Urban Studies

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How different would the world be if everyone could write as immaculately as Pico Iyer?

In a NYRB essay, he meditates on Las Vegas and Pyongyang, two vastly different symbolic cities that are each rooted in a denatured fantasy, both of them oases or mirages, depending on if your wager can conquer the long odds or not. In the former, you’ll likely get taken, and in the latter you might get killed. An excerpt:

Any of us could, of course, list the differences between the two cities of mirages. The one is a shameless efflorescence of capitalism that is, for its enemies, a glittering symbol of the decadence and emptiness of the West; the other the world’s last by-the-book, state-controlled monument to Stalinist brutality, whose forty-story blocks are consciously designed to cow citizens and remind them that it’s a privilege never to leave their hometowns without permission or to be executed simply for glimpsing a foreign newspaper.

The one is a sort of adolescent’s Girls Gone Wild vision of freedom run amok, in which visitors are encouraged to believe that you can do and be anything you like, for a night; the other is a terrifying model of order and regimentation in which even the woman who chatted me up on a showpiece subway train might well have been a prop set there by the government. While drunken frat boys get themselves photographed next to bikini-clad showgirls dressed as flamingoes on Las Vegas Boulevard, in Pyongyang every visitor—on every visit—is obliged to get up in jacket and tie, pass through a dust-cleaning machine, and bow before the embalmed figures of the nation’s two departed leaders. When Hunter Thompson wrote, “For the loser, Vegas is the meanest town on earth,” he hadn’t been to Pyongyang, where even the sometime-winners are abruptly sent before the firing squads.

Yet both cities are products of a mid-twentieth-century spirit that saw what power and profit could be found in constructing mass fantasies ab nihilo—in the deserts of the West, out of the rubble of the Korean War.•

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As we witnessed with horror in Ferguson, the tools we create to fight wars overseas find their way back to the home front, free markets taking over where DARPA and other Defense departments trail off. Beyond guns and drones, surveillance equipment is the latest boomerang returning, and there are few rules in place to moderate their use, the technology, as usual, outstripping legislation. 

From Timothy Williams at the New York Times:

SAN DIEGO — Facial recognition software, which American military and intelligence agencies used for years in Iraq and Afghanistan to identify potential terrorists, is being eagerly adopted by dozens of police departments around the country to pursue drug dealers, prostitutes and other conventional criminal suspects. But because it is being used with few guidelines and with little oversight or public disclosure, it is raising questions of privacy and concerns about potential misuse.

Law enforcement officers say the technology is much faster than fingerprinting at identifying suspects, although it is unclear how much it is helping the police make arrests.

When Aaron Harvey was stopped by the police here in 2013 while driving near his grandmother’s house, an officer not only searched his car, he said, but also took his photograph and ran it through the software to try to confirm his identity and determine whether he had a criminal record.•

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It amazes me that California’s water shortage seems to be viewed in this country as a regional problem for them, when it’s clearly a grave concern for us. As farmers in that state search deeper and deeper for the scarce liquid hoping to stave off personal disaster, we all near a collective one. If California dying of thirst isn’t a national emergency, I don’t know what is. Globally, the water crises may be the most serious threat to world peace. From the Spiegel report “World Without Water“:

“Water is the primary principle of all things,” the philosopher Thales of Miletus wrote in the 6th century BC. More than two-and-a-half thousand years later, on July 28, 2010, the United Nations felt it was necessary to define access to water as a human right. It was an act of desperation. The UN has not fallen so clearly short of any of its other millennium goals than the goal of cutting the number of people without this access in half by 2015.

The question is whether water is public property and a human right. Or is it ultimately a commodity, a consumer good and a financial investment?

The world’s business leaders and decision makers gathered at the annual meeting in snow-covered Davos, Switzerland in January to discuss the most pressing issues of the day. One of the questions was: What is the greatest social and economic risk of the coming decade? The selection of answers consisted of 28 risks, including wars, weapons of mass destruction and epidemics. The answer chosen by the world’s economic elite was: water crises.

Consumers have recognized for years that we need to reduce our consumption of petroleum. But very few people think about water as being scarce, even though it’s the resource of the future, more valuable than oil because it is irreplaceable. It also happens to be the source of all life.•

 

From the September 28, 1911 Brooklyn Daily Eagle:

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Robots may relieve us of much of the work currently monopolizing our time, which sounds great. I mean, life is too short. Unfortunately, the U.S. and many other patches on the globe don’t have economic systems capable of supporting a populace in which near-total employment isn’t the goal. Martin Ford and Andrew McAfee and Eric Brynjolfsson have written that the future is arriving too quickly and, unlike in the ’50s and ’60s, automation leading to massive technological unemployment is a real possibility. 

Add computer scientist and entrepreneur Jerry Kaplan, author of Humans Need Not Apply, to that list. In a lively Ask Me Anything at Reddit, Kaplan lays out his argument that a scary storm is gathering. A few exchanges follow.

