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The recent Pew Research Center study of American attitudes toward human enhancement via biotechnology depicted the majority of us as wary of the application of these potential treatments. That may be true, but the numbers actually seemed surprisingly positive to me if you dream of a future of Transhumanism. As the possible benefits of CRISPR-enabled gene editing become more widely known, the numbers should swing toward enthusiasm.

Three Pew researchers, Dr. Cary Funk, David Masci and Lee Rainie conducted a Reddit AMA about the survey. A few exchanges follow.


What is the most surprising information you came across in your research?

Dr. Cary Funk:

For all the potential appeal of having sharper brains and stronger and healthier bodies, this study finds Americans’ are largely cautious about using emerging technologies in ways that push human capacities beyond what’s been possible before. About half or more Americans say they would turn each of these potential options down. More people say they are worried about each of these scenarios than say they are enthusiastic.

Lee Rainie:

One of the most striking things we have consistently seen in our work is that Americans generally are really positive about the long-term benefits they hope will come from science and technology. For instance, a majority of the public expects cancer to be cured in the next 50 years and they say that science and technology advances are good for society.

Here are some of our recent findings that speak to that.

At the same time, when you ask people about particular scientific applications like the three potential enhancements we studied here, there is not nearly universal optimism. People are wary and often less sure that the hoped-for results will be achieved.


How much do you think people’s attitudes and/or regulations towards enhancements have slowed down transhumanism on a practical level? Do you think that this attitude will change anytime soon. Also: What do you believe is the first real step people will take, on a widespread, level toward enhancement?

David Masci:

Most people are not really pondering these issues very much, something we found out in our recent poll. When you think about it, this makes sense: Most scientists say that we’re still years away from dramatic advances in human enhancement. And while the U.S. government does regulate some things – like human cloning — it has not written regulations for a lot of the things we talk about in our report, like cognitive enhancement or smart blood.

Regarding the second part of your question: It’s quite possible that CRISPR and other new gene editing methods could lead to the first meaningful human enhancements. The researchers I spoke with, including CRISPR co-inventor Jennifer Doudna, say that gene editing is now dramatically easier and more accurate than it was just a few years ago. Already, there are hundreds if not thousands of labs around the world working with CRISPR (including one in China that edited embryos), making it quite possible that some sorts of enhancements will come out of this work.


What do you think the impact of Biomedical Technology/Augmentation will have on the concepts of human rights and ownership?

This technology will no doubt be expensive – what happens when you can no longer afford your monthly payment for your brain chip (e.g.), or when the majority of your body has been replaced with augmentations that you can no longer afford? Your car, home, etc can all be repossessed, but what about something that is surgically implanted into you, and now a part of your body?

Do you think we’ll see something crazy and dystopian like Repo Men?

David Masci:

When I interviewed ethicists and religious thinkers, I found that many of them were very concerned that human enhancement could make inequality worse. But instead of being worried that people could not keep up with payments for existing enhancements, most of these thinkers were concerned that many people would not be able to afford them to begin with. Those who favor moving ahead with enhancement research argue that, as with most other technologies, enhancement options will, over time, become available to the non-wealthy as well as the wealthy. There was a time, they point out, when cars and smartphones were luxury items.•

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In the adrenaline rush to create a mind-blowing new technology (and profit from it directly or indirectly), ethical questions can be lost in an institutional fog and in competition among companies and countries. Richard Feynman certainly felt he’d misplaced his moral compass in just such a way during the Manhattan Project. 

The attempt to create Artificial General Intelligence is something of a Manhattan Project for the mind, and while the point is the opposite of destruction, some believe that even if it doesn’t end humans with a bang, AGI may lead our species to a whimpering end. The main difference today is those working on such projects seem keenly aware of the dangers that may arise while we’re harnessing the power of these incredible tools. That doesn’t mean the future is assured–there’ll be twists and turns we can’t yet imagine–but it’s a hopeful sign.

Bloomberg Neural Net reporter Jack Clark conducted a smart Q&A with DeepMind CEO Demis Hassabis, discussing not only where his work fits into the scheme of Alphabet but also the larger implications of superintelligence. An excerpt:


You’ve said it could be decades before you’ve truly developed artificial general intelligence. Do you think it will happen within your lifetime?

Demis Hassabis:

Well, it depends on how much sleep deprivation I keep getting, I think, because I’m sure that’s not good for your health. So I am a little bit worried about that. I think it’s many decades away for full AI. I think it’s feasible. It could be done within our natural lifetimes, but it may be it’s the next generation. It depends. I’d be surprised if it took more than, let’s say, 100 years.


So once you’ve created a general intelligence, after having drunk the Champagne or whatever you do to celebrate, do you retire?

Demis Hassabis:

No. No, because …


You want to study science?

Demis Hassabis:

Yeah, that’s right. That’s what I really want to build the AI for. That’s what I’ve always dreamed about doing. That’s why I’ve been working on AI my whole life: I see it as the fastest way to make amazing progress in science.


Say you succeed and create a super intelligence. What happens next? Do you donate the technology to the United Nations?

Demis Hassabis:

I think it should be. We’ve talked about this a lot. Actually Eric Schmidt [executive chairman of Alphabet, Google’s parent] has mentioned this. We’ve talked to him. We think that AI has to be used for the benefit of everyone. It should be used in a transparent way, and we should build it in an open way, which we’ve been doing with publishing everything we write. There should be scrutiny and checks and balances on that.

I think ultimately the control of this technology should belong to the world, and we need to think about how that’s done. Certainly, I think the benefits of it should accrue to everyone. Again, there are some very tricky questions there and difficult things to go through, but certainly that’s our belief of where things should go.•

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Thursday RNC

The Esquire interview Michael Hainey did with Clint Eastwood (and his son Scott) is getting a lot of play, but it’s awful.

The Q&A is an example of dereliction of duty by the inquisitor, in much the same way that Maureen Dowd failed miserably in her early-campaign exchange with Donald Trump, treating him like a slightly naughty uncle, allowing him free reign to use the world greatest news organization to portray himself as something other than a dangerous bigot. Dowd seem to think it was a laugh riot at the time, though the campaign has since proved to be to serious as sin and literally riotous at times. 

Trying to get a subject to talk himself into a corner usually isn’t a good gambit unless you’re willing to ask the tough questions once his nose hits the wall. If you accept the assignment and the conversation crosses into politics or race or any important matter, you best offer more than a nodding head and a blank slate for any opinion offered.

When Eastwood tells Hainey people troubled by racism (non-white folks, mostly) should “just get the fuck over it,” the interviewer should have pointed out to him that those same protesters might tell him to get over his dismay with their struggle for civil rights, a matter as grave as can be given our history of legal double standards based on skin color. It also would have been wonderful if the writer had pointed out to the actor-director that the reason many people call Trump a racist is because his pronouncements and policy proposals are often explicitly racist. That should have been the minimum expected of the interview, but, unfortunately, the empty chair at the 2012 RNC offered more pushback.

