Urban Studies

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You may not ant to be in the system, but there you are. We all are. From Charles Arthur at the Guardian:

“Google is buying Jetpac, a ‘city guides’ company with a twist which used image recognition and neural network technology to recommend places it deemed the happiest, most popular or with the best views and scenic hikes.

Jetpac offered special ‘City Guides’ for more than 6,000 destinations, using neural network technology developed by Pete Warden, the company’s co-founder and chief technology officer.

‘We can spot lipstick, blue sky views, hipster moustaches and more, through advanced image processing on billions of photos,’ Jetpac’s home page explains. The app worked by analysing public photos with location data shared on Flickr, Instagram and other photo networks for particular elements, and then extracting key elements about them. 

The purchase, for an undisclosed sum, points to Google’s growing interest in artificial intelligence applications as it seeks to grow offerings such as its Google Now personal assistant.”

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Speaking of deranged leaders who prey on the needs of others, emotional and otherwise, Foxcatcher, Bennett Miller’s film about John du Pont, a madmen who wrestled the amateur sports world into his madness, is to be released in a couple of months. Most reviews so far have been positive. Here’s a reprint of an earlier post I put up about du Pont.

John du Pont was the wealthy benefactor of amateur wrestling, a schizophrenic whose money kept treatment at a distance, who descended into utter madness in the 1990s, and ultimately murdered Olympic hero David Schultz. The heavily armed du Pont, who’d played host to underdog sports since the 1960s, was arrested only after a two-day stand-off with the police. The opening of “A Man Possessed,” Bill Hewitt’s 1996 People article about the tragedy:

“Lately he had started telling people that he was the Dalai Lama. If anyone refused to address him as such, he simply refused to talk to them. That was bizarre, but then John E. du Pont, 57, a multimillionaire scion of the fabled industrial family, had always been odd. For fun he drove an armored personnel carrier around his 800-acre estate, Foxcatcher. He complained about bugs under his skin and about ghosts in the walls of the house. By and large, friends and family shook their heads, fretted about his ravings—and waited for the inevitable breakdown. ‘John is mentally ill and has been mentally ill for some time,’ says sister-in-law Martha du Pont, who is married to John’s older brother Henry. ‘But this year he really went over the edge.’

No one realized how far over until Friday afternoon, Jan. 26. Around 3 p.m., Dave Schultz, 36, a gold medalist in freestyle wrestling at the 1984 Olympics, was out working on his car at Foxcatcher, in leafy Newtown Square, Pa., 15 miles west of Philadelphia, where du Pont had established a residential training facility for top-level athletes. Suddenly du Pont pulled into the driveway of the house where Schultz lived with his wife, Nancy, 36, and their two children, Alexander, 9, and Danielle, 6. From the living room, Nancy heard a shot. When she reached the front door she heard a second. Looking out in horror, she saw a screaming du Pont, sitting in his car, extend his arm from the driver’s side window, take aim at her husband, facedown on the ground, and pump one more bullet into his body. After pointing the gun at Nancy, du Pont drove down the road to his home, leaving her to cradle her dying husband. 

During the two-day standoff that ensued, some 75 police and SWAT team members surrounded the sprawling Greek-revival mansion that du Pont called home. Finally, on Sunday afternoon, du Pont emerged, unarmed, to check on the house’s heating unit, which the police had turned off, and was taken without a shot being fired. That evening, a gaunt, ashen-faced du Pont was arraigned in a Newtown Township courtroom on a charge of first-degree murder, which in Pennsylvania can carry the death penalty. As investigators tried to piece together a motive for the seemingly senseless killing, there emerged the sad, scary portrait of a man believed to be worth more than $50 million who was rich enough to indulge his madness and to put enough distance between himself and the world at large to ensure that no one really bothered him about it.”

Driverless cars, when they’re perfected enough to markedly reduce road fatalities, may force the issue with 3D-printed organs, since far fewer crashes would interrupt the steady delivery of hearts and livers. From Erin Griffith at Fortune:

“It’s a dark thought, and the sort of thing only a futurist would think of. Which is why I’m not surprised that Bre Pettis, founder and CEO of the 3D printing company Makerbot, brought it up. When I asked him about 3D-printed organs earlier this summer at the Northside Festival, a conference in Brooklyn, he told me that 3D-printed body parts won’t become a reality until autonomous vehicles arrive to market. It makes for a surprising connection between two futuristic technologies.