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Question:

Do you feel like people are too fearful of artificial intelligence?

Jerry Kaplan:

The problem is that they are fearing the wrong thing. The robot apocalypse will be economic, not ‘military‘!

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Question:

What is the minimum wage of an average robot? How cost-effective are they (R&D+Maintenance+Hydro etc…/X hrs. wk.)?

Jerry Kaplan:

Ha interesting way to put the question. You don’t “pay” robots, of course. They are simply machines, like any others, so the question is whether the machine can perform some task in an economically advantageous way. This is a simply buy-vs-hire decision in most cases.

In my experience, it’s almost always better to use the machines, if you can afford it. Go forth and automate, my children!

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Question:

With the growing increase of machines taking over manual jobs do you feel that the workplace will be made up almost entirely of machines and people will then become less focused on work and more on leisure?

Jerry Kaplan:

What counts as work has shifted over the past centuries. What we do now would be considered optional “leisure” during the agrarian economy 200 years ago. They would think that our farms are made up almost entirely of machines today, and would wonder why on earth we aren’t living more simply and just enjoying ourselves!

But the desire to work is human nature. I think it’s a myth that most people just want to goof off and have fun … they’d rather work and own a fancier car!

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Question:

How far do you think we are away from living in a world with a ton AI in day to day life?

Jerry Kaplan:

You already are, you just don’t realize it. (Read my book and it will really scare you about what’s going on!)

Amazon, for one, is little more than a giant machine learning algorithm that arbitrages purchase and sale transactions. It watches your every move and decides exactly what is necessary to get you to buy. That’s why you see weird changes in the prices of things in your Cart, just for starters.

The ads you see online are another amazing example of how AI crafts things to get you to act in other people’s interests! I detail this in my book, it’s really unbelievable what happens when you load a web page, as AIs research everything about you in milliseconds, then an auction is performed, and the highest bidder gets to show their ad.

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Question:

Do you support Basic Income?

What are the machine-replaced workers suppose to do to feed their families?

Jerry Kaplan:

Basic income is a good thing, it will spur innovation. In principle machines make society wealthier — the question is who gets the wealth. We need to ensure that new wealth is distributed more fairly.

Food used to consume more than 50% of the average worker’s income. Now it’s under 10%. That’s real progress!

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Question:

Does the amount of money that the military invests in AI scare you or excite you?

Jerry Kaplan:

Well the military invests in AI for two reasons:

(1) To ensure that we have a ‘reserve’ of new technology that can both benefit society and is available in times of military threat.

(2) So we have the biggest bat in the league.

The challenge is now to achieve these two goals without bankrupting society or spurring continual arms races. Unfortunately this doesn’t lend itself to simple sound-bite answers. The military types I talk to (and I do have friends in DARPA, among other places) are not war-mongers at all, quite the contrary they want to try to keep us safe with minimum damage to life and property. We don’t always get this balance right, but it’s a hard (and mostly thankless) job.

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Question:

What makes a futurist? Are there specific credentials and methods?

Jerry Kaplan:

Nope – you just have to believe your own nonsense and talk about it persuasively, as if you were on Fox News.

Just get yourself a crystal ball and one of those weird turbans. LSD works well too (or so I hear?).

Seriously, it’s a ball. Give it a try.•

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The only thing trickier than predicting future population is interpreting what those people will mean for the world and its resources. From Malthus to Ehrlich, population bombs have defused themselves, even proved beneficial. Down deep, most likely think there’s a tipping point, a tragic number, but, of course, development of technologies can rework that math, stretch resources to new lengths. And a larger pool of talent makes it easier to create those new tools.

It would seem to make sense that immigrant nations can ride the wave of fluctuations best, not being dependent on internal fertility numbers. Robotics may reduce that advantage, however. Japan is certainly banking on that transformation.

In a Financial Times piece, Robin Harding writes that fertility seems to be on a steep decline globally, leveling off. If so, the ramifications will be many, including for Labor. The opening:

The extent of the plunge in childbearing is startling. Eighty-three countries containing 46 per cent of the world’s population — including every single country in Europe — now have fertility below replacement rate of about 2.1 births per woman. Another 46 per cent live in countries where the birth rate has fallen sharply. In 48 countries the population will decline between now and 2050.

That leaves just 9 per cent of the world’s population, almost all in Africa, living in nations with pre-industrial fertility rates of five or six children per woman. But even in Africa fertility is starting to dip. In a decade, the UN reckons, there will be just three countries with a fertility rate higher than five: Mali, Niger and Somalia. In three decades, it projects only Niger will be higher than four.

These projections include a fertility bounce in countries such as Germany and Japan. If more fecund nations follow this path of declining birth rates, therefore, a stable future population could quickly be locked in.