An excerpt:


Your characters have become touchstones in the culture, whether it’s Reagan invoking “Make my day” or now Trump … I swear he’s even practiced your scowl.

Clint Eastwood:

Maybe. But he’s onto something, because secretly everybody’s getting tired of political correctness, kissing up. That’s the kiss-ass generation we’re in right now. We’re really in a pussy generation. Everybody’s walking on eggshells. We see people accusing people of being racist and all kinds of stuff. When I grew up, those things weren’t called racist. And then when I did Gran Torino, even my associate said, “This is a really good script, but it’s politically incorrect.” And I said, “Good. Let me read it tonight.” The next morning, I came in and I threw it on his desk and I said, “We’re starting this immediately.”


What is the “pussy generation”?

Clint Eastwood:

All these people that say, “Oh, you can’t do that, and you can’t do this, and you can’t say that.” I guess it’s just the times.


What do you think Trump is onto?

Clint Eastwood:

What Trump is onto is he’s just saying what’s on his mind. And sometimes it’s not so good. And sometimes it’s … I mean, I can understand where he’s coming from, but I don’t always agree with it.


So you’re not endorsing him?

Clint Eastwood:

I haven’t endorsed anybody. I haven’t talked to Trump. I haven’t talked to anybody. You know, he’s a racist now because he’s talked about this judge. And yeah, it’s a dumb thing to say. I mean, to predicate your opinion on the fact that the guy was born to Mexican parents or something. He’s said a lot of dumb things. So have all of them. Both sides. But everybody—the press and everybody’s going, “Oh, well, that’s racist,” and they’re making a big hoodoo out of it. Just fucking get over it. It’s a sad time in history.•

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Theoretical question: If intelligence augmentation became possible in a time of great wealth inequality, would the financial chasm permit some to have a huge IQ advantage, or would the early adopter billionaires merely subsidize the initially expensive technology for the rest of us, allowing most to put a chip in the brain as readily as a smartphone in a pocket?

Ray Kurzweil feels that benefactor scenario is the one that will play out, while John Koetsier of VentureBeat fears that by 2035 “rich people will be thousands of times smarter than poor people.” I don’t in any way think 20 years is a realistic time frame for that type of advance, though I believe in the far longer run, when such things are possible, Kurzweil will likely be right.

An except:

In Kurzweil’s view, the human brain is composed of 100-neuron patterns that are repeated 300 million times.  At some point — probably in the 2030s, Kurzweil says — mobile devices will connect to our brains. More specifically, our neocortex. They’ll be several billion times more powerful than early computers, and they will connect to synthetic neocortices in the cloud. Adding capacity to your brain will be as simple as adding cloud-based server capacity today.

“In some cases, my 300 million neocortex modules won’t cut it,” he said. “I may need a billion neocortex modules … and I can extend my brain in the cloud.”

As we do so, our intelligence will grow.

“It’s going to grow exponentially … our thinking will grow exponentially, and we’ll become millions of times smarter,” Kurzweil said.

That’s more than a little mind-blowing. And it has implications for everything in human life: sciences, arts, social behavior, you name it. But it also has an implication for socio-economic status.•

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Perhaps I’m too much a product of the West, but I think the downfall of autocratic societies, especially protectionist ones, is contained in their DNA, China included. The system seems antithetical to the human spirit and opposed to nurturing a creative class. That could be the reason why China has thus far not produced any great products.

That said, it’s impossible to overlook how far and fast China’s economy has grown, all while dominating its own massive market. In a smart Backchannel article, Steven Levy analyzes, in the wake of Uber’s capitulation, the impervious nature of the nation’s tech sector for American companies. An excerpt:

China is the world’s biggest internet market, and it’s destined to become the leading economy of this century. American technology companies are desperate to compete there, with dreams of reaching the same dominant market share in China that they have elsewhere in the world. But instead of commercial triumph, there has been a series of ignominious retreats, even for some of the most glorious pillars of American tech: Amazon, eBay, Google, and so on. Meanwhile, Facebook hasn’t even gotten far enough in the market to make a retreat. It keeps edging closer, even to the point where its CEO has learned to speak Mandarin— but can’t figure out how to enter the country while still following China’s strict rules of censorship and control of data.

Uber was the latest gladiator, and seemingly one that had a chance at victory. It was going head to head with its Chinese rival Didi with a war chest full of cash and a world domination mentality. As late as this past June, Uber was predicting it would pass its rival within a year. Now Uber is simply the most recent American internet giant who decided China was not worth the fight. And it probably won’t be the last.

China is hard. The reasons differ according to the sector and the company, but the combination of culture, nationalism, and especially a government that likes to tilt the playing field has prevented American giants who excel overseas from dominating in China. This is not to say that Chinese government regulation drove Uber’s deal with Didi, which was clobbering Uber in the ride-sharing market; in fact, Uber felt it was treated fairly by a government interested in transportation innovation. According to reports on the ground, Didi used its local knowledge to act more nimbly in satisfying Chinese customers. But my guess is that if the American ride-sharing company had been more successful, China would have put a Mao-sized thumb on the scales.•



Yawning wealth inequality seems to be contributing to contemporary political and cultural chaos, so the 1% in the U.S. and Europe has been subject to intense scrutiny over the past few years, even if the result has been more analysis than policy action. In the case of Brazil, the beleaguered host of the soon-to-be Summer Games, distribution is so out of wack you need look no further than the excesses of the .0001% to understand how stacked a deck can be.

Proof comes in the pages of Alex Cuadros’ Brazillionaires, which examines the nation’s super-rich and how they got be that way. The short answer is that oligarchs were deemed useful by economic reformers who saw a quick way to lift millions from poverty, though the long-term effects of the deal with the devil are far more complicated.

In “Brazil’s Billionaire Problem,” Patrick Iber’s smart New Republic review of the book, the critic looks at South America’s largest state and sees a microcosm. An excerpt:

The most important billionaire to the book is unquestionably Eike Batista. Eike, as he is known, rose as high as the global number 8 on the Bloomberg list of billionaires, valued at over $30 billion dollars. He was open about his ambitions to become the world’s richest man. Eike is a champion speedboat racer, has state-of-the-art hair implants, and was once married to Luma de Oliveira, a Playboy model and carnaval queen. One of their sons, Thor Batista, documents his enormous muscular torso on Instagram and, until not long ago, drove a Mercedes-Benz SLR McLaren valued at more than a million US dollars. Eike and his family could hardly be more representative of the billionaire playboy lifestyle of the global ultra-wealthy.

Eike also serves as a symbol of the problems of today’s Brazil, and about half of the chapters in Brazillionaires are devoted to him. In spite of what would seem to be fundamental differences in outlook and ideology, Eike forged a pragmatic working relationship with the governments of the center-left Workers’ Party. Until President Dilma Roussef was suspended from office by hostile legislators this May, the country had been governed by the center-left Workers’ Party since 2003, first under the metalworker and union organizer Luís Inácio Lula da Silva (2003-2011) and then under Dilma (2011-2016). Before Lula took office, Brazil’s wealthy worried about what would happen when a Lula, a former socialist, assumed power. Eike himself described it as a regression. But Lula was determined to break the association of left-wing rule with economic chaos, and built alliances with Brazilian oligarchs.