‘The self-driving car is coming, and right now, our best supply of organs comes from car accidents,’ he said. ‘So, if you need an organ you just wait for somebody to have an accident, and then you get their organ and you’re better.’ I suggested that was a dark way of looking at it.

His response: ‘We have this huge problem that we sort of don’t talk about, that people die all the time from car accidents. It’s kind of insane. But the most interesting thing is, if we can reduce accidents and deaths, then we actually have a whole other problem on our hands of, ‘Where do we get organs?’ I don’t think we’ll actually be printing organs until we solve the self-driving car issue. The next problem will be organ replacement.’”

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From the March 17, 1904 New York Times:

“While in a cage with three lions this afternoon, Alfred J.F. Perrins, the animal trainer, suddenly became insane. Soon after he entered the cage Perrins struck one of the lions a vicious blow and cried, ‘Why don’t you bow to me, I am God’s agent.’

Perrins then left the cage, leaving the door open and saying, ‘They will come out, as God is looking after them.’ He then stood on a box and called on the spectators to come and be healed, saying he could restore sight to the blind and hearing to the deaf, and heal any disease by a gift just received from God.

The lions started to leave the cage and the spectators fled. The cage door was slammed by a policeman, who arrested Perrins. Physicians announced Perrins hopelessly crazed on religion. He has been in show business thirty years , having been with Robinson, Barnum, and Sells.”

As labor is disrupted by technology, we’re all freelancers, we all have freedom–we’re all practically free. The sharing economy is great except if you’re providing the service, unless you’re the rabbit who’s been tasked, and that’s the side of the fence more of us will find ourselves on. You know those bargains you love? You’re the bargain now, or you may soon be. Nice doing business with you. From Natasha Singer at the New York Times:

“In the promising parlance of the sharing economy, whose sites and apps connect people seeking services with sellers of those services, Ms. [Jennifer] Guidry is a microentrepreneur. That is, an independent contractor who earns money by providing her skills, time or property to consumers in search of a lift, a room to sleep in, a dry-cleaning pickup, a chef, an organizer of closets.

For people seeking a sideline, these services can provide extra income. Beyond the ride services, there are businesses like Airbnb, the short-term-stay broker; task brokers like TaskRabbit and Fiverr; on-demand delivery services like Postmates and Favor; and grocery-shopping services like Instacart.

‘Someone on Sidecar doing the same commute they do on a daily basis and picking up a rider, it’s really free money for the driver and reduced cost for the rider,’ notes Nick Grossman, the general manager for policy and outreach at Union Square Ventures, which is an investor in Sidecar.

In a climate of continuing high unemployment, however, people like Ms. Guidry are less microentrepreneurs than microearners. They often work seven-day weeks, trying to assemble a living wage from a series of one-off gigs. They have little recourse when the services for which they are on call change their business models or pay rates. To reduce the risks, many workers toggle among multiple services.

‘Having a diverse portfolio is the best protection,’ says Sara Horowitz, the founder and executive director of Freelancers Union, an advocacy organization. ‘People are doing this in the midst of wage stagnation and income inequality, and they have to do these things to survive.’”

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On a 1977 Mike Douglas Show episode, comic-book collector Phil Seuling showed off an original Superman, revealing that it was worth $1,500. The audience gasped. But that was before a globalized world needed simple dialogue and action-hero antics to sell blockbusters all over the world. Today an exceptionally clean copy of that inaugural issue, currently at auction on eBay, has seen early bids reach $1.75 million, heading toward the stratosphere faster than a speeding bullet. From Graeme McMillan at the Hollywood Reporter:

 “In a video released to promote the auction, Pristine Comics owner Darren Adams explained how the auction copy remained in such good edition. ‘There was a gentleman in 1938, buys a copy … off the newsstand. And he lived in a fairly high altitude area of West Virginia and kept the book in a cedar chest,’ Adams said. The quality of the issue — the pages of which, thanks to being kept in a dark, dry space for decades, haven’t yellowed with time — makes the copy ‘not just a copy of Action Comics No. 1 [but] the copy of Action Comics No. 1,’ according to the dealer.

Back in 2011, another edition of the issue raised $2.1 million in auction, becoming the most expensive comic ever sold in the process. With nine days remaining on the current Action Comics auction and bidding currently at $1.6 million, it’s very possible that record is about to be broken.”