That would have enormous consequences for the world economy, geo­politics and the sum of human happiness, illustrated by some of the middle-income countries that have gone through a dramatic, and often ignored, fall in fertility.•

 

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The contemporary Western attitude toward architecture is to protect the jewels, preserve them. Not so in Japan, a nation of people Pico Iyer refers to in a striking T Magazine essay as “pragmatic romantics.” Iyer writes of ancient buildings being regularly replaced by replicas in the same manner that some citizens hire elderly actors to portray deceased grandparents at family functions. It’s just a different mindset. The opening:

EVERY 20 YEARS, the most sacred Shinto site in Japan — the Grand Shrine at Ise — is completely torn down and replaced with a replica, constructed to look as weathered and authentic as the original structure built by an emperor in the seventh century. To many of us in the West, this sounds as sacrilegious as rebuilding the Western Wall tomorrow or hiring a Roman laborer to repaint the Sistine Chapel once a generation. But Japan has a different sense of what’s genuine and what’s not — of the relation of old to new — than we do; if the historic could benefit from a little help from art, or humanity, the reasoning goes, then wouldn’t it be unnatural not to provide it?

The motto guiding Japan’s way of being might be: New is the new old. For proof, you need only look at three recent high-profile and much-debated demolition jobs in Tokyo. The Hotel Okura, an icon of Japanese Modernism built in 1962 to commemorate the country’s arrival in the major leagues of nations as the host of the 1964 Olympics and cherished for its unique and atmospheric lobby, is currently being reduced to rubble in favor of two no doubt anonymous glass towers, meant to announce Japan’s continuing position in the big leagues, as the host of the 2020 Olympics. The once state-of-the-art National Olympic Stadium, designed by Mitsuo Katayama for the 1964 event, is being replaced by tomorrow’s idea of futurism: a new structure that was, until recently, set to be designed by Zaha Hadid. Even Tsukiji, the world’s largest fish market and the mainstay of jet-lagged sightseers for decades — is being mostly moved to a shopping mall, with the assurance that a copy of a place can sometimes look more authentic than the place itself. These erasures — most notably of the Okura, which became the personal cause of Tomas Maier, the creative director of Bottega Veneta — have elicited protests from devoted aesthetes the world over: What could the Japanese be thinking?

The answer is simple: The Japanese are different from you and me. They don’t confuse books with their covers.•

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Televox was the 1920s robot that reportedly fetched your car from the garage or a bottle of wine the cellar. While these feats, along with many others, were said to have been ably performed, the cost of such a machine made it unmarketable.

Televox was also the star attraction of a very early insinuation of robotics into the American military when, in 1928, he barked out orders to the grunts. It was a bit of a publicity stunt but also the beginnings of robotizing war, which some then thought implausible, though nobody does now. An article follows from the June 11, 1928 Brooklyn Daily Eagle.

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The perfecting of autonomous cars would do many good things (fight pollution, reduce highway deaths) and some bad (threaten job security for millions, be a scary target for hackers). Like most technologies, the size of the victories will be determined by how we manage the losses.

One thing that almost assuredly happens during a robocar age will be a decrease in traffic, due in large part to the end of the maddening search for parking spots.

From Peter Wayner at the Atlantic:

There’s plenty of research showing that a surprisingly large number of people are driving, trying to find a place to leave their car. A group called Transportation Alternatives studied the flow of cars around one Brooklyn neighborhood, Park Slope, and found that 64 percent of the local cars were searching for a place to park. It’s not just the inner core of cities either. Many cars in suburban downtowns and shopping-mall parking lots do the same thing.

Robot cars could change all that. The unsticking of the urban roads is one of the side effects of autonomous cars that will, in turn, change the landscape of cities— essentially eliminating one of the enduring symbols of urban life, the traffic jam full of honking cars and fuming passengers. It will also redefine how we use land in the city, unleashing trillions of dollars of real estate to be used for more than storing cars. Autonomous cars are poised to save us uncountable hours of time, not just by letting us sleep as the car drives, but by unblocking the roads so they flow faster.•

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In Andrew Schrank’s Pacific·Standard essay about Labor in the Digital Age, which imagines possible enlightened and benighted outcomes, he says the truest thing anyone can say on the topic: “The future of work and workers will not be dictated by technology alone.” No, it won’t.

An excerpt in which he looks at the Google Glass as half-full:

Is a jobless future inevitable? Do automation, computerization, and globalization necessarily conspire to undercut employment and living standards? Or might they be harnessed to benign ends by farsighted leaders? The answer is anything but obvious, for the relationship between automation and job loss is at best indeterminate, both within and across countries, and the relationship between automation and compensation is similarly opaque. For instance, Germany and Japan boast more robots per capita and less unemployment than the United States, and the stock of industrial robots and the average manufacturing wage have been growing in tandem—at double digit rates, no less—in China.