Lula embraced a developmentalist program that Cuadros describes as “wanting to bring the nation not so much into the twenty-first century, with tech and high finance, but into the twentieth, with ports, dams, and big, basic Brazilian companies.” Because Eike controlled a suite of interrelated companies, mostly in the mining and gas sectors, and had made big bets on offshore drilling, he received major loans from Brazil’s state-controlled development bank. He grew close to Lula.

Corruption is almost an expected part of business and political deals in Brazil, and Eike, though often portrayed as an “American-style”, “self-made” entrepreneur, was in no way exceptional. He helped finance a flattering biopic about Lula and spent quarter of a million dollars at an auction to purchase a suit Lula had worn to his inauguration. But in spite of evidence of corruption and conflicts of interest through the political system, for a time everyone seemed to be benefitting. Brazil’s economy made enormous strides. The middle class grew and quality of life standards among the poor improved dramatically. Malnutrition was cut in half. One of Lula signature programs, Bolsa Família, provides direct cash transfers to the poor, partially in exchange for children’s school attendance. Many of the billionaires Cuadros interviewed justified their wealth with some version of the “what’s good for GM is good for the country” argument. Most Brazilians found the approach acceptable: Lula left office with an approval rating over eighty percent.

But problems emerged by 2013.•

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This week, Trump's most ardent supporters took a break from the campaign to take advantage of July 4th white sales.

Mentioned a couple days back that Donald Trump’s gross adoration of Vladimir Putin and other autocrats recalls similar warm feelings some American oligarchs felt for Fascists during the 1930s. In an impassioned Guardian essay, Paul Mason, who believes we may soon find ourselves post-capitalism, compares the gathering clouds of that earlier decade to our own WTF moment, with the ugly political rise of the hideous hotelier clearly not an isolated case of extremism. 

Mason concludes history isn’t exactly repeating itself, that we’re better off today in our globalized system, save one toxic sticking point, that “an entire generation of humanity has been brutalized.” The writer points to ISIS slayings and minority scapegoating and racist social-media trolling to support his point that we’re worse in this important way eighty years on. Perhaps, but I’m not wholly convinced. Antisemitism in Europe in the first few decades of the 20th century was deeply pernicious and the Jim Crow South was far more heinous than anything that exists in contemporary America, for all our continued instances of racial injustice.

The best argument in favor of our destabilized media, that communication breakdown, is our unmatched access to answer these outrages, to organize against them. There have never been more ways for people of good conscience to refuse to remain silent. Mason is aware of this, acknowledging “we have billions of educated and literate brains on the planet; and we have the concept of universal and inalienable human rights.”

His opening:

Things are happening with machine-gun rapidity: Brexit, the Turkish coup, Islamist massacres in France, the surrounding of Aleppo, the nomination of Donald Trump. From the USA to France to post-Brexit Britain, the high levels of public racism and xenophobia, reflected now in the outpourings of politicians with double-digit poll ratings, have got people asking: is it a rerun of the 1930s?

On the face of it, the similarities are real. Britain’s vote to leave the EU parallels its panicked decision to quit the gold standard in September 1931 – the first major country to quit the global economic system. Labour’s incipient split mirrors the one that left the party out of power for 14 years. And of course the economic background – a depression and a banking crisis – has echoes in the present situation.

But a proper study of the 1930s reveals our situation today to be better and more salvageable in many ways, although in one respect worse.•



It seems the tools we’ve created have plunged us into a permanent state of gamesmanship between listeners and leakers, the governments and corporations that want to know as much as possible about us and those that strike back, who are often as dubious as the ones they seek to neutralize (see: Assange, Julian). I don’t see anyway out, even if the whole thing is needless. Surveillance capitalism certainly isn’t good for citizens and there’s thus far little evidence that we’re safer for all the cameras and tracking by authorities. In fact, the most useful result of ubiquitous video cameras has been the exposure of institutional abuses by private citizens.

In “Resisting the Security State,” a 3 Quarks Daily essay, the excellent thinker Thomas R. Wells argues that the nature of terrorism (“warfare that is more virtual than real”) makes it impervious to surveillance and such. His opening:

Liberalism is a centuries old political project of taming the power of the state so that it works for the ruled not the rulers. Can it survive the security state midwifed by global terrorism? Only if we take back responsibility for managing the dark political emotions of fear and anger that terrorists seek to conjure.

How do we resist the security state?

First, by challenging its effectiveness. PRISM and the other opaquely named universal surveillance programmes seem to have been approximately zero use in predicting terrorist attacks before they happen; last year the TSA failed to detect 67 out of 70 weapons and explosives carried by mystery shoppers. Security expert Bruce Schneier characterises the counter-terrorism security measures that increasingly dominate our experience of public spaces as mostly theatrical, designed to “make people feel more secure without doing anything to actually improve their security”. (And actually they can’t even manage that.)

Second, by challenging the cost-effectiveness of the security state even if it worked as it is supposed to. The loss of our privacy is not a small price to pay for preventing terrorism and saving lives. Firstly because we should be consistent. If we wouldn’t give up privacy rights to reduce minor risks of death in other contexts (like installing government cameras in every bathroom to save people from bathtub slips), what rational reason do we have for giving up all our privacy to the government to reduce the risk of terrorism from almost nothing to possibly slightly less? Secondly because privacy is not an ornament but the heart of liberalism. In a liberal society the people should be mysterious and the government should be transparent; the more these are reversed the further we go towards despotism.

But there is a further problem with the security state besides its ineffectiveness and inefficiency: It is a fundamentally incoherent project.•


“I have my manias, and I impose them.”

“I have my manias, and I impose them.”


A836E6 Personalities pic circa 1930 s Marshal Balbo of Italy pictured in his new aeroplane Marshal Balbo 1896 1940 was made Governor of Libya perhaps sent there by Mussolini as he Balbo was proving more popular than the Fascist leader Balbo had a great passion fo

Italo Balbo, Mussolini’s Air Minister, created an experimental office environment that was a technocrat’s dream, humming with gizmos, even if it shared some of the fascist tendencies of his politics. There was an Automat-style lunchroom and a tubing system that delivered coffee to desks, which was wonderful provided you weren’t aging, sickly or disabled. Then you weren’t allowed to work there. There was no opting out of the system, not until Mussolini ultimately met the business end of a meat hookAn article from the February 23, 1933 Brooklyn Daily Eagle reports on Balbo’s “good ministry.”






There are antecedents in our nation’s history for the shocking and disgraceful rise of the aspiring fascist Donald Trump, especially when you consider his “America First” slogan is lifted directly from Lindbergh and the like who spearheaded the domestic Hitler-appeasement movement. In fact, if you go back to the 1930s and look at the landscape more broadly, you’ll notice a surprising number of U.S. plutocrats who thought our country doomed before the autocracy of Mussolini–Hitler, even–envious of the “orderliness” of Labor in those countries. The trains were supposed to arrive on time, as were the conductors. There would be no protests.