“The superheroes caught everybody’s fancy”:


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The only air conditioning related trivia I know: It was the late actor Tony Randall’s favorite technology. No, not exactly required knowledge.

While AC may not have been quite as revolutionary as the washing machine, it certainly changed life in industrialized societies dramatically. From Henry Grabar’s Salon article, “How Air Conditioning Remade Modern America“:

“The environment has changed too: Summer in the city isn’t as hot as it used to be, thanks to air conditioning. When Jane Jacobs described the ‘sidewalk ballet,’ fewer than 14 percent of households in urban America had air conditioning. Today, it’s over 87 percent.

It’s almost impossible to imagine, dashing from the house A/C to the car A/C to the office A/C to the restaurant A/C, how hot and different the American summer once was.

One evocative recollection of the un-air-conditioned American city is Arthur Miller’s vignette ‘Before Air-Conditioning,’ which describes New York in the summer of 1927. The street in those days was repurposed nightly as an outdoor dormitory; mattress-laden fire escapes lined the block like iron bunk beds.

Lacking that option, there was always Central Park, where Miller would ‘walk among the hundreds of people, singles and families, who slept on the grass, next to their big alarm clocks, which set up a mild cacophony of the seconds passing, one clock’s ticks syncopating with another’s. Babies cried in the darkness, men’s deep voices murmured, and a woman let out an occasional high laugh beside the lake.’

That was the year Babe Ruth hit 60 home runs; then came air conditioning and the reinvention of American life.

The National Academy of Engineering ranked air conditioning the tenth-most important achievement of the 20th century.”

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Knowing the present isn’t knowing the future. At best, we make educated guesses uncolored by personal beliefs or wants. Even then, we’re often wrong, unprepared for the black swans and their lovely necks. When William Masters and Virginia Johnson sat down for this Good Morning America interview, with the AIDS crisis at its height, it seemed monogamy, not Tinder, would be the future. How quickly things change.

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German chemist Michael Braungart is an environmentalist who wants us to consume as much as we’d like, to live richly and abundantly, to not trouble ourselves about conservation, so he’s dedicated himself to creating materials which will never truly become trash. It sounds like a wonderful world, all our greed biodegrading into natural beauty, provided we’re all not living below sea level before we’ve achieved this post-waste idyll. From Michaela Schiessl at Spiegel:

“‘Our current world of products is totally primitive,’ says Braungart. We produce things, often filled with pollutants, and we eventually throw them away. The toxins escape into the soil, air and water. In his view, our practices are completely underdeveloped — part of a dark, Neanderthal-like world. ‘A product that becomes waste is simply a bad product. Bad chemistry.’

Braungart wants to apply good chemistry, and make products without any pollutants, which either end up as compost or are returned into the technical cycle as a pure, unadulterated raw material. If this were achieved on a large scale, many things would change. Wastefulness would no longer be bad but would in fact be a virtue, and we would be living in a world filled with abundance instead of restrictions. Our world would mimic nature, in which, for example, the blossom on a cherry tree turns into fruit, humus or a new tree – an elixir of life in all three cases. This eco-hedonism is Braungart’s creed. ‘I want people to live extravagantly,’ he says.

Austerity and sacrifice, the favorite disciplines of many environmentalists, are anathema to him. The German environmental movement? ‘A club of guilt managers deprived of enjoyment.’ The proponents of sustainability? ‘They’re optimizing the wrong thing.’

To turn his theory into practice, Braungart has established a company, EPEA. His German clients include personal care products giant Beiersdorf and lingerie maker Triumph, mail order company Otto and cosmetics maker Aveda. Braungart advises Volkswagen, Unilever and BMW. With his help, HeidelbergCement developed a special cement that purifies the air once its been processed into concrete. And, in 2013, Puma introduced the first fully recyclable athletic clothing collection, which includes compostable shoes.”

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Iran’s theocracy is one thing, and its people seem another altogether. It’s a strange state where the rules can be broken as long as everyone pretends otherwise. From an Economist report about a Middle Eastern Masters and Johnson-ish sex survey:

“An 82-page document recently issued by Iran’s parliamentary research department is stark in its findings. Not only are young adults sexually active, with 80% of unmarried females having boyfriends, but secondary-school pupils are, too. Illicit unions are not just between girls and boys; 17% of the 142,000 students who were surveyed said that they were homosexual.

