battle worth watching: that between Uber and Lyft. In all likelihood, only one will be left standing. As Om Malik, a startup-watcher, pointed out in the New Yorker earlier this year, the importance of network effects means that most competition in Silicon Valley now leads towards one monopolistic winner.•

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