In a Wall Street Journal essay, David Frum recalls another populist insurgent, William Jennings Bryan, who wasn’t exactly Trump but can perhaps explain aspects of his emergence, and, maybe, eventual decline. Frum notes that both seized on the frustrations of whites who’d come to feel culturally and financially dispossessed, wooing them with easy answers and oratory skills suited to their respective moments.

One Frum line about Trump supporters seems dubious to me: “[They’re experiencing] not only the heaviest economic cost but the most onerous social cost too: family crackup, addiction, suicide, lost cultural standing, lost political respect, lost deference to their norms and expectations.” This economic narrative has been partly debunked, and the issues mentioned threaten almost all Americans, with technology, globalization and tax codes conspiring to destabilize. In response, some are buying into an impossible and ugly retreat into the past and others are moving hopefully if anxiously toward tomorrow, aiming to remedy problems without turning back the clock. And if those disappearing “norms and expectations” are steeped in racial privilege–which they are–they shouldn’t be preserved, no matter how discomfiting some may find that reality. 

The opening:

Underfinanced, thinly organized and reviled in the media, the Trump campaign has nonetheless apparently pulled even in some recent polls with Hillary Clinton. Every pundit can itemize the long list of things that Donald Trump has done all wrong throughout this election season—and yet here he is, poised to overcome all dissent at the Republican convention in Cleveland and to run a competitive race afterward.

Trump’s first and strongest advocate in conservative media, the columnist Ann Coulter, has vividly described the radicalism of what has happened: “Trump isn’t a standard-issue GOP, trying to balance the ticket to get his party into power. He’s starting a new party! He’s just blown up the old GOP.”

Dazed and baffled, the old GOP is still struggling to understand how it has reached this point. One way to understand the situation is to look at an unexpected historical parallel: the populist insurgency led by William Jennings Bryan, who was three times —in 1896, 1900 and 1908—the Democratic Party’s candidate for president.

As individuals, the gaudy businessman from New York City and the Great Commoner from the prairies don’t have much in common. But the political movements that they have championed do share much in common—both on the way up and, perhaps, on the way down.•

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Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump speaks at a campaign event at Trump Doral golf course in Miami

Donald Trump, Mussolini with moobs, could no doubt do grave damage to America in just four years with his toxic mix of narcissism, bigotry and poor judgement. But isn’t considerable damage already done before he even enters office if the majority choose to elect a white supremacist and aspiring fascist? Haven’t we become a strange and different thing, not quite America? For all the troubling fear of foreigners, wouldn’t we have become something foreign to what we’re supposed to be? We’ll have voluntarily surrendered our principles to a sickening degree, created a landscape where the heinous could become routine, where “unthinkable” things, as the GOP nominee puts it, are possible.

From Ezra Klein’s Vox piece about the new abnormal:

What we just witnessed in Cleveland and Philadelphia defies our normal political vocabulary. We are used to speaking of American politics as split between the two major parties. It’s Democrats versus Republicans, liberals versus conservatives, left versus right.

But not this election. The conventions showed that this is something different. This campaign is not merely a choice between the Democratic and Republican parties, but between a normal political party and an abnormal one.

The Democratic Party’s convention was a normal political party’s convention. The party nominated Hillary Clinton, a longtime party member with deep experience in government. Clinton was endorsed by Bernie Sanders, the runner-up in the primary. Barack Obama, the sitting president, spoke in favor of Clinton. Various Democratic luminaries gave speeches endorsing Clinton by name. The assembled speakers criticized the other party’s nominee, arguing that he would be a bad president and should be defeated at the polls.

That isn’t to say that Democrats didn’t show divisions or expose fault lines. They did. Political parties are chaotic things. The Democratic Party’s primary was unusually bitter, and listening to the loud “boos” of Sanders’s most committed supporters, there’s real reason to wonder whether Democrats will fracture in coming years. But for now, the Democrats nominated a normal candidate, held a normal convention, and remain a normal political party.

The Republican Party’s convention was not a normal political party’s convention.•

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Democracy is only as good as the people, and information is only useful if those crunching the numbers possess sound, critical minds. Smartphones have allowed those in the furthest corners of the globe to have access to an almost unlimited library of ideas and data. How will they use it?

In America and other developed nations, unending streams of info have created a stubbornly chaotic new normal, with conspiracies growing like weeds and democracy coming to seem less like a village than a lynch mob. Will other people, unencumbered by our baggage, manage the modern arrangement in a saner way?

In a Washington Post piece, Caitlin Dewey writes of a recent Reddit Ask Me Anything with members of the Maasai tribe, who are already connected to the rest of us, which might be a blessing. An excerpt:

Earlier this week, Redditors were given a pretty neat opportunity: Two leaders from the Maasai tribe, a seminomadic people living in Western Kenya, signed on to do an “Ask Me Anything.” Redditors asked about the standard stuff: religious practices, diet, what people in the village do for fun. And then, inevitably, one user asked the chiefs to describe their favorite “kind of Internet porn.”

“They don’t believe it and don’t know what it is,” the chiefs’ interlocutor replied — to a giddily gleeful audience. “Don’t think or know about pornography. They are asking is it normal in America.”

The assembled Redditors went wild. It was their crowning achievement. They concluded that they had, in what may have been the Redditiest moment ever Reddited, introduced the concept of Internet porn to a culture that had not encountered it.

But what actually happened is slightly more complicated … and truthfully, more fascinating. Chief Joseph and Assistant Chief Leshan had, in fact, seen Internet porn before, because data-enabled mobile phones have actually become a huge part of even their remote, disconnected community.

As distant as the Maasai may seem from the modern world — the tribe has access to neither running water nor electricity, and many of the questions in the AMA centered on customs like drinking goats’ blood and circumcision without anesthetics — they do increasingly have access to forums like Reddit.

As Adam Schiller, the 24-year-old volunteer who set up the AMA, put it: “Imagine having porn before you have power.”•



Vladimir Putin is friends to many deeply evil people, some in a minor way and others on a grander scale, so it would be no surprise if he were to add Donald Trump to the list. The DNC email hack and leak may have been very well perpetrated by the Kremlin, and perhaps enemy cyberterrorism could even prove a tipping point in the American election. Certainly it’s sickening for an aspirant to the White House to be “sarcastically” encouraging espionage against our country, but as Masha Gessen argues in the New York Review of Books, the sickening rise of the vulgar, fascistic clown to GOP prominence, perhaps even the Presidency, is the handiwork of U.S. citizens, not foreign powers. He was made in America. The writer also considers what four years of Trump rule would be like.