In Tehran, the capital, long known for its underground sex scene, chastity is plainly becoming less common. The scope and pace of change are challenging the government and posing a headache for the clerics who dispense guidance at Friday prayers.

The report is also a rare official admission of the unspoken accord in Iran: people can do what they want so long as it takes place behind closed doors. Parliament’s researchers, on this occasion, were allowed to say the unsayable.

Their suggestion for stopping unsanctioned sex is remarkably liberal. Instead of seeking to cool the loins of the youngsters altogether, they should be allowed publicly to register their union by using sigheh, an ancient practice in Shia Islam that lets people marry temporarily. A legal but loose and much-deprecated arrangement, which can last from a few hours to decades, sigheh is often viewed as a cover for promiscuity or prostitution. Clerics themselves have long been suspected of being among its biggest beneficiaries, sometimes when they are on extended holy retreats in ancient religious cities such as Qom.”

From the July 17, 1898 Brooklyn Daily Eagle:

New York Manila News–The European residents here (in Manila) complain of a tendency to scruff, which develops after a short stay in this climate, but they are generally loth to adopt the national preventive. In the forests of Luzon are a great many monkeys, and there is a belief among the natives that stewed monkey is an unfailing cure for all cutaneous diseases. To the stranger in these islands the idea of eating monkey flesh may be very revolting, but, there are few dishes more delicate than the young monkey stuffed and baked, though it does look very much like a small baby.”

The image of the robot I used in this post and the one in the news articles above are of a 1949 machine named “George,” a creation of then-20-year-old British military pilot Tony Sale, who was a crack codebreaker. Here’s some footage of George in action from British Pathé.


Ferguson, Missouri, August 2014.

Ferguson, Missouri, August 2014.

The Iraq War is one that keeps on giving–grief–and not only overseas. The fog of that war has clouded American neighborhoods as the weapons and tools used by soldiers there have come home to roost in a neighborhood near you. Militarized police forces have drones and AR-15s, a dubious dividend, and every officer can be a Robocop now. It’s overkill that leads to actual killing, especially when the ugliness of racism shows its teeth.

Some of these arms and armor might have happened eventually anyhow in our high-tech society, but the often-misguided War on Terror has rebounded furiously back at us with weaponry the way the mission to the moon brought us memory foam and freeze-dried food. We’re all on the moon now. A brief excerpt from Sadhbh Walshe in the Guardian:

“What is happening in Ferguson is exactly what opponents of the rise in military-style policing across America have long feared: when the feds arm white local cops with weapons of war and their superiors encourage them not to just play dress-up but to use their new war toys, it is inevitable that ordinary citizens – especially citizens of color – will get treated as the enemy. As we’ve seen in Ferguson, when military might comes to Main Street, ‘hands-up, don’t shoot quickly turns into a quasi-declaration of war on a grieving community.

How the hell do we stop equipping and training suburban cops as warriors?”


A writer who doesn’t do research isn’t worth a damn. Harold Robbins, he did research. From a 2007 Daily Mail article about the author working at his craft:

“Under the beady eyes of the host, the party began with a little gentle socialising.

His hand-picked guests – as always, more women than men – then moved on to the next stage: marijuana, inhibition-loosening sedatives and cocaine.

When everyone seemed suitably relaxed, he started stroking a woman’s hair, moving his hands slowly downwards onto her body.

This was Harold Robbins’s less-than-subtle signal for the orgy to begin.

Soon, people were ripping off their clothes, piling into his vast, champagne-coloured bedroom and losing themselves in a pile of writhing bodies.

As they cavorted, heads would occasionally pop up to check out the view in the mirrored ceiling.

As the mastermind of these popular Beverly Hills parties, the best-selling novelist always selected the participants himself – each of whom had to be stunningly good-looking, famous or well-endowed.
His second wife, Grace, used to say that she never knew where he found them.

‘I had never met any of them before, or ever would again,’ she said.”

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A couple of entries from one argument in the new Pew Research Center report, “AI, Robotics, and the Future of Labor,” which tries to divine how automation will alter the workforce by 2025. 


Argument #2: The consequences for income inequality will be profound

For those who expect AI and robotics to significantly displace human employment, these displacements seem certain to lead to an increase in income inequality, a continued hollowing out of the middle class, and even riots, social unrest, and/or the creation of a permanent, unemployable “underclass.”