What excites me about the future of work and workers, therefore, is the possibility that the technological determinists are wrong, and that we will subordinate machinery to our needs and desires rather than vice versa. In this rosy scenario, machines take over the monotonous jobs and allow humans to pursue more leisurely or creative pursuits. Working hours fall and wages rise across the board. And productivity gains are distributed (and re-distributed) in accord with the principles of distributive justice and fairness.

While such a scenario may seem not just rosy but unrealistic, it is not entirely implausible.•

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Gerald O’Neill’s space dreams were bold–and very unrealistic. The astrophysicist believed 40 years ago, right around the time of his popular paper, “The Colonization of Space,” that Earthlings would be able to make round-trip voyages to other planets for about $3000 before the end of the century. Not quite. 

O’Neill died, however, inspire the famous 1970s space-colonies design, which I’ve used on this site many times. From Brian Merchant at Vice:

The first serious blueprint for building cities in space was drawn almost on a whim. Forty years ago this summer, dozens of scientists gathered in the heart of Silicon Valley for one of NASA’s design studies, which were typically polite, educational affairs. But in 1975, the topic of inquiry was “The Colonization of Space,” a recent paper by the astrophysicist Gerard O’Neill.

“The idea was to review his ideas and to see if they were technically feasible,” said Mark Hopkins, an economist who was there. “Well, they were.” So the scientists had a choice—set about laying the groundwork for real, no-bullshit space colonization, or hold the regularly scheduled series of seminars. “We said, ‘To hell with that,'” Hopkins recalled. The ten-week program became a quest to outline a scientifically possible and economically viable way to build a human habitat in space.

What they came up with—designs for huge, orbital settlements—are still pretty much the basis for all our space digs today, science-fictional or otherwise.•

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You certainly don’t want to be a nation left behind by robotics any more than you’d want to miss out on the Industrial Revolution, but at the same time you need jobs for citizens of all skill levels. What to do?

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s goal of reducing unemployment among the nation’s many unskilled workers is threatened by automation, a sector other countries in the region (particularly Thailand, Vietnam and Malaysia) are investing heavily in. The need for cheap labor is disappearing just when the nation needs it most. From Natalie Obiko Pearson at Bloomberg:

Robots and automation are invigorating once-sleepy Indian factories, boosting productivity by carrying out low-skill tasks more efficiently. While in theory, improved output is good for economic growth, the trend is creating a headache for Prime Minister Narendra Modi: Robots are diminishing roles for unskilled laborers that he wants to put to work as part of his Make in India campaign aimed at creating jobs for the poor.

India’s largely uneducated labor force and broken educational system aren’t ready for the more complex jobs that workers need when their low-skilled roles are taken over by machines. Meanwhile, nations employing robots more quickly, such as China, are becoming even more competitive.

“The need for unskilled labor is beginning to diminish,” Akhilesh Tilotia, head of thematic research at Kotak Institutional Equities in Mumbai and author of a book on India’s demographic impact. “Whatever education we’re putting in and whatever skill development we’re potentially trying to put out – – does it match where the industry will potentially be five to 10 years hence? That linkage is reasonably broken in India.” …

In the race to create factory jobs, Modi isn’t just competing against Asian rivals. Robots are increasingly helping developed economies. In Switzerland, robots make toothbrushes for export; in Spain, they cut and pack lettuce heads — a job previously done by migrants; in Germany, they fill tubs of ice cream, and in the U.K. they assemble yogurt into multipacks at a rate of 80 a minute.

 

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Transhumanist Presidential candidate Zoltan Istvan penned a Vice article about the influence next-wave technologies may have on violent crime, which he views largely as a form of mental disease. A lot of it is pretty far out there–cranial implants modifying behavior, death-row inmates choosing to be cryogenically frozen, etc. I’ll grant that he’s right on two points:

1) Criminal behavior is modified already in many cases by prescription drugs and psychiatry.

2) Surveillance and tracking, for all the issues they bring, will make it increasingly difficult to stealthily commit traditional crimes.

But debates about cerebral reconditioning and lobotomy? Yikes. Sounds almost criminal.

From Istvan:

One other method that could be considered for death row criminals is cryonics. The movie Minority Report, which features precogs who can see crime activity in the future, show other ways violent criminals are dealt with: namely a form of suspended animation where criminals dream out their lives. So the concept isn’t unheard of. With this in mind, maybe violent criminals even today should legally be given the option for cryonics, to be returned to a living state in the future where the reconditioning of the brain and new preventative technology—such as ubiquitous surveillance—means they could no longer commit violent acts.

Speaking of extreme surveillance—that rapidly growing field of technology also presents near-term alternatives for criminals on death row that might be considered sufficient punishment. We could permanently track and monitor death row criminals. And we could have an ankle brace (or implant) that releases a powerful tranquilizer if violent behavior is reported or attempted.