Gessen’s opening:

In the earlier months of the Donald Trump campaign, many people I knew asked me to comment on the similarities between Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin. Recently I have been asked to comment on direct connections between Trump and Putin. And now, with the release of nearly 20,000 emails apparently stolen from the Democratic National Committee’s email server by Russian hackers, has come the suggestion that Putin may actually be interfering in the US election to help get Trump elected. These ideas—that Trump is like Putin and that he is Putin’s agent—are deeply flawed.

Imagine that your teenage child has built a bomb and has just set it off in your house. The house is falling down all around you—and you are blaming the neighbor’s kid, who threw a pebble at your window. That’s what the recent Putin fixation is like—a way to evade the fact that Trump is a thoroughly American creation that poses an existential threat to American democracy.•

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China Robots Rising

Promises of a robotics revolution in China have been so overheated that there’s a credibility gap, but Saša Petricic of CBC News reports of real progress in what’s likely a necessary transition for the graying nation. Of course, the world isn’t exactly flat, and what’s needed in a state that’s severely restricted childbirth for decades may not be the best thing for other countries. The thing is, if China truly becomes Ground Zero for robots supplanting human labor, such a changeover will soon occur in places where there’s no shortage of people who need jobs. Victories in the macro can be awfully messy in the micro.

An excerpt:

Supply of cheap labour drying up

The industrial robots might also solve a growing problem: China’s dwindling supply of cheap, low-skilled labour. For three decades, that was the magic ingredient that pushed this economy to become the second biggest in the world. Millions of labourers left the countryside and flooded the industrial cities, lifting themselves out of poverty and their children into the middle class.

But now, there aren’t enough of those children. The population is aging. The so-called demographic dividend is fading.

“It’s becoming harder and harder to recruit workers and to keep them,” said Chen. “This work is intense and tiring, so we have to pay people more and more to lure them and keep them.”
The wage in this plant is around $1,200 a month, more than double the average in this region.

Young people, especially, are turning away from the tedious, repetitive factory work their parents sought.

And as overall wages have been skyrocketing in China at a rate of 10 per cent a year, the cost of industrial robots has been plummeting. It cost the Ying Ao factory about $4 million to install the nine robots, about the same amount as a year’s worth of salaries for the 256 workers they replaced. 

The cost is expected to drop by a further 20 per cent worldwide in the next decade, according to a study by the Boston Consulting Group.

“This is the future of ‘Made in China,'” said Zhang Tao, the deputy manager for intelligent manufacturing in the hub city of Foshan. “I think it may be too optimistic to say robots will replace humans in three years … but you could say there will be much more co-operation.”•



Donald Trump is an American Berlusconi at the very least and perhaps a Mussolini, but a fascist’s rise to power doesn’t happen on its own–it takes a village. Joining strange bedfellows James Baker, Peter Thiel, Mike Ditka, Chachi and the underwear model in support of a Trump Administration is Julian Assange, Wikileaks very own alleged Bill Cosby. One of the main things making Assange’s posture as a journalist dicey is the fear he would used hacked information to service his own political beliefs and personal feuds, not hold all parties involved to the same ideal. He’s now admitted as much, saying he timed the email release about the DNC to try to enable a Trump victory. It’s a perversion of democracy, though I suppose you have to credit Assange for his transparency.

From Charlie Savage at the New York Times:

WASHINGTON — Six weeks before the anti-secrecy organization WikiLeaks published an archive of hacked Democratic National Committee emails ahead of the Democratic convention, the organization’s founder, Julian Assange, foreshadowed the release — and made it clear that he hoped to harm Hillary Clinton’s chances of winning the presidency.

Mr. Assange’s remarks in a June 12 interview underscored that for all the drama of the discord that the disclosures have sown among supporters of Bernie Sanders — and of the unproven speculation that the Russian government provided the hacked data to WikiLeaks in order to help Donald J. Trump — the disclosures are also the latest chapter in the long-running tale of Mr. Assange’s battles with the Obama administration. 

In the interview, Mr. Assange told a British television host, Robert Peston of the ITV network, that his organization had obtained “emails related to Hillary Clinton which are pending publication,” which he pronounced “great.” He also suggested that he not only opposed her candidacy on policy grounds, but also saw her as a personal foe. 

At one point, Mr. Peston said: “Plainly, what you are saying, what you are publishing, hurts Hillary Clinton. Would you prefer Trump to be president?” 

Mr. Assange replied that what Mr. Trump would do as president was “completely unpredictable.” By contrast, he thought it was predictable that Mrs. Clinton would wield power in two ways he found problematic.•

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Paddy Chayefsky, that brilliant satirist, offered a spectacular pre-Beale rant on the Mike Douglas Show in 1969. It starts with polite chatter about the success of his script for Marty but quickly transitions into a much more serious and futuristic discussion. The writer is full of doom and gloom, of course, during the tumult of the Vietnam Era; his best-case scenario for humankind to live more peacefully is a computer-friendly “new society” that yields to globalization and technocracy, one in which citizens are merely producers and consumers, free of nationalism and disparate identity. Well, some of that came true. All the while, he wears a fun, red lei because one of his fellow guests is Hawaii Five-0 star Jack Lord. Gwen Verdon, Lionel Hampton and Cy Coleman share the panel.

Chayefsky joins the show at the 7:45 mark.


The messenger is supposed to bring the truth, not his or her wishes. It was more than 50 years ago when Marshall McLuhan predicted a Global Village, and those who believed the theorist was happy about this development were listening, at best, with one ear. The prospect frightened him

McLuhan feared the whole world being connected, thought it an invitation for mayhem, rightly believing local skirmishes would be played out on a gigantic stage. Believing a flatter world will be a more peaceful one assumes that everyone is driven by money, not ideology, not madness. 

Everything seems to arrive with more speed and regularity now, social justice and sorties alike. The whole world is in you pocket now, and it’s exploding.

Excerpts from 1)  Mathieu von Rohr’s Spiegel essay “Apocalypse Now,” and 2) Nicholas Carr’s Rough Type post “The Global Village of Violence.”

From von Rohr:

We are living in an age of shocks and crises that could well be traumatizing in their rapid succession and concentration, since it’s not yet clear whether they’re only a temporary jolt or the beginning of a trend with no end in sight. Of course, the sheer number of conflicts has remained constant in recent years. But there is much indication that we find ourselves in a new era of global instability. The biggest geopolitical stories of our time are the destabilization in the Middle East, the European security order and the European Union. In addition, there has been a societal shift in many Western countries: Many citizens are angry at the elites, because they see themselves as victims of globalization, free trade and migration. This anger has enabled the rise of political movements from the fringe to the mainstream in only a few years: Donald Trump, the Brexit movement, Front National and the Alternative for Germany, or AfD. The classic political camps are dissolving as the battle between the political left and the right is replaced by one between Isolationists and Internationalists.

Every now and then, there are phases in international politics during which more happens in the span of a few weeks than would otherwise happen in decades. Do 2014 and 2016 fall into that category? They’re not comparable to the most dramatic phases of the past century, when both World Wars broke out; nor are they anything like 1989, when the Cold War ended and the world order was rearranged. It’s also unclear whether this year will end with the same chaotic violence it started with.