Justin Reich, a fellow at Harvard University’s Berkman Center for Internet & Society, said, “Robots and AI will increasingly replace routine kinds of work—even the complex routines performed by artisans, factory workers, lawyers, and accountants. There will be a labor market in the service sector for non-routine tasks that can be performed interchangeably by just about anyone—and these will not pay a living wage—and there will be some new opportunities created for complex non-routine work, but the gains at this top of the labor market will not be offset by losses in the middle and gains of terrible jobs at the bottom. I’m not sure that jobs will disappear altogether, though that seems possible, but the jobs that are left will be lower paying and less secure than those that exist now. The middle is moving to the bottom.”

Stowe Boyd, lead researcher at GigaOM Research, said, “As just one aspect of the rise of robots and AI, widespread use of autonomous cars and trucks will be the immediate end of taxi drivers and truck drivers; truck driver is the number-one occupation for men in the U.S.. Just as importantly, autonomous cars will radically decrease car ownership, which will impact the automotive industry. Perhaps 70% of cars in urban areas would go away. Autonomous robots and systems could impact up to 50% of jobs, according to recent analysis by Frey and Osborne at Oxford, leaving only jobs that require the ‘application of heuristics’ or creativity…An increasing proportion of the world’s population will be outside of the world of work—either living on the dole, or benefiting from the dramatically decreased costs of goods to eke out a subsistence lifestyle. The central question of 2025 will be: What are people for in a world that does not need their labor, and where only a minority are needed to guide the ‘bot-based economy?”

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"Very profitable and...

“Very profitable and…

Investor wanted – $30000 (Midtown East)

Investor wanted, looking to open an escort agency in NYC.
Have owned and ran several in the past and know every cell in this type of business.
I will agree to run it for a period of 3 years.
All profits would be a 50/50 split.
I would open and run it with all the work involved.
Not looking for someone to help me run it, the investor would remain only an investor.
Profits range monthly in the amounts of $15,000 to $25,000 each.
100% legal and very profitable.
Again only looking for an investor.
It would take $30,000 to open (no less).
It will take a period of 3 weeks to open from start to finish.
Looking to open right now (winter season very busy).
ONLY serious investors need respond that want to meet, discuss, and move forward.

Very profitable and very legal.
I will respond very prompt to call and text or email.

...very legal."

…very legal.”

I’ve read that if New Hampshire had the same population density as Brooklyn, every American could live in the state. In a Priceonomics post about San Francisco devoting more than 2% of its land to golf courses when it’s so squeezed for space that burying the dead within city limits isn’t permitted, Alex Mayyasi spells out how sparse the population is and why:

“To the extent that the surprising prevalence of golf courses in San Francisco has relevance to the city’s debates over gentrification, it’s likely as a reminder that the city’s small, constrained size — a commonly cited culprit for high rent prices — is not to blame. If San Francisco had the same population density as Manhattan, it could be home to around 3 million residents instead of its current 800,000. But in order to protect San Francisco from change, its residents have consistently voted for zoning laws that prevent developers from building taller commercial and residential buildings — even downtown. Similarly, a great public transport system could allow people to enjoy San Francisco’s employment opportunities and cultural capital while living outside the city limits, but the Bay Area Transport system has not ‘had a significant upgrade in San Francisco since 1976.


It’s odd that Dick Tracy, a strip loaded with forensics and retrofuturism, hasn’t translated into our gadget-happy world which loves crime-scene entertainments and cartoon-driven blockbusters. Here’s the strip’s creator, Chester Gould, who penned its panels from 1931 to 1977, on To Tell the Truth in 1965.


From the January 11, 1885 Brooklyn Daily Eagle, a story which originally appeared in the Wilson Echo of Kansas:

“A Barton County man has a living chicken without a head. Attempting to cut off a chicken’s head, the axe passed through the head of the chicken immediately in front of the ears, thus leaving a small portion of the brain attached to the neck. The chicken did not take this as an execution of his death warrant and got up and stood on his feet, to the astonishment of this would be executioner, who then contrived a plan to feed him by dropping food and drink into the thorax, which has so far proved a success. The chicken is now doing well.”