Surveillance and tracking of criminals would be expensive to monitor, but perhaps in five to 10 years time basic computer recognition programs in charge of drones might be able to do the surveillance affordably. In fact, it might be cheapest just to have a robot follow a violent criminal around all the time, another technology that also should be here in less than a decade’s time. Violent criminals could, for example, only travel in driverless cars approved and monitored by local police, and they’d always be accompanied by some drone or robot caretaker.•

 

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From the June 6, 1857 Brooklyn Daily Eagle:

leeches5

 

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Humans are so terribly at hiring other humans for jobs that it seems plausible software couldn’t do much worse. I think that will certainly be true eventually, if it isn’t already, though algorithms won’t likely be much better at identifying non-traditional candidates with deeply embedded talents. Perhaps a human-machine hybrid à la freestyle chess would work best for the foreseeable future?

In arguing that journalists aren’t being rigorous enough when reporting on HR software systems, Andrew Gelman and Kaiser Fung of the Daily Beast point out that data doesn’t necessarily mitigate bias. An excerpt:

Software is said to be “free of human biases.” This is a false statement. Every statistical model is a composite of data and assumptions; and both data and assumptions carry biases.

The fact that data itself is biased may be shocking to some. Occasionally, the bias is so potent that it could invalidate entire projects. Consider those startups that are building models to predict who should be hired. The data to build such machines typically come from recruiting databases, including the characteristics of past applicants, and indicators of which applicants were successful. But this historical database is tainted by past hiring practices, which reflected a lack of diversity. If these employers never had diverse applicants, or never made many minority hires, there is scant data available to create a predictive model that can increase diversity! Ironically, to accomplish this goal, the scientists should code human bias into the software.•

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The passage below from Rachel Nuwer’s BBC report about technological unemployment speaks to why I largely disagree with Jerry Kaplan that robotics will be far worse for male workers than female. There probably will be a difference, but if the machines come en masse in a compressed period of time, they come for most of us.

Oxford’s Carl Frey tells Nuwer that “overall, people should be happy that a lot of these jobs have actually disappeared,” when speaking of drudgery that’s heretofore been vanished by electrical gadgets, but the new reality may mean a tremendous aggregate improvement enjoyed by relatively few. In the long-term, that may all work itself out, but we better be ready with solutions in the short- and medium-term.

The excerpt:

Self-driving trucks wouldn’t be good news for everyone, however. Critics point out that, should this breakthrough be realised, there will be a significant knock-on effect for employment. In the US, up to 3.5 million drivers and 5.2 million additional personnel who work directly within the industry would be out of a job. Additionally, countless pit stops along well-worn trucking routes could become ghost towns. Self-driving trucks, in other words, might wreck millions of lives and bring disaster to a significant sector of the economy.

Dire warnings such as these are frequently issued, not only for the trucking industry, but for the world’s workforce at large. As machines, software and robots become more sophisticated, some fear that we stand to lose millions of jobs. According to one unpublished study, the coming wave of technological breakthroughs endangers up to 47% of total employment in the US.

But is there any truth to such projections, and if so, how concerned should we be? Will the robots take over, rendering us all professional couch potatoes, as imagined in the film Wall-E, or will technological innovation give us the freedom to pursue more creative, rewarding endeavours?•

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One positive outcome of our newly decentralized media is that all of society is now a long tail, with room for far more categories of beliefs and lifestyles, whether someone is Transgender or Libertarian or Atheist.

Case in point: Houston Texans star Arian Foster. Religion goes with football the way it does with war, perhaps because they’re two activities where you might want to pray you don’t get killed, but Foster, who’s played in the heart of the Bible Belt his entire college and pro career, doesn’t believe anyone is watching over him except for the replay assistant in the NFL booth. The former Muslim is now a devout atheist who offers a respectful Namaste bow after a TD but does not pray in a huddle. In an ESPN Magazine article, Tim Keown profiles the running back as he publicly discusses his lack of religion for the first time. An excerpt:

THE HOUSE IS a churn of activity. Arian’s mother, Bernadette, and sister, Christina, are cooking what they proudly call “authentic New Mexican food.” His older brother, Abdul, is splayed out on a room-sized sectional, watching basketball and fielding requests from the five little kids — three of them Arian’s — who are bouncing from the living room to the large playhouse, complete with slide, in the front room. I tell Abdul why I’m here and he says, “My brother — the anti-Tebow,” with a comic eye roll.

Arian Foster, 28, has spent his entire public football career — in college at Tennessee, in the NFL with the Texans — in the Bible Belt. Playing in the sport that most closely aligns itself with religion, in which God and country are both industry and packaging, in which the pregame flyover blends with the postgame prayer, Foster does not believe in God.

“Everybody always says the same thing: You have to have faith,” he says. “That’s my whole thing: Faith isn’t enough for me. For people who are struggling with that, they’re nervous about telling their families or afraid of the backlash … man, don’t be afraid to be you. I was, for years.”