But it is rather likely that global insecurity will become the new status quo.•

From Carr:

We assume that communication and harmony go hand in hand, like a pair of flower children on a garden path. If only we all could share our thoughts and feelings with everyone else all the time, we’d overcome our distrust and fear and live together peaceably. We’d see that we are all one. Facebook and other social media disabuse us of this notion. To be “all one” is to be dissolved — and for many people that is a threat that requires a reaction.

Eamonn Fitzgerald points to a recently uploaded video of a Canadian TV interview with Marshall McLuhan that aired in 1977. By the mid-seventies, a decade after his allotted minutes of fame, McLuhan had come to be dismissed as a mumbo-jumbo-spewing charlatan by the intelligentsia. What the intelligentsia found particularly irritating was that the mumbo jumbo McLuhan spewed fit no piety and often hit uncomfortably close to the mark.

Early on in the clip, the interviewer notes that McLuhan had long ago predicted that electronic communication systems would turn the world into a global village. Most of McLuhan’s early readers had taken this as a utopian prophecy. “But it seems,” the interviewer says, with surprise, “that this tribal world is not very friendly.”•

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Think Ray Kurzweil is brilliant, though I have many disagreements with him, especially what I feel is the increasingly frantic timeline for his outré predictions. The futurist likes to tout his amazing record for accuracy as a prognosticator, but there have been jaw-dropping clunkers and there’ll likely be more. Additionally, his belief that ingesting thousands of dollars of supplements daily will enable him to survive until eternal life is possible–he thinks that day is very soon, of course–seems likewise foolhardy.

Two things I agree with Kurzweil about: 1) The world seems worse when tools allow us to better gather information about injustice, and 2) Sooner or later, we’ll increase human intelligence through bioengineering, even if the specter of such currently freaks out people

From Todd Bishop at Geekwire:

On the effect of the modern information era: People think the world’s getting worse, and we see that on the left and the right, and we see that in other countries. People think the world is getting worse. … That’s the perception. What’s actually happening is our information about what’s wrong in the world is getting better. A century ago, there would be a battle that wiped out the next village, you’d never even hear about it. Now there’s an incident halfway around the globe and we not only hear about it, we experience it.

Why machines won’t displace humans: We’re going to merge with them, we’re going to make ourselves smarter. We’re already doing that. These mobile devices make us smarter. We’re routinely doing things we couldn’t possibly do without these brain extenders.•

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I don’t blame anyone for being a capitalist in America, not a Carnegie or a Kardashian or any lower-case striver. But there’s always been something squeamish about those who mix aspirationalism with evangelism, and that belief system has never been more pronounced than right now, with the “prosperity gospel” movement having made a special guest appearance at last week’s Republican National Convention in the person of Rev. Mark Burns, who loves Jesus Christ, Donald Trump and Benjamin Franklin, in some order.

From Jack Jenkins at Think Progress:


Burns is not your rank-and-file right-wing evangelical minister, but a preacher of the so-called “prosperity gospel,” a loose but growing Christian movement that teaches followers they can become wealthy and successful through faith — and by giving money to their church. Although “health and wealth” clerics head up churches that boast memberships in the tens of thousands, they have historically avoided divisive political conversations.

That was, at least, until the rise of Trump. In a twist that has perplexed and angered many leaders of the traditional Religious Right, the mogul has surrounded himselfwith a cadre of jet-setting prosperity gospel preachers throughout his campaign, snubbing the old-time religion of traditional conservative Christians in favor of the glitzy theology of ministers who share his adoration of the Almighty Dollar.

And now, with Burns speaking before the RNC, the prosperity gospel — long dismissed by progressive and conservative Christians alike as flawed or even heretical — is having its political moment.

“This is the culmination of several decades of building political capital within the prosperity gospel movement,” Kate Bowler, an expert on the prosperity gospel and author of Blessed: A History of the American Prosperity Gospel, told ThinkProgress. “This is a new political moment for the prosperity gospel — it’s a really remarkable moment.”•

“We are electing a person in Donald Trump who believes in the name of Jesus Christ.”

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Capturing greatness is rare enough, recapturing it even more unlikely. 

Someday Silicon Valley will also founder, the way former Industrial Era powers Cleveland and Pittsburgh and Detroit did. Clusters built around a narrow type of enterprise almost always do, since specialization can be wonderfully beneficial for a while but has a relatively short shelf life. Once the boom goes bust, bringing it back is almost impossible. Cities like New York that are open for business in a broad way have a better shot at continued prosperity, their fickleness and willingness to constantly tear down an asset.

From the Economist piece “Silicon Valley 1.0“:

Cleveland is a reminder that decline can be as self-sustaining as success. There are three reasons why clusters fail. One is that they over-specialise in products that are later improved elsewhere. Sheffield stuck to steelmaking even as others learned to make it better and cheaper. A second is that they complacently fail to upgrade their productivity. Detroit succumbed to Japanese carmakers in the 1970s and 1980s because it thought more about providing its cars with ornate fins (and its workers with gold-plated benefits) than it did about their performance. The third is that they suffer from an external shock from which they fail to recover, as could be the case with the City of London in the wake of Brexit.

Naomi Lamoreaux, an economic historian at Yale University, says Cleveland falls into the third category. It led in a wide variety of industries into the 1920s, including cars, chemicals, paints and varnishes, machine tools and electrical machinery as well as iron and steel. It spent money on R&D. But then came a series of external shocks. The Depression destroyed the local financial institutions that had supported Cleveland’s start-ups. Regulations adopted in its wake gave New York’s banks such a competitive advantage that local capital markets withered. The federal government’s wartime policy of dispersing manufacturing industry eroded the city’s industrial base.

Fanning the flames of hate

Cleveland’s decline became self-reinforcing. Firms downsized, closed or relocated. The inner city fell prey to crime and dysfunction. The white middle-class moved to suburbia. Politicians responded not with pragmatic ideas for reform but by whipping up anger and resentment, which only hastened white- and business-flight. Dennis Kucinich, the mayor in 1977-79, who much later ran for president, refused to privatise the electric utility and, in 1978, took the city into bankruptcy. A once-proud city was mocked as “the mistake on the lake”. To cap it all, Cleveland paid the price for its earlier successes: by 1969 the Cuyahoga River was so polluted that it caught fire, an event that is still celebrated in one of its local brews, Burning River Pale Ale.

The city’s story is also a warning that rebuilding clusters is fiendishly hard.•


The writer Calum Chace, an all-around interesting thinker, is conducting a Reddit AMA based on his new book, The Economic Singularity, which sees a future–and not such a far-flung one–when human labor is a thing of the past. It’s certainly possible since constantly improving technology could make fleets of cars driverless and factories workerless. In fact, there’s no reason why they can’t also be ownerless. 

What happens then? How do we reconcile a free-market society with an automated one? In the long run, it could be a great victory for humanity, but getting from here to there will be bumpy. A few exchanges follow.