The New Republic has republished “The Billion-Dollar Fight Over Who Owns the Sun,” a 1975 article by Peter Barnes about the city of Santa Clara working to ensure our brightest star would be a public utility. The opening:

“The city of Santa Clara lies 50 miles south of San Francisco in a robustly sunny valley. As in much of California, rain is concentrated in the winter months, leaving nearly 300 days a year of clear skies. Until now no one paid much attention to the economic value of all that sunshine. But things are changing. By July the city will have completed a new recreation building that will draw about 80 percent of its heating and cooling energy from solar collectors mounted on the roof. After that the city itself will plunge into the solar energy business. ‘What we see is a city-owned solar utility,’ says City Manager Donald Von Raesfeld. ‘The city will finance and install solar heating and cooling systems in new buildings. Consumers will pay a monthly fee to cover amortization and maintenance of the solar units. This will be done on a nonprofit basis, with the capital raised through municipal bonds.’

Santa Clara isn’t alone in its effort to convert sunshine into useful energy. A recent survey listed 68 US buildings, either completed or near completion, that are getting some or all of their energy from the sun. Dozens of corporations are involved in solar research. The federal government is pouring millions of dollars into solar research and development projects. And while the big commitment of government and industry is still to fossil fuels and nuclear fission, energy from the sun is no longer dismissed as farfetched or far off. According to a Westinghouse study funded by the National Science Foundation, solar heating and cooling of buildings will be economically competitive in most parts of the country by 1985-90, and are already almost competitive in sunny regions like California and Florida. By the end of the century, says the NSF, the sun could provide more than one-third of the energy we use to heat and cool buildings, plus 20 to 30 percent of our electricity needs. It could dramatically reduce peak demands for electricity—mainly for summer air-conditioning — and conserve fossil fuels for petro-chemical uses for which there are no ready substitutes. Congress is equally enthused. Last year it passed five laws dealing wholly or partly with solar energy research, spreading money somewhat chaotically among the NSF, NASA, HUD and a new energy research and development agency.

The attractions of solar energy are apparent. It doesn’t pollute or otherwise damage the environment. It creates no dangerous waste products such as plutonium. It won’t run out for a few billion years. It can’t be embargoed by Arabs or anyone else. It’s virtually inflation proof once the basic set-up costs are met, and would wondrously improve our balance of payments. The technology involved, while still not perfected, is much less complex than nuclear technology. And of all energy sources the sun is the least amenable to control by cartel-like energy industry.

Why then has it taken so long to discover the sun? One reason is that the energy contained in sunshine is diffuse and fickle compared to the concentrated energy found in fossil fuels. As long as fossil fuels were plentiful and fairly easy to get at, it was considerably more profitable to collect and sell these stored forms of solar energy than to capture the sun’s current energy emissions. Another reason is the massive commitment of dollars and scientists the US made after World War II to the development of nuclear energy, a commitment that in retrospect appears to have derived at least partly from guilt over having unleashed the atom for destructive purposes, (‘If sunbeams were weapons of war, we would have had solar energy centuries ago,’ chemist George Porter has observed,) Solar energy is finally looking attractive because fossil fuels are no longer cheap, and because the drawbacks of nuclear fission—its hazards, huge capital costs, and low gains in net energy terms (it takes enormous amounts of energy to build reactors and prepare their fuel)—are now more widely appreciated.”

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Information may not want to be free from a financial standpoint, but it does want to be unfettered, with centralized, controlled data no longer a possibility in this connected age. That’s the reality made clear by the Edward Snowden leaks, even if his NSA revelations weren’t exactly a shocker to anyone with open eyes. In many cases this new normal will be a good thing and in some a bad one. But no legislation will really stop it.

Further complicating matters is that most Americans don’t seem to mind if their government snoops on them in the (supposed) name of protecting them. In these scary times, they want a big brother, even if it’s Big Brother.

From “The Most Wanted Man in the World,” James Bamford’s Wired cover article, a passage about a possible second leaker, which is likely though Snowden neither confirms nor denies:

“And there’s another prospect that further complicates matters: Some of the revelations attributed to Snowden may not in fact have come from him but from another leaker spilling secrets under Snowden’s name. Snowden himself adamantly refuses to address this possibility on the record. But independent of my visit to Snowden, I was given unrestricted access to his cache of documents in various locations. And going through this archive using a sophisticated digital search tool, I could not find some of the documents that have made their way into public view, leading me to conclude that there must be a second leaker somewhere. I’m not alone in reaching that conclusion. Both Greenwald and security expert Bruce Schneier—who have had extensive access to the cache—have publicly stated that they believe another whistle-blower is releasing secret documents to the media.