He has tossed out sly hints in the past, just enough to give himself wink-and-a-nod deniability, but he recently decided to become a public face of the nonreligious.•

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"If you think you can do this--basically 'depositing' some stool into a Tupperware container on a regular basis..."

“If you think you can do this–basically ‘depositing’ some stool into a Tupperware container on a regular basis…”

Fecal Transplant Donor Needed (Brooklyn)

I am seeking healthy FMT (fecal microbiota transplant―yes poop!) donors who live in Brooklyn or Manhattan, and am hoping you or someone you know would be willing to help me and possibly save my life.

After a year-long barrage of antibiotic treatment for Lyme disease wiped out my gut flora (aka microbiome), my health went into a downward spiral resulting in diabetes, obesity, metabolic syndrome (high blood pressure, high cholesterol/triglyceride and high insulin levels), gout, arthritis, crippling fatigues and acid reflux. . .all now conclusively linked to a decimated microbiome. The good news: Reversing the above ailments is now squarely in the crosshairs of biotech research companies who are “mining” the microbiome to develop pill forms of restorative “human” probiotics. The bad news: This will take 5 to10 years for general use.

I don’t have 5 to 10 years.

The only way available to me NOW to restore a functioning microbiome is for me to use medically supervised FMT therapy with healthy, carefully screened donors.

Fecal transplants work in a similar way to a blood or bone marrow transplant, only they’re less invasive. The idea is for the infusion of “good bugs” to conquer the “bad bugs” (or in my case, NO bugs!) and gradually restore good health. FMTs have proven to be astonishingly effective in wiping out deadly Clostridium difficile infections, (to which I can personally attest) as well as curing other ailments now linked to microbiome deficiencies such as ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s, Celiac, Diabetes 1, Autism, MS, et al. However, just as FMT’s were gaining a foothold in major medical centers nationwide to treat C.diff, the FDA put the kibosh on them in 2013 and now it’s difficult to get one unless doctors fill out lengthy paperwork which means people are dying while bureaucrats fiddle. So the technique has gone “underground,” with successful home application of the procedure being as safe and effective as in a hospital so long as the donors are carefully screened and the procedure, for me, (using a simple enema bottle) follows proper medical protocols.

So I need a few healthy people who would, once they pass the simple health questionnaire, blood and stool tests (at no cost to you, my husband and I are covering all non-insured screenings) to “donate” on as close to a daily basis as possible for at least a month. Living close to us is essential, moving in for the donation period is also an option. We will provide all supplies (surgical gloves and disposable Tupperware containers) and cover any costs related to these “donations” and pick them up on a daily basis.

I am working with my doctors to ensure this treatment adheres to current medical standards and practices. We are using an enhanced version of MIT’s “OpenBiome” FMT donor bank screening criteria and current scientific medical data to design the therapy course. We are providing privacy agreements for everyone’s protection and comfort levels.

If you think you can do this–basically “depositing” some stool into a Tupperware container on a regular basis–it should allow my body to mend itself. . .for which I would be eternally grateful.

"Moving in for the donation period is also an option."

“Moving in for the donation period is also an option.”

From the June 20, 1859 Brooklyn Daily Eagle:

finger90

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For all the great things the shift from newsprint to the Internet has brought us, one thing lost in that dynamic has been the ability for fledgling reporters–even veteran ones–to pay the bills, especially those wishing to write about important social issues. Like most of America, the middle is largely gone in journalism, the fear of falling having proved to be no mere paranoia.

In a Guardian piece, Barbara Ehrenreich writes about this new arrangement, the few haves and the many have-nots, particularly among those who wish to cover poverty in America. After all, what is the good of everybody having their own channel in a decentralized media if they can’t afford the electricity to power their laptop or recharge their smartphone? An excerpt:

In the last few years, I’ve gotten to know a number of people who are at least as qualified writers as I am, especially when it comes to the subject of poverty, but who’ve been held back by their own poverty. There’s Darryl Wellington, for example, a local columnist (and poet) in Santa Fe who has, at times, had to supplement his tiny income by selling his plasma – a fallback than can have serious health consequences. Or Joe Williams, who, after losing an editorial job, was reduced to writing for $50 a piece for online political sites while mowing lawns and working in a sporting goods store for $10 an hour to pay for a room in a friend’s house. Linda Tirado was blogging about her job as a cook at Ihop when she managed to snag a contract for a powerful book entitled Hand to Mouth (for which I wrote the preface). Now she is working on a “multi-media mentoring project” to help other working-class journalists get published.

There are many thousands of people like these – gifted journalists who want to address serious social issues but cannot afford to do so in a media environment that thrives by refusing to pay, or anywhere near adequately pay, its “content providers.” Some were born into poverty and have stories to tell about coping with low-wage jobs, evictions or life as a foster child. Others inhabit the once-proud urban “creative class,” which now finds itself priced out of its traditional neighborhoods, like Park Slope or LA’s Echo Park, scrambling for health insurance and childcare, sleeping on other people’s couches. They want to write – or do photography or documentaries. They have a lot to say, but it’s beginning to make more sense to apply for work as a cashier or a fry-cook.