So it seems to me that most of the benefit of capitalism for working-class people come from jobs. Companies need a workforce, and are willing to pay for it. So a lot of the profit gets spread around to a lot of people.

If a few companies could break this model on a large scale, by leveraging automation to allow a relatively small core group of employees to operate a national or international corporation, then that would force everyone to do it in order to stay competitive.

I’m assuming that this is some of what you’re talking about in the book (just guessing from the title and an amazon summary).

I could see the first fully (>98%) automated company making waves in a decade or two. People on /r/futorology like to wax utopian, but a company with <100 employees and billions in automated infrastructure isn’t going to allow themselves to be operated for the public good. The product might be cheap, but it’s not free, and that company is no longer employing enough people to matter.

They’ll have a global reach (through subcontracted shipping companies) coupled with automated vehicles that don’t need to sleep or visit family. They can legally exist in whichever country is cheapest tax-wise, and still destroy the competition on the other side of the globe.

So, lots of rambling. But that’s my question, basically.In your opinion, what might the replacement for capitalism look like?

Calum Chace:

Yes, I think you’ve identified exactly the first stage of the argument. Intelligent machines are probably going to render most of us unemployable.

So how shall we all live? The answer, initially at least, will be some form of Universal Basic Income (UBI) which is often discussed here and at a sister Reddit page specifically on the subject. UBI will have to be paid for by taxes, and that raises some tricky questions about how the rich people who pay the taxes are going to respond.

I am fundamentally optimistic. The people who are going to be richest are those who own the AI, since that will generate much of the value throughout the economy. The likes of Larry Page, Sergei Brin, Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates etc etc don’t seem to me to be primarily motivated by money, but by an excitement about the future and a desire to see it arrive sooner.

So I don’t think they will want the rest of us to starve. The mechanism by which UBI is phased in, and how it pans out across international boundaries are going to take a lot of detailed planning. Which we haven’t started yet.


I also think people are underestimating VR & crowdsourcing’s role.

If VR makes things like microtasking more attractive to do and enables the microtaskers (crowd-workers) to do more, then flexwork/ gig-work might become even more popular. I have an ebook that I’m finishing up now that explores this a little bit (& even ties it to robotics).

Do you have any guesses for VR and the future of work?

Calum Chace:

Yes, I talk about the gig economy (microtasking) in my book. A report by PwC says that 7% of US adults are already engaged in it. I’m not sure whether the experience is so great for most of them at the moment, though. Are they “micro-entrepreneurs” or “instaserfs” – members of a new “precariat”? Either way, it will probably get bigger.

It’s hard to avoid waxing lyrical about the potential impact of VR. Oculus Rift has made nothing like the splash since its launch this year a lot of people (including me) expected it to, but it’s probably just obeying Amara’s Law, that we tend to over-estimate the effect of a technology in the short run and under-estimate the effect in the long run.

In that long run I can well imagine VR bringing about the long-awaited death of geography, but it’s probably going to take a while yet. Meanwhile, I’m not sure it will have that much impact on overall levels of employment, other than adding some because of all the virtual experiences that need to be created.


I think the outcome can be wonderful: a world of radical abundance.

Calum Chace:

I very much agree with you there, I think that all (7 billion + of us globally) are going to be vastly richer from all of this.

For example, when AI can administer the expertise of top doctors & consultants to everyone on the planet for pennies, this is wealth unlike humanity has ever known before.

I wonder though, on the road to this future, are we in for some quite chaotic breaks from the past.

Exactly, and the sooner we start thinking seriously about where we want to get to and how best to get there, the more likely we are to make the journey successfully.

I think the more people who are aware of what is coming, the better. I’m encouraged by the remarkable sea-change in awareness of AI progress that has already occurred. The publication of Bostrom’s Superintelligence led to high-profile comments by the three wise men (Hawking, Musk and Gates) and the publication of Ford’s Rise of the Robots was another seminal moment.

Like a lot of people here, I’ve been talking about the huge importance of AI to anyone who would listen for years and years. I got a lot of benign virtual pats on the head. Now people are listening.

Self-driving cars will probably be the canary in the coal mine. Once they are common sights, people won’t be able to avoid thinking seriously about what is coming.

But we need a positive narrative about the good things that can happen so that the response isn’t panic, or a rush into the embrace of the next populist demagogue who happens along.•



Unlike most Americans who aspire to the Presidency, Donald Trump would like to break the world’s kneecaps with a ball-peen hammer. 

The 2016 GOP convention, political torture porn, has at last concluded, and its main kooky message lingers: The world is a dangerous place, especially for those white and blue, and at an extremely evil time like this, we need someone even more evil, a remorseless figure who will do unthinkable things, and that person is strongman Trump. He will protect us, this orange supremacist, this synthesis of Mussolini and Mayor McCheese

Never mind that the GOP flag-bearer’s behavior resembles that of a mentally ill person, a delusional sociopath, or that crime and economic statistics make it plain that the last eight years have been very good to America, from low murder rates to high Wall Street earnings. Even wealth distribution, that stubborn ill, has been adjusted somewhat under President Obama. Wage rates remain sluggish as they’ve long been, but it’s a mistake to view this election as one about money. It’s identity politics to the utmost and the attempt by one awful person to sell a violent culture war. It could work. If Trump loses horribly, it’s a death in the gutter for the modern GOP. If he wins, our entire country will have fallen from the curb.

The opening of Ezra Klein’s sobering Vox piece about the horrifying rise of an American fascist:

Tonight, Donald J. Trump accepted the Republican Party’s nomination for president of the United States.

And I am, for the first time since I began covering American politics, genuinely afraid.

Donald Trump is not a man who should be president. This is not an ideological judgment. This is not something I would say about Mitt Romney or Marco Rubio. This is not a disagreement over Donald Trump’s tax plan or his climate policies. This is about Trump’s character, his temperament, his impulsiveness, his basic decency.

Back in February, I wrote that Trump is the most dangerous major candidate for president in memory. He pairs terrible ideas with an alarming temperament; he’s a racist, a sexist, and a demagogue, but he’s also a narcissist, a bully, and a dilettante. He lies so constantly and so fluently that it’s hard to know if he even realizes he’s lying. He delights in schoolyard taunts and luxuriates in backlash.

He has had plenty of time to prove me, and everyone else, wrong. But he hasn’t. He has not become more responsible or more sober, more decent or more generous, more considered or more informed, more careful or more kind. He has continued to retweet white supremacists, make racist comments, pick unnecessary fights, contradict himself on the stump, and show an almost gleeful disinterest in building a real campaign or learning about policy.

He has, instead, run a campaign based on stoking fear and playing to resentment. His speech tonight invoked a nightmarish American hellscape that doesn’t actually exist. His promise to restore order made him sound like the aspiring strongman his critics fear him to be. “I have a message for all of you: the crime and violence that today afflicts our nation will soon come to an end,” he said. “Beginning on January 20th 2017, safety will be restored.”•

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Every time I start to criticize Elon Musk, I remember to be thankful he’s not Peter Thiel.