In fact, on the first day of my Moscow interview with Snowden, the German newsmagazine Der Spiegel comes out with a long story about the NSA’s operations in Germany and its cooperation with the German intelligence agency, BND. Among the documents the magazine releases is a top-secret ‘Memorandum of Agreement’ between the NSA and the BND from 2002. ‘It is not from Snowden’s material,’ the magazine notes.

Some have even raised doubts about whether the infamous revelation that the NSA was tapping German chancellor Angela Merkel’s cell phone, long attributed to Snowden, came from his trough. At the time of that revelation, Der Spiegel simply attributed the information to Snowden and other unnamed sources. If other leakers exist within the NSA, it would be more than another nightmare for the agency—it would underscore its inability to control its own information and might indicate that Snowden’s rogue protest of government overreach has inspired others within the intelligence community. ‘They still haven’t fixed their problems,’ Snowden says. ‘They still have negligent auditing, they still have things going for a walk, and they have no idea where they’re coming from and they have no idea where they’re going. And if that’s the case, how can we as the public trust the NSA with all of our information, with all of our private records, the permanent record of our lives?’”

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In the earlier post about Freeman Dyson’s outré dreams for space colonization, I mentioned he thought too restrained the planetary-settlement plans of fellow Princeton physicist Gerard K. O’Neill. Here’s a bit from a 1975 interview Stewart Brand conducted with O’Neill on the topic:

“Stewart Brand::

What would it take for you to become a fulltime space colonizer?

Gerard O’Neill:

Well, if the president came to me and said, ‘Here is X-billion dollars, we’re going to go ahead with the thing and we want you to be involved with it.’ That would sure fetch me.

Stewart Brand:

Suppose NASA said ‘Here’s 5 years of personal salary to administer the growth of this program?’

Gerard O’Neill:

That’s not enough. I have a deep suspicion of governments, and really – although I’m not politically active-I know enough about politics to be very suspicious of it; I think I would have to see a really substantial committed kind of program going. I don’t mean at the spending level of billions of dollars, but I’d like to see something where there’s a very solid commitment to continue in the same sense as there was in the Apollo program.

Stewart Brand:

Of the level of Kennedy saying, ‘We’re going to be on the Moon in this decade’ For some politician to make this go, he’s going to have to say ‘by the year so-and so.’ What year is that?

Gerard O’Neill:

Arthur Kantrowitz, the president of AFCO-Everett was out visiting us a few days ago. He happens to be quite enthusiastic about this work, and he says that his answer for things of that kind is to say, ‘You’ll have the result ten years after you’ve stopped laughing,’ which is I think, a pretty good answer. The most responsible answer I could give is to say that if I really had the responsibility for getting it done by a certain time and the authority to do it in what I would consider the right way, then I would be willing to make a very strong commitment that it could be done in 15 years from time-zero. Whatever that time-zero is.

Stewart Brand:

This is Model One with an extra-territorial population of what?

Gerard O’Neill: 

Yes, Model One. Roughly 10,000 people. If you look at the growth rates that you could get from that first one, then you’d probably be talking about a quarter of a million people by the year 2,000. Because you’ll be going up very fast after you get the first beachhead.

Stewart Brand:

And your graph I saw in Washington suggested a net population decrease on the planet’s surface by…

Gerard O’Neill:

I think the turn-over there is about 2018. Now that was based – first of all, I don’t make it as a prediction – it was indicated as a technical possibility, and it was based on a time-zero of essentially now, which is certainly unrealistic politically, and a completion date of 13 years, so that would put Model One in place by 1988. Maybe you could even do it from now, technically, but it’s probably more reasonable to say 13-20 years from a time of decision.

Stewart Brand:

Do you think there’s no way to get the toothpaste back in the tube at this point…. that the idea is inevitable?

Gerard O’Neill:

There are other possibilities. Civilization could tear itself apart with energy shortages, population pressures, and running out of materials. Everything could become much more militaristic, and the whole world might get to be more of an armed camp. Things of this kind might just not be done because no nation would dare to divert that much money away from military efforts. or without war, it could be that the world will become poor, to the point where it can’t afford to try things like this.