This is the real face of journalism today: not million dollar-a-year anchorpersons, but low-wage workers and downwardly spiraling professionals who can’t muster up expenses to even start on the articles, photo-essays and videos they want to do, much less find an outlet to cover the costs of doing them.•

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New York City was always about money, but it wasn’t only about it. Now it is. 

The economist Tyler Cowen believes American cities will be only for the rich in the not-too-distant future, and that we’ll look back in wonder that poor people used to actually live in such glamorous places. I still don’t believe that’s true–or don’t want to believe it–but the NYC non-rich are being treated like suspects and moved out to the edges until they fall off. And it’s a long way down from there.

Real estate prices are booming, a global market snaps up addresses, Airbnb helps move rental stock off the market and subsidized rents are quickly disappearing. Sometimes I still like it here, walking in Soho or buying books at the Strand, but I do increasingly feel like an expat in the city where I’ve always lived.

From Michael Greenberg’s New York Review of Books piece about the documentary Homme Less:

The spike in prices has profoundly altered the psychology of these neighborhoods, threatening the security of thousands of long-term residents, many of them families with working parents. The transformation has been dizzyingly abrupt. The process of repopulating a neighborhood with a wealthier class of residents that took twenty years on the Lower East Side during the late 1990s and early 2000s can now occur in five years or less in some parts of Brooklyn and Queens.

In August 2013, for example, Burke Leighton Asset Management bought 805 St. Marks Avenue, a pre-war, six-story building with two hundred apartments in the Crown Heights section of Brooklyn, for $22 million. In May, a little more than a year and a half later, they sold it to a Swedish real estate company called Akelius for $44 million. Akelius’s CEO said that he decided to invest in Crown Heights when he saw an increasing number of young people with “single-speed bicycles” in the neighborhood. I’ve no knowledge of Akelius’s plans for the building, but the only sure way to derive a reasonable return from this level of investment would be to find a means to deregulate the rent-stabilized apartments, and this invariably involves dislodging the families who live in them.

Over the past fifteen years New York has lost more than 200,000 units of affordable housing—20 percent of the current stock. The rate of loss has accelerated in recent years, putting the future of the city’s remaining rent-regulated apartments in grave doubt. What becomes of a city that economically bars its working class from living in it? New York may be in the process of finding out. Once apartments become deregulated, they never come back.

Where do the dislodged go? And how many are there?•

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The success of China’s insta-cities is dubious even with the iron fist of authoritarianism set to crush dissenters, but dense “cities in a building” or “cities in the sky,” attempts at large-scale, ecologically friendly developments influenced by the work of the late Arcology designer Paolo Soleri, have a particularly spotty track record. Abu Dhabi’s Masdar City (even a diminished version) may prove the exception, but top-down developments seldom satisfy human desires, even if they’re ostensibly good for us.

In a smart Aeon essay, Jared Keller writes of Soleri’s Arizona desert dream and explores why its offshoots, potential goldmines, don’t pan out. An excerpt:

In 1956, Soleri and his wife Corolyn ‘Colly’ Woods moved just miles from Phoenix’s out-of-control suburban sprawl to set up an architectural workshop, dubbed Cosanti (from the Italiancosa and anti, or ‘before things’), in Paradise Valley to develop his unique philosophy of architecture. One of Soleri’s earliest visions was Mesa City, a proposed city the size of Manhattan with 2 million inhabitants. Over five years, Soleri would draw hundreds of feet of scrolls detailing the intricate structures and landscape of this hypothetical metropolis.

In 1970, Soleri finally broke ground on Arcosanti, an experimental city and ‘urban laboratory’ that has been under construction for nearly half a century. To the average visitor, Arcosanti looks like a college campus sprouting in the middle of the desert, molded from the red silt of the surrounding mesa. The complex is marked by a cluster of soaring stone apses, crafted in Soleri’s distinct, casting-inspired architectural style, designed to absorb sunlight and power the town’s energy grid. The majority of buildings are oriented to the south to capture the sun’s light and heat, while an open roof design yields maximum sunlight in the winter and shade in the summer. Artisans live and work in a densely packed compound, designed for maximum energy efficiency and sustainability. The community’s permanent residents keep greenhouses and agricultural fields, and income from bell-casting goes to maintaining the town’s infrastructure.