Walter Isaacson famously named Benjamin Franklin when searching for an historical antecedent for Musk, but the Tesla-Space X-Hyperloop-aspiring-Martian billionaire seem to have his heart set on being a multi-planetary Thomas Edison.

In his just-released “Master Plan, Part Deux,” Musk expounds on a vision that would be daunting if it was being attempted by a wonderfully funded Bell Labs or NASA or even a superpower government let alone a struggling private company. The sections on solar roofs and autonomous transport are particularly fascinating.

As Will Oremus writes in a Slate column, one aspect of Musk’s ambitions didn’t make big news despite having world-changing implications. An excerpt:

On Wednesday night, Elon Musk announced a new master plan for his company. It is the philosophical successor to his original master plan, published 10 years ago when few had heard of Tesla and fewer cared. If that first plan seemed implausibly audacious, this one borders on schizophrenic—a compendium of goals so futuristic and disparate that it would be a marvel for any company to achieve one of them, let alone all. They include (deep breath):

  • Building at least four all-new models: a “new kind of pickup truck,” a compact SUV, a semi truck, and a bus-like mass transport vehicle that delivers its passengers from door to door. They’ll all be fully electric, of course.
  • Developing and implementing a fully autonomous driving system that will require no human involvement. The system will have such redundancy that a failure of any part of the driving system will not compromise its ability to navigate safely.
  • Creating a car-sharing platform through which Tesla owners can, at the tap of a button, rent out their self-driving vehicle to a “Tesla shared fleet” when they’re not using it. Others can then summon the car for a ride, generating income for its owner which can help to pay off the price of buying it.
  • Merging Tesla and SolarCity, the country’s largest solar power company, and together developing a seamlessly integrated system that can both capture and store solar power on your rooftop, turning your home into its own energy utility. And then “scale that throughout the world.”

Not even cracking the top four objectives in the new plan is Musk’s recently stated intention to essentially reinvent the mass production process, developing a heavily automated factory that can churn out cars five to 10 times more efficiently than before. In other words, Musk writes, Tesla is designing “the machine that makes the machine—turning the factory itself into a product.”•

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Peter Thiel is the single best argument for a return to the draconian progressive tax rates of the Eisenhower Administration. A think-skinned, monopoly-loving billionaire Libertarian who cares way more for his ideology than, you know, actual humans, he’s gone so far as to make Gawker seem sympathetic. 

A gay immigrant as a grinning Republican and Trump delegate would be puzzling were it anyone, but it’s even more so for Thiel, who clearly doesn’t support most of the candidate’s lip service to populist policy. In an Inc. article, Jeff Bercovici attempts to explain the PayPal co-founder’s support of Trump with a theory he himself labels seemingly crazy: The journalist believes Thiel may be trolling democracy itself. Perhaps or maybe he just wants his taxes lowered. An excerpt:

It’s hard to believe Thiel is going all in on Trump only–or at least mainly–because he thinks Trump will make a good president. What might his real reason be?

I have a guess. It sounds crazy, but bear in mind we’re talking about someone who thinks there’s a real possibility he will never die; who pays college kids to drop out; who wants to establish a colony at sea free from the laws of any nation; who thinks capitalism and competition can’t coexist. If it doesn’t sound crazy to someone, it’s probably too quotidian to have issued from the mind of Peter Thiel.

I think Peter Thiel supports Donald Trump because he believes it’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to weaken America’s attachment to democratic government.

I’m not accusing Thiel of any ambitions he hasn’t more or less copped to. In an often-quoted 2009 essay, Thiel declared, “I no longer believe that freedom and democracy are compatible.”•

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The press and Republicans didn’t exactly help matters in regards to the political rise of the hideous hotelier Donald Trump. 

The former initially treated him as cheap summer programming and misrepresenting him as an irreverent, naughty uncle rather than the deeply racist, seeming sociopath he is. But the media didn’t make Trump the GOP nominee–the people did. The Republican establishment been pandering to the racist heart of America for decades, and it turns out there were far more people with Angry White Person’s disease than previously diagnosed. More than economics, that’s what Trump tapped into: unearned privilege under threat. He’s a rich person who feels ripped off because of all he lacks inside, and the same is true today of a good chunk of the country.

Fellow Republicans also didn’t try to drive Trump’s clown car off course for far too long, everyone thinking it was all an elaborate joke, and if they just avoided the scrum, they’d be okay. I doubt, however, it would have made much of a difference if they had acted sooner. John Kasich, exceedingly conservative and eminently electable, never had a prayer of gaining the nomination. Republicans weren’t voting for policy or principles but rather for hatred and nativism. They chose their messenger, their nominee, for very clear reasons. When you select the candidate who mocked POWs and the disabled, and bragged about the size of his dong during a debate, there can be no mistake.

Not everyone agrees, however, with my contention that wags and pols aren’t responsible for Trump’s candidacy. Excerpts follow from: 1) Carl Bernstein insisting at Real Clear Politics that Matt Drudge could have stopped Trump, which I think is preposterous, and 2) Jeffrey Goldberg’s immaculately written Atlantic article, which suggests more moderate members of the GOP could have prevented the “Make America White Again” movement, which I also doubt.

From Carl Bernstein’s comments:

“One of the interesting things we’ve seen in this campaign is FOX has driven Trump’s candidacy less than Matt Drudge,” the legendary journalist said Wednesday on CNN. “Drudge is really a great new factor in this election in terms of media. He is — Drudge, that site has been unapologetically in Trump’s pocket from the beginning. And I would say a large measure of why Donald Trump is the nominee goes to Matt Drudge in much the way that FOX has — when you use the word kingmaker, I’m not sure it goes quite far that way, but it is an influence unequalled.”

Goldberg’s sharply written opening:

The neediness of politicians has always fascinated me; the pathological desire for relevance; the plasticity of belief in the service of self-aggrandizement; the depths plumbed in order to stave off insignificance, which can be as frightening as non-existence itself. One of my favorite politicians, Chris Christie, the governor of New Jersey, is almost morbidly needy. His desire for attention made him into a brilliant retailer, mainly of himself, but also of his ideas, and intermittently, of his state. His neediness made him greatly entertaining. But it also caused him to betray his own principles.

I recognize that it took millions of Republican primary voters to bring America to this frightening moment, a moment in which a preposterous grifter of authoritarian bent whose mental health is the subject of pervasive and anxious speculation, has become a major-party nominee for president. But it was men like Christie who were indispensable in the creation of this moment. Donald J. Trump could have been stopped. I believe he could have been stopped early, by a concerted effort to unify the party behind a single, viable, non-fraudulent candidate; and he could have been stopped late, if Republicans like Christie had not crumpled before Trump. A handful of honorable men did, in fact, try to stop him. But they were too few in number, and too marginal to make a difference. Collectively, the most influential and smartest Republican elected officials—people who fall into the general category of Them That Knew Better—just might have been able to devise a way to prevent what is happening from happening. But abdication of responsibility and self-debasement in the pursuit of power were the order of the day.•

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