Of course, if neither of those possibilities occurs, then I do think there is some sort of inevitability about it. With that, of course, you can’t associate a time-scale. It could be a long time.

Stewart Brand:

Who resists the idea in any large way? If anyone.

Gerard O’Neill:

Well there was a while when I thought that elderly and famous professors of physics were the greatest opponents. . . In fact of all the mail I’ve gotten only about 1% has been in opposition to it.

Stewart Brand:

And what’s your short roster of planetary problems that will be solved by this particular technique? Energy, population. . .

Gerard O’Neill:

Well, yes, but by phrasing the question in that way it’s difficult for me to answer except with a prediction or promise, and that’s something that no decent scientist likes to make. I think it’s very wrong to assume that something like this is going to promise happiness to all people, because people manage to make themselves unhappy in almost any circumstances.”


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Ninja looking for help meeting woman (Chinatown/Little Italy)

I am a Ninja. I work professional in Japan for prominent family near 40 years and they railroad me. I now live with friend in Manhattan. I will teach you all ancient arts and show my tools and disguised clothing. You will become a Ninja. In return for becoming Ninja you may help me meet good friendly local woman for friendship.

"They railroad me."

“They railroad me.”

A Marketwatch article by Ariana Tobin pointed me to the New York Times’ 1993 coverage of the first online retail purchase–a Sting CD. Here’s the opening of that piece, “Attention Shoppers: Internet Is Open,” by Peter H. Lewis:

“At noon yesterday, Phil Brandenberger of Philadelphia went shopping for a compact audio disk, paid for it with his credit card and made history.

Moments later, the champagne corks were popping in a small two-story frame house in Nashua, N.H. There, a team of young cyberspace entrepreneurs celebrated what was apparently the first retail transaction on the Internet using a readily available version of powerful data encryption software designed to guarantee privacy.

Experts have long seen such iron-clad security as a necessary first step before commercial transactions can become common on the Internet, the global computer network.

From his work station in Philadelphia, Mr. Brandenburger logged onto the computer in Nashua, and used a secret code to send his Visa credit card number to pay $12.48, plus shipping costs, for the compact disk Ten Summoners’ Tales by the rock musician Sting.

‘Even if the N.S.A. was listening in, they couldn’t get his credit card number,’ said Daniel M. Kohn, the 21-year-old chief executive of the Net Market Company of Nashua, N.H., a new venture that is the equivalent of a shopping mall in cyberspace. Mr. Kohn was referring to the National Security Agency, the arm of the Pentagon that develops and breaks the complex algorithms that are used to keep the most secret electronic secrets secret.

Even bigger organizations working on rival systems yesterday called the achievement by the tiny Net Market a welcome first step.

‘It’s really clear that most companies want the security prior to doing major commitments to significant electronic commerce on the Internet,’ said Cathy Medich, executive director of Commercenet, a Government and industry organization based in Menlo Park, Calif., that hopes to establish standards for commercial transactions on the Internet and other networks.

The idea is to make such data communications immune to wiretaps, electronic eavesdropping and theft by scrambling the transmissions with a secret code — a security technique known as data encryption.”

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From Kate Dailey at BBC, a recollection of the lifestyle of thousands U.S. citizens like John McCain who lived in the Panama Canal Zone, a stamp-sized America, yes, yet a dreamworld all its own:

“For almost 100 years, thousands of Americans lived a life of luxury in secluded tropical communities close to the Bay of Panama. Known as ‘Zonians,’ they maintained one of the world’s great engineering feats – the Panama Canal.

Established in 1903, the Panama Canal Zone constituted a home away from home for the Americans who built and maintained the Panama Canal and the workers who supported them.

The zone was an area of 533 square miles that ran the course of the canal and was controlled by the US. Families were given generous benefits, including subsidised housing, ample holiday time, well-stocked commissaries and attentive staff.

Its residents enjoyed the beautiful weather and more relaxed lifestyle of Panama, while also living in comfortable American-style housing, experiencing a top-notch American education and enjoying all the perks of US citizenship.

‘It was a strange kind of artificial place,’ says Michael Donoghue, author of Borderland on the Isthmus: Race, Culture, and the Struggle for the Canal Zone. His father travelled through the zone during World War Two, and compared it to ‘a small southern town transplanted into the middle of Central America.’”

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