Arcosanti is as socially efficient as it is sustainable. The buildings and walkways are built in a more dynamic formation than a conventional city grid, not just to conserve resources but also to encourage increased social interaction between residents, forcing them to bump into each other in various open-air atriums, gardens and greenhouses. Living quarters are clustered in a honeycomb of sparse, minimalist apartments, all virtually identical. The open design and emphasis on sustainable living has created a distinctly hippy, communitarian vibe; the population of the town is mostly Soleri fanatics and bell-casting artisans. The city has never been officially finished, and while the current population wavers around 80, the town was designed to sustain some 5,000. …

Despite Soleri’s best efforts, it’s not clear that humanity is ready for the perfect architectural utopias he imagined.•

 

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Once Ernest Hemingway was dead and his cult of personality vanished, his stock as a writer fell precipitously, which was justice. It’s difficult to believe now that Hemingway was considered the greatest writer of his age by many while he was alive. He got somewhere with The Sun Also Rises, but the rest of his work was largely overrated, and he’s most interesting now for the era he lived in and for being representative of a particular type of damaged American male, one who marked his pages with symbolism of sexual dysfunction while boasting of a zeal for big-game hunting. What a douche. In an article in the April 25, 1934 Brooklyn Daily Eagle, he told report Guy Hickok about Depression Era safaris.

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TMZ seems to exist solely to excitedly announce which famous people have died, some of whom have actually died.

My main issue with Harvey Levin’s clown car of entertainment reportage isn’t that it’s scurrilous, which it is, but that it doesn’t use that scurrilousness to a good end, never holding a light to the industry’s dark side. The outlet is just another part of the Hollywood game, not revealing anything too damaging which could jeopardize access. You don’t think maybe the folks there might have heard something about the many, many abuses and inequities that occur in show business? The site may report on lawsuits stemming from such behaviors if they’ve already come to light, but it will never break such stories. There are relationships to be maintained.

Nicholas Schmidle, a very talented New Yorker writer, is working on a TMZ story, according to a piece by Matthew Belloni and Chris Gardner of The Hollywood Reporter, and I can’t wait. The opening:

Levin, 64, has been warning TMZ employees both past and present not to speak to writer Nicholas Schmidle, whose résumé might explain why Levin is so nervous. Schmidle’s previous subjects include the hunt for Osama bin Laden (his New Yorker story “Getting Bin Laden” was nominated for a National Magazine Award in 2013), a Russian arms trafficker and war crimes in Kosovo. In addition, The New Yorker has shown a willingness to publish unflattering stories set in the world of media and entertainment. For instance, the Conde Nast-owned magazine’s lengthy profile of filmmaker Paul Haggis’ separation from Scientology by writer Lawrence Wright led to Wright’s book Going Clear and the Alex Gibney-directed HBO documentary that premiered at Sundance and was recently nominated for an Emmy. Several TMZ insiders have spoken to Schmidle anyway, according to sources, as have others in the so-called Thirty Mile Zone around Hollywood from which TMZ took its name.•

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I know it sounds unlikely, but I once asked Snoop Dogg what it was he liked about pimping, that disgraceful thing, when he was a child. He answered in the most consumerist terms: the clothes, the cars, the hair–the style that only money could buy. It was the closest thing to capitalism that young Calvin Broadus could imagine his.

I don’t know if the late and infamous pimp Iceberg Slim (born Robert Beck) was what Malcolm X would have been had he never been politicized, but he certainly was the template for Don King, Dr. Dre and other African-American males who wanted into the capitalist system in the worst way–and got there by those means. The way they looked at it, their hands weren’t any dirtier than anyone else’s, just darker. 

A new biography of Slim encourages us to consider him for his literary talent, not just his outsize persona. Dwight Garner of the New York Times, who writes beautifully on any topic, has a review. The opening:

In the late 1960s and early ’70s, if you wanted a book by Iceberg Slim, the best-selling black writer in America, you didn’t go to a bookstore. You went to a black-owned barbershop or liquor store or gas station. Maybe you found a copy on a corner table down the block, or being passed around in prison.

The first and finest of his books was a memoir, Pimp: The Story of My Life, published in 1967. This was street literature, marketed as pulp. The New York Times didn’t merely not review Pimp, Justin Gifford notes in Street Poison: The Biography of Iceberg Slim. Given the title, this newspaper wouldn’t even print an ad for it.

Pimp related stories from Iceberg Slim’s 25 years on the streets of Chicago, Milwaukee, Detroit and other cities. It was dark. The author learned to mistreat women with a chilly élan. It was dirty, so filled with raw language and vividly described sex acts that, nearly 50 years later, the book still makes your eyeballs leap out of your skull, as if you were at the bottom of a bungee jump.

Yet Iceberg Slim’s prose was, and is, as ecstatic and original as a Chuck Berry guitar solo. Mark Twain meets Malcolm X in his sentences. When he was caught with an underage girl by her father, for example, the author didn’t just run. “I vaulted over the back fence,” he wrote, “and torpedoed down the alley.”

Pimp is a different sort of American coming-of-age story, the tale of a determined young man who connived to take what society would not give. It’s a subversive classic.•

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A masked Slim meets Joe Pyne in the 1960s.

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